DISClaimer: Honoring The Heart Of Americana

SeanMcConnell

This is the week of the Americana music convention in Nashville.

And make no mistake, Nashville is the headquarters of this burgeoning musical movement. As if to underscore that fact, most of the discs reviewed today are by Nashville area residents. In fact, with the exceptions of John McEuen and Shovels & Rope, all of them are.

The Disc of the Day award goes to Music Row tunesmith Sean McConnell. It turns out that he sings as well as he writes. Catch him Thursday night (Sept. 22) at 12th & Porter.

The DisCovery Award is a tie this week. Zach Schmidt is on his second album (I think the first might have been digital only), yet this is my first exposure to him. Check him out tomorrow at Acme Feed & Seed. Jared Hard, on the other hand, is a complete unknown. But he definitely has the goods.

All three of these guys are singer-songwriters. All three of them have superlative voices. All are talented song craftsman. And all of them will please you immensely.

JARED HARD/10,000 Hydrogen Bombs
Writers: Jared Hard; Producer: Jeff Anderson; Publisher: none listed; JH (track)
– This is the title tune of a six-song EP by this Nashville singer-songwriter. It’s a folkie, strummy, sparsely accompanied, acoustic ballad about how hard love can hit ya. The slight echo on his vocal brings out its tenor resonance and poignant expressiveness. Utterly charming. Elsewhere on the set, he’s accompanied by a dandy, rootsy band featuring fiddle and organ. Throughout, his vocals are cooler than cool, and his songs are consistently splendid. This is a real find.

SHOVELS & ROPE/I Know
Writers: Michael Trent/Cary Ann Hearst; Producer: Michael Trent; Publisher: Famous Nightclub/Noberta Jean, BMI; New West (track)
-The new CD, Little Seeds, officially drops on Oct. 7, but this South Carolina duo did its release party at The Basement on Tuesday afternoon, presumably to capitalize on this being Americana Music Week. Shovels & Rope are previous Americana winners for Song of the Year (”Birmingham” in 2012) and Emerging Artist of the Year. This track is available for an advance listen on the duo’s website. As on prior records, their voices are right in your face and the production hits hard. An instant hit.

 

STEPHEN SIMMONS/West
Writers: Stephen Simmons; Producers: Eric Fritsch & Stephen Simmons; Publishers: Shiny Geode, SESAC; Locke Creek
-This Nashville veteran kicked off Americana Week with a show at Family Wash on Monday (Sept. 19). It celebrated his 10th CD, A World Without. Simmons was a rocker for years in Music City. His evolution to Americana suits his songwriting style, which is conversational and plain spoken, particularly on this track. It muses about cultural heritage, romance, family history and wanderlust, all in a warm, dusky voice that sidles up next to you like a long-lost friend.

SEAN McCONNELL/Holy Days
Writer: Sean McConnell; Producers: Ian Fitchuk/Jason Lehning; Publisher: Warner-Tamberlane/Little Beluga, BMI; Rounder (track)
– Sean salutes Americana Week with a hometown performance on Thursday night (Sept. 22) at 12th & Porter. His self-titled debut CD for Rounder kicks off with this punchy slab of nostalgia for a lost lover. It has more hooks than a tuna boat, which figures, since he’s a total songwriting pro with cuts by Tim, Brad, Martina, Brothers Osborne, Rascal Flatts, David Nail, Buddy Miller, Meatloaf and more. He sells it as a singer, too. This rocks in all the right ways.

 

JOHN McEUEN/Excitable Boy
Writers: Warren Zevon/Leroy Marinell; Producers: John McEuen/David Chesky; Publishers: Songs of Universal/Tiny Tunes, BMI/ASCAP; Chesky (track)
– This Nitty Gritty Dirt Bander surrounded himself with folks like David Bromberg, John Cowan, Steve Martin, John Carter Cash and David Amram. They recorded live in a Brooklyn church building and came out with a collection so rootsy that even Warren Zevon comes across as a hillbilly songwriter. McEuen’s CD release party for Made In Brooklyn will be next Tuesday, Sept. 27, at BMI at 5:00 pm.

ZACH SCHMIDT/Company Man
Writer: Zach Schmidt; Producers: James Maple/Zach Schmidt; Publishers: none listed, SESAC; ZS (track)
– Zach’s Americana Fest showcase is Friday (9/23) at Acme Feed & Seed downtown. He is a Pittsburgher transplanted to Music City, and his blue-collar roots show in this shuffling, steel-soaked ode to hard work that gets you nowhere. Twang with meaning.

BOB DELEVANTE/Kite On The Wind
Writers: Bob Delevante; Producers: Bob Delevante/Dave Coleman; Publishers: A Days Pay, SESAC; Relay (track)
– With his brother in The Delevantes, this guy initially made his mark in Music City via a series of stellar pop/rock albums. Now 20 years into his Nashville sojourn, he continues to bring rock urgency to rootsy Americana efforts such as his new Valley of Days collection. At least that’s what I hear on this opening track.

THE CANTRELLS/Goodbye Cool World
Writers: Emily Cantrell; Producers: Al & Emily Cantrell; Publishers: Sombrero Moon, BMI; Sombrero (track)
– Al and Emily Cantrell have been making entrancing sounds together for decades. Their latest is Weather Reports, and this track is definitely about weather, since it directly addresses the disaster of climate change. As always, Emily is a vocalist of uncommon ability. In the case of this track, she’s a slinky jazz chanteuse. Also as always, Al’s fiddle and mandolin work are exemplary. The rest of the folksy acoustic band is just as dandy. Jim Hoke, Barry & Holly Tashian, Mark Schatz and Al Goll, take a bow.

 

THE COAL MEN/The Singer (In Louisville)
Writer: Dave Coleman; Producer: Dave Coleman; Publisher: Four Minor, SESAC; Vaskaleedez (track)
– Their latest is titled Pushed to the Side. This track from it is kinda snarky, with a decided rocking edge and a dash of wry humor. In the lyric, the crowd isn’t treating the performer well, in between asking for “Fire and Rain” and closing down the bar. I have loved everything this outfit has ever recorded. Dave Coleman, incidentally, is the MVP in this column, since he’s also performing on the discs of Delevante and Simmons.

TATTLETALE SAINTS/Big City Women
Writer: Cy Winstanley; Producer: Josh Kaler; Publisher: none listed; Old Oak (track)
– These folks are New Zealanders now based in Nashville. Their new, self-titled, CD features this romping, innocent-sounding toe tapper about being ignored by sophisticated ladies. There are spices of twang and rockabilly behind the boyish, sweet lead vocal. Also worth a listen is the gently wistful ballad “Little Richard Is Alive and Well in Nashville, TN.”

 

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Robert K. Oermann is a longtime contributor to MusicRow. He is a respected music critic, author and historian.

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