Friday, 29 July 2016

Five Nights in Nashville, Tennessee - Friday 8th to Sunday 10th and Monday 18th to Tuesday 19th July 2016

Elizabeth Cook
Nashville Tennessee provided the Southern gateway and exit point for a three week US road trip that included twelve days in the South. The five split nights in a city hailed by a tour guide as ‘LA East’ due to its rapid expansion, were going to be dominated by music with a desire to seek out an alternative side of the city. So in 2016 there was no Grand Ole Opry, no Ryman Auditorium and minimal time in the bars of Broadway. In its place, a few new venues, other iconic music names on a smaller scale, old and new artists and a venture east of the Cumberland to the other side of town. Here is a chronological wander through the delights of Music City.

Friday teatime, hop into the hire car and a trip to Grimey’s Record Shop for an in-store with a difference. Eight years have passed since I last saw Elizabeth Cook play live when she visited The Maze in Nottingham. Maybe the term gig was stretching it a touch when this show appeared on Bands in Town, but thirty minutes of Elizabeth Cook was not going to be missed in a cool record shop. The set up was totally professional with full band in tow and plenty of copies of the new album to sell. Elizabeth chose to showcase six tracks off EXODUS OF VENUS to a packed shop gathering and these sounded brilliant live. ‘Slow Pain’, ‘Methadone Blues’ and ‘Broke Down in London on the M25’ were the pick of the selection as well as creating a desire for Elizabeth to return to the UK soon to play these songs in a full show. Of course any trip to Grimey’s wouldn’t be complete without a reduced bank balance and new albums from Aubrie Sellers, Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Parker Millsap were the culprits.

Brandy Zdan
The Bluebird CafĂ© is one of Nashville’s iconic listening venues and on this Friday night hosted four of the city’s most experienced songwriters. Bill Lloyd, Don Henry, Kim Richey and Matraca Berg are the architects of many hits over the years and the quartet teamed up for an ‘in the round’ songwriter’s circle. The evening panned out as expected with a cyclical rotation of songs and stories. The only issue of such a set up in a packed venue is you continually see the back of one performer and tonight for me was Matraca Berg. This seasoned songwriter didn’t disappoint with her choices starting off with ‘You and Tequila’ and finishing with the classic ‘Strawberry Wine’. The pick of Kim’s songs were ‘Those Words We Said’ and ‘Thorn in My Side’. Bill played the compere role for the evening and decided to throw in a couple of new songs to test them out. Probably the most popular song of the evening was Don’s ‘All Kind of Kinds’ made famous when Miranda Lambert cut it. Despite visiting Nashville before, this was a first visit to the Bluebird and it was a privilege to attend on an evening when some legends were present.

Day two of the first Nashville segment saw a saunter across the river to the East part of town and a brace of gigs in venues highly recommended by touring musicians visiting the UK. However before this venture a slight detour 125 miles south was undertaken to Muscle Shoals Alabama and time spent at both the Fame Recording Studio and the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. The first of these included the obligatory tour and many stories told of how such a small building created a soundtrack to popular music. The second went to town on state pride and why not when you are home to amongst others – Hank Williams and Jason Isbell. Back up the I-65 to Nashville, beat the crowd heading to Nissan Stadium to see the Guns ‘n’ Roses and Chris Stapleton gig and locate the 5 Spot for an early show featuring Mark Edgar Stuart and Brandy Zdan. Mark played the opening half hour as a solo performer before Brandy and her band took to the stage for an hour long set. Brandy was the artist I was most familiar with and this was the first time seeing her live. Maybe it was a touch too early to pull in many punters, but she truly rocked the venue with a blistering performance edged with a dash of finesse.

Christian Lopez
No sooner had Brandy finished her set and it was quickly down to the Family Wash to catch the nine o’clock David Olney show. While the 5 Spot was a strictly music venue akin with many sticky floor places back home, the Family Wash was a packed restaurant which meant seating to see the artist was restricted by availability. Still a meal was consumed while David played songs from a lengthy career writing and singing folk music. One of the familiar songs from his pair of sets was ‘Jesus Met the Woman at the Well’, remembered from a version on Tom Russell’s ROSE OF ROSCRAE.

One more night on this first segment of Nashville and a show at the City Winery that was to subsequently bring to my attention the find of the trip. The event in question was the Eldon Thacker Radio Show which was held in the upstairs room at the venue and broadcast for two hours live at seven each Sunday. There were two special guests playing live on this week’s show with both getting plenty of opportunities to play their own material among the chat, other music played and sponsor’s messages. Larissia Murphy was the guest in the first hour and played several fine songs clearly inspired by the great female singer-songwriters of the country/folk/Americana tradition like Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton.

The Time Jumpers featuring Vince Gill 
The artist which alerted me to this event was the Christian Lopez Band and they dominated proceedings for the second hour. Prior to listening to Christian, two parts to his blurb stood out. First he was selected as one of the pick of the artists to play the Americana Music Festival in 2015 and secondly his debut album was produced by Dave Cobb. ONWARD is now proudly in the record collection and the name is no longer a mystery. Christian had not reached twenty years of age at the time of the show and displayed an immense maturity with the style of his songs. The chat with the radio host revealed an upbringing on ACDC and how his current sound had emerged after finding country music in his mid to late teens. This guy was immensely impressive and continual playing of the record reveals a striking similarity to Jason Isbell. Maybe the Dave Cobb effect or a genuine talent or both, either way check him out.

Seven days later after a tour of other places around the South, a return to Nashville was made for two further nights before a flight up North. It was a Monday so the place to be in town was 3rd and Lindsley and a Time Jumpers gig. The venue surprised me with its size and lack of available tables due to a large amount of people eating but on the stroke of nine full focus of everyone was the stage and some of the finest musicians that you will see. With a little bit of good fortune Vince Gill was with the band tonight, but he is with a bunch of equals when part of the legendary Time Jumpers. For over two hours the band poured through loads of Western Swing and country classics along with original material and the odd guest. Of particular interest was their version of ‘All That’s Left’ that was cut with Miranda Lambert on the PLATINUM album and an appearance by rising country star Charlie Worsham who sang a version of Hank’s ‘Honky Tonk Blues’. On a trip of many musical highs, an evening with The Time Jumpers was up there with the best.
Ben Glover

A final night in Nashville and a lower key ending that promised Ben Glover a spot in the feature next to Vince Gill. Ben was playing a set at McNamara’s Irish Bar on the outskirts of the city and it was good to catch up with an artist who has begun to make inroads back across the pond following his work with Mary Gauthier, Gretchen Peters and subsequent release of the excellent ATLANTIC album. Not forgetting his superb haunted work with the Orphan Brigade. Ben was appearing with fiddle player Bill Verdier and used the opportunity to play songs from across his own records in addition to the Irish covers which were likely part of the contract. Now settled in Nashville, Ben never loses the Irish influence to his music to the extent that his new album out in September titled THE EMIGRANT has a very Celtic feel to it.

One final word on the Nashville part of the tour must be allotted to the Dylan Cash and the Nashville Cats exhibition at the Country Music Hall of Fame Museum. This was a fabulous and informative array of exhibits detailing the point where Nashville started to emerge as Music City and not just the recording capital of country music. A fitting tribute to a river town where dreams are made and the music never stops. 

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