If Shakori Hills, the biannual roots-and-more music festival in Chatham County, were a restaurant, its dishes would be served either a la carte or in the form of great, big, strange stews. This fall, for instance, you can get your bluegrass from Big Fat Gap and your bop from Peter Lamb & The Wolves, your pop from Brett Harris and your zydeco from Preston Frank. Or you can choose among many mélanges of it all, from the outbound newgrass explorations of Yonder Mountain String Band to the gyre-like folk-pop of the reborn Bombadil and the pedal steel turbocharge of virtuoso Robert Randolph.
But the most exciting combination this year is both the least likely and most historically intriguing one: The Texas-born Cedric Watson wrestles several forms of the Old South, including lonesome tunes, jumpstarted zydeco and thorny blues. Mali's Sidi Touré, meanwhile, makes knotty songha blues, characterized by a pervasive drone embattled by ceaseless propulsion. The links between their music are ancient and obvious, given America's former financial interest in Africa's West Coast. But combining them, onstage in the same band? It may sound strange, but the early tapes of their International Blues Express are intoxicating, like two long-lost cousins suddenly catching up. —Grayson Currin