Moving On 

Courtesy is the best policy

Courtesy is the best policy

While Wilco frontman Jeff Tweedy has been out on the road with alt-country supergroup Golden Smog, his regular bandmates have been busy with a side project of their own. Wilco members John Stirratt, Jay Bennett, and Ken Coomer have been recording in Nashville and New Orleans under the moniker Courtesy Move, a name taken from a line in a radio spot for Shipp Moving Company—“for a right-now move, a courtesy (sic) move”—done by outré evangelist Prophet Omega. The band features Stirratt and Bennett on vocals/guitar and Coomer on drums. Supplementing this core lineup are Wilco fiddle/mandolin player Max Johnston, Freakwater steel guitarist Bob Egan, and Nashvillians Tim Lorsch and Robert Logue on fiddle and bass, respectively.

That a new band should result from the fissure of one popular band is unremarkable. What’s especially interesting is that Courtesy Move is a fragment of a fragment. Wilco, after all, formed after the breakup of the beloved St. Louis power trio Uncle Tupelo. Before it split up in 1994, Uncle Tupelo won an unexpectedly rabid following among college-radio and alternative-country audiences. Its two fine songwriters, Jay Farrar and Jeff Tweedy, dissolved the band to form their own respective bands, Son Volt and Wilco. Oddly, Courtesy Move is developing in much the same way its parent band did.

But Coomer, a lifelong Nashville resident, insists that Courtesy Move is more than just a passing fancy. “It’s become our outlet,” he said during a recent interview. “The upcoming Wilco record is totally Jeff’s project. Jeff wrote all the songs. I honestly don’t think John or Jay saw where their songs fit in. So when we saw that we were gonna be off the road for awhile, John called up and said, ‘Hey, I wanna do some of my songs. I want you guys to come down to New Orleans to record.’ Then Jay had some songs, and it quickly became a band or side project.” Coomer adds that from the outset the new band felt natural. “It was one of the most pleasurable recording experiences I’ve ever had in my life,” he says.

Courtesy Move already has an album’s worth of material in the can, about a third of it recorded at Sound Vortex by Nashvillian Robb Earls. “California,” one of the tracks engineered by Earls, will be released as a single on the New York-based Rockamundo label in September. Like many of Bennett’s originals, “California” possesses a twilit beauty; with its fiddle-and-steel-guitar accompaniment, it sounds remarkably like a countrified Elvis Costello. Stirratt’s songs are more conventionally Flying Burrito Brothers/Jayhawks-inspired, but they soar nonetheless. Indeed, “Those I’ll Provide,” a mid-tempo rocker inexplicably left off the first Wilco album, has the soulful grandeur of Richie Furay’s finer moments with Buffalo Springfield. Stirratt and Bennett may have discernible songwriting influences, but, as their unironic cover of the Bee Gees’ “Birdie” makes plain, they don’t subscribe to the prevailing Uncle Tupelo orthodoxy that reduces many of their alternative-country peers to tribute bands.

Though Stirratt, Bennett, and Coomer will be touring in support of the new Wilco record—tentatively entitled Being There and due out in October—they’ve also started shopping Courtesy Move tapes to labels. “We’re just tryin’ to see what’s out there,” Coomer admits, adding that he believes Courtesy Move could have more staying power than either Uncle Tupelo or Wilco. The band’s name, he says, is “completely ironic,” mainly because Stirratt and Bennett are unfailingly willing to accommodate each other’s songs—a deliberate change from their previous experience in bands. “They’re always asking each other, ‘Do you have something?’ It’s not as bad as Heckyl and Jeckyl, but it’s always, ‘Hey, do you have a song?’ That’s why I don’t see an Uncle Tupelo thing in the future out of this, because they’re both so aware of each other’s writing and feelings.”

Courtesy Move plays twice this week at the Sutler:Tuesday night as part of Billy Block’s Western Beat Barndance and Wednesday with Duane Jarvis.

Songwriter and journalist Bob Millard recently finished a brashly entertaining four-song recording for Curb Music Publishing. Although too bold and individual for release on Curb Records, the tape has generated some interest from a few other labels. Millard’s compositions have more in common with such wild-’n’-woolly singer-songwriters as John Prine or Fred Eaglesmith than with anyone on the country charts—which means the songwriter will likely have to look beyond the major labels to find a suitable record company. As it stands now, he’s already got a circle of fans who’ve been playing the tape for all their friends in Music Row offices.

Millard, who once worked for the Nashville Banner and is a regular contributor to Country Music magazine, knows the value of finding a marketable niche and catchy slogan. Realizing that “positive country” is too far of a stretch for his sarcastic point of view, he instead says he’s leaning toward such potential genre categories as “definitive ambivalence” or “redemptive dissension.” He’s also come up with a few working titles for his project: Millard—the Unmedicated Years or Happy-Go-Lucky So and So.

Fun Girls From Mt. Pilot and Little Monkey on a Stick headline the third annual Back to School Rash Sept. 7 and 8 at Lucy’s Record Shop. Longtime Fun Girls guitarist Donnie Kendall left the band in June to prepare for fatherhood: He and his wife April just celebrated the birth of their bouncing (moshing?) baby daughter, Samantha, on July 30. (Boy, do we feel old.)

While new Fun Girls guitarist Tommy Holt soldiers on in his stead, Kendall says he is concentrating on running his House O’ Pain label, which will issue its 18th 7-inch single—“Ambient Doug,” by the Montgomery, Ala., three-piece noise band Bert—at the end of the month. “We keep threatening to do full-lengths next year,” Kendall warns. As for the Back to School Rash, Friday night’s roster includes the Fun Girls, Cheap Shots, the Vibes, and Pain Supremist; Saturday’s features Little Monkey on a Stick and House O’ Pain artists Java Christ. Call Lucy’s at 321-0882 for more information.

Earlier this year, The Captain’s Table seemed to be establishing itself as one of the city’s coolest music rooms, luring throngs of visiting musicians and local scenesters to scenic Printer’s Alley for shows by the Kaisers and Thee Phantom 5ive. Unfortunately, the ornate nightclub/restaurant has been closed for most of the summer. Owners Kathy and Harold Hurt say the club will most likely remain a music venue, but they aren’t sure whether to continue serving food; they’ll keep the place closed until they can figure out exactly what to do.

It’s a venue worth waiting for. The smaller stage, with its balcony, long bar, and singular showbar-gone-to-seed ambiance, is mighty swell, but it’s the larger room, a full-fledged theater stage complete with plush curtains, that’s the treasure awaiting discovery. It could be one of the most interesting and unusual venues in town, capable of hosting either upscale jazz and cabaret acts or the popular revivalist rock groups the club booked earlier in the year. The Hurts hope to make a decision soon.

Elliptical dispatches: Get ready for a double dose of ace songwriter Jim Lauderdale in record stores come Sept. 3. That’s the day Upstart Records releases both Lauderdale’s new album, Persimmons, and the Diesel Only compilation Rig Rock Deluxe, on which Lauderdale and Opry star Del Reeves duet on a track entitled “Diesel, Diesel, Diesel.” The 15 new tunes on Persimmons include “Some Things Are Too Good to Last,” a duet with Emmylou Harris. In his George Clinton-like quest to record an album for every existing label, Lauderdale recently signed to RCA....

The fifth annual Fiddlers Grove Bluegrass Competition gets under way Saturday in Lebanon as part of the Wilson County Fair. Prizes will be awarded in guitar, mandolin, banjo, and fiddle categories, with a $5 entrance fee required. Registration begins at noon, with the competition starting at 1 p.m. For more information, call 443-2626....

Swaggering ’70s blues-rock lives on in the hearts of Redstone, a Murfreesboro band made up of students from MTSU and hotshot Shreveport frontman Chad Johnson. Described as “a little Blues Traveler, a little Black Crowes,” the band plays mostly originals, but you might coax “Black Magic Woman” out of them if you ask nicely. The group rocks the Ace of Clubs Wednesday. Bring your lighter....

You’ve heard of the Prairie Home Companion? Get ready for the “Mobile Home Companion.” Steadily growing crowds have made the perilous trek to Second Avenue each Tuesday night for the Trailer Park Troubadours, broadcast weekly over the imaginary WPSM (“the Possum”) by singlewide czars Antsy McClain and Flem. Every Tuesday at Windows on the Cumberland, the Troubadours play host to musical guests such as Goose Creek Symphony, along with regular correspondents like Dangerous Dan the Weatherman and Corky the Talking Dog. The show begins at 9 p.m....

The Bluegrass Fan Fest, to be held Sept. 27-29 at English Park in Owensboro, Ky., is shaping up as the bluegrass Woodstock. Thus far, the lineup includes IIIrd Tyme Out, J.D. Crowe & the New South, the Del McCoury Band, The Dry Branch Fire Squad, Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard, Claire Lynch & the Front Porch String Band, Tim O’Brien & the O’Boys, April & Beth Stevens and the Stevens Family, Scott Nygaard, and Alan Munde & Joe Carr. For tickets or more information, call (502) 684-9025....

Michael Henderson and the Bluebloods, long the best blues band hereabouts, will finally have a record in stores soon. First Blood will be released by Dead Reckoning Records on Oct. 15. In addition to Henderson on vocals and guitar, the album will feature bassist Glen Worf, drummer John Gardner, and keyboardist Reese Wynans....

Vince Gill, Alison Krauss, Ronnie McCoury, and Jerry Douglas all make guest appearances on The White Album, the first full solo LP by guitarist Jeff White. White has performed since 1992 in Gill’s band, and in the late ’80s he played with Krauss and her band Union Station; he’s also been spotted jamming with the Sidemen at the Station Inn. Look for The White Album at Lawrence Bros. and Ernest Tubb....

Out now on Razor & Tie Records: The reissue of George Jones’ classic 1974 LP The Grand Tour and a compilation of songs by the late Grand Ole Opry star George Morgan, Room Full of Roses: The George Morgan Collection. Watch for more Jones reissues from Razor & Tie this fall....

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