BLUES & BEYOND: Falling back … moving forward
Looking at 2021 in the rear view and considering 2022 for Atlanta’s blues ’n’ roots scene
And we thought 2020 was rocky!
No one needs to be reminded of the roller coaster that was 2021. As usual, the blues/roots scenes and the venues that support them around the Atlanta area like Blind Willie’s, the Northside Tavern, the Red Clay Theater and Smith’s Olde Bar among others, were particularly vulnerable to the uncertainties of that bumpy ride around the sun. Just when the outlook seemed positive and and whatever we remembered normal to be might return, the Delta variant upset that apple cart. Now it’s Omicron… what next?
Masks on or masks suggested … vaccination status required, or maybe not … concerts outside or back into the smaller, more crowded environs of venues … each show seemed to have a different admission policy depending upon which way the coronavirus wind blew that week, further confusing things in an already unsettled atmosphere for a music genre that demands the support of paying customers to sustain it, especially in these uncertain times.
As with any journey, there were, and will be, ups and downs, some of which were covered in this column over the past 12 months, others we are looking forward to as 2022 unfolds. Here are some of the highlights of the past year…and what we may expect from the next one in the Atlanta area’s blues and roots landscape.
Hang on for what will likely be a bumpy ride.
Eddie 9V — This was probably Brooks Mason’s (aka Eddie 9V) best year ever…at least professionally. He was signed by the respected and well distributed blues label Ruf who released his debut Little Black Flies. It received nearly unanimous praise from blues listeners and critics (even a thumbs up from guitar slinging veteran Joe Bonamassa), and put him on the road to strut his stuff for larger audiences outside of the South. He plays New York City in January then it’s off to Europe for a German tour. Comparisons to Sean Costello are natural as young gun Eddie is clearly on his way to bigger things, like just being added to Las Vegas’ Big Blues Bender performers list later this year.
Tinsley Ellis — Never one to sit around and wait for the world to come to him, Ellis didn’t tour but continued his weekly web presence with the Sunday Mornin’ Coffee Song series. It was a live performance of a track a week from his basement, generally covers, all played with the creativity, emotion and passion we expect from the Atlanta highwayman. He also streamed new material using fan feedback to record an album of originals, Devil May Care (his 20th solo studio set since 1986) and he’s back on the road in 2022 to promote it, starting Jan. 21 at Atlanta’s City Winery. Ellis’ previous release, 2020’s Ice Cream in Hell was also nominated for Blues Rock Album of the year honors in the prestigious Blues Music Awards.
WRFG — The weekday Good Morning Blues program (6-10 a.m., 89.3 FM), now being recorded by the DJs at home, kept the radio blues flames burning for those tuned in on their morning drive. Their fund raising Labor Day Blues BBQ returned to a live performance after 2020’s virtual one, and that’s looking good for 2022 too. The program remains the areas most dedicated radio outlet for blues and roots music, providing a much needed forum for local acts by exposing them to a larger audience.
Atlanta Blues Society — The ABS kept on keeping on in 2021. They brought back annual events such as the Women in Blues concert hosted by Diane Durrett (who just released her new album), the Stotts Blues Fest and the big kahuna, the Atlanta Blues Challenge in August, all of which were on a 2020 hiatus. Those will return in 2022, including the popular ABS monthly Sunday afternoon blues meet-ups.
Larkin Poe — Unlike the other entries here, the Lovell sisters (Rebecca and Megan) have left their Atlanta home for Nashville. But they are fondly remembered by their local contacts, have made major inroads on the national blues scene over the past year and 2022 is shaping up to keep that momentum going and growing. A recent live EP, Paint the Roses, pushed their gutsy gospel blues boundaries by adding orchestrations. They’ll be headlining a day at the prestigious Tampa Bluesfest and then head off to tour Australia and Europe in the spring and early summer before joining Eddie 9V at the Vegas Bender.
Obituaries — Last year was a rough one. Delta Moon’s Tom Gray, Col. Bruce percussionist Count M’Butu, keyboardist Ike Stubblefield, and Breeze Kings’ frontman Carlos Capote were among those who are likely jamming together in the next world.
And more — From local veterans Sandra Hall and Bill Sheffield, to the next generation of blues up and comers like Garrett Collins, Nick Johnson and Cody Matlock, there is no shortage of terrific roots music to keep us busy and inspired in 2022. Get vaccinated, get off the couch and support them all. They need you now more than ever. —CL—
Anderson East, Variety Playhouse — Few caught East in 2015 as an opening act at Smith’s Olde Bar before his debut was released, or even headlining Eddie’s Attic shortly thereafter. Six years, three studio and one live album later he has graduated to this larger venue where his expressive blue eyed soul and expansive sound always belonged. — HH
$27.50-57. 8:00 p.m. Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave N.E., Atlanta, 30307. variety-playhouse.com
Lost Dog St. Band, Terminal West — This “dark folk” trio hails from Nashville but that city’s generally slicker country approach is a million miles away from their tough, dusky, rustic, backwoods sound. They will feature songs from a new release, Glory, where one of the lines is “I kicked down the doors of the Grand Ole Opry,” which says it all. — HH
$20. 8:00 p.m. Terminal West, 887 West Marietta St. N.W., Atlanta, 30318. terminalwestatl.com/
Watkins Family Hour, Variety Playhouse — Sean and Sara Watkins disbanded their popular Nickel Creek bluegrass trio to further their careers both solo and in this revolving door collective. As the title to their 2020 Brother Sister album implies, they have stripped down their sound to just a duo. That focuses attention on their sumptuous intertwining voices and often bittersweet fiddle/guitar music. — HH
$24-$48. 8 p.m. Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Avenue N.E., 404-524-7354.
The DLBR8N Show, Mixdeity MEDIA Studios — Postponed.
Eddie 9V, Eddie’s Attic — “Showcasing songs by Al Green,” reads the subheading on this special show from Atlanta’s up-and-coming young guitar slinger and singer. Say no more. You can’t go wrong with material that strong, and having Brooks lay his soulful vocals into those classics, none of which made it onto his debut Ruf label recording, should be a powerful and frisky experience. Wish the local kid well before he heads off on a tour of Germany, his first stab at European live work. — HH
$14. 9:15 p.m. Eddie’s Attic, 515-B N. McDonough St., Decatur, 30030. eddiesattic.com
Kevn Kinney, Eddie’s Attic — Mr. Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ is as powerful and unpredictable unplugged and unshackled from his longtime unit (still going strong heading into their fourth decade) as slinging out “Straight to Hell” for the umpteenth time. His unscripted between song patter is almost as riveting as his music and his having the freedom to dig deep into his bulging catalog while playing solo is a tantalizing prospect. — HH
$17. 7:30 p.m. Eddie’s Attic, 515-B N. McDonough St., Decatur, 30030. eddiesattic.com
Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives, Variety Playhouse — It’s unlikely there is a better, more talented country/roots band around. Stuart and his backing trio are the gold standard for combining traditional country with a more contemporary spin as is evident on 2017’s Way Out West’s psychedelic leanings. He is a walking encyclopedia of songs from the genre, so you never know what he’ll pull out of his thick collection of covers and originals. That makes each show a unique experience and no one leaves disappointed. — HH
Cat Power, The Eastern — Chan Marshall may have left her one-time Cabbagetown residence in the early 90s, but she remains a local favorite; a musician who has graduated to worldwide recognition, but never forgotten her Atlanta roots or connections. She’s riding back into town on her third album of covers where she applies her distinctive dusky, velvety voice to a diverse batch of tunes ranging from Billie Holiday to Iggy Pop and even Jackson Browne, whose “These Days” seems more a nod to Nico’s version than its composer’s. — HH
$20-79. 8:00 p.m. The Eastern, 777 Memorial Dr. S.E.., Atlanta, 30316. easternatl.com}easternatl.com
Judy Collins, City Winery — The 80 year old folk/pop icon has been on a roll lately, touring with old flame Stephen Stills and releasing her first album entirely of originals- — her 29th recording in a five decade and counting career- — next month. This rare club date (two shows, early and late) gets you up close and personal with a legendary figure whose wonderfully warm, vibrant voice still elicits chills. — HH
$60-70. 6:30 and 9:30 p.m. City Winery, 650 North Ave. N.E.., Atlanta, 30308. citywinery.com/Atlanta
Railroad Earth, Variety Playhouse — New Jersey isn’t known for its contributions to bluegrass, so saying that state’s Railroad Earth is its finest aggregation in the genre might sound like damning them with faint praise. But over the past two decades, RE expanded into more rock, Celtic, blues, roots pop and even jazz oriented directions, describing themselves as a “souped up string band.” A high profile collaboration with Warren Haynes in 2015 raised their visibility substantially yet it has been over seven years since the band released a full studio album. So look for new music on this tour from an outfit whose music can’t easily be pigeonholed. — HH
$29.50-49.50. 8:00 p.m. Variety Playhouse, 1099 Euclid Ave N.E., Atlanta, 30307. variety-playhouse.com
GA-20/JD Simo, Vinyl — This rugged double bill is a must for every blues lover. Boston’s GA-20 (the name of a classic guitar amp, no connection with any route in Georgia) works their two guitar, drums, bass-free lineup for maximum intensity. A new Hound Dog Taylor covers set was a surprise hit in the house rocking blues circuit and these guys deliver the goods live. Simo approaches his blues with more psychedelic overtones, but is a mesmerizing guitarist also making waves in the genre. — HH
$15-20. 8:00 p.m. Vinyl, 1374 West Peachtree St., Atlanta, 30309. centerstage-atlanta.com
Marshall Tucker Band, Symphony Hall — Seems like every band still touring from five decades ago, regardless of the remaining original members, is commemorating that longevity with a 50th anniversary batch of gigs. Notch another for Spartanburg, South Carolina’s Marshall Tucker Band, right behind the Allman Brothers Band as Capricorn’s biggest act at least of the early 70s. Only founding vocalist Doug Gray is aboard, but the MTB has seldom stopped playing over the years and is far more professional and impressive than just a cover group phoning in their hits. Well worth checking out for Southern rock lovers who veer to the more melodic side of the music. — HH
$291-50. 7:30 p.m. Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta, 30309 aso.org/
Hiss Golden Messenger, Terminal West — Ex-Court and Spark frontman M.C. Taylor might have started out as a low -fi solo, acoustic guitar strummer, but he has gradually shifted towards a soulful musician with a full band in tow. His 2021 release Quietly Blowing It was recorded during the pandemic yet features a larger sound that’s part country, part folk, part singer/songwriter musing. It’s one of the finest albums in the genre of the year. — HH
$23.50-27. 8:00 p.m. Terminal West, 887 West Marietta St. N.W., Atlanta, 30318. terminalwestatl.com
Old 97’s, Terminal West — Amazingly the Old 97’s, while never logging anywhere close to star status, have maintained the same four musicians that started cranking out their cow-punk laced power pop rock back in 1994. Nearly 30 years later they haven’t released a bad album yet and their live shows crackle with the energy they had back in the day. But now they have more solid tunes (their 12th album arrived in 2020) to choose from. — HH
$25-30. 8:00 p.m. Terminal West, 887 West Marietta St. N.W., Atlanta, 30318. terminalwestatl.com
John McCutcheon, Eddie’s Attic — Georgia based folkie McCutcheon has been creating albums from the mid-70s and shows no signs of slowing down now that he’s pushing 70. He comes from the Pete Seeger school (even recording a 2018 tribute album to him), playing everything from children’s music, folk, and ragtime to serious, socially conscious material. Along with his guitar playing, he’s a master of the hammered dulcimer, so expect to hear that somewhat obscure instrument during what promises to be a set of warm, intimate sounds on what might be a chilly night. — HH
$28. 6:00 p.m. Eddie’s Attic, 515-B N. McDonough St., Decatur, 30030. eddiesattic.com
Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band, Center Stage — This twice rescheduled two night stand looks like it’s finally locked in. Blues rocking guitar whiz Shepherd tours behind a recent live CD/DVD that proves he’s more than a hot shot fret shredder. His band, which likely still features horns, is top notch and he’s been doing this long enough to know how to deliver a tough, potent and crowd pleasing show. — HH
$245-45. 7:30 p.m. Center Stage, 1374 West Peachtree St., Atlanta, 30309. centerstage-atlanta.com
Kacey Musgraves, State Farm Arena — Few expected country singer/songwriter Musgraves to take home an Album of the Year Grammy for 2018’s Golden Hour. That put her into arena headlining status after just two previous major label discs (there were some early obscure self-released titles). She followed it with 2021’s more pop oriented Star-Crossed which chronicled her divorce but didn’t get consideration in the Country category for another Grammy. Regardless, she’s a bona fide star, has earned her status the hard way and has the songs and voice to fill a space as large as this one. — HH
$80-15. 8:00 p.m. State Farm Arena, 1 State Farm Dr., Atlanta, 30303. statefarmarena.com
Lilly Hiatt, Vinyl — John’s Nashville based daughter has changed direction from her tougher indie rocker stance to a more intimate folk-pop style on her recently released Lately. It’s the warmest and most melodic of her four discs and arguably her finest work. — HH
$12-15. 8:00 p.m. Vinyl, 1374 West Peachtree St., Atlanta, 30309. centerstage-atlanta.com