Scottish Woods on the Road - We share our travels
Diggin' "Shovels and Rope" in Asheville
Over the years there have been plenty of oddball names for musical groups – Vanilla Fudge, Iron Butterfly, Foo Fighters, Franz Ferdinand – the list goes on and on. There were somewhat reasonable stories behind all of them. But how about Shovels and Rope??? We recognize them as tools whose uses are varied, from snow removal and towing to the more sinister hanging and burying; but how about rescue? If you’re a musical duo, it could be digging your partner out of a hole and tossing them a line when they need it; much like the life preserver on the cover of their album “Swimmin’ Time.”
Formed almost accidentally, these now married parent/song writers/performers have built their skills organically. Cary Ann Hearst and Michael Trent, from Mississippi and Texas respectively, met on the road while playing in their own bands. Initially formed with a look toward having some fun and grabbing some fast money, they soon recognize that there was really “something there.” Living in Charleston and parents of a now one and a half year old girl, they tour extensively, always with daughter, Louisiana Jean. Recently they brought their road show to Asheville’s Orange Peel and sold out for both shows.
We were excited to see them play. We had only heard their recordings and were enamored with the fullness of sound they projected with only two players. Relying on a strong drum back beat and skillful guitar, they can fill the air with driving instrumentals that provide a rocking soundtrack for their often poetic lyrics and Cary Ann’s Nancy Griffin-like voice.
Their opening performance of album title track “Swimmin’ Time” set the stage for the rest of the 15 song, almost two hour set. Quite possibly the highlight of the night was the third song – “Invisible Man.” The subject of the song is Trent’s father who is suffering from Alzheimer’s. It is a driving, pounding, and relentless rail against a merciless affliction that is robbing them of a dearly loved parent. The refrain “Is there anybody out there who can give me a voice / I hate to repeat it but it’s not my choice” really does convey the helplessness of someone who fully understands what is happening but is powerless to stop it.
As the night progressed, the mostly standing and jumping crowd of hipsters seemed to shed their daytime persona and let loose of all inhibitions. A pair of twenty something ladies became entangled and fell to the floor in an accidental pile that seemed to take a long time to separate. Another regular at the Peel began making new friends at every turn. His open and good hearted behavior was misinterpreted as aggression by an older couple near us. This was quickly calmed by all and the party continued unabated. Perhaps it was the elegant flask of top quality moonshine that he generously shared with us that contributed to his good humor. No matter, the shine was great and we became best friends for rest of the show.
By the time they ended with “Buffalo Nickel” and encored with “Cavalier,” the sold out hall of 1050 seemed to have gotten everything they wanted. For our part, the driving beat of the drums that works so well in the studio was somewhat overpowering. It seemed that the wonderful lyrics and harmonies were, at times, drowned out.
But in the end, it was apparent that tonight the shovel was used to clear the hall of the audience’s inhibitions and the rope was used to bring everyone closer. If you are looking for a great, foot-stomping night of fun, keep your eye open for this entertaining duo.
Spilling All Over the Stage
We first heard of John Moreland when he played “Break My Heart Sweetly” on Late Night with Stephen Colbert. His performance reached deep inside of himself as he shared his feelings to everyone. It was impossible not to be moved. It turns out his songs have been used in the long running TV series “Sons of Anarchy.” He has also opened for such notable artists as Jason Isbell, Dawes, and Patty Griffin. I guess this shows that, while he may have been obscure to many, his talent is well recognized in entertainment circles.
When we heard that John was playing in Asheville at the Orange Peel, we jumped at the chance to see him live. The Peel is one of those classic Asheville landmarks that have their roots in an earlier time. First built as a roller rink (Skateland Rollerdome) in the 50’s, it has evolved into what Rollingstone Magazine wrote in 2008, one of the top live music venues in the country. It has hosted acts as diverse as Bob Dylan, Smashing Pumpkins, The Black Keys, and Megadeath.
John Moreland has been writing songs since he was 10. He played his first show at 13. While he was born in Texas and has moved around a bit during his lifetime, he now calls Tulsa his home. Many youthful musicians get their early influences from radio, but John was heavily affected by the Southern Baptist hymns he heard while growing up. This is reflected in his albums to varying degrees. He comments that his view of the Church has evolved as he has matured. He has a style that highlights his southern roots and deep appreciation for Steve Earle, Guy Clark, and Townes Van Zandt.
John is a BIG man, probably north of 400 lbs., and when he begins to play and sing you become lost in the immensity of a talent that is as large as he is. He was backed by Tulsa musician John Abney, playing electric guitar and a very bluesy harmonica. One of the songs they opened with, “Oh Julia” off his 2013 album “In the Throes,” shows how his relationship with the Church is a dynamic thing.
Every song that followed was as heartfelt as the one before it. As the concert progressed, John became that old friend who had left you years ago and came back with a trunk full of experiences to share. From what he sang this night, he still has a lot of traveling to do before he finds the happiness and contentment he is looking for. Nothing reinforced this more than his closing song – “I Need You to Tell Me Who I Am.”
This man needs to be heard. We hope you will do so and find him as enamoring as we did. As he left the stage, it was indeed impossible not to be moved.
A Doggone Good Show in Nashville
What do you think when you hear the name Emmylou Harris? Perhaps you think of a singer touring with Gram Parsons. Maybe doing covers of some great songs such as Merle Haggard’s, “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down” or The Band’s, “Evangeline”? Maybe it’s one of my favorite albums of all time; her Daniel Lanois produced “Wrecking Ball”.
No matter, Sundays’ concert at the City Winery in Nashville covered it all. There, she was joined by John Prine, doing a benefit concert to support Emmylou’s “last chance” shelter for dogs (Bonaparte’s Retreat.) The benefit also included the affiliated pet store, Crossroads. Both are located in Nashville.
Together, John and Emmylou did a laid back “Concert in the Round” with each of them taking turns singing their signature songs.
Emmylou began by singing a song she wrote called “Big Black Dog.” This was written about her black lab rescue dog named Bella. This led her to talk a bit about her passion for animals and the reason she established Bonaparte’s Retreat. It is actually located in her backyard at her home in Nashville. She also described how the store Crossroads helps the homeless by providing shelter and jobs for many.
Next, the mike got passed to John Prine. I have been a huge fan of his since the seventies. In fact, I first saw him live in 1980 at Milwaukee’s Summerfest. There were many fine musicians there, but Prine always stood out for me. John’s set list for the Winery was peppered with his vintage material. It was indeed, just what the doctor ordered, taking me back to that July show at the Milwaukee Lake Front. Two of his songs, “Hello in There” and “Souvenirs” really did the job.
In typical “concert in the round” fashion, the artists swapped the mike, taking turns while maintaining a continuity of material so that each song seemed to fit with the next. Emmylou spoke about John becoming a grandfather for the second time. This led into her singing a touching rendition of “Ordinary Heart” (co-written with Kimmie Rhodes.) Not to be outdone, Prine talked about his affection for “older people” that led into his song, “Hello in There.” There was not a dry eye in the place!
We couldn’t help but notice the empty chair next to Emmylou. Who could that be waiting for? Soon we found out, as Emmylou welcomed Sheryl Crow to the stage. The audience was thrilled! Sheryl sat down with her guitar and sang a beautiful “Don’t Bail on Me.” What a fantastic voice!
We were then treated to a short film that introduced us to Crossroads Pet store. This is the inspiring business venture that is Emmylou’s passion. It combines animal rescue while providing jobs and shelter for many homeless individuals. The testimonies of these young people were very moving. They served to remind us that there is value in everyone, regardless of their circumstances. After the film, Sheryl and Emmylou sang a duet, “Home Sweet Home” which was inspired by the founder of Crossroads.
Sheryl left the stage as Prine got back into the mix, dipping once again into his early work.
The next surprise was when Mary Gauthier was introduced on stage. After the appreciative applause, she sat down and sang her signature song, “Mercy Now.” It really hit home for many people. The lyrics were very meaningful and sung with such clear emotion. What a compelling and beautiful voice!
Once Mary left the stage, Emmylou sang “The road” as a tribute to Gram Parsons. Continuing in that spirit; Emmylou and John did homage to Guy Clark with “Magnolia Wind.”
So many great songs were sung this night, but one of my favorites was the duet of Prine’s original song, “In Spite Of Ourselves.” John wrote the song at the request of Billy Bob Thornton for Billy’s film “Daddy and Them.” Emmylou did a great and credible job filling in for Iris De Mint.
After that duet, the mic once again was passed to Emmylou. She sang Steve Earle’s “Goodbye.” Prine was next when he sang his “Angel from Montgomery”. Although many artists have covered this song, I believe when he sings it, it’s the best!
The song “Believe” was next. It was written by Emmylou, inspired by her conversations with the gravely ill June Carter Cash. June died before her beloved husband Johnny’s passing. The song was done with love and emotion.
Last, but not least, the empty chair was once again filled, this time by John’s wife, Fiona. She had just returned from the Women’s March in DC. She and her husband sang a duet of “My Happiness” to each other.
It was sure hard to leave the venue. We had just enjoyed over two hours of sharing intimate moments with veteran musicians who have been honing their craft for probably longer than they care to admit. Hearing their stories, learning how their music had been formed and who has influenced them over the years was an unforgettable experience.
It’s marvelous to think that all of this was for the benefit of both animals and humans.