By Craig Havighurst, Music City Roots Producer
“Turn On Your Love Light” is a fascinating song that’s been all over the world of music since it was written by Joe Scott and recorded by Bobby “Blue” Bland in 1961. The Grateful Dead made it a core of its repertoire and played on it for 45 minutes at Woodstock. It was a staple of Van Morrison’s first band and was part of what helped Them (the band was actually called Them) get signed. It’s been covered by Jerry Lee Lewis, Bob Seger, Tom Jones, Conway Twitty and The Blues Brothers. What a variety show. And it will forever be marked as the song that the great Col. Bruce Hampton was jamming on when he collapsed and died on May 1, 2017. Our final band this week, Great American Taxi, had direct connections to and huge admiration for Col. Bruce, and we have been remembering this musical innovators and risk-taker and guru all week. So “Love Light” became our weekly jam. And hopefully, in these blurry, foggy times, words to live by.
John Carter Cash took the stage first with a quirky 6/8 shuffle written by Cowboy Jack Clement that evokes Alpha Centauri (Col. Bruce would have approved). Trusted Cash co-writer Bill Miller appeared for a turn on their song “Brave Young Man.” But the highlight was certainly JCC’s version of “Hurt,” the Nine Inch Nails song that improbably became one of Johnny Cash’s late career landmarks. The tune surges so beautifully, and the crack band made it emotionally potent.
It was interesting watching and feeling the house warm up to Colter Wall. It wasn’t instant. But it was very real as the bonds were made. He began his first song solo but as he approached the first chorus of “Thirteen Silver Dollars” his band crept on stage and picked up instruments to be there for a big down beat. They took a turn on Townes Van Zandt’s famous “White Freight Liner Blues” with fiddler Anna Blanton digging in and bearing down. The energy ramped up on “Kate McCannon” a multi-faceted murder ballad that seemed like a re-working of the ancient Matty Groves ballad. Wall’s booming bass/baritone voice is very effective. The standing ovation confirmed it.
From dark and deep to sweet and lilting we went as Dori Freeman took the stage accompanied by her dad on mandolin. This Virginia artist, praised with a Top 10 all-genres album by the New York Times last year, is insanely good with melody. She could sing her songs in Danish and I’d be riveted because the music is so fetching. But the lyrics are superb too, with relatable stories of love and life. The most striking song was one she said she picked up from her grandfather, her key musical mentor. “Sneakin’ Bitin’ Dog” was, she said, her favorite song as a little girl, and it had the kind of tuneful playfulness that would make a kid fall in love with music. Her pure a cappella performance of this semi-comic number was resonant magic.
With its full bodied energy and national reputation, Great American Taxi was a natural to close the show. They dove right into the opening track from their new album, which is a song I’ve been admiring for its harmonically rich take on the blues and for the solos featuring Jim Lewin and Arther Lee Land trading fours. It was awesome to hear them do that live. “All The Angels” is a rocker with bluegrass overtones that’s been great on WMOT and was atmospheric and rich on our stage. And the band celebrated their love of live music on “Silver Fiddle.” We certainly relate.