Roots Radio News


Almost exactly a year ago, a gala multi-artist show at a century-old theater climaxed with Robert Plant and Mumford & Sons performing together. Awards were bestowed on Nashville’s Jason Isbell,  British folk quartet The Wandering Hearts and many others. The venue was the Hackney Empire theater in London, and it had a similar reverent energy to the Americana Honors & Awards held every Fall at the Ryman Auditorium.

The String: Rodney Crowell Changes His Mind

Jan 18, 2019

To kick off 2019 in its ongoing coverage of American music and its culture, The String features a true icon of authentic country/roots music, indeed one of the artists around whom the Americana format was conceived in the 1990s. Rodney Crowell is both a songwriter’s songwriter and an artist who’s reached and moved mainstream music fans since breaking out in the 80s. He embodies the honed edge of Texas folk poetry and the refinement of Nashville songcraft. And he’s stayed artistically ambitious across four decades of work.

Anthony Scarlati

Like Lower Broadway in Nashville, Memphis’s world famous Beale Street has, as if by some process of natural commercial accretion, grown into an entertainment and tourist destination somewhat removed from its roots music origins. But those interested in enjoying Beale Street as a wall-to-wall blues experience can do so next week, from Jan. 22 to 26, when the International Blues Challenge rocks and rolls for the 35th time.

Laura Partain

In late July, 2018, Maya de Vitry clicked “publish” on a Facebook message that took fans of acoustic trio The Stray Birds by surprise. “We have made the incredibly difficult but truly healthy decision to disband,” it said. It also announced that they’d completed an album called Let It Pass, which would be released later that Fall without a supporting tour. This is what she remembers as her own personal point of no return.

The campaign to convince the world that modern Music City is more than country music has been a rousing success. It’s safe to say the national audience is now aware that Nashville nurtures and produces rock and pop acts. The city’s history in R&B and rock and roll recording has been well told via popular exhibits at the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The music business goes pretty dark during “the holidays,” but expect the floodgates of new releases and great shows to open up again as soon as this weekend, when The Travelin’ McCourys play 3rd & Lindsley on Saturday night with rising guitar ace Billy Strings. We collected everything we’ve heard about roots music events and albums of note coming early in the new year, and assembled this curated list. Always best to be prepared.

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Finally, today, we want to introduce you to Charley Crockett.


CHARLEY CROCKETT: (Singing) Here am I, all alone again. Here am I, all alone again.

WMOT listener's voted and we've ranked your favorite artists and albums of 2018. 

We played nearly 500 new releases in 2018 and your listener picks reflect the full range of Americana music. There are five ties in the top 12 albums of the year, which just goes to show how much WMOT listeners value variety - Enjoy!

Muscle Shoals: pretty words that evoke righteous sounds in the mind’s ear, perhaps Aretha Franklin’s “Respect” or the sinewy country rock of “Wild Horses” by the Rolling Stones. Muscle Shoals is a place that’s been celebrated on compilations (including the very new Small Town Big Sound tribute) and elucidated in an excellent documentary.

WMOT's Top Album Spins of 2018

Dec 17, 2018

We played a lot of music this year on WMOT, including songs from nearly 500 new releases. The table below gives you an inside look into our Music Exploration Club.

To those who orient their listening life around roots and Americana, the prophets of doom who say the album is dying sound especially misguided. While we are enjoying more releases of one-off songs, video singles and EPs, the album remains the aspirational statement of serious recording artists in Americana. It’s our novel, our feature film. It’s not going anywhere, and this year’s harvest of LPs is proof. This list is curated with input from the WMOT staff but the final choices were made by the author with a critic’s ear for substance and a journalist’s eye for storylines and impact.

It’s a time in America when fights that felt settled, struggles that felt vindicated, are back. Maybelle Carter, Loretta Lynn and Reba did not travel and travail to leave to their heiresses a country music business that looks like it did in 2018. Women in Nashville aspiring to write and record country music for a living end the year incredulous and exasperated.

Brandi Carlile, a charismatic and activist songwriter long cherished by the folk music community and recently embraced by Americana, stamped a place in history by securing six nominations for the 2019 Grammy Awards, which were announced this morning. Carlile, who’s getting set to host her first all-female music festival in Mexico in January, is part of a big year for women, who enjoyed key nominations in country, Americana, bluegrass and the overall industry categories as well.

The interesting thing to listen for in Americana Christmas albums is where artists position themselves on the spectrum between sincere and snarky. When country stars make holiday albums (and they all make at least one), they’re generally earnest and full of old familiar tunes. Americana artists are far more likely to embrace the season’s ambiguities and sometimes absurdities. And it’s impressive to see how many take on the challenge of writing an album’s worth of original material. That’s what’s going on with this year’s stack of yuletide discs.


If a guy named Ricky Martini offers you a tour of his building, how do you say no to that? The building in this case is The Walnut House, once a mid 20th century appliance store one block off the main square in historic downtown Murfreesboro. Martini, the new general manager, is showing me how flexible the place is, including one nicely appointed second story room that’s recently served as a board room and a bridal lounge. Then next to that is an isolation room for recording vocalists.

This week’s episode of The String is devoted to Bob Dylan’s masterpiece Blonde On Blonde, recorded in Nashville in 1966. The featured guest is Nashville music journalist Daryl Sanders whose new book That Thin Wild Mercury Sound digs deep in to how and why those sessions took place here and how Dylan and the Nashville Cats achieved a sound Dylan had been chasing.

Val Hoeppner

“Sing to me Trotter”

The request came from soldiers reaching out to a comrade for a hit of sanity and serenity amid the firestorm of combat in Iraq. That comrade, the singer, was Michael Trotter, and that’s how he remembers the entreaties.

“You just get filled with honor,” Trotter says, using the present tense to describe events from more than a decade ago. He’s lying flat on the floor to relax his back in the hours before a performance in the Fall of 2018. His mind feels its way back to a war zone in the middle 2000s.

Upbeat and enthusiastic bluegrass star Sam Bush has long been an open book to his fans and colleagues. A newly available documentary illustrates for a wider public just how much respect and admiration he commands among his fellow musicians.


After thirteen bluegrass albums and two International Bluegrass Entertainer of the Year Awards, The Gibson Brothers were ready for something different. The new album Mockingbird, released Nov. 9, exhibits a duo liberated and enthused by the experience of co-writing and recording in Nashville with veteran producer/engineer Dave Ferguson and Black Keys rock star Dan Auerbach.


Kacey Musgraves defied the odds and won Album of the Year at the 52nd CMA Awards Wednesday night. Typically, a recording as subtle and as overlooked by commercial radio as Golden Hour might have received a nod via nomination, while an artist with more hit singles would have taken the crystal trophy. But Musgraves won on what she said, with some disbelief, was the tenth anniversary of the day she moved to Nashville.


Kathy Mattea Rediscovers Her Voice And Sings Like A Bird

Nov 14, 2018
Reto Sterchi


A singer’s voice is her livelihood and her instrument. Kathy Mattea grew concerned about her instrument a few years ago.

“I’d go for some note that I’ve hit a million times and it would be kind of pinched or tight or flat and it just wouldn’t come out and I was like ‘okay, tomorrow night I’ll pay more attention.’ and maybe the same thing would happen or maybe not.”

Cameron Gott

In the earnest, truth-telling world of Americana music, stunts and deceptions are almost unheard of, so last week’s reveal that enigmatic new Texas duo The Stryker Brothers are actually Robert Earl Keen and Randy Rogers is a bit of a first.

  A WWI-era Jewish emigree from Poland named Moses Asch failed in his first attempt to form a record company in the US. But his second go, a 1948 partnership with his assistant Marian Distler, thrived. Folkways Records became a history-changing outlet for Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, The New Lost City Ramblers and a range of indigenous musicians from the US and the world at large. Its 1952 release of the Anthology of American Folk Music, compiled by Harry Smith, catalyzed the folk revival.

Raez Argulla


Knowing oneself is hard enough, so imagine growing up with the long winters and early sunsets of Toronto while half your roots are on a tropical spice island 12 degrees north of the Equator. That’s part of Kaia Kater’s complex story, but clearly deeper issues than climate are on the mind of the Canadian folk singer as she peers out from palmy greenery on the cover of Grenades, her third album in a fast-moving career.

Swamp Blues Master Tony Joe White Has Died At 75

Oct 25, 2018
Val Hoeppner WMOT

Tony Joe White, a songwriter and recording artist with the laid back but slightly dangerous demeanor of a well fed alligator, parlayed a unique take on swamp rock and country blues into an influential 50-year career. The Louisiana native died of a heart attack at home in Leiper’s Fork on Thursday at age 75. Only a month ago, White released a new album and made his debut on the Grand Ole Opry.