Only in Nashville are cuts something you want lots of. Elsewhere, a cut is a physical wound or an emotional insult, but here, a cut is when somebody else records your song, thus turning on a multi-decade stream of income, miniscule or mighty, back to you, the composer. For the professionals, this is essential to viable career. But from our point of view as fans, cuts can be an indicator of a particularly nimble, creative and prolific maker of music. This week features two artists who are proven featured performers but whose living and legacies may be defined more by the songs they’ve added to the American canon that have been interpreted by others.
It’s hard to have more cuts than Gary Nicholson, one of Music City’s most revered and diversified composers. Contemplating this week’s lineup I got to wondering what the first Gary Nicholson song I ever heard was. It might have been Vince Gill singing “One More Last Chance,” which I remember hitting me like a brick back in the 90s. Maybe it was Patty Loveless singing “The Trouble With The Truth,” though the google-pedia tells me that was a few years later. What I do know is that back then I had only the vague notion that there were Nashville songwriters behind the scenes who specialized in the articulate, revelatory language of country music. When I got familiar with Gary Nicholson, it became quickly clear he’d mastered country and many more genres besides. This master has had songs recorded by Arthur Alexander, John Mayall, Gatemouth Brown and other R&B icons. And you know how we had Lee Roy Parnell on last week? Well I felt sure that Lee Roy, with his soul/blues leanings, must have cut a few of Gary’s songs, so I went to Gary’s neat as a pin discography page and yeah, he cut a few. Twenty eight. I learned one more thing. Nicholson is not yet in the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame. That made me puzzled and perturbed. I’m pretty confident that will be remedied in the years to come.
Another fellow who knows how to land cuts is the flinty, elusive Travis Meadows, who makes his MCR debut this week. Better known in songwriting and publishing circles than he is to the music fan base, Meadows has worked with and been recorded by Mary Gauthier, Dierks Bentley, Eric Church and Blackberry Smoke among others. And he has recorded several acclaimed albums of gutsy country music. But as the bio to his brand new album First Cigarette relates, Meadows is going to unprecedented lengths to make peace with his turbulent past – early addictions, battling cancer, getting Christian sober and then relapsing and then recovering. It’s quite a story and it’s led to some really vivid and honest songs.
A year ago, at AmericanaFest 2016, I spent some happy hours at the coming out party for Café Rooster Records, the plucky label established out of the Donelson, TN home of artists Brian Wright and Sally Jaye. Sally’s amazing duo Ladies Gun Club performed, as did wry folk poet Darrin Bradbury. But there was this one big, bearded guy who joined in here and there and sang some guest tunes that were really strong. He turned out to be Jon Latham, and he spent the year since coming fully into his own. The good folks at Café Rooster Records don’t mess around with anything less than great music, and that’s what Latham serves up on his new Lifers album. It’s hearty and tuneful Americana country rock. If you’d given me a blindfold test I might have identified “Learning Now” as a Jason Isbell track and elsewhere he strikes me as kin to Chris Knight. I asked Sally for her take on John, and she wrote me back with a lot to say, including the following: “his powerhouse voice, his gift as a multi-instrumentalist, his passion and authenticity have made him a beloved member of the East Nashville music scene. Artists like Todd Snider, Aaron Lee Tasjan and Kevn Kinney have taken notice and are helping introduce Jon to a larger audience.” That would be you.
We’ve enjoyed the company and music of Kirsty Lee Akers before, but not at the Factory or even the Loveless Cafe. No it was 10,000 miles away when Roots went on the road to the Tamworth Country Music Festival in Australia some years ago. Akers was one of the native country artists who joined our global lineup and here’s what I said then: “She’s country as cornbread, with pipes that are not unlike those of Elizabeth Cook. Her music had blazing Telecaster twang, ancient tone harmonies and ripping train beats.” Since then, she’s moved to Nashville, written with the city’s big guns and released her debut album for Maven/Sony. And song king Jerry Salley calls her “pure and real.” We think you’ll agree.
I’ll be missing this week’s fun to be in Raleigh, NC to cover the World of Bluegrass for WMOT. Our friend Larry Nager will handle the interviews, though I must admit, given the interesting journeys of this week’s guests, I’m envious. The action starts at 7 pm as usual. And it’ll be a cut above your average variety show.