How was your AmericanaFest 2017? I’ve scarcely opened my laptop for days so it feels good to sit here on a lovely Sunday morning basking in the afterglow of a stellar week of music and camaraderie. Most impressive was seeing the united Roots crews – radio and show – work together to pull off an audacious and inspirational series of shows and a fabulous party in challenging circumstances. I will have much more to say about all this on WMOT.org early this week, but for now let me just congratulate our team on setting up a tent village and block party that presented 23 artists over three days, and that’s not counting other shows at The Basement, Family Wash, Wired In and more. The music was finely chosen and well presented with great sound and lighting. We were live on the radio more than we weren’t for a week. I’m in awe and I encourage you to high five an MCR crew member this week because they went above and beyond the call of Roots duty.
And now, happily hung over, we return to our regularly scheduled programming, which as always feels like an extension of AmericanaFest, because that is after all what we try to do 44 times a year on the Factory stage and because all of our lineup were tapped for official showcases last week. Our Fall season gets rolling in Franklin with some emerging male songwriters, a harmonious quartet of ladies from Australia and a veteran of electric blue country soul who is sounding as great as he ever has. He’s Lee Roy Parnell and I’ll start with him.
During his entire run as a national recording artist, from about 1990 til today, Lee Roy Parnell has always been too soulful, too real and too rootsy for the country music format he was assigned by the powers what be. Arista Records supported him like true believers in the 90s and earned a some top ten hits, but Parnell’s best work has been the music that wasn’t intended for the commercial airwaves rat race. Like 1992’s “Road Scholar” where he (with Delbert McClinton) sings his own story of the roadhouse troubadour life, noting that “I gotta make my music; I was born to sing and play.” True enough. The central Texas native learned the life from his father, who played in the legendary Bob Wills band. He was bound for the stage and good news for him, he has a deeply musical sense of what to do with a guitar and a classic blue eyed soul voice. And he know what was up, for example cutting a Son House song with the Fairfield Four in the late 90s that earned a CMA nomination. Parnell never had massive smash albums, but he always had respect of those in the know.
Just look at recent history for further affirmation. Early this decade he was inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame, alongside Guy and Kris and other towering giants. He’s recently been touring as part of a thing called Guitar Army, featuring country/jazz icon John Jorgenson and Australian ace Joe Robinson. That’s because Lee Roy can play slide on a solid body electric as crystal clearly and emotionally as anyone. And best of all, Parnell has found his way back into the studio for the first time in what appears to be a decade. Midnight Believer, which came out in August, is a delicious collection of songwriting and comfortable delivery. Put this on and it will coax you irresistibly from track to track. I first heard his song “Too Far Gone” at one of our WMOT Finally Fridays broadcasts, and I was seduced by its easy sadness and smart chord changes. The Americana Assn. just gave Robert Cray a lifetime achievement award. Parnell, who’s very much in the same hybrid soul/blues space, ought to be similarly honored one day.
You will be charmed and challenged by All Our Exes Live In Texas, a female quartet from Australia with a baroque band name but a straight line to your music bone with saucy songs and spellbinding harmonies. They pretty much nail who they are in the lead of their bio, so I’ll lean on that: “a fantasy draft of Sydney’s finest singer-songwriters – Elana Stone, Katie Wighton, Hannah Crofts and Georgia Mooney – here combining in four-part, indie-folk harmony heaven.” They take turns on lead vocals and that leads to a lovely, coherent variety. They lean on each other but show incredible independence too. They lack not for critical affection and they’ve toured with such high profile bands as Nathaniel Rateliff and Passenger, but these ladies are a ticket unto themselves. Sample the new album When We Fall and come to Liberty Hall prepared to be rocked vocally, instrumentally and femininely.
I’m getting to know the music and story of David Luning, though it’s clear he has a commanding voice and a keen pen. He told the Mother Church Pew blog that his journey took a sharp turn from studying film composing at Berklee to folk music when he heard a John Prine album. Writer Susan Hubbard reports: “From that moment on, Luning knew his life would never be the same. ‘I was always writing serious music, but when I heard Prine, I realized there was a different way to portray real life.’” The Bay Area artist already played WMOT’s Friday lunch live show during the fest besides his official showcase. Good of him to stick around to play for our larger Wednesday night audience.
And we have two male artists this week with red hair and beards, but you can tell Lee Roy Parnell and Danny Burns apart because the latter’s beard reaches nearer the floor and his hair, a tower that makes Conan O’Brien’s mane seem tame, is closer to God. He’s from Donegal, Ireland and he’s got a close relationship with New Orleans where he’s spent time and worked with legend George Porter (The Meters). So come for the red hair. Stay for the rad fare. It’ll help you recover from last week, as if that’s even necessary.