If you’re only going to listen to one bluegrass cover of a Hold Steady song this weekend, make it “Sequestered In Memphis” by Barnstar!
A part-time outfit made up of some of root’s music’s most accomplished sideman, Barnstar! is “bluegrass-style music, with an exclamation point attached to everything,” as founder, bassist, and spiritual leader Zachariah Hickman likes to say.
Or “bluegrass for people who hate bluegrass.”
Hickman—who takes lead vocals on “Sequestered in Memphis”—is best known as the bassist for Josh Ritter’s Royal City Band, as well as musical director for Ray Lamontagne. In Barnstar!, Hickman is joined by singer-songwriter Mark Erelli on guitar, Charlie Rose on banjo, Taylor “Old Train” Armerding on mandolin, and Jake Armerding on fiddle. Collectively, the group boasts virtuosity, sense of humor, showmanship, and nearly a century in professional music, having run the gambit with Jeff Tweedy, Aoife O’Donovan, Northern Lights, Nickle Creek, and Toad the Wet Sprocket, to name a few.
From 2015’s Sit Down! Get Up! Get Out!—a name the band pulled form Rod Stewart’s “Stay With Me,” which also appears on the album—“Sequestered In Memphis” keeps its punk rock aesthetic, even when set against traditional bluegrass instrumentation: Hickman serves as the song’s narrator, who’s been subpoenaed in Texas, and is now sequestered in Memphis, recounting a night that went decidedly awry.
Irreverent, sweaty, and free-wheeling, the Hold Steady tune transfers to the Barnstar! attitude, and as is true for all the band’s covers (they mix originals and covers, with a clear favor for narratives), “Sequestered In Memphis” sounds like it could’ve been, or should’ve been, a bluegrass song all along.
In either version, there’s a treasure trove to sing along to, a laundry list of lines that you won’t find anywhere else, which I’ve listed without context:
We didn’t go back to her place, we went to some place she cat-sits/She said, “I know I look tired, but everything’s fried here in Memphis.”
Now they wanna know exactly which bathroom/“Dude, does it make any difference?”
I think she drove a new mustang, I guess it might be a rental./I remember it had satellite radio.
In the bar light, she looked alright/In the day light, she looked desperate./That’s alright, I was desperate, too.
Subpoenaed in Texas,/Sequestered in Memphis,/I went there on business.
A vignette of a crime that may never be solved, there’s ambiguity, authorities, intrigue, and group singing—making “Sequestered In Memphis” is mandatory weekend listening, in all forms.
LISTEN: BARNSTAR!, “SEQUESTERED IN MEMPHIS”
AND THE HOLD STEADY’S ORIGINAL