Archive for July, 2008

hitting the books

Time to hit the books, Lexington. As part of its grand opening celebration at a new Southland Drive location, the Morris Book Shop is bringing in a full weekend of extraordinary and wildly diverse music from in and out of town.

Lexington’s own Robert Schneider opens the fun at 1 p.m. Saturday with an hour long solo set that shop chieftain Wyn Morris said will likely include tunes from The Apples in Stereo along with music by the songsmith’s children’s artist alter ego, Robbert Bobbert. We will hear from the amazing Mr. Schneider in detail in next weekend’s column as he outlines the newest Apples tour, which opens in Louisville on July 18.

Madison County-bred musician/visual artist/author Jeffrey Scott Holland will sign copies of his new book Weird Kentucky at 2. Veteran local musician Andy Mason, most recently of Big Maracas and Swells fame, will play from 4 to 6.

The big surprise comes on Sunday with a just added solo performance by Chicago cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm. A veteran of numerous Lexington performances in the Outside the Spotlight series – including sets with his own Valentine Trio, the Vandermark 5 and Keefe Jackson’s Fast Citizens, Lonberg-Holm is an improviser who employs pedals, electronics and distortion, not to mention the lyrical and percussive possibilities of the instrument, to create what he has described as “motorized” cello music.

Lonberg-Holm’s website even goes so far as to label him an “anti-cellist,” though his music possesses tremendous warmth. While Lonberg-Holm may work against chamber-style convention, his music is by no means disrespectful of the instrument’s inherent musical beauty.

Solo cello recordings By Lonberg-Holm are tough to find. But a sample from his Flying Aspidistra #4 album is available for a free listen on his myspace site.

Lonberg-Holm’s afternoon set also signals the welcome return of the Outside the Spotlight series, which has been quiet in recent months following the closing last winter of The Icehouse. May its re-emergence become more fully realized in the months ahead.

(above: the fingers, strings and profile of Fred Lonberg-Holm. photo by Patricia Lay-Dorsey)

The grand opening of the Morris Book Shop, 408 Southland Dr., will include appearances and performances by Robert Schneider, Jeffrey Scott Holland and Andy Mason (beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday) and a solo cello performance by Fred Lonberg-Holm (at 2 p.m. Sunday). All events are free. Call (859) 276-0494.

go big belew!

He has recorded with some of the most esteemed names in rock ‘n roll (from David Bowie to Talking Heads), served in a revered progressive rock ensemble for over 25 years (King Crimson) and pioneered a guitar sound that blends pure pop sensibility with often animalistic invention (know anyone else than make the instrument sound like a rhinoceros?).

But in the end, all Kentucky native Adrian Belew wanted as his solo career resumed in 2004 was a power trio – just a solid guitar, bass and drums band that would bring music from a three decade recording career to life.

Was that so much to ask? Initially, it seemed like it was.

When King Crimson, the veteran ensemble Belew has played guitar with since 1981 powered down in 2003, Belew returned to an equally longstanding solo career. But his designs this time were on essentials.

He had three recordings planned to show off different aspects of his songwriting and guitar vocabulary: the trio oriented Side One, the instrumental and more ambient flavored Side Two and the format-free Side Three. With the release of Side One, which featured bass beast Les Claypool and Tool drummer Danny Carey on several songs, the notion of touring in a trio format hit.

Belew’s first trio never made it to the road. The second toured extensively in 2005 after the release of Side Two. But the band wasn’t, as Belew said recently from his home studio outside of Nashville, what he fully hoped for.

“I had been looking for the proper trio to play the material I had been writing for a few years. I tried out two different lineups, one of which we took on tour. And it was good. It just wasn’t perfectly what I wanted.”

Then in February 2006, Belew accepted an invitation to instruct at Paul Green’s School of Rock Music, a genuine institute for budding rock artists.

“I went to the School of Rock to do a seminar for their students. While I was there, Paul Green said, ‘You’ve got to hear these two kids. They’re my best graduates ever.'”

Thus Belew was introduced to the sibling team of bassist Julie Slick, 22 and her drummer brother Eric, 21. The Slicks’ monstrous instrumental chops, fearless improvisational abilities and youthful gusto made them the Power Trio mates Belew had been searching for.

 “This is the most fun that I’ve had touring, maybe, ever. It’s a small, tight unit we have traveling around. Everyone wants to be there and has no other designs in mind.”

The trio makes its second regional appearance at the Southgate House in Newport on Sunday. The first performance came on a snowy Saturday in February 2007, which Belew recorded for a live album fittingly titled Side Four. While the resulting recording was instead pulled from a concert the previous night in Dayton, the album nonetheless illuminates the vigor Belew speaks of in working with the Slicks. You hear it Julie’s bass propulsion during Ampersand and in the dizzying funk Eric creates for Writing on the Wall.

The album also covers a broad scope of Belew’s past work, from the big-beat Big Electric Cat (from the guitarist’s 1982 solo album, Lone Rhino) to Dinosaur (a T. Rex-sized rocker from the 1995 King Crimson outing THRAK).

“The Slicks are the most unjaded people I’ve ever met,” Belew said. “It’s normal that when you work with older musicians, they have things like mortgages. They have children, They have schedules and deadlines to meet. And a lot of times their focus can be diluted. With Eric and Julie, everything about their lives is about playing music. They’re dedicated musicians. They don’t do drugs. They don’t even have driver’s licenses. They are so untouched. Because of that, they have this beautiful attitude that just makes my life so much more joyous.”

Sunday’s show will be Belew’s final United States concert with the Slicks this year, although touring in Europe, Russia and eventually Australia will commence in October. In August, though, Belew’s “other” band will re-awaken. King Crimson – Belew, founding guitarist Robert Fripp, longtime drummer Pat Mastelotto, mainstay bassist Tony Levin and a new recruit, Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison – will team for a brief month-long in honor of the band’s upcoming 40th anniversary.

“The Power Trio is my favorite thing right now,” Belew said. “It’s the thing I do the most and the thing I’m most dedicated to. But I’ve put a lot of my life and energy into King Crimson. It’s a big part of my legacy. I love the music. I love the people involved. So I’ll just put the Power Trio out of my mind for three or four weeks and really concentrate on making the best King Crimson I can.

“I think that’s how it’s going to go in the future, too. King Crimson will want to come out and play a little bit every now and then. But most of my life will be taken up with my solo music.”

What is perhaps most special about Belew’s Sunday concert is it represents a homecoming. The guitarst was born in nearby Covington. While he has lived in the Nashville area since 1994, Belew says inspirations nurtured in the Bluegrass continue to play a role in his music.

“They do and always have. They especially did at the right moment in time, which was when I was young, in high school and getting into my first band. That’s when I discovered what it was like working with other musicians. The Kentucky area was ripe with great musicians. It always has been. There has always been a wonderful tradition there of musicianship that has been unique and really high quality.

“I still go back frequently to play a concert and see old friends. To me, the people there are family.”

(above photo of Adrian Belew by Gary and Jill Bandfield,

The Adrian Belew Power Trio performs at 8:30 p.m. July 13 at the Southgate House, 24 East Third St. in Newport. Tickets are $25. Call (859) 431-2201.   

critic’s pick 27

The shadows hanging over the pink houses John Mellencamp sang about ages ago sure have grown longer. On Without a Shot, one of the typically stark tunes T Bone Burnett produced for the Hoosier rocker’s new Life Death Love and Freedom album, such hopeful Americana bliss has all but evaporated. “This weary old house can’t take it anymore,” Mellencamp sings slowly in a cigarette scarred voice against a plaintive mandolin melody. “Rope hanging in the bedroom. That’s some of our dirty work.”

Yeah, ain’t that America.

Mellencamp has visited these dark rural routes before, especially on last year’s Freedom’s Road. But then that was the album that contained Our Country, a soundtrack tune for a series of truck commercials that was just too jingoistic in design to make his bleaker takes of hard times in harder lands ring fully true.

On Life Death Love and Freedom, the disillusionment with the American Dream offers fewer hiding places. The country revivalism of My Sweet Love, complete with Little Big Town’s Karen Fairchild on harmony vocals and Dane Clark’s simple, rolling drum lines offer a nice, rootsy party and a modest dose of sunshine. But to get there, you have to deal first with the most beautifully deflating album-opening tune Mellencamp has ever cut.

On Longest Days, a drum-less acoustic meditation, the restless, rambunctious spirit of youth slowly fades into something other than a coming of age story. “You keep on acting the same, but deep down in your soul you know you got no flame.”

Burnett’s hand in these grey Americana postscripts is everywhere. No sooner does Mellencamp reach for a shred of Woody Guthrie-style spiritualism on Don’t Need This Body (which he captures rather convincingly, by the way) than Burnett’s dark electric twang enters like a swelling thunderstorm. Later, the distortion, reverb and tremelo ripping through the already disruptive tale of carneys and con artists in County Fair (“the county fair left quite a mess in the county yard”) is again Burnett’s handiwork.

So what you have here is an evenly matched team. In one corner is a songsmith that once topped the charts singing of America’s homespun joys and his own boundless youth, but is now prone to sifting through the wreckage as the Bush years come to a close. In the other is possibly the most formative Americana producer of our age (rumor has it Burnett’s next candidate for rootsy reinvention is B.B. King). And he dresses these dark songs with even darker guitar fabrics. The resulting sound, which, at times, strips Mellencamp’s band down to a trio, is like a ghostly emancipation. In short, there are no hits here. No truck commercials. None are intended.

Life Death Love and Freedom, then, differs considerably from Freedom’s Road. The tone, the very stakes of the characters in the songs are more sobering. But then what was it that Kris Kristofferson wrote about in Me and Bobby McGee at the dawn of the ‘70s? “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.”

Here, the inhabitants of Mellencamp’s music, with Burnett fanning the flames, are pushed to that very point. As such, Life Death Love and Freedom may wind up to some as uneasy or even radical listening. That’s too bad. It’s his best album in 21 years.

greetings from planet taj

After some 40-odd years of making music, Taj Mahal still feels many audiences – and certainly most critics – don’t always get the big picture of what he does.

The easy summation is that Mahal is a blues artist. A Harlem native who grew up in Springfield, Mass., he moved to the West Coast in the early ‘60s and fell in with some of the most versed blues, rock and soul artists of his generation.

But the well traveled Taj also became versed in African, Afro-Carribean, Cuban and gospel roots music and plays with a variety of performance ensembles that often combine seemingly disparate elements of those styles. It’s an exotic musical world Mahal continues to work from as prepares for a return performance at the Kentucky Theatre on Tuesday.

“Planet Taj simply is not on the radar screen for most people,” Mahal said over the weekend by phone from Toronto. “They haven’t discovered this planet yet. Only a few scientists have seen it through the telescope.

“I record, I play to thousands of people at big festivals and all that. But it doesn’t even scratch the surface. Something seems to be eluding people. I’m trying to figure out what to say to excite those who don’t have any idea as to what I’m doing.”

The most immediate answer for those factions might be to forget words and simply check out one of Mahal’s performances. The majority of his concerts at the Kentucky over the past 15 years have been with a large touring group called the Phantom Blues Band, which is essentially an R&B revue ensemble. In recent years, Mahal has preferred the smaller outlines of a trio that includes longtime rhythm makers Bill Rich on bass and Kester Smith on drums.

The trio can carry the hearty blues sway of Jimmy Reed’s Baby What’s Wrong, the world music groove of Zanzibar and roots music staples like Going Up to the Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue and Corrina that were highlights of albums Mahal cut for the Columbia label in the late ‘60s.

Even so, the mere suggestion of the word “blues” presents a sometimes unavoidable stereotype where the music may be respected for its tradition but, in a performance situation, can often be viewed as a tired, archaic art form.

“So what’s the assumption here? Is it that the audiences have an understanding of what is it is that I do and need to hear something new? Well, that’s not how it happens when I go out and play somewhere. When I go and play, what they want to hear is something old. It can be like quicksand with a shifting goal post.

“This is why a lot of guys sign off early and put out garbage music. It’s easier that way. But the day’s work I put into music is still wonderful. It’s an incredible commitment to play the music in the real space and actually be able to make a living at it. This is what I’ve done for years, but not without a level of sacrifice. Still, when the music is played and people seriously enjoy it, it’s a wonderful time.

“So I hope people that come to the show there can dance. And if you can’t dance, just tell me you can dance.”

The Taj Mahal Trio performs at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main. Tickets are $38.50. Call (859) 231-7924.

(above, the Taj Mahal Trio: Kester Smith, Taj Mahal, Bill Rich. photo by C. Taylor Crothers)

in performance: john michael montgomery/billy currington

Well, conditions could have been worse. Last year at Red, White and Boom, buckets of rain pounded the audience when headliner Gary Allan took the stage. Also, the fireworks shooting down from the sky proved to be more dramatic (and considerably more dangerous) than the ones being rocketed toward it.

Last night at the Cox Street parking lot, with country-pop celeb Billy Currington performing as the sixth of Red, White and Boom’s seven acts, the rains returned. Actually, they hit harder, but for a briefer period, earlier in the evening. Still, steady showers pelted the crowd as Currington’s return set (he also played Red, White and Boom in 2005) wound through the power ballad Must Be Doin’ Something Right.

The Georgia-born singer probably should have let things go there, especially since the day-long festival was eating into Central Kentucky native John Michael Montgomery’s headlining/homecoming set –  which, in turn, had to conclude by 10 p.m. for holiday fireworks to commence. But Currington instead tacked on a cover of the Stevie Wonder funk staple Superstition – a tune that, even by modern commercial country extremes, was a reach. With time as tight as it was, the rendition became a unnecessary indulgence.

Introduced by Mayor Jim Newberry at 9:25, Montgomery was appropriately given a hero’s welcome, but had little time to get terribly chummy with the mammoth outdoor audience. He instead started a set that was eventually shaved to under 45 minutes by returning to the beginning – namely, his 1992 breakthrough hit Life’s a Dance.

A little age crept into Montgomery’s voice during his years away from local stages. During a later medley of ‘70s and ‘80s covers designed so he could jam a bit on guitar (another odd set choice with time at premium), the modest cracks in his singing became more prominent. But, on Life’s a Dance, the added years gave what remains Montgomery’s best-constructed song a more learned and worldly cast.

Otherwise, it was as if Montgomery had never left. Ballads like I Love the Way You Love Me and the new If You Ever Went Away were crisply and efficiently performed, although the latter was played as the fireworks began to mount. It was, perhaps, not the ideal soundtrack for setting the sky on fire. More to the occasion was the show-closing Sold (The Grundy County Auction Incident), where the fast-talking chorus sparked some rapid fire call-and-response between artist and audience.

With that, Montgomery tipped his black cowboy hat to the crowd and made his exit at 10:10. As if on cue, the rains immediately accelerated and the fireworks ignited. The Fourth of July, it seemed, still had a final chorus to share.

(above photo of john michael montgomery by scott reed)


Congressional Testimony September 23, 1999 00-00-0000 Statement of Elaine J. Sorensen, Ph.D., Principal Research Associate, Urban Institute Testimony Before the Subcommittee on Human Resources of the house Committee on Ways and Means Hearing on Child Support Enforcement September 23, 1999 Chairman Johnson and members of the Human Resources Subcommittee of the House Committee on Ways and Means, thank you for the opportunity to testify on this important topic. I am a Principal Research Associate at the Urban Institute, where I have worked for 12 years. go to site child support md

I am not someone who usually trumpets the success of the child support enforcement program. On the contrary, I am probably best known for estimating that child support enforcement could potentially collect another $34 billion in child support. Nonetheless, the main point that I would like to make today is that the data clearly show that the actions of the U.S. Congress, along with its partners in the states, have succeeded in increasing child support payments to single mothers.

Much of the testimony that you have heard thus far has focused on program performance, which is measured by order establishment and collections within the child support enforcement program. Measuring program performance in this manner is undoubtedly important to assess the success of reform policies, but they do not tell us how effective the program has been in securing child support for all families with a parent living elsewhere. One hopes that good programmatic performance within the child support program and good outcomes for families potentially eligible for child support go hand-in-hand, but that is not always the case.

To ascertain the effects of these reforms on families, I have examined more than 20 years of household survey data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau, which provides a nationally representative sample of families between 1976 and 1997. The most current data that I have is from the March 1998 Current Population Survey, which measures child support receipt in 1997. This means that my analysis only examines the immediate effects of the 1996 child support enforcement reforms. But it also means that I have more than enough data to examine the impacts of the in-voluntary hospital paternity establishment program, federally mandated in 1993, and the impacts of earlier child support reforms.

From these data, I find that never-married mothers have experienced a dramatic increase in their child support rates and that the child support enforcement program has been the primary factor contributing to these gains.

Single Mothers Have Experienced Dramatic Gains in Receipt of Child Support In 1976, only 4 percent of never-married mothers received child support (figure 1). One year earlier, Congress enacted Title IV-D of the Social Security Act, establishing a federal role in child support enforcement. By 1997, the percent of never-married mothers who received child support had increased nearly five fold, to 18 percent. That means, of course, that only about one in five never-married mothers receives child support today, but that is dramatically better than it was in 1975 when Congress enacted Title IV-D. Child support is now a possibility for children born outside of marriage; 25 years ago it was not.

How Much of the Rise in Child Support Receipt Can Be Attributed to Child Support Reforms?

Six child support policies were examined in this analysis (figure 2). These policies were selected because they reflected key reforms in each of the major federal efforts to improve child support enforcement. As figure 2 shows, a few states experimented with each of these policies prior to their federal enactment (except for the $50 pass-through), but it was not until the U.S. Congress mandated their adoption that most states undertook these reforms.

We estimate that these six child support policies, in conjunction with the increase in IV-D expenditures, explains over half of the rise in child support receipt rates for never-married mothers.

Particularly effective for never-married mothers has been the voluntary in-hospital paternity establishment program, federally mandated in 1993. We estimate that this program alone increased the likelihood of never- married mothers receiving child support by 2 percentage points. Earlier reforms that are also found to be effective are immediate wage-withholding, the tax- intercept program, and presumptive guidelines. here child support md

The elimination of the federally mandated $50 pass through reduced the likelihood that never married mothers on TANF received child support, but this is not surprising since the majority of states eliminated the $50 pass through.

The new hire directory program, which was federally mandated in the fall of 1997, has had a positive effect on receiving child support for single mothers, but these effects are not yet statistically significant. Given the impact of earlier reforms on child support receipt rates, I am quite confidence that the new hire directories will have a statistically significantly positive effect in the future.

These data show, without a doubt, that the overall impact of the child support enforcement program has been to increase the likelihood of never-married families receiving child support.


in performance: de novo dahl

Right about the time this afternoon’s July 4th parade took a literally freakish turn down Main Street with the costumed pageantry of a haunted house exhibit that included a few audience friendly zombies and a monster rabbit, Nashville’s De Novo Dahl blasted off with a pop party of its own merry design at Phoenix Park.

The band had costumed appeal, too. The five members were decked out (as in the above photo) like hip jailbirds in matching outfits of yellow and red stripes. But the colors that beamed from its ultra-fun 45 minute set were considerably more varied.

The show opening Dance Like David and Sky is Falling set the mood with glowing keyboard figures, plump percussive beats (especially on the latter tune) and a stylistic view that, from the cheery harmonies of Joel J. Dahl and Serai Zaffiro to the music’s abundant melodic hooks, borrowed liberally from past pop decades.

The Funk, on the other hand, was a miniature ‘70s dance party that opened with a disco-savvy bounce that sent keyboardist Matt Hungate briefly out into the greens to indulge in some moves before the band wound its way through melodies that better approximated vintage Brit-pop.

Covers of the 1981 synth-savvy Rod Stewart hit Young Turks and the Speed Racer theme (where the “go, go, go” chorus packed a Ramones-ish punch) completed the holiday mood as the sun made a cameo appearance on an otherwise overcast 4th.

A side note: one had to wonder why the demolition this week of the Triple Crown Lounge, the newest casualty of the proposed CentrePointe project, couldn’t have been completed or simply delayed until after a holiday event that brought thousands of patrons downtown.

So, as the parade looped around Vine to Main and De Novo Dahl rocked away across the street in Phoenix Park, audiences were provided with the inescapable backdrop of a blown apart street corner that looked like it had been hit by mortar shells. Who came up with that bright idea?

the return of john michael

How do you hold a homecoming for someone who has never been away?

In the case of Central Kentucky country star John Michael Montgomery, the answer is not as obvious as it might seem. Sure, he has resided in Jessamine County throughout a hitmaking career that now stems back over 15 years. Rewind the time machine a bit more to include his upbringing and his extensive performance apprenticeship in local honky tonks alongside older brother Eddie and family pal Troy Gentry (you got it – of Montgomery Gentry fame) and you will discover the singer has also, at various times,  called Fayette, Boyle and Garrard counties home.

But the homecoming element comes in when you look at Montgomery’s performance calendar. For a bonafide Kentucky country celebrity, he just doesn’t seem to find his way back to the bluegrass very often.

That will all change tonight when Montgomery headlines Lexington’s biggest outdoor concert event of the year. As headliner for the annual July 4th country bonanza known as Red, White and Boom, he will follow sets by six nationally noted country artists, including fellow Kentuckian Sarah Johns. And once he’s done, the sky will explode.

Now that’s what you call a homecoming.

“I’m tremendously excited,” Montgomery said. “I’m also really nervous. I haven’t played here in awhile so I want to put on the best show I’ve ever done. I’m genuinely more excited about this than any show I’ve done in a long time.”

Tonight’s Red, White and Boom performance finds Montgomery beginning a new chapter of his career – namely, work with his own record label – and discarding some troublesome habits that briefly brought his entire working life to a halt this spring.

* * * *

Since his debut album and single, both titled Life’s a Dance, forged a nationwide fanbase for Montgomery in 1992, the singer has recorded extensively for two major labels – Atlantic and Warner Brothers.

But after the popularity of 2004’s Letters from Home album closed out his Warners contract, Montgomery chose the path of a free agent. Rather than simply preparing a new album for independent release, he sought to organize a formal label of its own, one that would eventually sign and nurture new artists while continuing the visibility of Montgomery’s music.

“I finally got to take the shackles off,” Montgomery said of leaving major labels behind. “Let’s face it. The majors are great for getting you started. They get you heard. But there is the other side of the coin where they don’t always let the artist be as creative as they can be. And that kind of aggravated me.”

So begins the saga of Stringtown Records, a new Nashville based label that will issue Montgomery’s 11th album (excluding anthologies) in September as its flagship release. Titled Time Flies, the album mixes songs steeped in electric honky tonk (Mad Cowboy Disease) with radio friendly ballads (Let’s Get Lost) in a way that closely approximates Montgomery’s Atlantic and Warners albums. But the difference this time is the singer was able to choose, write and record songs at his own pace.

“I named the label after a little town in Mercer County,” Montgomery said of Stringtown. “I drove though it all the time. But it took me two years to get a trademark for the name. By the time that happened, the major labels were all buying each other out. Then, once we hired people to run things at Stringtown, I started working on the new album. That began last fall with the hope of having it done by February.  By the end of April, I turned it in. For me, it’s all about doing the album right first and then building everything else around it.”

Of course, with great artistic independence comes greater responsibility to a career that already affords little by way of down time. Recording deadlines and preparations for upcoming concert tours took their toll – so much so that by the time Time Flies was finished, Montgomery was, by his own description, “worn out and beat down.”

And so, for a month, he shut down.

* * * *

On May 8, Montgomery posted on his website that he was “disappearing for a while.” The reasons were plainly stated: he was checking into a rehabilitation center.

“I was taking sleep medication, anxiety medication and drinking on top of that,” Montgomery said. “Plus, my body was telling me, ‘You need a break.’ But my brain was saying, ‘No, you don’t have time for that.’

“So I just woke up one morning and told my wife, ‘I need to go somewhere to get my psyche back into shape.”

And so, as Time Flies‘ first single, If You Ever Went Away, made initial rounds on the airwaves, Montgomery checked into Cumberland Heights, a Nashville drug and alcohol treatment facility.

“You just shut the world off in a place like that. You feel guilty at first, though. I had a wife and kids. I had a new record label. But I just had to shut it all off. This was all about going in and having these professional people get inside me emotionally and physically. It was about letting them rebuild me, really, because, I was just beat down. I needed some help to get back into shape.”

Back on the road this month, Montgomery says he feels better than he has “in at least five years.” With his health back on track, the singer is also looking ahead to another main artistic objective of Stringtown Records.

“To sit here and think I’m guaranteed another five or ten years of hit records is probably naïve,” Montgomery said. “But the big picture goal is to use Stringtown as a tool for me to sign other artists, help develop their careers and let that eventually be the focus of my own career. If I still want to go out and tour, I still have that option. Hopefully, with the new album, I can sustain myself for awhile on radio. It’s been five years since I’ve had an album out, though. So I’ve got to reposition myself back into the game a little.

“But I’d love to produce or co-produce albums for other artists. I’ve always been a knob turner ever since I played the nightclubs. I used to drive my brother crazy because I’d be on and off the stage a hundred times a night tweaking the sound mix. He’d just look at me and go, ‘John Michael, would you just leave those freakin’ knobs alone and get up here and sing?’

“I love that part of the business, too. Anymore, I probably enjoy going into the studio and making a record as much anything else.”

(photo of john michael montgomery by scott reed)

Red, White and Boom featuring John Michael Montgomery, Billy Currington, Bucky Covington, Julianne Hough, Tracy Lawrence, Sarah Johns and Adam Gregory runs from: 2:30 to 10 p.m. today at the Cox Street Parking Lot by Rupp Arena. Admission is $5. Children 12 and under will be admitted free. Call (859) 233-3535.

independent music on independence day

The theme is “Independent Music on Independence Day.” For six years now, CD Central has been promoting that notion with a mini-festival of fine local indie acts along with an out of town guest or two staged smack in the middle of the outdoor madness that transforms downtown on July 4th into a street carnival.

This year, the event takes on some hefty – and, perhaps, unintended – significance. It will be staged in Phoenix Park, a mere block away from where The Dame shut its doors less than two weeks ago. As such, it will showcase roughly eight hours of the sort of vital live music that downtown, as it stands now, is almost entirely devoid of.

But let’s not stray too far from the celebratory mood CD Central is out to summon. Headlining Independent Music on Independence Day this year will be Nashville’s De Novo Dahl, a quintet that has been a guest of The Dame on many a fine night.

If any outfit can brush away the grey that has circulated around the downtown music scene of late, this is the one. Though its musical sentiment regularly borrows from ‘70s and ‘80s pop, De Novo Dahl possesses a summery sound all of its own. Its recent Move Every Muscle, Make Every Sound album is loaded with light – and, dare we say, uplifting – pop confections, from the soul saturated Shakedown to the atmospheric bounce of New Hero to the blinding hullabaloo dervish of Make Some Sense .

Fans should also note there is a non-CD, iTunes-only bonus track on the band’s myspace page: an update of the Speed Racer theme that really sends De Novo Dahl’s pop time machine reeling. The tune was nixed at the 11th hour from the soundtrack to the recent feature film remake of the vintage cartoon series. Maybe the movie would have made a more lasting impression at the box office had it gotten Dahl-ed up a bit.

There’s a wealth of great local music on tap today, as well – including slices of blues and boogie from The Tallboys and some seriously ear-crunching street noise from Tight Leather.

Here’s the full, free lineup:

Ben Allen (10:30 a.m.); Everybody Lives Everybody Wins (11:15 a.m.); The Tallboys’ (12 noon); Bedtime (1:15 p.m.); intermission for the July 4th parade on Main St. (2 p.m.); De Novo Dahl (3:15 p.m.); Tight Leather (4:30 p.m.).

Independent Music on Independence Day will be held July 4 in Phoenix Park. Admission is free. Call (859) 233-3472.

in performance: jakob dylan

“This isn’t Murder 101,” said Jakob Dylan in reply to an eager audience request last night at the Kentucky Theatre for a song he cut eight years ago with The Wallflowers. “This is your next favorite song. I bet you I’m right.”

With that, Dylan revisited The Empire in My Mind, a different Wallflowers nugget (this one came from 2002’s Red Letter Days album) that searched for light and hope in a world of human failings. This version was quieter and more streamlined than the Wallflowers’ original, which made it an easy fit for the heavily acoustic repertoire that made up this 90 minute trio show – a performance where Dylan performed not as a Wallflower, but under his own name.

Sure, The Wallflowers are essentially a band vehicle for Dylan’s often melancholic and openly pop-friendly material. But the difference between the band and last night’s performance was pronounced. Aided only at the Kentucky by Wallflowers drummer Fred Eltringham and former Chris Robinson bassist George Reife, Dylan used eight of the ten songs from his new Rick Rubin-produced solo debut album, Seeing Things, as the thrust of the performance. While over half of the concert relied on less-than-obvious Wallflowers material (highlighted by a properly wistful Mourning Train), all of the music was tempered by the reserved, loose fitting performance mood that dominates Seeing Things.

With Dylan sticking exclusively to acoustic guitar, rockier moments were purposely scarce.  But just as this wasn’t an outwardly electric evening, neither was it a folky affair that begged comparison to the early music of another Dylan we all know. This was, despite the sometimes taught lyrical makeup of the Seeing Things songs, a relaxed evening of subtle pop delights that demanded active listening. Aside from some isolated beer-soaked cheers, the audience awarded the music with exactly that.

At times, the summery feel of Dylan’s new songs became quite fetching, as in the apple pie imagery of Something Good This Way Comes. In other instances, the mood darkened slightly, as with the sparsely swampy setting afforded Evil is Alive and Well. Even then, though, the trio’s touch was light enough to illuminate a theme where darkness is but a prelude to affirmation. An encore of On Up the Mountain emphasized such thinking beautifully with a neatly propelled shuffle that ended the program on a note of clear, understated hope.

This wasn’t a night for hits, though. Three Marlenas was about it in that category, and even it was modified to meet the trio’s nicely contained sense of rhythm and faith. The big tunes can wait for the next Wallflowers tour, though. This was an evening where Dylan openly invited his audience to bask in quieter, less familiar but admirably comforting songs. And on a gorgeous early July evening, that was a mighty tough invitation to turn down.

(photo of jakob dylan by james minchin)

critic's pick 26

On last year’s fine Upfront & Down Low album, Teddy Thompson threw a still-blooming audience a curve ball by cutting a sampler of traditional country tunes. But under the covers of these covers lurked the greatest insights into his own sound – namely, a plaintive voice rich with stylistic wanderlust (and more than a touch of disciplined melancholy), the folkish gallantry of his famous parents (Richard and Linda Thompson) and a sense of cunning reflected in production and song arrangements that often strayed from familiar country outlines. As such, the music’s desperate emotive state sounded positively elegant.

A Piece of What You Need borrows from that formula but shifts the focus completely to pop. This time the songs, all ripe with deep melodic hooks, are his own, although production duties have been re-assigned to Marius de Vries (whose credits include Madonna, Bjork and Rufus Wainwright).

The results, at least in terms of the modern pop scenarios preferred by de Vries, are almost as traditional in scope as the country themes of Upfront & Down Low. Sift through the new tunes and all kinds of familiar sounds call to you, from the Phil Spector-ish backbeat of A Piece of What You Need‘s most immediately inviting pop delicacy, In My Arms, to the Badfinger-esque guitar riff that propels What’s This?! And for those thinking de Vries runs short of fresh ideas in such a rustic pop setting, check out how the streamlined shuffle of Can’t Sing Straight (a song that especially recalls father Thompson’s pensive recordings) gets a hearty push from the producer’s deep pocket horn arrangement.

Of course, what gives A Piece of What You Need its biggest kick is the contrast Thompson’s songs and singing bring to the party. Flying in the face of the album’s hearty pop bounce are some severely moody storylines.

The Things I Do, for example, offers a full plate of literate self-loathing with a chirpy guitar/synth groove. “I’m never happy, but at least I get some peace in this war,” Thompson sings with a slight world weary resignation. “But I could use more.” And on the aforementioned In My Arms, a tune that kicks into the sort of full-faced pop that could pass – at least, initially, for the ‘60s nugget My Boyfriend’s Back – Thompson warns his arms can be a pretty barren place to fall into (“it’s a lonely world that I got”). The song is such a gale force hullabaloo, though, that the groove quickly sweeps you past such romantic reticence 

The title tune, though, puts this wild pop party with the downbeat message in full perspective. Here, Thompson lashes out at a corporate music world that peddles makeshift cheer like Prozac (“So sing, soulless boy; give us some of your simple joy”). The melody then clouds with mariachi brass before de-evolving and fading altogether. After 10 minutes of silence, A Piece of What You Need kicks back into life to conclude with an uncredited cover of the Everly Brothers’ hit The Price of Love. It recalls the roots reinvention of Upfront & Down Low, although the song’s inherent unrest (“you talk too much, you laugh too loud, you see her face in every crowd”) fits right into A Piece of What You Need‘s narrative chill.

The album is a modest family affair, as well. Thompson trades guitar licks with father Richard on Slippery Slope (Easier) and harmonizes with sister Kamila on In My Arms. Mother Linda is part of the latter tune’s handclap chorus, as well.

But at this pop feast of musical jubilance and lyrical decay, Sir Teddy sits very much at the head of the table.       

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AP Online February 28, 2001

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