John B. Sebastian and the Lovin’ Spoonful used to sing that “there’s 1,352 guitar pickers in Nashville”—and that was back in 1967. Surely there’s more than that now with the Music City blossoming into a commercial country hub, not to mention the rise of East Nashville and other suburbs over the past five decades. There are probably at least 100 times more players living in the capital city these days, each trying to eke out a living and achieve their dreams. I know that I get public relations mail daily from a host of Nashville-based companies telling me about the latest Hank Williams or Patsy Cline, or at least a Blake Shelton or Miranda Lambert equivalent, who deserves my attention.
Most of the artists are quite good, and the pitches honestly sincere in their appreciation of these musicians’ talents. We live in an age of abundance. There are too many gifted musicians in Nashville that deserve attention. One could not listen to them all no matter how hard one tries. So, what’s an artist to do?
Missouri-born and raised Ian Fisher decided to go where most other country stars had not. He moved to Europe and celebrated Nashville and the American dream. He left the USA for Europe and Africa more than a decade ago. However, his music is still deeply rooted in Americana in general and often concerned with Nashville in particular. Fisher’s an independent artist who manages himself who has released 13 albums. For his 14th, he did something new. Fisher and his band took more than 300 demos to the pastoral studio of Austrian producer René Muhlberger, and they whittled down that list to the ten best tracks. Most of these were written when Fisher lived in Nashville. As Carl Perkins used to sing, You take the boy out of the country, but….”
Fisher and company may have selected what they considered the ten best songs, but not every one of these tracks is a “ten”. Instead, the album’s intention focuses more on being an introductory approach to the musician and the songs’ polished demos. There’s nothing shameful about that, but one presumes the record could be stronger if each cut were a winner.
Fisher has a flinty voice that’s loud and clear. Strangely, he sounds like Australia’s Paul Kelly and tells similar story songs. Fisher’s accent has a non-American edge to it. The amalgam of Midwest, Tennessee, and the world beyond has shaped his articulation into something different from a typical American sound. When Fisher croons about “American Standards”, his voice evokes past icons more than modern ones. And his infectious pleasure at finding an “AAA Station” when driving down the highway (Triple-A radio is adult album alternative) suggests his listening took place decades ago as the genre has been moribund for a while. Fisher’s America is the one he left.
He sings nostalgically about Music City on “Melody in Nashville” , “Only Church With a God I’d Pray To”, and “Ghosts of the Ryman”. He yearns for the city of past legends, not the vibrant one that still exists in the town’s spirited venues. Fisher romanticizes the past, but he needn’t bother. Nashville is still an awesome place full of great music. COVID and hurricanes have taken their toll recently, but there is little doubt Nashville is strong enough to grow and prosper.