If you’d asked me the last song in the universe I’d have ever expected to hear on Music City Roots – if pressed for the song as far away as possible on the cosmic rootsy scale from, say, “Freight Train Boogie” (last night’s Loveless Jam) – I’d have said, well of course, “Danke Shoen.” But the SECOND least likely song would have to have been “Wind Beneath My Wings.” I mean we could have agreed on this before last night – that under no circumstances could the oft covered wedding staple ever work in our land of twang, grass and blues. Right?
Well, leave it to Roots to keep surprising music-loving me. On an otherwise bluegrassy night, we were fortunate to get a visit from Gary Morris, a country hit-maker of the 80s and a wide-ranging and acknowledged master-singer who has been on a hiatus for about ten years enjoying his life fishing and hunting in Colorado. He’s back in play though with a new album called Hymns, rooted in the church music of his Texas youth, and he says he’s playing mid-sized rooms, often with just an acoustic guitar. That’s how he man-handled last night, and I think that was the key to making “Wings” work as well as it did. If Morris had shown up with a 9-piece Branson-style band and done the song with drums and a synthesizer, there would have perhaps been an incident. But he made a song I’ve always thought of as badly cooked tripe sound like almost a folk song or like something sung by the Scottish balladeer John McDermott. It was certainly interesting.
But I’m getting way ahead of myself. We got things going with Joe Limardi pinch-hitting ably for Eddie Stubbs and Jim Lauderdale singing “Little Maggie,” which was a precious tribute to Todd and Jen Mayo’s new baby daughter if you politely overlook that in the song Maggie is drunk and has a gun. The banjo on the knee thing is however something we expect our Maggie will probably try one day. Then we featured Claire Lynch in the lead-off slot, and who could ask for a richer way to kick off a show? That voice. Those songs. So fresh and so deep. She and her sporty little three-piece band opened and closed with snappy uptempo tunes and gave us a little journey in between, including buck dancing from bassist Mark Schatz and the sweet and breezy “Highway” which as it happened was co-written by Nashville’s lovely Irene Kelly who just happened to be at the show, with her lovely daughter.
Our Vietti act was a group called The Darlins, not to be confused with the alter-ego band of The Dillards from Andy Griffith. These darlins were two vivacious women (Jude Toy and Erinn Bates) with bold voices and some crackling songs that spiked some energy into an otherwise easy-going night. And since Erinn is the voice behind the Honest Abe Log Homes jingle you hear on WSM, and since we’re a LIVE RADIO SHOW, there was no alternative but to ask her to throw down and sing it, with Jim offering guitar backup. Sorry the mic cut out at the beginning Erinn. You did a great job.
Up next was the charming newcomer Lissy Rosemont. She’s out of Washington D.C. and we had a lot to talk about since she’s got a journalist fiancé and an appreciation for a city where I used to live. She set aside training in medicine in 2007 to pursue a career as a banjo-plucking singer and songwriter, and methinks she could be healing a lot more folks this way. With a sweet, dry voice that hovers between head, throat and heart, she taps into a deep vein of authenticity. I really liked her songs, especially the drifty, wistful “A Curious Thing,” and her guitar player John Lee was fantastic. She finished with a bold a capella take on “Red Is The Rose,” which, depending on whom you talk to, is ancient and Scottish or more recent and Irish. But it’s lovely, and Lissy did a great job. Eager to hear more from her.
That paved the way for The Night Drivers and their honey-toned leader Chris Jones. This Nashville bluegrass veteran is like a boulder in the river – solid and calm, with a voice a bit like a mix between Randy Travis and Vern Gosdin. He and his band are as good as they are nice, and that’s pretty darn good.
And THEN Gary Morris came on. I actually didn’t think he’d do “Wind” but it’s a fact of life that established artists will perform their hits, and it was clear that a certain demographic in our wonderful crowd lit up from the first words. And after he’d earned a standing O for that, he steered hard back on the country road with an original take on “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry.” Then he surprised again by doing one of the songs from his role in Les Miserables on that solo acoustic guitar. It was dramatic, involving, rich. He’s quite an artful singer with a really unique take. And then, as if to bring everything back to its rootsy home, Morris ended his set with a slow, daringly re-harmonized “Amazing Grace.”
How sweet the sound.