Archive for September, 2009

critic's pick 91

heaven on earth

heaven on earth

On Heaven and Earth, a tasty concert recording cut at New York’s Blue Note jazz club last May, the remarkably versed saxophonist James Carter takes the helm, even though a quartet of support players receive equal billing. Together they flirt with the abstract, run hot and cool with tempos and temperaments and ultimately bow to tradition.

In contrast, Radiolarians III – the third and last of Medeski Martin & Wood’s experimental album series where compositions were penned or arranged quickly, ironed out on tour and then promptly recorded in the studio – sports a vastly more combustible sound.

And just to make these journeys all the more curious, keyboardist John Medeski serves as double-agent player on both recordings.

Heaven on Earth starts out like most MMW sessions with Medeski’s organ bleeps adding typically outer space accents to fractured grooves and free-flavored jazz overtures. That the melee is actually a set up for Django Reinhardt’s Diminishing is where surprises begin. As the album progresses, Carter takes over with tenor sax skirmishes that can’t help but summon the spirit of John Coltrane while Medeski moves the groove into churchy soul territory.

From there, things settle somewhat. A 75 year old chestnut like Street of Dreams unleashes Carter’s most sparkling and playful tenor lead but Medeski puts the tune on ice with a sense of supreme soul wonderfully colored by omnipresent bassist Christian McBride and similarly studied rhythm by drummer Joey Baron, a player versed in explosive improvisatory interplay. Guitarist Adam Rogers similarly rides Heaven on Earth‘s waves with ease, meeting head on its stylistic cunning while enhancing the club setting’s unmistakable intimacy.

radiolarians iii

radiolarians iii

Radiolarians III, as with all MMW sessions, loves to flirt with danger. On the spiritual Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down, Medeski unplugs for a piano intro that blends Lennie Tristano’s improvisatory daring, McCoy Tyner’s beefy modal play and his own inherent playfulness. A distorted lead emerges which sounds like mutated, amplified acoustic bass figures by Chris Wood, but with MMW, who really knows? Underneath it all, Medeski’s piano frolic sounds less like gospel and more like a barrelhouse rumble.

Later, Undone gets down to more familiar MMW turf with layers of keyboard haze and a sweaty but altogether foreboding drum pattern that gathers steam before briefly spilling over into more uplifting rock ‘n roll.

Where Heaven and Earth is the sound of friends takings cues from tradition, Radiolarians III turns the groove inward for a gospel, soul and jazz square-off that stands far more on muscle than ceremony.

Boiler Erupts at Citgo Refinery.(Citgo Petroleum Corp.’s Corpus Christi, TX, refinery)(Brief Article) go to site corpus christi tx

The Oil Daily August 10, 1999 A boiler exploded Monday morning at Citgo’s Corpus Christi, Texas, refinery, injuring one person, a Corpus Christi Police Department spokeswoman said Monday.

She said the boiler blew up near the north gate entrance to the refinery. website corpus christi tx

U.S. Gulf traders said that processing at the 165,000 b/d refinery was not affected by the explosion.

Citgo officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Tulsa, Okla.-based Citgo is owned by PDV America Inc. a wholly owned unit of Venezuelan national oil company Petroleos de Venezuela S.A.

in performance: silversun pickups/manchester orchestra/cage the elephant

silversun pickups

silversun pickups

For the first band, it was homecoming of sorts. For the second, it was something akin to a metal-esque exorcism. For the third, it was a cheery though somewhat stifling way of saying hello.

That was the breakdown at Buster’s last night, as Monday played out with three popular indie bands, all of which were making Lexington debuts. We say indie here more as matter of reference. The new albums by Cage the Elephant, Manchester Orchestra and Silversun Pickups have all received a serious major label push. Still, all three bands possessed an immediacy far removed from corporate rock convention.

cage the elephant.

cage the elephant.

First up was Bowling Green’s Cage the Elephant, a feisty punk-pop band with a wiry lead singer named Matt Schultz that moaned, shouted and half-spoke his way through such retro-charged tunes as Back Against the Wall, Free Love and In One Ear. A taste of early ‘60s Stones surfaced here, a blast of Iggy Pop countered there. While there was a welcome punkish thud to Schultz’s singing, much of the 45 minute set seemed more accepting of pop inspiration than Cage the Elephant’s recent self-titled debut album. Plus, it was a blast to watch Schultz concede his delight in being “home” before stage diving into the crowd.

manchester orchestra

manchester orchestra

Atlanta’s Manchester Orchestra followed with a set full of more insular intensity than the evening’s other acts. Songs like Shake It Out and I’ve Got Friends also possessed a spiritual fire ignited by the high, tense tone of Andy Hull’s vocals, chunky guitar passages that bowed deeply to metal and a hardened percussive drive. But the set closing The Only One (performed as a trio piece with Hull, bassist Jonathan Conley and keyboardist/percussionist Chris Freeman) pinned a more human urgency upon such confessions. It was an intriguing though somewhat oppressive performance. Where Cage the Elephant presented its music as a sort of participatory brawl, Manchester Orchestra seemed remote. The members plowed through the set without saying a word to the crowd, waved goodbye and were gone.

Rounding out the evening was Los Angeles’ Silversun Pickups and a set of more pop-conscious material with a modest early ‘80s, post-New Wave feel in places. The quartet certainly knows well the way around a melodic hook. Perhaps too well. Once songs like Sort Of found a solid beat, they never let go. Add in the fact that Brian Aubert’s singing and rudimentary rhythm guitar phrasings were buried in a mix that oddly favored bass and drums and you had a performance that tended to drag.

But there were still fun surprises, like the set-opening Growing Old is Getting Old, which started out sounding like a sort of lo-fi Roxy Music before drummer Joe Lester set the tune up with a more streamlined groove

The evening also ran like clockwork. With set changes coming in well under the half hour mark, all three bands had their say and still got the crowd home by midnight. All Mondays should move along that briskly and efficiently.

manchester on manchester

manchester orchestra with singer andy hull in foreground. photo by james minchin iii.

manchester orchestra with singer and lyricist andy hull in foreground. photo by james minchin iii.

The goal was simple. When Manchester Orchestra hit the studio to cut its sophomore album, Mean Everything to Nothing, the idea was to make “a rock record.” As the band’s keyboardist Chris Freeman put it, “We were ready to make some louder noises.”

But what happens as Manchester Orchestra cranks things up is a bit unexpected. When the volume is raised, so are some especially restless spirits. Within the earthy, unsettling and often spiritual songs that make up Mean Everything, Manchester Orchestra offers more of an ear-crunching séance than a conventional rock ‘n roll party.

Take the leadoff tune The Only One, where singer Andy Hull howls about life as the lone son of a Southern pastor and the ultimately “passive power of the truth” over buzzsaw guitars and synths and a mutated ’60 pop groove. It’s a song both exhilarating and squeamish.

“Lyrically and thematically, this is a very personal record for Andy,” Freeman said. “I mean he really is the son of a pastor. He grew up in the South. So there are definitely religious aspects to the lyrics and the music. These were things that became a big part of growing up in the South and remain part of what we think about on a day-to-day basis.”

In a review of a spring performance that celebrated the release of Mean Everything, The New York Times’ Jon Caramanica pegged the band’s music as “a comfortably depressing blend of emo and Southern rock, shaggy and desperate.” It went on to mention how the band “played with the vigor, thrust and density of a heavy metal band… there was barely any room to breathe.”

Such a temperament may point to the middle ground that will be occupied when Manchester Orchestra comes to Manchester St. in Lexington to play Buster’s as part of a triple indie rock bill that also features the power punk charge of Bowling Green’s Cage the Elephant and the far sleeker yet elemental melodies of the Los Angeles pop brigade Silverspun Pickups.

But there is also a tug of war within Manchester music where repression often battles discovery. On Mean Everything songs such as My Friend Marcus, the conflict turns very dark. Real life, though, has been less foreboding.

For much of his Georgia upbringing, Freeman was forbidden to listen to contemporary pop, rock or rap by his parents. Older rock records by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and the like were allowed. But the only permissible sounds of the era had to come from Christian radio stations.

Eventually – and, perhaps inevitably – the outside world came knocking. For Freeman, it came in the form of a Radiohead record.

“I remember the first time I heard (the band’s second album) The Bends,” he recalled. “I was in the back of my friend’s sister’s white 1996 Mustang driving down to the beach during spring break of ’01 or ’02. When the record ended, I felt like a hammer had hit me over the head.”

Today, Manchester Orchestra’s music gets to do the hammering. But the band’s often agitated indie tunes have also been afforded some very commercial outlets. For example, I Can Feel a Hot One, which was released on a 2008 EP titled Let My Pride Be What’s Left Behind before finding a place on Mean Everything, was featured on an episode of Gossip Girl. And if you think a pack of spiritually inclined Southern hothead rockers don’t think that’s cool, guess again.

“Hey, I’ve watched Gossip Girl pretty regularly since I lost The O.C. as my guilty pleasure show. So when we got the offer to have our song on Gossip Girl, we freaked out. The night that episode was on, we all ordered some dinner and sat in front of the TV like little school children and watched for our song to come on.”

The steady rise in popularity of Manchester Orchestra has also earned Freeman two new fans: his parents.

“It’s funny, for Mother’s Day, I bought my mom an iPod and filled it with all of my favorite records as well as records I thought she would enjoy. Of course, I left off all the ones with massive amounts of swearing and drug references. And now she’s totally into all the music that I tried to get her to let me listen to back in the day. She loves Kings of Leon. All of her friends are blown away by the music she listens to now.

“But then getting to perform like we have on David Letterman and Conan O’Brien has kind of vindicated our careers with our parents. Now we can be like, “Hey, mom, we’re gonna be on TV. This is a real job where we’re kind of making some money.’ So that’s always fun.”

Silverspun Pickups, Manchester Orchestra and Cage the Elephant perform at 8 tonight at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St.  Tickets are $25.

in performance: bettye lavette

bettye lavette.

bettye lavette.

Throughout her extraordinary 90 minute concert last night at the Singletary Center for the Arts, soul music empress Bettye LaVette regularly referenced two numbers. The first was 63, which reflects her age. The other was 46, which corresponds to the number of years she has been singing professionally, most of which have been to shamefully few ears.

Both numbers, however, were worn like badges of honor during the performance – testaments, really, to a sound that has endured through a generation of obscurity to become a voice full of rampant joy, drama and, of course, soul.

As a singer, LaVette’s voice often sailed into wondrous tailspins. In its quieter, torchier moments, as in a long lost 1971 Elton John tune called Talking Old Soldiers, it reached a plateau full of longing and desperation that seemed to glide in mid air before it cracked – not through technical deficiencies but through purposeful pacing – into shards of raw and revealing emotion. Add in the tune’s storyline of age and loneliness and you had some serious tear-swelling music on your hands.

On an altogether different plain, LaVette was also as funky as all get out, turning such unlikely tunes as Don Henley’s You Don’t Know Me At All into emancipating groove exercises full of sass and defiance.

Both songs also reflected the wildly varied scope of contemporary fare that make up LaVette’s repertoire today. The show opening rock and soul party piece, The Stealer, was penned back in 1971 by the British rock brigade Free. The equally earthy Joy, of course, came from Americana queen Lucinda Williams. The one-two encore punch of the empowering Sleep to Dream and the a capella affirmation I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got? Those were tunes by Sinead O’Connor and Fiona Apple, respectively.

Only the autobiographical Before the Money Came, co-penned by Patterson Hood of the Drive-By Truckers, came from LaVette’s own hand. But, really, all of these songs became her own. Even the Sam Cooke soul classic A Change is Gonna Come, a tune she performed at President Obama’s inauguration even though it equally addressed her own career renaissance, became part of LaVette’s regal, gracious and endearing performance persona.

in performance: jason aldean/miranda lambert

jason aldean.

jason aldean.

On any other night at Applebee’s Park, the game would have been called and the crowd would have been sent home in search of alternate entertainment. Not last night, though. With the heavens open for business thanks to a prolonged rainstorm that managed to last almost the exact length of the sold out Alltech Fortnight Festival opening night concert by country stars Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert, the park became a sort of homey Woodstock

In short, the show went on, the rain came down and the audience and artists made the best of it.

Let’s say this up front: standing in the rain for roughly three hours can’t help but detract from the definition and depth in even the best of performances. It is certainly no one’s fault that it poured. There is, similarly, no blame to be dispensed over the fact that the storm steadily intensified as the evening wore on until it became the clear that the flashes of light in the sky weren’t stage effects. No one – not Aldean, not Lambert – can beat those odds. I sat through the Rolling Stones at Churchill Downs almost three years ago to the day. Same thing happened. They couldn’t beat the rains either.

Aldean seemed genuinely amazed at the sight. “Only in Kentucky will you find this many rednecks standing in the rain.” That prompted two similarly soaked patrons standing nearby to look each other and wonder if they had just been paid a compliment or not.

To his credit, Aldean came with best of intentions – that, and a smoky Southern singing voice that wrapped around hard electric material like the show opening Wide Open, the more summery country sway of the huge radio hit Big Green Tractor (dispensed with, curiously, early into the set) and a pop-savvy cover of Tom Petty’s I Won’t Back Down. It was all as safe as could be, especially when Aldean fell back upon ballads (Why) and lighter country-pop fare (Amarillo Sky) that would have been suitable moodpieces for a clear autumn evening. But in the midst of last night’s monsoon conditions, the tunes’ intimacy seemed unavoidably remote.

miranda lambert.

miranda lambert.

Lambert took a vastly more unapologetic approach, stuffing her set full of rock oldies by The Faces, Joan Jett and, when the weather took a decided turn for the worse, a hearty cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Have You Ever Seen the Rain.

It was also crossroads time for the singer. Her third album, Revolution, hits stores next week and broadens her stylistic scope with tunes by such Americana greats as John Prine, Fred Eaglesmith and Julie Miller. Little of that came into play last night, however, as Lambert’s pounded her way through a fearsome electric set that was country in only the most coincidental instances.

This was loud, ceremonial but still quite earnest rock ‘n roll at work. Whether she was dancing in the rain beside a Mohawk-ed bassist with a Who t-shirt, constructing a boozy sing-a-long for Jett’s I Love Rock and Roll or whipping up her own electric fury with the set closing Gunpowder and Lead, Lambert was out to prove she was by far the bigger of the storms to hit town last night.

soul reign

bettye lavette.

bettye lavette.

The performance that perhaps best defines the remarkable career renaissance of Bettye LaVette arrived last December at the Kennedy Center Honors.

As part of a tribute to The Who, the veteran soul singer transformed the Quadrophenia anthem Love Reign O’er Me into a simmering torch song. Reserved, elegant and thoroughly majestic, LaVette delivered the song to an audience that included then-President George W. Bush, honorees Barbra Streisand and George Jones, presenter/attendees Aretha Franklin and Beyonce and perhaps most significantly the two surviving members of  The Who: guitarist Pete Townshend (who wrote the song) and singer Roger Daltrey (the vocalist on the tune’s original 1973 recording).

To the call the performance transcendent when it was presented on network television just after Christmas is not at all an overstatement. In LaVette’s hands, the song’s theme of longing and healing were conveyed with a voice that seemed to rise like steam, cracking with deep, unforced and very real drama. Townshend wrote later on his website, “My favorite moment was when Bettye LaVette sang a very fine version of Love Reign O’er Me at the gala and Barbra Streisand turned to ask me if I really wrote it.”

Not a bad gig and not a bad review for an artist that has been singing all her life but never enjoyed anything close to mainstream success and acceptance until 2005.

Did performing before such a court of celebrities and the very creators of the song she was singing rattle the nerves?

“Not at all, baby,” said LaVette, 63. “I’ve been waiting almost 50 years for an audience like that. If someone has asked me, ‘Who would you want in your audience?’ I would have said the people who became successful the whole time I was struggling. But Aretha Franklin, Beyonce, The Who and the President of the United States? That worked for me.

“Pete came over afterward and said, ‘You made me weep.’ I turned around and Roger was on his knee telling me I was marvelous. They were genuine, gracious and forthcoming. They were saying the things I always wanted to hear.”

When LaVette said she had been waiting for a half century for such praise, she wasn’t exaggerating. Her first recordings date back to the early ‘60s. She earned her first Top 10 R&B hit (My Man, He’s a Lovin’ Man) at the age of 16 and has shared studios and stages with scores of soul legends, including James Brown, Otis Redding and Ben E. King. There were occasional hits, but often severe disappointments – cancelled tours, shelved recordings and, in general, missed career opportunities beyond her control.

LaVette never stopped singing though. There were club gigs full of soul and jazz standards, several of which are revisited on a new download-only EP titled Change is Gonna Come Sessions, as well as extensive touring in the musical Bubbling Brown Sugar. Then Lavette’s singing came to the attention of Andy Kaulkin, the president of Anti- Records, a label whose roster includes such multi-generational greats as Tom Waits, Neko Case, Mavis Staples and Daniel Lanois.

Kaulkin signed LaVette to a three album deal that began with a stunning collection of songs penned entirely by women. The composers included Dolly Parton, Lucinda Williams, Aimee Mann and Joan Armatrading. But it was a verse from the Fiona Apple affirmation Sleep to Dream that gave what would become LaVette’s breakthrough album its name: I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise.

“Sweetie, I’m the oldest person who isn’t a big star in the world who has an active record contract,” LaVette said. “When I came to Anti-, I was already over 55 years old.

“I mean, I knew I could always sing because that’s what I do. I knew I could always get a gig because I can sing. But to have a young, hip record company come and fall in love with my singing and help me? I never thought that would happen. Why would I think that? It hadn’t happened to me in 40-something years.”

But perhaps the crowning honor to LaVette’s career comeback took place just over a month after the Kennedy Center Honors. At Kennedy Center, she sang for a president. In late January she sang at the inauguration of another. With a somewhat unlikely duet partner, Jon Bon Jovi, she sang the Sam Cooke civil rights meditation A Change is Gonna Come on the day Barack Obama was sworn into office.

“This is exactly what I’ve cried all night for, gotten drunk all night for, begged all nght for. People keep telling me to say how exciting all of this is. But it’s more satisfying than anything. I feel so worthwhile. Success feels different for me than it does than it does for, say, Kanye West. It feels completely different.”

Bettye LaVette performs at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Singletary Center for the Arts as part of the Alltech Fortnight Festival. Tickets are $20, $25 and $28. Call (859) 257-4929.


The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, NM) June 30, 2004 Byline: PANCHO EPSTEIN Russian artist paints unique pieces under a microscope You can now use a pen decorated by a Russian artist to write your friends about Russian Summer in Santa Fe.

Pens from Krone, painted by Russian artists, are featured at Santa Fe Pens, 500 Montezuma, Suite 111 in Sanbusco Market Center.

“Each piece is expertly painted by a Russian miniaturist artist, using a single sable hair under a microscope, rendering a completely one-of-a-kind pen,” owner Neal Frank said.

Prices range from $3,500 to $10,000.

Store hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, call 989-4742.

Then, in the would-you-believe category, we have Art in the Streets.

Some visitors leaving “Nicholas & Alexandra: At Home with the Last Tsar and His Family” are attaching the “V” stickers they get when they enter the exhibit to the city trash can under the Spitz clock. The can is taking on an artistic look.

“People are now really getting into decorating the can,” museum director Marsha Bol said. art in the streets

The site brings back memories of the good, old 1960s, when artists were decorating trash cans in Venice, Calif., and trash-can art shows were held.

And this is what is going on through next Tuesday during Russian Summer in Santa Fe:

Thursday through July 31 Artistas de Santa Fe Gallery, 228 Old Santa Fe Trail, entrance on Alameda.

Photography exhibition by Virginia Lee Lierz, “Russian Rendezvous: Traveling the Trans-Siberian Railroad.” “I was in Russia in 1978 on a bus-camping trip, and in 2000 I traveled the Trans-Siberian Railroad from Vladivostok to Moscow to photograph changes that perestroika and the 1991 coup brought,” Lierz said. “These include smiling faces, courteous clerks, fashionably dressed women, current international publications available to everyone, newly renovated buildings, renovated churches with worshipers of all ages, flowers growing in public places, cars on the road instead of military vehicles, police and soldiers that allowed themselves to be photographed and best of all, western toilets, some that actually had toilet seats.” Opening reception, 5-7 p.m. Friday 982-1320 Friday-Aug. 31 Anahita Gallery, 312 Sandoval St. in our site art in the streets

“History of Russian Photography” The more than 100 photographs cover the 1880s through the 1990s.

These photos, both in content and artistry, are fascinating.

Opening reception, 4-7 p.m. July 2 820-2323 Friday Pushkin Gallery, 550 Canyon Road Opening champagne reception 5-7 p.m. for “Collection of Twelve,” the works of Leah Ostrova.

“Ostrova is considered to be the first lady of Russian Impressionism,” said gallery director Caroline Morgan. “After studying at the famed Repin Institute in St. Petersburg, she became recognized for combining the power of light with a refined color palette, creating a dynamic emotional range stemming from her own life experiences and insights. Her portraits, landscapes, still lifes and genre paintings reflect a world of joy and sunshine showing the human being as an inseparable part of nature. The consistency of Ostrova’s sunlit subjects distinguishes her from other Soviet Era art and is a testament to her unique and uncompromising spirit. At the age of 90, she celebrates 85 years of painting and representation in many Russian and international museums as well as private collections throughout the world.” 982-1990 Friday and Saturday Andreeva Fine Art Portraits, 217 W. San Francisco St.

Oleg Chapkine, the Russian lacquer-box artist, will be conducting demonstrations from noon until 5 p.m. Friday and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday. Chapkine’s work is part of the permanent collections at the Hermitage in St. Petersburg and the State Museum in Moscow.

982-7272 Saturday-Aug. 16 Andreeva Fine Art Portraits, 217 W. San Francisco St.

Opening reception for “Contemporary Russian Portraiture” exhibition from 6 to 8 p.m. Saturday. Evgeniy Monahov, voted one to the top 10 artists in Moscow in 2004, will be in Santa Fe from today through July 20 and will attend the reception. Music by Matthew Andre.

982-7272 Russian Summer in Santa Fe revolves around the Museum of Fine Arts’ exhibition “Nicholas & Alexandra: At Home with the Last Tsar and His Family.” The exhibit, which runs through Sept. 5, includes more than 260 artworks and never-before-seen family treasures of Nicholas II, who was assassinated with his wife, Alexandra, and their five children in 1918.

The museum is at 107 W. Palace Ave.; 476-5059.


jason aldean.

jason aldean.

Jason Aldean is the first to admit that the rural-rooted, retro-fitting single She’s Country shook up his career up but good last spring.

It shot the Georgia singer to No. 1, parked him there for a few weeks and then took a career that had steadily but solemnly gathered steam over the last four years and placed it squarely on the fast track. But She’s Country turned out to be the warm-up act. The followup single, an infectious G-rated romantic yarn called Big Green Tractor is currently finishing up its fourth week atop the Billboard Country Songs chart.

A whole month at No. 1 – now that’s the way to make a return to Lexington as Friday’s opener of the Alltech Fortnight Festival at Applebee’s Park.

“It’s amazing to have just one single come out and change your career,” Aldean said by phone last week. “I’ve heard people say that before but I never really understood it until She’s Country hit. And it did, too. That song changed everything for us. Now we’ve had back-to-back multi-week No. 1 hits. Who could ask for anything more? This has laid the groundwork for the rest of this year and will set us up for the future. We are now at a very good place.”

Aldean’s last Lexington performances – an opening act gig for Rascal Flatts and a headlining New Year’s Eve show at Heritage Hall, both in 2007 – captured a career already on the rise. In fact, the singer already had an initial No. 1 under his belt at the time, the 2005 power ballad Why. But initial inspirations for the then-blooming career came from a childhood spent in the Southern music metropolis of Macon. Ga.

“Being from there definitely helps,” Aldean said. “You already have some pretty big names to draw from – Otis Redding, The Allman Brothers, guys like that. I don’t think you can help but be influenced by all that when it’s right there with you. On the same hand, though, getting out and playing my own shows helped me find my own music.”

Citing ‘80s country hitmakers Alabama and ‘90s cosmopolitan country king Garth Brooks as subsequent influences, a teenaged Aldean used a Macon VFW hall as his first performance venue. By his own estimation he was a hit – meaning, he didn’t want to relinquish the stage once he discovered its allure.

“I got up and did, like, three songs,” Aldean remembered. “Seminole Wind (a 1992 hit for John Anderson) was one of them. Silver Wings by Merle Haggard was another. And I think an Alabama song was in there, too. When I was through, I was like, ‘I could stay up here all night. This is fun.’ And of course the band at the VFW hall is trying to get me off the stage so they can finish their own set. I mean, that was just me being green. But it did give me my first stage experience.”

In the midst of his 2007 concerts here, Aldean’s career was already facing up to the commercial promise suggested by Why and a platinum selling, self-titled debut album. The second album, Relentless, came out in May of that year, scored several Top 10 hits (although no chart-toppers) and matched Jason Aldean‘s platinum status. But there was a key ingredient missing for Aldean from the album – at least, from the process of making it: fun. A massively intensified touring schedule left little time to write, locate and cut material for Relentless – thus zapping much of the thrill of making a record in the first place. It was a situation Aldean was determined not to repeat when work began last year on his third and newest album, Wide Open.

“After the success of the first album, we were playing so many shows that it was really hard to find the time to get into the studio and really settle into that groove of making another record. And also there was just a lot of pressure I was putting on myself at that point. There were certainly parts of the second album that I liked. But the overall process of making that record just wasn’t fun.

“I was a lot more comfortable making the third album. I didn’t worry so much about the songs we had. I didn’t sweat over every detail. We just went in, did what we did on the first album and it worked. For whatever reason, that made a huge difference. Luckily, I started to realize that soon enough while making the second record to know I wanted to do things differently for the third one.

“Back then, it was like, ‘OK, I should be having fun right now making music, but I’m really not. So what’s the deal?’ But we sure have a grasp on that now.”

Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Applebee’s Park as part of the Alltech Fortnight Festival. The concert is sold out.

Profile: Immigration and Naturalization Service detainees

NPR Weekend Edition – Sunday January 11, 2003 | STEVE INSKEEP 00-00-0000 Profile: Immigration and Naturalization Service detainees Host: STEVE INSKEEP Time: 8:00-9:00 PM STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The US government is fingerprinting and photographing thousands of adult foreign men, part of an effort to prevent terrorist attacks. Natives of 13 countries had to register with the government by Friday; people from Afghanistan, North Korea, Yemen and elsewhere. Hundreds of people lined up outside an immigration office in Los Angeles yesterday, and civil liberties activists stood nearby, taking down their names. `Are you from Tunis?’ a monitor asked one man …(unintelligible).

Unidentified Woman #1: In Tunis?

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken) Unidentified Woman #1: You come from Tunis?

Unidentified Woman #2: I don’t understand him.

INSKEEP: They were asking because of what happened in December. Last month, the Immigration and Naturalization Service called in natives of five countries identified as state sponsors of terrorism, and many abruptly disappeared. They were detained for days or weeks for visa violations. Immigration lawyers and family members report that more were detained this week as they registered.

Unidentified Woman #1: All right. So you’re good?

INSKEEP: We’re going to spend the next few minutes meeting some of the immigrants who are registering and we will also try to learn what this may mean for your security. We’ll start with NPR’s Jennifer Ludden, who’s been following this story and joins us now.

Jennifer, this is the second round of registrations, I know. Is it working any better than the first?


It seems to be. First, the INS added hundreds more personnel to cope with this crush of people who have tended to wait till the last day to register. And we seem to be seeing fewer arrests than the first time around. We’re not seeing mass detentions like we did in Los Angeles last month.

INSKEEP: And we’re about to hear some of the stories of people who have been through the system and been detained, but I suppose it’s worth keeping in mind that this is the Immigration and Naturalization Service which has been criticized for being lax in tracking some of the people who turned out to be September 11 hijackers.

LUDDEN: There’s no one who will argue that they do not need to better track immigrants in this country.

INSKEEP: OK. Jennifer, if you can stay with us for a few minutes, we’d like to come back to you in a moment.


INSKEEP: And we’re going next to a lawyer’s office in San Francisco. That’s where several detainees and family members of detainees came to talk with us this week. Though many have been reluctant to describe their experiences in public, this group offered descriptions of what happened to them. On their lawyer’s advice, they are using only their first names.

PAYMON(ph): My name is Paymon. I’m a resident of San Jose and Bay Area. I’ve been in the country for 20 years.

INSKEEP: I’m interested if at this point you think of yourself as an American after 20 years here.

PAYMON: Actually to tell you the truth, yes. I’ve spent more than half of my life here in the United States. This is home. Actually my life has formed here.

INSKEEP: Paymon is trained as a computer technician and he’s worked in Silicon Valley, but the law says he is not American. He was born in Iran. His lawyer admits that Paymon’s visa expired. He’s not a permanent resident, though his lawyer says Paymon has applied. When he registered in December, the INS detained him for five days. this web site immigration and naturalization

PAYMON: They had us in a holding cell shackled and handcuffed. We were sitting there for hours on end, waiting for this flight to take place, and they would take us out of the room, tell us, `OK. Now it’s time for you to go,’ and then they would put us back in the holding cell, take off the handcuffs and the shackles. We would sit there for another 30 or 40 minutes. Then they would call us again outside the room, line us up and shackle us and handcuff us again and tell us, `OK. Now it’s time to go.’ The first time, we said, `We changed our mind.’ I mean, this was constantly going on, making us very disoriented. Even when we asked what time of the day it was, we would not get the right answer.

INSKEEP: Many immigrants who’d been detained complained that they applied for permanent residency, but they’ve been waiting for years for the INS to respond. That’s also the story with another detainee who dropped by this San Francisco law office.

ALI: OK. My name is Ali. I am a native of Syria. I’ve lived in the States for 17 years. I reside in the Bay Area and I’m a research scientist at the research institution here in the biomedical engineering field. I was told that I would be detained for five to seven days until the hearing would take place. I was placed in a holding cell, and around 8:00 at night, they drove us to Yuba county jail which is north of Sacramento. It was raining hard that evening. The truck was very small. And we were bouncing around inside it all shackled up. We eventually reach Yuba county jail. It was very late at night. We were very tired. And at 2:00 at night, they came and they got us out of the cell and they said, `Oh, we have to go back to San Francisco.’ So essentially we had three hours of sleep on cement floor. So we went back to San Francisco and then at night again we went back to Yuba county jail. Then we were shipped off to San Diego.

INSKEEP: You were detained for nine days.

ALI: Yes.

INSKEEP: I want to ask the same question that I asked to Paymon before you. He had been in the United States for something like 20 years. He said he thinks of himself as an American. Do you?

ALI: I do. Yeah. I do. I mean, it’s funny how the INS officer who interviewed me has even more of a pronounced accent than I do, and so that’s why he sympathized with me. So, you know, we’re all immigrants, and he looks at my story, it’s very similar to his. So…

INSKEEP: As someone who thinks of himself as an American, did you find, even though you had an unhappy experience, that perhaps there was any good reason, any good justification for requiring people on temporary visas to register with the INS for taking this security step?

ALI: Well, in some ways, I was happy to talk to the FBI. I mean, if they have questions for me, I’m more than happy to go over everything. And the thing that was a little bit disappointing was that the actual investigation was very perfunctory. It was barely half an hour. You know, they didn’t even ask me who I associated with or if I went to a mosque or anything like that. I would have been perfectly happy to spend two days answering any questions they had, you know because I’m as concerned about security as everybody else. I have family that live in New York, but it seemed to me this was not the main point at least or–you know, I wish it were.

INSKEEP: Ali’s attorney finally arranged his release. He’s free on bond until a court hearing on his immigration status next month.

INS officials in San Francisco declined to comment for this report, though federal officials elsewhere have tried to explain what they’ re doing. Kris Kobach is counsel to Attorney General John Ashcroft, and he spoke to NPR this week.

Mr. KRIS KOBACH (Attorney): Every one of these individuals was guilty of violating the immigration laws of the United States, and so there was no discrimination in terms of which people were detained temporarily and which ones weren’t. Every one of these cases ultimately is going to go before an immigration judge. And that immigration judge will be presented with the facts from lawyers on both side, will be able to weigh the equities, determine what the fairest outcome is in any given case. We are simply enforcing the law and initiating removal proceedings in those cases where there is a potential terrorist threat.

INSKEEP: Kris Kobach is counsel to Attorney General John Ashcroft.

NPR’s Jennifer Ludden covers this issue. She actually conducted that interview and she’s still with us here.

Jennifer, what, if anything, does the federal government admit that it did wrong here?

LUDDEN: Well, when I spoke with Mr. Kobach, he admitted there hadn’ t been enough publicity for this program, that there was trouble getting the word out and he said that the INS and Justice Department had redoubled their efforts in that front. There were still a lot of glitches. I can tell you as of this week the Arabic language announcement of this registration on the INS Web site completely mixed up the dates. It said that people had to come if they entered the country after September 30th when, in fact, they need to register if they came in before September 30th. So a lot of confusion among people.

The first time I think a bit of the problem was that the INS was overwhelmed and people were held in some cases simply because the INS didn’t know what else to do with them. And as we heard in the interviews you did, there were some harsh conditions–people with not enough room to sleep. This time around, there were more people put to the task. go to web site immigration and naturalization

INSKEEP: Now in spite of some problems, I gather that a federal judge has ruled that these detentions are legal, right?

LUDDEN: Yes. He has said that the government, as it maintains, has only arrested people who are here illegally.

INSKEEP: So has the Immigration and Naturalization Service caught any terrorists?

LUDDEN: Well, in this latest round, it’s probably too soon to say and it’s not clear to me that from the interviews they’re conducting they’re going to find out if someone is suspicious. This is part, though, of a larger program. Since September 11th last year, the government has been registering thousands and thousands of Arab and Muslim men as they enter the country at airports and other ports of entry. The Justice Department says from that, they have refused entry to 244 people who either had criminal violations in the past or past immigration violations. Kris Kobach of the Justice Department told me there was one person who was found to have a terror connection, but he could not go into details.

INSKEEP: Now they started with people who came from countries that have been declared by the US government to be state sponsors of terrorism: Iraq, Iran and so forth. They’ve broadened that list out now to include most of the Arab world, much of the Arab world anyway. How much broader does this registration program get?

LUDDEN: It’s unclear and they could change it any time. They could take a country off. They could add a country on. Again, the government stresses this is not racial profiling or religious profiling, all of this is coming from intelligence information, but critics have charged that it’s very political. For example, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan were not on the list to begin with; Saudi Arabia, of course, home to 15 of the 19 hijackers of September 11th. Both Saudi and Pakistan are big US allies but they were eventually added to the list. Egypt, a very large US ally, the home country of several al-Qaeda leaders, is still not on the list.

INSKEEP: NPR’s Jennifer Ludden. Jennifer, thanks very much for speaking with us.

LUDDEN: Thank you.


del on the hill

the del mccoury band

the del mccoury band. from left: jason carter, rob mccoury, ronnie mccoury, del mccoury, alan bartram. photo by brenda mcclearan.

The first official weekend of the fall is here along with the return of the Terrapin Hill Harvest Festival, the annual outdoor celebration of groove and grass music in Harrodsburg.

As usual, the festival schedule mixes in several noted national acts (Greensky Bluegrass from Kalamazoo, Mi. and Cornmeal from Chicago) with a predominantly local and regional lineup of bands (Born Cross Eyed, Green Genes, The Other Brothers and more) that will perform on three stages.

Friday’s headliner will be the great Del McCoury Band. As stated in the title of a new five-disc anthology, Celebrating 50 Years, McCoury’s career as one of bluegrass music’s most progressively minded traditionalists has now passed the half-century mark. While he clocked time with Bill Monroe in 1963, McCoury’s current popularity centers around the band he has led over the past two decades with his sons (mandolinist Ronnie and banjoist Rob). While the band bears his name, it is the unmistakable high mountain tenor vocals that serves as McCoury’s foremost artistic trademark along with a repertoire that has regularly boasted string music reworkings of tunes by such non-bluegrass greats as Tom Petty, Richard Thompson and Robert Cray.

This is a big birthday year for McCoury. His career turned 50, the singer himself turned 70 and last May McCoury performed at Madison Square Garden as part of an all-star concert honoring folk icon Pete Seeger’s 90th birthday.

But next month, the next chapter begins. A new McCoury Band album titled Family Circle is due out on Oct. 27.

Saturday’s headliner at Terrapin Hill will be a very different all-star team. The band, called Super Heroes, brings together bassist George Porter, Jr. and guitarist Leo Nocentelli of the acclaimed New Orleans funk brigade The Meters, keyboardist Bernie Worrell (whose extensive career includes work with Parliament/Funkadelic in the ‘70s and Talking Heads in the ‘80s) and former John Scofield Band drummer Adam Deitch. For a complete performance schedule along with other camping and festival information, go to

The Terrapin Hill Harvest Festival runs Thursday through Sunday at Terrapin Hill Farm, 3696 Mackville Harrodsburg. Tickets are $45 and $85 (adult); $20 and $35 (children ages 8 to15). Call (859) 734-7207.

october string alert

chris thile

chris thile

The October concert roster will now be coming to us with a few extra strings attached. Just added to the mammoth Alltech Fortnight Festival is a performance by the Punch Brothers on Oct. 5. But here’s the kicker: the venue will be the ultra intimate Natasha’s Bistro (9:30 p.m.; $25). Jump on this one fast, folks. Tickets will not last long.

Among the all-star string players making up the Punch Brothers is mandolinist Chris Thile, late of Nickel Creek and the composer of a three movement mandolin concerto that he is performing with orchestras from around the country this year and next. On March 28, Thile will play the work in Maine with the Portland Symphony in a concert conducted by newly inaugurated Lexington Philharmonic maestro Scott Terrell.

mark o'connor

mark o'connor

Now here is where the timing gets really interesting. The very same evening Thile and the Punch Brothers play Natasha’s, violinist/composer Mark O’Connor will perform across the street at the Kentucky Theatre for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour with his Appalachian Waltz trio (7 p.m.; $10). O’Connor is largely regarded as the pre-eminent Americana composer of our day. He will visit Lexington again on Oct. 30 to perform at the Singletary Center for the Arts with the University of Kentucky Symphony and Chorale and conductors John Nardolillo and Jefferson Johnson (7:30 p.m.; $10 student, $20 public).

sara watkins

sara watkins

OK., then. We have two of the country’s most innovative stringmen playing, essentially, next door, to each other on Oct. 5. What more could a bluegrass-loving classicist want? Well, how about the local concert debut of Sara Watkins, Thile’s bandmate from Nickel Creek at Natasha’s one week later – Oct. 12, to be exact (8 p.m., $20). Watkins performed a brief WoodSongs set in the early summer to promote her recent self-titled solo album, but this will be her first full headlining concert since Nickel Creek disbanded in 2007. The Natasha’s date will also be her last performance before heading to Canada to open a series of concerts by John Prine.

For info on the Natasha’s shows, call (859) 259-2754. For reservations to O’Connor’s WoodSongs performance, call (859) 252-8888. For tickets to O’Connor’s concert with the UK Symphony, call (859) 257-4929.

critic’s pick 90

pearl jam: back spacer

pearl jam: back spacer

“Do you wanna hear something sick?” moans Eddie Vedder as guitars swirl like cyclones at the onset of Pearl Jam’s new Back Spacer album. “We are but victims of desire.” Not surprisingly, Vedder sings of purging said desire upon its discovery (“I wanna shake this pain before I retire.”)

Love? Addiction? Mortality? Vedder may well be referencing all three. But the rant is a bit of a tease, this time. On its ninth studio album, Pearl Jam lightens the temperamental load, sidesteps post grunge attitude for more digestible ‘70s album-rock guitar lingo and even serves up a few serious romantic yarns.

To fans of the flannel clad fury that was an earmark of such early Pearl Jam gems as Ten and Vs., Back Spacer may be sick indeed. But it’s likely those crowd surfers have either grown up or else found a band with a more lasting sense of misery.

That’s not to say Pearl Jam has gone soft. On the opening Gonna See My Friend and Got Some, Vedder still sings like a bag of hornets getting poked with a stick. Similarly, the band has re-enlisted producer Brendan O’Brien for the first time in over a decade, and his aim is clearly not to pay homage to the grunge gods. The guitar sweep on Back Spacer is cleaner while the lyrical scope sounds positively uplifting at times. In fact, an undercurrent of pop – unsettled, though it may be – runs through the album.

With a running time of only 37 minutes, Back Spacer‘s block party mood seldom lags. Johnny Guitar, which just might be the funniest Pearl Jam tune ever, employs a double barreled guitar hook to underscore a dream involving the late soul/funk hero Johnny Guitar Watson. It’s not so much a tribute as a fantasy, where envy isn’t paid to Watson’s artistic ability but his well documented ladies man image.

Elsewhere there are all kinds of images of light and darkness that often – and somewhat unexpectedly, given Pearl Jam’s angst ridden past – favor the former. Some flirt with darkness at bay, as in The Fixer. Here Vedder sings of redemption, renewal, and, in its final verse, digging his lover’s grave. Others are more overt. Just Breathe, in fact, is as unapologetically sentimental as Johnny Guitar is daffy. Oh, and did we mention Just Breathe and the album closing The End come with full blown string arrangements? A long walk from Jeremy, you say? Shoot, it’s a long walk just from Gonna See My Friend.

A little less extreme but still very removed from conventional Pearl Jam is Speed Of Sound, with a rolling, autumnal melody and chiming guitar/keyboard figures that echo the grace of late ‘60s Beach Boys records in a way that recalls R.E.M.’s underappreciated 1998 album Up. But like the greatest Brian Wilson songs, the levels of hope and hurt on Speed of Sound are equal. “This night has been a long one,” Vedder sings, “waiting on a sun that never comes.”

The song pretty much sums up the mood on Back Spacer. Still vital and pensive as it shifts pop gears, the album offers as much fun in the sun as possible without forsaking all those beautiful grey skies.

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