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Finally Friday Features The Blue Dogs, Mary Bragg and Gabe Lee

OCT 21 Finally Friday.png

Follow up your Manic Monday, your Taxing Tuesday, your Weird Wednesday and your Thankless Thursday with Finally Friday! You won’t believe the sense of relief that will overcome you as you settle in for this free, lunch-hour show at 3rd & Lindsley, now live again after many months of our mostly cooped-up home versions of the game. This week’s bill fits together beautifully, with sharp country music from Gabe Lee, lyrical loveliness from Mary Bragg and tried-and-true coastal country rock by the Blue Dogs.

When alt-country made it to South Carolina in the 1980s, the Blue Dogs became the alphas in the territory. I asked a musician friend who’s from the Charleston area about the band and his instant reply included “classic” and “the embodiment of the 90s scene.” That said, there’s nothing dated about their music then or now. It’s timeless country rock with acoustic touches coming from the same place as state-mates Uncle Walt’s Band or nearby friends Acoustic Syndicate (with whom they’re touring these days). The Dogs are back after a 16-year break in their recorded output with Big Dreamers, an album produced by Jason Isbell’s guitarist Sadler Vaden. “I have a history with these guys,” Vaden says in the band’s press material. “They used to hire me when I was 18 or 19 years old to play with them. I’ve always admired their sound, even on their albums before I started playing with them, but this record represents the best part of the Blue Dogs in my mind. It’s return to form that also brings out the highlights of their last record. Some things are polished and some things are a little more raw.”

Mary Bragg is a southerner (Georgia-raised) but she got her music career cooking in New York City in the mid-late 2000s. There, she found community and affirmation in the scene that supported the country/jazz hybrid made by Nora Jones. Then she relocated to Nashville, where she took her place as one of our finest singer-songwriters, with a limpid voice and lyrics that achieved a sweet balance of the personal and the universal. After some recent tumult in her life, including the end of her marriage, she headed back to NYC, where she dove into the study of recording and production, determined to add skills to her arsenal and her perspective to a field dominated by male ears. So she produced her new album, self titled, as if to re-introduce herself to the Americana music community. She’s an important voice to know, and the new material is unsurprisingly stellar.

I met Gabe Lee via Zoom in the dark early days of the 2020 pandemic, but he was a bright spot amid the ennui, with an eclectic musical background and a unique Music City story. He was raised by Taiwanese parents who moved to the US to pursue academic careers. He mingled a serious run at classical piano with an ear for pop and country with impressive results on 2019’s Farmland and 2020’s Honky Tonk Hell. His newest, The Hometown Kid, arriving Oct. 28, touches a broader spectrum than the steel-drenched predecessor, bringing welcome new sides to an artist with a lot of potential. As he describes it in his new bio: "I've always loved storytellers like John Prine and Paul Simon, as well as piano-driven singers like Billy Joel and Jackson Browne…You can hear those influences on this record. That blend is really important to me, because it lends itself to an original sound. Three records into my career, this is something I've been chasing and am happy to have reached: an honest mix of who I am as a writer."

The music starts at high noon, with follow-up sets at 12:45 and 1:30, in the order presented here. As always, it will be broadcast live on WMOT FM and WMOT.org.

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. Email: craig@wmot.org