By Craig Havighurst, Music City roots Producers
With a band called Iron Horse and a direct descendent of Davy Crockett on stage, we felt echoes of 19th century America this Wednesday at Roots. We also celebrated the global reach of Americana with a bluegrass band from Japan. And the essence of the East Nashville music scene as well. So while I found no through line to this unusual night at Liberty Hall, that’s okay. I kept being surprised and that’s what it’s all about.
The Blue Side of Lonesome couldn’t have picked a more bluegrassy name if they’d added mountain and murder, but this quintet from Japan was all smiles and cheer as they ripped into a suite of standards. For the first few bars I heard traces of a language barrier, more in the cadence than the pronunciation. But as they warmed up, the key vocalists Masuo Kasabe and Yoshie Sakamoto gained more flow and warmth and perfect diction. The picking was superb, especially the mandolin and banjo. The set closer was a medley of songs like “Little Maggie” and “Sitting On Top of the World.” The passion for the music was clear as could be, and they seduced us all.
Things turned electric and retro suddenly with the arrival of Charley Crockett, a young guy from Texas with a soulful patois and a passion for certain deep South subgenres like swamp pop and jump blues. The artist wore a vest and string tie, along with a cowboy hat and a thrift shop vintage electric guitar strapped way up high. He boogied and stretched up on his toes while singing in an almost Cajun accent. His joked that people ask him what are his songs about, and he says “about two to three minutes.” And indeed he squeezed nine tunes into his time. He mostly revived old songs with his big swinging band. He’s really dialed it in on his finger snapping cover of Tanya Tucker’s “Jamestown Ferry.”
A group I’m tempted to call the Red Beet All-Stars took the stage next but they asked to be billed as Eric Brace, Peter Cooper & Thomm Jutz, so I’ll go with that. Inspired in so many ways by the Seldom Scene, these old friends and colleagues slip into three part harmony smoothly and intuitively, and it’s all in the service of excellent songs, which followed a theme of homage for heroes. “Hartford’s Bend” paints a picture of the river boat life and John Hartford’s home above the Cumberland River. “Uneasy Does It” depicts a lonely late night visit to Jerry Lee Lewis’s home in Mississippi. “Hendersonville” remembers Johnny and June Cash, with a soaring duo vocal by Brace and Cooper that offered the night’s chill bump moment.
The guys from Iron Horse don’t arrive wearing leather with biker do-rags and silver jewelry as one might expect from the name. They’re just really nice guys from around Muscle Shoals AL who’ve figured out a way to stand out as a bluegrass band. Their covers of rock albums are resourceful and engaging, and we heard Nirvana’s “All Apologies” and Elton John’s “Rocket Man” among others to prove that point. Their one original “Daddy’s Life” was floaty and folky and very nice. They wrapped things up with the Goo Goo Dolls’ “Better Days,” which clearly took some thinking as it was transformed to a bluegrass quartet.