My last panels of this year’s Midatlantic Music Conference were at 5 PM back at The Chop Shop in Charlotte’s NoDa district, and then the final night of showcases began immediately afterwards, with a showcase featuring artists from the student-run Split Rail Records label, which is a part of Appalachian State University in Boone. I particularly noticed a singer-songwriter from Charlotte on the label named Alexis Worthington, who was performing on the back indoor stage. Not long afterward, Raleigh-based indie artist Frank Hurd was performing his rootsy, tuneful style with his band on the front stage, and caught my attention.
Clarksdale’s Sun House Studios is an art gallery and performance space owned by Rosealind Willcox, a local artist, musician and educator. Its name seems to play on the importance of the sun in African culture (and perhaps the nearby Sunflower River) as well as on the name of the late bluesman Son House, who was from nearby Lyons, Mississippi. During the afternoon, an acoustic blues group known as the Jericho Road Show performed on the sidewalk in front of the gallery. The Jericho Road Show is led by Mississippi bluesman Rambling Steve Gardner, and has toured but nationally and internationally.
On Tuesday June 25, 2013, a large number of Memphis musicians and fans of Memphis music came together at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park to celebrate the life and legacy of the late Sid Selvidge, a singer/songwriter from Greenville, Mississippi who came to Memphis in the late 1950’s and had a profound impact on the city’s music scene, both as a songwriter and solo artist, and also as a member of the supergroup Mudboy and the Neutrons, along with Jim Dickinson, Jimmy Crosthwaite and Lee Baker. Despite the hot weather, the Levitt Shell was filled with as many fans as I’ve ever seen, and the evening’s festivities were started off by a folk group known as Crawpatch.
Mississippi-based Shannon McNally has had a big year, garnering a lot of national attention for her new album Small Town Talk , which consists of covers of some of the superb songs by the late Louisiana songwriter Bobby Charles. This year she kicked off Beale Street Music Festival 2013 just as the rain ended, warming the hearts of a freezing but enthusiastic cadre of fans.
John Kilzer should be a familiar name to most Memphians, although many will likely remember him for different reasons. At various times he has been a Memphis State University basketball player, a university professor, a singer-songwriter with a major label deal, a recovering alcoholic, a theological student and now a clergyman. With the release of Seven on the Memphis-based Madjack Records, Kilzer returns to his roots as a songwriter and lover of literature, along with evidence of his new-found faith, for as the name suggests, Seven is an extended meditation on God, brokenness and grace.
The album begins joyfully enough, with the nonsensical soul-funk of “Kentucky Water”, a Memphis romp reminiscent of The Hombres old “Let It All Hang Out”, bolstered by Teenie Hodges on guitar (who taught Kilzer how the play the guitar), Charles Hodges on organ, and a first-rate horn section. Kilzer tells an unnamed someone to “Pass me the rattlesnake, honey, I’m feeling faithful.” All good fun. But the bulk of the album moves on to weightier matters, with the song “Mary” setting the solemn theme of spirituality, and “Two Coats” explicitly referencing Kilzer’s own conversion. “Two coats were before me, the old and the new,” he sings. “I asked my sweet Savior what should I do?” A similar mood hangs over “The Stranger”, Kilzer’s brilliant retelling of the story of the crippled man at the pool of Bethesda. Referring to being “beside the pool of the broken”, he mentions a Stranger that comes and says “Everyone alive today is broken, Anyone who says they’re not’s a fool.” There are even notes of doubt, such as the song “Resurrection Train”, where Kilzer sings “If the dead can rise why can’t they see me down here on my knees.” But the darker and more solemn moments are broken up by joyful soul in “Walk By Faith, Not By Sight” or the upbeat “All For Joy.” Even the somber, wistful “Fading Man” has the mood and feel of a New Orleans ballad. Altogether, John Kilzer’s Seven is a masterful accomplishment, full of the various strands of musical tradition that make up Memphis, backed by incredible musicianship, great arranging, superb songwriting and good recording values. An essential addition to the Memphis musical legacy.
Baton Rouge folk singer Clay Parker came to Memphis to perform at the On Location Memphis Film and Music Festival. He performed several songs from his first album The Wind and the Warble and several from his forthcoming album which should be out in a month or so on the Texas-based Old House Records label.