Every December, we weigh in about our favorite releases of the year, but in the past, we’ve largely ignored all the great music going on in our midst. We’ve decided to rectify that this time around; Nashville has simply got too much going on. This year didn’t necessarily represent a benchmark for local musicnothing radically new or different happenedbut we’d argue that never before have all the various elements of our local music community coalesced so nicely and in so many different ways.
Who cares whether the outside world gives the Nashville music scene its due? Those of us who live here benefit most from what goes on in the city’s clubs, basements, and recording studios. It should only get more vibrant in the years to come.
Anhedonia Presents This year alone, the city’s most adventurous indie-rock promoters brought in Built to Spill, the Danielson Famile, June of ’44, American Analog Set, and Trans Am, among others. What’s more, they made back their moneythus proving a club-level audience will support similar shows. Now can we get Sleater-Kinney? J.R.
Big Kenny, “Cheater’s Lament” and “Trip” The album on which these two songs appear (Live a Little) won’t be released until next year, but catch Big Kenny’s live show and start loving them now. The former is an over-the-top, Queen-inspired mini opera, as thrilling as it is silly; the latter is a straightforward love song with a sappy (but genuinely grand) payoff. If marketed properly, either could be the next big hit by a Nashville rocker. N.M.
Sandy Bull Multi-instrumentalist Bull has spent the past 40 years coining his own musical language. A visionary synthesis that encompasses blues, jazz, country, gospel, Latin, and Middle Eastern influences, the Nashville transplant’s work is, among other things, an important precursor of the “world music” movement of the ’80s and ’90s. Yet apart from a few rare live appearances several years ago, Bull has kept well out of the local eye. This year, however, saw the release of Re-Inventions, a collection of some of his groundbreaking ’60s and early ’70s recordings for the Vanguard label. Bull has spent the past several years recording and developing his Web site (www.sandybull.com), which, along with the Vanguard reissue, has helped get his diverse catalog back in circulation. B.F.W.
The Carter Administration At this point, there’s very little new that anyone can do with rock ’n’ rollthe truly great bands succeed simply by throwing themselves into the music they love and emerging with some kind of personal statement. OK, so in the case of this trio, that means singing, “I want to beat your head into a fucking pole/Did you know that you’re an asshole?” But Jeez, do they play like they mean it. The Carter Administration’s taut, energetic, and punkish songs are still a little rough around the edges, but that’s part of what makes ’em so great. These guys play with smarts, passion, and a delightfully profane sense of humora rare combination indeedand their two EPs this year represent some of most kicking, balls-out rock ’n’ roll ever to emerge from this town. J.M.
Grimey’s Though limited in stock and size, Mike “Grimey” Grimes’ new used-record store in Berry Hill is instantly one of the most fun places in town to shop for musicthe kind of record store that sparks conversations, draws knowledgeable patrons, and hips you to stuff you haven’t heard. Here’s hoping the selection holds up, along with the business. J.R.
Joe Holland, “Sad Eyes” A smooth, poised three minutes of soulful pop that kicks off Holland’s second self-produced, self-released disc in grand style. The “smoothing hurt feelings” lyric only adds to the feeling of classicism that pervades this cut (and much of the rest of the record)it’s the pleasure of low-key, unadorned melody-making. N.M.
Indie releases With the music industry all but killing itself through mergers and a focus on disposable pop music, it’s encouraging to see more and more older artists fighting back by creating their own do-it-yourself projects. Nashville has become a leader in this movement, and this year has seen the release of solid, wholly individual albums by Bob Delevante, Doug Hoekstra, Gail Davies, Tom Kimmel, Gwil Owen, Jeff Finlin, Jerry Dale McFadden, Will Kimbrough, Carol Ponder, Victoria Shaw, Kathleen LaGue, Eric Fiedor, Bobby Bradford, Austin Cunningham, and many others. It’s a tough way to get music out, yet it proves that individual expression will survive despite whatever obstacles the music industry may throw in an artist’s way. M.M.
Jazz labels Recording for Compass, Green Hill, and other Middle Tennessee imprints, such artists as Rod McGaha, Jeff Coffin, Beegie Adair, Joe Temperly, Victor Wooten, and many others are making records just as accomplished as anything from New York, Chicago, or California, and the jazz public at large is slowly realizing it. R.W.
Jubilee Restaurant This North Nashville venue deserves praise for staying the course in its attempt to provide quality entertainment to inner-city audiences and those unwilling to accept stereotypes about neighborhoods. Let’s hope it can attract larger crowds in the year 2000 and beyond, and let’s hope that other African American-owned and -operated establishments soon follow suit. R.W.
Municipal Auditorium’s return When Bob Dylan played his best show in a decade there last February, we thought it was a fluke. But last week’s incendiary Rage Against the Machine show proved the grubby concert hall has a funky, oddly intimate vibe all its own. Besides, compared to the antiseptic Gaylord Entertainment Center, it’s practically the Ryman. J.R.
Nashville Jazz Institute One sign of our city’s musical growth is the existence of a full-time institute devoted to jazz. It’s a Herculean task trying to be educators, administrators, and performers, but the husband/wife duo of Lorrie Mechem and Roger Spencer deserve kudos for all they’re doing on behalf of jazz academia, research, and preservation. R.W.
Phase Selector Sound Over the last few years, this duo of Nashvillians (one now transplanted to New York) has been making remarkable bedroom recordings of dub reggaestrong enough that New York label ROIR, long an outlet for quality dub and reggae music, decided to release a CD by the band, Disassemble Dub. The disc’s 15 tracks prove that this twosome truly is attuned to the spirit of technical innovation and quiet mysticism that marks the best dub recordings. J.M.
Pop-rock A mind-bending proliferation of truly commendable pop-rock albums came out of Middle Tennessee this year. Few people outside the area seem to have noticed yet, but the momentum and tenacity of these bands suggests that, sooner or later, the city’s rock scene will get noticed on a larger scale. Pop-rock may not be this year’s flavor, but when the pendulum swings, Nashville will be waiting. The music is certainly there: David Mead, The Katies, Owsley, Self, Fleming & John, and Rich Creamy Paint all released distinctive major-label albums this year, while the indie scene was shored up with laudable new works by Bill Lloyd, The Shazam, Gwil Owen, Los Straitjackets, Jerry Dale McFadden, and English expatriate Clive Gregson. There’s a lot more on the way. M.M.
Progressive string music This year, Nashville affirmed its position as center of the universe for progressive string music. In the future, anyone who attempts to compose or create serious music on the banjo, fiddle, mandolin, Dobro, or acoustic bass will have to reckon with this seminal movement in Nashville music history. Short Trip Home, a classical-meets-mountain-music album by Joshua Bell, Edgar Meyer, Sam Bush, and Mike Marshall, will stand as a classic piece of string music for decades to come, while albums by Bela Fleck, Newgrange, Tim O’Brien, John Hartford, and other pickers will be gleaned for licks and compositional ideas in the coming years. M.M.
Rich Creamy Paint, “You Make Me Laugh” Rich Painter’s debut record is full of good, edgy teen-pop, but this song is a true classican alternately pounding and cooing paean to friendship, with the memorable line, “I’m your Chris Farley /And you’re my David Spade.” Let’s hope Painter’s 20s are as productive as his teens. N.M.
Amy Rigby When the New York-based artist moved here this year, Nashville got a working mom and a nice personnot to mention one of the country’s most original and acclaimed singer-songwriters. Her hip wit, unusually structured tunes, and caustic eye for the warning signs of both love and betrayal make her a real asset. Let’s try not to scare her off. J.R.
Josh Rouse + Kurt Wagner, Chester This collaborative EP features two of Nashville music’s brightest lights, and every one of its five tracks is memorableas tuneful, witty, and permeated with melancholy as both Rouse’s and Wagner’s separate music often is. Quite simply a delight, and some of the best music of the year, local or otherwise. N.M.
“Shapes of Rhythm” The monthly WRVU-91 Rock benefit series is bringing some of hip-hop and turntabling’s hottest players to Nashvilleat rock-bottom cover charges, no less. If you wanna see Cut Chemist or DJ Shadow in Nashville sometime in the next millennium, they’ll likely turn up here first. J.R.
James Talley Talley is the Godfather of Americana, or at least the first rootsy singer-songwriter to connect the dots between Stephen Foster, Bob Wills, Woody Guthrie, Merle Haggard, and Bob Dylan and the Band. His epochal Capitol LPs have been unjustly out of print in the States for more than 20 years. But after nearly a decade of haggling with lawyers and record execs, the transplanted Oklahoma populist has finally wrested control of his masters from Capitol and plans to put them out on his own label, Cimarron Records. The imprint’s first release is Talley’s exquisite Woody Guthrie tribute album, Woody Guthrie and Songs of My Oklahoma Home. If the record does well, Talley plans to follow it with Santa Fe Blues Sessions, an electric blues album that includes the searing Music Row send-up “Nashville City Blues.” B.F.W.
Unconventional venues Music doesn’t have to take place exclusively in clubs; we saw great shows this year in art galleries, coffeehouses, backyard barbecues, even living rooms with the furniture shoved back. Let’s see more events in these offbeat localesespecially since concerts take on the character of their surroundings. J.R.
Compiled by Bill Friskics-Warren, Jonathan Marx, Michael McCall, Noel Murray, and Ron Wynn.
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