pat dinizio, 1955-2017

Pat DiNizio.

The Smithereens always relished being a band of splendid essentials, embracing a love of pop songcraft while remaining very much a rock unit.

That’s why their best known songs – “House We Used to Live In,” “A Girl Like You” and the signature hit “Behind the Wall of Sleep” – were built around that most pivotal of rock ‘n’ roll components, the mighty guitar hook. From there, the band drew upon pop blueprints from the 1960s (the Beatles, the Byrds and the Kinks were the most detectable influences) but there was also a mildly dark cast, a studied distance, within the singing of frontman Pat DiNizio. It was as though he was the stern but very loving guardian of a pop tradition encompassing styles and sounds that would bounce about in Smithereens songs.

You could spot one of their tunes in a heartbeat by the hooks, by the vocal solemnity and by the tight-as-a-drum rhythmic drive.

The Smithereens never claimed to be the most innovative band to hit the stage. The guys stuck to basics and knew the structure of an elemental pop-informed rock ‘n’ roll tune inside and out. They could also deliver the goods earnestly, without frills, in performance. The band’s cover of the 1966 Outsiders hit “Time Won’t Let Me” was always a favorite. It revealed everything that made their original compositions so much fun: great hooks, great melodic structure and an unwavering rock ‘n’ roll spirit.

The news arrived this morning that DiNizio had died at age 62. With many focused on results of the highly publicized special election for an open Senate seat in Alabama, his passing was easy to overlook. But then, so were the Smithereens. For over three decades, they were as unfashionable and they were reliable. Trends came and went, but the Smithereens, resistent to change, proudly rocked on.

“In the old days, when we were lucky enough to become successful, we were living on a bus 300 days a year,” DiNizio told me in an interview prior to the band’s 2014 performance at the Christ the King Oktoberfest. “That lasted for about 10 years. The fact that we survived that and everyone is still alive and everyone is still friends says a lot. But we come from a certain dedication, a certain set of ideals, a certain aesthetic, if you will. There is a spirit of brotherhood here that says we’re all on the same page.”

in performance: kneebody

Kneebody. From left: Ben Wendel, Nate Wood, Adam Benjamin, Kaveh Rastegar and Shane Endsley.

Did anyone purchase candy for the show?”

That was the query of bass guitarist Kaveh Rastegar late into an engaging, inventive and refreshingly unassuming performance by Kneebody last night at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center. No one raised their hands, but the crowd brought something far more complimentary to the 90 minute concert – a host of appreciative ears for this modern thinking jazz troupe from Los Angeles.

Though terms like “prog” and “fusion” have regularly been affixed to Kneebody’s music since the band formed in 2001, what the quintet displayed last night came across as more of a cross-generational jazz summit.

In the front line of tenor saxophonist Ben Wendel and trumpeter Shane Endsley, the band had a strong traditional base. Both teamed for a host of appealing, jointly designed melodies, be they through the riffs that triggered “Profar” or the way the two bounced crisp lyrical phrases off each other during the intro to an encore version of “Nerd Mountain.”

In drummer Nate Wood, Kneebody had a potent core source for most of the material to work from, whether it was the rhythmic chatter scattered throughout “Carry On” or the crisp, rocking groove to “Uprising.” And in keyboardist Adam Benjamin, the band had the engineer of a vintage fusion sound rooted in leads and colors produced from a well worn Rhodes piano. But with a variety of accompanying pedals and effects, Benjamin also supplied the Morse code-like opening to “Unforeseen Influences” as well as the more ambient cosmos that served as a backdrop for Endsley’s playing during “Carry On.”

That left Rastegar, who was the efficiency expert of the band, to supply a foundation for all kinds of orchestrations – especially the solemn but soulful groove that anchored “Mikie Lee” and a subsequent bass solo that, with the help of a modest percussive drive supplied by Wood, emphasized groove over flash.

In short, this third performance in the inaugural Origins Jazz Series (and its first presentation of a national touring act) showcased an ensemble sound that followed the layered arrangements of Kneebody’s recent “Anti-Hero” album but with a density that was considerably more organic in design and execution.

Who needs candy when you have those kinds of treats working for you?

in performance: janet jackson

Janet Jackson. Photo by YuTsai.

Janet Jackson got down to business the instant the lights went down last night for her first Rupp Arena concert in over 16 years.

First up was a newsreel-style montage of images underscoring a world riddled by racism, violence and environmental strife. Then a screen lifted just enough for the singer, decked out in layers of matronly black, a cane and a steely glare that was projected large enough for all of the 4,000 patrons gathered at Rupp to see. Such a stance made Jackson seem less like a pop star and more like a headmistress. Similarly, the lesson she imparted was “The Knowledge,” one of the many socially charged meditations from her 1989 album “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation 1814.”

“Get the point?” she asked the crowd. “Good. Let’s dance.”

That little interlude was from “Rhythm Nation,” too, as did the following “State of the World,” which gave her current 56 city North American tour, of which Jackson is two weeks away from completing, its name. But by this point, the social vibe had already morphed into the first of four distinct sections that made up the concert – specifically, an intensely physical groove party that covered most of Jackson’s initial hits from her 1986 breakthrough album “Control.” The singer didn’t shy away from the physicality the segment demanded, either. At 51, Jackson moved, danced and strutted with the tireless vigor of an artist half her age.

The second segment calmed things somewhat and presented Jackson sitting alone onstage to sing more pop-inflected works from the early 1990s, including “Where Are You Now” and “The Body That Loves You.” The dance team that initially helped her set the show in motion eventually returned, but the mood and rhythm was purposely less frantic. In fact, one of the program’s most arresting moments came when Jackson and her dancers sat on the lip of a stage platform for the 1997 tune “Together Again,” displaying a cordial, communal atmosphere that was refreshingly casual.

The mood turned rockish for the third segment as guitar squalls eventually led to a brief cameo by the singer’s late brother Michael Jackson by way of the 1995 video for “Scream.” But the groove quickly reassembled for sister Jackson to close out the set with the still-affirmative title song to “Rhythm Nation.”

The fourth segment was the encore section that allowed the singer to loosen up long enough to introduce her band and dance squad before zeroing in on the more modernistic groove of “Dammn Baby,” the evening’s most commanding entry from her newest album, 2015’s “Unbreakable.”

What worked through all this was Jackson’s still beaming performance profile. She remained a compelling presence onstage through all the various emotive stages that made up the concert. She proved a formidable dance chieftain and social commentator but also a sisterly companion for her onstage entourage during the show’s lighter moments.

What didn’t work was the singing. Whether it was the program’s often fearsome ensemble sound, its reliance on groove over lyrical play or simply the delicate nature of Jackson’s voice, it was tough to make out much of anything that came out of her mouth. Given the show’s reliance on near constant movement, it was almost as this was an accepted loss from the onset.

Also, it was a little disappointing to hear so many of Jackson’s vintage hits sliced into truncated versions and shoehorned into medleys. Granted, she has 30-plus years of material to fit into a program, and, yes, we’re all still part of the Rhythm Nation. But maybe chilling just a little to let at least a few of these still vital songs to play out a bit more would better service everyone – artist and audience alike.

in performance: trans-siberian orchestra

the trans-siberian orchestra performing last night at rupp arena.

Spending an evening with the Trans-Siberian Orchestra is akin, in many respects, to over indulging at the dinner table at holiday time. Everything is inviting and offered in abundance, so you readily accept. But the food never stops coming, so those partaking do so far past the saturation point. The result: a feeling that surpasses mere satisfaction and soars straight into gluttony.

Transfer that kind of feast into a concert presentation and you had the makeup of what TSO offered last night for its annual seasonal performance visit to Rupp Arena. With about 9,800 dinner guests in attendance, the ensemble poured it on thick, both visually – via an onslaught of lasers, pyrotechnics and screen projections – and sentimentally, where original compositions by the late Paul O’Neill came sugar-coated in pathos and individual performances were bolstered by a litany of rock star postures.

Overblown? That doesn’t begin to describe it. Like past Rupp outings, this TSO show was spectacle for spectacle’s sake – a presentation that tied an anchor as well as a bow around conventional holiday cheer and tossed the whole gaudy package overboard.

Before going any further, it should be noted that the audience ate it all up – the Spinal Tap-like excess, the Kiss-like flamboyance, the WWE-level of sheer physical stamina. And why shouldn’t they? In terms of technical design and execution, the show was a marvel. Few were the moments when stage platforms didn’t bob up and down or shift with the aid of remarkably clear screen projections that shifted the look of the set from a movie theatre to a cathedral to a winter snowscape in mere seconds. Similarly, the lighting design, from dancing lasers to showers of computerized effects, was beyond dazzling. The production was even climate controlled, with huge rows of flames shooting from the stage one minute and dancing suds of makeshift snow falling over the arena audience the next. In short, this was a production and-a-half, even by TSO’s theatrically intensive standards.

But at the same time, there was hardly an instance – especially, in the first half of the 2 ½ hour program, which was built around a stage recreation of the band’s 1999 television film “The Ghosts of Christmas Eve” – that wasn’t choreographed to the point of claustrophobia or delivered with an excess that made even its sweeter emotions – like the ones summoned during the Pachelbel-inspired “Christmas Canon Rock” – seem coerced.

Curiously, the most human element of “Ghosts” was reflected in segments shown of the original film that featured the late Ossie Davis. The 18 year old clips didn’t allow Davis to utter a word, yet they reflected a subtle warmth and grace the rest of the program bulldozed over.

The concert’s second half was looser, owing less to the production piece structure of “Ghosts” and more to TSO’s non-holiday material. But by the time the show hit a seemingly inevitable “Carmina Burana,” the bombast was back to stay.

Again, the quibbles here are largely with the overall framework of TSO’s productions and their unrelenting pageantry as opposed to the performers and performances igniting them. And, again, the audiences fully appreciated the feast being served, even if it seemed less like a holiday gathering and more like an alien invasion.

in performance: kamasi washington

kamasi washington.

“Diversity is something to be celebrated.”

That was the message of Kamasi Washington, one of the most celebrated young jazzmen of his generation, as his time-tripping performance last night at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati headed for home. To bolster his words, the tenor saxophonist and an industrious seven member band that included his father, launched into “Truth,” a 15 minute treatise that combined the themes of five different tunes from his recent “Harmony of Difference” EP into a spacious, organic soul-jazz proclamation.

Washington has been a cultish sensation since the spring of 2015 when two key recordings established his distinction as a jazz artist while simultaneously redefining what that title even meant. His saxophone work on Kendrick Lamar’s “To Pimp a Butterfly” gave him almost immediate credibility among the pop and hip hop mainstream when the record was released that March. But it was Washington’s own “The Epic” – a sprawling three hour, three disc manifesto of bop, funk, soul and spiritually inclined pop issued two months later – that made jazz critics take notice.

Undeniably jazz in design and execution, “The Epic” avoided many of the music’s trademarks. There was swing, to be sure, but much of the music operated with a more rock and soul sense of groove, all of which played out during the Cincinnati performance. Thematically, “Leroy and Lanisha,” was introduced as a Peanuts-inspired piece that re-imagined the iconic comic strip being set in Washington’s California hometown of Inglewood. But with father Rickey Washington guesting on soprano sax and longtime trombonist Ryan Porter aiding in the orchestration of the band’s front line, the groove was largely left to keyboardist Brandon Coleman to percolate through clavinet-style riffs that, once locked in, sounded less like jazz-funk and more like 1980-era Talking Heads – a neat trick, since Washington’s group did not include a guitarist.

What has likely made Washington such a critical favorite over the past two years (the New York Times in 2016 dubbed him “the most talked-about jazz musician since Wynton Marsalis arrived on the New York scene three decades ago”) hasn’t been so much an allegiance to jazz tradition but a willingness to expand on its lyrical, rhythmic and even spiritual possibilities.

The Cincinnati performance emphasized all of that, but in a very old school way. It possessed the feel of urban-inspired jazz from the early 1970’s by touching on very modest electric embellishments (mostly though the Rhodes-style keyboard colors supplied by Coleman) and reserved vocal embellishments (supplied by a choir on “The Epic” and “Harmony of Difference” but by the singular voice of Patrice Quinn onstage). What resulted recalled the music Blue Note Records issued around 1971, when its preference turned away from the bop of a previous generation to R&B-enhanced pre-fusion music. Think Bobby Hutcherson crossed with Sun Ra, but with saxophone leading the way and get a sense of where Washington is coming from.

The Cincinnati show was also remarkable for its ensemble feel. Washington may have been the leader, but solos were often catered more to a group-devised groove as opposed to any individual grandstanding.

That was especially evident during “Humility” (which, along with “Truth,” came from “Harmony of Difference”). Here, father-and-son Washington along with Porter, summoned a joyously fierce brass charge that played neatly off of a driving piano lead from Coleman that possessed the percussive boldness of early ‘70s era McCoy Tyner. As a result, funk and soul were de-emphasized in favor of driving swing.

While Washington’s embrace of diversity was underscored through the performance’s stylistically broad jazz scope, it was placed on full thematic display in the show-closing “The Rhythm Changes.” As sung by Quinn, the lyrics served as internal and social affirmations, even though the last word went to Washington with a tenor sax solo that bounced about with boppish freshness and unassuming, cordial accessibility.

Kamasi Washington performs in the region again at 8 p.m. Dec. 10 at Headliners Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Rd. in Louisville. Tickets: $32-$95. Call 502-584-8088 or go to headlinerslouisville.com/event/kamasi-washington.

in performance: henry butler

Henry Butler. Photo by David Richmond.

At several points during his scholarly soulful solo performance last night at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville, Henry Butler discussed his driving and prospective piloting prowess with the audience. At one point, he even suggested he might someday move to Kentucky to start a taxi service for inebriated revelers. His reasoning? That drunk customers would neither know nor care he was blind.

Such self-effacing remarks were part of the demeanor for this veteran New Orleans pianist and song stylist, but they were also a collective reflection of something more demonstrative – that the blindness Butler has dealt with since infancy has in no way hindered a performance career that has stretched on for nearly a half century or a level of musicianship that still sounded exact and playful during this 75 minute concert.

Butler’s repertoire through the decades has been far reaching, but the bulk of this performance stayed close to home with roughly half of the program focused on works from, or inspired by, three of his famed New Orleans piano brethren – James Booker, Professor Longhair and Allen Toussaint.

From Booker, he developed a left hand stride that syncopated “Les Près Des James” (a Butler penned tribute to Booker) and “Booker Time” with an effervescence that could viewed as a precursor to piano boogie woogie. From one time mentor Longhair, he offered a wild exercise in rhythm within “Tipitina” that employed deceptively nonsense lyrics (“Tipitina, oola malla walla dalla”) to enforce the tune’s immensely animated feel. “If you’re looking for meaning in these lyrics,” Butler said, “chill out.” Finally, from the mighty Toussaint, Booker exacted songcraft in the form of the pop/blues staple “Working in a Coal Mine.”

But there were also moments when Butler, and the striking profile he cast as his long spidery fingers hit the keys, let the music open enough to stroll away from Crescent City. That’s what happened in the show-opening original “Samba C,” which sounded like Chick Corea had his sense of jazz glee been rooted in the South. You also heard it as staples like “In My Solitude” and “Rock Island Line” took sudden dashes in and around their familiar melodies.

The most telling summation of all these traits, however, coalesced in an encore cover of the 1973 Billy Preston hit “Will it Go ‘Round in Circles.” It began as a slow, mournful and wholly unrecognizable blues with Butler’s usually buoyant singing held to a mere whisper. Then the music stopped, shifted gears and re-emerged as the party piece Preston always envisioned it as, but with a proud New Orleans accent Butler can proudly claim as his own.

Such a mash-up exemplified the studious but mischievous adventures that result when Butler takes the wheel.

in performance: st. paul and the broken bones

 

Paul Janeway leads the soul music charge of St. Paul and the Broken Bones last night at the Opera House. Herald-Leader staff photo by Rich Copley.

As last night’s pop-soul parade by St. Paul and the Broken Bones headed for home at the Opera House, singer and frontman Paul Janeway discovered one of the more novel ways to exit and then re-enter the stage. In the midst of the anthemic “Broken Bones and Pocket Change,” the singer, having jettisoned his gold-and-glitter shoes, hit the stage floor and crawled under the drum riser. After a few neatly dispensed verses sung, in effect, in absentia, Janeway rolled back into view, wrapping himself in a stage mat along the way. And there you had one of the more curious concert snapshots in recent memory – an artist belting out a tune with sturdy high tenor detail but looking like he had been swallowed by a roll of carpet.

Admittedly, that was perhaps the most extreme moment in a 100 minute performance that marked the return of the celebrated Alabama band that played some of its first road gigs in Lexington at the old Willie’s Locally Known on North Broadway. But Janeway was an altogether different singer in this return visit, the first of a two night engagement at the Opera House (tonight’s second show is sold out). Gone were the throatier, raspier tones that surfaced when he would exert his voice. On display instead was a richer, cleaner and far more expressive set of pipes that Janeway immediately put to use on the show-opening “Crumbling Light Posts, Pt. 1,” an ambient, but gospel-hued meditation where his vocals rose from a confident high tenor to a very Prince-ly falsetto.

While Janeway and company revisited a few choice favorites from their 2014 debut album “Half the City” (including a buoyant “Grass is Greener,” which emphasized the extent to which the Alabama-bred Broken Bones’ ensemble sound is stylistically rooted in Memphis soul), the performance gave heavy preference to the 2016 sophomore record “Sea of Noise,” a denser, darker work from which the band played 11 compositions.

Among the highlights were the cool, big beat crooner “Brain Matter” (which, oddly enough, used an abridged cover of Radiohead’s “The National Anthem” as an intro), the organically funkified “Flow with It (You Got Me Feeling Like)” and the sunnier “Tears in the Diamond.” The latter showcased the most detectable current inspiration in Janeway’s singing, Al Green.

Even with the Broken Bones’ history in Lexington, it is understandable to be wary of an all-white soul band from the South. But Janeway and company were no imitators of an often co-opted musical tradition. The set-closing “Sanctify” and the show-closing encore of “Burning Rome,” both wonderfully paced slow soul pieces, amply borrowed from rockish accents supplied by guitarist Browan Lollar and the vintage R&B orchestration of a three-man horn team.

The results could also be viewed as a vindication of sorts. In a week where Alabama has taken a beating in the headlines for the doings of an altogether different representative, Janeway can be viewed as something of a cultural hero. Come to think of it, he might just be the kind of write-in candidate his home state needs. Everyone says we need new voices in Washington. Well, Alabama, here’s your chance to send one.

in performance: “the gift of a golden voice” – the leonard cohen tribute concert

leonard cohen.

Derek Spencer couldn’t help but comment on the “rowdiness” of the capacity crowd before him at the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd for last night’s Leonard Cohen tribute concert titled “The Gift of a Golden Voice.” The joke, of course, is that the audience had greeted the Beattyville native – and all of the baker’s dozen of acts gathered for the event – with attentive quiet. Cohen’s music demanded nothing less.

A joint endeavor between First Presbyterian Church’s Music for Mission series and the ongoing lineup of Soulful Space concerts presented at Good Shepherd, the program was a rich and stylistically far reaching overview of the songs and poetry of the Canadian songsmith who died a year ago this week.

Is a church – any church – a proper setting for Cohen’s songs? Judging at least by the music chosen for this program, one would have to answer in the affirmative. Some of his works chosen were overtly religious, like the title tune to his final album, “You Want it Darker” – a requiem of sorts performed with meditative unrest by Doc Feldman, but countered by stunning high end harmonies of Hebrew verse (and a chorus translated from Hebrew) by Art Shechet. Others, like “The Land of Plenty,” also from “You Want It Darker” and performed with stately assurance by Marilyn Robie and the chamber-folk flavored ensemble Nevi’im, cast religious imagery in less obtainable and more topically sobering terms (“For the millions in a prison that wealth has set apart, for the Christ who has not risen from the caverns of the heart”).

Mostly, though, “The Gift of a Golden Voice” charmed in simpler ways – namely, in how the program showcased how wildly adaptable Cohen music can be. Last night there was a chilled, solo electric version of the classic “Suzanne” from Colin Fleming, a striking “Amen” from Four Leonards (and a Fifth) that grew from Cowboy Junkies-like cool to a roaring blues manifesto and a very intriguing take on “Anthem” by JoAnna James that unlocked the deceptively hushed tone of her singing with a playful string arrangement that eventually relaxed so one of Cohen’s most radiant lyrics could be placed front and center (“There is a crack in everything – that’s how the light get in”).

The only times the program was thrown off balance was when an artist devised an arrangement or delivery that placed their voice above Cohen’s. The Paper Moon Jazz Trio conjured a lively sense of blues based swing that, while technically impressive, proved an ill fit for the uneasy grace inherent to  “Bird on a Wire.” But on “Everybody Knows,” the group’s sense of sleek sass floated along quite naturally with the song’s whimsical doomsday vision (“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded, everybody rolls with their fingers crossed; everybody knows the war is over, everybody knows the good guys lost”).

The evening concluded with a collaborative version of “Hallelujah” – a proclamation not just of faith, but of humanity and lost souls. Hearing the audience sing the tune’s single word title chorus in such a serene setting was undeniably moving. There must have been a crack somewhere in the Good Shepherd walls as the song played out because an ample supply of light found it way in from the cold November night.

in performance: brockowitz (zach brock and phil markowitz)

Phil Markowitz.

Sometimes a title says it all. In the midst of an absorbing duo concert with Lexington-born, New York-based violinist Zach Brock, pianist Phil Markowitz introduced a piece as a kind of “wacky scherzo.” True to form, the tune’s devilish timing fueled music that grew out of playful instrumental dialogues and brief melodic outbursts (usually by Markowitz) before traveling down the harmonic equivalent of a dark alley.

The tune’s title? “Schizo Scherzo.”

Zach Brock.

Truth to tell, the tune’s mischievous spirit dominated the entire 90 minute concert last night at the University of Kentucky’s John Jacobs Niles Gallery and Center for American Music. Over the course of 10 pieces, Brock and Markowitz, who tour under the joint moniker of Brockowitz, engaged in musical conversations that purposely ran off course. The Markowitz original “Ethers,” for instance, may have had been introduced by a light, sly piano solo from its composer, but the work’s overall modernist design often tensed and relaxed with frequent conversational turns by both players. The intriguing thing was, though, that their exchanges weren’t always reactionary. Brock’s entrance on the tune was quiet yet disarming, but in no time, lyrical phrases were just as apt to be met with a hint of dissonance as they were a harmonic phrase that was more expected or complimentary.

Throughout the program, tempos, temperaments and sometimes the very tones of both instruments shifted without provocation. Then again, there were times Brock and Markowitz embraced tradition. The set began and ended with the Duke Ellington standards “Come Sunday” and “In a Sentimental Mood” that respectfully addressed their mutually gorgeous melody lines while deviating into numerous sideroads of blues joy.

Perhaps the most revealing work of the night was Brock’s treatment of “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair.” It wasn’t because the tune has been commonly associated with John Jacob Niles, who the venue at hand was named for (a coincidence, according to the violinist). Instead, the arrangement underscored the varied temperament of the concert with runs that were alternately atmospheric and sunny that consistently illuminated the tune’s rustic folk heritage. It was living proof, that when it came to determining the mixtures of moods distinguishing these two remarkable players, one man’s soulful was another man’s schizo.

in performance: justin moore/dylan scott/ashley mcbryde

Justin Moore onstage last night at Rupp Arena. Herald-Leader staff photos by Rich Copley.

The chink in country music’s seemingly indestructible armor was exposed last night at Rupp Arena. Traditionally, a can’t miss hit when it comes to packing in huge crowds, the genre revealed perhaps its only commercial weakness in a triple bill performance headlined by Justin Moore – the fact it was booked on a weeknight. The result was a turnout estimated at barely 3,000. That’s proverbial chicken feed compared to what touring country shows usually rake in locally.

It was also a shame. Moore, one of the few young traditionalists on the arena circuit, turned in a refreshingly direct performance that was no-frills in all ways except for the Pink Floyd-ian lighting effects. His unassuming vocals proved flexible enough to fuel the electric drive of “Backwoods” before later easing into the very natural honky charm of “Kinda Don’t Care” (the title tune to Moore’s most recent album). Even when his program veered into modernistic fare – “Somebody Else Will,” for instance – Moore looked and sounded remarkably at ease.

At the risk of seeming jingoistic, part of Moore’s resourcefulness came from his band, which was bolstered by a pair of home state natives – lead guitarist Roger Coleman (of Pike County) and keyboardist Kory Caudill (of Prestonsburg). Props to Moore for showcasing both in a playful instrumental skirmish that capped off “Kinda Don’t Care.”

Dylan Scott.

Dylan Scott preceded Moore with a comparatively standardized set assisted by a somewhat unusual backing band design – a power trio limited to just guitar, bass and drums.

The Georgia-born singer’s material didn’t score bonus points for originality, from the set-opening “My Town” (not the Montgomery Gentry hit) to the closing “My Girl” (not the Temptations classic). Most of the fare was pop to an almost 1980s-ish degree, which Scott injected with considerable physicality, efficient though hardly remarkable vocals, and a torrent of between-song banter that touched upon what we must assume to be subjects indicative of modern country-pop – specifically, WalMart and Eminem.

Ashley McBride.

Frankly, the most engaging surprise of the evening was show-opener Ashley McBryde, whose thematically far-reaching six-song set examined small town life with weathered picture post card imagery (“Little Dive Bar in Dahlonega”) that sometimes morphed into unapologetically dark portraits (as in “Leroy,” which outlined the kind of country cooking that comes not from a kitchen stove, but a meth lab).

Admittedly, this bill didn’t possess the kind of marquee power that many past Rupp shows have, which likely added to the sparse turnout. Regardless, it was a revealing glimpse of three very different artists in a genre too often ruled by stylistic sameness.

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