Knoxville's "Most Elegant"

The jazz club wars in West Knoxville seem to be heating up. Well, there's no war going on, but more and more martini and piano jazz restaurants and nightclubs are opening up and down Kingston Pike. The latest is Harry's, an upper-middle-scale restaurant on the corner of Kingston Pike and Papermill. It's primarily a restaurant, with food prepared by former Southbound chef Bruce Bogartz, but a sizable bar (seating 80) that's open until 2 a.m., light jazz music every night, and a late night menu indicate a willingness to serve the cigar-and-martini crowd. Manager Dennis Cleary calls Harry's a "beige tablecloth" establishment; according to a press release, it's "Knoxville's newest and most elegant scene for nightlife." Jazz pianist Mark Meyer plays on Monday nights through March 2.

Catch My Drift?

If those tough guys staring from the pages of Billboard magazine's "Continental Drift" section in the February 21 issue looked familiar, it's because it was those "Nashville/Knoxville club scene regulars" Shinola, led by former Dirtclod Brian Waldschlager and famous for "Appalachian roots-heavy swagger pop." "Continental Drift" covers unsigned artists and regional news, and their piece on Shinola lists the band's recent accomplishments: recording with guitarist Richie Owens' cousin Dolly Parton, opening for Webb Wilder and Lucinda Williams, and a slot on the Nashville Entertainment Association Extravaganza on Feb. 18. An album, What Else Could It Be? is headed for a spring release, and tours of the Southeast and West Coast are being planned.

R.B. and A.C.

A bug in our ear tells us to look for more area shows from Knoxville musico-poet R.B. Morris now that local promoters A.C. Entertainment have taken over his booking. Morris, who had been pretty scarce at regional venues since signing with John Prine's Oh Boy! Records a couple of years back, has of late been the opening act at regional performances of both Prine and blues-rock wunderkind Kenny Wayne Shepherd and has headlined club shows all over North and South Carolina. A Chattanooga show is pending, and our bug says a Knox date, possibly an opening slot on a larger bill, may also happen soon.

Cash For 'Grass

And speaking of A.C. Entertainment, A.C. promoter Benny Smith has announced a fundraiser for local roots radio station WDVX, tentatively scheduled for March 20 at the Bijou Theatre. Smith is already calling the planned event a "bluegrass extravaganza," as the list of folks already confirmed for the show includes a few band members from each of several nationally prominent bluegrass outfits—Blue Highway, Union Station, Ralph Stanley's Clinch Mountain Boys, and J.D. Crowe's New South. A host of local and regional pickers will also be on the bill.

Thanks For Your Support

V-Roys drummer Jeff Bills called to thank everyone who showed up for the band's CD cover photo shoot last week at the Tennessee Theater. About 60 people turned out under the "All About Town with the V-Roys" marquee. Earlier reports that the sophomore disc on E-Squared Records (and to be distributed by Warner Bros.) was due for a late summer or early fall release were misinformed. The tentative release date is now May 26.

On another V-note, more than 200 people turned out for the boys' pseudonymous performance as the Sensible Dinners last Wednesday (Feb. 11) at B&H Performance Hall. Their long set included lots of new stuff as well as a guest spot from Waldschlager.

CD Review

Finnegan's aWake
Finnegan's aWake

James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake is the most notoriously inaccessible novel of the 20th century, an experimental stream-of-consciousness jumble, all told in an invented, incomprehensible language. Even English professors who specialize in modern British literature admit to never having read it. One thing about it, though: It's definitely Irish, so it's not surprising that a Celtic band would choose to play on that title, as local musicians Finnegan's aWake have done. That lower case "a" seems to wink every time I look at it, as if in acknowledgment of the discrepancy between the avant ramblings of the novel and the reels and jigs and straightforward narratives on the disc. I'm not sure if the band intended that sly nod to ironic distance, given the seriousness with which they treat their music. I'm not even sure there's another way to approach Irish traditional music; even the most rollicking reel has a sense of grim-faced madness to its careening, a temporary release from 2000 years of political troubles and famine, rather than the carefree celebratory nature of most dance music, and the ballads are eerily beautiful but ultimately just plain creepy. Finnegan's aWake (made up of Russell Harper, Bob Patrick, Wendy Smith-Warford, Terry Schomer, and Mark Warford) does an admirable job here—the traditional arrangements are engaging, and Smith-Warford's voice has a haunting lilt that often soars over superb instrumentation. The playing is tight but not polished, with an edge of ragged authenticity. This is real Celtic music performed well with top-notch production values; that it's a locally self-released CD is surprising, even admirable. Its only flaws are those inherent in playing traditional music. It just starts to sound the same.

—Zippy "All about town" McDuff