When you live in the live music capital of the world (Austin, TX), where there are over 10,000 bands to compete with, it can be difficult to set yourself apart from the crowd. But Austinites Meagan Tubb & Shady People succeeded in doing so by taking the “‘keep it simple” approach and running with it — an ambition that is openly revealed in the first moments of their latest album, Cast Your Shadow. I recently embraced the opportunity to catch them at Proud Larry’s in Oxford, Miss., on January 14th, and I couldn’t help but document the experience via camera; as well as explore their history and new LP via digital pen.
Let’s begin with a look at Cast Your Shadow. Its opener, “Rock & Roll Séance”, distinctly highlights their roots-rock intentions: To pay homage to the classics of decades past. Forget breaking new grounds for the music industry. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Within the past few years, Meagan Tubb and her shady people won a battle of the bands competition; opened for Willie Nelson on more than one occasion; and even laid claim to an Independent Music Award for Best Song (Blues category) with “Let Me Believe”. Whatever they’re doing seems to be working.
Through a séance of bluesy rock; Americana; funk; soul; and country-laced rock and roll, the group has carefully chosen the best of all worlds and mashed them together to form an unexpected cohesiveness and a feeling that modern-day music isn’t living up to the memories of our elders.
While lead woman Tubb channels a ballsier Sheryl Crow or Grace Potter, her Shady People ride shotgun, but add real heft to the album’s atmosphere and make the group a solid musical entity.
Appropriately, Tubb found them on the Web phenomenon that is Craig’s List. Jason Nunnenkamp — who possesses a bricoleur’s command of the banjo, mandolin, lap steel, pedal steep, lead slide guitar and back up vocals (whew!) — was her first find. When Tubb is belting out her sultry pipes, Nunnenkamp is back there empathizing with her as the upper harmony on guitar solos.
Next, she discovered Wilson Carr (bass, vocals) who is deeply influenced by bass virtuoso Victor Wooten (Bela Fleck & The Flecktones). Carr met Wooten at a summer music program at The Berklee College of Music.
On the drums is John Duran, a.k.a. Johnny D, who at age five was woken up by his father during a party to play along to The Who‘s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” — on his Mickey Mouse drum set, no less. By 7th grade, he was personally recruited by the high school pit orchestra and went on to discover his affinity for percussion while studying at The Berklee College of Music.
The major takeaways from Cast Your Shadow are the aforementioned “Rock and Roll Séance” and the introspective ballad, “Giving Tree (Grow My Hope)”, where Tubb’s tendency to personify inanimate objects shines through — a technique she admires in Shel Silverstein and biology-infused fiction writers such as Barbara Kingsolver and Abraham Verghese. The cover art is especially powerful: A small acorn casts the shadow of a tree.
As Tubb wrote to me in a recent email interview I conducted:
“It’s a personification of the potential for great things in all of us, regardless of our ultimate fate.”
Balance is kept with the kiss-off ballads that are “Heartbreak #8” and “Damsel in Distress” (“Mirror, mirror, on the wall/ just a stretch of the imagination won’t hurt me at all”), where Tubb struts her smooth, yet commanding vocals. Tubb also hones in on her inner Leo Kottke or Derek Trucks as she tries her hand at the slide guitar (for the first time) on the record. It’s just plain badass.
Original photography by Kate Anthony