By Craig Havighurst, Music City Roots Producer
I’ve been following roots music for a couple of decades. So I know something about a lot of artists, but I don’t know them all, and I never will. There’s just that much talent. It’s also true that our booking team is really on the ball and brings in great stuff. Put those together and it means that just about every week, I have some prior history and passion for at least one the artists the upcoming bill. I’ve never read the roster and seen artists who were entirely new to me. Until now. Nothing wrong with that. I do not need to be the world’s most comprehensive or knowledgeable music fan. But this challenge is sending me straight to ye olde internet to learn about our acts from scratch.
So I thought it might be fun in a behind the scenes kind of way to make this week’s column a live blogging experience of looking up four artists and relating how their online presence reveals their musical essence. So let’s crack our knuckles and start surfing.
Up first (on my list but last on the show) is Devan DuBois, and the immediate impression is a bolder sense of style than we usually see. His carefully curated photos, even on Facebook, are almost entirely in black and white and expertly lit. He has a graceful face, long sleek hair and a flair for wide brimmed hats and black leather. His bio opens by proclaiming he’s “deliberately mysterious.”( Uh oh! That’s got me wondering about how our interview is going to go.) But then I find this Q&A where he says he’s from Louisiana and lived in L.A. for a few years before moving to Nashville, which he sees as a city that’s “really kicking off.” The music is thick and beautiful and atmospheric, with a mix of acoustic and stinging fuzztone electric guitars. Stomping beats are leading a lot of folks to compare him with Jack White and the Black Keys, and that’s on point, but I think DuBois is more mannered and refined. His song “Too Many Aces” landed in a big vodka campaign, and his debut album Le Fou came out this spring. Folks love it. Twisted South says that in its 15 songs, “electronica jostles into bed with Americana in varying degrees with unexpectedly delightful results.” Oh, and I see he’s getting airplay on Lightning 100 here in town, so perhaps you’re farther along the Devan DuBois path than I am. He sounds pretty beguiling though.
Google Dawn & Hawkes and one quickly discovers a successful audition for The Voice from a year or two ago when this couple sang a lovely rendition of “I’ve Just Seen A Face.” So they’re Beatles lovers, but that’s just like breathing. I’m much more sucked in to their song “Holler” that pulses along with restraint and breaks into a hard country chorus. Their Beatles love shows up in “Golden Heart,” the title track of their introductory EP, which sounds like smart pop-infused country a la Austin, TX. Because that’s what they are and where they’re from. Miranda Dawn and Chris Hawkes look to be in love and on the road, hitting ten cities in eleven days, with our own show as the first date on the run. Their warm glow and careful harmonies appear to be just our kind of thing.
It’s not very often that I get 15 seconds into researching a roots artist when Herbie Hancock comes up, but that’s what happened with Kristina Train, That’s a great way to get this correspondent’s attention. Seems this Savannah, GA native was signed to Blue Note Records in 2009 and then invited by Hancock – a hero of mine at more levels than we have time for – to be his band’s singer on a world tour. Train has a fairly fleshed out Wikipedia page that says she’s also toured with Chris Isaak, Susan Tedeschi and more. Her debut album emerged in 2009. But now… waaait a minute. I DO know this singer! I listened to her fantastic Dark Black album a year ago for reasons I can’t recall and yes, this is one elegant, chill-bump raising vocalist. Her smoky tone will please any fan of Adele, but I hear more raw truth here. Proof that if one has a kinship with an artist but lose the thread, you WILL be reunited some time in the future.
This is the point of the research that I start to get really excited about hearing how the pieces fit together into a coherent whole.
And to round out our foursome, I hit the web site of Nashville songwriter Kim Logan and suddenly I’m in a swamp. Spanish moss and green alligator skin dominates the theme. Ah, she’s from Florida and somehow between down home on the bayou and East Nashville coffee shops she studied OPERA at the Berklee College of Music and yet developed a greasy, thumpy deep South sound that makes her the Tony Joe White of 37206. I had friends who studied opera and they weren’t supposed to sing rock and roll to protect their voices. But Logan, who stares down a hungry alligator on the cover of her debut record, doesn’t seem like one to take direction. What’s awesome about her sound is the way that trained power is held in reserve and then set loose in the blink of an eye. And she has earned some adulation from the press. I love what Native magazine wrote: “Conjuring up dirty blues, classic country, and rock ‘n’ roll, the music all lies under an eerie, macabre coating. Kind of a touch-me-if-you-dare sound.” Maybe I’ll come up with something that good as I get to know Logan’s music layer by layer. That’s what it takes.
We’ve all met music mavens who seemed to know every artist before you did and who felt it very important that they let you know how hip they are. But I decided long ago – as you should – that I’ll never feel bad about not knowing about a singer, songwriter or band. It feels to me like it’s much more important to have an open and curious mind, and that’s the idea behind Roots. Come for an artist you love already and leave having met three new ones. Or come without knowing anybody. We’re dedicated to helping you re-discover the art of discovery.