Nowadays we’re almost used to seeing cool Nashville talent on national television, but Taylor Brashears singing a blind audition on The Voice in recent weeks was particularly good for Music City’s mojo.
She hit the stage in a head-turning, hippie-in-Asia red frock and kicked into Loretta Lynn’s “You Ain’t Woman Enough To Take My Man.” If you don’t watch the show, four big-deal artist judges listen from chairs pointed away from the stage. If they spin around before the song is over, it’s an invitation for the singer to be on their team, to be coached through several rounds of competition to a final single winner. So as the pedal steel kicked off the song, the judges looked at one another with bemusement, perhaps expecting country star judge Blake Shelton to vie for this saucy, blue yodel of a voice. But in fact it was pop rocker Adam “Moves Like Jagger” Levine who spun first, followed by Pharrell Williams, who’s about as big a star as there is right now. Only after hearing the last big high note did Blake finally mash his button and whirl around. After a bit of bantering and salesmanship, the Nashville-born Brashears picked Nashville man Blake, and now we get to see how far she goes.
We know one of Taylor’s stops to stardom though, and that’s the Roots stage on Wednesday night, on a bill that features rocking blues from Selwyn Birchwood, Maine-reared songwriter Keelan Donovan and hyper country string band The Whiskey Shivers. We’re in for a night rich with twang, soul and heart.
We’ve known of Taylor’s emotional, complex voice for years. She first appeared on Roots in early 2010 as part of the Supple Station Trio. Her return visits have been under her own name, including a cool appearance with Tammy Rogers, the fiddle playing veteran and member of The Steeldrivers who produced the one and only Taylor Brashears EP. She’s been growing and developing before our eyes, finding a unique kind of attitude and style. She recorded a terrific duet with our own Jim Lauderdale. She’s adopted Bonnie Raitt’s timeless song “Louise” and made it a signature.
If Taylor is this week’s nod to Loretta, The Whiskey Shivers offer a big saaaaa-LUTE to the shaggy, hard rocking country music legacy of The Dillards or Dash Rip Rock. The word that follows them around like a shadow is “fun,” but great reviews from all quarters of big-time music press indicate that there’s something more going on here than just slashy punky energy. The band formed just a few years ago in Austin but they are hard core road dogs who’ve carried their uproarious energy across the country. They leave crowds hollering for more, because they make everyone feel involved.
“Whiskey Shivers isn’t just the five of us on stage, it’s everybody in the room,” says fiddling front man Bobby Fitzgerald in the band’s official bio. “We try to bring everybody into the moment and get them to realize there’s no wall between us and the crowd. We’re all in this together, and we’re all here to have a good time.” But then the guys went and proved themselves in the studio as well, making a debut album with the remarkable new star Robert Ellis producing. His refinement tamed their wild energy and the recording will sit well next to your Leftover Salmon and Old Crow albums. The banjo of James Bookert is especially impressive. We’re expecting a big frenzy of washboard rhythm and barefoot hootenannying, which is a verb if I say it’s a verb.
Opening the show, with a flavor we feature too infrequently, is the muscular electric blues of Selwyn Birchwood. Inspired growing up in Florida by Buddy Guy and the Texas/Chicago axis, he got serious enough about the guitar to be employed and mentored by Sonny Rhodes. By 2010 he was ready to form his own band, and rapid growth got them in front of iconic blues curator Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records. Young Birchwood is now signed to the label that made history with Buddy Guy, plus Albert Collins, Koko Taylor, Junior Wells, James Cotton and more. Blues Matters magazine calls him a “genius revelation” and Rolling Stone opined that he’s “a powerhouse player and emotive performer…fully-formed. Birchwood is a major player.” My first job in the music business was an internship way back at Alligator Records, where I got exposed to some of the best blues in the world. It’ll be a treat to meet the next generation of that legacy.
Rounding out the bill will be songwriter Keelan Donovan, who launched his career out of Portland, ME before moving to Music City. He’s been part of the Ten out of Tenn gang and he played Musicians Corner last fall. Between tours of some of America’s best acoustic music rooms, he takes the much easier drive down 65 to play for us in an emerging artist slot.
So it sounds like your heart will be tugged in four different directions this week, which is how we like it. If you start to experience whiplash, a little whiskey would be a good remedy.