By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch

June 10, 2004

Adrienne Young, second from right

The biggest joy for a music fan is discovering something new, something that knocks you back and makes you say, "Wow!"

Meet Adrienne Young, 31, of Nashville, Tenn., a guitar and banjo player, singer and songwriter; a holder of a degree in music business and Spanish; the proprietor of her own music label; a gardener and champion of local sustainable agriculture; the descendant of a drummer boy at the battle of Bunker Hill; and the leader of a rootsy acoustic band called Little Sadie.

Young self-released her first CD, "Plow to the End of the Row," last year, initially pressing "a couple thousand copies" and selling it out of the trunk of her car at shows.

It spent 20 weeks on the Americana airplay chart -- and then got picked up for national distribution in April. Young and Little Sadie will open the second night of Twangfest tonight at the Duck Room in the Delmar Loop.

"Plow to the End of the Row" is a bluegrass album for people who say they hate bluegrass. It rocks, in edge and attitude if not in decibels. Traditional, acoustic, old-timey music backs up against what would be called singer/songwriter fare with more commercial arrangements. A new antiwar song is followed by a traditional tune called "Soldier's Joy" that leaps out of the speakers.

For Young, reached by phone at her Nashville home a few days before Memorial Day, the music and the garden are related to harmony.

"I feel it is directly connected," she says, bustling about her house and yard during the interview, repotting plants and tending her garden. Rustling noises and the sound of running water punctuate her remarks

"I don't think our world is inherently evil," she says, "but our society is going through some major changes. We've become disconnected from the cyclical nature of life on Mother Earth."

Each copy of her CD, which was nominated for a Grammy Award last year for its packaging, comes with a packet of wildflower seeds.

"So many kids have never gone out and planted something in the dirt," she says. "They go from school to the bus to the TV without being in touch with nature."

Young says the inspiration for her music also comes from a higher source.

"Old-time music, traditional music, bluegrass -- it all fits into that," she says. "It's family oriented, it's sustainable, it's living in harmony with the environment rather than using it for our own immediate desires."

Young, whose family goes back seven generations in America, was born in Tallahassee and reared in Clearwater, Fla., but she demurs when asked whether she was brought up in a musical family. Her grandfather had a bluegrass band, and her mother was in a jazz band, but music wasn't pushed on her.

"Not like our fiddler (in Little Sadie, Clayton Campbell), who when he was 2 his father put a fiddle in his hands and said, 'If you don't play, you don't eat,'" she laughs. "It wasn't quite like that. . . . I had to search it out myself."

Young's first interest was jazz, and acting in theater, "and whenever I had to sing for an audition, I'd sing 'Saturday Night Is the Loneliest Night.' I was really into Sinatra."

Her 13-year run to overnight success began when she was 18 and started playing in bands in Florida -- pop bands and rock bands. When she moved to Nashville in the '90s to pursue songwriting, she also decided to go to college, "not only for what it does for your self-esteem, but I felt I was missing a big hunk of what, as a songwriter, I needed to have under my belt."

She graduated in 2000 with honors from Belmont College with a degree in music business.

"We had our marketing class, and I always had my own label as the project," she says.

"Plow to the End of the Row" -- stick to the task, see the job done -- was produced by Young and Nashville ace Will Kimbrough, who adds an effective duet vocal to "Home Remedy," the video of which is getting some airplay. The CD also features two songs among its 14 standouts that say a lot about who Adrienne Young is.

"Sadie's Song" is an answer to the traditional murder saga "Little Sadie," whose title character is murdered in the first verse and barely heard from again as the narrator is captured, tried and sentenced to 41 years in prison.

"I am really into the idea of the sacred feminine, and how the female energy has kind of been dealt the hand it's been dealt in past few thousand years," she says. "It's incredible to me to see folk songs in which women were just slaughtered, and we don't know why."

So Young wrote "Sadie's Song" with Mark Sanders to give Sadie's side of the story -- murder by a lover's hand -- and borrowed a bit of the original song's music. "Sadie's Song" won the prestigious 2003 Merlefest songwriting contest.

Later in the CD comes the stunning anti-Iraq war rocker "Blinded by Stars," which begins with an homage to her Bunker Hill ancestor: "My blood does remember the rhythm of a drum/Beat by a boy soldier whose revolution won."

The chorus:

Blinded by stars, tangled in stripes

This is our flag but this ain't our fight

Dirty with oil, tattered by spite/

This is our flag, but this ain't our fight.

The song was co-written with Nashville songwriter and novelist Alice Randall, an African-American woman who wrote "The Wind Done Gone," a slave's eye view of "Gone With the Wind," a few years ago. Randall also co-wrote the first No. 1 country song penned by a black woman: Trisha Yearwood's "XXX's and OOO's (An American Girl)."

Young began working on "Blinded by Stars," which features electric guitar by Kimbrough, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, for a First Amendment benefit concert at the Bluebird Cafe in Nashville. Originally, it was a comment on American culture.

"I feel like America has a major issue with celebrity obsession," she says. "Just look at the icons little girls have to look up to. This is not where our attention needs to be. So I was thinking about being 'blinded by stars.'

"But it also is about patriotism. I'm proud to be an American, but I'm much more proud to be a human being. Nationalism is a hindrance. We are letting the global community down by thinking about only what's best for America."

Meanwhile, Young and her band are on the road, building an audience as they push to get "Plow" heard on mainstream country radio. And she hopes that more people will "get" bluegrass and traditional acoustic music.

"For me, what bluegrass represents -- besides acoustic music that's difficult to play, and the more you get into it the more you're blown away by it -- for me it's what it symbolizes that touches my heart," she says.

"It is acoustic, so you don't need electricity to play it. The values that are given is what I'm longing for as person, values of what society was like before it got like this."

Then she laughs.

"But for me, being a postmodern young woman, I can't help that I was raised on Madonna. I loved Madonna. And you can't get the pop (music) out of you. Whatever has gone into this mixture, it's in the cookie."