With a singing style that sounds eerily like Lucinda Williams but with a songwriting voice all her own, Canadian singer-songwriter Kathleen Edwards gets my vote for Best New Artist so far this year, her debut album Failer, released in January by venerable roots label Rounder, a strong, durable collection of short stories and observations: "Six O'Clock News" takes a clichéd scenario and turns it into a killer song, while "Westby" is a May-December "romance" with fangs. "Hockey Skates" adds something new to alt-country's store of concrete images, and "One More Song the Radio Won't Like" actually lives up to its title. And even though Edwards seems to have learned her vocal tricks from Williams, she's mastered every mannerism and trope.
Joining Edwards at the Hi-Tone Café Sunday, March 23rd, is John Eddie. Who the hell is John Eddie? Well, you must not be the first to ask the question, because that will be the title of Eddie's new album, his first in years, which will be released in May on Nashville roots label Lost Highway. The album was recorded locally at Ardent and produced by Jim Dickinson. So, who the hell is John Eddie? Eddie was a fixture of New Jersey's Asbury Park scene in the early '80s, his shows at the famous Stone Pony drawing the attention of favorite son Bruce Springsteen, who would occasionally join Eddie on stage. This helped Eddie get a major-label deal that didn't amount to much. Now he's back.
-- Chris Herrington
Far be it from me to complain about a straight-up honky-tonk band making Memphis a regular tour stop, but Oklahoma's hippie cowboys Jason Boland and The Stragglers, who played the Hi-Tone Café last month and who will be returning on Wednesday, March 26th, just rub me the wrong way. Sure, they have an awesome pedal-steel player who can also grab a Telecaster and pick like Don Rich on speed. The bass and drums are simple and solid, while Boland, a Junior Brown-inspired baritone, has as expressive a voice as you are likely to hear in modern country music. But somehow the individual parts manage to be much greater than the whole. And here's the other thing: About halfway through their set, they start singing songs about smoking dope, and they don't stop. Now, I've got no qualms with the reefer madness, and the occasional song about weed is okay in my book, but, in the Stragglers' case, it's overkill. It's a gimmick that a band as potentially fine as the Stragglers just doesn't need. On the other hand, when they sing lyrics like "If I ever get back to Oklahoma, gonna nail my feet to the ground," they capture a kind of pure country spirit that is at odds with the tie-dyed shirts and backward baseball caps in the crowd. If you aren't a country fan as a rule, but LOVE Commander Cody & His Lost Planet Airmen, Jason Boland and The Stragglers is the band for you.
Of course, the two obvious choices for this week are B.B. King at B.B. King's on Thursday, March 20th, and George Clinton's Parliament/Funkadelic at the Lounge on Saturday, March 22nd. Oh sure, as a recording artist, King may have seen better days, but live he's still a monster. And the 30-year-old freak show that is Parliament/Funkadelic is still plenty freaky.
But for my money, there's not a better show happening this week than the Dirty Gospel of the Reverend Vince Anderson. This Tom Waits-ish theologian is at the Hi-Tone on Saturday, March 22nd. -- Chris Davis