Festival season is nearly upon us, so it’s appropriate to focus this week’s comments on one of the best of the bunch. Rhythm N Blooms takes place in Knoxville Tennessee and has built a stellar reputation as one of the world. Granted, there’s a lot of competition, but this year’s line-up, which will be showcased in Knoxville’s Old City April 4 - 6 is among the best yet. Featured artists include Deer Tick, Dr. Dog, Paul Thorn, Sarah Shook & The Disarmers, Hayes Carll, Max Gomez, and Caroline Spence. Here is our picks for a handful of must-see entertainers:
Releasing two records simultaneously may seem like a bold move, but then again, Deer Tick have never shied away from tinkering with their template. With their recent companion discs, simply titled Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, Deer Tick effectively created a double album in two parts. Nevertheless, the band’s methodology is clearly effective, in that it divvies up the material according to tone and treatment. For those who are familiar with the band, that ought to come as no surprise. Although they often defy description, their skewered alt folk sound combines unexpected effects, jangly melodies and a kind of cosmic cadence that elevates their efforts into the occasional celestial realm. It’s an uncommon blend of indie and Americana that’s unceasingly melodic and incredibly compelling all at the same time. Here, then, is a rare opportunity to catch this Providence Rhode Island based band and discover why the buzz is building so quickly.
In another era, Paul Thorn might have been a travelling preacher or maybe the emcee of a minstrel show. A true gentleman possessing authentic southern style, Thorn boasts a mix of humility, humor and soulful sounds that reflect the essence of a traditional traveling troubador with an antebellum attitude. A former boxer, he sings songs imbued with a sly spirituality and relays true tales that reflect a somewhat unruly upbringing. Combine that with rowdy relatives, unlikely observations and an occasional harrowing happenstance and you’ve got songs that can be moving and mesmerizing. Each of Thorn’s albums offer life lessons -- albeit from a somewhat skewed point of view -- but his latest, Don’t Let the Devil Ride, finds an ideal blend of religion and rowdiness and therefore becomes the perfect place to begin. That all but guarantees that Thorn’s performance will be something akin to a rock and roll revival, where music and mirth find equal footing.
SARAH SHOOK & THE DISARMERS:
With their unapologetic debut Sidelong, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers established themselves as rowdy, forthright rebels who made it clear they wouldn’t be intimidated by the fact that they were competing for attention with artists who were far better known and possessed a far more substantive pedigree when it came to petulance and tenacity. Nevertheless, Shook and company showed no remorse in executing their reckless and rebellious sound. Naming a song “Fuck Up” was clear indication that regret wasn’t a word that fit well into her vocabulary. On the other hand, titling a song after Dwight Yoakum did show a certain reverence regardless. Indeed, the fact that the music sticks to a well-worn template -- all rootsy, rocking, upbeat shuffles that underscore their barroom bravado -- suggests a certain devotion to a timeless template. Consequently, Years, the band’s able follow-up, shows the same grit and sass that they bowed with on their debut. “I didn’t meant to stay out drinking...believe me it just happens this way,” Shook concedes on the tellingly titled “The Bottle Never Lets Me Down.” Likewise, songs named “New Ways to Fail,” “Damned if I do, Damned If I Don’t” and “Heartache in Hell” suggest Shook’s more or less committed to the fact she’ll remain an outlaw and an outcast as long as it serves her songs.
Max Gomez has a natural affinity for making music of the well worn and slightly tarnished variety. His songs have to do with lost love, attempted love and all sorts of emotional tangles in between. And while desperation and desire somehow manage to impact on his emotions, he finds a clearness and conviction that never seem to waver. Gomez’s recent EP Me & Joe picks up where his full length debut, Rule the World left off, and so it’s no surprise that the final track of the album provides the title track of the former with a wistful refrain. In fact, Gomez hits the mark on every one of these five offerings, making this a teasingly tempting preview for whatever comes next. The resilient “Senseless Love” comes across as both forthright and forlorn, bolstered by a resolute melody that takes him from the darker shadows and plunges him head first into determination. The plaintive “Make It Me” offers a passionate plea: “If you’re going to love somebody baby, make it me.” The reflection and remorse instilled in “Joe” is equally affecting while the jaunty blues of “Sweet Cruel World” offers up an effortless ramble that finds his unassuming tones still intact. Despite its modest scope, Me & Joe demonstrates the fact that Gomez is credible and convincing, a young artist with a knack for crafting instantly memorable melodies that seem like they’ve been floating in the ethos forever. Despite convenient comparisons to Kris Kristofferson, Townes Van Zandt and Rodney Crowell, Gomez is clearly deserving of reaping kudos of his own.
A style and sound can be deceptive. So it’s little surprise that with his parched vocals, weary demeanor and songs that bear a sense of worn, ragged reflection, Hayes Carll doesn’t come across like a man with an ample list of accomplishments. A recent Grammy nomination, a number of chart triumphs and some highly impressive accolades from the public and pundits alike suggest that Carll might be doing far better than he lets on. Nevertheless, his music still seems to suggest that even in the most troubling circumstances, perseverance is always an option. That’s fortuitous, not only for the one who narrates these hard-bitten tales, but for the audience that’s fortunate enough to benefit from his insights. “I dreamed of something bigger, but it wasn’t meant to be,” he moans on the seemingly autobiographical “Sake of the Song,” indicating that he’s yet to realize the goals he’s laid out before him. Then again, as critics will attest, that thought is clearly at odds with reality.
Ticket prices start at $70.79 (plus service charges) for all three days with VIP Passes also available for $191.90 (plus fees). Individual day passes can be bought for $35.35 (plus fees) Go to http://www.rhythmnbloomsfest.com for full details.