Remember The Johnny Cash Show? Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters? The George Jones Show? The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour? No? Technically speaking, me neither, though that’s mostly due to the fact of not being alive, but I digress.
These were the earliest versions of gatekeeping and taste-making in the earliest iterations of a zeitgeist-centric Nashville. Cash was one of the first to feature Mandrell on his show, and Mandrell collaborated frequently with Jones on her own show. Full circle, or something to that effect. Anyway, this was an era in which a guest performance on The Johnny Cash Show and the like would lead to immeasurable career advancement. It’s hard to say what the modern equivalent would be, but that does, however, lead us to the point of this opener (coincidence? I think not!).
On particularly languid afternoons, I spend time consider which present-day Nashville artists would make for quintessential guest spots on the various namesake shows from a year gone by. It’s a consideration that’s far from easy.
To just say any popular Nashville artist would make for a seamless guest feature on The George Jones Show or The Porter Wagoner Show is reductive. There’s no nuance. I doubt Kings of Leon would have been well received by Barbara Mandrell (with all due respect to the Followills, of course). An artist would have to possess a certain “je ne sais quoi” for the time.
First and foremost, a particular timelessness is tantamount to this exercise - think of something that could have been recorded yesterday or forty years ago, but would sound good either way. That’s where Erin Rae comes into play. We’ve covered her magnificent Putting On Airs at length on the site, so I’ll spare you any re-hashing of how good the record is - but her musical sensibilities explore the social potpourri of Southern living that would undoubtedly appeal to many a George Jones, Johnny Cash, etc.
There’s a “realness” to Erin Rae’s lyrical wares, all the while maintaining a wholesome sheen that would make for dynamic television. Plus, her backing band has long been an exceptional component to her live shows. Take her most recent stop at The Basement East - there were moments of distinct forthrightness and (purposefully) vacillating perspectives. Meanwhile, the audience looks on, transfixed by the visions Erin Rae’s words weave. A knack for storytelling knows no bounds, be it 2019 or 1972.
In addition to the aforementioned timelessness in sound, a particular performative sensibility was on display throughout the tenure of the various “Country Music Superstar” helmed variety hours. Not performative in the sense of a Jimmy Fallon or James Corden game-style panel guest desperately attempting to “go viral,” but rather, a more genteel, reverent performance. If you watch any guest spot from variety hours in general (Robin Williams, Richard Pryor, and Joan Rivers notwithstanding), most guests are going to be deferential to the host, not out of timidity, but respect.
This is where Andrew Combs enters the fray. He possesses a uniquely “respectable” nature on stage (and presumably at all times) that would no doubt mesh quite well with a Barbara Mandrell or Ralph Emery (Nashville Today). For instance, Mr. Combs’ approach to the Basement East crowd was one of distinct flattery, referencing the generally kind appearance - “What a beautiful crowd… Columbus was handsome, but you all might have surpassed that..” There’s a kindly nature not only to Combs’ demeanor, but also his music, which only further extends the sense of gentility in his shows.
Any show featuring Erin Rae or Andrew Combs is a show full of pleasant moments. Soft storytelling moments. Introspective moments. Moments of congeniality. No risk of unbridled eccentricity. The occasional self-deprecating moment (which any and all can appreciate). Moments for all to enjoy, either today or a day gone by.