Turner South's new Southeastern music-themed program, Music Road, premiered earlier this month with back-to-back episodes focusing on the Drive-By Truckers in Athens, GA, and Marty Stuart in Nashville. Hosted by Greenville, SC, singer-songwriter Edwin McCain, Music Road purports to "tour the birthplace of American music." Yet the debut program, featuring regional legend Kevn Kinney and emerging songwriter Emerson Hart, is entirely tethered to Atlanta's Smith's Olde Bar.
For a show entitled "Music Road," it's quite static, with limited backstage scenes and a lack of travel. So the general vibe rests somewhere between the former NYC music show Sessions at West 54th St. and VH1's Storytellers. Music Road doesn't sport the arty camera angles of the former, but does have an emphasis on a combination of acoustic performance and songwriting anecdotes á la Storytellers.
McCain is currently hawking a new Vanguard release to match his role, Lost in America, which attempts mid-tempo Mellencamp-isms. And he's a genial host, palpably enthusiastic about the artistic company he's keeping. McCain ain't lyin' when he says growing up in the Southeast influenced his career: singing in the church choir, absorbing bluegrass from an uncle around the campfire, as well as plenty Allman Brothers and Marshall Tucker. However, as his interplay with Kinney shows, his music lacks the grit of this background and influences. Last year, over a million viewers of The Dr. Phil Show voted McCain's "I'll Be" Best Wedding Song. So it's unsurprising that he and Hart get mired in treacly love balladry, while Kinney runs away with the episode. Watching the Drivin' N' Cryin' leader snarl his way through thorny acoustic numbers ("Straight to Hell") and blazing electric blues ("Madman Blues"), one can take the pulse of Southeastern music and gauge its demerits.
Upcoming episodes feature such fine rising acts as classic R&B outfit Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings (a curious inclusion, since they're Brooklyn-based) and brilliant Nashville outsider Bobby Bare Jr. The trick for the show to succeed is to enhance its mission to let viewers "ride shotgun on a musical road trip across the South" and get out of the studio, as it were. It's the stories and the landscape that keep our regional culture unique, above all.