The (Other) Nashville Sound
by Wendy Lee Nentwig | October 21, 2011
To the uninitiated, Nashville means one thing: country music. They imagine a town filled with honkytonks and cowboy boot-wearing, pickup-drivin' good old boys. You can certainly find those things, mostly down on Lower Broadway where the tourists tend to hang. Venture a few blocks in any direction, though, and you'll discover that country makes up just a small part of the thriving Nashville music scene.
Maybe it's the collaborative, creative vibe that permeates our quaint neighborhoods or the relatively low cost of living or the small-town feel in a big city that draws them. Whatever the reason, Nashville has attracted some high-profile transplants that include Jack White, whose post- White Stripes life finds him settled in the suburbs while his Third Man Records has taken up residence in a gritty part of downtown reminiscent of his native Detroit. He continues to collaborate here, recording in a home studio on the outskirts of town.
Ben Folds also calls Nashville home, and the Sing-off judge is a fixture at local coffeeshops in the Belmont and 12 South neighborhoods. Michelle Branch, the Black Keys and Keb' Mo' are among the other artists who've left behind their hometowns to resettle in Nashville, while Kid Rock, Sheryl Crow and other big names have set up second homes here.
Then there are the artists who grew up in Tennessee or made the move before their music was garnering any airplay. A young Sixpence None the Richer and Jars of Clay felt immediately at home here on the banks of the Cumberland River, and Relient K is another band with strong ties to middle Tennessee, with most of their quirky, tongue-in-cheek tunes recorded right here. Mike Farris (of Screaming Cheetah Wheelies fame) has a thriving solo career in Nashville, too, and Mat Kearney made the trip from Oregon to help a friend move and just never went home. Other artists like Kings of Leon and Will Hoge grew up in nearby towns and never left.
Other artists find Nashville a nice place to visit, dropping in again and again to take advantage of the town's relaxed pace and deep talent pool. Bob Dylan recorded Blonde on Blonde here and Neil Young laid down the tracks for Harvest. In 1987, Athens-based alt-rockers R.E.M. had good luck recording Document at the Sound Emporium, yielding the band's first Top 10 hit on the Billboard Hot 100 ("The One I Love") and their first platinum album. Etta James, Roy Orbison and Elvis Costello have also made memorable music here.
Then there are the local treasures, artists who should be household names, but we like to keep them to ourselves. Names like Buddy Miller, Ashley Cleveland and Judson Spence represent huge talents that are still anonymous enough that you can run into them at Pizza Perfect or sit next to them while sipping your coffee at Fido and have no idea. The same can be said for some promising up-and-comers. Rockers Eastern Block are getting plenty of local attention lately, while The Kopecky Family Band just returned from a West Coast tour with Gomez, and folk-Americana duo The Civil Wars can do no wrong, opening across Europe for Adele.