WDVX’s monthly live broadcast, Tennessee Shines, is now established as the go-to venue for great, sometimes eclectic, music. The latest installment was a concert with no real singular highlights, just performance after performance that proved to be continually luminescent, with every musician at the top of their game.
Beginning the night [other than Jim Lauderdale and the house band led by Dave Nichols, which we will discuss later] was Dave Alvin, featuring Cindy Cashdollar and Christy McWilson. Alvin’s almost 30 years in the music industry and masterfully steady guitar ability explain his ever-present swagger. Hell, the man’s earned it. But did he have to start off with two songs about Cal-i-for-ni-a? Heh. Gotta give credit to the Alvin for that joke. He expounded on how odd it was for a guy from California to open up with two California tunes in East Tennessee, the first of which, was the rousing [in a subdued way] “King of California.” In addition to the seasoned ability of Alvin, the backing of Cindy Cashdollar and Christy McWilson was a warm addition. Cashdollar was strapped with a dobro, adding subtle touches throughout. McWilson, on some songs, provided more of a lead performance. Though on the tracks where she acted solely as a backing vocalist, a tremendous dynamic was created by her floating affect over Alvin’s deep baritone. A shining example was on the tribute “Potter’s Field.” Alvin and McWilson traded leads, leaving the viewing audience in such a state of awe that you could hear a pin drop.
Next up was the lovely Sara Watkins, of Nickel Creek fame. Sharing the stage that very night was her brother Sean, also of Nickel Creek, on guitar and Sebastian Steinberg, of Soul Coughing, on bass. A seeming trademark of the Nickel Creek era, Sara opened with an instrumental. From there, she moved on to the lead track on her eponymous solo effort, “All This Time.” But it was the two closing tunes that really brought the house down in completely different ways. Watkins busted out the ukulele for my favorite track on her album, “Where Will You Be.” Seriously, I had chills running up and down my spine. The final number was a surprisingly head-bobbin’ cover of John Hartford’s “Long Hot Summer Days” in which Watkins turned in to an audience accom… accomp… an audience sing-a-long.
After a short break, Tyler Ramsey, of Band of Horses, took the stage. Flanking his solo effort was a wide array of guitars, just lying around in open cases like coffins at a wake. Only in this instance, each guitar was turned in and turned on in a warm, robust way. Settled into a chair center stage, Ramsey began his performance with “Long Dream” off of his second solo effort, A Long Dream About Swimming Across the Sea. Ramsey emphatically proved how insanely talented a guitar player he truly is, making one of his many guitars sound like both a bass and guitar simultaneously.
Finishing off the night was the fascinatingly talented-despite-her-youth Samantha Crain, who had been on the road since February. Tennessee Shines, as she informed us, was her last show until next February, when she’ll be joining the likes of Emmylou Harris, Lyle Lovett, Buddy Miller on some sort of musicallyawesometastic cruise. But, for that very night, Crain decided to begin with “Songs of the Night,” which featured a kazoo, of all things. Just when you thought whipping out a kazoo couldn’t be topped, she and her two band mates performed a three-part harmonica solo. You heard me correctly – three-part harmonica solo. Her backing band looked equally as youthful. At one point, her bass player came out of his flip flops to hit the night notes on backing vocals. If that’s not commitment, I don’t know what is.
Finally, much praise should be heaped upon both Jim Lauderdale and the house band led by Dave Nichols. They really pull things together each and every month, time after time. Jim’s anecdotal humor and ability to bring some of the musicians out of their shell is a nice addition to the truly tremendous monthly occurrence that is Tennessee Shines.