By Craig Havighurst, Music City Roots Producer
It’s a big country, this America, and Americana music is concomitantly enriched by its host nation’s geography and diversity. That was on display Wednesday night as Roots hosted artists from New York, Texas, Massachusetts and Washington. Strings were stretched, along with rules and genre boundaries. There’s no point in reaching for a fancy way to say it. This one was a delight and the crowd seemed to agree, what with all the frequent standing and applauding.
We turned the ignition over with our most electric if least eclectic artist of the night. Carolyn Wonderland has flying red hair and lightning bolt notes. Her dense and beautiful guitar tone starts with a bare fingered right hand attack and ends with vintage amps, and her musical heart knows what to do with those tools. Opener “Come Together” was a new Ruthie Foster co-write with heaps of soul and an amazing vocalese section pairing sung scat and guitar. The long chordal solo in “Room At The End” was spectacular. Wonderland relishes the stage like few others.
Driftwood was, to be blunt about it, fantastic – my own private Idaho of what roots music should be about: old time instruments and newfangled ideas. The quartet was closely bunched on stage to play off one another’s energy. The songs were daring and varied. A cover of Dylan’s “Tombstone Blues” by Dan Forsyth unfolded like an epic with a bold banjo solo by Joe Kollar. It got a standing ovation in the hall and all kinds of raves backstage. Claire Byrne’s attention getting voice stood out on “Lost Cause” and the final song “Brother” was a tour de force of arrangement and dynamics.
The guys from the Lonely Heartstring Band told me in the interview that they worked up a lot of Beatles arrangements when they first got together, and that explains a lot about their clean, smiling harmonies. George Clements leads with a rich and slightly raspy voice. They can really pick. But ultimately it’s about songs and they’ve got them. “The Road Salvation” rolls forward as its title suggests. “Songbird” is a flat gorgeous and delicate waltz. Tunes like closer “The Other Side” benefit from a contrast of slow melody laid over a brisk bluegrass tempo.
Western Centuries featured low key, laid back guys singing country music that was tightly constructed, swinging and imaginative without being clearly progressive or transgressive. Cahalen Morrison sang lead on the first two songs sounding comfortably like Merle Haggard in blue jeans. Then in an unexpected move he swapped places with the drummer and Ethan Lawton who sang lead on his songs, which had more of a hippie groove. I was reminded of that great band Sessions Americana who visited us a while back in the camaraderie of skilled players who love shifting leaders and roles. I hope they make it East more often.