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The Tennessee Sheiks CDs
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CD produced in 2006,
Tennessee Sheiks

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THE TENNESSEE SHEIKS
  acoustic / jazz / folk
book the tennessee sheiks

The Tennessee Sheiks is a band that may one day be hard to explain to the simple-minded music historian. Some regard Don Cassell as one of the finest mandolinists in East Tennessee. Singer Nancy Brennan Strange may be best known outside state lines for an album of sophisticated torch songs she made with internationally known jazz pianist Donald Brown. Guitarist Don Wood is a disciple of the mad gypsy innovator Django Reinhardt. You wouldn’t think these people would even know each other. But with some talented friends, like bassist Jon Steele and banjoist/rhythm guitarist Morgan Simmons, they became the Tennessee Sheiks. It’s no hybrid of bluegrass and jazz; they hark back to a time some would have you believe didn’t exist, when there was no distinction between jazz and pop and blues and old-time stringband music, a time when jazz sometimes permitted a guy with a mandolin or a banjo to sit in. Some of these songs are brand new. See if you can pick them out. In the mix is also a little Cuban, a little Sicilian, a little Appalachian with traces of Hawaiian. It’s world music. Most of these songs are old, though, and played in a style that is old. If anyone's tempted to call the style nostalgic, slap him. Some are familiar, but hardly any of us are old enough to remember when these songs were popular, nor to associate them with lost youth. The Sheiks’ spirited stylings give them new life. The songs work now because they worked then. On this disc we hear the ghost of Django and, even before him, older, homier spirits: Leola Manning, Carl Martin, Ted Bogan, Howard Armstrong, and nameless hundreds of other musicians who never thought of themselves as “country” or “jazz” but who played for buffalo nickels in the drugstores and pawnshops and swapped licks on the streets of downtown Knoxville during America's most promiscuous, most prolific, most influential, and least understood musical era. These songs are not only of an era; they are timeless. These are songs of remorse, of tongue-in-cheek humor, of resentment, of temptation, of melancholy; they’re complicated moods that adult humans still experience, even in the 21st century, even if radio pop no longer acknowledges that fact. Some of us can play this over and over; some of us need this stuff bad.
A Review by Jack Neely

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