various artists,
East Nashville, Vol. 3: More Music from the Other Side
(Red Beet, 2009)

Not to be confused with the better-known Nashville (home of Music Row on the other side of the Cumberland River), East Nashville hosts a separate music scene. Music there is not "product," it's songs by artists who write because they have something beyond greeting-card sentiments to express. To a man and woman, I'm sure, they'd be pleased to sell their songs to chart-topping stars and get rich, but that's not what drives them. They sing, as the late Townes Van Zandt attested, for the sake of the song.

From the evidence of Red Beet's artists, 19 examples of whose work appear on East Nashville, Vol. 3, country music -- in either its honkytonk (traditional) or current (power pop) definition -- is a very small part of the dynamic. The sounds are mostly rock and folk, once in a while blues or pop. I don't hear much that causes "country" immediately to leap to mind. I guess you could say, though, that Chuck Mead's "I Wish It Was Friday" is country. You could add that to every indication it takes its inspiration from Bobby Boyd/Dennis Robbins's "Finally Friday," also up-tempo, which George Jones cut in 1992. Even so, it's a perfectly enjoyable song. "Enjoyable" covers most everything else on the disc. You could add "solid" and "committed," too.

As with just about any anthology, what you like most tends to be what appeals to you in your ordinary listening. In my hearing an occasional number sounds uninterestingly close to generic guitar rock. That, of course, may speak to nothing but my own preferences, which run to the likes of Matt Urmy, whose genial "Renaissance Rodeo" feels like collaboration between Woody Guthrie and John Prine. I'm already an admirer of Kieran Kane, Eric Brace, and Peter Cooper, who contribute some fine cuts with strikingly imagined themes and lyrics. Tom Mason's salsa-flavored "Chano Pozo's Shoes" is a knockout. The chronically underrated Phil Lee, the only one here to get two cuts, opens ("Neon Tombstone") and closes ("The Taterbug Rag").

It's also good to know that another depressingly under-appreciated singer-songwriter, Kevin Gordon (represented by "Black Dog" here), is working on a new album after too long a hiatus. Along with Peter Cooper & Lloyd Green's "Gospel Song," from another forthcoming CD (Green is a revered steel-guitar master), it's an indication that yet more nutritious music is being cultivated in Red Beet's organic garden.

review by
Jerome Clark

8 May 2010

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