Before St. Paul and The Broken Bones take the stage, Muscle Shoals-born guitarist and painter Browan Lollar, who’s also been playing with The Broken Bones recently, will open the show with his own band, The Grenadines. They’ve recently released a five-song EP on This is American Music (streaming on soundcloud.com). Until last year, Lollar was the second guitarist in Jason Isbell’s 400 Unit. Equally successful as an artist (he painted the cover for the last studio album by Isbell and The 400 Unit, Here We Rest ), Lollar is a gifted singer, writer and player. The EP is a broad ranging mix opening with “Freight Train Hearts,” a loping country rocker with some fine fractured fuzztone guitar dirtying up the rangy bar-band harmonies. The next song couldn’t be more different, it almost sounds like another band. Called “Cars,” it’s an airy upbeat Southern California pop rocker. The harmonies are a ringer for the early Eagles, while the band sounds like Crazy Horse playing a light-hearted country boogie shuffle. “Hotel Bars and Ringing Ears” is another breezy pop sparkler, while “One of Every Color” is a low-key bass drum driven shuffle with a lazy dragging rhythm and a Ritchie Furay-style double-tracked vocal. Between them these two bands represent what one blogger called a “southern renaissance.”
Following on the heels of the two Alabama bands will be hometown boys The Bohannons, another reason people are starting to talk about the South rising yet again. Featuring vocalist and lead guitarist Marty Bohannon, his brother Matt on rhythm, Josh Beaver on bass, and Nick Sterchi on drums, The Bohannons are a blistering rock-and-roll band. Their new album, Unaka Rising (also on This Is American Music), is a solid slab of unstinting rock. Take “Tim Tim.” Opening with a nice, spiraling guitar riff and tight sibling harmonies driven by Sterchi’s furiously propulsive drumming, the song is a rocker worthy of the The Kinks or The Who at their mid-’60s pop peak. Another highlight a few tracks further into the record is the instrumental, “The Cradle.” It wouldn’t sound out of place on one of the early Led Zeppelin albums—a thunderous rocker with a wall of guitar bass and drums meshing into a seamless, steamrolling wave of sound.
it’s a musical line-up—and birthday celebration—befitting The Pulse. But probably not one either Cooper or Kull would ever have envisioned before they committed to the alternative weekly 10 years ago. Cooper had no intention of sticking around after college, much less creating a newspaper in his hometown.
“When I was a student at UTC (in the early 1990s) I could never have imagined that I would stay in Chattanooga,” Cooper said, echoing the feelings of many people his age at the time. The 1980s and early ’90s saw the city at its lowest ebb. The blocks between 2nd and 9th streets between Market and Chestnut, for example, were pockmarked with abandoned storefronts and broken windows. And good jobs were scarce.
“I didn’t see much here,” Cooper recalled.
But in the early ’90s the city began reinventing itself. The much-admired partnership between private (often foundation) and public (tax) money began to rebuild the city. Cooper was initially skeptical, but then began noticing not only that young people who had “previously been fleeing the city in terror” were opting to stay, but that people from across the country were beginning to migrate to Chattanooga. Cooper and Kull, both graduates of UTC’s School of Music, saw the paper as a voice for intelligent young artists and professionals who began investing in Chattanooga in the mid-’90s.
The city was still mostly potential at that point, but Cooper and Kull saw a place for a weekly paper promoting the burgeoning arts and cultural scene developing in pockets across the city. “People often ask, ‘So, who are you writing for?’” said Cooper. “I always tell them, ‘Well, we’re writing for us.’ We’re producing this for ourselves,” he explained, “but we also think it reflects our audience.”