Chuck Mead & Friends featuring Elizabeth Cook, Kevn Kinney, Jeannie Seely & More! - 8/29Tuesday, August 29 2017 6:00pm Doors / 8:00pm Start / Ends 9:30pm APPX
at City Winery Nashville
After leading several popular ‘80s cult bands in and around his hometown of Lawrence, Kansas, Chuck Mead landed on Nashville’s Lower Broadway where he co-founded the famed ‘90s Alternative Country quintet BR549. The band’s seven albums, three Grammy nominations and the Country Music Association Award for Best Overseas Touring Act would build an indelible bridge between authentic American Roots music and millions of fans worldwide. With BR on hiatus, Chuck formed The Hillbilly All-Stars featuring members of The Mavericks, co-produced popular tribute albums to Johnny Cash and Waylon Jennings, guest-lectured at Vanderbilt University, and became a staff writer at one of Nashville’s top song publishers. In 2009, he released his acclaimed solo debut album, Journeyman’s Wager, and toured clubs, concert halls and international Rock, Country and Rockabilly festivals with his band The Grassy Knoll Boys.
As Music Director for the Broadway smash Million Dollar Quartet, Chuck began crafting the music arrangements during the show’s original Daytona and Seattle workshop productions, supervised the musical performances for its 2008 Chicago opening, created new music material for the show’s Tony Award-winning Broadway run, produced the original cast album, and oversaw the music for its smash 2011 premiere at London’s Noël Coward Theatre. In 2013, MDQ broke the Chicago record for longest running musical.
Chuck’s acclaimed 2012 release, Back At The Quonset Hut, was recorded at Nashville’s legendary Quonset Hut Studio where Patsy Cline, George Jones, Merle Haggard Roger Miller, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash and more cut some of country’s greatest tracks. Produced by original BR549 producer Mike Janas and with the participation of students from Belmont University’s College of Entertainment and Music Business, the album of classic covers features surviving members of Music Row’s original ‘A Team’ studio musicians as well as guest appearances by Old Crow Medicine Show, Elizabeth Cook, Jamie Johnson and Bobby Bare.
2014 ushers in Free State Serenade, the new Chuck Mead & His Grassy Knoll Boys release on Nashville-based Plowboy Records. Produced by long-time ally and friend Joe Pisapia (kd Lang, Ben Folds Five) and featuring BR549’s Don Herron, Old Crow Medicine Show’s Critter Fuqua, Alan Murphy, Will Rambeaux, and Mark Andrew Miller, Free State Serenade is Chuck Mead’s strongest effort yet.
“It’s been incredibly liberating to do all these things I’ve never done before. I’ve already gone from the bars of Lower Broadway in Nashville to the Broadway stage, and the upcoming album is one of the most unique and rewarding projects I’ve ever been a part of. I’m looking forward to where it all brings me next.” - Chuck Mead
Elizabeth Cook didn’t quite know what she was doing. But she knew there were songs, and they had to get out. Six even years since her critically acclaimed Welder, as well as much personal tumult, there were songs that needed to be born.
“If anything, (Exodus) is a pledge of allegiance for the bad girls and the Homecoming Queens who got caught in a scandal. It’s a bill of rights, and a testimony for those good girls who got away with more than they should have.
“I’m slow, and getting slower,” laughs the lanky blond, unapologetically. “I’m taking my time, really drilling down. There were nine versions of ‘Methadone Blues.’ I’ve never done that before. I love that entrenchment and dedication – and I wasn’t going to do any less than what needed to be done.”
From Dexter Green's (also the album's producer) opening electric guitar, equal parts foreboding and fraught, “Exodus of Venus” hurls a churlish witness to erotic upheaval and the drives that subsume our best notions. “Exodus” is an exhortation of sexual surrender that pushes past the brink of reason.
For fans of the Florida-born’n’raised Cook, a Grand Ole Opry regular, SiriusXM Outlaw Country hostess and David Letterman favorite, Exodus of Venus will be something of a shock. If she maintains the tang of her drawl, what emerges – beyond Cook’s always vibrant and vivid sense of detail – is a song cycle soaked in turpentine, musk and honey.
From the sweltering tumble of B-3 on the funky, shuffling “Methadone Blues” to the elegiac dignity of “Tabitha Tuder’s Mama” and the Velvet Underground on fire bristle of “Brokedown in London on the M25,” Cook’s shouldering a deeper passion for the state of living today – and the crashing into the wall reality we all go through. If in the past Cook relied on wit and a certain dogpatch charm, Venus commands a raw knuckled truth that’s even more searing.
“There hasn’t been a lot to laugh about,” confesses the effervescent songwriter who once penned “It Takes Balls To Be A Woman” with equal parts Dolly Parton pluck and Loretta Lynn brio. “Things have been heavy and dark, and I feel really different. I aspire to be more than clever or dark or poignant, but to be honest. I want that to supersede everything.
“Emotionally, mentally, physically – it’s all been tested,” she continues, “and it set me up straight. It was hard, but it’s a good thing. Really hard lessons in resilience... All of it is in the record.”
That resilience rises like steam from the narcotic “Dyin’,” as Cook professes her by any means necessary strength, “Gonna be a diamond, gonna make hay/ If you don’t like it, gonna do it anyway/ Gonna put on the pistols, gonna cause a scene/ Gonna goddamn save the queen...” Flowing from there to the attenuated starkly haunted “Evacuation,” a slow build of defiance that eschews the easy for holding onto one’s roots – and casting a parallel with New Orleans’ own spirit that mines a deep desire to live, die and celebrate where one’s essence lies.
“During the years when family was dying and houses were burning down and I was in divorce court and David Letterman was calling and doing shows with Anthony Bourdain, the whiplash was almost too much,” Cook admits. “To keep up with all this great stuff, while I’d been sheltered for such a long time from tragedy, it transforms you. It really does.”
Cook emerged a tougher, wiser woman. If her years as a rough stock Minnie Pearl, part comedienne, part chronicler of life beyond the urban hipeoisie, had cast her first glass of champagne ebullience as a sparkling presence of hillbilly authenticity, Exodus of Venus suggests a woman tapping into the force of her true power. Frank, stumbling, angry, exhausted, triumphant, she owns the ragged edges, the torn seams and worn thin places.
Joined by hard country soul singer Patty Loveless on “Straight Jacket Love,” she catcalls a frantic surrender, “On and off the wagon/Lighting fire to grease/Knives are made for stabbing/Arms are made for peace...” as the CMA Female Vocalist maintains perfect mountain harmony. “I blind emailed her management, fingers crossed – because I heard her voice all over this record – then sent her two or three songs, saying, ‘This is my record. If you hear anything...’
“She honed right in on ‘Straight Jacket Love.’ Maybe it felt like some real dark Appalachian kind of thing. She has such authentic texture and power when she sings. She shows me what I’m trying to do...”
Not that Cook needs any teaching. A kid singer in her late-in-life parents’ country music aspirations, she learned bar life early – and getting by with a pretty smile and a good line. Her mother – diagnosed with uterine cancer at 42 while pregnant with Elizabeth – and “raging alcoholic Daddy” had big plans.
“I’m the miracle child sent to heal my father, and I was bewildered by that. I was a princess, but the king was a monster. And if things weren’t okay, I was failing.”
After years of getting by on charm, with dysfunction part of the family’s functionality, it all came apart in Cook’s hands. But in the wreckage of death and divorce, Cook found liberation and emancipation.
“I’m not trying to be the good girl anymore, and that brought some joy to all of it. I almost care more – or different,” she explains. “These songs are more poignant. They’re honest, and all about compassion or grace. For myself, and from a place of experience. Not that any of it was wrong, but I look back and have pride for all that happened and what I’ve survived.”
On “Cutting Diamonds,” Cook tosses the declaration “She has no line on polished pearls/Those are for the proper girls...” like confetti. Then on the kick’n’snare’n’piano roll underscored “Orange Blossom Trail,” she kicks up a bit of savory dust, with the celebratory toast, “Players talk while Thieves set sail/It’s the fragrant air of the underbelly/ On the Orange Blossom Trail...”
“Living on the shady side, there’s a comfort level I have in that kind of environment,” Cook offers. “That’s where the reckless or the brave both say, ‘Yeah, why not?’ I’m doing what I’m supposed to do – (for me, writing these songs) is a necessity. It’s the only power, the only tool, the only weapon I have.
“Listen! We’re going from Little Feat to REM, then put Appalachian harmonies on it. It’s all funky grooves with dark guitars, burning guitars. People were tweeting me, ‘Are you keeping it country?’ And the truth is: No, I’m keeping it real. Not to a genre, but to what these songs are.
“It’s an imperfect balancing act: a lesson in compassion and grace and tolerance. You know, all these songs are either requiring it or exhibiting it.”
Cook laughs as she says this, knowing full well it’s in banging into the furniture and stumbling down the halls that one learns to walk through the dark.
“Get out there and make mistakes – and don’t apologize! I’m not ashamed. This happened – and I’ll tell you all about it.”
"We are a band that's like your record collection." -Kevn Kinney
“Crunching hard rock is the drivin part, brittle countryish balladry the cryin, with the two linked by a heavy dose of Led Zeppelinphilia. If Paul westerberg had grown up worshiping Angus Young instead of Alex Chilton, The Replacements might have sounded something like this Atlanta band.” -Rolling Stone Magazine
Kevn Kinney is an acclaimed American rock/alt-country/folk singer and songwriter most widely known as the founder and frontman of the Atlanta-based band Drivin N Cryin. An accomplished musician, poet and painter, Kinney has released multiple critically-acclaimed recordings over his 29 year professional career including the gold-certified album Fly Me Courageous. He has performed and/or collaborated with the Allman Brothers’ Warren Haynes, REM, and Grammy Award-winning producer Paul Ebersold, among others.
Drivin N Cryin was honored in 2011 by the State Of Georgia with House Resolution 387, recognizing the band members for their contributions to the arts and for their ongoing charitable efforts.
In 2013 the Executive Producers of F/X Network’s hit TV showArcher asked Kinney to produce 12 tracks (5 of which are pre-existing DNC/KK songs and 3 of which were written anew by KK for the series) for season 5 debuting January 13, 2014.
Drivin N Cryin’s current release is 2015's Best of Songs, a vinyl only release on Plowboy Records.