Archive for January, 2009

in performance: rascal flatts/jessica simpson

rascal flatts: gary levox, joe don rooney, jay demarcus

rascal flatts: gary levox, joe don rooney, jay demarcus

One of the defining sentiments of last night’s highly electrified Rascal Flatts performance at Rupp Arena was shared between two women at a concessions stand.

The show had just hit the mid-way point with the top-selling country-pop trio (augmented last night by four instrumentalists) delivering the cheery, motivational hit My Wish. Around the group was a stage adorned with huge screens of brilliant blues and incandescent whites flashing with the immediacy of a strobe light. In front of the singers were ramps that outlined the entire length of the arena floor with no less than four mini-stages (all of which flashed, of course) and runway-like lights that changed color with each tune. It was less like an arena stage and more like a pinball machine.

The women, apparently two of the tens of thousands without electricity this week in Lexington following a massive winter storm, seemed impressed but a bit bewildered by what they had just witnessed.

“Wish they would haul some of that juice over to our street,” one said to the other. “They’d light up the whole neighborhood.”

Of course, that’s essentially what Rascal Flatts did over the course of two hours, only the “neighborhood” remained within the Rupp walls. But singer Gary LeVox, guitarist Joe Don Rooney and bassist Jay DeMarcus certainly kept the chill at bay with bright, almost antiseptic strokes of rockish charm.

The title tune to the trio’s 2007 album Still Feel Good opened the proceedings by raising the roof in reverse. With a crack of fireworks, the three were lowered to audience level on a massive grid from the top of the stage. From there, the mood was as electric as the show’s look and sound.

The cover version of Tom Cochrane’s Life is a Highway had LeVox slapping hands and, at brief intervals, sharing the microphone with audience members along the stage floor’s many ramps. Similarly, the anthemic nature of the power ballads Every Day and Stand (performed back to back) were patterned so that LeVox’s vocals would dramatically cut off for arena worthy guitar solos by Rooney. None of this was exactly innovation in action, mind you, but it catered well to the performance’s festive feel.

The only real downside was the concert’s pacing. Boy, did the Flatts boys ever lay it on thick with the filler. Initially, you felt DeMarcus was on-the-ball and to-the-point in thanking fans for forking out roughly $70 for tickets in tough economic times. Then the between-song chat just turned into another incessant, audience-pandering diatribe. Similarly, Rooney briefly uncorked a pleasant acoustic sketch of Rascal Flatts’ breakthrough hit Prayin’ for Daylight but quickly followed with a sales pitch where he taught the audience to recite the release date of the group’s next album.

For a band capable of mounting such a visual and energetic show, Rascal Flatts sure knew how to let the air out of its own sails at times.

jessica simpson. photo by wayne maser.

jessica simpson. photo by wayne maser.

Opening the evening was the country incarnation of Jessica Simpson, a star defined mostly by her own media-driven celebrity status. Last night’s crowd was on to her, too. Though it received her 40 minute set respectfully and even enthusiastically, the reception that greeted DeMarcus when he acknowledged Simpson during Rascal Flatts’ show contained more than a few dissenting voices.

Simpson certainly came off as wanting to project an arena-sized performance persona. But there were simply too many obvious flaws in the set to take her country act seriously.

Opening with her dreadful 2005 Nashville hip-hop rewiring of These Boots Are Made For Walking, Simpson sang with an taffected twang and moved with hip swiveling maneuvers that bordered on camp.

Then there were the motivational speeches that seemed to greet each tune. She talked about her boyfriend (though not by name), her faith and about how the reference to the country girl in her 2003 pop hit With You was actually herself (you think?). Simpson also served Remembering That as a sort pep talk to women seeking escape from abusive relationships.

No disrespect intended on such a serious topic, but is the star of a long-demised reality series centered on a public marriage that ended in an even more public divorce really someone you would turn to for relationship advice?

And then there was perhaps the inevitable stumble: botched lyrics. Simpson forgot words twice during her single Come On Over, resulting in two false starts of the tune. She was eventually fed the correct lines by a backup singer.

Enough, already. Sure, Simpson has a capable enough voice to roar through epic fare like the Dolly Parton-penned Do You Know. But the singer needs to take a time out for a performance tune up, bone up on her own material and streamline this performance mess in the worst way.

john martyn, 1948-2009

john martyn

john martyn

John Martyn was many things.

As a songwriter, he was one of the most distinctive stylists to emerge from a highly fertile late ’60s British folk-rock movement. His songs were fanciful, poetic, often wildly romantic and sometimes as dark the rains that must have soaked the shores of England and Scotland where he spent his youth.

As a guitarist, Martyn was unlike any of his contemporaries. His ‘60s albums for the Island label (London Conversation and The Tumbler, among them) were sparse, but richly and harmonically complete records. But with the ‘70s came electricity and pioneering use of the Echoplex, the device that gave Martyn’s songs a textured, staccato sound. Through those albums (1973’s Inside Out and 1977’s One World being the most daring), Martyn designed an ambience that also worked in the leanest of performance settings – including his long-running duo association with acoustic bassist Danny Thompson.

Of course, he was also a seemingly reckless eccentric and a sometimes very public alcoholic. While artists like Eric Clapton covered his songs, critics has often speculated that Martyn might well have discovered his own commercial fortunes – or at least something larger than his devout but modest folk-pop fanbase  – were it not for his fondness of self-destruction.

In an interview recently referenced in the London newspaper The Telegraph, Martyn recalled being so inebriated at a concert in Spain that he fell off the stage. “I still got three encores,” he added.

Yesterday morning the whole grand saga that was John Martyn concluded. He died at age 60. No specific cause of death was announced, although Martyn has been in ill health for years. Confined to a wheelchair since a burst cyst caused the amputation of a leg below the knee, Martyn continued to perform through the end of 2008.

One of his final recordings, in fact, was a concert set called Solid Air: Live at the Roundhouse. The album included a stage performance of Martyn’s seminal 1973 album Solid Air. An exceptional boxed set retrospective, appropriately titled Ain’t No Saint, surfaced last fall. Neither album has yet been issued in the United States.

Any of Martyn’s Island albums released between 1967 and 1977 should be considered essential listening. But the masterpiece remains Grace and Danger, a devastating 1980 work cut with help from Phil Collins that documented the dissolve of a marriage to former performance and recording partner Beverley Martyn. Aside from Richard and Linda Thompson’s 1982 epic Shoot Out the Lights, no British folk-rock album placed more exposed nerve romanticism on display than Grace and Danger.

I saw Martyn play only once. He headlined the opening night of a 1987 folk festival in Oxfordshire, England. It was one of his famed duet sessions with Thompson. That night, when the Echoplex cranked up in the great outdoors during songs like Big Muff you would have thought a flying saucer was landing.

Martyn walked onstage that night looking, as a friend of mine was fond of saying, “drunk as a monkey.” With a smile on his face as bright as glowing neon, it was tough to tell if Martyn received a hero’s welcome from the festival crowd. It didn’t matter. As was the case for much of his career, he made enough of a hero’s entrance to compensate.

Judy Ann and Ryan: No to pre-nuptial.(Entertainment)

Manila Bulletin December 12, 2006 Byline: WALDEN SADIRI They have an ongoing relationship, a beautiful one at that and which many expect will culminate at the altar someday. And right now, lovebirds Judy Ann Santos and Ryan Agoncillo may have some plans already about getting married.

If ever, will they consider executing a pre-nuptial agreement?

“The thought has crossed our minds; we’ve talked about it pero hindi namin alam kung anong dating nito. Sa iba kasi parang you don’t trust each other that much kapag may pre-nuptial agreement. Basta may usapan kami about what we have, like what’s mine is mine, and what’s his is his,” Judy Ann shared.

On his part, Ryan said he doesn’t believe in a pre-nuptial agreement. “We’re not that kind who’ll resort to that. If we do, we don’t really love or like each other enough. I mean, don’t get married na lang.” But let’s talk about their reel-life relationship first.

Their muchawaited teamup, “Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo tackles the life of Angie (Judy Ann) and Jed (Ryan) as a newlywed – their adjustments as a couple, their fights, and marital issues, etcetera. What’s interesting to note though is that according to Judy Ann and Ryan, their reel-life characters are not them in their true relationship.

Ryan described that unlike him Jed is spineless and is easily pushed by his wife’s family. While Judy Ann, as Angie, is always stressed out, is a loud-mouth and doesn’t know how to have fun.

In fact, during and after the filming “Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo,” they never felt they are married nor did they see even just a little semblance of what they could be as a married couple. Despite their characters’ marital problems, Ryan pointed out that the movie didn’t scare them about marriage. “We were laughing all throughout (the filming),” he said.

So before one confuses the reel characters of Judy Ann and Ryan to the real showbiz sweethearts, here are a number of interesting things you’d like to know more about them.

First is that every Christmas they would compete as to who gets the best gift. And the winner makes the recipient’s eyes wide open in surprise; he/she is dumb-founded even by the giver’s thoughtfulness and creativeness. here a practical wedding

“Without going into particulars, we have a running competition for gifts,” revealed Ryan. “It could have been easier if she’s into brand names or expensive stuffs kasi you just go for the most expensive thing you could afford and that’s it. But with us, it’s all about over-all impact!” Another is that when they get hitched, the boss according to Judy Ann will be Ryan, while Ryan points to her as the boss.

“Malamang siya…minsan pinag-usapan namin ang tungkol sa credit cards. Sabi niya isang credit card lang ang kailangan namin at siya ang magtatago,” laughed Judy Ann. “Actually ngayon lang ako nagkaroon ng credit card para sa mga trips abroad. Pero pang emergency lang ito.” If ever, Judy Ann wouldn’t mind Ryan really controlling her credit card usage because she admits to being one who sometimes splurge on luxury items. She would go on impulse buying whenever she feels deprived and is tired from work. You won’t find though a closet with her LV collections or whatever; rather Judy Ann, following her mother’s advice, often invest on jewelries. here a practical wedding

As for Ryan, he always wants his girlfriend to have a mind of her own. He doesn’t always like being the one to decide on things like what movies to watch, where to go or even where to eat. He’d like her to always to tell him what she wants too.

Another thing to know about them is that they are not secretly married contrary to insistent rumors and speculations from the media. To Ryan’s surprise, this question has always been asked by close family members and friends on various occasions. The question according to him is always brought out in the open whenever people see their friendship rings.

“If we’re getting married, our family will be the first ones to know,” said Ryan. He also implied that a wedding next year is not yet in the works. Maybe one of the reasons is that he plans to build his own house next year because when they get married he would like to live in their own house right away.

Judy Ann would like to have a private and solemn wedding. She doesn’t want the added pressure of media coverage during their wedding day. One she would have to give-up though would be her childhood dream wedding of having an enchanted theme with a horse-driven carriage and with her clad as a princess. She’d like to have a practical wedding and the honeymoon she has in mind would be in Europe or in the Caribbean.

As a couple, whenever they have fights, Judy Ann would always realize that Ryan needs space too. She admitted that during their first few fights at the beginning of their relationship, she would push him to have a discourse to settle things. This is because she always wanted their quarrels resolved before she goes to sleep.

“I now give him enough space … actually when it comes to this, we always talk. We don’t meddle in our respective works, and businesses,” she bared.

Though Judy Ann wasn’t transformed into a Netsurfing junkie by Ryan who frequents Internet CafA[c]s, he believes he has changed to a better person especially with regards to his work.

“Sa trabaho, I’m a lot more caring now to the people I work with. Tanong ko dati sa mga superstars, lagi bang ganun sila kasi superstar sila or superstar sila dahil mabait sila when I got to observe the way they work. Then I realized the way to get results is to be more focused on your goal, be nicer and be gentler,” he intimated.

And what could be the integral ingredient of their relationship?

“It’s honesty,” replied Judy Ann.

“Kasal, Kasali, Kasalo” is Star Cinema’s official entry to the 2006 Metro Manila Film Festival. It is directed by Jose Javier Reyes.

simpson country

jessica simpson

jessica simpson

It wasn’t the sort of a career move anyone saw coming. Jessica Simpson: pop pinup, reality show princess, tabloid celebrity and… country singer?

Truth to tell, Simpson didn’t exactly see Nashville as part of her star journey, either. But believe the transformation. When Rascal Flatts returns to Rupp Arena tonight, Simpson’s latest entertainment guise will be in action as the opening act.

“I didn’t set out or say to myself, ‘I’m going to make a country record,’ or anything like that,” Simpson said in a recent phone interview. “There were just songwriters in Nashville I wanted to write music with. And what we did ended up being country. It’s just more of who I am.

“I never looked at country as being too far removed from what I had been doing. But then I never really felt that, in the pop world, I owned everything I was doing. The music was a bit more scattered. I would have five or six producers on a record, which didn’t help the consistency or the flow. For me to do a focused record, to really tell the story of the experiences I’ve been through in life was important. Going to Nashville and writing with those writers helped me dig into a deeper side of myself.”

So far, the country version of Jessica Simpson seems to be a solid sell. Her debut country album, Do You Know, hit No. 1 on the country charts and No. 4 on the pop charts upon its release last fall. A convincingly contemporary Nashville single called Come On Over has also won considerable airplay.

But then Simpson is used to big numbers. The four pop albums she has released over the past decade have all achieved gold or platinum status. The country conversion, it seems, was as much a cry for credibility as anything else. While her music has always been a hit, it paled next to the profile Simpson created offstage, beginning with a 2003 MTV reality series that chronicled the early days of her eventually-failed marriage to pop singer Nick Lachey (Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica). Since then, her celebrity romances have gained as much attention in the tabloids as her music has on the charts.

“I don’t know if you ever get used to tabloids and people making up stories about you and writing about you when you’re not really attached to it, like you would be if you were giving an interview. You never get used to that. But there is a way to not allow that to be your focus. I really just have to detach myself from the world of gossip and pre-conceived ideas.

“They’ve been writing about me for a long time. And for some reason, people still want read it all. Sometimes it definitely gets frustrating. But that’s why I write music. So people can get to know the real me.”

One of Simpson’s first major public stabs at country nosedived, however. At a December 2006 taping of the Kennedy Center Honors, Simpson performed as part of a tribute to life-long idol Dolly Parton. But after botching the lyrics to 9 to 5, and then being dissatisfied with a second recorded attempt for the broadcast, Simpson withdrew from the event.

But the silver lining to such a public and professional humiliation was Parton herself, who befriended the singer, offered encouragement and penned the title tune for Do You Know.

 “Dolly really helped me become secure about being onstage again and secure with who I am as an artist. She is obviously a mentor. She is an incredible songwriter, an incredible singer and an amazing woman. I mean, people don’t know much of anything about her personal life. That’s something I’m absolutely jealous of. I don’t know how she did it. I’ve got to get some tips.”

Another member of country music royalty, Kentucky native Loretta Lynn, has also stood up for Simpson. In the January issue of Marie Claire, Lynn said, “People ought to give her a chance. She’s got a great voice, she’s beautiful – I don’t know what else they want.”

“When people like Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton believe in you and want to help people catch a glimpse of the talent God has given you… well, I just hope to be able to do that for somebody else someday,” Simpson said.

Not everyone in Nashville is welcoming Simpson’s country incarnation, however. In his Sept. 18 Nashville Skyline column, CMT editorial director Chet Flippo quoted an e-mail, which he did not credit, that was widely circulated to the city’s music executives shortly after SoundScan figures confirmed Do You Know‘s No. 1 status in September.

The cryptic message: “Country has lost its soul. It’s never been clearer that we’re now a marketing system for failed pop acts.”

“Anybody that second guesses me, any of the skeptics out there… they just present a fun challenge for me,” Simpson said. “I truly believe in myself. I didn’t really have any fear going into this project. Whenever you feel like you have failed at something, you want to pick yourself back up and just try harder the next time. That’s very empowering.”

Rascal Flatts and Jessica Simpson perform at 8 p.m. Jan. 30 at Rupp Arena. Tickets are  $49.75 and $67, Call (859) 233-3535 or (859) 281-6644.

critic’s pick 56

bruce springsteen: working on a dream

bruce springsteen: working on a dream

The Boss’ fifth studio album is less than seven years isn’t the sort of platter you slip on a plate and expect the masses – especially younger audiences that may not see him as a contemporary – to lap up. In short, it won’t provide insight to them as to why Bruce Springsteen is such an iconic rock fugure.

Oh, Working on a Dream is a pleasurable enough listen, to be sure. But like each of Springsteen’s 21st century works, it has a character all its own.

It’s an E Street Band record, but you would never be able to tell that from some of the grooves. It’s hopeful record when placed next to other recent E Street ventures (2002’s The Rising and 2007’s Magic), until you reach the concluding songs of death and failed redemption. It’s a record supposedly cut quickly during breaks from a mammoth 2008 tour, but with songs regularly accentuated by strings, Working on a Dream is one of the sleekest sounding Springsteen outings to date.

The album opens with an epic, the eight-minute Outlaw Pete. The storyline is vintage Springsteen. An Appalachian born criminal reeks nationwide havoc, flees to find domestic redemption only to face his past again in a pool of blood. “We cannot undo these things we’ve done,” Pete is told as he lies dying. Of course, the outlaw escapes on horseback and vanishes into folklore. Musically, it’s mounted not on the usual E Street implements – namely guitars, piano and sax – but on ghostly colors of organ (a nod, no doubt, to longtime E Street keyboardist Danny Federici, who succumbed to cancer last year) and string arpeggios. An odd combination? Hey, they worked just fine on Born to Run. The drama is simply aimed more at folkish fancy than rock ‘n roll this time out.

Working on a Dream then settles into more expected sounds – the hopeful doo-wop vocal backdrop on the title tune, the E Street snap and assertion of My Lucky Day and the pop-savvy glow of Surprise, Surprise, one of several new tunes that echo Magic‘s masterful Phil Spector-esque delicacy, Girls in Their Summer Clothes.

There is a sameness to some of these interim tunes, which does briefly place Working on a Dream on cruise control. But there are indeed surprises between the cracks. The best is a wheezing blast of primal blues might called Good Eye. Here, The Boss goes wild. With Roy Bittan and Max Weinberg hammering a scrappy, soulful march behind him, Springsteen sings in distorted fury of earthly trappings and then colors the messy intensity with harmonica. It’s as though Howlin Wolf had just moved in on E Street.

On the warmer side is This Life, a song heavily steeped in vintage Beach Boys bliss that should sound sweet when Springsteen hits the road again this summer.

Then The Boss drops the payload. The album’s intended finale was The Last Carnival, a eulogy for Federici that employs only Springsteen’s weathered voice, acoustic guitar, choir-like vocal ambience and calliope-style keyboards to echo his fallen mate. The circus imagery, a longtime Springsteen narrative device, outlines the highwire acts that have ceased with Federici’s passing. But there is faith here, too. “We’ll be riding this train without you,” Springsteen sings as a farewell.

But with the theme to the Oscar-nominated The Wrestler tacked on a bonus track, Working on a Dream ends on an earthbound note. Entering a theatre of pain where a maimed hero (“a one trick pony,” “a one legged dog,” “a one armed man”) can summon smiles only by shedding his own blood, Springsteen seeks vindication for a broken life.

Place these gems next to the earlier, sunnier pop reveries and the album might seem contradictory – uneven, almost. Maybe it is. It’s not a classic. Instead, Working on a Dream is the sound of The Boss still on the job. And that is encouraging news, indeed.

in performance: alejandro escovedo

alejandro escovedo

Well, he made it. That was a start -a big start, really, given the sort of Arctic tundra conditions that gripped Lexington during the midway point of a brutal winter storm last night.

After an eight hour road haul from Charlottesville, Virginia, Alejandro Escovedo returned to town to make The Dame a beacon of life in a downtown surrounded by mounting power outages and an incessant, icy rain that turned any exposed street or sidewalk surface into a makeshift ski slope.

Fronting a solid electric quartet, Escovedo served up a tight, 90 minute set of remarkable contrasts. Taking the stage to the recorded tune of the classic George Jones country elegy, He Stopped Loving Her Today, Escovedo ripped into the celebratory rock ‘n roll of Always a Friend and quickly revealed his band’s secret weapon – guitarist David Pulkingham.

A key proponent of Escovedo’s more ornate acoustic music – a credential nicely enforced last night on Juarez, the lovely prelude instrumental to Rosalie – Pulkingham has become equally at home with the singer’s crankier music. He juggled boogie riffs with Esvovedo as Everybody Loves Me fell almost menacingly into place, added manic slide breaks on an encore cover of The Velvet Underground’s I’m Waiting for the Man and triggered a flamenco-savvy breakdown in the midst of the waltz turns of I Was Drunk. Generally, Pulkingham served as an able foil for the singer, although longtime drummer Hector Munoz remained in the rhythmic driver’s seat throughout  the concert.

Escovedo, as usual, seemed cheery and at ease with the change of tempo and temperament that infused a repertoire devoted heavily to music from 2008’s Real Animal and 2001’s A Man Under the Influence. The quieter acoustic strains of Sensitive Boys and the scrappy, punkish charge of Real as an Animal underscored the range of the former album while the set-closing party anthem Castanets, from the latter record, remained a testament to the elemental but persuasive rock ‘n roll spirit that is a constant in Escovedo’s best songs.

As usual, there was a fun surprise at encore time. Having dedicated tunes throughout the show to fallen heroes like The Stooges’ Ron Asheton (who died earlier this month) and The Clash’s Joe Strummer, Escovedo honored another giant. On Warren Zevon’s She’s Too Good For Me – performed as a somber, spacious duet with Pulkingham – Escovedo turned inward and poetic in a way that so often reflects his own fine music. Here, before cheery covers of Mott the Hoople and the Rolling Stones tunes closed the night down, the nod to Zevon was like a momentary meditation in a rock ‘n roll brawl that nicely branded about 90 minutes of honest warmth into an evening literally frozen by the nastiest winter weather of the season.

ice, ice, baby

Like much of the city, The Musical Box is without electricity this morning after yesterday’s storm transformed most of Lexington into the Yukon.  We’re searching out warmer, current-friendly grounds until the thaw is complete. So it may be later this afternoon or tonight before you hear from us again. But, as always, we have much to discuss.

First up is a concert review of the guy who drove eight hours through the storm to play The Dame when things were at their worst last night: Alejandro Escovedo. After that, we’ll check out the new Bruce Springsteen album. And on Friday, just so you know we don’t play favorites here at The Musical Box (well, not all of the time, anyway), we will talk with Jessica Simpson. So please stay tuned. The thaw is underway.

in performance: tannahill weavers/lambchop

Now this is what you want from a WoodSongs show: two richly inventive bands representing different cultural and geographical perspectives. It was as if they their side-by-side billing was almost accidental.

the tannabill weavers

scotland's tannahill weavers

First up last night at the program’s weekly Kentucky Theatre taping was Scotland’s Tannahill Weavers, a regular visitor to local clubs and folk festivals during the ‘80s but absent from Central Kentucky for nearly 18 years. Luckily, little has changed. Roy Gullane, Phil Smillie and Les Wilson summoned a hearty vocal blend that propelled the traditional turns of The Highland Lassie while Colin Melville provided a wake-up-the-neighbors blast on the Highland bagpipes during the title medley from the band’s 2003 album Arnish Light. Flutes and whistles harmonized with fiddle while guitar and bouzouki provided a percussive gust to the music’s rhythmic foundation.

There was little time in the hour-long broadcast for Gullane’s expert sense of balladry. The Standard on the Braes o’ Mar was the closest the Tannies got to settling down, but even its hard knuckled sense of history possessed the gallant swagger of a drinking song. Guess that just means the Tannies will have to knock on the door again soon. Next time, though, they need to stay the night.

kurt wagner of lambchop

kurt wagner of nashville's lambchop

Rounding out the bill was Kurt Wagner’s newest Nashville lineup of the indie pop collective Lambchop. While WoodSongs tends to frown on full bands, especially those with electric rhythm sections, Wagner’s six-man lineup maintained the same warm but whispery charm that engulfs the newest Lambchop album, OH (Ohio). Singing in a low, punctuated mumble that sounded like a cross between Mark Knopfler and Leonard Cohen (only happier) and dressed in an orange sweatshirt and cap that suggested he was late for the golf course, Wagner created very appealing, low-fi meditations that shifted from the bossa nova breeze of the new album’s title tune (a Buckeye bossa?) to the ethereal shuffle of Sharing a Gibson with Martin Luther King, Jr.

Wagner proved an impenetrable lyricist at times. “This is my song, don’t sing along,” he quietly urged during the encore of National Talk Like a Pirate Day. But narrative definition and vocal clarity didn’t matter much last night.

Wagner’s deep warble was as indecipherable as Gullane’s foot-thick Scottish brogue. But within the music’s emotive charge (in the Tannies’ case) and glow (that would be Lambchop), the voices became part of warm orchestrations that communicated their respective moods quite exactly on the eve on an impending winter storm. What a wonderful, curious pair of acts to take a seat next to on a cold January night.

Met Life Drops Bid For South Korean Insurer.

National Underwriter Life & Health-Financial Services Edition May 17, 1999 | D’ALLEGRO, JOSEPH Metropolitan Life Insurance Company has abandoned plans to acquire Korea Life Insurance Company in Seoul, South Korea.

New York-based Met Life had announced its intent to spend up to $1 billion to buy up to 60 percent of the Asian insurer last June. (See NU, June 15.) The planned investment was part of an ongoing effort by Met Life to focus its energies on high growth markets such as Latin America and Southeast Asia. go to site met life dental

Met Life dropped the Korea Life effort because the process was taking too much time, said spokesman Kevin Foley. Senior Met Life officials are figuring out how best to demutualize the company, he explained, and acquiring the distressed insurer, which is under the control of the South Korean government, was too distracting.

“We don’t go public every year, Mr. Foley joked.

“Demutualization is a huge commitment,” said Martha Butler, who tracks Met Life as group vice president of insurance at Chicago-based Duff & Phelps Credit Rating Company She noted that the insurer has about 12 million policyholders.

Ms. Butler said Met Life does not normally announce deals before their completion and opined that it was pressured to announce early to boost confidence in economic reform efforts by the South Korean government.

“We do believe in the Korean economy,” said Mr. Foley. He noted that the potential deal was announced early merely as a courtesy to South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, who was visiting the U.S. around that time to promote his economic reforms. in our site met life dental

Met Life is keeping a presence in Seoul through its wholly owned subsidiary Kolon-Met Life Insurance Company “We’re still committed to South Korea as a long-term investment,” said Mr. Foley The South Korean government still hopes to sell Korea Life, the country’s third largest life insurer, within the next two months. It is reportedly in talks with several potential purchasers with South Korean insurance company LG Group as the front-runner.


return of the tannies

the tannahill weavers: colin melville, phil smillie, roy gullane, john martin, les wilson

scotland's tannahill weavers: colin melville, phil smillie, roy gullane, john martin and les wilson.

There is a Dutch saying Roy Gullane is fond of evoking when discussing the 40-plus year career of the Tannahall Weavers: lekker in je vel.

Loosely translated, that means “sitting comfortably in one’s skin.” That is precisely how he views the current state of the veteran Scottish folk ensemble that performs in Lexington on Monday for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. It will be the band’s first local performance in nearly 18 years.

Fads come and go. And, to be sure, many Scottish and Celtic-inclined ensembles have taken to modernizing their music. Even the Tannahills attempted an electric update on a 1984 recording called Passage. Gullane, the Tannahills’ guitarist, principal vocalist and co-founder, now views that album as “a mistake.”

But for the bulk of its four decade career, the band has embraced tunes that honor Scotland’s history, its poetic and sentimental fancy and even the land itself. And outside of occasional keyboard flourishes, the music is propelled by the strings of guitar, fiddle and bouzouki, the accents of flute and tin whistle and the modest percussion of the hand held drum known as the bodhran.

Oh, yes, there is also the added presence of that beast known as the Scottish Highland bagpipes. Now there’s a sound that knows how to make an entrance without knocking.

“There is always another way to do things, I know,” Gullane said. “But I think we have reached a point now where we have discovered what we do best. Experimentation is exciting. But it can also fall on its face. We realize now what we can do and what we cannot do. We just strive to do what we can do as well as we can.”

Named for Scottish poet Robert Tannahill (and, yes, he was born into a family of weavers), the band has nonetheless brought invention to traditional music. Perhaps its boldest accomplishment has been in finding a role within a folk ensemble for the Highland bagpipes, an instrument usually played alone or in civilian or military pipe bands.

On the Tannahills’ most recent album, 2007’s Live and In Session (a sampler of concert recordings made during a United States tour in 2005 and studio works recorded a year later in the council area of Scotland known formally as the Kingdom of Fife), the pipes initiate a live instrumental medley called The Log Splitter Set but also retreat to support the more studied folk sweep of Dumbarton’s Drums.

“What was difficult in first working with the pipes was just getting everything in tune,” Gullane said. “The Scottish bagpipes play a semitone higher than normal concert instruments. So everything in the band had to be tuned to that.

“Surprisingly, the least of the problems was the infamous bagpipes volume. They’re really not as loud as people think. In fact, we ended up being able to practice in the house at first because we weren’t really bothering the neighbors that much with the sound of the pipes.”

Over a dozen players have passed through the Tannahills during its 40 year history. The one constant remains flutist Phil Smillie, who Gullane knew before they ever began their working lives as Weavers.

“Phil and I were actually working together in the same Glasgow supermarket at one time. So we’ve actually known each other for, oh, 45 years. You just become like brothers after that much time. I consider Phil family. There is no other way to put it.”

Family, yes. But the members currently reside on different shores. Though Gullane remains the voice of the steadfast Tannahills, he left Scotland nearly 23 years ago. For this interview, he spoke by phone from his home in Groningen, in the northern region of The Netherlands.

“Well, I met a Dutch girl a long time ago…”

So now we know why a Scotsman is using a Dutch saying to sum up the current state of his band. But perhaps the real curiosity isn’t how the Tannahills continue to fashion authentic Scottish music while being geographically separated, but how Gullane and Smillie have kept the band afloat for 40 years.

“Do you mean, ‘Why haven’t we disappeared into the mists of time?’ Well, I can’t really put my finger on that,” Gullane said. “We never have put a time frame on what we do. I always hoped I would be playing music for the rest of my life in some shape or form. But it’s like we woke up one morning and, lo and behold, we’ve been on the road for 40 years.

“It’s not a thing you notice until you actually stop and think about it. I don’t even begin to know what happened to the 40 years. Where did they go? I have no idea.”

The Tannahill Weavers and Lambchop perform at 7 tonight for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main. Tickets are $10. Call (859) 252-8888.


US Fed News Service, Including US State News June 3, 2011 FARGO, N.

D., June 1 — North Dakota State University issued the following news release:

Laura Oster-Aaland, director of orientation and student success; Kevin Thompson, professor and head of the criminal justice and political science department; and Myron Eighmy, professor and coordinator of educational doctoral programs, published a peer-reviewed article in the June issue of Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice.

The article analyzed the impact of a medical amnesty policy and an online alcohol poisoning video on college students’ intentions to seek help when witnessing alcohol poisoning symptoms. Findings provide support for education and policy in influencing college students’ intentions to seek help. Practical implications are provided for student affairs administrators who may be considering such policies. For any query with respect to this article or any other content requirement, please contact Editor at alcohol poisoning symptoms

building an animal

alejandro escovedo returns to lexington on tuesday.

alejandro escovedo plays the dame on tuesday.

In a way, it was like coming home.

No, Alejandro Escovedo isn’t from Lexington. He remains a Texas-born, Southern California-reared songsmith through and through. But over the past 12 years, he has estbablished one of his most devout fanbases right here in Central Kentucky.

The shows Escovedo brought to town, especially late ‘90s sets at the long defunct Lynagh’s Music Club, were, quite simply the stuff of legends – performances that mixed rock attitudes that shifted from the punkish to the celebratory with bands often augmented by chamber style orchestration of cello and violins. And the songs, whether contemplative or ferociously rocking, boasted a literary, human detail that was almost Springsteen-ian in scope.

So when Escovedo returned to Lexington at the close of 2007 with Chuck Prophet, another expert songwriter who developed an audience here through regular concert visits, it was only natural to feel a sense of kinship with the surroundings.

But the mission was different this time. Instead of another performance, Escovedo and Prophet settled into the studios of the Saint Claire Recording Company on Spurr Rd. to begin work on a new album. And in a mere five months time, before the resulting record even hit stores, Escovedo’s new music would win over one especially high profile fan.

More on that in a minute. For now, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Escovedo cut his newest album, Real Animal, right in our own back yard.

“Chuck and I kept talking about how interesting it was that we were coming back to Lexington to record this album,” Escovedo said. “Lexington is where, really, things broke for both of us. Those early gigs at Lynagh’s were the kinds of shows that really broadened my whole perspective. People came out to the shows, everyone was enjoying themselves and we were playing some great music. We always couldn’t wait to come back to Lexington.”

Curiously, recording in Lexington wasn’t Escovedo’s idea. That call was made by veteran producer Tony Visconti, who was recruited to oversee the Real Animal sessions. Among Visconti’s credits were seminal albums by David Bowie and T. Rex as well as recordings with The Moody Blues, Angelique Kidjo and many others.

Visconti recorded the Pittsburgh punk band Anti-Flag at Saint Claire earlier in 2007 and was keen enough on the facility to suggest it to Escovedo for the songs he had been writing with Prophet.

“I thought the things Tony could bring to the record were things that I had been hoping for. He wanted me to make a rock album and stuck to that. I knew I had a rock album in me, but Tony had a way of making you feel, without even verbalizing it, that there was something really special going when we were recording.”

While Real Animal offers an ample share of grand rock epics, from the anthemic Always a Friend to the Stooges-inspired brawler Real as an Animal, there are also tunes like Slow Down that uphold Escovedo’s reputation as an expert balladeer. Regardless of the musical thrust, the songs grew out of extended conversations with Prophet. In turn, many of their compositions aren’t so much autobiographical as they are travelogues of Escovedo’s life, from his California upbringing (the lovely Swallows of San Juan) to more jagged snapshots from days with two early bands, the San Francisco punk outfit The Nuns (Nuns Song) and the Austin, Tx. Americana-inclined Rank and File (Chip N’ Tony).

“We would talk about growing up in Huntington Beach, about the songs I used to hear off the peer, the girls, the waves. We dug these stories up out of hours and hours of conversations we would have.”

Escovedo and Visconti returned to Saint Claire to mix the album last February. But by the spring, an advance copy wound up in the hands of Bruce Springsteen. The story goes that Springsteen heard Always a Friend and extended an invitation for Escovedo to join him onstage with the E Street Band when The Boss’ tour rolled into Houston in mid-April.

“I was told Bruce said, ‘Call Alejandro and see if he’s in.’ So I got the call. And, believe me, I was in.”

Escovedo had never met Springsteen up to that point. He had never even seen one of his concerts.

“First of all, I have to say I was completely blown away by the show. The energy was just unbelievable. It wasn’t just the sheer stamina Bruce had, but the quality of the playing and the almost religious fervor he creates. His audience is so up and so happy.

“At the first encore, he gave me this wonderful introduction, talking about how much he liked Texas songwriters. Then I got up there in front of 18,000 people and just couldn’t believe where I was. I was walking on a cloud afterwards.”

The performance was recorded and issued by Springsteen as part of a four-song, download-only benefit EP last summer called Magic Tour Highlights. A video recording can be viewed on Escovedo’s website.

“2008 was this big wave ride for me,” Escovedo said. “I’m proud of what Chuck and I wrote and of what Tony, the band and I recorded. We stuck to what we wanted to do and accomplished what we wanted to do, which is not always the case with records – or anything in life, really.”

Alejandro Escovedo performs at 8 p.m. Tuesday at The Dame, 367 East Main. The Tall Boys will open. Tickets are $20. Call (859) 231-7263 or go to


current jazz listening 01/24

miles davis: kind of blue (1959)

miles davis: kind of blue (1959)

Miles Davis: Kind of Blue – A recent visit to revealed nearly a dozen different editions of Davis’ 1959 masterpiece of cool, including several new deluxe editions full of previously unreleased audio table scraps seemingly designed to flesh out a classic that needs not to be messed with. My recommendation: stick with the $7 copy of the 1997 remastered edition. It sports an alternate take of  Kind of Blue‘s most underrated triumph: Flamenco Sketches. It’s a gorgeous bit of regal jazz atmospherics with a roll call of sublime solos by Davis, Bill Evans, John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderly. You need no bigger blue in your ears than this.

lee morgan: search for the new land (1964)

lee morgan: search for the new land (1964)

Lee Morgan: Search for the New Land – Nearly 37 years after his shooting death in a New York club, Morgan remains the only trumpeter outside of Freddie Hubbard that could even approach Davis’ compositional reach. This 1964 session sports two noted Davis alumni (Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter), although guitarist Grant Green is the one who really ups the cool quotient here. For my money, these are Morgan’s sharpest compositions and, a result, his best album. A record that fully captures the brilliance of the vintage Blue Note era, from its suave swing and temperament to its exquisite sense of after hours soul.  

freddie hubbard: straight life (1971)

freddie hubbard: straight life (1971)

Freddie Hubbard: Straight Life – Hubbard’s death just after Christmas prompted renewed listening to as much of his catalogue as I could get my greedy little mittens on. His Blue Note albums of the early and mid ‘60s remain in a class by themselves. But Straight Life is a 1971 CTI album with only two lengthy funk and primitive fusion jams and a hushed recitation of Here’s That Rainy Day with a young George Benson as a foil. Hubbard’s music went soft and south real fast after this. But today, Straight Life remains a jazz portrait of exciting generational change.

david "fathead" newman: fire! (1988)

david "fathead" newman: fire! (1989)

David “Fathead” Newman: Fire! – I reached for this one as soon as word of sax great Newman’s death spread on Wednesday. It was part of a brief, late ‘80s return to Atlantic Records, the label for which he cut commanding soul music recordings with Ray Charles as well as a string of solo funk and fusion albums. Fire! is largely a jazz bouquet, though, with Newman holding court at New York’s Village Vanguard just before Christmas of 1998. Stanley Turrentine and Hank Crawford provide additional sax star power, but vibist Steve Nelson best echoes the sweet soul reserve of Newman’s blissful playing.

matthew shipp quartet: cosmic suite (2008)

matthew shipp quartet: cosmic suite (2008)

Matthew Shipp Quartet: Cosmic Suite – Stumbled upon this one quite by accident while looking for Shipp music online. Cosmic Suite was cut only a year ago by the pianist’s current trio  – bassist Joe Morris and drummer Walt Dickey – along with veteran New York improviser Daniel Carter on reeds. But it seems to have received only a limited import release. With two such feverish players at the helm, one might expect the music to be a tad volcanic. Actually, the ensemble interplay is often quiet and internalized. Don’t worry, though. You’ll still feel the bumps as you shoot through the cosmos.

Karzai mulling earlier presidential election

The Buffalo News (Buffalo, NY) April 13, 2012 | Ali Safi Afghan President Hamid Karzai said Thursday that he’s considering moving the election for his successor up by a year to avoid complicating the drawdown of U.S.-led NATO forces due to be completed by the end of 2014. website 2012 presidential election

It remained unclear, however, whether Karzai would shift the contest to 2013, because that would apparently require him to resign before his second five-year term ends in May 2014.

Abdullah Ahmadzai, a senior official with the country’s Independent Election Commission, told McClatchy Newspapers that there are no provisions in the Afghan constitution for holding an early presidential election and that only Karzai’s resignation could clear the way.

“There is one provision in the law and that is if the president resigns. Upon his resignation, an early election can be held. Otherwise, we don’t see a legal way for it,” Ahmadzai said.

Some U.S. officials and independent experts have been concerned about holding the election in 2014 at the same time that most U.S.- led international troops are expected to be leaving. Such a convergence, they worry, would create an operational and logistical nightmare that places undue stress on Afghan security forces in their battle to contain the Taliban-led insurgency.

The 2009 presidential election and 2010 parliamentary contests saw major surges in insurgent attacks, but there were more than 100,000 international troops on hand to back up Afghan security forces.

Karzai, appearing at a news conference with NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen in the president’s fortified palace, voiced his own concerns over holding the presidential election as the bulk of the U.S.-led NATO contingent leaves. site 2012 presidential election

“With all the changes that are taking place with the complete return of international forces to their homes from Afghanistan and the holding of a presidential election at the same time,” Karzai said, there are questions over “whether that will be an agenda that we can handle.” Karzai — who has led Afghanistan for more than a decade — is constitutionally barred from running for a third term in the election currently scheduled for March 2014.

As yet, there are no officially declared candidates seeking to succeed Karzai. Among the possible contenders are Karzai’s older brother, Abdul Qayum Karzai, and Ali Ahmad Jalali, who served as the country’s second post-Taliban interior minister. Both are U.S. citizens.

Karzai said he hasn’t yet made a final decision on whether to move up the election.

The United States and its allies plan to withdraw most of their remaining 130,000 troops by the end of 2014 at the conclusion of a phased transition of security responsibilities to Afghan security forces. Some 10,000 U.S. forces left last year, and an additional 20,000 are due to go home this year.

Ali Safi

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