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White Knight – MCR 7.27.16

Good teams have stars but great teams have deep benches, and that’s one of the factors that’s made Nashville such an awesome place to follow music. Music City cultivates and celebrates the sidemen and sidewomen who stand near, behind and beside the visible stars. They’re often just silhouettes in the aurora, but to those in the know, they’re making the magic possible and often magical. One of the premiere examples is playing Roots this week and I could not be more excited. Because Jeff White is an outstanding singer, picker and songwriter, and he’s out with his first solo album since the 90s. Besides, we’ve needed a hearty blast of pure bluegrass lately, and he’s going to bring it.

The thumbnail profile of White is that he’s been Vince Gill’s right hand man on guitar and background vocals for a quarter century. But there’s a lot more to it. White grew up in New York state and Indiana and he discovered country music on Hee Haw, like any red-blooded American should. He played folk guitar and then was blessed with a college roommate who had a huge passion for and record collection of bluegrass, especially guitarists like Doc Watson. His work with bands around the mid-west led him to meet a very young Alison Krauss, and when she launched her first band, Jeff was a member and a mentor to the rising star as well. Some years later, living in Nashville, he filled a hole in Vince Gill’s band, launching a magnificently productive 25-year relationship. Their voices blended on country or bluegrass is a thing to behold. And Jeff’s acoustic flatpicking, some of the best in the world, was the perfect foil to Vince’s Telecaster flash. Other long term gigs for Jeff White have included Lyle Lovett and Ireland’s legendary Chieftains. The latter experience became part of a drive to travel and collaborate more internationally. He says he loves country music from all countries.

So with all this (plus producing artists like Michael Cleveland and writing songs recorded by Del McCoury and Dan Tyminski) he’s been a little busy to record as a leader. But it’s finally happened and from what I’ve been able to hear online here, it’s a bluegrass beauty. The raft of killer guests includes Vince, naturally, plus Alison Krauss, Del McCoury, Shawn Camp, Jerry Douglas and a platoon of the best bluegrass pickers. I don’t know if this is a harbinger of things to come, but it sure would be great to have Jeff White’s classic sound and flabbergasting gifts on the circuit in a big way in the coming years. Not that bluegrass needs a white knight, but in this case he’d be welcome.

The rest of this week’s show is rich and deep, with the makings of a classic. For one thing, the mighty Revelers are back (after just one year because we lurve them) with their hybrid Louisiana swamp pop sound and swagger. The band is something of a merger of the two leading progressive Cajun bands in the state – the Pine Leaf Boys and the Red Stick Ramblers. So the resulting band is regarded as a supergroup by the loyal and maniacally enthusiastic regional audiences and press. They work with all kinds of roots music heroes and they’ve had major musical impact on shows like Treme and Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations. Their festival, Black Pot in Lafayette, is regarded as a treasure of an event. Last time they played Roots, in a six song set, they offered up expertly rendered flashes of zydeco, R&B, Tex-Mex and danceable swing. Make plans to revel.

Also Luella makes an exciting return to MCR three years after burning down the Loveless Barn with her hot brand of artsy juke joint rock and roll – a sound and vibe that seems to bring together the spirits of East Nashville, North Mississippi and the 1970s East Village. The artist formerly known as Melissa Mathes has always been a fascinating and beguiling figure, but she’s really found an identity and lasting sound in these last few years. A seeming simple phrase like “I Got Soul” can spin out into a magic swirl of garage rock. Recent singles releases like “So Low Down” pulse with life and blues. Her companion in all things is Tim Carroll, the fiery funny rocker with whom she shares the stage every Friday happy hour at the Five Spot. He’ll be on hand to spank the guitar. Luella will I predict make a stylish entrance, stand there all willowy and cool and move us to chills with her supple and utterly unique and beguiling voice.

Rounding out the show will be Anthony Adams & The Nite Owls, a rockin’ Americana band with Indiana reared Adams riding herd. One reviewer likened his scope and power to a mashup of Jason Isbell and Ray Lamontagne. He clearly loves to rock the joint, whether it’s Kimbro’s or one of the many regional festivals he’s played. This sounds like exciting local talent that’s looking upward and outward. Come hear what the nite and the knight have in store.

Craig H.

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