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Finally Friday Brings Willi Carlisle and Kiely Connell

Willi Carlisle
Folk singer Willi Carlisle

AmericanaFest 2022 is roaring toward us like Guy Clark’s fast rollin’, streamline, mad dog cyclone, and just before this weekend, widely regarded as the calm before the storm, we’ve got a double bill of artists who are set to showcase at this year’s convention. Events run from Sept. 13-17. You can hear country chanteuse Kiely Connell on Saturday night at 9 pm at The Well coffee house on Music Row and indie folk wildman Willi Carlisle that same night at 7 pm at 3rd & Lindsley. But you can hear both of them on WMOT this Friday at noon for your enjoyment and conference planning.

When I went back to Kiely’s superb 2021 debut album Calumet Queen to write this teaser I was struck again by how she shares vocal vibes with the magisterial Neko Case. Then I saw soon thereafter that the Nashville artist tags Neko as a “hero.” The resemblance is in the full-chested drama and fearlessness, and fortunately Connell writes songs that hold up to her vocal mastery. She’s a native of Hammond, IN and she keeps midwestern characters and values alive in her music. Her own site asserts that “she writes songs that have a gothic country aesthetic- a blend of somber poetry and western melodies.” And the results have been widely praised. Americana UK called Calumet Queen “an astonishingly good and gratifying piece of work” while Saving Country Music said it “will send shivers down your spine and prick the very deepest regions of your soul with its sincere and distinct expressions of an unburdening heart.” We’re lucky to have her in Music City.

Willi Carlisle seems born to his role as a rambling raconteur and uproarious folk singer. Reports of his live shows are forming a legend around this young guy from the Ozarks who plays multiple instruments and creates worlds with words sung and spoken. His new album Peculiar, Missouri, his second, was made with the canny Joel Savoy of cajun music fame, but the personality here is all Willi. He’s awe-struck by the simple rising of the sun on opener “Your Heart’s A Big Tent.” He’s on the go and semi-sheltered in the very funny “Van Life” while things turn more morose in the borderlands ballad “Este Mundo.” The masterpiece is the five-minute story song about making your mark, “Tulsa’s Last Magician.” He makes you want to get in that van and hit the road with him.

As always, the music starts at noon.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's music news producer and host of The String, a show featuring conversations on culture, media and American music. New episodes of The String air on WMOT 89.5 in Middle Tennessee on Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. Twitter and Instagram: @chavighurst.