Experience and youth shared the spotlight during the Friday (Oct. 14) night Americana Fest showcases. I’m pleased to report that both camps performed exceedingly well, so let’s call it a draw.
In one corner was Alabama sister duo The Secret Sisters, who were a late addition to the Cannery Ballroom lineup. Laura and Lydia Rogers just released their first recordings in 2010, but sound like they could have been transported via time machine directly from the 1950s.
But it’s not fair to dismiss them as a nostalgia act. Sure, they have a genuine affection for and knowledge of classic country, but their original compositions fit seamlessly between covers of The Davis Sisters’ “I Forgot More Than You’ll Ever Know” and Jim Reeves’ “Four Walls.” Their set consisted of only their two voices and an acoustic guitar, but that was enough. They harmonized beautifully, recalling the Everlys or Louvins, and finished with a stunning a capella version of Patience & Prudence’s “Tonight You Belong To Me” just to drive the point home.
In the other corner performing later on the Cannery stage were Americana all-stars Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale. Both have built singular, long-lasting careers as songwriters, musicians, guest performers, and recording artists. Add producer to the list in Miller’s case, and radio personality/emcee to Lauderdale’s. They’ve been to a few rodeos, to be sure. Seeing them play together, pooling their experiences, was thrilling.
First off, there’s not another guitar player in Nashville—nay, the world—like Buddy Miller. Instead of playing the ever-popular Telecaster, Les Paul or ES-335, he’s usually armed with an obscure but unmistakable-sounding Wandre instrument. He can also change his playing style like a chameleon, channeling countrified chicken-picking or gale-force noise with equal ease. Is it any wonder that Robert Plant loves him or that he keeps sweeping the Americana Honors?
Backed by pros Chris Donohue, Greg Liesz, and Brian Mullins, the two sang together like they’ve been doing it since childhood, tossing covers of George Jones (“Why Baby Why,” “Race Is On”) and Webb Pierce (“Poison Blood”) in with their own work like “I’m Pretending,” “King Of Broken Hearts,” “Hold On My Love,” “Halfway Down,” and a righteous “Hole In My Head,” which they penned together. It was an energetic, honky tonk tour de force.
By the end, Lauderdale had begun to overheat. “We’re sweatin’ up here like Rush Limbaugh at a Steve Earle concert,” he joked.
Elsewhere during the evening Memphis artist Amy LaVere displayed a jazzy, almost avant garde sensibility, skillfully handling her upright bass on numbers like “Cry My Eyes Out,” “Washing Machine” and Tom Waits’ “Green Grass.” Elizabeth Cook showcased the different sides of her personality on “El Camino,” and “Heroin Addict Sister.” A solo John Oates showed his soulful side on Leiber/Stoller’s “Searchin’” and the Hall & Oates smash “Maneater.” North Mississippi Allstars showed tremendous instrumental prowess on their funky, bluesy jam rock, including an instrumental requiring drummer Cody Dickinson to keep time with his feet while picking complex leads on an acoustic guitar.
Showcasing across town at the Rutledge were The Vespers, Matraca Berg, Eric Brace & Peter Cooper, The Bottle Rockets and a midnight set by Will Kimbrough. Station Inn featured David Wax Museum, The Farewell Drifters, and the Black Lillies. At the Basement were Tommy Womack & the Rush to Judgment, Ian McLagan, Henry Wagons, and New Country Rehab.
One more night to go. Scheduled to perform are James McMurtry, Farewell Milwaukee, Blackie and the Rodeo Kings, Sieraa Hull and Highway 111, and Sam Llanas of the BoDeans. Come on out and hear some tunes, y’all.