Music City Roots: Andrew Combs w/Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, Allen Thompson Band, Sweethearts Of the Rodeo, & Andrew Leahey and the Homestead
This particular Music City Roots lineup features the basic stylistic building blocks of Americana music as much as any you’ll ever catch at the popular weekly show. There’s Andrew Combs, the Townes-and-Guy-admiring troubadour who’s fresh off a U.K. tour with Caitlin Rose and Steelism. There’s Joe Mullins and The Radio Ramblers, a thoroughly traditional bluegrass outfit fronted by a Midwestern radio man. And there’s the roots-rocking Allen Thompson Band, which casts as wide a musical net as the Dead did in their heyday but never strays from a focus on the songs. Then there’s the sister duo Sweethearts of the Rodeo, whose roots stretch back to the California country-rock scene of the late ’70s, and whose most recent album, Reckless, has more than a little rockabilly kick. And lastly, there’s Andrew Leahey and The Homestead, who are about to hit the road promoting their new Tom Petty-inspired, David Barbe-mixed EP Summer Sleeves.
Nashville TN | Singer-Songwriter
Andrew Combs is a songwriter, guitarist, and singer who lives in Nashville. Originally from Dallas, Combs is inspired by the great tradition of Texas songwriting exemplified by Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, and Mickey Newbury.
Following the success of the 2010 EP Tennessee Time, Coin Records released the 7-inch single “Big Bad Love” in May 2012 and Combs’ debut full-length album, Worried Man, on October 30, 2012.
The new album caps off a busy year for Combs who signed as a staff writer with Razor & Tie Music Publishing in July 2012. Combs was also tapped to play the 2012 Americana Music Association festival and has played and toured with Shovels & Rope, Jonny Corndawg, Caitlin Rose, Houndmouth, Robert Ellis, and Jason Isbell.
While Tennessee Time displayed a decidedly Nashville sound, Worried Man draws on a folk-rock sound galvanized by the reemergence of authentic American music coming from bands like L.A.’s Dawes. The album was co-produced by Mike Odmark and features guest appearances from Caitlin Rose and Nikki Lane, along with the core band of Jeremy Fetzer, Spencer Cullum, Jr., Michael Rinne, Micah Hulscher, and Jon Radford.
Equal parts rough-and-ready Chicago blues, Planet Waves-era Dylan, and vintage Nashville folk, Combs’ live show has often been described as Merle Haggard’s stripped-down country rock meets the tightly wound garage punk of Detroit’s The MC5. In short, they call it “country soul swag,” and you should too.
Combs is also part of a Nashville renaissance in country-folk music that stems from the slicked-up rural country gems of Justin Townes Earle and the close-knit indie folk-rock of Caitlin Rose. Searching through this puzzle you might also find an answer to why Jack White operates a ’50s-inspired record shop and recording studio in Nashville and why the city has a buzzing punk scene. Maybe you’d even stumble into Combs and his band getting wild and fuzzy at a house party. Or maybe you’ll see Combs solo—on stage and alone as all hell—singing songs that have prompted middle-aged women to ask him, “Are you gonna be alright?”
Well, the Texas lad is just fine, thank you, and we think you’ll agree when you hear more of the sounds that are coming out of this East Nashville hotbed of dusty country soul, done up right.
Joe Mullins and The Radio Ramblers
Xenia OH | Singer-Songwriter
The Radio Ramblers are one of the hottest music acts in the Midwest. They formed in 2006 with the primary purpose of performing at Classic Country Radio promotions. 5 years and 3 albums later, they are now one of the most in-demand bands in bluegrass.
These days you never know if the ringing in Joe Mullins' ears is that of his banjo or a phone call requesting a performance by his new band, the Radio Ramblers. Mullins owns and operates Classic Country Radio, a network of three southwest Ohio radio stations featuring Classic Country, Bluegrass and Gospel music. The Radio Ramblers, a collaboration of veteran Bluegrass musicians who have worked with one another during former musical endeavors, formed in 2006 for the primary purpose of performing at Classic Country Radio promotions. However, due to the level of their professionalism and talent, the requests for performances by the Radio Ramblers has grown, thus expanding their schedule to include shows at area music venues, benefits, and festivals. It cannot be left unacknowledged that camaraderie and inherent passion for Bluegrass music within this band has had a profound impact on the quality of their stage presence and ultimate demand. The Radio Ramblers have become a welcomed addition to the southwest Ohio Bluegrass music scene.
Allen Thompson Band
Take a look at Allen Thompson’s record collection, and you’ll see names like the Grateful Dead, Crosby, Stills, Nash, & Young, the Black Crowes, and the Band -- groups that feel more like musical communities than straightforward rock bands.
The same sense of community anchors the Allen Thompson Band, a rootsy outfit from Nashville, TN. Thompson’s country-soul vocals and earthy, literate songwriting may anchor the group’s latest album, “Salvation in the Ground,” but this isn’t a solo project. It’s collaboration between all six members.
“Ever since I began building a band,” Thompson explains, “I’ve always wanted a communal situation in which everyone gets an equal say and no one’s input is more important than anyone else’s. I kept myself from doing that for a long time, because everyone says you’re not supposed to do that... but it became increasingly evident that the harder I tried to be a solo artist, the harder it was to do the songs justice. I wasn’t standing out. I wasn’t really standing at all.”
Thompson got a leg up by adding a strong rhythm section and a 4th harmony vocalist to the 3-piece string band he’d been touring with since 2009, eventually rounding out an electric six-piece lineup in early 2011. The group set up shop in East Nashville, a blue-collar neighborhood east of the Cumberland River, and began fleshing out Thompson’s songs, which sampled equally from country, roots-rock, southern soul, and Appalachian folk music. Lower Broadway, with its neon lights and crowded honky-tonks, was just a 10-minute drive from the band’s practice space, and Music Row -- ground zero for Nashville’s conservative-minded music industry -- was almost as close. Still, as far as Thompson was concerned, those areas might as well have been in another country.
“After a few false starts in the business, I’ve finally learned to stop writing for an imagined audience and start writing for myself. If you get caught up in making things sound a certain way -- if you try to force your music to sound like someone else’s definition of a musical genre -- then you’re setting yourself up for failure. You should follow the muse, not force it to follow you.”
Thompson began writing music as a teenager in Roanoke, Virginia. His parents split up when he was very young, and Thompson spent most of his childhood bouncing between different homes, staying with a combination of relatives and school friends. Music was a source of stability, a way to connect with each home he visited.
“If I was staying with my grandparents,” he remembers, “we’d listen to country music, old folk tunes, and World War I songs. We’d watch “Hee Haw” every Saturday. With my mom, I’d listen to a lot of soul music. With my dad, it was southern rock and ’80s country. And then my friends’ families showed me all the tunes they were into. It was fascinating to learn how different types of popular music touched different types of people.”
Years later, music is still the glue that bonds Thompson to the people he loves. It’s the brickwork for his own community, with “Salvation in the Ground” -- the Allen Thompson Band’s best song cycle to date -- acting as the cornerstone.
“I don’t have a single relationship in my life that doesn’t have its own special soundtrack. That’s my goal with the Allen Thompson Band: to write our soundtrack. This music is family music. There are husbands and wives in the band, and we’re part of a larger community of husband-and-wife bands. We’re creating our soundtrack together. I spent a lot of time not trying to do that -- trying to be a certain type of artist instead -- and the music didn’t sound as good as it should have. Since I’ve started creating music in this family environment, the response has changed. And the songs are better.”
Allen Thompson (vocals, guitars)
Clint Maine (guitars, banjo, percussion, vocals)
Grayson Downs (bass, vocals)
Joe Andrews (guitar, mandolin, keys, vocals)
Laura Maine (vocals, percussion)
Ray Dunham (plays drums live)
Sweethearts Of The Rodeo
Franklin TN United States | Country
Sweethearts of the Rodeo is a country music duo composed of sisters Janis Oliver (guitar, vocals) and Kristine Oliver (vocals). The duo recorded for Columbia Records between 1986 and 1991, releasing four albums and twelve singles for the label. In the 1990s, they also recorded two albums for Sugar Hill Records. The duo reached Top Ten on the Hot Country Songs charts seven times in the late 1980s, with its highest singles being the #4 hits "Midnight Girl/Sunset Town" and "Chains of Gold," both in 1987. The acclaimed duo have been talking about doing a reunion record for years, but Life always seemed to get in the way. "We finally made it, so I am ready to hit the road," says Kristine.
Andrew Leahey and the Homestead
Nashville TN | Rock
Like Tom Petty and Steve Earle, Andrew Leahey writes songs that split the difference between rock & roll, Americana, and alt-country. A Virginia native, he began his career as a vocalist, singing in the Juilliard Chorale during his early 20s and performing at venues like Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center. Focusing on classical music grew old, though — there weren’t nearly enough guitar solos, for starters, and all the conductors seemed to think Sebastian Bach was Johann’s younger brother — so Leahey ditched the Big Apple and moved to Michigan, where he spent four years working as a music journalist and dove back into songwriting. Now a full-time Nashville resident, he writes, records, and tours with the band Andrew Leahey & the Homestead. Forget Carnegie Hall. This is music for city highways and country lanes, for pop fans and roots rockers, for the heart as well as the heartland.
Andrew Leahey - always
Phil Heesen, Tom Reschke, and Joseph Aaron - usually
Miles Price, Samantha Joelle, Wes Burkhart, Andrew Saunders, Andrew Squire, Travis Tucker - often.
Nashville TN | Country
Jim Lauderdale is a Grammy® Award winning musician and one of the most respected artists working the Bluegrass, Country and Americana music communities today. He is considered one of Nashville's "A" list of songwriters with songs recorded by artists such as Patty Loveless, Shelby Lynne, Solomon Burke, The Dixie Chicks and George Strait, who has had numerous hits with Jim’s songs. Jim’s music has been featured recently on the ABC hit show “Nashville” and he had several tracks on the soundtrack of the successful film “Pure Country.” Jim is also in high demand as a player, touring with the likes of Lucinda Williams, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rhonda Vincent and Elvis Costello.
Jim, who frequently collaborates with legends like Ralph Stanley and Elvis Costello, is also a critically acclaimed solo artist with dozens of studio releases, including his latest Carolina Moonrise, written with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and Buddy and Jim the critically acclaimed new duets album recorded with long time friend Buddy Miller of which Mojo states: “Miller and Lauderdale's duets has both the easy familiarity of old friends and the musicianship of old pros.”
In addition to making music together, Buddy and Jim also co-host “The Buddy & Jim Show,” recently described as “…highly entertaining…” by NPR’s Fresh Air. Each week Buddy and Jim invite artists to Buddy’s home studio in Nashville, where they tape performances and in depth interviews with a wide variety of artists and friends. Jim also hosts the popular Music City Roots each week from the Loveless Barn in Nashville and since winning "Artist of the Year" and "Song of the Year" at the first "Honors and Awards Show" held by the Americana Music Association in 2002, he has subsequently hosted the show each year.
Jim is the subject of a new documentary, directed by Australian filmmaker Jeremy Dylan called “The King Of Broken Hearts.” The feature length documentary tells Jim’s unconventional and prolific story from his North Carolina roots, being immersed in the country music scenes in both New York City and Los Angeles, to breaking through in Nashville as a songwriter.
Jim's musical influences, including the legendary Dr. Ralph Stanley and George Jones, can be heard in his songs with his unique sense of melody and lyrical expertise. He won his first Grammy Award in 2002 with Dr. Ralph Stanley for Lost in the Lonesome Pines (Dualtone) and then for The Bluegrass Diaries (Yep Roc) in 2007. In addition to previously mentioned releases, as a performer Jim is credited with production, writing and collaborating on over two dozen albums including Wait ’Til Spring (SkyCrunch/Dualtone 2003) with Donna the Buffalo and Headed for the Hills (Dualtone 2004) his first total project with Robert Hunter, Planet of Love (Reprise 1991,) Pretty Close to the Truth (Atlantic 1994,) Every Second Counts (Atlantic 1995,) Persimmons (Upstart 1998,) Whisper (BNA 1998,) Onward Through It All (RCA 1999,) The Other Sessions (Dualtone 2001,) The Hummingbirds (Dualtone 2002,) Bluegrass (Yep Roc 2006,) Country Super Hits, Volume 1 (Yep Roc 2006,) Honey Songs (Yep Roc 2008), Could We Get Any Closer? (SkyCrunch 2009,) Patchwork River (Thirty Tigers 2010) and Reason and Rhyme (Sugar Hill Records 2011.)
Jim's musical influences include the legendary Dr. Ralph Stanley and George Jones. These influences and his unique sense of melody and lyric help forge a sound that is truly his own. As a performer his credits include production, writing and collaborating on albums such as, "Wait 'Til Spring" with Donna the Buffalo, "Headed for the Hills” with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, "I Feel Like Singing Today" and the Grammy winning “Lost in the Lonesome Pines” with Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys.
His second solo bluegrass album, “Bluegrass Diaries” (Yep Roc 2007) won a Grammy in the “Bluegrass Album of the Year” category. His next album, “Honey Songs” was released in February 2008, and features an incredible lineup of musicians including James Burton, Garry Tallent, Al Perkins, Glen D. Hardin, Ron Tutt, Emmy Lou Harris, Patty Loveless, and many more.
Jim’s solo albums include “The Hummingbirds” (Dualtone 2002), “The Other Sessions” (Dualtone 2001), “Onward Through it All” (RCA 1999), “Whisper” (BNA 1998), “Persimmons” (Upstart 1996), “Every Second Counts” (Atlantic 1995), “Pretty Close to the Truth” (Atlantic 1994), and “Planet of Love” (Reprise 1991), as well as two releases in 2006, “Country Super Hits, Volume 1” and “Bluegrass” (Yep Roc), Grammy winner "The Bluegrass Diaries" (Yep Roc 2007), "Honey Songs" (Yep Roc 2008) "Could We Get Any Closer?" (Sky Crunch 2009) and "Patchwork River" (Thirty Tigers 2010).
"It's been a particularly great period for me," says Lauderdale. "Thanks to the records - I'm performing more and more, which I love. And I love that I can play the Opry one weekend, a jam-band festival the next and then a bluegrass festival the following week. That's really inspiring to me and I think there's a real thread there. The roots are the same for all of them and that's the music I'm interested in."