Roscoe Shelton and Earl Gaines, two of Nashville’s greatest living soul vocalists, will demonstrate their powerful singing styles and celebrate the release of new albums Wednesday night at 3rd & Lindsley. Both Shelton’s Let It Shine and Gaines’ Everything’s Gonna Be Alright, which have just been issued on Black Top Records, were produced by fellow Nashvillian Fred James, a master guitarist and songwriter as well as top studio maven. They’re showcases for the kind of explosive, no-holds-barred, distinctive vocals and backing that recall the heyday of Southern country-soul. Yet neither LP is so rooted in the past it lacks contemporary relevance.
Shelton was once lead vocalist for the Fairfield Four, and he cut some mesmerizing singles with another gospel group, the Skylarks. Excello Records’ Ernie Young then signed him to a secular deal, and Shelton’s first LP, Roscoe Shelton Sings, was a monster effort. After leaving Excello in 1962, he continued making fabulous records for Simms and Soundstage. Despite their excellence, though, the records never broke nationally, and after working the chitlin circuit with such blues greats as Freddie King and B.B. King, Shelton retired in 1969. Fortunately, he’s had a change of heart, and he’s been quite active the past few years, recording for Appaloosa and Magnum and making select appearances.
Earl Gaines was also a celebrated soul singer in the ’60s, although he’d enjoyed some success during the ’50s as well. Gaines moved to Nashville from Decatur, Ga., in 1951, and he became the featured vocalist for Excello’s act the Hi-Toppers. They scored a hit with the 1955 single “It’s Love Baby (24 Hours A Day).” He later cut several solo singles for both Excello and Champion before moving to HBR in the mid-’60s. He recorded albums for HBR and King, a single for Ace, and an album and some singles for Sound Stage 7 in the late ’60s and ’70s, but they didn’t garner much attention. He too left the music world for a time, then returned with a vengeance in 1994. He’s been playing occasional club dates ever since.
After their Wednesday performance, Gaines and Shelton will tour as the Excello Legends with another former labelmate, Clifford Curry, throughout this year into mid-’99. As their current records prove, there’s plenty of musical energy and intensity left in Earl Gaines and Roscoe Shelton.
Thrills and Spills
Doug Martsch is neither a rebel, nor an outcast, nor a geek, which makes him quite a rare bird in the heady world of heavy rock. As the brains behind Idaho’s Built to Spill, which performs Friday at The End, Martsch typically takes the stage sporting a neatly trimmed beard and a close-cropped coif, and he may be the only young guitar-slinger to keep pictures of his wife and kid on the dashboard of his Econoline. He’s rock’s family man.
As such, the lyrical and musical themes of Built to Spill move beyond three-chord tales of sex, despair, and “the system.” Martsch filled 1994’s There’s Nothing Wrong With Love with short, supple pop songs, covering such topics as his stepfather’s dislike of David Bowie and the birth of his son (from his son’s point of view). On the masterful “Twin Falls” (later well covered by Ben Folds Five), Martsch imagined what might have happened to the girl he played “7-Up” with back in his hometown; and on “Fling,” he painfully detailed the communication breakdown that can lead to an affair.
But this Beatles/Beach Boys-inspired record was an anomaly in BTS’s discography. More common is last year’s instant classic Perfect From now on, which expanded Neil Young-style guitar jams into the realm of tempo-shifting post-rock/pro-analog sonic architecture. With no song under five minutesand lyrics that ponder what it means to be a good person in a world of self-absorptionMartsch achieved a marriage of medium and message that is frankly remarkable.
Respected (but not yet revered) by rock’s tastemakers, Built to Spill may be the best American band without a strong buzz or a cult following. But that wave of adulation may only be an album away. Catch Martsch now, before he gets corrupted.
Removing a Label
Dean Blackwood, cofounder of Nashville-based Revenant Records, is packing up his family and shop this week and returning to his native Texas. Blackwood, who helps support his family and label with his day gig as a corporate lawyer, has taken a job as a staff attorney with Austin-based Dell Computer Company.
The move won’t hurt Revenant. The imprint’s only discernible connection to Music City is that Blackwood conducts its business from the attic of his West Nashville bungalow; he and his partner, pioneering guitarist John Faheywho lives in a motel in rural Oregoncould do as much from anywhere. However, Revenant’s departure does represent something of a loss for Nashville.
Formed with the intent of releasing “raw musics of all stripes,” Revenant has, in its two years of existence, exhibited the kind of vision and scope rarely seen in Nashville’s often mercenary music industry. No entity in this town, not even the Country Music Foundation, a nonprofit, would touch the stuff that Blackwood and Fahey are putting out.
Nefertiti, The Beautiful One Has Come reissues pianist Cecil Taylor’s spellbinding 1962 solo concert at the Café Monmartre in Copenhagen. Music and Dance rescues from oblivion a cassette-only collaboration among British guitarist Derek Bailey, Japanese dancer Min Tanaka, and a Parisian downpour. Country Blues, a bone-chilling collection of the 1920s recordings of Dock Boggs, has lately had reviewers outdoing themselves to join critic Greil Marcus in hailing the Appalachian singer-banjo player as the pre-modern Bob Dylan. And coming in 1999 is a 5-disc set of rare Captain Beefheart material, including a CD-ROM of a late ’60s concert.
Taking its cue from the old ESP labelthe New York City imprint that issued albums by everyone from proto-punks the Fugs and the Godz to free-jazz trailblazers Albert Ayler and Sun RaRevenant’s goal, says Blackwood, is to preserve each artist’s vision in its original form. More like events than mere CDs, the label’s releases, whether accompanied by breathtaking packaging or by extensive liner notes, go one better. In much the same way that Blue Note blended sound, written word, and graphics, Revenant’s titles offer a prismatic view of a performer’s work that invites listeners to respond to much more than the music encoded on each disc. Without Revenant’s conscientious example, Nashville’s music industry will be poorer.
In a surprise move, local music promoter Rick Whetsel has been hired as general manager of the Exit/In and The End, the two longtime Elliston Place nightspots recently purchased and renovated by Ned Horton’s The Horton Group. Whetsel was a partner with Chris Moon and Jason Moon Wilkins in the ambitious Anhedonia Productions promotion team, which in recent weeks has been booking national acts such as Mudhoney, Low, and this week’s Built to Spill into The End.
The Exit/In’s previous general manager, Rick Cady, will stay on with the club booking acts, while veteran music-scene fixture Bruce Fitzpatrick will continue to book The End. Before the deal, Whetsel and Anhedonia had been wrangling to purchase a club on Eighth Avenue South near the old Victor/Victoria’s, where they first tasted success booking shows last year. That’s what happens in Nashville: you try to buy one club, and you wind up running two.
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