The Royale Treatment

Folks, we have a bunch of major announcements coming up here in the near future, and I’d like to preview just one of them here, because it’s relevant to this week’s Music City Roots. 

In the next month, we’re going to be releasing four anthology albums featuring exceptional performances from roughly the past year. The digital releases, coming out in cooperation with Compass Records, will be available on iTunes, Amazon and etc. under the titles GrassRoots, SongRoots, TwangRoots and SoulRoots. Your correspondent had a lot of fun reviewing show tapes and pulling really fine performances that would fit into each category. And while I predicted that the bluegrass or the songwriter collection would fill up first, the volume that proved most competitive for amazing, surprising and revealing offerings was Soul, which we’ve defined to encompass R&B, gospel and blues. It speaks to the rapid growth of that flavor of music under the Americana tent over the past five years. 

The fabulous McCrary sisters have a song on the SoulRoots compilation for sure (their stunning version of Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ In The Wind”). This Nashville family group become good friends of the show long ago, starting when they were in the background vocals business. Then when they released their debut album Our Journey and hit the circuit as a self-contained vocal group, we couldn’t book them fast enough. They’re back this Wednesday for a soul-rousing, show-closing set. I wrote at some length about them when they appeared a year ago, so check that out for some additional background. 

There’s another soul sister who deserves our attention this week. Alanna Royale is a woman and a band that’s made huge impact in a short time. She’s been in Music City barely a year, and it was only last summer that the band began to perform. By the time they had an EP release party at The Basement, they drew what owner Mike Grimes called the biggest crowd for such an event he could remember. Proving they’re no fluke, Alana Royale, the lady and the band, won the first of the very competitive Road To Bonnaroo contests last week, so they’ll be performing at that amazing music sprawl in June. The bloggers are also going bat-poop crazy. No Country For New Nashville says: “Front-woman Alanna’s voice is an unfaltering, enamouring powerhouse, which simultaneously strikes an emotional chord, makes you want to dance, and causes your jaw to drop in awe. Her gift and skill is only matched by her edgy and brash but endearing stage presence.”

And then there is the recorded music, out now on the EP Bless Her Heart, which you can preview here. The songs feel like something new; neither aping early Stax nor recent Alabama Shakes, though there’s certainly a kinship. Alanna’s voice is indeed spectacular. It cuts yet it’s calm. It’s feverish, yet cool. Happily, just about the time I was catching on to the buzz, I dropped by the new Grimey’s new, expanded record/book space on 8th Ave. and whom did I meet there but Alanna herself! A quick follow up call produced the following exchange: 

Where are you from?

Originally from Boston. Three of seven of us are. The rest of us are from as far as Jackson, MS, Miami, Indiana and Texas. But we all met here.

What’s the origin of your approach?

Everything I do is 100% how I was raised. My mom told me Stevie Wonder was the best it got in music, but she also took me to see KISS when I was 16. So it’s all important. One of my vivid memories was listening to “Midnight Train to Georgia” with her. I remember watching her listen to it. That song had a crazy hold on my mom. It was so emotional to her, and it became emotional to me. 

Where are your songs coming from?

We started with songs my guitar player and I had written. And then we just went on a (band) writing spree from July to September. It was: “wow this was meant to be.” The four of us usually write everything together. I usually start with a melody or a hook and I’ll dance in our practice space and say this is how I want to feel. It reinforces that everything we do come s from a very instinctual, gut feel.

And how did the Road To Bonnaroo show go?

I was a mental wreck! I had been sick for two weeks and I was just trying to come out of it. When you’re a vocal centric band, and you’re a human being and you don’t feel good, you get in your own head. I was hiding up in the Hi-Watt talking myself off the ledge. But we played and we did what we came to do. We made a ton of fans. We met people who’d heard us on the radio. We packed up and went to Hermitage Cafe. They announced it over twitter (about 3 am). We were in shock for a minute. But I’m pretty honored for my first year in Nashville to cap it off with something like that. 

And we’re honored to have Alanna Royale, fresh off that victory, in a set of music at the Loveless Barn. The double header with the McCrary Sisters should make for a funky and soul-saturated night. What else do we have? Well it’s pretty awesome. Charlie Parr is a late-blooming folk mystery man with a powerful presence and songs that feel like found hieroglyphs in Tennessee’s limestone caves. Jonnyswim is a fabulous married duo who are on an extended date with us, playing MCR, our new Scenic City Roots show in Chattanooga and the big Bluegrass Underground PBS taping all in about three days. They’re truly moving and stylish. And we’ll also hear from the Danberrys, who deserve more space than I can offer up here this week. They played with us on a short Christmas show set, but their bracing take on the folk duo format is truly mesmerizing. 

Jim Lauderdale’s back for the final three shows of the season. The lineup is hot. So please come join us for what I think is shaping up to be a very special show. 

Craig H.