This week on Music City Roots, we have an amazing show to kick off your weekend with the Roland White Band, The Gibson Brothers, Miss Tess & The Talkbacks, Foghorn Stringband, and Cooper & The Jam! Jim Lauderdale hosts.
About the artists:
After a distinguished career devoted to playing bluegrass in several of the most popular and influential groups in the music’s history, Roland White has recently embarked on another chapter of personal musical discovery, fronting his own bluegrass group, The Roland White Band. Roland is known as one of the few unique stylists on the mandolin, with his own unmistakable sound and touch. His gifts as a musician have delighted audiences everywhere: his vitality, soul, and infectious rhythm enable him to speak and even dance through his instrument. Add to this his mastery of ensemble playing, harmonic sophistication, and warm voice guided by a subtle and swinging sense of phrasing, and you have the legend of bluegrass that Roland has become.
Springing from a large family of musicians, Roland, along with brothers Eric and Clarence, first formed a band in southern California, The Country Boys (later to become the Kentucky Colonels). They won talent contests and appeared on local television shows and even landed appearances on The Andy Griffith Show. The Kentucky Colonels influence has far exceeded the band’s short tenure as an active band. Their “Appalachian Swing” album remains one of the most influential albums of that era, a landmark in the history of bluegrass. Roland’s tradition-based yet imaginative mandolin playing alongside Clarence’s breathtaking guitar virtuosity make this an indispensable item in any true bluegrass aficionado’s collection. Among pickers, tapes of the band’s concerts are reverently passed from hand to hand to this day. During the years the Kentucky Colonels were together, they featured such great musicians as Roger Bush, Billy Ray Lathum, Leroy Mack, Bobby Slone, and the legendary fiddler Scott Stoneman. A short-lived reunion of The White Brothers was brought to an untimely end due to Clarence White’s tragic death in the early ‘70s.
Moving from The Kentucky Colonels into a position as guitarist for Bill Monroe in the late ‘60s, Roland absorbed the traditional feel and repertoire from the acknowledged Father Of Bluegrass that remains a strong element in his music today. He also took part in several landmark recording sessions while a Bluegrass Boy, among them The Gold Rush, Is The Blue Moon Still Shining, Crossing The Cumberlands, Sally Goodin, Kentucky Mandolin, and The Walls Of Time. From Monroe’s band, Roland moved on to that of another bluegrass pioneer, Lester Flatt, playing mandolin and recording several albums as a member of The Nashville Grass from 1969-1973. He then spent thirteen years with the progressive west coast group Country Gazette, with such bluegrass luminaries as Byron Berline, Alan Munde, Joe Carr, and Roger Bush. Roland’s most recent musical affiliation, with the highly acclaimed and decorated Nashville Bluegrass Band, began in 1989 and came to a close at the end of 2000, when Roland formed The Roland White Band. The Nashville Bluegrass Band distinguished themselves as the premier bluegrass band of their generation, winning two Grammys and Grammy nominations on all of their albums. Roland has received many awards over the years, from a talent show prize won as a teenager with his band comprised of brothers and sister, to IBMA, SPGMA, and Grammy awards earned as a member of the Nashville Bluegrass Band in recent years. The Roland White Band’s debut album Jelly On My Tofu was nominated for the Best Bluegrass Album Grammy in 2003.
Roland has taught mandolin and guitar privately for the past 12 years and teaches in many workshops and camps, including Augusta Heritage Week, Camp Bluegrass, Rockygrass Academy, Bluegrass Masters Camp, Bluegrass at the Beach, Nashcamp, Roanoke Bluegrass Weekend, and Kaufman Camp. He has also recently put out his own instruction book/CD sets,
Roland White’s Approach To Bluegrass Mandolin and Roland White’s Mandolin Christmas. He has a reputation as a gentle and patient teacher.
The Gibson Brothers were voted 2013 Entertainers of the Year at the IBMA World of Bluegrass 24th Annual Awards Show in Raleigh, N.C. We also won the Vocal Group of the Year, Song of the Year (“They Called It Music”) and Eric was named the Songwriter of the Year.
Last Year the Gibson Brothers took home the 2012 Entertainer of the Year Award at the 23rd annual International Bluegrass Music Awards at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium. The same night we won the “Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year” award for “Singing As We Rise.”
Help My Brother, our tenth album, won the prestigious 2011 IBMA Album of the Year Award. We were named the 2011 IBMA Vocal Group of the Year, the first time a brother duet has won this award. Help My Brother held the #1 position on the Bluegrass Unlimited Album chart for 8 months. It definitely had staying power, with songs charting on the BU Top 30 more than a year after its release.
These awards followed on the success of Ring the Bell. The title cut of that album won the 2010 IBMA Song and Gospel Recorded Performance of the Year. Our 2013 release is They Called It Music on Compass Records.
Music’s brought us a lot of interesting experiences and many friends. We truly appreciate every one of them. We’ve been very fortunate to be honored on the historic Ryman stage several times. And each time our thoughts are back home with the people who helped us get there.
Last year, Eric and Leigh Gibson found that lyric, from the title track of their new record They Called It Music, to be truer than they could have realized.
2012 was a year of triumph for the Gibsons, who took home the Entertainer of the Year trophy, bluegrass music’s highest honor, at the International Bluegrass Music Awards. But it was also a time of tragedy due to the death of their father, the duo’s biggest supporter, who passed away before he saw his boys recognized on bluegrass music’s biggest stage. Kelley Gibson, the last in a line of family farmers who had tended soil and raised dairy cattle since the Civil War, was adamant that his two sons not follow in his footsteps; he knew all too well the backbreaking labor and financial instability such a career entailed, especially in a town like Ellenburg Depot in upstate New York, where the climate is temperamental and the land ill-suited for growing much beyond hay for the herds.
When it comes to sustainability and stability, a career in music isn’t the first that comes to mind. But Eric and Leigh, despite being geographically removed from the genre’s Appalachian roots, have made a name for themselves in bluegrass over the past two decades, playing over 80 shows and festivals a year and gradually building a deeply dedicated, nationwide fan base with their spellbinding harmony singing, which can reach the high lonesome notes of Bill and Charlie Monroe and capture the tenderness of pop/country crooners the Everly Brothers.
They Called It Music, the Gibson Brothers’ third release for roots label Compass Records and the follow-up to 2011’s IBMA Album of the Year, Help My Brother, is their best yet, incorporating their varied influences–which range from Roy Acuff to Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers–and delivering gorgeous acoustic music with the finesse that only comes from decades of experience. They’ve always had an uncanny ability to blend the classic and the modern, a tradition that continues on this album. “Home on the River,” a spiritual song that’s approximately a century old—and was recorded by the Delmore Brothers decades before the Gibsons were born–fits seamlessly among well-written originals and covers of songs by contemporary artists like Mark Knopfler (“Daddy’s Gone to Knoxville”) and Shawn Camp and Loretta Lynn (“Dying for Someone to Live For”). “There are so many different flavors on this record,” Leigh says. “Every song has its own personality.”
While both Leigh and Eric have written extensively for their prior albums, as they were working on material for They Called It Music, the latter found a renewed passion for writing. “In the past, I’ve waited for inspiration, but, to me, if you’re going to call yourself a songwriter, you need to find time to write songs,” he explains. The time Eric found wasn’t always deliberate—the poignant album closer “Songbird’s Song” was written during a losing battle with insomnia while on tour in Europe—but the work he put into his craft paid off: the six songs he wrote or co-wrote for They Called It Music, including the title track, display a sharp eye for detail and, in the case of “Something Comin’ to Me,” which was written with Leigh and Shawn Camp a month after Kelley Gibson’s passing, heartbreaking emotional rawness.
The dozen songs on They Called It Music were specifically chosen to highlight the brothers’ hallmark: their sublime harmonies. “That’s always been our calling card,” says Eric, “But we wanted to accentuate it on this record.” “Home on the River” features close harmony singing throughout the entire song, and on rafter-rattlers like “Dusty Old World” and “Sundown and Sorrow,” the harmonies are so tight it’s hard to tell where one brother’s voice ends and the other’s begins.
The five-man band has honed their sound through hundreds of shows and thousands of miles. Mike Barber has played bass behind Eric’s banjo and Leigh‘s guitar for 20 years, so long that he’s affectionately nicknamed “the third Gibson Brother;” fiddler Clayton Campbell has been with them for eight, and the group’s newest member, Joe Walsh, recently celebrated his fourth anniversary as the band’s mandolin player. It’s a lineup that gets better with each performance, providing deft and tasteful backing for Leigh and Eric’s harmonies and occasionally tearing through a blistering bluegrass instrumental. They’re in sync onstage and in-studio – much of They Called It Music was recorded live at Compass Sound Studios in Nashville, capturing the exhilarating energy and impeccable musicianship that captivate the crowds who flock to their performances.
The Brooklyn-based singer and her band make grooving modern vintage music that nods to the traditions of saloon jazz, country swing, early rockabilly, and New Orleans second line, yet somehow maintains a unique and personal sound. Miss Tess & The Talkbacks have just released The Love I Have For You, their second on rootsy label Signature Sounds (Lake Street Dive, Eilen Jewell, Chris Smither, Erin McKeown…). The new album was produced by Miss Tess & The Talkbacks and recorded and mixed by Devin Greenwood (Norah Jones, Anais Mitchell, Amos Lee) in Brooklyn, NY. The 7-song album features six covers and one new original and pays homage to some of Tess’s favorite singers and songwriters including Willie Nelson, Bonnie Raitt, Neil Young, Ted Hawkins, Randy Newman, and Hank Williams. Miss Tess explains how the band chose the 6 songs to cover: “Each artist we covered has held a special place in the history of our lives, as well as in the history of American music. These folks are all musical giants who dedicated their lives to music, and for that I hold them in the highest esteem.”
In their earlier incarnation, they were known as Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade and that, says Miss Tess, proved both too small of a box and too confusing. They were consistently confused for a zydeco band or a New Orleans band. “When I conceived of the band in Boston back in 2006 or so, we had a horn player and we were a little more jazz influenced,” she says. “In the last couple of years the sound has evolved, something that naturally happens when you spend so much time on the road with a band. We’ve become slightly edgier and there is some more country and early rock n’ roll coming through. We now have two electric guitars. I’d been thinking about a change for a while and we finally settled on a name. With a name like the Talkbacks, it is what it is.”
That’s a good thing because it’s not easy to define Miss Tess and the Talkbacks.
Their last album, 2012’s Sweet Talk, includes 10 originals and a smoldering cover of “I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire, ” the Ink Spots classic. The originals include the bawdy cabaret of “Don’t Tell Mama,” the waltzing “Save Me St. Peter” (“Walking on water is a hell of a stand / With no solid ground and no helping hand.”), the dance hop, swamp rocking of “People Come Here for Gold,” and the burning jazz blues of “If You Wanna Be My Man,” which easily could have been sung by Ella Fitzgerald or Sarah Vaughan, two of her early idols.
Miss Tess also lists Bonnie Raitt and Tom Waits among the artists she admires. Both have that ambitious stylistic range. Waits, she notes, “was able to take some of those older jazz and blues influences and kind of twist them around and do his own thing.” That’s just what Tess and her band do again and again with top notch musicianship to boot.
Foghorn Stringband is the shining gold standard for American stringband music, with seven albums, thousands of shows, over a decade of touring under their belts, and two entirely new generations of old-time musicians following their lead. Through all this, they’ve never let the music grow cold; instead they’ve been steadily proving that American roots music is a never-ending well of inspiration. From their origins in Portland, Oregon’s underground roots music scene, the core duo of Foghorn Stringband, Caleb Klauder, whose wistful, keening vocals and rapid-fire mandolin picking have always been the heart of the band, and Stephen ‘Sammy’ Lind, perhaps the best old-time fiddler of his generation, have spread the old-time stringband gospel all over the world, but they’ve also brought in new influences and inspirations from their many travels and fellow bandmates. Vintage country and honky-tonk became a staple of Foghorn Stringband thanks to Klauder’s intense passion for the music, and frequent visits to Louisiana have inspired the group to bring Cajun songs into the repertoire.
As the music has changed, the band has changed and reformed as well. Canadian singer and bassist Nadine Landry, from Québec via the Yukon, joined the band in 2008, bringing a wealth of experience as an internationally touring bluegrass musician. New member, singer and guitarist Reeb Willms, came down from Bellingham with a suitcase of old, vintage country songs and a powerfully beautiful, pure voice born in the farmlands of Washington State. It’s a new Foghorn Stringband these days, but the music is as furiously compelling as ever. For the group that first broke the good news about Southern old-time music to new generations, a new album and new tour dates are both a return to form and a fresh new start.
Wowing audiences across the country and across the pond playing over 200 days a year, Foghorn is one of the most sought after acts for festival stages and music camps, and are band mates for world renowned master old-time musician Dirk Powell and Cajun legends Joel Savoy and Jesse Lége. Recent festivals and venues they’ve played include San Francisco Bluegrass & Old-Time Festival, Pickathon, Sioux River Folk Festival, The Old Town School of Folk Music, California Bluegrass Association’s Father’s Day Bluegrass Festival, Freight & Salvage, Bristol Rhythm & Roots, Austin Stringband Festival, and many more, including extensive tours of the UK and Ireland! They were selected as Official Showcase Artists at the 2011 IBMA Conference.
Foghorn Stringband play the old way, the way you’d have heard stringbands play on Southern radio stations back in the 1930s. They don’t fancy up the music to make it more modern, instead they reach into the heart of the songs, pulling out the deep emotions that made them so enduring in the first place. Performing live, these multi- instrumentalists gather around a single microphone in the middle of the stage, expertly balancing their sound on the fly, and creating the rarest of music: songs that are at once wildly virtuosic and intimately hand-crafted. Foghorn Stringband play American roots music of the finest order.
Fresh on the scene, Cooper brings a fiery spirit and a massive voice to the turn table. She performs with a power and tenacity that is difficult for most young women to muster. Just named one of Nashville’s top 5 artists on the rise for 2014 by Nashville Lifestyles Magazine, Cooper and her extraordinary band have been kicking ass in Music City and stealing hearts across the country.
Born and raised in the rural Oregon coastal mountain range, she moved to Portland OR and put herself through college while performing in local night clubs and bartending at a seedy strip club. Upon graduation, she packed up her VW van and moved to Nashville TN to write and record her first album and to launch her dream career.
Cooper played her first show in Nashville opening for the Queen of Rock and Roll, Wanda Jackson, at a birthday bash held for fashion icon Manuel. Her music caught the ear of music industry notables and she recorded her full length album, Motown Suite, at The Tracking Room (as seen on ABC’s new hit drama Nashville), one of Nashville’s top recording studios.
Cooper has since, formed two bands on each side of the country. The Jam, complete with horn sections, and back up singer/dancers, is a collective of over 20 musicians that back her touring adventures. Her music is as big and bold as her ambition and her performances rock the house.
On Record Store Day 2013, Cooper performed on both sides of the country in one day. She Pulled a cross-country stunt that included 21 musicians, 2 planes, 2 record stores, and a lot of balls.
Most recently, Cooper and The Jam opened for Legends Mavis Staples and Robert Plant at the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland OR.
Cooper’s 7 inch single, Cooper Live at the Historic Star Theater, was selected as an official Record Store Day release, and the buzz has begun to spread as far as Japan, that this indie artist has something special. Cooper is a bright new talent that draws from the past and paints the future with a fresh and unique style.