Tim Buckley begat Jeff Buckley. Bob Dylan begat Jakob Dylan. Tab Spencer begat Garrett Bourdon. Three sons following in their father’s footsteps; three musicians, each finding their own voice. Plenty has already been written about the first two. The third duo is our subject today.
In the ’70s, Tab Spencer was the stage name of a Nashville country songwriter. Today, Tab Spencer is the name of the band that belongs to that songwriter’s son, a token of respect and tribute to the musical gift passed down from one generation to the next. The men behind the band are Bourdon on vocals and guitar and Jack Kirton on pedal steel, harmonica and background vocals.
The fellows have just finished up their latest recording, a four-track EP featuring three tunes by Bourdon, one by Kirton and the violin and piano of guest artist John Tunstall. When I say, “just finished”, I am being literal. This project was wrapped up just about 72 hours ago and as far as I know I am the first person to hear it who wasn’t actually involved in its creation. Now it is my job to tell you about it, gentle reader, and that’s no mean feat.
Is it folk? Well, sure, there are undeniably some folk elements. Is it country? Arguably, yes, but not commercial, wangy-twangy country, it’s something a little more mature than that. I hesitate to use the word “Americana” only because the term is used so freely and indiscriminately these days that it’s become almost meaningless BUT…if we subscribe to the AMA’s very specific definition, “contemporary music that incorporates elements of various American roots music styles” then, yes, that is absolutely what it is (but that still doesn’t tell us much).
In a nutshell, this collection of tunes reminds me of Townes Van Zandt. That’s very odd because none of the tunes sound specifically like Townes, but there is definitely some ineffable quality shared by Tab Spencer and one my favorite songwriters of all time. There is something of the workingman poet here.
“What’s the Reason” is the first track on the album (titled Somewhere, TN) and it is a flawless introduction to Tab Spencer. In his distinctive voice, Bourdon croons languidly over the confluence of violin, guitar and pedal steel. It is a concoction that is two parts blue collar, three parts philosophy. It is a beautiful tune.
“Undiscovering America” is the next song, this one penned by Kirton whose talent has been written about in this column already. His prodigious writing ability filtered through Bourdon’s unique delivery is a great example of what happens when collaboration goes right.
“Somewhere, TN” is the titular track, an ode to loss and longing. I will say two things of this track: 1) Tunstall’s fiddle playing is outstanding. It was a good song already, but the fiddle really makes this one for me. 2) If Bourdon doesn’t own one of those denim and sheepskin coats, someone needs to buy him one. There’s some powerful imagery in this tune.
“New York” rounds out the recording and it is the perfect bookend to the project, a powerful and emotional piece that seems to summarize everything that came before it in a sweet/tragic resolution.
Somewhere, TN is music for music lovers, musicians and anyone whose musical palate is just a little more refined. It is a very intelligent piece of work, and I doubt it will be long before Richard Winham has it in heavy rotation during afternoon drive time.
In the meantime, you can find Tab Spencer at Barking Legs on May 29, the Honest Pint on June 16 and periodically at the Pickle Barrel (check Facebook for times and dates).