Lunsford is cited by Bob Dylan and Robert Plant, among others, as an important personal influence, and he and the song “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground,” are featured in Greil Marcus’s recently released book Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations on Harvard University Press.
Her father, Jim, was a well-recognized songwriter and fiddle player who played and recorded with Roy Acuff, Reno & Smiley, Jim & Jesse, Marty Robbins, Don Gibson and many others. His songs have been recorded by Charlie Pride, Ronnie Milsap, The Cox Family, and The Lunsfords, themselves — the near-mythical family group comprised of Jim, Tomi, and two sisters, Nancy and Teresa. The Lunsfords, lauded for their devastating harmonies and direct, personal songs, created a brief national buzz, but Jim’s untimely death in 1978 led to their disbandment.
HERE AND NOW
This is where Lunsford comes from. She has performed with, and fronted, several Nashville bands over the years, and has performed and recorded with the likes of Porter Wagoner, David Olney, Mac Gayden, Tom House, Amelia White, Steve Runkle, David Ball, Delbert McClinton, Jon Langford, Champ Hood, Tommy Goldsmith, Paul Burch, and many others.
Today, she continues to write, record and perform, in addition to her occasional session work. She is a co-founder of The Cumberland Workshop collective, a nonprofit group devoted to the kinship of songwriting, fiction and poetry.
"I'm a lucky person,” Lunsford says. “Growing up, I was always surrounded by music and art and love and chaos! Being part of such a large family makes life very fluid with lots of action. It also gives my life a secure and supportive constant.”
acoustic guitar, along with legendary guitarist Mac Gayden, and Pete Finney on pedal steel guitar. Brad Jones engineered the project and contributed on bass, keys, and vibes.
Songs like “Battlefront,” “Drowning Man,” “How You Gonna Make It Love,” “Jumpin’ Blues,” and “Jesus Was A Union Man,” reflect an eclectic musical range within the record. The lilting “Come On Baby” was co-written with the late, great Shel Silverstein.
Come On Blue represents a musical evolution, though kindred in its emotion, from her first record — High Ground, released in 1997 on Munich’s Veracity Records. High Ground received high critical praise in Europe and the U.S., and was selected as one of the top ten records of that year by Berlin TIP Magazine and lauded in Rolling Stone's U.K. edition.
Bill Friskics-Warren declared in No Depression that while High Ground “sometimes recalls the solo albums of Hazel Dickens, it just as often evokes the magnificent jazz and blues-inflected recordings of the early-‘70s Bay Area combo Joy of Cooking.” He also stated in the Nashville Scene that Lunsford “uses her liquid soprano to convey meanings beyond the ones contained in her lyrics.”
Born in Asheville, North Carolina, one of thirteen children, she comes by it all naturally. Bascom Lunsford is the legendary and influential musician, songcatcher, lawyer and archivist who collected hundreds of folk songs, many recordings of which reside in the Smithsonian, and who started the Mountain Dance & Folk festival in 1928 in Asheville — the longest running folk festival in the Southeast. He also penned the world-famous “Old Mountain Dew."
Tomi Lunsford is a transcendent singer, and songwriter, informed by deep family musical roots. She has long been recognized as one of Nashville’s most versatile performers, thriving outside the realm of the expected.
Music writer and popular culture critic Greil Marcus has referred to her voice as “stunning” in Esquire; Robert K. Oermann in the Tennessean has written that “Lunsford’s offbeat style is evident in just one listen. Imagine a bluegrass/ mountain soprano who slides in and out of notes like jazz divas Billie Holiday and Carmen McRae and somehow slips into the blues phrasing of Alberta Hunter or Memphis Minnie … At one moment you’d call it folk, at another it’s jazz, and around another corner it’s country.”
Her foundation includes growing up in a large, artistic, and musical family.
“I knew early on that I was a singer and was encouraged by my father, Jim, who was a great musician,” she says. “And good musicians seemed to find him. I loved being around during his jam sessions or band rehearsals growing up. This all made a big impression on me and was a big influence in my life.”
COME ON BLUE
Lunsford has recently completed her second album, Come On Blue, recorded in Nashville and produced by Robin Eaton. The record features songs that range from her own unique take on the classic “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground” — a song collected and performed notably by her great uncle Bascom Lamar Lunsford — to roots-inflected originals “Taking Care of Dreamers,” “You Can Leave Me Now,” the bluesy “Go To People,” and haunting laments “Killing Floor” and “Rain.” There is an edge to the record, too, as Lunsford leans against guitarist Dan Cohen, drummer Jerry Roe, James Haggerty on bass, Eaton on
Artwork by James C. Lunsford
Copyright 2013. Tomi Lunsford. All rights reserved.