Ann Powers

Willie Watson feels his way through America's musical history by sliding an old bottleneck against the strings of his acoustic guitar. He finds it in the grain of his own voice, cultivated over 20 years of singing old songs his own way. First as a founding member of Old Crow Medicine Show and now in his own solo career, Watson has brought folk-based roots music alive for new listeners in the 21st century.

Becca Mancari likes to take the long way around. The Nashville singer-songwriter was born in Staten Island, grew up in Pennsylvania, and developed her love of American roots music during her student days in Virginia. She's traveled the country and the world; some of the spaciousness in her hypnotic, subtle songs comes from lessons she learned while on a walkabout in India.

When Margo Price wailed, "Let's go back to Tennessee," on her 2016 breakthrough album Midwest Farmer's Daughter, she meant more than her current home town of Nashville. The queen of East Nashville has a long relationship with Memphis, forged through collaboration with producer Matt Ross-Spang, one of the young movers and shakers who's helping put that other mid-South music capitol and its classic studios back on the recording map.

Growing up outside Philadelphia, Devon Gilfillian learned about the working musician's life from his father, a singer and percussionist in a beloved local party band. He found his own path as a singer-songwriter and moved to Nashville just a few years ago, in hopes of finding a community appreciative of his blend of social consciousness, rootsy melodies and soulful grooves. Like so many before him, Gilfillian found those peers while waiting tables in a popular local venue, where he also absorbed the musical lessons of the stars who stopped by on tour.

Larissa Maestro travels far and wide within the Nashville music scene. She's a classically trained cellist and musical theater nerd who has recorded sessions with country and Americana stars ranging from The Band Perry to Margo Price to Deer Tick to Wanda Jackson.

Some people float through change; others aggressively swim. Still others find themselves deeply challenged to find ways to follow a current that can carry them to a safe shore. The Lone Bellow, the Brooklyn-born trio of Zach Williams, Kanene Donehy Pipkin and Brian Elmquist, negotiated many changes while making its third album, Walk into a Storm. Babies were born; a close friend of the band committed suicide. One member sought and found a way to deal with alcohol addiction.

In this World Cafe Nashville session, we welcome Ashley McBryde. McBryde has one of those voices that might belong to your sister or your best friend – if your sister or your best friend could belt like Loretta Lynn and croon like Reba McEntire.

Today we're heading to Nashville to hang with a band that sounds nothing like what you might expect from Nashville: a new-wave-ish party band called Republican Hair. The band draws inspiration from the sounds of the 1980s — in particular from Prince. And as band leader Luke Dick tells us, they're having a pretty great time with it.

Tristen Gaspadarek and Buddy Hughen share a house in the graveyard of a golf club, where they make music that captures the stubborn hope and creeping obsolescence at the heart of modern life. Tristen, who performs and records under her first name, was raised in Chicago but moved to Nashville a decade ago. There she met the guitarist and producer Hughen, and the pair was soon collaborating.

The country-music business is show business, whether the bright lights shine at the Grand Ole Opry or at a small dance hall on a lonely Western highway. Mark Wystrach, lead singer for Midland, learned the ropes of that business working at his parents' restaurant and dance hall, the Steak Out, in Sonoita, Ariz. Later he became an actor in Los Angeles, where he met Jess Carson, an Oregon farmer's son, and Cameron Duddy, a Hollywood kid whose love of music had led him to country, too.

If you stumble into the right basement in Nashville, Tenn., you will hear some of the most inventive and lovely psychedelic rock being made just about anywhere. Sun Seeker is one of Music City's freshest new rock bands. It's inspired by 1960s legends like The Band and '90s rockers like Pavement, creating a unique blend of Southern whimsy and fuzzy, melodic rock.

Daddy Issues formed out of friendship in 2014 and has become one of Nashville's most exciting punk bands. Guitarist Jenna Moynihan, bassist Jenna Mitchell and drummer Emily Maxwell all came to the city to attend Belmont University and met through its thriving DIY scene. Blending a love of noise with powerful melodicism and a knack for capturing the ups and downs of millennial life, Daddy Issues is part of a wave of young women challenging the clichés of both rock music and feminism.

There are very few artists who can bring the past into the present in a way that captures both the nuance of history and the immediacy of now. But Rhiannon Giddens has done it, beautifully, on her second solo album, Freedom Highway.

For a 20-something, Colter Wall has a startlingly deep voice. His songwriting is full of hard-won wisdom — there are tales of wandering and working, of murder and mystery, that tap into the old, weird lore of North America. And although he's based in Kentucky and spends a lot of time in Nashville, Wall was actually raised in Swift Creek, Saskatchewan.

The new album Cover Stories: Brandi Carlile Celebrates 10 Years of The Story (An Album to Benefit War Child) was never meant to be a tribute. Brandi Carlile is far too modest and clear-headed to puff herself up that way.

Marty Stuart is a walking, talking, singing, guitar-slinging repository of American popular music. The multiple-Grammy winner has had a long and storied career rooted in country music, but spanning everything from honky-tonk to "hillbilly rock" and from Southern gospel and blues to Native American balladry.

History moves through all of our voices, in inflection, tone and vocabulary. Some people call this collective language "the spirit"; to others, it's "the voice of the people." Valerie June just calls it song: the ongoing record of human sorrow and delight that she shapes into tunes and verses that may start small, but open up to the centuries.

For every country star and insurgent new sensation, Nashville boasts a dozen musicians who've perfected their art over many years. Tomi Lunsford is one such exceptional, undersung talent. She hails from a prestigious family — her great-uncle was the revered folklorist and songwriter Bascom Lamar Lunsford, and her father, fiddler Jim Lunsford, played with the likes of Roy Acuff and Bob Wills. Tomi herself began singing professionally as a teen with Jim and her harmonizing sisters.