On Music City Roots this week, our two-week seasonal break ends, but while we get new shows back in the pipeline here’s the first of two archival shows to tide you over. It’s from April 2013 and features some interesting bands and a great flow. Deep bluegrass with Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, 90s country with Sweethearts of the Rodeo, super-cool indie country from Andrew Combs, 70s-inspired rock and roll with Andrew Leahey and East Nashville’s jammy and awesome Allen Thompson Band. Stay warm, stay inside, and tune in!
About the artists:
Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers have an energetic mix of quality Bluegrass and Gospel music, a professional presentation, inventive instrumental work, a wide variety of vocal arrangements including a capella quartets and tasteful, down-home humor.Their professionalism and successful, heavily played recordings have kept them in demand with a national audience. JMRR have been seen by thousands of fans across the country at nearly every national bluegrass event.A contributing factor to JMRR’s success is their active marketing capabilities, due to Mullins’ network of radio stations in the Midwest, including a 24/7 webcast available at myclassiccountry.com or the new “Classic Country Radio” app for Android and iPhone.
Sweethearts of the Rodeo is an American country music
duo composed of sisters Janis Oliver (guitar, vocals) and Kristine Oliver (vocals). The duo recorded for Columbia Records
between 1986 and 1991, releasing four albums and twelve singles for the label. In the 1990s, they also recorded two albums for Sugar Hill Records
. The duo reached Top Ten on the Hot Country Songs
charts seven times in the late 1980s, with its highest singles being the No. 4 hits “Midnight Girl/Sunset Town” and “Chains of Gold,” both in 1987.
Andrew Combs released his debut EP Tennessee Time in May 2010, which has been compared to Mickey Newbury and Guy Clark. In April 2012, Combs released a vinyl 7-inch called “Big Bad Love”.
In July 2012, Andrew Combs signed to the Nashville-based music publishing arm of New York City record label, Razor & Tie.
In October 2012, Andrew Combs released “Worried Man”, which American Songwriter gave a 4-star review, writing: “As singer/songwriter first albums go, it’ll be tough to beat this as one of the years finest, from a newcomer who is hopefully just tapping into his talent.”
In 2013, Combs supported Shovels & Rope and Caitlin Rose on national tours and performed at the Newport Folk Festival.
Like Tom Petty and Steve Earle, Andrew Leahey writes songs that split the difference between rock & roll, Americana, and alt-country. A Virginia native, he began his career as a vocalist, singing in the Juilliard Chorale during his early 20s and performing at venues like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Focusing on classical music grew old, though — there weren’t nearly enough guitar solos, for starters, and all the conductors seemed to think Sebastian Bach was Johann’s younger brother — so Leahey ditched the Big Apple and moved to Michigan, where he spent four years working as a music journalist and dove back into songwriting. Now a full-time Nashville resident, he writes, records, and tours with the band Andrew Leahey & the Homestead. Forget Carnegie Hall. This is music for city highways and country lanes, for pop fans and roots rockers, for the heart as well as the heartland.
Take a look at Allen Thompson
’s record collection, and you’ll see names like the Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, the Black Crowes, and the Band — groups that feel more like musical communities than straightforward rock bands.The same sense of community anchors the Allen Thompson Band, a rootsy outfit from Nashville, TN. Thompson’s country-soul vocals and earthy, literate songwriting may anchor the group’s latest album, “Salvation in the Ground,” but this isn’t a solo project. It’s collaboration between all six members.“Ever since I began building a band,” Thompson explains, “I’ve always wanted a communal situation in which everyone gets an equal say and no one’s input is more important than anyone else’s. I kept myself from doing that for a long time, because everyone says you’re not supposed to do that… but it became increasingly evident that the harder I tried to be a solo artist, the harder it was to do the songs justice. I wasn’t standing out. I wasn’t really standing at all.”Thompson got a leg up by adding a strong rhythm section and a 4th harmony vocalist to the 3-piece string band he’d been touring with since 2009, eventually rounding out an electric six-piece lineup in early 2011. The group set up shop in East Nashville, a blue-collar neighborhood east of the Cumberland River, and began fleshing out Thompson’s songs, which sampled equally from country, roots-rock, southern soul, and Appalachian folk music. Lower Broadway, with its neon lights and crowded honky-tonks, was just a 10-minute drive from the band’s practice space, and Music Row — ground zero for Nashville’s conservative-minded music industry — was almost as close. Still, as far as Thompson was concerned, those areas might as well have been in another country.
“After a few false starts in the business, I’ve finally learned to stop writing for an imagined audience and start writing for myself. If you get caught up in making things sound a certain way — if you try to force your music to sound like someone else’s definition of a musical genre — then you’re setting yourself up for failure. You should follow the muse, not force it to follow you.”
Thompson began writing music as a teenager in Roanoke, Virginia. His parents split up when he was very young, and Thompson spent most of his childhood bouncing between different homes, staying with a combination of relatives and school friends. Music was a source of stability, a way to connect with each home he visited.
“If I was staying with my grandparents,” he remembers, “we’d listen to country music, old folk tunes, and World War I songs. We’d watch “Hee Haw” every Saturday. With my mom, I’d listen to a lot of soul music. With my dad, it was southern rock and ‘80s country. And then my friends’ families showed me all the tunes they were into. It was fascinating to learn how different types of popular music touched different types of people.”
Years later, music is still the glue that bonds Thompson to the people he loves. It’s the brickwork for his own community, with “Salvation in the Ground” — the Allen Thompson Band’s best song cycle to date — acting as the cornerstone.
“I don’t have a single relationship in my life that doesn’t have its own special soundtrack. That’s my goal with the Allen Thompson Band: to write our soundtrack. This music is family music. There are husbands and wives in the band, and we’re part of a larger community of husband-and-wife bands. We’re creating our soundtrack together. I spent a lot of time not trying to do that — trying to be a certain type of artist instead — and the music didn’t sound as good as it should have. Since I’ve started creating music in this family environment, the response has changed. And the songs are better.”
Maybe salvation’s in the people, too.