Laura Reed describes Asheville as “a fusion city” with an unapologetic, intuitive soul scene that brings in elements of jazz, hip-hop and funk. Juan Holladay, guitarist and lead vocalist for The Secret B-Sides, sees the genre as broader still: “For me, ‘soul music’ is the music that energizes a community to be what it can be and to move into greener pastures.”
Such label-defying spirit will be in full effect Friday, Aug. 29, at Isis Restaurant & Music Hall with the celebration of new albums by The Secret B-Sides, Reed, HoveyKraft (multi-instrumentalist Ben Hovey) and Slo_Gold (the side project of Secret B-Sides’ keyboardist Jeff K’norr). All four acts will perform original sets, as will legendary singer Sidney Barnes.
The show marks a homecoming of sorts for Reed, a former fixture in the Asheville music scene with her Boone-based band Deep Pocket. After relocating to Atlanta in 2010, the singer-songwriter called up her Grammy-winning producer friend Paul Worley, with whom she hadn’t spoken in nearly three years. While in the middle of recording Lady Antebellum’s Need You Now, Worley invited Reed to Nashville. She drove up the next day and played him a demo. Worley said, “I can’t help you in Atlanta, but if you move to Nashville, I can help you.”
That same afternoon he called producer Shannon Sanders, with whom Reed would go on to write roughly 40 songs, 10 of which made it onto her new album, The Awakening. “I hit it off immediately with Shannon,” Reed says. “I wrote with a lot of people when I got to town – that’s kind of a Nashville thing – but I kept finding myself going back to the songs I was doing with Shannon. They were reflecting where I was the most.”
On records for India.Arie, John Legend and Pink, Sanders built a reputation for taking R&B and hip-hop elements and weaving in pop sounds. “He’d say, ‘Let’s talk about the world and make this bigger – make the message about humanity.’ He takes a personal song and makes it something people can relate to,” says Reed, who recently moved to the Raleigh-Durham area to be closer to family, but maintains Nashville as her musical base.
While her current sound has more radio-friendly elements and her songwriting has gone from eight-minute jams to three-minute scripts, Reed says there’s a raw element that she’ll never shed: “People loved Deep Pocket because I was wailing and dancing on stage. My live shows are still that.”
Reed describes the evening at Isis as coming full circle. Barnes, with whom she has a “soul kinship,” did all the background vocals on her first album and her final Deep Pocket show was a shared bill with The Secret B-Sides.
Headlining the quadruple release, The Secret B-Sides’ Welcome to Soul City is inspired by Asheville native Floyd McKissick and his plan to build the titular racism-free community. In the early ’70, with more than $17 million raised from from federal, state and private sources, McKissick began construction on 500 acres of land in Warren County, only to cease progress when Sen. Jesse Helms and Congressman L.H. Fountain ordered a devastating audit of the venture. Negative press followed, the project’s funding was withdrawn and McKissick eventually sold a swatch of land to the Warren County Correctional Institute.
Holladay didn’t want the album to be a straightforward narrative of McKissick’s project. “I’d rather talk about the issues he’s addressing with his visions and then go quickly to similar things in my own life and … how I approach those same issues in my own life in a way that hopefully can be somewhat universal.” The topics of housing complexes – which Holladay connects to his experiences living on the Pascua Yaqui tribe’s reservation in Tucson, Ariz. – and prison help anchor the material to McKissick’s story, as does acknowledging how people of different colors and ethnicities have both formed a resistance to those institutions and contributed to improving life for everyone else.
To further the theme of unity across perceived barriers, Holladay assembled a roster of unexpected local collaborators, including singer/percussionist Billy Jonas and Americana vocalists Mary Ellen Davis and Molly Rose Reed. “I just feel like anyone who’s following their creative dream is being a part of the soul community,” Holladay says. “People who are really taking a chance and making music or art or craft, that inspires me to take that risk and put my time and energy into it and I know it’ll pay off and be a positive thing in my life.”
WHO: Secret B-Sides, Laura Reed, Sidney Barnes, HoveyKraft and Slo_Gold
WHERE: Isis Restaurant & Music Hall, isisasheville.com
WHEN: Friday, Aug. 29, at 9 p.m. $8/$10