Nashville is the proud home of multiple genres of music, most notably country, bluegrass, folk, gospel and contemporary Christian music. This is not news to any of us, but there have been such remarkable combinations going on, just under the current of popular music, that we felt it important to shine the light on these insightful, infectious and engaging forms of music. Nashville is undergoing a bit of a transformation these days in more ways than one, and it is due in no small part to the creative, visionary talents of our resident musicians and artists.
One of the most intriguing forms of music coming out of Nashville these days is what has been termed “Electro Shine.” The brainchild of country superstar “Big Kenny” Alphin, this new form of music birthed here in Nashville is a movement that combines the rhythmic beat of house music found in big cities’ dance clubs, the high fiddle of bluegrass and the catchy melody lines made so popular in traditional country music. The first production of this new style, entitled “Dance Upon the Solid Ground,” was released in April 2013 and features Alphin, EDM and R&B artist Chebacca and the duo ChessBoxer made up of artists Matt Menefee and Ross Holmes. The most recent “ Electro Shine” release is titled “The Great Unknown” and features Damien Horne. Co-produced by Alphin, it is already making waves and has been receiving great airplay on such popular Top 40 radio stations as WXYK in Biloxi, Miss. and WAYV in Atlantic City, N.J.
Some of our readers may be thinking, “What in the world? House music meets bluegrass? Is that even possible?” Well, we are here to say that it certainly is! Alphin put it best while presenting his project to reporters when he said, “I know it’s early, but some of you are going to want to dance, and if I do the same, please forgive me, because I think everybody ought to wake up every morning, dancing!” That infectious nature of Alphin’s personality, either behind the mike or behind the producer’s headset, shines through this undeniably unique style of music. He waxes poetic for a moment when he says, “Music City is a beacon of creativity for the world right now… There is just so much flooding in here, and there’s so much varied talent that comes in and out of this place!”
From Electro Shine to Americana, our next intriguing genre of music cropping up these days is one of the oldest yet most-recently recognized. Call it “roots” music. Call it Americana. Call it folk-slash-country-slash-soul-slash-rock. Despite the fact that folks are still struggling to light upon a name, what we will term “roots” music has become one of the most fastest-growing and innately intuitive genres of our time. Our generation can’t really take full credit for this one. After all, “roots” music, at its most bare, is based predominantly upon the genres of bluegrass and folk, both of which have been around for decades, if not centuries.
As the popular Americana band The Vespers will attest, “We don’t fit one genre enough, like a lot of artists nowadays, and oftentimes no one knows what to call it. Folks who work in several genres have contacted us and wanted to see what we smell like.” Band spokesman Bruno Jones continued by commenting, “It’s interesting. Americana as a genre allows you to basically say we are ‘undefined’ to a traditional genre label.”
The Vespers, if our readers might recall, are one of the most talked-about new groups emerging from the “roots” music renaissance. Comprised of two pairs of siblings – two sisters and two brothers – Phoebe and Callie Cryar, along with Bruno and Taylor Jones – The Vespers have developed a cult-like following among their devoted fans and have been showcased on two of Nashville’s own home-grown products – NPR’s “Bluegrass Underground,” taped in the Cumberland Caverns and “Music City Roots” recorded at the Loveless Barn, both distributed to a national audience by National Public Television. Despite these admirable exhibitions, Jones jokingly says, “Ha! Again, we appear way more popular than we actually are, I guess. We still play to about 100 people in most towns, and that’s on a good night!” He continues with a little more of their story. “We’ve fought to get where we are, one fan at a time, and [we] just keep grinding and investing in hopes of one day making a career out of it.”
All four members are native Nashvillians, and the Cryars have a second-generation musical pedigree with their father Morgan Cryar, a CCM artist who first came to fame in the 1980s. The Vespers’ 2010 album “Tell Your Mama” and their 2012 release “The Fourth Wall” have critics raving about their remarkable harmonies and impressive instrumentalism. When asked what advice The Vespers would give to other young independent acts trying to establish a presence in this musical environment, Jones replies, “I’d tell an artist to find what makes you unique, practice until you bleed, record some music in someone’s bedroom for cheap, then make yourself available. Good songs are the priority – good songs that bring out an emotion in people.” This emotion in verse is quickly becoming the hallmark of The Vespers, and we here at Sports & Entertainment Nashville feel sure that The Vespers are on the cusp of worldwide acclaim.
Being on the cusp of worldwide acclaim is something in the rearview mirror for many of the artists that have established a presence in the “roots” music genre. Indeed, such artists as Emmylou Harris, Rodney Crowell, Dwight Yoakam, Rosanne Cash, and the Old Crow Medicine Show could all be defined in one form or another as Americana artists. Indeed, the Americana Music Association is headquartered in Franklin, Tenn. and hosts its annual festival smack dab in Music City. Bringing Americana music to the world is the lofty task of this organization, and their efforts have been substantially productive, bringing attention like no other genre has of late. The aforementioned venues like “Bluegrass Underground” and “Music City Roots” have helped to propel this genre to the forefront of listeners’ minds.
One such venue that is also quietly going about celebrating both the old and new in music is George Hamilton V’s weekly old-fashioned “Viva! NashVegas Radio Show,” filmed in downtown Franklin, Tenn.’s Handy Hardware store and available to a growing international audience via internet-streaming content. Just off Five Points in downtown, the folksy Handy Hardware is the backdrop for this production that highlights both celebrated traditional artists like Brenda Lee and Riders in the Sky and up-and-coming acts like Ireland’s Rackhouse Pilfer and indie artist Rachael Davis. Established as a means to celebrate Nashville’s history and introduce it to the future, the “Viva! NashVegas Radio Show” provides a “smaller than life” glimpse into “revisiting roots music – it’s just a wide open dream trip of music,” raves Hamilton, the son of Grand Ole Opry member George Hamilton IV. Recently celebrating his 54th anniversary with the Grand Ole Opry, “Viva! NashVegas” hosted a show that highlighted the best of “old school and new cool country” has to offer. “It’s amazing how time flies, and it’s really just wonderful how a lot of people met – George IV and Brenda Lee back in 1956 when they were touring with Little Richard. They just shared all the fond memories and the friendship that carries on,” enthuses Hamilton. As we have seen before, music indeed comes full circle. What an interesting image that brings to mind – George Hamilton IV and little bitty Brenda Lee, all touring in the ‘50s with the enthusiastic Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Little Richard!
George Hamilton V, whose own years of performing have taken him across the globe and back again, remarks that Nashville’s image is beloved by all those he has met in his travels. “We’ve sent this message like a satellite going out in space, and it’s taken this long for the country music I grew up loving to actually hit other parts of the world, and it’s so beautiful. You can call it innocent, I guess, but it’s also reverent. It makes you realize, ‘Wait a minute! Let’s look back at Nashville the way these people look at Nashville.’”
Commenting on how remarkable Nashville’s fusion of musical styles has become, Hamilton tells a story of meeting Led Zeppelin legend Robert Plant. “I was backstage at the Opry, and we were getting ready to do a spot… When we came off stage, there was Robert Plant on the side of the stage. I couldn’t miss that opportunity, so I went up to Robert Plant and said, ‘Mr. Plant, sorry to bother you. Would you mind if I take a picture of my father George Hamilton IV and you?’ and he said, ‘On one condition,’ and I said, ‘What’s that?’ He said, ‘If you let me take a picture of him with my lady! Oh, yeeees! I’ve been a fan of your father’s forever!’”
Laughing, Hamilton continues by describing how this chance meeting occurred just prior to the critically acclaimed collaboration between Plant and Alison Krauss on their 2007 “Raising Sand” album. “That type of music just blows everything away, because it’s such a neat blending and a respect (of both genres) but such a cool sound at the same time!”
With all of these genres colliding and creating new sounds, it is as if we are watching the birth of musical stars from our own backyard. From the frenetic, rhythmic “Electro Shine” to today’s Americana music from bands like The Vespers, Nashville is sitting on the edge of a “roots renaissance.” Hamilton said it best when he mused, “Everything that is old is new again, and it really is great to watch the circle spin around.”
We couldn’t agree more.