may 2012

music city roots
Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver performing at Music City Roots, live from the Loveless Café

Waiting To Exhale

By David McGee

Various Artists
Compass Records

For the past two years roots music fans in and near Nashville have been journeying out to the fabled Loveless Café—more specifically to the Loveless Barn, behind the Café—to hear a well rounded lineup of established and up-and-coming bluegrass, country, folk and what-have-you artists serve up a night of songs and pickin’ every bit as fine as the fried chicken being served in nearby environs. This 11-song sampling from Season 1 bespeaks the originality and vitality of this genre, and also, by sheer unfortunate accident, has a couple of special and very moving movements that will have you holding your breath at the end.

The Black Lillies at Music City Roots, January 11, 2012, performing ‘Ruby.’

Host Jim Lauderdale kicks off the festivities with the driving, evocative “I Will Wait For You,” one of the many outstanding songs he co-wrote with Robert Hunter and recorded with Ralph Stanley. Lauderdale’s pugnacious vocal is forceful and urgent, and he backs it with his robust acoustic guitar strumming. 18 South follows with a change of pace in a shambling, funky “Late Night Ramble,” the lead song off its 2010 album, which bears the appropriately descriptive title of Soulful Southern Roots Music. Lead vocalist/songwriter Jessi Alexander delivers the tune with bluesy swagger and her cohort Jon Randall pitches in with some tasty guitar work and affecting harmonies, as Jimmi Wallace adds the spice of his New Orleans-inflected piano and Guthrie Trapp insinuates dobro moans into the soundscape. North Carolina’s funky quintet The Holy Ghost Tent Revival offers a shambling, good-time kind of missive to lost love (it’s not always easy to pin down the precise topics of the band’s songs), “Walking Over My Grave,” complete with a lovely pop melody; earnest, often cascading vocals; and a rowdy backdrop keyed by Hank Widmer’s jaunty trombone, which rather underscores the free-spirited, let-bygones-be-bygones nature of the tune’s narrative. Similarly, Miss Tess and the Bon Ton Parade strut and sprint through a sax-fueled romp, “That Oo Oo Oo,” straight outta the ‘40s Hit Parade, and the Black Lillies cut out on a rockin’ “Little Darlin’,” riding a chugging, fiddle-fired rhythmic pulse to paydirt.

The McCrary Sisters gospelize Bob Dylan’s ‘Blowin’ In the Wind’ at Music City Roots, March 14, 2012.

Twangy, intense and polished, Nanci Griffith’s irresistible “Listen to the Radio” is a classic country road song that brings out the expressive best in Griffith’s resonant ache of a voice; a solo acoustic Scott Miller checks in with stark, plaintive reading of his bittersweet ballad, “Appalachian Refugee,” a signal, career altering moment in Miller’s career when it was the title song of his like-titled, self-released 2009 album and in the context of Music City Roots a thoughtful reminder of the deepest sources of much of the music presented on this disc. In a savvy bit of sequencing, Miller’s earthy treatise is followed by Caitlin Rose’s devastating “Sinful Wishing Well,” a steel-drenched chronicle of its narrator’s unceasing descent into total despair, made doubly searing by the constant cry in Rose’s voice. A bit of gospel relief from all this misery comes courtesy a keening-voiced Mike Farris and the spirit-infused McCrary Sisters on the hallelujah moment of Farris’s self-penned “I’m Gonna Get There.”

Matraca Berg at Music City Roots, November 30, 2011, ‘If I Had Wings’

Music City Roots also happens to contain what would be one of Charlie Louvin’s final public performances, represented here by his emotional reading of Edwin Bruce’s tearjerker, “See the Big Man Cry.” And unintentionally it pays tribute to Levon Helm by closing with a funky-plus treatment of “Up On Cripple Creek,” with Jim Lauderdale, Sam Bush and Mike Farris leading the way on a jam of more than eight minutes’ duration, trading weathered lead vocals and evoking the unquenchable American spirit of the Band’s late, great drummer. On a disc boasting uniformly splendid performances of scintillating variety, these two pack an unexpected emotional wallop that elevates Music City Roots to an exalted plane. Feel free to exhale when the music stops.

Music City Roots: Live From The Loveless Café is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024