I think the day is nearing when national media outlets will finally stop voicing surprise when a major pop, r&b or rock record emerges from Nashville. We have been reminding them with The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, Ke$ha, Paramore, Jack White, Hot Chelle Rae, durable Delbert McClinton and John Hiatt, Ben Folds, Los Straightjackets, Lambchop, The Evinrudes, JEFF the Brotherhood, Bela Fleck, Larry Carlton, Take 6, Keb Mo, Will Hoge, Ruby Amanfu and many more for years now.
Several of our established stars have discs in this week’s column. Even more exciting is the presence on our non-country scene of such new faces as Wild Cub, Cooper and Ed Sheeran. The soul-singing Cooper wins the DisCovery Award. The Disc of the Day belongs to Matthew Perryman Jones.
BELA FLECK & THE NASHVILLE SYMPHONY/The Impostor Concerto
Writers: Bela Fleck; Producers: Bela Fleck, Blanton Alspaugh and Jesse Lewis; Publishers: Juno Jasper, no performance rights listed; Mercury/Decca
-After somewhat ominous woodwind and string sections’ opening remarks, Fleck’s banjo enters with a surprising soft and gentle tone. While the strings continue to underscore him, the instrumentalist’s playing becomes a bit more intense. As the concerto unfolds, Fleck alternates lilting solo passages with full-bodied orchestral ones. He often introduces a melodic line, and then has the orchestra play and build on it. He uses the ensemble well, employing its emotional dynamics and volume to contrast with his solo playing. I like this piece. It is the jazzman’s first significant work in this idiom, and perhaps this is why it is so beautifully restrained and conservative. Don’t expect any atonality or radically shifting tempi. Melody rules here.
TIM EASTON/Troubled Times
Writers: T. Easton; Producers: Brad Jones and Robin Eaton; Publisher: Campfire, ASCAP; Campfire
-This Nashville singer-songwriter-guitarist adopts a delightful neo-rockabilly mode on this track from his new Not Cool CD. The whole thumpy collection has a Sun Records ‘50s vibe, albeit with an up-to-date, super audio gloss of echo, twang and urgency. It is impossible not to like this record.
TRAIN & ASHLEY MONROE/Bruises
Writers: Pat Monahan, Espin Lind, Amund Bjorklund; Producers: Butch Walker and Espionage; Publishers: EMI April/Ptimon/Stellar, ASCAP; Columbia (track)
-Our own Appalachian Ashley has been out on the road with Train this summer, playing for crowds of 15,000 to 20,000 fans a night. “Bruises,” her duet with the band and its lead singer Pat Monahan, became a decent-sized A/C hit during that time. Its crunchy, story-telling charms are so numerous I don’t know where to start. His pleading tenor and her mountain soprano sound great together, and the lyric of lost loves is just terrific. You’ll find it on Train’s dandy, pop-pop-pop CD California 37: Mermaids of Alcatraz Tour Edition.
MATTHEW PERRYMAN JONES/Waking Up The Dead
Writers: Matthew Perryman Jones; Producer: Cason Cooley; Publisher: Smoldering Wick, ASCAP; Cante Jondo
-Notable recently for his participation on the marvelous Ten Out of Tenn tours and recordings, Jones now has his fifth solo CD on the market. Titled Land of the Living, it contains this stirring, celestial, driving, propulsive rock track. He sings above a furiously frothing track like a man possessed. Get up and DANCE, people.
ED SHEERAN/Lego House
Writers: Ed Sheeran, Jake Gosling, Chris Leonard; Producer: Jake Gosling; Publishers: Sony-ATV/The Movement/BDi, no performance rights listed; Elektra (track)
-This 2012 Grammy nominee (for “The A Team”) and Taylor Swift tour opener is residing in Music City these days. The British singer-songwriter has had an outstanding year with his international-sales-phenomenon debut CD titled +. This latest single from it continues to mine his breathy, youthful singing style and sweetly melodic songwriting. His performances on the Grammys (with Elton John) and recently on the MTV Music Awards don’t begin to reflect how well crafted his album is.
BEN FOLDS FIVE/Sky High
Writers: Darren Jessee; Producer: Leo Overtoom; Publisher: Hair Sucker; BMI; Ima Vee Pee/Sony
-Folds remains one of Nashville’s most intelligent and witty pop craftsmen, as well as one of its major studio owners. His reassembled trio Ben Folds Five collects 15 concert performances from 2012-2013 for its just-released debut live album. This airy, lilting bit of nostalgia is the current video from the set. As always, his compelling piano work and resigned vocal tone completely capture your ears. Unlike many live albums, this one sounds extremely, extremely good.
WILD CUB/Wild Light
Writers: none listed; Producers: Dabney Morris and Wild Cub; Publishers: none listed; Big Light (track)
-Nashville’s Wild Cub played at Bonaroo and is widely regarded as an indie band to watch. Its 2012 Youth CD has yielded several highly danceable tracks, including this quirky bopper. Overall, the sound has an ‘80s, synthy “new wave” quality crossed with dense, rave-ish contemporary electro-pop. The group’s Keegan DeWitt is the singer-songwriter. But I became aware of Wild Cub because of “band mom” Kay West. Her son, Harry, is the group’s bass player. The group recently released “Blacktide” as a teaser track from its forthcoming sophomore set, so look for that online as well.
DELBERT & GLEN/Been Around a Long Time
-Writers: none listed; Producers: Gary Nicholson, Glen Clark and Delbert McClinton; Publishers: none listed; New West (track)
-Delbert McClinton and Glen Clark were musical partners way back in the early 1970s. Their reunion CD, Blind Crippled & Crazy, has an old-buddies feeling. Considering Delbert’s subsequent reign as one of our greatest blues rockers, it comes as no surprise that this lead-off track is soaked in backwoods soul.
COOPER/Tell Me To Stay
-Writers: Cooper/Norris; Producer: David Norris; Publisher: Cooperjam Works; BMI
-This new diva could be Nashville’s answer to Adele. Except she’s even more neo-soul, right down to the horns, organ and backup singers. Think classic Muscle Shoals replanted on Music Row. Think female Percy Sledge (”When a Man Loves a Woman”). Cooper has been playing occasionally at the Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar in Printers Alley. Let a word to the wise be sufficient: If you see her name in the club listings, go and become a believer. Also: You gotta love a gal who introduces herself with a vinyl, 45 r.p.m. single.
Writers: Diarrhea Planet; Producer: Kevin S. McMahon; Publisher: none listed; SESAC; Infinity Cat (track)
-These durable Music City thrashers recently took a big leap forward with a write-up in Rolling Stone. Mind you, this isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but there’s something endearing about their punky, snotty, good-humored attitude. This track isn’t as frantic as most of the rest of the LP I’m Rich Beyond Your Wildest Dreams. But due to the multiple-guitar attack, it’s still plenty messy and loud enough.