MAXXMUSIC & HIGH POINT THEATRE PRESENT
220 E. Commerce Avenue
High Point, NC, 27260
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
This event is all ages
Watch & Listen
Richard Bailey’s banjo plays funky, little Kentucky-goes-to-Memphis rolls. Tammy Rogers’ fiddle soars. Brent Truitt’s mandolin chops time, and Mike Fleming’s bass pounds the downbeat. And all that is righteous and right-on. Elevated, even. But Nichols—he lets loose something the opposite of righteousness. It’s a howl, full of hurt and anger and life. Starts on the highest E note that 99.9% of male singers can hit, then ascends into a sweet falsetto, and then opens up like the gates of Hell, into a reeling screech.
“That made me dizzy for a second,” Nichols says, remembering the moment he sang the line. “Really, I almost passed out. There are certain lines in SteelDrivers songs that require a little bit of Wilson Pickett.”
Nichols knows about Wilson Pickett, who recorded “Mustang Sally” at FAME studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, less than three miles from Jimmy Nutt’s NuttHouse, where the SteelDrivers recorded these Muscle Shoals Recordings. Nichols is from Muscle Shoals. He grew up as a guitar slinger and a soul shouter, which should not be any help in fronting one of bluegrass music’s most engaging outfits. But part of the reason the SteelDrivers are such an engaging band is the seemingly incongruous blend of soul and slink, blues and country, mountain coal and red dirt.
“I think that’s what moves people when they come to see us: the realness and rawness and edge,” says Rogers, who formed the SteelDrivers in 2005 with Bailey, Fleming, multi-instrumentalist Mike Henderson, and soulful singer (and now-acclaimed contemporary country artist) Chris Stapleton. That version of the SteelDrivers received three GRAMMY® nominations and won an audience that was surprised and initially saddened by the 2010 and 2011 departures of Stapleton and Henderson. But the entries of Nichols and virtuoso mandolin talent Truitt have created a SteelDrivers band that carries the gutbucket ethic of the original combo, but pleases in different ways.
Nichols, who initially felt an obligation to replicate Stapleton’s mighty vocal turns, emerged as a vocalist of distinction, as a monster acoustic guitarist and as a songwriting force who wrote or co-wrote five of Shoals Recordings’ 11 songs. Rogers stepped up her songwriting as well, and she has credits on all but one of the album’s remaining songs. The one outlier on The Muscle Shoals Recordings is “Drinkin’ Alone,” a romp penned by Jay Knowles and former SteelDriver Stapleton. Wait, check that…
“Chris Stapleton and Mike Henderson will always be SteelDrivers,” Rogers says. “They aren’t in the band playing shows, but they are part of our sound, and part of our story.”
Truitt’s fluid mandolin added another virtuoso element to a group that is undergirded by Fleming’s upright bass and baritone harmonies.
“Mike is responsible for a lot of the emotion of the songs,” Nichols says. “He stands out more on this record vocally than he ever did before, and as a bass player he’s a big part of our sound. We don’t have a drummer, so he and I have to be the kick, snare, and high hat. He’s the backbone; I’m the hips.”
That’s not to say that this is all about swagger and sway. These Muscle Shoals Recordings hold much in the way of plaintive beauty. “Here She Goes,” written by Nichols and Dylan LeBlanc, is songwriting at its most honest—no posturing and no fronts. It’s a song about divorce, without blame: “If I were honest, I’d say she stayed too long,” Nichols sings, to a soundtrack aided by Jason Isbell, Nichols’ childhood friend and musical partner, who co-produced the track (and “Brother John”).
In the studio, the band kept pushing the tempo, perhaps to assuage the sadness and, perhaps, because it’s sometimes easier for master musicians to play with reckless abandon than with somber certainty.
“After we played it through, I spoke up and said, ‘Maybe it needs to be a bit faster,’” Rogers says. “Jason said, ‘Well, maybe we can just try harder.’ He was right, and we tried harder.”
Nichols and Isbell played together as teens when Nichols fronted Gulliver, a band that included bass man Jimbo Hart and drummer Ryan Tillery. When Nichols scored a major label deal with Mercury Records in 2006, he hit the road with Hart and Tillery. When Nichols exited Mercury, Hart and Tillery joined Isbell’s 400 Unit band.
Way back then, Gulliver worked with Jimmy Nutt, upon whose studio the SteelDrivers converged in late 2014 to make an uncommon and instantly identifiable album. Nutt cut his teeth at Rick Hall’s FAME studios, and Hall is the guy who produced “You Better Move On,” “Fancy,” “Slip Away,” and, come to think of it, Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally.” All that stuff is supposed to be a world removed from Nashville, from bluegrass, from banjos and mandolins. But the SteelDrivers place it all in close proximity. They make music born of collisions of traditions, from meldings of things assumed un-meldable.
“This stuff is all related,” Nichols says. “The note selection, the melodies, and the licks are the same. It’s just a different accent.”
Nichols and the SteelDrivers speak in their own accent, one that charms and sears and beguiles. This is a band like no other, by inclination but not by calculation. Nichols, Rogers, Bailey, Fleming, Truitt … Those of us who have listened all know where their souls are bound. Bound to triumph. Bound to rise. Bound to matter. Bound to resound. Bound to impact. Bound to roar and shimmy, to howl and heal. A damn good band, this one. If you don’t believe it, start around two minutes and ten seconds into “Long Way Down.” That’s the stuff, right there.
East Nashville, Tennessee
Led by a modern-day Linda Ronstadt, Granville Automatic writes songs the Associated Press calls “haunting tales of sorrow and perseverance.” With influences as diverse as Emmylou Harris, Ryan Adams, The Smiths and Dawes, Granville Automatic has created a one-of-a-kind sound that revolves around their passion for storytelling. The duo, comprised of Nashville songwriters Vanessa Olivarez and Elizabeth Elkins, is named after a 19th-century typewriter.
The girls’ devotion to the project has proved a chaotic road of back-breaking touring, interpersonal tension, former-day-job balancing, other-band leaving, and a love-hate dynamic that brought them from Atlanta to Nashville. Theirs is a creative partnership reminiscent of Lennon-McCartney, a dreamer-doer, accessible-obtuse, country-rock collision of two polar opposites. What the two share, however, is a love for nostalgia: old records and antiques, tarot cards and dusty books, ghosts on battlefields and lost stories from the past. That common ground has produced three historically-minded albums widely praised from The New York Times to an Editor’s Pick in No Depression.
In early 2018, the band released four non-history-related singles, beginning with “A Little of Both” – an anthem for girls who really want it all. The singles have more than 500,000 streams, and have been featured on Apple Music's Hot Country Tracks and Pandora's New Country.
On November 2, Granville Automatic is releasing RADIO HYMNS, a 13-track concept record mining Nashville’s lost history from the two wives of city founder Timothy Demonbreun to the day in 1974 that the Ryman Auditorium was saved from the wrecking ball. The album features guest appearances from Jim Lauderdale, Kevin Griffin of Better Than Ezra, Ben Fields and Matraca Berg. Elkins and Olivarez self-produced the record, using some longtime Granville players and some of Nashville’s legendary studio musicians (and studios). The album rocks and rolls, haunts and soars, and pays true homage to the mystery of Music City.
“Stories always find their way to us,” Olivarez explained. “For our last album about the Civil War, those stories were usually very sad ones about love and loss. But for Nashville – we kept discovering stories of deception, murder, trickery, drugs and debauchery. It’s a very different beast, but one often with redemption at the end of the road.”
“This is my favorite recording project I’ve ever done,” added Elkins. “The stories are insanely intense – and really reveal the character and heart and depth of Nashville’s past. Much like Music Row has its secrets, the city is full of incredible stories of affairs, God, war, love and ghosts. We spent hours looking for the greatest stories, many long buried as the houses or streets where they happened have vanished. I think we found some good ones.
“As writers in Nashville, we often write for the radio with hopes to make a living. But we came here because songs are our hymns – they save us. That’s why we called this RADIO HYMNS,” the girls agreed.
Elkins and Olivarez have written songs recorded by country stars Billy Currington (the single “Drinkin’ Town With A Football Problem”), Sugarland, Kira Isabella, Wanda Jackson, Angaleena Presley and numerous others. Their songwriting led them to a coveted Composers in Residence spot at Seaside, Fla.’s Escape to Create program. They’ve appeared on PBS’ Sun Studio Sessions and WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. You may have heard their songs on ABC’s American Crime and The Lying Game, as well as Netflix’s The Ranch. Their tour schedule has been as frenzied as 200 shows a year, including stops at SXSW, the Key West, Island Hopper, Red River and 30A Songwriters festivals, CMA Fest and Tin Pan South. They’ve played at venues from the legendary Joshua Tree roadhouse Pappy & Harriet’s to Texas’ haunted Gruene Hall to listening rooms such as The Tin Angel (Philadelphia), Club Passim (Boston), Eddie’s Attic (Atlanta), The Station Inn and Music City Roots (Nashville) and Rockwood Music Hall (NYC).