This morning, start your weekend off right with some music to get your toes tapping and your boots rockin’! On this edition of Music City Roots, we hear live sets from Julian Lage and Chris Eldridge, Andy T and the Nick Nixon Band, The Smoking Flowers, Tim Easton, and The Magnolia Sons. Jim Lauderdale hosts.
About the artists:
Following his Grammy-nominated 2009 debut Sounding Point, virtuoso guitarist Julian Lage returns with the evocative and finely wrought Gladwell – the second effort by his offbeat, eclectic group with cellist Aristides Rivas, percussionist Tupac Mantilla, bassist Jorge Roeder and saxophonist Dan Blake.
The album unfolds according to a fanciful and story-driven plan, as Lage explains: “We began playing with the idea of creating a story we could use as a guiding light in our writing process…. The result was the development of an imaginary and forgotten town known as Gladwell…. As a metaphor, Gladwell presented us with a clear architecture, to compose songs that evoke feelings of people and places we hold dear.”
Sweeping, colorful and thrillingly executed, the album opens with “233 Butler,” named for the Brooklyn street address of vintage instrument shop, Musurgia. Here and throughout, Lage showcases his group’s highly developed rapport and varied, refreshing approach to orchestration, with originals pieces that bring to life the fictional sights and sounds of Gladwell: the train station (“Listening Walk”), the church (“Cocoon,” featuring Blake on melodica – channeling sounds that could be likened to the artsy streets of Paris), the bazaar (“Iowa Taken”). “Some songs specifically identify with particular parts of the town,” writes Lage, “while other pieces simply fit into the overall concept and musical direction. The intention of the music is to encourage the listener, at every turn, to take a step towards the unknown….”
As with Sounding Point, Gladwell reflects Lage’s wide-ranging musical interests and talents, ranging from chamber music, American folk and bluegrass to latin, world, string-band tradition and modern jazz. The album also exhibits contemporary singer-songwriter aesthetics. “Margaret” was inspired by Lage’s friend, singer-songwriter Margaret Glaspy, with whom he has frequently shared the stage. “However,” written by Dan Blake, “explores the rich synthesis of Afro-pop with Irish fiddle music along with American folk music,” writes Lage.
Frequently one hears Lage deploy the cello and saxophone almost as a single, interconnected instrument. “Iowa Taken,” meanwhile, allows Lage to shine in a trio setting with just bass and drums. The leader’s fluid improvisations and rich, beautifully captured tone on electric and acoustic guitars anchor the music at every step, but the contributions of the band members are equally indispensable.
“Dan has a background in classical composition as well as improvisation,” says Lage, “so he brings a sense of curiosity to the band that is deeply rooted in a variety of traditions. From Aristides we’ve learned a tremendous amount about how to play as a chamber-like ensemble, how to utilize dynamics and blending, and how to move and breathe as a unit. The sound of cello has opened our ears to the world that lives between classical music and jazz and it is amazing to witness how Aristides so uniquely marries the two. Tupac is like a conductor of energy, using his diverse palette of colors to shape and inform the music – his approach is never static, and it is exhilarating to share in his passion for uncovering new approaches. Jorge [who was the first member to join the band] has an incredible grounding force that enables the band to really take off in any direction at any point in time – I feel Jorge’s presence as kind of like the narrator of a story, always keeping an eye on the bigger perspective while remaining an active participant at every turn.”
Completing the picture on Gladwell are five pieces for solo guitar: a spontaneous rendition of “Autumn Leaves” recorded in an intimate “living room” setting, with four overhead microphones; “Freight Train,” an old folk standard which becomes a springboard for Lage’s vibrant and irreducibly personal statement; and three related pieces (“Point the Way,” “Cathedral,” “Listen Darkly”) that find Lage in dialogue with himself, multi-tracking three parts on a vintage 1926 Martin 00-28 acoustic guitar.
Lage performed the three multi-tracked pieces in the presence of his Alexander Technique teacher, treating these recordings as a study in the relationship between kinesthetic awareness and improvisation. “When you hear these pieces, you’re hearing a physical movement,” he explains. “You’re hearing an opening in me and the instrument that happens to be coming through a musical vehicle. I’ve been learning that you don’t always have to broadcast what you’re feeling when it comes to performing and recording – so long as you experience the moment as fully as possible, you can trust that the microphones will pick it all up.
Lage’s recent trio appearances with fiddle master Mark O’Connor (also collaborating with the violinist’s group, “Hot Swing”) and bass giant John Patitucci have only strengthened the imprint of Americana and acoustic music on his work. In fact, Lage debuted on record at age 11 on Dawg Duos (1999), featuring David Grisman, Vassar Clements, Edgar Meyer, Béla Fleck and more. “Those were my heroes,” Lage marvels. (He went on to recruit Fleck for three tracks on Sounding Point.)
“Working with Mark O’Connor made me realize you can bring that simplicity and elegance of the guitar to the main stage,” says Lage. “A lot of times growing up I felt the guitar had to be more like a saxophone or a piano – it was never really encouraged in jazz to use capos or open tuning, for instance. With Mark I felt I had permission to cultivate those sonic elements, and I discovered so much new music, like ‘Freight Train’ or old bluegrass tunes, or old-time music. It’s so coupled with the design of the instrument. When you’re playing that music on the guitar, it’s as though all the lights are green.”
Whether he’s playing his Linda Manzer electric archtop guitar, writing with his rare 1934 R.A. Mango, which he used to compose “233 Butler” (Lage recorded the track on his Manzer), or the 1932 Gibson L-5 heard on the tension-filled “Telegram” (inspired by Garry Harrison’s “Red Prairie Dawn”), Lage brings a purity of tone and consistency of attack to everything in his repertoire.
Hailed by All About Jazz as “a giant in the making,” Lage grew up in California and was the subject of an Academy Award-nominated documentary, Jules at Eight. He gained pivotal early exposure as a protégé of legendary vibraphonist Gary Burton, recording and touring with Burton on two projects: Generations (2004) and Next Generation (2005). Other recent high-profile sideman appearances include Lucky To Be Me and Let It Come To You by longtime friend and close collaborator, pianist Taylor Eigsti. Having reunited with Gary Burton for live engagements beginning in 2010, Julian can also be heard this year as a member of the “New Gary Burton Quartet” on the forthcoming CD Common Ground (featuring Scott Colley and Antonio Sanchez).
With his previous Sounding Point, Lage arrived at a unique approach to composition and ensemble craft, a searching yet accessible sound that earned him his 2009 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Jazz Album. The music was “a major find,” declared Time Out New York – “springy, intelligent chamber Americana that fits perfectly into a spectrum of Nonesuch-style players like Bill Frisell and Chris Thile’s Punch Brothers.” This new album represents another stage in that evolution, building on the proven strengths of and solidifying a unique identity for Lage’s working band but continuing to open new doors and exploring new horizons. As Lage himself puts it: “Welcome to Gladwell.”
Nick Nixon is one of those amazing artists that rarely surface today. This velvet voiced singer was born and raised in Nashville, TN, and was part of the thriving Jefferson Street blues scene of the 60′s. Nick was a Chess Records recording artist in the 70′s, and is a key figure in the reviving Nashville blues scene today. His latest, soon to be released CD was recorded with guitarist/bandleader “Andy T” Talamantez (Guitar Shorty, Smokey Wilson), and produced by Anson Funderburgh. This new CD will follow his successful 2001 release on the European, Black Magic label, No End to the Blues, and his acclaimed 2005 recording, Back Down South.
As a long-time member of The New Imperials, an act with a forty-five year history, Nick has performed with many of the top blues and R&B artists in the world.
Nixon is something of an institution in the Music City, regularly performing for civic functions and even singing before thousands at the Riverfront Park, accompanied by the Nashville Symphony. His blues duo, Nick and Bayou, is the only act to have ever sung in the chambers of the Nashville Metro Council.
Despite such a varied and successful career in the music business, Nixon is still remembered by many as a friend and sometime stage mate of the late, great Jimi Hendrix. Nick befriended Hendrix and his pal (and later to be Band of Gypsies member) Billy Cox when they arrived in Nashville in the early ’60s. To this day Nick often writes and performs with his good friend, Cox.
“Andy T” Talamantez was born and raised in Southern California, and relocated to Nashville in 2008. His guitar style is influenced by T-Bone Walker, BB King, Magic Sam, and Albert Collins among others, yet it remains his own. Andy has toured internationally with blues greats Guitar Shorty and Smokey Wilson, and has performed with a long list of major blues artists around the country.
After meeting James “Nick” Nixon, and watching him perform, Andy knew that they would make an unstoppable combination.
“Kim and Scott Collins, The Smoking Flowers, carry on the torch where Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris left off in their day, delivering beautifully produced, sometimes moody, songs with knockout harmonies… and less traditional than your classic country-folk duo by bringing a punk-attitude and energy to their highly infectious songs. A marriage of song and voice that is uniquely their own.” –AltCountry.NL Magazine
Plato wrote: “Rhythm and harmony find their way in the inward places of the soul.” The music of the soul should be steeped in a fiery, firmly held love, and the classic mingling of singing souls like Johnny and June Carter, Ike and Tina, and X’s John and Exene; they have become the voice of love for generations of music fans. Now there’s Nashville, Tennessee’s The Smoking Flowers, a band led by Kim and Scott Collins, married 14 years, vocalists and multi-instrumentalists who are just as red-hot soulful and sweet as those legendary duos; a duo that simply has a musical and relational love as strong as aged rare bourbon.
The Smoking Flowers fire up an East Nashville-based brand of rock, blues and country with a sweet flavor of Southern Gothic folk, all with a punk attitude. Their sophomore album 2 Guns will no doubt appeal to a large spectrum of fans when it hits the world this summer on August 6. The album was co-produced and engineered by Adam Landry, noted producer of Deer Tick, Middle Brother, and Diamond Rugs and former touring guitarist for Ray LaMontagne. Adam also added his own sublime guitar to it, giving it that dusky, diverse feeling of his other Americana projects. “Something I Said” is a single off the album, and was recently featured on the hit ABC show “Revenge.” Everything on 2 Guns was written and arranged together by Kim and Scott at their East Nashville home, and several tracks on the record were the first take recorded live. The realistic, street level poetic lyrics were thoughtfully written out over time and experience — but its thirteen songs were raucously brought into existence in single recorded takes over about four days, as if their lives depended on it.
And life actually did depend on it — for Kim, who was diagnosed with breast cancer just last year after they had mixed 2 Guns. The album was supposed to be released in the spring of 2012, but was put on hold while the couple faced this most dreaded disease together.
Kim’s breast cancer is in remission today, just over a year after her diagnosis, due to only using holistic methods, as she decided against chemotherapy, radiation and hormones. The very day she found out of her diagnosis, Kim committed to a diet of 100% raw food and radically alternative treatments. She and Scott now have a ferocious musical document that eerily proved to be a foreshadowing of the battle they were soon to encounter. You can’t fake the kind of urgency that flows and howls throughout the album, the couple tapping deeply into their punk and raw country & western roots. Kim cites influences that range from Led Zeppelin to Gillian Welch and The Ramones to Linda Ronstadt. Ironically, just a few years ago, Kim was considered by one of those very influences when she was up for the female vocalist spot in Robert Plant’s “Band of Joy”. Unbeknownst to Kim, Mr. Plant had been listening to some of her recordings and loved her voice. But as fate would have it her friend Patti Griffin got the role. “The job was clearly destined for Patti…I mean look at her and Robert now! I do believe in a good love story, after all,” says a sighing Kim. As for Scott and his influences, the answer ultimately comes down to just two words: Neil Young.
Scott was born in Missouri and raised near Highway 61, growing up aware of the importance and significance of that American music landmark, even attending Elvis’s funeral when he was only three years old. He became passionate about Neil Young in his young 20’s, and followed his dream to New York City before being lured by his brother to visit Nashville for the summer to start a band.
Kim and Scott met that summer in 1998 when Kim was the floor manager of heralded, taste-making scene venue 12th & Porter (Nashville’s CBGB’s of that era). Scott came by to see about a summer job. Kim was the only one in the restaurant at the time, and apparently sparks flew. Kim told Scott he didn’t need to fill out an application and he was hired on the spot. After only one date, Scott went back to the Big Apple and gathered up his things, telling his friends he thought he’d found the “one”, and moved to Nashville. Six months later, Kim and Scott were engaged.
Collectively among past and current projects, they have opened for beloved song-smiths including the Indigo Girls and Ben Folds Five, underground post punk artists Concrete Blonde, soulful rock bands including The Black Keys and The Black Crows, straight-ahead rock bands including The Strokes and reggae legend Ziggy Marley.
Tales of the road have it that when Kim and Scott are touring as a duo, they pull-up in their Volvo wagon stuffed full of gear, and crowds are amazed by all the instruments they pull-out for a two-piece. Kim dances between accordion, acoustic guitar, drums, mandolin, harmonica on “White Flags”, lots of banging shimmering tambourine and her own sensual, simmering country-soul vocals. On the album and live, Scott plays acoustic and electric guitar, harmonica, and delivers his vocals with the voice of a feisty, gin-battered, heart-on-sleeve, hardscrabble troubadour.
The story behind the cover of 2 Guns is as wild as everything else about the band’s history. It’s a real ghost town on Route 66. It exemplifies the gritty wanderlust of Kim and Scott. “We love to get in the car and just drive with no plan, and one time we rented a convertible and headed out on Route 66 into Arizona on a spontaneous trip. The cover of our album was a photo I took from the hood of our convertible, when we found the original dirt road of 66. It was deserted and surreal.” Kim says. “When we saw the ghost town of 2 Guns I had to stop to take photos and we ended up having quite a Quentin Tarantino-type experience! There was a man squatting in a Winnebago and a true hermit with a beard to his waist squatting in a nearby abandoned barn. They were the only two people in this ghost town. They told us stories of all the history of the land, how it had been cursed between the Navajos and the Apaches, involving lost gold. It made Tombstone look like Disneyland! We were invited inside the Winnebago to view a knife collection. That was a little scary, but ultimately they were beautiful characters, we actually didn’t want to leave.” Several of the songs on 2 Guns tell tale of this Western adventure. While other songs paint a picture of the other big adventure in their life… the adventure of a couple that lives together, writes together, plays together and simply loves life together.
Raised in Akron, OH, alt-country singer/songwriter Tim Easton was influenced by a combination of pop icons (the Beatles, Kiss) and bluegrass/folk legends (Doc Watson, John Prine). Kosher Spears, his college band from his days at Ohio State, performed their unique roots rock hybrid across the Midwest, and Easton eventually found himself busking in the streets of Paris, London, and Dublin. Returning to the States, his folk-based songwriting brought an earthy sound to the Haynes Boys (an existing rock band that recruited Easton in the mid-’90s) and they recorded one album, Guardian Angel, for New York-based Slab Records. The band subsequently split, with its members working in Gaunt and Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, and Easton pursuing his solo career. In 1998, Easton recorded his first solo album, Special 20, with session musicians in Nashville, and released it on his own Heathen Records. After inking a deal with EMI Publishing in the fall of 1999, he relocated to Los Angeles to explore scoring films and pursue a record deal. His performances at songwriter hubs like Largo and McCabe’s brought about a recording contract with New West Records, and his first release for the label was 2001’s The Truth About Us. 2003 brought his solid follow-up for the label, Break Your Mother’s Heart. It was followed by Ammunition in 2006. A concert set, Live at Water Canyon, appeared in 2008, followed by Porcupine in 2009 and a pair of self-released albums, Beat the Band and Since 1966, Volume 1, both in 2011.
Magnolia Sons is a retro soul and rock group based out of Nashville, Tennessee. They are a 11-piece supergroup composed of artists and musicians from all over the United States. Their music is a tribute to the vintage sound of classic rock and soul from the 1960’s and 1970’s.
“The Sons pull influence from the Stax and Volt and Motown catalogs, coating it with a smooth, upbeat, groove-laden delivery, catchy horn hooks and classic four-part harmonies about heartache.” – Nashville Cream
In the time of the resurgence of record collections, Magnolia Sons is both a throwback and a breath of fresh air. Inspired by The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops and the Temptations, Magnolia Sons have a sound that harkens back to the sound of 60’s soulsters and American Band Stand, and as a 11 piece, they definitely fit the retro profile. While many older fans will recognize the sound from their own record collections, it is new for many of their younger fans who can be found dancing along to the catchy tunes at many of Nashville’s venues.
What others are saying:
“…a sanguine set of unflinchingly upbeat retro power-pop and greasy, maximum R&B …bursts at its seams with life-embracing good vibes and enough infectious rhythm to inspire fevered responses to the band’s calls for foot stomps and handclaps.” – the Nashville Scene