Rare Birds: Gretchen Peters, Miss Tess and the Talkbacks, Frank Fairfield, and Adrian Krygowski

by Craig Havighurst, Music City Roots Producer

Last Autumn, Gretchen Peters was inducted into the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame with a moving speech by Rodney Crowell and alongside fellow greats John Anderson, Paul Craft and Tom Douglas. With iconic credits like “Independence Day,” “You Don’t Even Know Who I Am” and “On A Bus To St. Cloud” gracing her resume, this induction was a shoe-in on par with Greg Maddux or Tim Duncan, athletes who share Gretchen’s understated excellence. But on a phone call this week, the songwriter said the event meant even more in the context of what was going on in her life and career at the same time, which is to say the gratifying growth of her stature as an artist. It’s the rare Nashville hit writer who releases nationally acclaimed albums and tours widely. Even rarer is one who sees her career as an artist accelerate in her 50s.

The induction, she said, “integrated all the parts of my career in my mind. It made everything feel more part of a whole. If I hadn’t been active artistically I might have felt the morning after like, ‘what now?’ Like that was the period at the end of the sentence. But because it happened between these albums and I felt creatively strong, it integrated things for me. To the point where I started playing ‘Independence Day’ again at shows. It’s not the whole story, but it’s part of me.”

She is far from alone in thinking she’s producing the best work of her career. When Gretchen played Roots in May 2012, she’d recently released Hello Cruel World, her first LP in years and a stunner recognized by all with good ears. Now she returns to our stage with a half year under her belt touring behind her 2014 release Blackbirds. Produced by Doug Lancio, the sonic whiz behind Patty Griffin’s lush recordings, Blackbirds investigates some dark territory with cathartic grace and mesmerizing stories.

The opening title track, an American gothic tale of family murder, has been compared by more than one writer to Springsteen’s “Nebraska.” “When All You’ve Got Is A Hammer” is a powerful portrayal of PTSD. And I just love “Black Ribbons,” which distills the multiple tragedies of the BP Gulf Oil Spill down to the story of a fisherman and his family. It was an improbable three-way co-write with her good friends and touring partners Suzy Bogguss and Matraca Berg, written on a retreat with plenty of time for reflection and editing. It’s a taught masterpiece – musically enriching, even as it breaks your heart. Such is music, and Gretchen Peters makes amazing music. She’ll close our night with a band that includes her husband and production partner Barry Walsh.

Miss Tess is a rare bird as well, leading her band The Talkbacks all over the country at a breakneck schedule to bring earthy, exciting, danceable and classic-sounding music to the people. We go way back with the hip New York-based songstress. She played our second ever night of MCR way back in 2009 and at the time the act was quite rooted in early jazz and blues. Over time the band has added more bite and boogie, enough that they bill themselves as “a grooving rock ‘n’ roll band rooted in swinging blues, throwback country, and rockabilly.” The impressive chops of the band and the range of pop ideas make them something of a modern day NRBQ.

One of a kind Frank Fairfield is coming back to the show as well, because he keeps us connected to that time when roots music in American life (such as the birth of the birth of the Grand Ole Opry 90 years ago) often meant a serious man in a chair with a fiddle singing old mountain songs with just enough refinement to reach the radio audience. Frank mines and curates our nation’s heritage music and interprets it with a shocking directness. He takes his work seriously. And we feel the same way about him.

Finally, we had late breaking news that Cheryl Wheeler, renowned veteran folk singer, had to cancel her Roots appearance, but East Nashville was on hand with a solution. We’ve invited Adrian Krygowski to show us why his songs and performances have inspired admiring coverage by Daytrotter, tastemaker radio station KDHX and CMT Edge. He promises “aggressive soul-folk” and at least some of the music will come from his 2014 album Roam.

We hope you’ll be in our flock to hear these rare birds live at The Factory.

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