It’s a cold December night in Nashville. The Wildhorse Saloon, generally a tourist destination, a sort of Hard Rock Cafe with a twang, is filled this night with a venerable who’s who of Nashville rockers and groovers. They are here to see Ray Davies, lead singer and songwriter of The Kinks — rock and roll royalty, a true rock and roll innovator and survivor. The thing about this kind of Nashville show is that virtually the entire room is VIP. The house is packed with countless musicians, songwriters, producers, and industry players. Ray Davies is no namedropper, but there is one name on his mind: he calls out from the stage for Bill Lloyd.
Bill Lloyd is as diverse as Music City itself. In addition to being one of the godfathers of Nashville’s rich alternative pop-rock world, he enjoyed mainstream country success as one-half of duo Foster and Lloyd in the 1980s, as well as being a prolific songwriter, having written mainstream country hits for the likes of Trisha Yearwood, Martina McBride, and Sara Evans. Lloyd is equally gifted as a guitar-slinger, having done session and side work for artists such as Davies, Cheap Trick, Poco, and Marshall Crenshaw. When Cheap Trick performs their famed Sgt. Pepper Live shows, they call Bill Lloyd.
He formed The Long Players in 2004 with Steve Allen, John Deaderick, Steve Ebe, and Garry Tallent, and redefined the idea of a “cover” band. The Long Players perform classic albums in their entirety, in sequence, with a seemingly endless array of guest vocalists and players: Steve Forbert, Charlie McCoy, Jonell Mosser, Allison Moorer, Chuck Mead, Al Kooper, to name just a sliver. Everyone wants to work with Bill Lloyd. The Long Players gigs have become a sort of social event unto themselves, its own scene where musicians, industry, and fans mingle together.
In recent years Lloyd served as the Stringed Instrument Curator at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, charged with preserving and cataloging the vast collection that passes through the museum: from Mother Maybelle’s Gibson to Ray Charles’ sunglasses. He continues to host the Nashville Cats series, which he created while at the Hall of Fame, highlighting the great players that have helped to make Music City what it is. As if that weren’t enough, Lloyd serves as the music director for the First Amendment Center in Nashville. Somehow he still finds the time to release acclaimed solo records.
Lloyd’s musical diversity is evident on his latest release, RESET2014, a 20th anniversary commemoration of his critically acclaimed album Set to Pop, consisting of new recordings, alternate mixes and live versions of the songs from his 1994 power pop classic. The tracks are sequenced the same as the original Set to Pop, which creates a pleasant mix of new and nostalgic, breathing new life into a venerable album classic.
Lloyd plays all instruments on the newly recorded version of The Kinks’ “This is Where I Belong,” the album’s sole cover. The guitars and vocals create a wall of fuzz which complement each other but never mask Ray Davies’ glimmering melody.
Side man extraordinaire Al Kooper and E Street Band (and Long Players) bassist Gary Tallent grace the alternate mix of “Trampoline,” one of the album’s highlights, about a woman with emotional problems whose mood swings are as dizzying as they are frustrating. The bouncy guitar riffs and Tim Coats’ jawharp give the record a nice elasticity.
God bless our daily bread
Coffee and Dramamine
God bless our ups and downs
God damn her trampoline
There are two very different live versions of “Niagara Falls,” a fun and swampy song with a dark sense of humor that could easily be a mainstream country shuffle or a Webb Wilder rocker. The first version was recorded live at the Exit/In in 1998, featuring Poco’s Rusty Young on steel guitar. RESET2014 closes with a bonus acoustic live version of “Niagara Falls” recorded at the Bluebird Cafe in 2004.
“The Man Who Knew Too Much” (co-written with Marshal Crenshaw), “A Beautiful Lie” (co-written with David Surface), and “Forget About Us” showcase Lloyd’s melodic sense, while “Out of the Picture” and “I Went Electric” feature his plugged-in guitar hooks.
“In A Perfect World,” co-written with Cindy Bullens, may be the album’s finest moment. The newly recorded acoustic version brings out the beauty in the melody and the quiet poetry in the lyric. Again, Lloyd plays all instruments, including guitar, keys and mandolin, and sings all the vocal parts, with Doug Kahan adding the bowed bass.
In a perfect world every shoe’s a perfect fit
Eventually you find your spot and stand in it
And when love comes down like the summer rain
In a perfect world it washes all the hurt away
RESET2014 is more than a collection of outtakes and alternates for the diehards. Lloyd has succeeded in casting these gems in a fresh light, especially with the newly recorded tracks. RESET2014 is a perfect compliment to Set to Pop, but it stands on its own as a collection of great songs, with all of the trademarks that make up Bill Lloyd’s musicality: shimmering guitars, warm vocals, and hook after endless, melodic hook.