Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives (Photo by Alysse Gafkjen)
Gathered around a single mic at The Birchmere recently, Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives played an all-acoustic cover of Tom Petty’s “Runnin’ Down A Dream.” Kenny Vaughan, a winner of the Americana Music Association’s Instrumentalist of the Year, played acoustic guitar. Harry Stinson was on snare drum, and Chris Scruggs, grandson of bluegrass scion Earl Scruggs, was on upright bass.
The cover encapsulated a lot of what this band does: They honor country traditions, but their sonic palette extends well into rock & roll.
Ray Wylie Hubbard performs at City Winery in DC on July 29, 2022. (Photo by Rashad Polk)
“I found out you get more attention burning down the barn than you do taking out the trash,” Americana singer-songwriter Ray Wylie Hubbard told a sold-out audience at City Winery recently.
In his autobiography, A Life Well…Lived, Hubbard writes appearing on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon — his first national TV appearance — in 2010. When Ray Wylie how he should be introduced, he asked to be described as an Americana singer-songwriter, rather than as a Texas singer-songwriter.
Fantastic Negrito performs at 9:30 Club on June 22, 2022. (Photos by Rashad Polk; Words by Mark Engleson)
Fantastic Negrito’s latest album, White Jesus, Black Problems, is deeply personal. It delves into family history, into the story of his seventh-generation great-grandparents, an enslaved Black man and indentured Scottish servant woman, who came together in Virginia in 1759. That’s not to say his other albums aren’t personal as well: The Last Days of Oakland is very much about the city where he was raised as one of 14 children. But the focus in his recent performance at the 9:30 Club was on telling the story of that interracial union.
“I wasn’t who I thought I was,” Fantastic Negrito explained. “But I’m exactly who I need to be.”
James McMurtry performs at The Birchmere on April 16, 2022. (Photo by Rashad Polk)
Popularity and respect are two entirely different things. Some artists — and I won’t name names here — are well known but may not be highly esteemed. Other artists command less name recognition, but, amongst those who are aware of them they are held in the highest regard.
James McMurtry is an artist who falls in the latter category: He’s far from a household name, but people who know James McMurtry think the world of him. Those people include his peers in the singer-songwriter community, like Jason Isbell, as well as literary figures like the bestselling author Stephen King and rock critics like Robert Christgau.
James has been making records since the ’80s, and his recent set at The Birchmere covered four decades of material.
Rodrigo y Gabriela perform at The Anthem on Oct. 6, 2021. (Photo by Rashad Polk)
Some of the best art is created at the intersection of different cultures and traditions. Rodrigo y Gabriela, the Grammy-winning guitar duo who played The Anthem recently, represent just such an intersection. Natives of Mexico City, Mexico, Rodrigo Sanchez and Gabriela Quinto grew up under the dual influence of heavy metal (especially Metallica, but also Slayer, Overkill, Testament and Megadeth) and Latin music (including flamenco, as well as the traditions of their home country).
Jimbo Mathus and The Dial Back Sound perform at The Hamilton Live on July 22, 2021. (Photo by Rashad Polk)
Jimbo Mathus is best known as the guitarist, singer, and bandleader for the swing revival group Squirrel Nut Zippers. But Jimbo’s career is much broader than that, and when he performed with his band, The Dial Back Sound, at The Hamilton on Thursday, he promised to get to “all types of music,” starting with “a little bit of honky tonk, and bringing up some deep soul from the deep South.”
Jimbo Mathus fronts the Squirrel Nut Zippers at The Birchmere on March 5, 2020. (Photo by Rashad Polk)
Laaaaadies and geeeentleemen, if you missed it, you missed the most carnivalistic display of vaudeville performance on The Birchmere stage in recent memory. Those undeterrable rascals, those curious geeks, barkers, and showgirls, the Squirrel Nut Zippers put on an antiquarian revival show of towering proportions.
SNZ’s tour is celebrating the 25th anniversary of their debut album, The Inevitable Squirrel Nut Zippers, and they played it through on a recent evening. Playing in order, they began with “Lovers’ Lane.” For “Danny Diamond,” female vocalist Cella Blue came out wearing a feather boa and waving a fan.
Marty Stuart performs at The Birchmere on Feb. 27, 2020. (Photo by Rashad Polk)
If you have even the slightest interest in country music, you owe it to yourself to see Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives. The Fabulous Superlatives — “Cousin” Kenny Vaughan on guitar, “Professor” Chris Scruggs laying down the bass, and “Handsome” Harry Stinson keeping the beat on the drums — are an all-star team of Americana players. Marty is a former child prodigy who was already playing professionally with bluegrass legend Lester Flatt as a teenager.
The Long Ryders perform at Pearl Street Warehouse on Sept. 20, 2019. (Photo by Rashad Polk)
At the beginning of The Long Ryders’ concert Friday night at the Pearl Street Warehouse, lead singer Sid Griffin urged the crowd, “Please come forward so we have something to play to.”
The Devil Makes Three performs at 9:30 Club on May 11, 2019. (Photo by Rashad Polk)
The story of the Devil Makes Three’s concert at the 9:30 Club recently is the story of how that band has evolved.