It has come to my attention that most of you were NOT paying close attention to mainstream country music in the early 2000s (imagine that!). But I was, because it was part of my beat as a reporter at The Tennessean. And lots of strange and crazy things happened, like the surprise triumph of O Brother, Where Art Thou? and the excommunication of the Dixie Chicks for political reasons. But nothing was quite as nuts as the parable of “Murder On Music Row.” If you don’t know the story, you should. If you already know it, it’s still pretty delicious to revisit it.
If you haven’t seen the video of Bobby Bare Jr. and his son Beckham singing Shel Silverstein’s “Daddy What If” then get thee hence to a computer (oh, wait, you likely have that covered at the moment) and check it out HERE for four minutes of endearing father-son magic. This wee recording session promotes the new tribute album of songs by the late great Silverstein, called Twistable Turnable Man, but there’s also a bunch of history packed into this unassuming little vocal duet.
If this week’s show was presented like a resume, you wouldn’t believe it. You’d call a few references to check it out. “So, this bunch SAYS it wrote a massive hit for Eric Clapton, had a multi-platinum country album, fiddled with the Texas Playboys and played guitar for the legendary Sam Bush? Really?”
He had me at THIS. And by THIS I mean that CD that Will Kimbrough released in 2000 that told the world he was more than a mere sideman or band member. THIS was a superb debut album by a seasoned artist with a vision and the first of a string of striking statements that would have encompassed confessional folk music, sharp pop rock and alt-country twang. In the meantime, Kimbrough has become one of Nashville’s musical MVPs and recipient of an Americana Music Association instrumentalist of the year award.
Dobro players are an interesting lot. As hard as all the folks work who learn guitar, fiddle, banjo or bass, the guy or gal who feels the calling of the resonator guitar, with its sliding angularity, has to work harder. It’s unbelievably demanding on the right hand with its speed and timing, and over on the left, you’re on your own for hitting the right notes, without the aid of the guitar or mandolin’s frets. It takes a certain brassiness to even try.
Nashville remains special because if you look closely, you can see the veterans who built Music City living and working side by side with the young artists who are building on their legacy and pushing the town’s musical traditions forward. It’s what gives the place continuity and soul.
So on our next show, Music City Roots presents prime examples of that dichotomy, as our musical guests include one of Nashville’s senior senators and one of its most remarkable alt-country youngsters: Cowboy Jack Clement and Chris Scruggs.
One of my best memories of last’s fall Americana Music Association festival took place in the middle of one of the showcase nights at the Mercy Lounge. A stellar band of jazz-aware sidemen took the stage, followed by a guy who looked a little, well, unfocused. J.D. Souther looked like a rumpled poet who’d slept in.
In case you haven’t heard of the Music City Curse, it’s this notion that developed over the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s that no matter how awe-inspiring a Nashville rock band was, it would never get a fair shake when it reached the New York and LA power-brokers who decide who gets big-time video and radio play or major label record deals.
Of the many fortunate connections and developments that took place on the journey to getting Music City Roots on the air, few can compare to our love-at-first-sight relationship with the Nature Conservancy. This extraordinary organization signed on as a major sponsor early in the game, and it couldn’t have been a better match. We stand for integrity and authenticity in music; they protect the integrity of authentic natural spaces and resources.
It’s hard to believe, but with this next show we’ll have reached the end of the inaugural season of Music City Roots. I’ve tried to describe each show on this blog as the weeks have gone by, but it’s really hard to adequately convey the week-to-week atmosphere in the Loveless Barn when mission control counts down the top of the show, cues our theme song and hands it off to Eddie Stubbs to announce that we’re on the air.
If you get a chance, see Jeff Horny’s new documentary “Behind the Confessions,” a close-up portrait of Texas music icon Radney Foster that tracks the making of his new album Revival. It depicts how and why Foster came to become one of the most beloved Texas singer/songwriters of his generation, a guy who has seen success at all the levels where it counts – commercially, critically and perhaps most important, on the sawdust floors of all those Lone Star State honky tonks and arenas, where to this day, folks of all ages line up to see Radney and his band.
The International Bluegrass Music Awards, held every fall at the Ryman Auditorium, is always a fabulous event, but it can be slow to change. Rhonda Vincent, for example, took home the Female Vocalist of the Year trophy for seven consecutive years. Not that Rhonda’s not fantastic, but in 2007 when that award came up and the oft-nominated but always-a-bridesmaid Dale Ann Bradley was announced as the winner, it made for one of the happiest and charged moments at IBMA in quite a while.
When the great Charlie Louvin visited Music City Roots on October 28 to sing a Loveless Jam duet with guest artist Dex Romweber it offered just a hint of the purity and authenticity we have in store on November 18 when Charlie joins us as one of our featured artists on what promises to be an exciting, eclectic evening of live radio.
No disrespect to Christmas or Hanukah or New Year’s, but this correspondent’s favorite holiday is Thanksgiving. It’s about family and food, with no bells and whistles. There’s actually time to reflect on the blessings of the year and share the good life with the ones you love.
Tony Brown, the great Nashville producer who signed a whole bunch of excellence to MCA Records in the 1980s and 90s, said he got “zapped” by Nanci Griffith when he saw her play live for the first time. And he wasn’t the only one. From her origins as an Austin-based folksinger through hear early albums with legendary Rounder Records and then during her years with major labels, Griffith climbed a tall ladder and now sits in an esteemed position as one of the finest and most seductive songwriters in that fascinating overlap between country and folk.
Back in the day, there wasn’t one thing called country and another called bluegrass. It was all country (or hillbilly) music then, and everybody appeared side by side on the barn dances and in the record bins. This week’s Music City Roots recalls that era with one classic country singer and two state-of-the-art bluegrass bands.
The South is deep and sometimes dark, and we love artists who aren’t afraid (or afeared as some say it) to dig down into the clay, swim in the blackest swamps and plunge into the kudzu choked forest. That might be said of the music of Dex Romweber and Scott Miller, though they sound little alike. The night promises foot-stomping, greasy grooves as well as rich characters and in-your-face ideas.
There are plenty of ways to burn in music, and the second show in the inaugural season of Music City Roots suggests two of them. Sam Bush is a fiery virtuoso of the mandolin and fiddle, while Mike Farris brings rock and roll fire to gospel music. Together on one stage, they’ll offer modern and very personal interpretations of two great American music traditions, which is precisely what Music City Roots is all about.
Americana tribal leader Jim Lauderdale has signed on to be a semi-regular host of the much-talked-about Nashville music scene showcase, Music City Roots, Live from the Loveless Café. The show will regularly feature other guest hosts, due to Jim’s extensive touring and hosting commitments, but everyone involved agreed that no one represented the heart and soul of the movement like Lauderdale. Jim is also the regular monthly host of Tennessee Shines, a monthly show airing on Knoxville’s pioneer non-profit station WDVX.
American musical treasure Emmylou Harris will grace the stage in a rare, intimate performance on the inaugural broadcast of the much buzzed-about Music City Roots, Live from the Loveless Café, on Wednesday, October 14th. Airing live on legendary WSM, the show’s producers felt that as an artist, Ms. Harris embodied all that the show endeavors to deliver to its global audience.
The official announcement came at the 2009 Americana Conference in Nashville, TN... Legendary WSM will carry the first new weekly live music show in over 40 years – Music City Roots, LIVE from the Loveless Cafe. The New York Times called the Americana music scene “the coolest music scene” today. Upcoming acts include a who’s who in the Americana, Bluegrass, and Alternative Country world. Loveless Cafe entrepreneur Tom Morales says, “It’s the most exciting movement we’ve seen in a long time.