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with Chelsea Lovitt
Wayne "The Train" Hancock
Since his stunning debut, Thunderstorms and Neon Signs in 1995, Wayne “The Train” Hancock has been the undisputed king of Juke Joint Swing–that alchemist’s dream of honky-tonk, western swing, blues, Texas rockabilly and big band. Always an anomaly among his country music peers, Wayne’s uncompromising interpretation of the music he loves is in fact what defines him: steeped in traditional but never “retro;” bare bones but bone shaking; hardcore but with a swing. Like the comfortable crackle of a Wurlitzer 45 jukebox, Wayne is the embodiment of genuine, house rocking, hillbilly boogie. Wayne makes music fit for any road house anywhere. With his unmistakable voice, The Train’s reckless honky-tonk can move the dead. If you see him live (and he is ALWAYS touring), you’ll surely work up some sweat stains on that snazzy Rayon shirt you’re wearing. If you buy his records, you’ll be rolling up your carpets, spreading sawdust on the hardwood, and dancing until the downstairs neighbors are banging their brooms on the ceiling. Call him a throwback if you want, Wayne just wants to ENTERTAIN you, and what’s wrong with that? Wayne’s disdain for the slick swill that passes for real deal country is well known. Like he’s fond of saying: “Man, I’m like a stab wound in the fabric of country music in Nashville. See that bloodstain slowly spreading? That’s me.”
For Chelsea Lovitt, the multifaceted music of the South is her inspiration. She is immersed in the traditions of country, soul, rock ‘n’ roll, and bluegrass, and her bona fides on guitar and fiddle match her vocal chops, which go from pure honky tonk to rockabilly to folk and rock ‘n’ roll. For sure, these days plenty of artists--in Nashville and elsewhere--use the criss-crossing map of Southern music as their handbook. What Chelsea Lovitt knows is that it’s a map that leads you to new places while laying out the eternal truths. Above all, Lovitt is a writer, so you can bring in Faulkner, romantic poets like John Keats and certainly Tennessee Williams as guides to her sensibility. Her music is complex, full of contradictions, which means she honors the mystery of the Southern tradition. The contradictions mentioned above are what drive Chelsea Lovitt’s Nashville-recorded debut album You Had Your Cake, So Lie in It. It’s an inspired collection of various, mostly Southern musical approaches. As the record’s title implies, it is also, in subtle and personal ways, a political record that questions America’s obsession with material wealth, toxic relationships between men and women, and warns the way the Trump era corrodes values and isolates human beings. You Had Your Cake, So Lie in It is also about tradition and family, and the vagaries of human identity. Even more, it’s a great, raucous, garage-country-Rocknroll record, referencing a Mick Jagger swagger and Gram Parsons' elegance in country-rock. On “De Donna,” Lovitt evokes Parsons, and writes about her mother in a very humanistic, very nuanced song that’s playful and loving. With its piquant acoustic guitar, “De Donna” invokes yet another Southern iconoclast, Memphis’ Alex Chilton, during his Big Star period. Like the rest of the album, “De Donna,” confounds category, updates the tradition. Lovitt recorded You Had Your Cake, So Lie in It, at Nashville studio The Bomb Shelter with producer Andrija Tokic, whose credits include helming albums by Alabama Shakes, Margo Price and Buffalo Clover, the Deslondes and Fly Golden Eagle. It is, indeed, a great garage-rock album--opener “If I Had a Dollar” features Lovitt's Wanda Jackson-style vocals and guitar and organ that travel down Dylan’s fabled Highway 61. “Beanstalk” references the great Memphis-recorded Sun Records classic “Raunchy” and it’s about illusions--beanstalks that climb to the sky. For a change of pace, CL and her band, including ace guitarist Marc Ottavi, whose brilliant playing helps define You Had Your Cake, So Lie in It, detour through country-soul, and through Lovitt's psyche, in “State of Denial.” It swings like Dylan's Blonde on Blonde and the Stones on Exile on Main St.: “Baby, I was born in a state/That dug the ditch for denial,” Lovitt sings. Growing up in Hattiesburg, CL took opera lessons, learned fiddle, and began playing in local venues as a teenager. After graduating from Millsaps College in Jackson, Mississippi--she studied English/literature and philosophy there--she moved to Nashville for the first time in 2008. She worked on her songwriting, made valuable connections with similarly minded Nashvillians like the rock-blues-soul band The Blackfoot Gypsies, and then went to France, where she taught English and guitar. After dividing her time between New Orleans and London in the next few years, she returned to Nashville in 2016. The context in Cake is Dylan-esque--Lovitt's lyrics track her struggle in Trump’s world, but they remain rooted in personal experience. The music is equally complex, but it’s the result of old-fashioned techniques. As CL says, “We got a natural sound, and things just go that way in that studio. Tracking live and to tape sure helps. I was mostly isolated in the vocal/rhythm booth, but we really didn’t have to do that many takes. We tracked nine songs in a week.” A born traveller, Lovitt tours the country and plays shows in Nashville at celebrated venues like the American Legion and neo-honky tonk gathering spot Dee’s Country Cocktail Lounge, incorporating well-chosen covers into her live show. Her takes on classics like Parsons’ “Luxury Liner” and the Arthur Crudup/Elvis Presley standard “That’s All Right, Mama” go back to her deep Southern roots. But she is a thoroughly modern musician. In Music City, Nashville Scene wrote about You Had Your Cake, “[Lovitt is] a shape-shifting artist who can turn from alt-country to garage rock….Her insights into America’s culture of excess make [it] a unique example of the political album.”
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