Archive for June, 2009

critic’s pick 78

wilco (the album)

wilco (the album)

You could have fun all summer long just with the titles to Wilco’s seventh studio album, especially seeing how the leadoff track of Wilco (the album) is Wilco (the song). Both are about as whimsical as Jeff Tweedy and company are likely to get on a recording. Luckily, the music inside is just as inviting and summery.

It could be argued that Wilco (the album) is the band’s first record that doesn’t take a defining step forward. As usual, it wraps itself around Tweedy’s alternately sleepy, wide-eyed and demonstrative singing. Just as predictably, the music still revels in allowing an attractive pop melody to melt and morph before our ears. And when the music even begins to suggest static frustration, Tweedy marches out his two prime aces in the hole: guitarist Nels Cline and drummer (and University of Kentucky graduate) Glenn Kotche.

Cut in three sessions – the first and third being held in the band’s Chicago digs while the second took place at Neil Finn’s studio in Auckland, New Zealand (following collaborations with the Crowded House chieftain’s 7 Worlds Collide project) – Wilco (the album) bears a temperament similar to 2007’s Sky Blue Sky with melodies that are light and lyrics that suggest the same but usually veer off into darkness.

Deeper Down, for instance, dances between vintage Brit pop and psychedelia. Chiming guitars mimic harpsichords as assorted, distorted ambience rumbles in the background. It’s kind of like hearing Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd in a Merseybeat mood. It’s a fun, summery listen, for sure. But, as always, there is restlessness in Tweedy’s hushed singing, especially in the way the lyrics parallel plumbing the depths of one’s psyche to the way a prizefighter is stalked for a knockout punch.

You Never Know, though, is something of a pop smorgasbord. Where do we start with on this one? The China Grove-style piano pounding? The George Harrison-like guitar flourishes? How about the lyrical devices Tweedy employs both as a scolding in the first verse (“C’mon children, you’re acting like children”) and as a lunatic sing-a-long chorus of “I don’t care anymore” that ups the danger element in this solid, summer pop.

Lyrically, the skies darken on Country Disappeared and especially during the romantic detachment of One Wing. The former is played essentially straight with echoes of vintage, mid-tempo pop-soul. But One Wing brings Cline and Kotche to the forefront with punctuated rhythms that jump start and cruise under Tweedy’s vocal despondency. Cline’s arsenal of squalls, twang and string tricks are artfully let loose from there.

Finally – well, actually, firstly, since its kicks off Wilco (the album) – we have Wilco (the song), which sounds like the coltish offspring of David Bowie’s Heroes with a hearty guitar hum and grand vocal hooks. And let’s not forget the chorus: “Wilco will love ‘ya, baby.” Eat your heart out, Telly Savalas.

There are also sonic textures throughout Wilco (the album) suggesting the layered, late ‘60s turns Brian Wilson fashioned for the Beach Boys that underscore the record’s prime selling point: that Wilco (the album) is, at heart, a masterful summer listen.

Now if Wilco (the album) would only incite Wilco (the band) to play Wilco (the song) on Wilco (the tour). Maybe that might even bring Tweedy, Cline, Kotche and the gang back to Lexington (the city). That would sure make me (the critic) one happy fellow.

in performance: steve earle

steve earle

steve earle

By way of explaining the depths of his affinity for the music of Townes Van Zandt last night at Memorial Hall in Cincinnati, Steve Earle had to also describe the kinship of their demons – specifically, their respective drug addictions. In doing so, Earle outlined a point in the early ‘90s when he was a near-destitute junkie. Curiously, Van Zandt was called in to help. “You know you’re in trouble when Townes visits you for a temperance lecture.”

With that, Earle launched into Marie, a harrowing song of love and death Van Zandt recorded for one the final albums released before his death on New Year’s Day 1977. Last night, Marie was one of the eight Van Zandt songs Earle performed from his new Townes album (an additional Van Zandt tune not featured on the recording, Rex’s Blues, was paired with the Earle original Fort Worth Blues). Some were near classics (Poncho and Lefty), some more obscure and whimsical (Mr. Mudd and Mr. Gold) and some were surprisingly uplifting (To Live is to Fly, Colorado Girl) for someone usually branded as a black sheep among Texas songwriters.

Earle told the crowd one of his goals in making Townes was to illuminate the lighter side of Van Zandt’s writing. Of course, he used that bit of chat as an intro to one of his idol’s most ghastly songs, Lungs. “If this song doesn’t scare the (expletive) out of you,” Earle then admitted, “then you’re probably over medicated.”

The nearly two hour solo acoustic concert delivered in Memorial Hall’s un-air conditioned swelter sported a few early Earle favorites, too – including a still stark and devastating Goodbye along with more recently topical fare such as The Mountain, Rich Man’s War and City of Immigrants. The signature hits Guitar Town and Copperhead Road were served dutifully as encores.

But Earle clearly outlined the performance as a celebration – vindication, even – of Van Zandt’s music. In the evening’s finest tribute, Earle stirred a guitar-and-harmonica fire under the bluesy Brand New Composition – a tune of hopeful redemption despite a lyric about the singer’s new love having “arms just like two rattlesnakes.”

The devil is never far at bay in Van Zandt’s music. Leave it to Earle to make that gap seem both cheerfully and squeamishly thin.

summer album of the week: 06/27/09

some girls (released june 1978).

the rolling stones: some girls (released june 1978).

During the summer when disco duked it out with punk, The Rolling Stones played double agents by co-opting both along with pop soul (Just My Imagination ) the band’s own boozy, riff-savvy rock ‘n roll (When the Whip Comes Down) and purposely outrageous country music (Far Away Eyes). The hits were plastered all over the airwaves, from the dance club friendly Miss You to the maggot-ridden punk picture post card of New York Shattered. The album’s original cover art work incorporated portraits of several female celebs – including, in the third row, the late Farrah Fawcett. Nearly all objected to being viewed as the Stones’ “girls.” Topping it all, the Stones played Rupp Arena that summer in their last States-side swing as a truly dangerous band.

in performance: dr. john and the lower 911

dr. john performed last night at the kentucky theatre.

dr. john performed last night at the kentucky theatre.

It didn’t initially have the makings of Mardi Gras. In fact, the party Dr. John held last night at the Kentucky Theatre seemed a fairly relaxed affair with the veteran New Orleans pianist known more informally as Mac Rebennack opening Crescent City funk, pop and roll up to a far larger pop environment.

For the diehards of New Orleans soul, there was Rebennack’s famed cover of Professor Longhair’s piano party anthem Tipitina and its deep, rumbling keyboard whimsy. Equally tasty was the Meters-style funk of the 1973 Dr. John original I Been Hoodooed.

But Rebennack, dressed in a purple suit, hat and shades, also had a flair for pop standards like Candy and Makin’ Whoopee. He additionally discovered a fun intersection for past pop and jazz generations with his 1992 version of Do You Call That a Buddy? – a Louis Jordan hit long ago reimagined by Louis Armstrong.

From there, the Leadbelly staple Goodnight Irene became a showcase for swing while My People Need a Second Line was served as a bittersweet requiem for the dead lost in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. There was also an unexpected nod to Dr. John’s “night-tripping” music of the late ‘60s with Mama Roux, although the tune dealt less last night with gris-gris mysticism than it did with efficient, modern pop soul charm.

Through it all, the Mardi Gras spirit in the audience was limited to a few dancers in the aisles waving handkerchiefs. Then the spiritual jubilation of Lay My Burden Down bled into the signature 1973 hit Right Place Wrong Time. That, in turn, slid straight into the New Orleans carnival staple Big Chief.

Then, in the middle of the crowd, a black umbrella popped open and began to twirl as an audience content on sitting politely began to stand and groove. Sure, the umbrella was a necessity of the evening, given the summer thunderstorms raging outside. But inside, it was a catalyst – the firing pin of a subtle, seasoned Mardi Gras parade with the good Dr. John as its uncontested big chief.

michael jackson, 1958-2009

michael jackson

michael jackson

During a late night dinner with a friend at Ramsey’s following last night’s Dr. John concert, a waitress posed this question.

“What do you think about MJ?”

At that moment, I had no opinion. I didn’t know what she was talking about. But the omen wasn’t good. There is only one reason a server brings up Michael Jackson before even asking for your order.

Sure enough, Jackson had died hours earlier. He was 50. But since the singer spent nearly 4/5 of his life as a performing artist, he seemed much younger. Befitting his often mercurial life, no one last night could confirm the cause of death.

I respected Jackson as an artist tremendously. He also infuriated the daylights out of me. As giant as his talent was, it could never match the out-of-all-bounds persona that surrounded him. He was a genius. He was a star. He was as commanding a presence as pop music has ever known. But his fallibility seemed to be that he recognized all of those attributes before becoming obsessed with them.

Now is not the time to go into that, though. This is an honest tragedy. Whatever the cause of his death, Jackson will always be as much a victim of pop’s grandest excesses as an architect of some of its most lasting commercial hits.

More on this later.

tim krekel, 1950-2009

tim krekel

tim krekel

Tim Krekel never broke things open in Lexington the way he did at home in Louisville. There, he was, justifiably, a revered pop/folk/Americana favorite who caught a glimpse of national fame as a one time member of Jimmy Buffett’s Coral Reefer Band and a collaborator and musical chum of everyone from Sam Bush to Bo Diddley to Delbert McClinton.

But Krekel was also a friend to the rock ‘n’ roll faithful in Louisville. Catching him at a festival there was always a blast. But hearing him within the then-smoky walls of the Air Devils Inn was less a performance situation than a relaxed evening among friends.

Within the past year, it looked as if Lexington might be beginning to take more notice of Krekel. There were two splendid but modestly attended shows at The Dame. Then came a Friday evening at last fall’s Christ the King Oktoberfest that had Bush and Krekel making cameos in each other’s sets. When Krekel came out late in the evening to harmonize with Bush on All Night Radio (a song the former wrote and the latter popularized) the sense of camaraderie was almost intoxicating.

That’s when you sensed good things were ahead for Krekel. But then, with musical pals like Bush at his side along with a devoted hometown fanbase following that was just beginning to creep to Lexington, some of that goodness had already been won.

Krekel died yesterday at his Louisville home. He had been battling abdominal cancer since the spring.

“I may just be happier now than I’ve been in my whole life,” Krekel told me prior to a Dame concert in March 2008. “Maybe that just comes from years of doing this. But my expectations these days are all in the right place.”

For more of our interview, click here.

go daddy go

daddy: tommy womack and will kimbrough. photo by joshua black wilkins.

daddy: tommy womack and will kimbrough. photo by joshua black wilkins.

The question this weekend won’t so much be “Who’s your daddy?” but “Who’s this Daddy?”

Daddy, as it pertains to a pair of regional performances on Saturday, is the name of a very resourceful Americana outfit fronted by Will Kimbrough and Sturgis native Tommy Womack. Both have been regulars at Lexington clubs, from Kimbrough’s rocking dates at The Dame over the past four years to Womack’s days in and out of Government Cheese that extend back decades to downtown shows at the long defunct Wrocklage.

Daddy, though, is a different beast. It’s a looser, earthier ensemble with strong elements of twang, soul and gospel cool. There is also a healthy roster of inspirations figuring into the band’s new For a Second Time album.

Nobody from Nowhere, for instance, is a moody everyman rocker that recalls the narratives of Steve Earle and Chris Knight while Wash & Fold cooks up a groove fueled by vintage Little Feat-style slide guitar and a crisp Bo Diddley beat. The killer, though, is Hardshell Case, which grooves with a slow, determined Southern glow and a guitar hook that sounds like Creedence Clearwater Revival. Keyboards then pepper the tune with a spiritual air that almost takes the music to church.

Kimbrough and Womack will perform as an acoustic duo at Midway College’s Francisco Farm Arts Festival on Saturday afternoon (5 p.m., $5) while the full band (rounded out by keyboardist John Deaderick, bassist Dave Jacques and drummer Paul Griffith) heads to The Brick Alley, 25 St. Clair St. in Frankfort for a Saturday evening performance (8 p.m. $10).

Call (859) 846-4049 for info on the Midway duo show and (502) 875-2559 for the full band Frankfort set.

dr. john’s second line

dr. john

dr. john

Of all the heartbreaking, fist-shaking laments Dr. John summons on his recent City That Care Forgot album, My People Need a Second Line is the most arresting.

Set, as is the entire album, in a post-Katrina New Orleans, the song initially outlines the unmovable sadness of a community mourning its dead without even the comforts of a celebratory “second line” – a parade team of musicians and revelers that help funerals become affirmations of life rather than meditations on death.

Then the music steps up, the horns quicken the tempo and the music casts off all emotive burdens. In short, the second line has arrived.

But for Dr. John – also known as pianist, songwriter and all-around New Orleans cultural icon Mac Rebennack – the real second line is still missing in action. A Crescent City native that fused the Louisiana piano lexicon of Professor Longhair with his own swampy Southern funk music to create such distinctive hits as Right Place Wrong Time and Such a Night, Rebennack is still waiting for the full revival of New Orleans, the repair of Southern Louisiana’s threatened wetlands and a political leadership free of corruption to lead to the area to a future as heartening as its storied past.

“The song came out of a conversation I had with Aaron Neville,” said Rebennack, who performs in Lexington for the first time in eight years on Thursday at the Kentucky Theatre. “He was telling me how they didn’t have enough musicians left down in New Orleans to do a second line at a funeral. And that was just so sad to me.

“In New Orleans, for some guy’s funeral, there were usually three or five second lines. But here, there weren’t even enough to put together one good second line band.”

And so we have City That Care Forgot – a Grammy winning album as funky and serenely soulful as any record Rebennack has cut in decades. But lyrically, it simply blisters as the record chronicles the storm ravaged regions of New Orleans (particularly the city’s decimated lower ninth ward), the political powers that have hindered its recovery and the deaths that mounted in Katrina’s aftermath.

“I hope people don’t look at it as being overly political,” Rebennack said of the recording. “But we’re trying to get truths out. Where can people go to get the truth? Well, I guess they can get it from us – a bunch of musicians. People may go, ‘Look at those guys. What do they know?’ Well, we know enough to tell the truth.”

In Rebennack’s corner for City That Care Forget was a host of fellow New Orleans greats, including Grammy winning trumpeter Terence Blanchard, trombonist Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and even songwriter Ani DiFranco. The latter had been maintaining residences in New Orleans and Buffalo, New York. But the album also includes a few notable guests from outside Louisiana: Eric Clapton and Willie Nelson.

“Listen, Willie Nelson is open to everything and Ani lives there part time. Eric and I, we’ve had our ups and downs over the years. But he came into this knowing what were trying to do. He really cares about it. So everyone threw down with all their hearts and souls for this thing.”

For Rebennack, 68, telling the story of a post- Katrina New Orleans began just after the storm hit Southern Louisiana in late August 2005. Within three months, Rebennack had released an EP disc called Sippiana Hericane, an immediate response and impression of Katrina’s impact. The record’s centerpiece is the four part Wade: Hurricane Suite, a variation on the spiritual Wade in the Water.

“Pretty much our whole band was in a state of shock when we did that record. We were there in the studio trying to keep each other’s spirits up. It was just a strange feeling. We were, I think, in Minneapolis when the storm hit. Then we had to go to Japan to play. It was very hard trying to explain to people what we were trying to do with this music.”

So what gives Dr. John hope for his homeland? With a March report on CNN terming the lower ninth ward as “an abandoned wasteland” four years after Katrina, what faith can be gleamed for the future?

“Let’s put it this way,” Rebennack said. “I ain’t giving up. We’re people of a good spirit. These are people I trust with all of my life. There are also other people that believe in what we do. But certain things have to be done. We’ve got to rebuild the wetlands. We’ve got to get oil companies to stop digging where the salt water comes into the marshlands.

“Somebody has to make a decision. It will all come down to this: Will big money win out or will the people have a chance? It’s always been that way, really. But the people I know? They’re resilient.”

Dr. John performs at 7 p.m. June 25 at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main St. Tickets are $44.50. Call (859) 231-7924.

critic’s pick 77

dave alvin and the guilty women

dave alvin and the guilty women

There are only two things you need to know about Dave Alvin before approaching his newest recording projects. Well, that’s excluding the essential bio info – namely, that he is a founding member of the Southern California post-punk roots rock brigade The Blasters, a charter member of X and The Knitters, and an Americana songsmith with two decades worth of exemplary solo recordings to his credit.

For the purposes of Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women and Man of Somebody’s Dreams: A Tribute to the Songs of Chris Gaffney, you need only know that Alvin’s usual touring band is The Guilty Men and that Gaffney, aside from being a bandmate and a quietly literate songsmith, was Alvin’s best friend. He died last year of liver cancer.

There. We’re all set. Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women teams Alvin with a roster of female country and Americana players that maintain the rootsy intent of The Guilty Men. But the focus here is less on overt rock ‘n’ roll and more on acoustic based drive.

Those expecting a folk exercise should still be prepared to fasten their seats belts, though. On Nana and Jimi, Alvin tells of being dropped off by his mom as a child at a Jimi Hendrix concert. The tune struts along with ‘60s pop flair, a touch of psychedelia and a little whammy bar distortion that gives the music ample twang. Guess that means Ma Alvin is, in her own way, a Guilty Woman, too.

There is also a nice bridge to Alvin’s past with a Cajun reworking of the seminal Blasters tune Marie Marie. Violinists Amy Farris and Laurie Lewis orchestrate and propel the modest groove while veteran steel guitarist Cindy Cashdollar adds winding, Western color that borders on swing.

The real curiosity here, however, is a revision of the 1956 Doris Day hit Que, Sera Sera with piano queen Marcia Ball pumping the fun full of boogie woogie gusto while Christy McWilson serves as a prime duet foil for Alvin’s sleek vocal cool.

man of somebody's dreams: a tribute to chris gaffney

man of somebody's dreams: a tribute to chris gaffney

Man of Somebody’s Dreams gets an early vote for country album of the year even though it veers too deeply into traditional country territory for the likes of contemporary country radio. What a shame. Robbie Fulks sounds like a Bakersfield-bound Faron Young on King of the Blues while Joe Ely gives Lift Your Leg some serious Long Star swagger. 

Alejandro Escovedo offers a lovely string-laden waltz reworking of 1968 which Alvin co-wrote with Gaffney years ago (it was featured on Alvin’s Blackjack David album in 1998) while Alvin himself, who is listed as “curator” for Man of Somebody’s Dreams, presents a snapshot of the Southern California youth he and Gaffney shared on Artesia that is devoid of sentimentality.

But even with other killer tracks by John Doe, Calexico and Peter Case, the hands down highlight is the album’s title tune as interpreted by Los Lobos. With David Hidalgo softly singing lead, the tune possesses a light ‘60s twilight air with chiming keyboards offsetting acoustic guitars. The tune is a mini memory play of sorts, where a lover of two women becomes a loner with none in a wondrously understated performance.

One project is a requiem. The other charts a new beginning. Together they make up the two newest chapters in Alvin’s continually appealing Americana saga.

avett major

the avett brothers: bob crawford, seth avett and scott avett. photo by crackerfarm.

the avett brothers perform at the kentucky theatre on tuesday. from left: bob crawford, seth avett and scott avett. photo by crackerfarm.

For years, the Avett Brothers operated as a sort of rootsy, indie antiquity in motion.

A banjo, stand up bass and guitar outfit from the bluegrass-rich regions of North Carolina, the band’s music was one part rustic, literate acoustic charm and two parts seething rock ‘n’ roll. And with every album cut for the independent Ramseur Records label, the band’s fanbase grew.

Well, a growth spurt was bound happen sooner or later. The trio of guitarist Seth Avett, banjoist Scott Avett and unofficial sibling but fully indoctrinated “brother” bassist Bob Crawford have caught the ears of the major labels – specifically, American/Columbia Records. Not only that, their first non-indie project, a new album set for release later this summer called I and Love and You, teamed the band with one of the record industry’s most esteemed producers, Rick Rubin.

So how does the change sit with the Avetts? Will jumping from the indie ranks to cutting an American album with Rubin puncture the intimacy and organic energy of the brothers’ rambunctious string band sound?

“We’re a major label act now,” Johnson said. “We can’t deny that at this moment. But we’re kind of dancing with the one that brung us, you know what I’m saying? That said we haven’t really changed our attitudes about what we’re doing since the days when me, Seth and Scott we’re touring around in a pick up truck.

“What’s happening now is simply the next step on the ladder for us. If you listen to each album, you will see a maturing process even though you will not notice any great change in the music. We have learned what works and what doesn’t. And then we simply modified.”

Many might argue that making a record with Rubin – whose client list has included Metallica, Tom Petty, The Red Hot Chili Peppers and Johnny Cash – isn’t merely a step up on a ladder. It’s more like an express move to the penthouse.

“Rick is very patient, very thoughtful and very mellow,” Crawford said. “He’s a meticulous note-taker with an eye for detail. He can hear a song and break down the parts like the workings of a clock. And he is very aware, as we are, of the importance of each word in a lyric.

“It was a really nice collaboration. As someone who has been playing music for a long time, I can tell you there are perceptions that go with making a major label album – things like people being difficult and demanding. None of that materialized. None of the nightmare scenarios ever materialized.

“The thing is you can’t dwell on any of this. I mean, working with Rick Rubin? Who could have fathomed that? But then it happens, it is what it is and you keep moving. We just have to keep moving.”

One could have sensed the majors would eventually call on the Avetts. The leap in visibility between the band’s 2005 concert recording, Live, Vol. 2, and its briskly selling 2007 studio album Emotionalism was considerable. In fact, the trio’s Lexington fanbase was essentially established in full during that time through shows at The Dame. And as the popularity grew so did the size of the venues the Avetts played.

This week, in fact, the band is graduating to its first headlining show at the Kentucky Theatre. And the shows and stages are getting even bigger. Already this summer, the Avetts have opened performances by the Dave Matthews Band at sold out arenas. But with that comes another challenge – playing in front of a huge audience that paid to hear someone else.

“It comes back to just doing what we do,” Crawford said. “It takes a show or two to get acclimated to that environment. But I’ll tell you what… it was really pretty cozy up there opening for Dave.

“Still, we do our thing no matter what stage we’re on. The idea of the live show for us has always been ‘pull the cord and let ‘er rip.’ It’s always been like that. So there is a sense of comfort and security that comes with that no matter what environment we’re playing in, whether it’s a festival, a punk club, a theatre or an amphitheatre with Dave in front of 18,000 people. Of course, it’s more like 8,000 when we start our set.

“But empty room, full room, board room, class room – we’ve played just about all of them. The sound systems change. The environments change. We stay the same.”

The Avett Brothers performs at 7 p.m. June 23 at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main. Tickets are $24.50. Call (859) 231-7924.

« Previous entries

Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | About Our Ads | Copyright