Archive for October, 2009

in performance: lyle lovett and his large band

lyle lovett performing last night at the norton center for the arts in danville. copyright photo by kirk schlea.

lyle lovett performing last night at the norton center for the arts' newlin hall in danville. photo by kirk schlea.

DANVILLE – “I remember some of you folks,” uttered Lyle Lovett after one of his signature tunes, Here I Am, served as a reintroduction last night at the Norton Center for the Arts.

And well he should. The famed Texas song stylist played the Danville venue a mere eight months ago. But that was when he was alone onstage with fellow musical scribe John Hiatt. Last night, the sound was considerably saucier with the swing, country and soul preferences of the singer’s Large Band igniting tunes from nine different Lovett albums. Sure, the joyous genre-jumping Lovett and his Large Band are known for in concert prevailed. But so did a plentiful number of surprises.

To begin with, this was a slightly slimmer Large Band – a mere 14 players, including the singer. The lineup featured neither a brass section nor veteran Large Band vocalist Francine Reed. But in their place were such engaging new recruits as bluegrass/new grass fiddler Luke Bulla and session guitarist Dean Parks (now on his first tour with Lovett after recording with him for 18 years). Longtime pal John Hagen on cello. and the devastatingly soulful vocal trio of Sweet Pea Atkinson, Sir Harry Bowens and Willie Green, Jr. were among the returnees.

Watching this configuration of artists in action was a continual thrill as it dug into the ebbs and flows of Lovett’s material. The Atkinson/Bowens/Green gang, for example, clucked madly like chickens – well, more like kids imitating chickens – on the new Lovett barnyard romp Farmer Brown. A few tunes later they were hammering down the vocal foundation within the darkly resolute affirmation I Will Rise Up.

The rest of the Large Band proved to be even more adaptable. At one point, Lovett trimmed it to a mere quartet singing around a single microphone. That splinter group was assigned a bluegrass-flavored saga of culinary adultery titled Pantry, one of five tunes offered from the singer’s new Natural Forces album. A moderately larger grouping took on Loretta, the extraordinary Townes Van Zandt tale of restless and reckless love which benefited highly from subtle harmonies by mandolinist Keith Sewell.

And what of Lovett himself? Well, the Long Tall Texan still ruled this merry roost by letting his clear Lone Star tenor spark the insular country inspiration of Natural Forces‘ title tune as well as the more traditional honky tonk inclinations of If I Was the Man You Wanted, a song that dated back to his 1986 debut album.

For the title track off of 2003’s My Baby Don’t Tolerate, Lovett became the resolute bluesman, singing the song’s title like a hardened mantra against a band groove that sounded less like Texas and whole lot like late ‘50s electric blues out of Chicago.

And, yes, Lovett can still spin a good yarn onstage. When introducing It’s Rock and Roll, a 30 year old tune that made its recorded debut on Natural Forces, Lovett recalled how he and the song’s co-writer, Robert Earl Keen, were trying to design music for a theatre group while the two were students at Texas A&M.

“If you went to Texas A&M, you would realize what a strange combination of words that is – ‘Texas A&M’ and ‘theatre group.'”

There were crowd favorites too – like the murderously wonderful L.A. County and the rootsy sermonette Church, which served as the 2 ¾ hour performance’s lone encore. But they were far fewer in number this time out, which was fine. By allowing music from Natural Forces, 2007’s It’s Not Big It’s Large and My Baby Don’t Tolerate to dominate the program amd with a fetchingly realigned Large Band engineering the ride, Lovett fashioned this return trip to Danville into a suitably robust, Texas-sized treat.

in performance: leo kottke

the man, quite literally, behind the guitar: leo kottke.

the man, quite literally, behind the guitar: leo kottke.

How many artists do you know that apologize to an audience for its applause?

Well, put Leo Kottke at the top of the list as of last night. After taking the stage at the Kentucky Theatre for a typically stunning performance of 6-and-12 string guitar music, the lights stayed low for a beat or two, causing the crowd to extend their vocal greeting. Hey, nobody had a gun to their heads. The patrons in the house seemed happy to whoop it up for their acoustic guitar hero.

“Sorry,” Kottke replied in the same sleepy baritone voice that colored roughly one-third of his performance repertoire. “I didn’t mean to make you clap so long.”

Right there you had a key to Kottke’s performance persona. Oh sure, his guitars sang as wildly as ever with compositions that moved along with the grace and pace of a country blues while displaying an almost symphonic denseness. But the remarks – the opening as well as all kinds of wonderfully off-centre stories peppered throughout the evening – again proved as indicative of Kottke’s crafty invention as his playing.

Last night there were stories of playing a gig near an aspirin factory, a brief comparison study of Chester Gould (the creator of Dick Tracy) and William Faulkner, Emmylou Harris’ explanation for how she was able to harmonize in the past with Kottke (“When you go flat, I go with you – just not as far”), a reflection on the first complete sentence uttered by his daughter (“Daddy, don’t sing”) and the virtues of performing at a funeral (“No one will ask you to play Pachelbel’s Canon there”). And, of course, there were the sublime non sequiturs (“That sounds like something Alphonse D’Amato might say, not me”).

These spoken interludes, as have always been the case with Kottke concerts, were not some purposeful and pre-planned stabs for aloof laughs . These fragments of color commentary – some self-effacing, some unavoidably fragmented – weren’t the tools of a character. His humor and stories were entirely his own spontaneous creations that humanized his music all the more.

And the playing? Well it was remarkable. A new, unrecorded composition titled Ants was something of a tour-de-force with extraordinary dynamics. There were shades of neo-classicism that guitar giants like Ralph Towner often bring their music along with bold displays of harmony.

Ditto for the Carla Bley meditation Jesus Maria, a tune the guitarist said he learned after watching vibraphone great Gary Burton play it in opening sets for Kottke concerts decades ago. Kottle has been performing it for years, although last night’s version managed to nicely rough up the harmonic edges a bit while keeping the tune’s contemplative beauty intact.

There were so many other delights, as well, including the wonderfully animated Snorkel, a bell-like reading of Duane Allman’s always exquisite Little Martha and the playful spree of the longtime concert favorite William Powell. And those were just the instrumentals. That same crumpled voice that welcomed the crowd brought to life the wistful Julie’s House as well as a cover of Lefty Frizzell’s Saginaw, Michigan – tunes that Harris recorded with Kottke in the early ‘80s, prompting the aforementioned remarks.

The killer though, was Everybody Lies – a tune of such placid but profound resignation that Kottke has recorded it twice on two of his finest albums (1978’s  Burnt Lips and 1989’s My Father’s Face). But last night’s version came with a sort of Halloween bonus. In another of his quietly riotous stories, Kottke confided that he modeled one of the tune’s characters on a sound tech he despised and ultimately fired from a tour.

“But in the song, I made him an attendant in an insane asylum.”

In pure Kottke fashion, though, the remark sounded affirmative and endearing. Come to think of it, the entire performance came across that way.

home is where the horse is

lyle lovett. photo by michael wilson.

lyle lovett. photo by michael wilson.

It is record release day for Lyle Lovett – a Tuesday where his 14th album, Natural Forces, is being unleashed unto the world.

Typically, such an occasion becomes the apex of a promotional push, a day loaded with TV appearances, performances and any number of exercises to capitalize on what is, in essence, “opening day” for a recording.

For Lovett, multiple Grammy Award winning songsmith, stylistically innovative bandleader and all around Texan, the day is something of breather. A fall duo tour with fellow songwriting pal John Hiatt concluded two days earlier. In less than a week, he will be back on the road for a month’s worth of shows with his Large Band, the brassy Americana army that has been his most visible performance vehicle of the past two decades.

That means while Natural Forces introduces the next edition of Lyle Lovett music, Lovett himself is back, briefly, in the only place he has ever called home – Texas.

“It’s exactly where I’ve lived all my life, on the same piece of ground I grew up on outside of Houston.”

To many, Lovett is modern embodiment of Texas music – its celebratory swing, its vigorous country soul and, most of all, its extraordinarily literate sense of storytelling. His songs are outlined with thieving hearts, family yarns and an unfailing pride in anything that hails from Lone Star territory.

In short, Lovett isn’t merely a Texas artist. He is the state’s unofficial cultural ambassador to the universe.

“All of that is high praise,” Lovett said by phone. “But I just feel that my music is a reflection of the music I’m drawn to. My intention with the songs I write is to say, ‘Hey, this is where I’m from.'”

On Natural Forces, the Texas inspirations are considerable. There are four new compositions (one of which, Pantry, is reprised with a bluegrass arrangement), six tunes penned by fellow Texas songwriters that have long been friends and mentoring influences and a song (It’s Rock and Roll) he co-wrote nearly three decades ago with fellow Lone Star scribe Robert Earl Keen.

“My father once told me that if I went through life with at least two best friends, I was set,” Keen said. “I went, ‘What are you talking about? I’ve got lots of friends.’ But sure enough, he was right. And to say I have had Lyle as a best friend all these years has been wonderful.”

For Lovett, the initial songwriting pull came from the masters – Townes Van Zandt, Guy Clark, Vince Bell and the like. But not even Texas could contain Lovett’s expanding celebrity status as the ‘90s progressed. He toured internationally and took regular turns as an actor in television and film, including roles in five Robert Altman movies. But as the chorus of Natural Forces‘ title tune states, “home is where my horse is.” As such, Lovett devoted his sublime 1998 double-disc album Step Inside This House entirely to the music of his Texas inspirations. He does the same on the better half of Natural Forces.

“With Natural Forces, I knew going in that I didn’t have 10 new songs of my own that I was thrilled about recording,” Lovett said. “But those I did have I didn’t want to get any older. I was very excited about recording them. The other songs were first considered for Step Inside This House. They have long been part of my musical life. I didn’t learn anything new for this record. These were songs I’ve played and known for years.”

Listen to Natural Forces as a whole and it is good bet that, unless you already know the outside material, you won’t be able to distinguish Lovett the songwriter from Lovett the Texas interpreter. The songs share similar tones, temperaments and human detail. At its best, as on Lovett’s Empty Blue Shoes, the mood is stark to the point of being impressionistic.

“I met Lyle in Dallas at a club that’s now gone,” said guitarist Leo Kottke who shared numerous concert bills with Lovett following the release of the Texan’s self-titled debut album in 1986.

“I was in the dressing room and I could hear Lyle walk onstage. He hadn’t sung a note yet. He just walked onstage and the room instantly became quiet. Some people can just immediately fill a stage. Lyle is one of them.”

Of course, the ensemble Lovett has favored in filling performance rooms over the years has been his Large Band. It has accompanied Lovett at various Lexington venues over the past 22 years, from his local debut at the long-defunct Rhinestone’s on Athens-Boonesboro Rd. in 1988 to a headlining performance at Rupp Arena in 2001.

“That’s the beauty of that band – so many of us have played together for so many years. But that’s also the part that doesn’t seem real because I remember that first Lexington gig in 1988. It does not seem like it was over 20 years ago.

“You know, I was asked early on in interviews about my goals. People would ask, ‘What would success mean for you?’ The answer I always used to give was, ‘Success would be the ability to continue doing something I love to do.’ All these years later, that’s still my definition. To do something I love without feeling guilty because I have to also devote time to another job. To be able to legitimately engage in this music all the time…I mean, there is just not a better feeling. That’s the blessing of it all.”

Lyle Lovett and his Large Band performs at 8:30 p.m. Friday at the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College in Danville. Tickets are $60-125. Call (877) 448-7469.

Profile: Allegations of racism at Ralph Lauren stores

NPR Special August 5, 2003 | ALEX CHADWICK ALEX CHADWICK NPR Special 08-05-2003 Profile: Allegations of racism at Ralph Lauren stores

Host: ALEX CHADWICK Time: 4:00-5:00 PM


This is DAY TO DAY. I’m Alex Chadwick.

The world has its mind on fashion–well, the fashion world has its mind on fashion–as the major designers begin to unveil next year’s spring lineup. Ralph Lauren employee Toni Young also has her mind on fashion because she’s suing the designer.

Ms. TONI YOUNG (Ralph Lauren Employee): I’ve had black clients come to me and say, you know, `This has been the worst shopping experience of my life. You know, how do you deal with it? You know, I’m a shopper and I can’t deal with it.’

CHADWICK: DAY TO DAY reporter Mike Pesca, this woman is now suing Ralph Lauren because some customers have had bad service?

MIKE PESCA reporting:

No, Alex. Toni Young is alleging discrimination. She says a manager of Ralph Lauren’s San Francisco Polo store called her a black bitch and asked her if she spoke Ebonics. She says an assistant manager complained that her hair was too nappy and needed to be straightened. She also says that every time a black customer walks in the store, a secret code is relayed to employees alerting security to look out for shoplifting. The company wouldn’t comment on the lawsuit. web site ralph lauren coupon

Now if Young’s allegations are true, it might be just one poorly run store or a few poorly thought-out security policies, or it may have something to do with Ralph Lauren’s corporate culture.

CHADWICK: And what do you mean by that? What corporate culture?

PESCA: Well, Ralph Lauren, to quote his annual report, wants to “inspire the world to live life with style.” Fine. But Ralph’s definition of style is obviously tied to things like country clubs and yachting and polo ponies, which is also fine in and of themselves, unless those things come to equal whiteness. And that’s where a retailer like Polo or Abercrombie & Fitch can butt up against the multicultural reality of America 2003.

(Soundbite of traffic)

PESCA: So to get a grasp of the Ralph Lauren image, I went to the Ralph Lauren store in Beverly Hills. That’s Rodeo Drive traffic you’re hearing. And I relied on the eyes of a marketing professor, UCLA’s Aimee Drolet, who told me what she saw.

Professor AIMEE DROLET (UCLA): It was like going into a very wealthy, early 20th-century Manhattanite’s mansion. And you look on the stairs and there’s all the photos of the family members you wish you had and you’d wish had left you money. And, you know, of course, there are knickknacks everywhere, nautical themes, horsey themes, all of the things that go along with being a WASP, all of the things you have to do as a WASP. You have to sail, you have to ride horses, you have to pack in nice luggage.

PESCA: Of course, all your imagined ancestors depicted in the vintage photos on the mansion’s walls are white people. That’s not surprising coming from a high-end retailer, says Leon Wynter, author of “American Skin: Pop Culture, Big Business and The End of White America.” in our site ralph lauren coupon

Mr. LEON WYNTER (Author, “American Skin: Pop Culture, Big Business and The End of White America”): To the extent that there is some kind of taint that might possibly still be associated with non-whites, because after all, for so many years in marketing for this country that was the state of affairs. You didn’t want that association, especially in high fashion.

PESCA: But he says there is an irony.

Mr. WYNTER: And at the same time, you couldn’t help noticing that when a rapper or so on decides to mention your product by name that can drive share points.

PESCA: That’s what happened to Tommy Hilfiger. A decade ago, Tommy Hilfiger was just a less-articulated version of Ralph Lauren. But when rappers began to wear and sing about his styles, Hilfiger embraced it and as a result exploded in popularity. But the market was fickle and the backlash was severe, and Tommy Hilfiger’s fortunes have plummeted. Of course, Ralph Lauren noticed. The proof, according to UCLA’s Aimee Drolet, is mere steps outside Ralph Lauren’s Rodeo Drive entrance.

Prof. DROLET: If you just walk a few feet down the block, there is an empty store, a large store, that was the Tommy Hilfiger store. And I think that it closed, in part, because of overexpansion. I think you can still see–get a Tommy Hilfiger store in the Beverly Center Mall, and that’s probably where the rent is cheaper. But it is a bit of an emblem about, you know, the rise and somewhat fall or decline of some brands.

PESCA: So, Alex, in the past decade, no brand has risen like Abercrombie & Fitch.

CHADWICK: Wasn’t Abercrombie once associated with Teddy Roosevelt and Ernest Hemingway going on safari?

PESCA: It was, and it earned the reputation as stuffy, old and Waspy. But today, teens love Abercrombie, and it’s getting a reputation as sexy, young and, well, Waspy in the pages of their catalogs and in their hiring practices. At least that’s what’s alleged in a lawsuit brought by a group of Hispanic, Asian and black employees and applicants who say they were turned away from not fitting what Abercrombie calls `the classic American look.’

CHADWICK: So are you talking about racism or something called lookism?

PESCA: Well, Toni Young says the lookism she experienced was racism. And while Ralph Lauren’s not commenting on the suit, their problem is they have such a strong brand image, which is exactly what a brand wants, but because of what that image is, they’re susceptible to the kinds of lawsuits over employment practices that they’re dealing with right now.

CHADWICK: All right. Thanks, Mike. But while Toni Young is carrying out this suit against Ralph Lauren, she still is working for the store.

PESCA: That’s right, Alex.

CHADWICK: Thank you, Mike.

PESCA: Thank you, Alex.


6 and 12 over 40

leo kottke.

leo kottke.

In a recording and performance career that spans four full decades, Leo Kottke remains an original.

Onstage, he seemingly brings little with him outside of a pair of acoustic guitars – usually 6 and 12 string models. But within his playing is an assimilation of harmonic, stylistic and improvisational capabilities that merge into music that is as unparalleled as it is indefinable.

But he matches such virtuosity with devilishly constructed but wonderfully askew between-song stories. So one moment you’re taken in by the earthy folkish warmth he lends to longtime concert favorites like Tom T. Hall’s Pamela Brown or his own masterful instrumental suite Bigger Situation. The next you’re doubling over laughing as Kottke reminisces about smuggling baggettes onto submarines while serving in the Navy so they could be used as filters for torpedo fuel.

“They still let me play,” Kottke said last week by phone from Seattle. “That’s the amazing thing. I had no idea I would still be doing this. I thought my career would be all over, at the most, in about 10 years.

When it was suggested that the key to career longevity might be his distinctive blend of instrumental daring and wildly off-center storytelling, Kottke hesitantly agrees.

“That may be part of it. There aren’t many brands like me available to the consumer.”

“Even with all his virtuosity, the first thing I noticed about Leo was how intent he was in pushing ahead with his playing,” said Lyle Lovett, who regularly opened concerts for Kottke in the mid ‘80s. “Guitarists everywhere were going out and buying 12 strings to try and play like him. But Leo was always looking for the next thing.”

To say that chance played a role in bringing Kottke to the guitar and, more important, to the stylistic innovators that helped him forge a commanding voice on the instrument, is not an understatement. He took up violin at age five and then moved on to trombone. He settled on guitar, primarily because “it made me happy.”

“It really hit me hard,” Kottke said. “By the time I was 11, everything took a back seat to the guitar. There was never a real effort to turn all of it into a job. I knew that playing music was something I needed. And when I found the guitar, I finally discovered the instrument I needed. That was enough. It was more than enough. But to make a living playing it? Well, that’s something I still can’t quite get around.”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of 6 and 12 String Guitar, the recording that largely introduced the world to Kottke. Two independent recordings preceded it, but 6 and 12 String Guitar was released on the Tacoma label, an enterprise run by the guitarist who served as a mentoring force for Kottke – John Fahey.

“I had heard a lot of the great Delta players like (Mississippi) John  Hurt and people like (Appalachian banjoists) Frank Proffitt and Obray Ramsey, and even some jazzers like (guitarist) Kenny Burrell. But they were all kind of discreet to me. John put them all together. And he did it at a pancreatic level. It was so organic that there was no self-consciousness whatsoever.

“But the other thing about John was that his whole effect was metaphysical. It was as if music was a metaphor. Usually music is just itself. It kind of overrides and subsumes metaphor. Not with John. He discovered this whole attitude, this whole realm that was out there. He was like Marco Polo.”

Such stylistic innovation fuels Kottke’s music, as well. There have been all kinds of exemplary recordings since 6 and 12 String guitar, including the orchestral shadings of 1976’s Leo Kottke, the compositional calm of 1986’s A Shout Toward Noon, the playful pop experimentation of 1994’s Rickie Lee Jones-produced Peculiaroso and the collaborative fire struck with Phish bassist Mike Gordon on 2005’s Sixty Six Steps. When asked if he has a favorite recording, Kottke politely balked.

“The minute I think I have one, it turns out I actually hate it. Or the opposite happens. I used to be deeply ashamed of a record called Burnt Lips (an extraordinary 1978 album of unaccompanied vocal and instrumental tunes). The last time I heard it, I thought, ‘You know, this isn’t so bad.'”

The constant for Kottke, though, remains concert performance. He considers stage work, after 40 years, a privilege. That assertion was instilled long ago when the guitarist received a glimpse of an artist that had lost such a privilege.

“This was a long time ago. I played this old theatre in Miami, a really nice, kind of miniature concert hall. From the time of the soundcheck until I was leaving the building that night there was this one guy sitting in a folding chair. As far as I could tell, he was in his 80s. He never said anything. He never stood up. But he was there for the whole night. So I asked, ‘What the hell is that guy doing there?’ I was told he was the first act to ever play that theatre. He was a tap dancer, but now he comes to every show and just sits there for the whole thing.

“So, yes, it is a privilege to still play. There is something very humbling in that for me.”

Leo Kottke perform at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main. Tickets are $24.50. Call (859) 231-7924.

critic’s pick 95

r.e.m.: live at the olympia

r.e.m.: live at the olympia

“This is not a show,” announces bassist Mike Mills through a bullhorn at the onset of the second R.E.M. concert album in two years. Such a qualifying intro winds up better serving the veteran Georgia band than the audiences crammed into the 19th century Dublin theatre known as the Olympia. That’s because the five night Irish run during the summer of 2007 that now gives us the 39 songs on Live at the Olympia was intended as a string of working rehearsals before the band recorded its redemptive Accelerate album. Yet, outside of a false start here and a vocal hiccup there, nothing reflects a practicum-like environment. That’s pretty remarkable considering what winds up on Live at the Olympia.

For R.E.M., the Olympia concerts were a chance to give legs to nearly a dozen tunes being readied for Accelerate. Two of them – the fuzzy psychedelic romp Staring Down the Barrel of the Middle Distance and the jagged ballad On the Fly – were left off the record and appear here for the first time. But Live at the Olympia‘s ultimate charm is its ability to reconnect R.E.M. with its past as it prepared for what was then its future. Along with the wealth of Accelerate-related music is a stunning assemblage of vintage material that favors obscurities over hits.

How old are we talking here? How about four of the five songs from the 1982 debut EP disc Chronic Town? How about five tunes from the mystic, muddy 1985 ceremony that was Fables of the Reconstruction? And then there are the obscurities, like Monster‘s rampaging Circus Envy, New Adventures in Hi-Fi‘s gloom-meets-glam confessional New Test Leper or the lost soundtrack gem Romance that wound up on 1988’s Eponymous.

Mills, guitarist Peter Buck and singer Michael Stipe don’t attack these relics with the cracked whip immediacy they employed in the ‘80s when they were roughly half their current age. But there is clearly a vital electric vigor that connects the old and new

The album opening crunch of Accelerate‘s Living Well is the Best Revenge bleeds directly into 1984’s chiming, churning Second Guessing. The piano/backbeat melody of the 1996 pop charmer Electrolite (which is as close as Live at the Olympia comes to hit territory) neatly prefaces the jacked up, hook-heavy Man Sized Wreath. And in Live at the Olympia‘s greatest mash up of the then and now, the propulsive Fables neo-hit Driver 8 crashes into the proto-punk gusto of Accelerate‘s Horse to Water.

“We’re R.E.M. and this is what we do when you’re not looking,” jokes Stipe before the 1987 nugget Disturbance at the Heron House comes into focus. Given the breadth of the drive and spirit tied into the time traveling on Live at the Olympia, maybe we should glance away more often.

in performance: kenny barron

kenny barron. photo by carol friedman.

kenny barron. photo by carol friedman.

If you had only the initial moments of his splendid solo piano concert last night at the University of Louisville’s Comstock Hall to go by, you might have pegged jazz pianist Kenny Barron as something of a standards man. His touch was light and approachable, his tone was clean and melodic and his repertoire was full of the familiar – namely, ample inclusions from the Duke Ellington/Billy Strayhorn songbook along with such often-covered covers as How Deep is the Ocean, Love Walked In and Body and Soul. And truth be told, if the performance delved no deeper than that, the evening would have still wound up in the win column.

There was such a subtle punctuation to Barron’s playing, as in the rumble of left hand blues in Strayhorn’s Isfahon and the even gentler right hand sweeps during Melancholia (part of a four song Ellington/Strayhorn medley) that the soulfulness inherent in the tunes was effortlessly enhanced.

But Barron proved a wily player, as well. You don’t clock time with greats like Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine on top of a famed five year stint in the mid ‘60s with Dizzy Gillespie and not pick up a few tricks. On the original New York Attitude, Barron let loose with runs that, in the tune’s madder moments, possessed the danger level of a cab ride through Midtown Manhattan. But Calypso, another Barron composition, favored dynamics over tension for a bright, lyrical, tropically inspired bounce.

As Barron is deeply versed in the music of Thelonious Monk (he is a co-founder of the great Monk tribute ensemble Sphere), there was also room in the performance for the modal mischief and overt playfulness of Well You Needn’t. But the gems of the night were two other Barron works – the decades old Lullaby and a tribute to South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim titled Song for Abdullah. Within their sparsely designed frameworks, Barron created passages of unhurried lyrical warmth balanced by the solemnity of a hymn.

Neither could be classified a standard. Yet. But the unforced elegance, soulful charm and emotive beauty that defined the performance suggested another learned pianist a few decades down the pike may be exploring Barron’s music with the same reverence he afforded the Ellington generation last night.

in performance: joe henry

joe henry. photo by lauren dukoff.

joe henry. photo by lauren dukoff.

Confessing that he normally doesn’t perform in an unaccompanied setting, producer/song stylist Joe Henry vowed last night at the 930 Art Center in Louisville to play assorted songs of love, sex and death  “almost all in minor key.” But even with only two well worn Gibson acoustic guitars, an upright piano and nine strategically placed lamps as onstage allies, the evocative nature of Henry’s music was in no way shortchanged.

Sure, half the beauty of his recordings are the sonic fortresses – the ambient arrangements, the trip-hop grooves – that surround the atmospheric nature of the songs. But the combination of the pin-drop-quiet the 930 audience afforded the concert and the intimate clarity that resulted brought two often overlooked attributes of Henry’s music to the surface.

The first, of course, were the lyrics. Sometimes disparaging, often mysterious and, in more than a few instances, strangely sunny – they were all pushed to the forefront instead of serving as another element of the ambience. In this instance, no song sounded more involving or human than the title tune to what remains Henry’s finest album, 2001’s Scar. Served as a show-closing encore, the confessional grace in this hesitant but hopeful love song simply glowed with only a lone acoustic guitar melody as a backdrop.

The performance’s other great rediscovery was Henry’s singing. Instead of the purposely corrosive vocals that surface on his recordings, a crisp, patiently paced folk/pop voice liberated self-described “opaque” songs like Channel (one of five tunes pulled from the new Blood From Stars album). “Every fuzzy word I send returns a finer blade,” Henry sang before quoting the title to one of Van Morrison’s most mercurial songs You Don’t Pull No Punches But You Don’t Push the River.

Insightful as the performance was, it didn’t diffuse the wonder of Henry’s finest works, from the revolution-from-a-child’s-eye slant of This Afternoon to the romantic inscrutability of Progress of Love. Nor did it make apologies for past successes that slipped away. Henry summed up the differences between his Scar song Stop and the version that sister-in-law Madonna took to the Top 5 (as the re-titled Don’t Tell Me) with little regret.

“I recorded my version as a tango. She recorded her version as a hit.” With that, Henry let loose with the tango version in all its solo, unplugged glory.


The Record (Bergen County, NJ) February 12, 1995

The Record (Bergen County, NJ) 02-12-1995 VIEWS OF RESPONSIBLE PRO-CHOICERS ARE IGNORED Date: 02-12-1995, Sunday Section: REVIEW & OUTLOOK Edition: All Editions — Sunday Column: LETTERS

Editor, The Record:

It was with great interest that I read the extended series of articles on abortion in The Record Jan. 22. I have long considered your paper to be hopelessly biased on this issue, and your series strongly reinforced my conviction. How is it possible that, of four long articles, not one highlighted the views of mainstream pro-life doctors, religious leaders, or activists?

Your lead story on Page 1 includes interviews with no fewer than six doctors. You managed to include only one who could be considered pro-life, and you buried him near the end of the article, in the position always reserved for the so-called opposition view. Of course, this conveys the false impression that the vast majority of Americans are pro-choice. see here articles on abortion

When you included an article on religious attitudes toward abortion, you decided to focus exclusively on a fringe group of pro-choice religious leaders that in no way represents the views of the vast majority of religious organizations or their leaders. Once again, you buried the pro-life “response” — your pitiful idea of balance — in a short comment near the end of the article. go to website articles on abortion

So we have two obviously pro-choice articles. What do we have to represent the “other side” of the issue? An article on a fanatic who supports violence against abortion providers — a view shared by only a tiny number of Americans. An interview calculated to excite negative feelings among typical, moderate Americans, not a long discussion with a leader in the legitimate pro-life movement. This man’s sole claim to fame is that he has gone public with his support of violence. He holds no pro-life office and is not the pastor of a religious congregation.

Presumably, you ran these articles in commemoration of the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade. Yet nowhere in or near the series was there any mention of the pro-life march on Washington — an annual affair also in commemoration of Roe vs. Wade — that was to take place the next day.


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free joe

joe henry.

joe henry.

The cost of a road-trip to Louisville will be your only expense for what may well be one of the regional concert highlights of the fall.

Tonight at the ultra intimate 930 Art Center is a very rare concert evening with Joe Henry, Americana stylist-turned avant-pop journeymen who doubles as one of today’s most scholarly and insightful (and in-demand) record producers.

We first got a look at Henry the performer in the mid ‘90s when he visited Lexington and Louisville as an opening act for bands like Son Volt. He was already starting to shed the Jayhawks-style alt-country leanings that underscored albums like 1992’s Kindness of the World and the exceptional 1994 covers EP Fireman’s Wedding. With turn-of-the-decade albums like Fuse (1999) and Scar (2001) – both essential recordings in the Henry catalogue – the stylistic contours of his music began to warp. Henry’s last three albums – 2003’s Tiny Voices, 2007’s Civilians and the new Blood from Stars take on almost Tom Waits-like abstractions that balance carnival-like playfulness and dark, noir-style pop accents.

On Blood from Stars, which will likely be the focus of tonight’s free show in Louisville (part of the 930’s opening of an exhibition of works by Cincinnati photographer Michael Wilson titled Whatever Happened to Martha?), such stylistic corrosion is detailed by way of the wiry guitars, stark percussion, jazzy dissonance and vocal animation that enhance songs like Death to the Storm, Suit on a Frame and The Man I Keep Hid. But the deconstructed orchestration of This is My Favorite Cage may better reflect the solo acoustic setting Henry will perform in tonight.

Of course, Henry has made just as much music with other artists as he had on his own over the past eight or so years. A devotee of vintage soul, he has produced recordings for Allen Toussaint (including this year’s extraordinary The Bright Mississippi), Solomon Burke (the Grammy-winning Don’t Give Up on Me) and Bettye LaVette (her comeback recording I’ve Got My Own Hell to Raise). He has also produced more pop and folk directed works for Loudon Wainwright III, Ani DiFranco, Teddy Thompson and Aimee Mann.

On his website, Henry recently divulged two 82 year old icons he is currently producing albums for: jazz-blues vocalist/pianist Mose Allison and calypso great Harry Belafonte.

No tickets are required for tonight’s Louisville performance. Seating is general admission. The Wilson exhibit begins at 7 p.m.

Joe Henry performs at 9 tonight at the 930 Art Center, 930 Mary St. in Louisville. Admission is free. Call (502) 635-2554.

tara tonight

tara jane o'neil.

tara jane o'neil

The chieftain behind the recent Boomslang festival, Saraya Brewer, passed along word about an intriguing WRFL-sponsored performance tonight at The Red Mile Round Barn, 1200 Red Mile Road, featuring former Louisville song stylist Tara Jane O’Neil.

Now part of a thriving music community in Portland, Oregon – home to, among others, The Decemberists and The Minus 5’s Scott McCaughey – O’Neil conjures wonderfully lo-fi but immensely atmospheric story-songs. Rounding out the five-buck-bill (that is, if you’re a student; for everyone else, it’s a mere $7) are two other indie voices from the great Northwest: co-headliner Mount Eerie from Anacortes, Washington (a buzzsaw folk project featuring The Microphones’ Phil Elverum) and Vancouver’s No Kids.

We will bow to Brewer’s recommendation on these acts. She offers an insightful preview of the performance over at her fine Blueline blog.

Showtime tonight is 8:30 p.m.

critic’s pick 94

lyle lovett: natural forces

lyle lovett: natural forces

The Lone Star alliance of Lyle Lovett and Robert Earl Keen, a friendship that extends back to the mid ‘70s, is wonderfully reconstituted at the conclusion of the former’s fine new Natural Forces album. On a jointly penned romp titled It’s Rock and Roll, Lovett speaks in his dry Texas tenor of glitzy fame where “the bright lights fall down on you and the money does the name” before a Slash-like guitar riff shatters the serenity.

The song is only partially tongue-in-cheek, mind you, as Americana accents dominate the rest of Natural Forces and all of Keen’s The Rose Hotel.

Natural Forces is essentially two albums in one. It sports four new originals, excluding It’s Rock ‘N’ Roll, and six covers of works by esteemed Texas songwriters that reprise the stately warmth of Lovett’s sublime 1998 tribute record Step Inside This House.

Of the new songs, the home cooked double entendres of Pantry offer the most immediate enticement. But Empty Blue Shoes, with its richly languid blues sentiments (“your mother might hold you forever but forever won’t hold you for long”) and the title song’s dark imagery of natural forces and very un-natural migration satisfy more deeply.

The Texas material, as with Step Inside This House, sounds regal. Eric Taylor’s Whooping Crane possesses an almost meditative unease while Vince Bell’s Sun and Moon and Stars outlines solitary but eerily elegant despondency. In comparison, Townes Van Zandt’s Loretta sounds surprisingly hopeful, a vision of home on an album where sentiments are as scattered as storms along distant Texas plains.

robert earl keen: the rose hotel

robert earl keen: the rose hotel

Keen mines more familiar turf on The Rose Hotel with tunes that tuck colors of minor chords into highly accessible choruses to heighten the mix of drama and sometimes wry but human humor. Such devices abound on Something I Do, a reggae-fied lowlife anthem with a cha-cha-cha beat and the album’s title tune storyline of intended but missed connections. Keen also covers Van Zandt by way of a darkly fantastical reading of Flyin’ Shoes.

But the kicker is Wireless in Heaven, a smart honky tonk yarn that ponders internet connections to the hereafter with a melody that morphs from country to bluegrass.

Sure, the tune may search for an ISP in heaven. But its lyrical and melodic drive still come from deep in the heart of you-know-where.

Lyle Lovett and his Large Band perform at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 30 at Newlin Hall of the Norton Center for the Arts at Centre College in Danville. Tickets are $60-$125. Call (877) 448-7469.

Robert Earl Keen, Todd Snider and Bruce Robison perform at 7 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Lexington Opera House. Tickets are $22.50-$32.50. Call (859) 233-3535.

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