My gig of the year

Nashville’s Eric Brace and Thomm Jutz were the headline act at TwickFolk on Sunday, 16 July. This review first appeared on TwickFolk’s Facebook page. You can order ‘Profiles in Courage, Frailty & Discomfort’ directly from Red Beet Records at 

One of TwickFolk’s many strengths is its proximity to Heathrow. American acts are only too happy to make Twickenham’s Cabbage Patch the last venue of a British tour. Nashville-based Eric Brace and Thomm Jutz had just completed a rapid circuit of the north of England promoting the new album they’ve made with Peter Cooper, Profiles in Courage, Frailty & Discomfort, and here they were making far more than two-thirds of a very good job indeed.

Eric’s rich baritone melds with Thomm’s gentle tenor on exquisite harmonies, and the two men’s guitar styles complement each other just as well, Thomm’s little runs weaving around Eric’s strumming. The banter between songs only enhances the quality of the word-smithery in them, and gives a rich impression of what it’s like to make a living in music in East Nashville. Thomm runs his own studio, TJ Tunes, and when his publisher tells him there’s an Australian in town he should meet called Brad Butcher, within days the two of them have written Ocean from the Bottom of a Well. Eric, the founder of indie label Red Beet Records and a music writer on the Washington Post in a former life, takes the 15 mile ride north to visit Johnny Cash’s grave and comes back with Hendersonville (Lay me down in clothes of black / I’m moving on, I can’t look back).

No subject is spared the laser-sharp focus of their song-writing. Upon learning that the small portion of whiskey lost in the aging process in a barrel is known as the angel’s share, Thomm suggests the expression as a song title to regular collaborator Kim Richey, and the outcome is the saddest of ‘drink to forget’ songs. Eric’s Tranquillity Base contains all the questions he wanted to ask Neil Armstrong as a boy, and he’s found a richer vein in the Californian Gold Rush than the people he sings about ever did.

Hartford’s Bend is a particular stand-out. It’s a tribute to John Hartford, the man who spent the royalties he earned from writing Gentle on my Mind on a life of fiddle and banjo playing, and piloting riverboats on Nashville’s Cumberland River. As the pair sang ‘He said nothing is real but the river, and nothing is true but the song’, one song-writer in the audience audibly purred with pleasure.

And in a nice touch at the end, Eric and Thomm stepped down from the stage and stood in the audience for the encore, a rousing version of the late Guy Clark’s LA Freeway.

Maybe they’ll bring Peter with them when they’re next over. Maybe they’ll have recorded an album with an even longer title. Whatever, just don’t miss them.