Young People Playing (Very) Old Music, Part One

Thanks to the snow, I was able to catch a couple of Blue Plate Specials recently. Both featured young bands fronted by talented, personable singers. They also featured very retro-music. I talked about this a bit last week when I featured Katy Free. Katy’s music leaned more heavily in a jazz direction, but her song selection never ventured much beyond the nineteen sixties. I guessed at the time that perhaps two or three of the songs were written in her lifetime. And that’s OK with me. I like finding younger people who appreciate the great scope of American music for the treasure that it is.

Woody Pines, Knoxville Visitor’s Center, January 2010

The two acts I was fortunate enough to catch this week leaned more heavily in an old time country direction. Woody Pines is the name of the leader and the of the first band I saw. Currently working out of Asheville, their web page proclaims they are a four person band, but only three were present for the Blue Plate. I think that fact turned out to be very important. If you follow the link above or listen to their latest album  Counting Alligators you’ll hear a great deal more of a ragtime sound than was in evidence at the Knoxville Visitor’s Center. The only time my interest waned was when they did songs like Chew Tobacco Rag, which came across more as a novelty.

If you listen to the song Satisfied, which I completely encourage, you’ll hear more of the sound I heard that day: Country Blues. I’ve posted a video performance of the song below. I kept thinking of Mississippi John Hurt. That song, along with several others have that steady flowing finger picking, modest, lilting melodies and haunting lyrics. The other artist that has to be virtually blood-kin to these guys is Justin Townes Earle whose Harlem River Blues made a number of “best of” lists at the end of 2010. (Stunning side-note, the MP3 version is on sale at Amazon from that link for just $5 – Buy It Now!)

So, is there a movement afoot of young artists singing throw-back songs or new songs in an older style or am I just running into them because of WDVX and because I appreciate them so much? It’s hard to say. The only certainty for me is I’m glad it’s happening. I’m glad there is an alternative to the vapid music on contemporary country stations which is passed off as country, but is actually overproduced formulaic pop tripe. I’m also glad we live in a town where we can hear great music. For a city this size, it’s stunning.