Beyond Words
(from November 2010 issue of Nashville Arts Magazine)

By Marshall Chapman

As I awakened this morning, it dawned on me that Nashville is entering into some sort of Golden Age as far as the music scene. It’s true. The level of talent these days is mind boggling. And I’m talking about all kinds of music, not just country. The Atlantic recently reported that more musicians live and work out of Nashville than either Los Angeles or New York City.

Just look around. Jack White, the Black Keys, Paramore, and Kings of Leon all call Nashville home. As do Sheryl Crow, Keb Mo, and Ke$ha. Within my immediate neighborhood live Alison Krauss, Mary Gauthier, Terri Clark, David Olney, and Radney Foster. Then there’s John Hiatt, Tommy Womack, Todd Snider, Minton Sparks, and Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets, each with their own legion of devoted fans. Gretchen Peters, Matraca Berg, and Suzy Bogguss—Nashville residents all (each with individually respected careers)—have been quietly selling out concert halls in the U.K. billed as Wine, Women & Song.

Nashville has its share of living legends, too, adding credibility and depth to whatever scene is happening. As long as Scotty Moore (played lead guitar with Elvis) calls Nashville home, Nashville will always be cool. Same goes for Dan Penn, who was honored October 16th by the Country Music Hall of Fame & Museum as part of their Poets and Prophets series. This series usually salutes legendary country songwriters, so it was refreshing to see Penn honored, as he’s mostly identified with R&B.

When asked about the difference between country and R&B, Penn provided the best explanation I’ve ever heard. “Well, country is in your foot,” he said, as he looked down at his foot tapping on the stage floor. “But R&B … it just moves on up your leg.”

After the interview, Penn proceeded to sing some of his best-known songs, accompanied only by himself on guitar, and—at different times—friends Donnie Fritts, Spooner Oldham, and Bobby Emmons on keyboard.“I’m Your Puppet,” “Do Right Man,” “Dark End of the Street,” he sang them all … in a voice so sweet and soulful, it just lifted you up. In short, Dan Penn took us to church.

And if I had to choose a favorite from the songs heard that afternoon, I’d have to go with “It Tears Me Up,” simply because it did tear me up … as it moved right up my leg.