Maybe M. WARD
, like some members of remote island tribes, believes that having your picture taken can steal your soul—why else ban photography and even go so far as to have the P.A. announcer urge members of the audience to take their cameras to their cars, lest they be confiscated? We know he likes vintage stuff—what if we had offered to use one of those old-time cameras where you have to stay still for like an hour? What if we dressed him up like a Western saloon owner? No matter, once Ward walked onto the stage, all was forgiven. He opened the show with a solo acoustic instrumental that was intense, virtuosic and undeniably pretty. Wearing jeans and a navy button-up shirt, with a well-worn baseball cap covering his shaggy hair, Ward could have been a Vandy grad student who lost his way en route to the library, but the deep, world-weary voice that emerged from his unassuming façade was primordial and ancient—maybe he’s wise to protect that old soul. Eventually, he was joined by a full band (including two drummers), helping him re-create the rich textures of his most recent release Post-War
. (Ward is apparently an equal opportunity employer—his guitar player looked to be at least 50, while his bass player could have gotten in for the kids’ price at Six Flags.) His set included back-to-back Daniel Johnston covers: “Story of an Artist,” which he covered for a tribute album back in 2004, and “To Go Home” from Post-War
. The Belcourt was a perfect venue for the bedroom troubadour—warm and intimate, it encouraged the enthusiastic crowd to sit back and pay attention, letting Ward’s rustic, vibrant sound wash over them. He closed with another wonderful, solo acoustic number and we left in a sublime haze, ready to head across town for some Aussie metal! WOLFMOTHER
! (Check out Sweet Riffs for a full run-down from Tracy Moore).
We have to agree with Rodney Crowell’s assertion that country and Americana music would sound better if its artists followed a simple credo: What Would EMMYLOU
Do? Harris received Leadership Music’s Dale Franklin Award during a tribute concert hosted by ELVIS COSTELLO
Sept. 19 at the Schermerhorn Center. The show started with a video exulting Harris’ wide musical influence and her dedication to helping pet shelters, encouraging ethical treatment of animals and campaigning to rid the world of landmines. With participating artists criss-crossing rock, country and folk, the night not only celebrated Harris’ genre-merging history, but also her reputation for quality and integrity. Highlights included PATTY GRIFFIN
’s wrenching “Boulder to Birmingham;” GILLIAN WELCH
and DAVID RAWLINGS
’ austere “Hickory Wind;” STEVE EARLE
and wife ALLISON MOORER
’s heartbreakingly dry “Goodbye;” Costello’s twilight-cocktail take on “Sweet Dreams;” and Crowell’s romp through “Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This,” explaining that he wrote the outlaw anthem 25 years ago while serving time for an abundance of leash-law violations in Los Angeles. DAVE MATTHEWS
sang two songs he wrote that were inspired by Harris, and the night’s honoree joined in three-part harmony with former touring partners MARY ANN KENNEDY
and PAM ROSE
on “After the Gold Rush.” Despite the night’s international reach, Harris saw it as a celebration of her choice to make Nashville her home. “When I came here I wasn’t planning on staying long,” she said. “It was just another stopover. The reason I stayed is because of the people.”
Chicago trio CATFISH HAVEN
actually managed to mobilize Murfreesboro Monday night; almost the entire staff of GRAND PALACE
made the trip west to The Basement to support their adopted sons—who will play GP’s one-year anniversary party Oct. 7. (And the boys from the ’Boro were packing—the first official Grand Palace Records release, a 7” from The Turncoats just got pressed.) After seeing Catfish Haven with a horn section, back-up singers and piano in August at Lollapalooza, we were worried that they might sound a bit thin, but that couldn’t have been farther from the truth. Frontman GEORGE HUNTER
’s rich, punky acoustic guitar filled the room and his soulful, gut-wrenching vocals also seemed better suited for the confined space. Catfish Haven’s rhythm section, bassist MIGUEL CASTILLO
and drummer RYAN FARNHAM
, create a ramshackle momentum that is fun and physical in a vintage, rock ’n’ roll way. Highlights of the night included “Please Come Back,” the title track off their 2005 EP—Hunter nails that line “I’m down on bended knee,” closing his eyes and selling it, every time—and “Another Late Night,” off their recently released full-length Tell Me
—if they ever need a song for the toga party dance scene in an indie rock remake of Animal House,
here’s the one. Headliners MAGNOLIA ELECTRIC CO.
brought the energy down a notch with their pretty, winding blues-inflected rock. Where Catfish Haven rampaged, they rambled—but the songs had a satisfying, melodic feel and the level of musicianship was high (as was the amount of intra-eyebrow hair).
“If you hear something that sounds like dolphins fucking,” said BAND OF HORSES
singer BEN BRIDWELL
, “that’s me losing my voice.” Luckily for Bridwell, and for us, we heard no such thing. In fact, Bridwell’s voice filled the Exit/In beautifully Tuesday night and seemed impossibly large for his slight, tattooed frame. Though Bridwell says, “There’s country music playing and we don’t like it at all” (on “Great Salt Lake”), a spry rendition of David Allan Coe’s “You Never Even Called Me By My Name” belied his Southern roots and whipped the crowd into a saloonish frenzy. That energy reached its incongruous peak when a number of burly dudes pumped their fists in the air and shout-sang along to the line, “At every occasion, I’ll be ready for a funeral.” As much as that weirded us out, the Horses were still terrific. “If I am lost, it’s only for a little while,” Bridwell sang on “Monsters,” but we could have stayed lost in his songs all night.
Fast and Wanky
The band wasn’t the only thing BUILT TO SPILL
Sunday night, as not more than five minutes after the group climbed City Hall’s stage, we witnessed a fist-pumping fan take out a friend’s $4 draft beer. Luckily, the two made up quickly with promises of a replacement drink. The guys sounded great (a rarity for the venue) with their three-guitar assault. Frontman DOUG MARTSCH
led the crowd through songs that covered nearly every release of their 13-year career, notably the big sing-along “Big Dipper.” They even snuck in a Halo Benders tune, “Bomb Shelter Part 2,” complete with former band mate Calvin Johnson’s political musings projected on a screen behind them. For a split second, it looked like Martsch was going to do a solo encore until he remarked, “This is usually where the rest of the band comes on stage.” Finally, the guys straggled out to pick up their instruments—guess the bathroom line was long. The last song of the night was “Broken Chairs,” a good capper, even if the guitar wanking at the end seemed to stretch on for a bit too long. One note about City Hall: when the show is over, they want you out! The bulky security guys made no bones about ushering the remaining patrons out the door, finished beers or not. Hey we were just trying to buy some merch.
The Exit/In crowd was Monday-sparse but enthusiastic as FRENCH KICKS
took the baton from openers THE LITTLE ONES
and ran through a set that included several tracks from their new album Two Thousand
, and plenty of crowd-pleasers from earlier in their eight-year career. Fueling the fires were members of lead singer NICK STUMPF
’s extended family, including his grandmother and several of her fiesty friends. When she whipped out a baggie, we were all eager to see what she had in her stash—turns out you’re never too old to take care of your ears.
Honky Without the Tonk
Something was missing from JASON PETTY
’s two-hour set at the Belcourt last weekend. Sure, Petty looks a lot like Hank Williams, the country legend he’s portrayed for 10 years, though he’s more jolly than you’d imagine of the tormented Williams, who battled alcohol and medical problems most of his adult life, and he’s a good 60 pounds heavier than Williams. Petty also sounds a lot like Hank, though his voice lacks much of the pathos Williams was known for. These things can be forgiven, though, because no one would expect an exact replica of Williams to walk onstage 53 years after his death. The problem with Petty’s show was the feel-good, variety-show way in which it was presented. When Petty played Williams in the off-Broadway play Lost Highway
, other actors provided Williams’ life story, while Petty, for the most part, played his songs. But with this incarnation of similar material, Hank and My Honky Tonk Heroes
, Petty does all the talking. And boy does he talk, sometimes tossing in scatological material and saying things better left unsaid, like calling Hank Williams’ mother Lilly “ugly.” Though he’s backed by a capable band, Petty can’t make up ground with Williams’ large catalogue. “Kaw-Liga” and “You Win Again” were highlights, mainly because they seemed to be favorites of Petty and he sang them all the way through. The rest, including George Jones’ “Why Baby Why,” were sung with no more feeling than you’d hear from a Holiday Inn cover band. The upshot is that Petty has managed to make Williams somewhat soulless. He’s taken the honky tonk out of his hero. The Belcourt’s small, over-50 crowd still seemed to appreciate the effort. And it was great to see one of the Drifting Cowboys, steel guitarist DON HELMS
, introduced from the audience. Even so, it was difficult to leave Petty’s show, nostalgic for the real Williams, but for all the wrong reasons.
Nashville is the new Canada?
When we left the Basement on Friday night we were glowing, and it wasn’t just because we were on our way to the R. KELLY Trapped in The Closet
sing-along at the Belcourt. LUKE DOUCET
’s Americana Music Conference showcase was the best sounding show we’ve heard in months. The mix was pitch-perfect (kudos Grimey!), allowing his eloquent, heartbreaking pop songs to just kill. Joined onstage by new wife MELISSA MCCLELLAND
, Doucet sang songs about his ex-girl and even one about George W. Bush (“A monkey takes the reins of an empire / with daddy’s gold bananas he’s a monarch”). Friday was a big day for Doucet—not only did he play a stellar showcase, he bid the Great White North (a.k.a. Canada) a temporary goodbye and moved to Nashville. Welcome home Luke—we’re proud to have you.
Nashville is the new ______ ! Fill in the blank and send to firstname.lastname@example.org.