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Finally Friday Extended Preview With Reed, Palmer, And de la Cour

Rissi Palmer

Last week’s Finally Friday was programmed to preview this weekend’s Ride The Tide Music Festival at The Caverns in Pelham, TN, for which WMOT is the official radio partner. That preview continues this week with the mighty voice of Eli “Paperboy” Reed. And while our other guests, country star Rissi Palmer and “Americanoir” songwriter Ben de la Cour, aren’t playing the Caverns, they are setting up gigs of their own, so it’ll be a satisfying free show and a table setter of sorts for more fun you can have in the coming weeks.

Reed is a fascinating character and scene-maker who made his own kind of great migration on his journey in rhythm and blues. Raised in Brookline, MA, he lit out for Clarksdale, MS as a young man and started gigging right away in that capital of the blues. Then he entered the University of Chicago and used its south side address as a base to start working with the local black gospel and blues worlds. Soon after releasing his own rich, retro albums in the late 2000s, he got attention as a revivalist with something new to say. Of late, Reed has released Down Every Road, a collection of Merle Haggard songs in soul music settings, a gesture that feels obvious in retrospect, except that it’s never been done so comprehensively. “This was really a cathartic record for me to make,” Reed said in a recent interview. “I had these ideas and arrangements kicking around my head for close to a decade so to see them finally emerge is something special.”

Then we’ll hear from Rissi Palmer, one of the breakout stars of the new Black country music wave and an artist who’s done an especially good job sharing the meaning of her story and the story of others through her Color Me Country radio show on Apple Music. Palmer made a run at Music Row in the 2000s, eventually, after a ton of striving, landing on the country charts and the Grand Ole Opry. But as she put it in an important Tennessean column, “disputes with my record label brought my career to a screeching halt. I left Nashville in 2010. I felt largely abandoned by the industry, like an experiment that failed.” Palmer has worked through those feelings and come out with a keen analysis of the industry, the country ecosystem and its changes. She’s also making superb music, from her acclaimed 2019 album Revival to her recent singles. One’s a duet called “Still Here” with fellow Music Row veteran Miko Marks, while the other is a luscious cover of Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice” with Marks, Sunny Sweeney and Tami Neilson. The gender flip on this one is brilliant. Palmer and Marks play the City Winery Lounge Thursday night, May 18 by the way, to get a full dose of this powerful partnership.

One of many clues that Ben de la Cour is a unique individual is that he sought out Jim White to produce his current album. Not by email or through an intermediary. He “tracked him down and basically camped outside his house until he finally agreed to produce my record,” says Ben in his bio for Sweet Anhedonia. But what really makes this wild is that Jim White is about as obscure and culty as artists come in roots music - an outsider and a southern gothic iconoclast. It’s not like getting Dave Cobb or Tucker Martine, not a move calculated to be anything other than art first. Ben’s journey took him from London where he was born to Brooklyn where he was raised to New Orleans and Cuba (!) and Nashville where he’s lived since 2012. He’s released several excellent and unusual albums, won a Kerrville New Folk prize and impressed critics with his “urgent authenticity,” to quote his admirers at No Depression for example. Ben will play Friday and then again at WMOT’s Roots On The Rivers festival on June 3.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org