in performance: leo kottke

Leo Color

leo kottke.

Simply put, there is no m usical presence today as instrumentally virtuosic yet as unassumingly distinctive as Leo Kottke.

Last night at the Clifton Center in Louisville, he placed all manner of wiry m ischief on display through unaccompanied performances on 6 and 12 string acoustic guitars along with a collection of wonderfully askew between-song stories. Of course, that is hardly a revolutionary gam e plan for Kottke. He has designed his solo concerts in pretty m uch the same way for over four decades. But his shows today, and last night’s was no exception, still possess a danger elem ent that make his guitar abilities all the more arresting.

As always, Kottke operated without a setlist, but used a well-worn favorite from the early ‘70s, Pamela Brown, as a show opener. The tune possessed a harder, more punctuated sound here than in recent years. In fact, the rumbling introduction on 12 string made you think he was about to soar into another catalog staple, Vaseline Machine Gun (which, ironically, turned up as an encore). Kottke’s conversational baritone singing, which took on a sagely sense of cunning, cooled the guitar fury but not after the tune had taken a whole new stylistic life.

From another stylistic environment altogether cam e a comparatively newer work, 2004’s Gewerbegebiet (“the most beautiful word in the Germ an language”) that unveiled a pastiche of contrasting tempos – a light, spacious intro that melted into a darker, almost percussive midsection before concluding with a ballet of vibrant instrumental harm onies.

For sheer melodic beauty, though, nothing beat the blues nugget Corrina, Corrina, which Kottke long ago made his own through an almost-pop inspired arrangement that sounded like it could have easily skipped off into the instrumental classic Sleepwalk had the guitarist been so inclined.

As always, Kottke’s askew storytelling was as original as his playing. During the course of the 90 minute show, the guitarist discussed two major regrets from his days in the Navy (not being able to tolerate torpedo fuel as a beverage and not mastering the art of shooting light bulbs tossed from submarines with a machine gun), his opinion of the Clifton Center’s lighting (“Can we get it any darker in here? I can see m ore than I really want to”) and the apparent widespread reluctance, especially from orchestras, to embrace major third intervals (“My m ission in life is to drill the m ajor third into your head and out of mine”).

Such were the rum inations of the modern day guitar virtuoso, still as wonderfully restless with as life as he is with m usic.

(Note: Kottke’s Clifton Center perform ance was reviewed in lieu of his Tuesday concert here at the Lyric Theatre so The Musical Box could report back on Paul McCartney’s show the same night at Louisville’s KFC Yum ! Center.)

in performance: paul mccartney

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paul mccartey performing last night at the kfc yum! center in louisville. photo by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.

“We’ve been waiting for you, Paul,” shouted an eager fan to Paul McCartney early into his marathon concert last night at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville.

“Hey, I’ve been waiting for you, pal,” replied the one time Beatle and lasting pop icon. In a way, McCartney wasn’t kidding. This was his first show ever in Louisville and only his second in Kentucky (the first being a February 1990 stop at Rupp Arena). Given he has been playing shows on North American soil for over a half century, it was perhaps understandable that expectations for artist and audience alike were high. But McCartney offered quite the icebreaker for bringing both parties together. He served up a tireless three hour, 39 song performance that began with the Beatles classic Eight Days a Week and ended just after 11:30 with the Golden Slumbers medley from Abbey Road. In between there were hits and album tracks from his ‘70s recordings with Wings and a generous sampling of solo material, which together encompassed some 43 years worth of recordings outside of the Beatles.

The big joy of it all was that McCartney, an elder pop statesman at age 72, made it all look remarkably easy. A lot of that had to do with the fact he appeared vocally and physically fit. Sure, there were a few cracks and blemishes in his singing to remind you he is not the 20-something Beatle of yore. But there were far more instances – the Band on the Run rocker Let Me Roll It, a joyous and semi-acoustic We Can Work It Out and the 2013 tune Queenie Eye (one of four songs pulled from the album New, which, ironically, is now a year old) – that were rich with vocal stamina and intent.

But show’s other primary attribute was its design. For the last 12 years, McCartney has worked with the same four member band (which has now lasted longer than The Beatles and Wings) with concert programs rooted in simplicity. Yes, he still rolls out the pyrotechnics for Live and Let Die and afterwards feigns deafness from the commotion they cause. But the majority of the program wasn’t fussy or excessive at all. In fact, some of its most fascinating moments were also its quietest, from a lovely and faithful reading of And I Love Her, complete with woodblocks and hand percussion, and a solo version of Blackbird that was full of stark grace.

How much nostalgia played into one’s appreciation of the concert probably depended on their age. The 2012 song My Valentine was presented along a split screen video of Natalie Portman and Johnny Deep interpreting the lyrics in sign language. That was about as concessionary to modern times as the show got. The rest of the program used the Beatles’ still-brilliant catalog as its backbone. When those songs commenced, it was pretty much impossible to not go reeling through the years, whether it was with the backdrop of clips from A Hard Day’s Night that were shown as the band played All My Loving early into the performance or the especially moving montage of George Harrison photos shown when McCartney covered one of his late bandmate’s most popular songs (Something) on one of his favored instruments (ukulele).

You could go on about the rarities (the Sgt. Pepper gem Lovely Rita), the total surprises (Pepper’s Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite, which was originally sung by John Lennon) and all the expected classics that you hoped would still pack an emotive punch and did (Hey Jude, Back in the U.S.S.R. and the always devastating Eleanor Rigby).

All in all, it was an exhilarating, exhaustive pop joyride, not to mention a grand effort by one of rock music’s most endearing and defining artists in getting back to the Kentucky roots he probably never knew he had.

Take a look at Mark Cornelison’s photo gallery from last night’s concert here.

in performance: ian mclagan/janiva magness

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ian mclagan.

Ian McLagan has always been a crafty devil. As far back as his early ‘70s albums with The Faces, the pianist was dishing out the bawdiest of boogie woogie breaks one minute and constructing a serene pop melody line the next.

The repertoire McLagan favored for last night’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Lyric Theatre was vastly lighter and considerably more reflective. Still, that same mix of fire and beauty was present. The humble pop meditation Shalalala, one of three tunes performed from his recent United States album, was a wonderful case in point. The song was a stately affirmation aided by bassist Jon Notarthomas. Then as the music modestly drew to a close, the left hand rumbles started and a hint of barrelhouse mischief revealed itself before subsiding without overstaying its welcome.

At 69, what McLagan may have lost in terms of recklessness he has gained in pure performance taste. Enforcing that notion was another United States tune, I’m Your Baby Now. McLagan and Notarthomas colored the song with an arrangement that functioned like a pressure cooker in that the groove within the melody line was repeated with a simmering intensity the duo purposely did not allow to boil over.

Curiously, the biggest nostalgia moment came with a 2008 tune called An Innocent Man. But it wasn’t McLagan’s spirited keyboard work that peeled back the years. It was instead a warm, disarming vocal performance that recalled the hapless singing of his late Faces bandmate, Ronnie Lane.

janiva magess

janiva magess.

Detroit blues-soul diva Janiva Magness, a veteran of several previous WoodSongs shows, shared the bill last night with singing that was as commanding and concise as McLagan’s keyboard playing.

Promoting her first album of self-penned songs (hence the title – Original), Magness nicely meshed with the smokey r&b groove of Let Me Breathe, the torchy stride of When You Were My King and the rockish cool that fueled I Need a Man.

Magness clearly possessed the vocal pipes that could have turned any of those tunes into shriekfests. But her phrasing (and, again like McLagan’s playing, taste) never allowed such grandstanding to ignite.

Ian McLagan and Jon Notarthomas perform again on Oct. 28 at Parlay Social 257 W. Short. (8 p.m.; $15, $20). Call (859) 244-1932.

Jack Bruce, 1943-2012

jack bruce 2

Jack Bruce

For a bassist best known for the three tumultuous years he scorched the rock and roll world with Cream, Jack Bruce sure got around.

He played jazz. He played blues. He was a master collaborator and a headstrong bandleader. He was also, if we bought into the hedonistic tales of his 2010 autobiography Composing Himself, a complete maniac prone to a level of self-abuse that should have claimed his life a generation or two ago.

The Scottish born Bruce was a composer, a potent singer and, above all, an absolutely soaring electric bassist. He was, in short, the consummate rock artist at a time in pop history when artistic discovery was everywhere.

He died Saturday at the age of 71 and left a library of music so stylistically far reaching that whittling it down to even a few highlights is impossible. But let’s try anyway.

From the Cream days, I’ll take 1968’s mighty Wheels of Fire over everything else the band did, even the psychedelic studio masterwork Disraeli Gears. A double album divided evenly between studio and concert recordings, this was the sound of Cream unleashed – a volcanic blues mutation that knew no boundaries.

But there was so much more. Bruce’s first three solo records were all classics. 1969’s Songs for a Tailor showed off his songcraft, 1970’s Things We Like echoed the thunderous jazz extremes Bruce briefly explored in Tony Williams’ Lifetime and 1971’s Harmony Row radically reinvented Cream’s power trio design.

There were scores of other delights, as well, including his recordings with guitarist Robin Trower, the 2012 self-titled album from fusion supergroup Spectrum Road and the fine 2014 solo work Silver Rails.

But the record I reached for last night though was a sleeper, a 1974 solo session called Out of the Storm. It was cut on American shores during the aftermath of the short-lived West, Bruce & Lang trio (which teamed the bassist with two thirds of Mountain). It was a true FM classic, a mix of prog and jazz drenched melodies iced by some of the most otherworldly singing Bruce ever committed to a recording.

I saw Bruce play only once. He played a December 1989 concert at Bogart’s in Cincinnati with Cream drummer Ginger Baker. Unwilling to play anything but old Cream material, Baker sat out the entire first half of the show. But Bruce, who was promoting another underappreciated gem of an album (A Question of Time) carried on with unflinching joy and confidence. In a way, his performance stance approximated that magnificent sound he summoned from the bass. Both were bold, distinct and fearless.

big mac

Ian McLagan by Jim Chapin

ian mclagan. photo by jim chapin.

The name he attaches to an extensive list of rock ‘n’ roll credentials, from founding membership in The Small Faces and The Faces to extensive work with The Rolling Stones to a reputation as one of the most jubilant keyboardists in the business, is Ian McLagan.

But to fans, contemporaries, protégés – everyone, really – he forever goes by a simple, endearing nickname: Mac. That’s the name the native Brit and transplanted Texan has happily answered to in a career that stretches back a half century.

“I’m the luckiest guy I know because I love what I do, and I can still do it,” said McLagan, 69. “People still come out just to hear the music, too. That’s a blessing, you know? What else am I going to do but play the piano and sing?”

McLagan’s performances Monday for the WoodSongs Old-Time Hour and Tuesday at Parlay Social will be his first Lexington performances promoting his own music. He will be accompanied both evenings by bassist Jon Notarthomas, a member of the keyboardist’s long running Bump Band, now based in Austin. But McLagan has played twice at Rupp Arena with two acts that have helped define his career – The Rolling Stones in December 1981 and Rod Stewart in October 1993.

The former performance was particularly telling as it paired McLagan with longtime Stones mentor and pianist Ian Stewart. The two shared similar tastes and inspirations. Stewart was a devotee of roots-driven piano music and boogie woogie. McLagan was fascinated by Muddy Waters blues records that featured pianist Otis Spann.

“Stu was a wonderful man,” McLagan said. “He had no ego at all. He wasn’t a showboater. I learned a lot from Stu just from watching him and listening to him.

“He would say to me sometimes, ‘I don’t understand what you’re doing. Your playing – it’s sounds right, but you do it strange.’ I said it was because I had no training. I had to fumble and figure it out for myself. Some things I do wrong, but I’ve got to get to the notes.”

The Stones figured heavily in McLagan’s performance education, as well – that, along with more informal serenading from within his family.

“It’s funny, my grandmother played the concertina. She was a fantastic player. She wasn’t a professional. She just happened to be brilliant. I think if there is any music to hit me from anywhere, that’s where it came from.

“But when I first started out, you just wanted to be inside of the music you heard. So when I saw the Stones play a little club in the West of London, I thought, ‘Okay, it’s possible.’ That encouraged a lot of young musicians in London to hear the Stones live, because they were a blues cover band back then. We thought, ‘Yeah, we love that music. Why can’t we do that?’”

The Stewart performance came on the heels of the singer’s 1993’s Unplugged… and Seated album. But his connection with McLagan goes back to the boozy rock and soul records the two cut with guitarist Ron Wood, bassist Ronnie Lane and drummer Kenny Jones in the early ‘70s as The Faces (the band began in 1965 as the more pop-directed Small Faces with McLagan, Lane, Jones and soon-to-be Humble Pie chieftain Steve Marriott).

“Rod’s voice was just a delight to play under. But I worked as hard as I ever did with The Faces. My fingers would be battered, my nails would be broken. I would get these big blisters. The music brought a lot out of me. It was pretty physical.

“We’re talking about getting together again next year. Rod is real interested. Ronnie (Wood), Kenney and I are interested. It’s looking real positive (Ronnie Lane died from multiple sclerosis in 1997).”

“It’s ridiculous to think that 50-some years on I’m still doing this. I mean, I’ve never had a job. I’ve never had to go to work. I always had to go to fun.”

Ian McLagan and Jon Notarthomas perform Oct. 27 at the Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour with Janiva Magness (6:45 p.m., $20) and 8 p.m. Oct. 28 at Parlay Social, 249 W. Short with Willie Eames (8 p.m.; $15, $20). Call (859) 252-8888 for the WoodSongs taping and (859) 244-1932 for the Parlay Social performance.

empty head space

Leo Color 2

the man behind the guitar: leo kottke.

The voice on the telephone belongs unmistakably to Leo Kottke. It’s a slow moving baritone that sounds alternately cautious, content and sleepy. None of those, of course, are the case. In conversation, he is open and alert, especially when it comes to explaining the often non-musical practices that have helped make him one of the most celebrated non-classical guitarists of the past 45 years.

But speaking from a hotel room in Cleveland, Kottke is greeting this Friday afternoon with unassuming hesitation.

How are you, Leo?

“Oh,” he offers as a groggy reply, followed by a lengthy pause. “About the same. There are these big power lines leading to some transformer station outside my window. It’s a glorious day.”
Droll? Dismissive? Perhaps. But if you have experienced Kottke in concert, such a remark would be almost expected. Mentored by the great folk-blues guitar stylist John Fahey, Kottke’s extraordinary fingerpicking on 6 and 12 string guitar is equal parts technique (with inspirations of folk, jazz, blues and even a fractured pop melody or two fighting for equal time) and instinct. But his performances have always been peppered with wryly hysterical stories that might seem like concert non sequiturs to some. Kottke admits that while his stories and musicianship are separate skills, both have always fed off each other onstage.

“The talking is independent of the music,” he said. “But without it, I don’t know what to play next. That’s why I open my mouth. I couldn’t look up for three years when I started playing. I used to get halfway through a set and realize that everything I wanted to play I had already played. But if I talked to the crowd, that doesn’t happen. There seems to be some way that talking to them organizes the set for me so that it follows a curve.

“The same thing applies to the guitar itself. Some nights I will have subjects that are familiar to me that will come up. But if I have an empty head, which is the requirement, they take turns, go places and develop in ways I do not expect. The nights that your head just won’t go blank are the nights that are difficult. You can get away with them and even have a good time, but there is a little bit of me that hangs around to drive the bus or something. But what is right is when you’re not there.”

Kottke added that having an “empty head” to trigger musical invention and possibility can never be planned for a performance.

“I suppose if performing sucked, I wouldn’t tell you. But it doesn’t suck. I don’t know why, but there’s more to it the longer you do it. It never, ever gets old.

“Emma Thompson did an interview to promote some movie she was in where she said artists are fundamentally inconsolable. That’s why they keep doing it. I’ve heard jazz guys say they play jazz because they didn’t want to play the same thing every night. Well, I’ve been trying to play the same thing every night for decades but it’s never happened. Every night is unlike every other night. I think that’s one of the reasons you keep going back.”

Helping enforce the notion that his music will never be overcome by sameness are plans for two new recording projects. That should result in the guitarist’s first albums in nearly a decade. The first continues an ongoing collaboration with Phish bassist Mike Gordon (the two have released two previous records), the other will be a trio session with violinist David Balakrishnan and cellist Mark Summer from the Turtle Island Quartet

“It’s always a surprise if somebody calls up and wants to pay you to come and play. But it suits who I have been as far back as my memory will go to be doing this. I can’t imagine anything that would fit better. And I will keep doing it until I can’t.”

Leo Kottke performs at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third. Tickets are $36.50. Call (859) 280-2218.

starship trooper

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mickey thomas.

You would need to be a navigational scholar to successfully chart the various flight patterns Starship has followed through the years. But the real trick comes in understanding how the veteran rock and pop unit known for mid ‘80s hits like We Built This City, Sara and Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now (but with flight logs dating back decades) could have stayed strategically grounded for so long.

Admittedly, the band – still fronted by the towering pop/soul tenor of Mickey Thomas – has never given up touring. But there had been no new Starship recordings for nearly 25 years (since 1989’s Love Among the Cannibals, to be exact) until an album called Loveless Fascination surfaced in late 2013.

“I guess I started to wonder if there would be another Starship album, as well,” explained Thomas. “I started a few projects over the years, but nothing really panned out. I was never totally happy with them. Then the more time went by, the greater the expectation. I thought, ‘How am I ever going to do a Starship album that’s going to live up to what people are expecting?’ But then I just thought, ‘The heck with that.’ I hooked up with my friend Jeff Pilson (an alumnus of Foreigner and Dokken, who wrote eight of Loveless Fascination’s 10 songs) and went in the studio. I really wanted the album to have more of a ‘70s feel to it musically and vibe-wise than, say, an ‘80s or ‘90s feel.”

That meant revisiting Thomas’s very entrance to the band in 1979. At the time, it was known as Jefferson Starship, a ‘70s update of the psychedelic ‘60s troupe Jefferson Airplane that included many of the same members. Thomas, a Georgia native that scored a chart-topping hit Fooled Around and Fell in Love with the Elvin Bishop Group in 1976, was recruited after the departures of principal Jefferson Starship vocalists Grace Slick and Marty Balin. Thomas’ recorded debut with the band was released 35 years ago this fall as Freedom at Point Zero. Its lead single Jane became an immediate hit and established a harder arena rock sound than what was featured on more pop-oriented Jefferson Starship records like Red Octopus, Spitfire and Earth.

“It took me awhile to take the plunge and join Jefferson Starship,” Thomas said. “I had just left Elvin Bishop and was getting ready to pursue a solo career when I got a call from Jefferson Starship. I thought that was kind of odd because my musical background was so different than what my impression of Jefferson Starship music was like. But once I got to meet the guys and hang out, I realized they wanted to reinvent the band with a much harder edge. So we started jamming and I started applying my sort of gospel/R&B vocals on top of the harder rock that the band was all about. Then we came out of the gate with Jane, which set the tone pretty much for the new Jefferson Starship.

“But at the concerts, the fans were still like, ‘Where’s Grace? Where’s Marty? So it took us awhile. Actually, just about the time that I think we were getting people to accepting Jefferson Starship without Grace Slick in it, she came back and rejoined the band.”

Jefferson Airplane/Starship co-founder Paul Kantner left in 1984, taking the rights to the band’s name with him. Hence, the official change to Starship. But another makeover arrived with 1985’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla – namely, a consciously commercial pop sound designed for the times.

“By the time 1985 rolled around, we needed to again reinvent the band,” Thomas said. “We wanted to try a new way of producing and making records with a lot of songs that were really different stylistically. We knew if we achieved what we wanted to achieve, we were going get a lot of backlash because the idea was to have a real strong radio presence. Hit singles were what we were purposely trying to create with Knee Deep in the Hoopla. And it worked. But then came the whole thing about selling out and ‘Whatever happened to the idealism of the Jefferson Airplane?’

“Our whole idea was just to take the band in a fresh new direction. We didn’t look at it as selling out or copping out. It was just a fun experience.”

Starship featuring Mickey Thomas performs at 8:30 tonight at the Norton Center for the Arts, Newlin Hall at Centre College, 600 West Walnut in Danville. Tickets are $35, $46. Call (877) 448-7469 or (859) 236-4692 or go to www.nortoncenter.com.

critic’s pick 245: bill frisell, ‘guitar in the space age’

frisell space ageAmong Bill Frisell’s many gifts as a guitarist is the ability to provide a vibrant new voice to the roots music of his youth. In the past, that has largely been defined through jazz standards and Americana classics. Last year’s electro-chamber adventure Big Sur opened the repertoire up to a wider stylistic array of West Coast inspirations. But on the fine new Guitar in the Space Age!, perhaps his most accessible record in 15 years, Frisell expands his source material to include the pop, surf, twang and rock sounds that caught his ear as a teenager.

But anyone thinking Guitar in the Space Age! is some retro-fitting exercise needs to strap in give and this recording a full length test flight. While he doesn’t take the melodic liberties here that he has with some of his Americana explorations (2009’s Disfarmer comes to mind), the guitarist does toy with the temperament, tone and tempo of the music to make the album’s 14 songs sound like a sonic mural that is best enjoyed as a single suite as opposed to a composite of single-tune snapshots.

The warmth and color of Turn! Turn! Turn!, for instance, sounds both familiar and inviting. Fashioned far more after the jangly Rickenbacker 12 string electric colors Roger McGuinn pioneered on The Byrds’ hit 1965 version than the Pete Seeger-penned original, the song’s lyricism is elongated to build suspense for the inevitable groove that carries the tune.

Half the fun, though, is the tune’s placement on Guitar in the Space Age! between the album-opening cover of the surf classic Pipeline (which churns along at a similarly relaxed pace until the hearty beat of bassist Tony Scherr and drummer Kenny Wollesen erupts) and the wah-wah enhanced funk of the Junior Wells-popularized Messin’ With the Kid.

One of Frisell’s most trusted bandmates, pedal steel guitarist Greg Leisz, maintains a consistently complimentary presence throughout the album, from the lazily luscious string harmonies provided on the Beach Boys classic Surfer Girl to the light, chiming interplay that propels The Shortest Day (one of only two Frisell originals on Guitar in the Space Age!). And hearing the two casually cut loose on Merle Travis’ grand Cannonball Rag is big fun.

Pinning down favorites here is mighty tough. On initial listens, the top picks are a tie between a loose, psychedelic take on The Kinks’ Tired of Waiting for You and an anthemic Telstar proudly rooted in groove. Both tunes signal that while Guitar in the Space Age! may work off of melodic designs from Frisell’s past, the very assured instrumental music that results is engineered for the future.

the dobro adventures of rob ickes

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rob ickes.

As one of the most celebrated bluegrass instrumentalists on the planet, Rob Ickes has spent 2014 cultivating three recordings that reflect not only his skills on the wiry, wily resonator guitar known as the dobro but a set of musical environments that define his musical past, present and, in many ways, future.

The first surfaced in January with The Game, the newest album by the progressively minded bluegrass band Blue Highway. Though a native of San Francisco, Ickes hooked up in Nashville with the band 20 years ago. That largely introduced him as a talent that would go on to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Dobro Player of the Year an unprecedented 15 times.

The second, Three Bells, came last month. It is a recorded summit with two dobro pioneers that helped forge a stylistic path for Ickes – former Lexingtonian Jerry Douglas and the late Mike Auldridge. The record boasts no rhythm section or musical accomplices of any kind. It instead has three dobro pals merrily conversing. Auldridge succumbed to prostate cancer a matter of weeks after recording sessions concluded.

The third, which brings Ickes back to Lexington for a return visit to the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour on Monday, has the dobro artist teaming with a young and largely unknown country vocalist and guitarist named Trey Hensley. Their collaboration came about almost by accident, when Hensley was enlisted to help Blue Highway on The Game.

“Trey is a young guy but an old soul,” Ickes said. “You hear that in his voice. There is just something there that sounds really deep to me. He’s soaked up a lot of different influences, but he’s got his own thing going. And he’s one of the best guitar players anywhere. So to me, he’s this surprise that I’ve been excited to share with people. Plus, we have a good time together.”

The duo’s debut album, Before the Sun Goes Down, is due out in January. Its sound is casual and rich with Ickes’ mischievous slide playing and Hensley’s commanding country tenor creating distinctive but homespun harmony. Among the highlights is a roots-country reading of the Stevie Ray Vaughan hit Pride and Joy.

“When Trey plays blues, it’s really authentic sounding to me. It doesn’t sound like a bluegrass guy playing some blues licks. When we do Pride and Joy live with a band, I play lap steel and he plays electric guitar. But on the record, I thought it would be fun just to do an acoustic version and give people a different take on this great song.”

Working with a young artist like Hensley also offers a role reversal from the Three Bells sessions, where Ickes and Douglas were essentially younger protégés of Auldridge.

“The dobro is still kind of an obscure instrument, but Mike gave it this nobility,” Ickes said. “He was a real humble guy but had a pretty big vision for what he wanted to do with the instrument. Mike was all about music his whole life. What a treat to for me to get to record with him and hear our dobros together. But my hat goes off to Jerry for getting the record together because he is such a busy guy. It was just neat that he would make this such a priority because we were in a kind of now-or-never situation.

“Mike knew this was going to be his last session. He told us several times that he was just honored it was going to be with us and that it was going to be a dobro project. He had so much fun on it.”

 Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley perform with Emi Sunshine and Presley Barker perform at 6:45 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Lyric Theatre, 300 East Third, for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Tickets are $20. Call (859) 252-8888

jay flippin, 1946-2014

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jay flippin.

One the many tributes to Jay Flippin that flooded Facebook yesterday as word of his death from liver cancer at age 68 began to spread included a photo of the veteran Morehead pianist, composer, educator and bandleader wearing a tee shirt that bore this simple but remarkably telling credo: “Works well with others.”

Ask anybody who knew him, collaborated with him or simply watched him perform and you understood how those four words seemed to embody a boundless spirit. My recognition of that came through watching him perform, usually in small groups with local jazz pals. He had technical chops and stylistic dexterity like no one’s business. While those traits help explain his recorded legacy and the truckload of awards that went with it, the real spark of watching Flippin in performance was the obvious love he displayed for music and his ability to share that with others.

The smiles that broke out on his face as he played and the jovial camaraderie he showed his bandmates were always dealbreakers. It was simply impossible not to get caught up in the pure cheer of his performance demeanor. While I never got to see him play as a church organist or sit in as he instructed his students, I can only imagine the senses of joy, eagerness and invitation abounded there as well.

I met Flippin just once. Curiously, it wasn’t at a performance, but purely by chance following a medical procedure for his cancer treatment. We recognized one another at once and shared a laugh about such social coincidence.

That was perhaps Flippin’s greatest gift. In performance, he could swing and orchestrate like the master he was. But face to face, he was an instant friend whose love of music was exceeded only by his love of life.

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