The Martha Bassett Show

Minton Sparks

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 Minton does, which can’t be said of too many artistic ventures in the 21st Century, so she’s written one herself these past 10 years or so and come up with a name for her role to boot: speaker-songwriter. A speaker-songwriter in action—Minton 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 Minton 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, been invited to the prestigious Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival, been featured on NPR’s All Things Considered, shared the stage with Rodney Crowell, John Prine, Nanci Griffith, and the Punch Brothers, 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 love child of Flannery O’Connor and Hank Williams — by Marshall Chapman, herself a songwriting force of nature. These are not insignificant accomplishments.

Along the way, Minton 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 Minton's unorthodox work.

Considering the effect Minton 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. Minton has that effect on people. 

Learn more at http://mintonsparks.com

Also Appearing:
Jonathan Byrd

Jonathan Byrd is a preacher’s son, a Gulf War veteran, and an award-winning songwriter from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, known for literary, outsider songs that have become Americana favorites. The Chicago Tribune called Byrd “one of the top 50 songwriters of the past 50 years.”

Learn more at https://www.jonathanbyrd.com

Shohei Tsutsumi

Shohei Tsutsumi, from Osaka, Japan, who lives in Elkin, NC, is the first non-American who has earned a master's degree in Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University. During his stay in North Carolina since 2016, he has competed and placed at fiddlers conventions in various states as a multi-instrumentalist. These include his first places in banjo and band contests at Appalachian State University in 2017, and his winning performances in mountain dulcimer contests in Ashe County, NC, Galax, VA and Johnson County, TN in 2018. He focuses on learning and preserving local musical traditions in western NC and southwest Virginia.

Learn more at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100008236698340

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