It's March already and about time to catch up on what's been going on in the wide, wide world of roots music, photography-wise. From Scotland to Australia and many points in the US, a lot has been happening. Here's what your ND photographers have been up to during the past couple of months. You are in for a real treat this week as there is a sweeping assortment of stellar photos.
Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
What can you say about Isbell that has not already been said? I have seen him many times over the years, beginning with the Drive-By Truckers, then the bar club circuit when he was working his way up, and now in a large, yet acoustically pleasing, auditorium in my hometown on the last night of the latest tour. With all his musical growth and life changes he has been consistent in laying it on line every time with a sense of grace. In the several dozens of times I have seen him, he has never phoned in a performance or taken an emotional night off. This last time was no different.
As I noted in my 2017 year-end review, Isbell has become his genre/generation’s Springsteen and the 400 Unit our E Street Band. Though coming at music from a different perspective, Amanda Shires' fiddle complements the band, seamlessly melding into the groove while retaining the distinctive sound that also enables her to pursue her own sound in her own band. There is good reason why Isbell and the 400 Unit have been consistently voted the number one touring band by many publications.
What Would Dolly Do? Just ask Margo Price, Whitney Rose and Jade Jackson
Fresh from the Cayamo cruise, Price hit the road running in a Northwest tour wearing a “What Would Dolly Do?” T-shirt. ND photographers Kirk Stauffer and John Rominger caught her there. John also caught Whitney Rose, whose new single, “You Don’t Own Me,” is about as good as it gets. She's been doing the song live for a couple of years now, and it has a David Lynchian feel to it, if he had been transported to a Texas honky tonk. While Rose was touring heavily before Rule 62 was named one of the best albums of 2017, she's showing that she’s not letting up in 2018.
Kirk also caught one of his favorite artists again: Jade Jackson. Jackson made her UK debut late last year and you can read ND’s writer Lyndon Bolton’s review here.
These three women are just the tip of a very large force that is changing the face and the rules of roots music. Get on board, or you're gonna be left behind.
John McCauley and Deer Tick
Deer Tick hails from Rhode Island, a place you would not think could produce someone like John McCauley, its songwriter and lead vocalist. They are on the verge of being (drum roll please and hopefully not the proverbial kiss of death) the next big thing. McCauley has been described as a cross between Johnny Cash and Tom Petty. But I liken him and the band more to Arthur Lee and Love reincarnated as an Americana Forever Changes. Chad Cochran's stunning, silver gelatin-like B&W photo of McCauley harkens back to the country-rock days of the Palomino Club, and Norman Seeff, if he had been a performance photographer.
From Australia to Scotland to North Carolina
It seems there is always something brewing in these three melting pots of creativity. Scotland’s Carol Graham continues her admiration of Blue Rose Code and two new to me, Jon Byrd and the Wynntown Marshalls. Plus, she caught the alt-country chanteuse Lera Lynn. Meanwhile, Steve Ford in Australia caught three Americans who are extraordinary ambassadors for old-time mountain music: the fiddler-banjoist Rachel Baiman, Bruce Molsky, and banjoist Allison de Groot. I would have been enthralled as Steve was.
In between those two geographical extremes lies the Appalachian Mountains themselves. Kate Butcher shows us that there is more going on in Wilkesboro than MerleFest when she caught, at the intimate Talia’s Espresso Basement, Jarrod and Claire Dickenson (from Waco and Belfast, respectively), storytellers in the best of Texas traditions, and the Contenders, a duo whose infectious rhythms and harmonies are sublime.
In Raleigh, Todd Gunsher caught the ever delightful Blind Boy Paxton mixing fiddle, banjo, and guitar with his sly wit. Todd also caught one of the most beloved trios in the folk tradition around, The Wailin' Jennys (two from Canada and one from New York), whose new album, Fifteen, wonderfully celebrates their 15 years together. He also saw multi-instrumentalist Joe Newberry, who has taught or played with just about everyone. Last, and certainly not least, his photo of IBMA guitarist of the year Molly Tuttle makes you want to run out and catch her as soon as you can. I last saw her a few weeks back on the same bill as Dailey and Vincent, and they were in awe. You will be, too.
There's more in the slideshow below. Take a look at all of them as you'll find some other gems, plus photos by Jill Kettles, John Hancock, and Rafael Barker. Then go out and hear some live music wherever you are.