in performance: jason isbell and the 400 unit/william tyler

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit, from left: Jimbo Hart, Derry deBorja, Sadler Vaden, Jason Isbell and Chad Gamble. Photo by Danny Clinch.

There is nothing unusual in a national performer namedropping a regionally friendly reference to gain favor from the audience he happens to be playing to on a given evening. Jason Isbell didn’t really need that kind of ceremony last night at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. The very human narrative of his songs, their broad stylistic appeal and the effortlessly forthright manner in which they were placed on display more than heartened the sold out crowd. But Isbell, an Alabama native now residing in Nashville, still had a neighborly whopper of a yarn to share. While no amount of detail here would do it justice, the story dealt with meeting Kentucky native Wynonna Judd in a state of sobering flamboyance and then recounting the tale to an unsuspecting (and disbelieving) Supercuts barber in Richmond yesterday afternoon.

The saga was a detailed and curious interlude during a performance that roared very efficiently for 1 ¾ hours, from the opening electric rumble of “Go It Alone” to the full tilt encore finale of “Super 8.” The framework was very much rock ‘n’ roll, but with considerable dynamics and dimension, like the Cajun accents that offset the wayward characterizations of “Codeine,” the breezy but bittersweet lyrical momentum of “Alabama Pines” and the comparatively blunt jams that circulated through “Never Gonna Change,” one of three tunes pulled from Isbell’s more reckless days with Drive-By Truckers.

But the sentiments and, quite often, sensibility of Isbell’s tunes – especially recent ones from his “Southwestern” and “Something More Than Free” albums, which accounted for over half of the setlist last night – fell closer to country. Specifically, they hinted not so much at an embrace of rural heritage, but the fear of losing it. You heard it echo within the descending power chords of “Outfit” (another Truckers favorite) and in the more summery makeup of “If It Takes a Lifetime.” “I got too far from my raising,” he sang in the latter amid one of the evening’s gentler country melodies before a more personal sense of salvation took over.

In terms of performance, the entire blend was delivered with considerable clarity. Some vocal passages were blurred, especially at the start and conclusion of the performance. That was a modest annoyance, perhaps, as live rock shows go, but noticeable nonetheless because of the very complete sense of storytelling that runs through Isbell’s songs. But there were also times when you couldn’t help but follow the concert in purely musical terms, as when Isbell’s jolting slide guitar solo ignited “Decoration Day” or a stark acoustic intro set up the hurricane strength intensity of the vocal lead that fortified “Cover Me Up.”

Most telling of all was “Hope the High Road,” a cross between a Jackson Browne confessional and a vintage blast of John Mellencamp-style, Americana imbued rock. The song was one of two preview works off of Isbell’s new “The Nashville Sound” album, due out in June. The joke, of course, was that for all of the program’s inherent country inspiration, what resulted was far too earnest in design and intent to be mistaken for anything that has been spewing out of Nashville of late. Maybe what we heard last night in Richmond was a serious step in redefining that sound. Here’s hoping.

Guitarist William Tyler opened the evening with an inviting 45 minute set of trio-based instrumental music. While a few turns on acoustic guitar (including “Kingdom of Jones”) reflected a sense of Americana primitive that wasn’t far removed from the playing of such folk journeymen as John Fahey, a selection of electric compositions emphasized rhythm in arpeggio-like phrasings that bordered on minimalism. Then again, the set closing “The Great Unwind” began with Celtic-flavored solemnity before warping against a slight-of-hand groove that was more in line with the music of modernists like Bill Frisell. It nicely completed an intriguing, inviting preface to Isbell’s more expansive Americana joyride.

 

allan holdsworth, 1946-2017

allan holdsworth,

What defines greatness in a rock guitarist? Is it speed? Intensity? Histronics? Is it an elemental understanding and construction of a groove? Is it a combination fashioned to cultivate an image or simply convey an emotion?

For Allan Holdsworth, who died on Saturday at the age of 70, none of that was entirely the case. For this veteran British prog and fusion stylist, his decades-long career was about developing a voice of his own for an instrument that superseded all the clichéd rock star profiles many guitarists subscribed to. Holdsworth could play with the speed and potency that everyday guitar heroes viewed as virtues. But by the time he was gigging with the pioneering prog band Soft Machine as far back 1974, Holdsworth had developed a voice that was uncompromisingly distinct– one that continually stretched tone and technique through winding lyrical phrases that always packed a strong emotive jolt without ever sounding forced.

For the remainder of the ‘70s, Holdsworth cultivated that voice as a hired gun guitarist for, in quick succession, the New Tony Williams Lifetime, Jean-Luc Ponty, UK and Bruford. Though he continued with a prolific career of his own during the ‘80s that highlighted the MIDI-controlled synthaxe, it was Holdsworth’s collaborative sets with the latter two artists that, for me, defined the beauty of his playing.

On UK’s 1978 self-titled album, his solos were astounding not because of flash or indulgence, but for the opposite. They were vignettes of concise, complete construction that yielded a sense of exquisitely contained drama. His solo during “In the Dead of Night” stands as an ideal example. With Bruford 1979’s album “One of a Kind,” one of the era’s most tastefully crafted prog albums, his work served as a consistently complimentary color to the playing of drummer Bill Bruford, keyboardist Dave Stewart and bassist Jeff Berlin.

The last decade produced little by way of new music, although the 2002 concert album “All Night Wrong” stands as a wonderful trio band primer on the tone, power and expression that provided Holdsworth’s guitar voice such a rich musical vocabulary.

“Allan Holdsworth’s unique contribution to the electric guitar is unquantifiable,” said fellow guitar pioneer Steve Vai in a Facebook post yesterday, “I remember him saying to me once that his goal was to create a catalog of music that was undiluted. Well, that he did.”

in performance: peter evans septet

Peter Evans Septet, from left: Levy Lorenzo, Peter Evans, Jim Black, Tom Blancarte, Mazz Swift, Ron Stabinsky and Sam Pluta.

“Start living.” That was the advice Peter Evans gave at the onset of his Outside the Spotlight performance earlier tonight at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center. Depending of your perspective, such a preface could be seen a sign of assuredness or an invitation to arrogance. Perhaps fittingly, the music the New York trumpeter unveiled in the 80 minute program that followed was a bit of both.

To begin with, the entire concert consisted of one extended, untitled (or, at least, unannounced) piece that balanced composed sections with improvisational passages that ebbed and flowed with the sometimes weighty involvement of the former approach and the more intriguing spaciousness of the latter.

The primary exponents introduced early in the set were electronics – the kinds of oscillating, neo-industrial colors that gave the performance a seething pulse at some points and a more intrusive, robotic feel at others that flew in the face of the more organic improvisations. That two of the septet players were devoted to these designs – Levy Lorenzo (who doubled on percussion) and Sam Pluta with a keyboardist, Rob Stabinsky, who regularly dabbled on synths – might suggest textures of sounds were in the making. But with few exceptions, the electronics had a largely leaden feel.

In direct contrast was violinist Mazz Swift, bassist Tom Blancarte and, to a lesser extent, Evans himself, whose collective sounds morphed more readily as the work flirted between dissonance and groove. Swift was masterful at this, blending unobtrusively with the electronics but also creating an appealing harmony with Blancarte when the latter played with a bow.

It was especially interesting hearing Evans in this kind of setting, as the sounds he summoned on trumpet and piccolo trumpet (often in quick succession) seldom sought out the horns’ expected tonal range, favoring percussive punctures and breathy scratches just as often. But as the piece began to wind down, Evans let loose and soloed off a groove established by Swift, Blancarte and Lorenzo (on, of all things, triangle), largely shedding the cold electronic stagnation that often loaded down the septet for music that was lighter and more approachable, but no less adventurous.

After the many lulls, builds and deconstructions, the piece came to no apparent conclusion and stopped cold.

“We hoped we helped you,” Evans offered as a parting message, ending the evening in a manner just as offsetting as the one that started it.

 

j. geils, 1946-2017

J. Geils in 2011. Photo by Scott Legato / Getty Images.

The first time I heard the J. Geils Band was during those early ‘70s late night performance programs on TV – “Midnight Special,” “In Concert” and “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert,” to be exact. While it wasn’t the first champion roadhouse rock band to roll across the screen, it was one of the first – for me, at least – to have so many components of rock ‘n’ roll, in its most live and celebratory form, make sense when slammed together.

There was the outrageous frontman in Peter Wolf (a hotwired Boston hybrid of Mick Jagger and James Brown), a band with a tireless rhythm section bolstered by two monster soloists and a musical palette that took blues, R&B and juke joint influences from decades past and fashioned them into a roaring sound of its own. The results countered music cooked up by all the faux boogie-men of the era with a sense of combustible soul that quickly ignited in a performance setting.

Geils, who died yesterday at the age of 71, wasn’t even the focal point of the band that bore his name. That was undeniably Wolf. Geils wasn’t a showoff as a guitarist, either. As a rhythm player, he propelled a roots-savvy sound and the undeniable party atmosphere it triggered. As a soloist, he was always commanding in his playing. On several seminal ‘70s albums, especially 1973’s “Bloodshot” and “Ladies Invited” and 1974’s “Nightmares… and Other Tales from the Vinyl Jungle,” his playing was often the second half of a one-two punch initiated by the band’s other principal instrumentalist, harmonica ace Magic Dick. The last songs on each of those albums, “Give It To Me” (a 1973 hit built around an unlikely reggae groove), “Chimes” (a blast of funereal cool) and “Gettin’ Out” (one of the meanest sounding and most overlooked tunes the J. Geils Band ever cut), respectively, were diverse examples of how resourceful the group was. In short, the Geils crew could do battle with the most outrageous rockers of the era, but it also boasted the charisma, depth and drive to be something far greater.

Of course, stardom took hold of the band during the early ‘80s with the albums “Love Stinks” and “Freeze Frame.” Fun as both were, neither possessed the roots abandon of records Geils and company cut a decade earlier. Curiously, the next most appealing era of the guitarist’s career came in the ‘90s when he and Magic Dick toured in a jazz, blues and swing unit called Bluestime that purposely downplayed his rock roots but not the roots itself.

“We had a lot of fun and a fair amount of success in the old days, but I had gotten a little tired of it,” Geils told me in an interview prior to a Bluestime show at the Kentucky Horse Park in 1995. “I just want to make it clear that we’re not some rockers trying to capitalize on the blues boom. Any serious jazz or blues guy will tell you the same thing, that music like this is a lifelong journey. The more you learn, the more you learn how much you don’t know yet.”

in performance: california guitar trio

california guitar trio: paul richards, hideyo moriya and bert lams.

“You are about to witness a very strange thing,” remarked Paul Richards as he, Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya – collectively known as the California Guitar Trio – were about to embark on a journey down what was being promised as an unexpected musical offramp.

But little about the CGT could be considered an expectation – not the unassuming stage demeanor that offset a wildly versed and versatile technical command and certainly not the instrumental makeup of three acoustic guitars that last night at a packed but still intimate performance at the Kentucky Coffeetree Café in Frankfort mixed slyly subtle original works with tunes popularized by The Beatles, The Ventures, Ennio Morricone, The Shadows, J. S. Bach, Dave Brubeck and more. Not even the trio’s seemingly non-descript moniker revealed much. Though the CGT formed in California in 1991, its members hail from Utah, Belgium and Japan.

So what constituted “strange” in Richards’ estimation? Try the realization of the CGT taking on country music. But what unfolded wasn’t country by any contemporary definition. Instead, the resulting “Buckaroo” – the Bob Morris instrumental that became a huge 1965 hit for Buck Owens – stretched its vintage Bakersfield feel to approach jazz and swing. As with everything the CGT served up during its 90 minute program, the rendition was harmonically and compositionally complete without any semblance of a traditional rhythm section present as aid.

The stylistic moods would shift regularly, from Moriya’s spacious and gorgeously contemplative title tune off the trio’s new “Komorebi” album to a take on the 1962 Shadows’ surf hit “Wonderful Land” (complete with the choreographed “Shadow walk” that took the three even further away from their often stoic stage stance). But the CGT’s internal chemistry revealed itself time and time again, whether it was in the way Richards, Lams and Moriya effortlessly juggled lead melodies during original compositions like “The Marsh” and “Cherry Trees,” the manner in which the Bach “Prelude Circulation” was passed from one player to another a single note at a time or the blending of Astor Piazzolla tango inspirations with the modern minimalism of Philip Glass on the ultra clever mash-up “Glass Tango.”

But there were also remarkable dynamics at work. The evening’s most moving moment was also one of its quietest – a pastoral delivery of “Spiritual,” a Josh Haden work recorded by his late father, the great jazz bassist Charlie Haden. Working off a Lams solo that bowed briefly to the blues, the song moved with a slow, cyclical feel peppered by melodic phrases that sounded like chimes and/or chants. What emerged was a piece of subtle, sonic beauty that completely hushed the audience, especially as the tune concluded with an eerily natural sounding fadeout. It was a blissful gem of a moment slipped within a performance full of reserved and, yes, “strange” brilliance.

 

paul o’neill, 1956-2017

Paul O’Neill of Trans-Siberian Orchestra. (Jim Cooper, File AP Photo)

With the Trans-Siberian Orchestra becoming a near annual performance staple at Rupp Arena, so came frequent opportunities to interview Paul O’Neill. He wasn’t one of the ensemble’s principal performers. As far as I knew, he was never even at any of TSO’s Rupp appearances. O’Neill was instead the CEO of TSO, the sole brain trust of what had become a consistently strong selling touring act that merged metal, ‘70s-era prog and pure arena rock pageantry.

These were educational experiences, to say the least. An interview with O’Neill was largely a one-sided affair. A journalist’s question was essentially a point of ignition. Once asked, O’Neill would speak effortlessly, endlessly and informatively for the rest of the allotted time – and often beyond. He wasn’t being rude or inattentive to his interviewer. O’Neill simply knew the story he wanted to tell, whether it dealt with specifics about a particular TSO album or, with greater relish, his whole concept for TSO – a band he thought of in terms that were always large – large in personnel, large in audience attendance and especially large in terms of presentation.

“I wanted a band that could do anything, a band that could take the best of all the great acts that I worshipped – bands like Emerson, Lake & Palmer and Queen – and have a marriage of classical and rock,” he told me in a 2009 interview. “I wanted to give a third dimension to the music.”

I’ll put my cards on the table here. I always thought of TSO as a glorified Spinal Tap. Their shows were exercises in quite purposeful excess that no review (or reviewer) could adequately describe. But as with bands like Kiss, whose shows TSO seemed to most closely emulate, fans were beyond devout. For them, what mattered was spectacle – something O’Neill’s TSO army always delivered, along with a serving of holiday sentiment that was as huge as the band’s overall presence.

It was hard not to enjoy the ride as O’Neill held court during interviews, offering outrageous stories like this 2009 yarn detailing how a TSO concert literally sucked the electric life out of The Meadowlands in New Jersey.

“About 15 minutes into the show, the stage goes dark. The production manager comes running over and goes, ‘Paul, we just blew the circuit breaker for the Meadowlands. I thought, ‘Really? Cool.’ It was one of the high points of my life.”

Or this tale, from a 2014 interview, when O’Neill recounted what triggered the inspiration for TSO’s double-platinum album “The Christmas Attic.”

“Well, the statute of limitations ran out on this a long time ago, so it’s okay to talk about. I think the technical term for it is breaking and entering.”

O’Neill died unexpectedly today at the age of 61. But there is no question that his vision for the TSO will remain larger than rock ‘n’ life for years to come.

“Ultimately, TSO is like any other living thing,” O’Neill told me in 2012. “It’s just that it’s musically driven as opposed to celebrity driven.”

critic’s pick: the doors, “the doors: 50th anniversary deluxe edition”

How integral was 1967 to the future of contemporary pop and rock music? To start with, consider the number of keystone artists who issued debut albums that year: Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, The Grateful Dead, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, The Velvet Underground, Van Morrison, Sly and the Family Stone, Procol Harum, Traffic, Cat Stevens, The Nice, Ten Years After, Tangerine Dream, The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Captain Beefheart and Arlo Guthrie.

Oh yes – and The Doors. Four days into the year, the self-titled debut by Jim Morrison, Ray Manzarek, Robby Krieger and John Densmore surfaced, the product of a Los Angeles scene out to counter the psychedelic invention emanating up north out of San Franscisco.

Though re-issued several times since then, “The Doors” has been spruced up once more in a spiffy boxed set package. The components are a disc of the album’s original stereo mix (previously available), its original mono mix (previously unavailable, save for a limited vinyl edition issued in 2010), a new vinyl pressing (of the mono mix) and a new, truncated version of “Live at the Matrix” (more on than in a moment).

Audiophiles will likely argue until the next millennium about the specific virtues of the stereo vs. mono mixes. To my ears, mono always wins out. But listening to both, one after the other, affirmed what a masterfully produced record “The Doors” was. You hear that in the way Manzarek’s jazzy organ intro and Morrison’s near-baritone vocal suggest cool before the hullabaloo explodes on the opening “Break on Through.” But the effect is as much a credit to the precision of producer Paul Rothchild and engineers Bruce Botnick and Doug Sax. Ditto for the way the band and production crew team to capture the 12 minute psyche-fest finale “The End,” a descent into the pop maelstrom that likely scared the daylights out of every unsuspecting parent that heard it blaring from their kids’ stereos.

The “Live at the Matrix” disc is the curiosity. Rhino first issued it in a more complete form in 2008, but with audio quality barely above bootleg level. This version, though limited to eight songs (performed in the order they appear on “The Doors”) boasts considerably sharper quality. Still, hearing Morrison and company perform rampaging groove-a-thons like “Soul Kitchen” and unnerving meditations like “The Crystal Ship” as an unknown act before an audience that offered little more then perfunctory applause is peculiar indeed.

If “The Doors” was the sound of a raging tempest, this cleaned up “Live at the Matrix” presents us with the gathering storm. A half century later, both stand as documents of a juggernaut band whose vitality, influence and importance have only grown more brilliant.

chuck berry, 1926-2017

chuck berry, circa 1957.

Now who will tell Tchaikovsky the news?

For over 60 years, the job belonged to Chuck Berry via one of his most familiar and prized hits, “Roll Over Beethoven.” With Berry’s passing yesterday at age 90, rock ‘n’ roll lost not only one of its preeminent stylists and composers, but one of its most integral architects. Jazz without Jelly Roll Morton? Bluegrass without Bill Monroe? Country music without the Carter Family? That’s what Berry was to rock ‘n’ roll. Since rock has been more pervasive that any other contemporary music style, the weight of his influence and inspiration can in no way be understated.

Everything from song structure and thematic source material to guitar riffs and the music’s very joy and rhythm shook every succeeding generation. More than any other artist, more than even the Beatles or the Rolling Stones (who proudly admitted to being disciples), Berry shaped the very landscape of rock ‘n’ roll. His songs were covered countless times and imitated (often blatantly so) to unending degrees. Among them: “Johnny B. Goode,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” “Rock and Roll Music,” “You Can’t Catch Me,” “Sweet Little Sixteen,” “Maybellene,” “Memphis, Tennessee” and “Too Much Monkey Business” (a personal favorite). Collectively, these songs served as the DNA for an art form that, during the remarkably contained period in which they were recorded and released (between 1955 and 1959), had barely learned to walk.

After the 1964 singles like “You Never Can Tell” and “Promised Land,” Berry’s hold on the rock charts slipped, although the 1972 novelty tune “My Ding-a-Ling” became one of his best selling hits. By then, his music had already become part of the pop vernacular. There was perhaps no more satisfying tribute paid to his influence than Taylor Hackford’s 1986 documentary “Hail, Hail, Rock ‘n’ Roll,” the filmed account of two 1986 concerts that had all-star protégés Keith Richards, Roy Orbison, Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, Etta James, Robert Cray and more playing Berry’s hits alongside the master. Today, it serves as a moving timepiece that chronicles the lasting presence, vigor and resilience of Berry’s music.

Like rock ‘n’ roll? Any kind of rock ‘n’ roll? Then pass along some thanks today to Chuck Berry. The party, quite simply, would not have been anywhere near as fun had he not crashed it.

 

critic’s picks: bela fleck, ‘the juno concerto’ – danny barnes, ‘stove up’ – noam pikelny, ‘universal favorite’

Here we have engaging new works from three generational pioneers of the banjo, each exhibiting their often maligned and stereotyped instrument in a trio of radically different settings. Bela Fleck’s “The Juno Concerto” unleashes it with a full symphony, Danny Barnes’ “Stove Up” opts for a traditional bluegrass combo environment and Noam Pikelny’s “Universal Favorite” goes it completely alone. All are strikingly original projects that, because of the dramatic contrasts within the music they promote, unlock seemingly boundless possibilities for an instrumental voice still viewed by some as a purely rudimentary accent of the rural South and Appalachia.

Fleck is an old hand at this type of mythbusting. Even so, “The June Concerto” is quite a feat. Though hardly his first foray into classical music, this collaboration with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jose Luis Gomez is a rich and astonishing work, from the instant the banjo makes its entrance during “Movement 1” amid contained orchestral luster to the way the instrument leads the full symphonic charge of “Movement 3” while retaining a sound within Fleck’s impossibly nimble runs that is alternately commanding and giddy.

The recording is fleshed out by two equally dynamic pieces with the contemporary chamber ensemble Brooklyn Rider, the loose and lively “Griff” (titled, in true Fleck fashion, because the piece is constructed around a G riff) and a starker, stately “Quintet for Banjo and Strings” co-written with longtime pal Edgar Meyer in 1984, making it Fleck’s first classical work.

Danny Barnes is probably the least known of these three titans, but has very independently become one of the great innovators of banjo music over the past two decades, taking it into modern realms of jazz and electronica as well as the most ancient corners of traditional music and pre-bluegrass country.

The fact that “Stove Up” is a straight up, scholarly bluegrass session might not seem a revelation unless you know how seldom Barnes has traveled this path on record in the past. But once you hear him and a pack of bluegrass pros (that include past and present members of the Del McCoury Band) make the Rolling Stones “Factory Girl” sound like Flatt & Scruggs while making the Scruggs staple “Flint Hill Special” sound both reverential and original, you understand the depth of Barnes’ scholarly bluegrass insight.

Punch Brother Pikelny’s “Universal Favorite” is a pokerfaced triumph, an unaccompanied set of banjo pieces that regularly suggest Fleck’s warp speed tenacity, as on “Waveland.” The album is curiously colored by Pikelny’s baritone singing, which gives these tunes a stoic commoners’ touch. But the agility and daring of the musicianship here makes Pikelny a storied successor to the trails Fleck and Barnes blazed ahead of him.

1971 today

Sunday’s “1971” presentation at the Downtown Arts Center by Lee Carroll and a number of his local music co-horts is hitting home for a number of reasons.

Though in my early teens, I recall the year – at least in terms of the contemporary music it yielded – quite well. The quality and quantity of the output was breathtaking, producing an artistic renaissance the countered by the coarse taste of the preceding year. The same topical ghosts were still there – Vietnam, Nixon, racial strife and more – but given how 1970 began with the breakup of the Beatles and ended with Altamont, 1971 had to be an improvement. And it was. Folk, soul, rock and a booming underground prog movement soared. There were still the rough patches. The death of Jim Morrison less than three months after the release of his finest album with The Doors, “L.A. Woman,” served the most pronounced jolt. But there were also many triumphant releases that defined still-active careers. Discovering the music of 1971 greatly shaped my own musical tastes for the years to come.

Assembled below is a sampling of 10 albums that remain favorites from that year, but there were so many more. Not making the cut were classics by John Lennon, Santana, Elton John, Humble Pie, Al Green, Van Morrison, The Moody Blues, The Faces, Weather Report, Traffic, T. Rex, Ten Years After, Soft Machine, The Rolling Stones, Rod Stewart, The Grateful Dead, Procol Harum, Led Zeppelin, Aretha Franklin, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Yes, Mountain, King Crimson, Paul and Linda McCartney, Leon Russell, Jethro Tull, Hot Tuna, King Curtis, Deep Purple and more.

Here at the 10 listed in order of release in 1971

+ Carole King: “Tapestry” (February) – A perhaps obvious choice, but there is no way to underemphasize King’s full and unassuming transformation from Brill Building pop princess to confessional pop-folk monarch. A complete generational and genre game changer of a record.

+ David Crosby: “If I Could Only Remember My Name” (February) – Released at the height of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young-mania, this debut solo album corralled a who-who’s of West Coast psychedelic folkies for a trippy, hippie electric summit. A sublime moodpiece of the era.

+ Marvin Gaye: “What’s Going On” (May) – The definitive statement of the early ‘70s Motown, “What’s Going On” was a gloriously cool but often unsettling meditation on the times – a prayer for peace from a soul titan previously fascinated by largely carnal concerns.

+ Joni Mitchell: “Blue” (June) – Joni’s finest hour? Perhaps. But “Blue” beautifully placed her Laurel Canyon musings on stark, brilliant display. Future records heightened the musical sophistication with increasing inferences of jazz. “Blue,” however, was all folk poetry.

+ The Allman Brothers Band: “The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East” (July) – Fans love to place “Fillmore East” atop the Southern Rock mantel. But the record’s reach extended far beyond that for a distinctive portrait of blues, rock and even jazz driven jams set to a guitar sound of peerless taste.

+ The Who: “Who’s Next” (August) – Another obvious choice. What seems remarkable today, though, are the killer Pete Townshend songs (“The Song is Over,” “Getting in Tune,” for starters) that were forgotten through the years in the face of the album’s career-defining hits.

+ Pink Floyd: “Meddle” (October) – Far darker than the forthcoming “Dark Side of the Moon,” “Meddle” represented Pink Floyd’s last true glimpse of post-Syd Barrett experimentation. A trippy snapshot of the band taken before the Roger Waters narcissism completely took hold.

+ Sly and the Family Stone: “There’s a Riot Going On” (November) – Few records, outside of “What’s Going On,” mirrored the dispirited post ‘60s mood more than Sly Stone’s turnabout soul sound on “Riot.” A ruminative, disturbing but, always, groove-friendly sign of the times.

+ The Kinks: “Muswell Hill-billies” (November) – The follow-up to the smash “Lola” was largely ignored upon its initial release, but Ray Davies’s Americana references on “Muswell” have since been championed by subsequent generations of country-leaning rock scholars.

+ Alice Cooper: “Killer” (November) – Cooper’s finest hour with what may be his greatest composition (“Desperado”). Cut before his surrender to stardom, “Killer” captured a daring Detroit-drenched rock sound that never bowed, as Cooper’s later records did, to sensationalism.

“1971 – A Happening with Lee Carroll and Friends” will be presented at 7 p.m. March 12 at the Downtown Arts Center, 141 E. Main, as part of the Sunday Sessions series. Call 859-423-2550 or go to https://tickets.vendini.com.

 

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