SOUTHERN STORYTELLERS: THE CRANKIES & MINTON SPARKS
Sunday, December 2nd
6:00pm / doors at 5:00pm
Advance general admission: $12
At the door: $16
Table of 4 reserved seats: $60
It’s mighty hard to envision singular performances by a poet and short story author, a character actor and a songwriter being offered on a single bill. That is, until one MINTON SPARKS takes the stage. For she is all three, a lean, literate livewire in a flower print church dress who balances writerly, theatrical and musical gifts as easily as she balances the prop pocketbook on her slender wrist.
There was no existing script for what Sparks does, which can’t be said of too many artistic ventures in the Twenty-first Century, so she’s written one herself these past ten years or so and come up with a name for her role to boot: speaker-songwriter. A speaker-songwriter in action—Sparks being the only one—is a sight to behold. She writes flesh-and-blood vignettes about smalltown southern family members, teasing out the complexity below the surfaces of people’s lives in ways that tickle the sense of humor, prick the conscience and lodge in the soul. She delivers words in beelines of bluesy rhythm and worries the hooks—and there are hooks—backed solely by the nimble acoustic guitar work of John Jackson, who’s perhaps best known for having played with Bob Dylan. And she inhabits each character in full-bodied fashion; now buckdancing, now chicken strutting, now delivering gossip with a self-righteous shrug.
The reception Sparks has gotten in the separate spheres of literature, storytelling and music ought to say something about the quality of all three elements in her work. She’s performed in the American Songbook Series at the Lincoln Center, appeared at the venerable Old Towne School of Folk Music, served as teller-in-residence at the Jonesborough National Storytelling Festival, gotten invited to the prestigious Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, shared the stage with the likes of Rodney Crowell, John Prine and Nanci Griffith, gone over like gangbusters at the Tennessee Prison for Women and received some of the highest possible praise for a southern writer — being called the lovechild of Flannery O’Connor and Hank Williams — by Marshall Chapman, herself a songwriting force of nature. These are no insignificant accomplishments.
Along the way, Sparks has documented the captivating evolution of her work with albums (2001’s Middlin’ Sisters, 2003’s This Dress and 2005’s Sin Sick), books (2007’s Desperate Ransom: Setting Her Family Free and 2008’s White Lightning) and a performance film (2006’s Open Casket). The first of those albums boasts the contributions of no less than Waylon Jennings and multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott, the next Irish siren Maura O’Connell and bluesman Keb’ Mo’, and the third Grammy-winning acoustic producer Gary Paczosa and players including John Jackson, blues pianist Steve Conn, mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile and clawhammer banjo stylist Abigail Washburn. All of which is to say, musicians of stature from all corners of the roots world dig Sparks’ unorthodox work.
Considering the effect Sparks has in-character in-person, the latest addition to her catalog is the most natural thing in the world: an album that captures her and Jackson performing 13 memorable story-songs in front of an audience. And not just any audience. Live at the Station Inn was recorded at Nashville’s storied no-frills bluegrass club on the hottest day of the summer before a hometown crowd. More than a few of her kin were there. And, from the sound of things, everybody was laughing, hollering, listening intently and just getting generally caught up in the moments she creates. Sparks has that effect on people.