I must admit that when my stepbrother’s family said we were going to a buffet for Thanksgiving dinner, I was somewhat concerned. But I didn’t know that the buffet they had in mind was the Blue Willow Inn
in the little town of Social Circle, Georgia about 30 miles from Atlanta. The Blue Willow Inn is technically a buffet (food is brought out to tables either upstairs or downstairs, and you serve yourself),but it is not cheap, the surroundings are an historic mansion on the town’s main street, and the food is exceptional. While it seems almost strange that such a family establishment would be open on Thanksgiving, it was actually quite crowded, with people loading up on corn muffins, their famous fried chicken, turkey, and one of several desserts including peanut butter pie and red velvet cake. Although I felt sorry for their employees having to work, they seemed cheerful and good-natured about it and actually seemed to be having fun. The gift shop next door was also open, and decorated beautifully for Christmas, with all kinds of gifts and food items available. It was altogether a fun time with family on Thanksgiving Day.
Blue Willow Inn
294 N. Cherokee Rd.
Social Circle, GA 30025
Oddly, there was less live music on Thanksgiving Eve in Atlanta than I would have expected. I thought about heading to Apache Cafe in Midtown, but ultimately ended up driving out to Cafe 290
in Sandy Springs, where there was a live band called Will Harlan and the Mo Funk Jazz Band. The style was more soul and funk than jazz, but it was a tight and talented band regardless, and I always like the vibe of the venue.
Now that my stepbrother and his family live in the Atlanta area, I not only get to see them more often, but I also get to Atlanta a lot more often, and one of the upsides of that is that I get to try some great new restaurants from time to time, like the oddly-named Seven Lamps
in the trendy Lenox area of Buckhead. Seven Lamps is a hip restaurant and bar featuring “new cuisine” and innovative cocktails, but what lured me to the spot was something of a secret, although a not-so-very well-kept one, namely a delectable burger called the 50/50 Burger that isn’t even on the menu. The 50/50 burger is half beef brisket and half ground round, served on brioche with pancetta and grilled cheese, and usually comes with Thousand Island dressing and pickles, all made in-house. I’m not a fan of pickles nor salad dressing, so I dispensed with them, but the burger was amazing, probably among the 5 best I’ve had in my life, cooked over a wood fire and precisely to my “medium rare” order. It came with cottage fries, which were unique and extremely good, crusty on the outside and as soft as mashed potatoes inside, coated with a cayenne-based dry rub. Both came together at $10, making it the best bargain in what is not an inexpensive restaurant. While Seven Lamps has a selection of desserts, I was more impressed by their offering of espresso-based drinks and their use of Atlanta’s superb Dancing Goats Coffee from Batdorf and Bronson
. I must conclude by pointing out that the service was extremely attentive and prompt, and that the atmosphere, while noisy, was warm and cheerful. All in all, I left full and contented.
3400 Around Lenox Rd
Atlanta, GA 30326
Friday night, the Memphis gospel music community came out to support local Memphis drummers, and to see Calvin “C-Rod” Rodgers, arguably one of the best gospel drummers of today. It was amazing and fortunate to get to see him play, as last year, after a brutal robbery and beating, it was for a time doubtful that he would ever be able to play again. The event, called Thankful 4 The Drummers, was sponsored by Marcus Malone at the Hard Rock Cafe on Beale Street in downtown Memphis, and was opened up by local drummers such as Tevin Curtis, Bart Orr and Chris Pat. Altogether it was an amazing night of great drumming that didn’t break up until nearly 1 AM.
Fans of Yo Gotti‘s previous work might be in for a surprise when they listen to his recently-released album I Am, but the surprise should be a pleasant one. Not that there’s any lack of the street stories and trap lyrics that Gotti is known for, but this time everything happens over sheets of beautiful and soulful sounds that evoke Memphis’ musical legacy of Stax and Hi Records. Gotti’s lyrical content is also deeper and more mature, as on the album’s masterpiece “Cold Blood” featuring J. Cole and Canei Finch, where a sample from obscure Stax band 24 Carat Black becomes the luscious backing for a gritty tale of ghetto struggle, or “Respect That You Earn” with Ne-Yo and Wale, urging women to conduct themselves with respect so that they will be respected. “Don’t Come Around” has more of a pop and electronic sound that might very well cross over to the mainstream pop world, and of course the more familiar Gotti sound comes through on songs like “I Know” and “Die A Real Nigga”. Nor is Gotti above a clever humor on this record, as at the end of “Sorry”, where an irate female suggests that Gotti should go back to one of those “sorry females” he’s been with. Gotti replies “I am”, both answering her statement and invoking the album’s title. So well-conceived and varied are I Am‘s offerings that by the time one reaches the end, the single “Act Right” almost seems an after-thought. But this album is Yo Gotti’s first real masterpiece, an achievement which should turn some heads, change some opinions and win over a lot of fans beyond Memphis and the South.
I had heard last week that there was a live band playing at Mr. P’s Hot Wings on Hacks Cross Road every Wednesday night, so I rolled out there last night to see for myself. The band was keyboardist Josh McClain’s Soul Seven Band, featuring a soulful singer named Jay Bailey, and they play every Wednesday from 7-10 PM, although last night’s set ended early because of the Grizzlies’ game coming on TV. The band was superbly funky, trading off between two different drummers on alternating tunes, and Bailey is a talented vocalist, with a repertoire that includes most Memphians’ favorite tunes, from Maze songs to Bobby Womack covers. I should add that the food at Mr. P’s is really good, much better than I would have expected. I tried the lemon-pepper boneless wings and was amazed.
Mr. P’s Hot Wings
3285 Hacks Cross Rd
Memphis, TN 38125-8918
The Mid-South Chapter of the Red Cross sponsors an annual Red Boa Ball as a fundraiser for their activities, featuring live music, food and drink. This year’s event was held at the Memphis Botanic Gardens and featured a DJ set from Paula and Raiford of Raiford’s Disco downtown, followed by a live performance from Memphis rap legend Al Kapone. Following the performance, Kapone was mobbed by fans wanting their picture taken with him. The food, which was excellent, was catered by Local Gastropub. Altogether, it was a lot of fun for a really good cause.
The long-awaited new collaboration between Nashville rap veterans Haystak and Jelly Roll drops tomorrow. Entitled Business As Usual, it is coming out on Haystak Entertainment and being distributed by Memphis-based Select-O-Hits Music Distribution. To get you ready for it, in addition to the authorized single leak above, here are some videos of Jelly Roll discussing the new album and of behind the scenes footage.
Memphis music author Robert Gordon has completed his latest book Respect Yourself: Stax Records and the Soul Explosion
, which is the third book to deal with the history of Stax Records, after Peter Guralnick’s Sweet Soul Music
and Rob Bowman’s Soulsville, USA
, and Gordon was at the Stax Museum in South Memphis on Saturday afternoon to sign copies of the new book. Memphis’ legendary bluesman (and former Mar-Key) Don Nix was also present, as were around a hundred or so people who came to get their books signed, enjoy food and drink, and hear Gordon read excerpts. An all-Stax concert featuring Don Nix, Eddie Floyd and Sir Mack Rice was being held later down in Clarksdale at Ground Zero.
My last panels of this year’s Midatlantic Music Conference were at 5 PM back at The Chop Shop in Charlotte’s NoDa district, and then the final night of showcases began immediately afterwards, with a showcase featuring artists from the student-run Split Rail Records
label, which is a part of Appalachian State University in Boone. I particularly noticed a singer-songwriter from Charlotte on the label named Alexis Worthington
, who was performing on the back indoor stage. Not long afterward, Raleigh-based indie artist Frank Hurd
was performing his rootsy, tuneful style with his band on the front stage, and caught my attention.