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Trio of gigs to orbit around Luella & the Sun

By JACK W. HILL SPECIAL TO THE DEMOCRAT-GAZETTE

This article was published December 13, 2012 at 3:21 a.m.

— Luella & the Sun is the latest thing to break out of East Nashville, where country music is not exactly what people expect to hear. Not even Luella is whom you might expect.

Luella is actually Melissa Mathes, but she already had a musical history under that name, and thought it would be fun to break free of her public’s expectations.

“And she said she wanted to incorporate her grandmother’s name if at all possible,” says the band’s guitarist and producer, Joe McMahan, who was born and raised in Hot Springs, and is an old friend of Little Rock musician Dave Hoffpauir. “We started putting this band together about 13 months ago. That was when the four of us first got together in the same room.

“Originally, three of us were working on some instrumental stuff, until we heard Luella, and decided we needed to start a group where she’s the singer. We knew we had something special when we met her. And we’re creating a band, a whole new art form and how the music will be perceived.”

McMahan has performed with and/or produced a couple of musicians who have played widely around central Arkansas — Webb Wilder and Kevin Gordon. He’s now at work with Patrick Sweeney, whom he describes as a “rootsy, bluesy sort of guy.”

Luella & the Sun features McMahan on electric guitar and Luella handling vocals and percussion. The other two members are Adam Bednarik, who came to Tennessee from Cleveland, on bass, and Jon Radford, from Clarksville, Tenn., on drums.

“Adam came to town originally to learn recording,” Mc-Mahan says, “and Jon moved to Nashville to play country music, but secretly he was into ’60s rock and funky R&B sounds. He also plays drums for Justin Townes Earle.”

Luella is originally from Milwaukee, where she grew up surrounded by the sounds of rhythm and blues, and the singing of Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera. She has studied African dance and incorporates it into the shows, McMahan adds, noting that she’s been around the Nashville music scene for about eight years, working with another band, Cracker Boots, which has a jazzy sound.

The group has barely scratched the surface so far on recording, having produced a two-song promotional disc that has one original, “Fly So Free,” written by McMahan, and a classic blues song by Blind Willie McTell, “We Got to Meet Death One Day.”

“We’re not in a big hurry to record,” McMahan says. “We want it to be real focused, and since I have a studio, we can take our time and maybe have something ready in the spring. I’ll be writing some stuff, and we’ll incorporate a few old gospel songs. With Luella’s voice, we want to utilize her strengths there as much as we can.”

“What we do is a blend of all of those influences we’ve had, and it all falls under the category of rock ’n’ roll.”

As for stage names versus real names, McMahan says it’s a blessing that Melissa is going by Luella, since the bass player now has a girlfriend named Melissa.

Luella & the Sun

9:30 p.m. today, White Water Tavern, West Seventh and Thayer streets, Little Rock Opening for: Isaac Alexander record release show; Adam Faucett also performs Admission: $5 (501) 375-8400 whitewatertavern.com

9 p.m. Friday, Maxine’s, 700 Central Ave., Hot Springs Opening act: Jim Mize Admission: $5 (501) 321-0909 maxineslive.com

9 p.m. Saturday, Rogue Pizza, 402 Dickson St., Fayetteville Admission: Free (479) 571-5200

Weekend, Pages 38 on 12/13/2012

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