Archive for October, 2009

in performance: battlefield band/pauly zarb

battlefield band: sean o'donnell, alasdair white, mike katz, alan reid.

battlefield band: sean o'donnell, alasdair white, mike katz, alan reid. photo by louis de carlo.

When asked at last night’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Hour at the Kentucky Theatre to describe the instrument he cradled in his hands, Battlefield Band’s Mike Katz didn’t hesitate. “It’s beautiful,” he said. “It’s the sexiest of all instruments.” Then again, how else would you expect a six-foot-something Scot with a beard that would put ZZ Top to shame to profess his love for the Highland bagpipes?

Katz actually spent more time doubling on bouzouki last night, meshing with fiddler Alasdair White and guitarist Sean O’Donnell to create a sort of Scottish string band hybrid sound. Still, the pipes wheezed, whirred and roared to attention during the Counting Cowries finale of the Ku’ula-kai medley, one of four “pursuit of wealth tunes” Battlefield Band pulled from its new Zama Zama (Try Your Luck) album.

Once considered a bit of a rogue Scottish folk operation for its sometimes contemporary accents, Battlefield Band steered down a largely traditional path last night with the dance hall flavor of founder Alan Reid’s electric keyboards taking a back seat on the string driven Baile An Or (Gold Town).

But the traditions surrounding the performance took flight from Scotland more than once. While Plain Gold Ring became a lament of Celtic-spun desire thanks O’Donnell’s stoic vocals, the tune didn’t originate in ancient Scotland at all.  It instead emerged on American pop charts in the ‘50s as a hit for Nina Simone. Then there was the blues spark that prefaced the bagpipe celebration of The Pretty Apron. And let’s not forget that the title Zama Zama boasts zulu ancestry.

Adding to the program’s international thrust was Bardstown multi-instrumentalist Pauly Zarb, a native of Australia. Much of his set leaned toward Americanized pop-folk performed in almost vaudevillian one-man-band fashion with Zarb juggling keyboards, congas and guitars with his hands and kick drum and hi-hat with his feet. A nod to his homeland by way of a cover of the 1982 Men at Work hit Down Under added flute to the mix.

Zarb and the Battlefield Band also teamed for impromptu jamming at the show’s conclusion. While neither really needed the other’s help, the onstage bonding was fun to watch. But in the end, when Katz cranked up the bagpipes one last time during the encore of The Merry Macs (from Battlefield Band’s 2001 album Happy Daze), the global summit wound down as that sexy beast from “the ol’ kintry” took centerstage.

in performance: jolie holland

jolie holland. photo by scott irvine.

jolie holland. photo by scott irvine.

Even in its rockier moments, like the ones that define her wonderful 2008 album The Living and the Dead, there remains an unmistakable intimacy to Jolie Holland’s music. It requires space and demands attention. So placing her stories of addiction, abandonment and faith on display at the new Woodland Ave. music club Cosmic Charlie’s may not have been the most skillful booking job in the world. Located in the same space that occupied the old Lynagh’s Music Club, the room’s design seems to almost amplify the noise made by restless bar crowds – and last night there was a wealth of it. There was so much, in fact, that the musings of Holland and accompanist/guitarist Grey Gersten almost seemed like a secondary part of the bar atmosphere.

Amazingly, the performance drew a hearty crowd – a feat in itself, considering the concert received almost zero publicity. But it was disheartening to find nearly one-third of the crowd located at the back end of the room near the bar treat an artist and guest (and a performer they forked over 10 bucks to see) with such flippant resignation and ill respect. On club atmosphere alone, the evening was a disappointment.

Now, take away the offstage distractions and you were left with a rather accomplished performance. Holland painted musical portraits with a vocal accent beautifully stalled between the longing of Lucinda Williams’ Lone Star drawl (Holland, likewise, is a Texas native) and the soul/jazz phrasing of such timeless stylists as Billie Holiday. Instrumentally, she colored her tunes with rhythms from a weather-beaten Epiphone guitar and a handcrafted, cigar box-shaped violin, although Gersten’s keen guitar leads propelled the material

In terms of repertoire, the performance was a delight, from the show-opening montage of death, love and loss in Mexico City to the lone encore – a cover of alt-country fave Freakwater’s Gone to Stay. In between, the performance revealed snapshots of Western-flavored mystique (Roll My Bones) and rural Appalachian fancy (Alley Flowers) along with a few fun, well-chosen covers (Michael Hurley’s O My Stars and Sonny and the Sunsets’ Halloween-themed Death Cream).

Topping everything, though, was the highlight tune from The Living and the Dead – a remorseful but ultimately elegant romantic still life called Palmyra. Quietly rugged as this version was, it was still beautifully restless, emotive and tense enough to deflect the dismissive bowling alley ambience of an uninvolved bar crowd.

another loud week

jack white, jimmy page and the edge trade riffs and conversation in "it might get loud." the documentary has been held over for a second week at the kentucky theatre.

jack white, jimmy page and the edge exchange riffs and conversation in "it might get loud," which is still playing at the kentucky theatre.

If you were late to the party that is It Might Get Loud, as I was until last night, cheer up. The extraordinary documentary by An Inconvenient Truth director Davis Guggenheim that brings together three landmark rock artists from three generations for conversation, shop talk and some honest artistic reflection, is being held over for an extra week at the Kentucky Theatre.

If you’re a guitarist, the film is loaded with obvious appeal as Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White discuss their instruments, their hardware and the ingenuity that transforms the simplest of riffs into monster musical hooks. But the appeal of It Might Get Loud is by no means exclusive to gear heads. Anyone who has experienced a serious rock ‘n’ roll itch, especially fans, will get a royal kick out of being a fly on the wall as the three guitarists gather with a ton of equipment on a Los Angeles soundstage to swap stories, divulge influences and share a few impromptu jams.

That summit is then balanced with footage shot at three locales reflecting the musical heritage of each player. Page pokes about East Hampshire’s Headley Grange, where Led Zeppelin recorded its third, fourth, fifth and sixth albums. But nothing compares to watching Page, 65, beaming like a child at Christmas as he listens at home in London to a recording of Link Wray’s Rumble.

Similarly, the film allows The Edge to revisit the school where the U2 members met and initially rehearsed. But the shadows of Dublin’s violent political past remain vivid as he describes the climate surrounding the band’s beginnings. That, in turn, leads into The Edge working alone on the riff that was to become the backbone of the recent U2 single Get on Your Boots.

White, who seems a touch stand-offish at times around the guitar elders, nonetheless confides his love of the blues as he roams the American countryside outside of Nashville detailing stories of a Detroit upbringing that are every bit as deflating as those The Edge reveals about Dublin.

Finally, the three square off on trademark songs from each of their respective careers with only their mutual guitar voices as artillery. White unleashes the dirty blues of the White Stripes’ Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground while The Edge offers the chiming stutter of the early U2 favorite I Will Follow. To no one’s surprise, though, Page steals the show as he cranks up the Zeppelin warhorse Whole Lotta Love. There, the good-natured Edge and the initially distant White sit transfixed and trumped by the true guitar hero.

Dig into It Might Get Loud and you will be, too.

Mexico’s Caribbean coast braces for Tropical Storm Ida

November 8, 2009 CANCUN, Mexico – Officials readied storm shelters along Mexico’s Caribbean coast Saturday and told fishermen and tour operators to pull in their boats amid warnings that Tropical Storm Ida could become a hurricane as it neared the resort city of Cancun.

The U.S. National Hurricane Center in Miami said Ida’s winds strengthened to near 70 mph, just short of a Category 1 hurricane. A tentative forecast track predicted Ida could brush the U.S. Gulf Coast this week as a tropical storm.

Tropical-storm warnings were issued for the Mexican coastline from Punta Allen, south of Tulum, to San Felipe at the top of the Yucatan Peninsula, an area that includes Cancun. The warnings were also in effect for western Cuba and Grand Cayman Island. web site category 1 hurricane

A hurricane watch was in effect from Tulum to Cabo Catoche. Authorities in Cancun started up a reporting system used to locate tourists and plan potential evacuations or shelters. Quintana Roo state Tourism Director Sara Latife Ruiz said there were about 36,000 foreign and Mexican tourists in Cancun.

“We can locate them and if necessary, take them to some temporary shelter,” said Latife Ruiz. “Right now, no flights have been canceled … and there has been no evacuation of tourists.” – the Associated Press State civil defense Director Luis Carlos Rodriguez said “there is still time to protect property, so we have advised fishermen, small boat owners and those living in low-lying areas of Tulum, Holbox, Cancun and Playa del Carmen to take safety measures for their property.” Juan Granados, assistant director of civil defense, said the state was on yellow alert and that Ida was also expected to brush the nearby island tourist destinations of Cozumel and Isla Mujeres.

Ida was projected to pass the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula today.

Granados said seven storm shelters were being readied on Cozumel, five on Isla Mujeres and seven on Holbox, an island north of the peninsula. Statewide, dozens more were being readied for use if needed.

Authorities suspended fishing along part of the coast and told tour operators who offer reef snorkeling and diving excursions to stay in port, Granados added.

Popular Mayan sites such as the seaside ruins of Tulum were to remain open, but employees worked to clean up debris that could become a hazard in high winds, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History said in a statement.

John Cangialosi, a specialist at the Hurricane Center, said that as Ida heads north across the Gulf of Mexico, it is expected to meet a cold front that is moving south – making longer-term forecasts complicated for now. go to website category 1 hurricane

“There’s going to be some sort of interaction between the two, but where they interact, and how, and the timing of the thing, that’s kind of the big question mark,” Cangialosi said.

Regardless of how the cold front affects the tropical system, Cangialosi said residents on the north Gulf Coast can expect lots of wind and heavy rain.

Ida plowed into Nicaragua’s Atlantic coast on Thursday as a Category 1 hurricane, damaging 500 homes along with bridges, power lines, roads and public buildings.

Cuba’s national Meteorological Center said it did not expect any direct impact from the storm, but noted it could cause heavy rains in the western province of Pinar del Rio.

one dame leads to another

jolie holland. photo by scott irvine.

jolie holland. photo by scott irvine.

Here’s a show we didn’t see coming. Well, actually we did, but we had given it up for lost.

In the lingering days of summer, Texas songstress Jolie Holland, who has long been a Lexington favorite, was booked for an Oct. 16 performance at The Dame. Come August, of course, The Dame called it a day. So those of us who have been championing the stark, poetic nature of Holland’s songs, as well as the fascinating encyclopedia of folk, jazz and pop voices she uses to display them, sat with sunken hearts.

But fear not, friends. Holland’s concert is still on, but at a new venue. She will perform tonight at the new Cosmic Charlie’s at the sight of the old Lynagh’s Music Club on Woodland Ave.

This will be Holland’s first local outing since a set at WRFL’s FreeKY Fest last year. Since then, she has sent us another stunner of an album – a collection of sweetly sung stories of heartbreak, addiction and isolation titled The Living and the Dead. Holland co-produced it with the great Shahzad Ismaily, who performed as guitarist and percussionist (at times, simultaneously) during an in-store show last year at CD Central with the experimental bi-coastal pop trio 2 Foot Yard.

Eastern Kentucky-born New Yorker Matt Bauer will open tonight’s performance.

Jolie Holland and Matt Bauser perform at 7 tonight at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. Tickets are $10. Call (859) 309-9499.

Amtrak’s ridership is looking up, but what about its future?

Global Finance November 1, 2001 | Rombel, Adam FINANCE IN THE UNITED STATES More people are riding its trains and more are talking about the importance of rail, but that may not be enough to brighten the debt-ridden Amtrak’s outlook. * By Adam Rombel The weeks following the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington brought a surge of new passengers to Amtrak and increased the profile of train travel in the United States as a viable alternative to flying and driving.

Still, the 30-year-old government-backed passenger rail service is facing myriad problems that threaten its future. The US Congress in 1997 mandated Amtrak to become profitable and no longer need federal funding for its operations by the end of 2002 or risk being shut down, restructured, or folded into another entity. Even before September 11, several government monitors strongly doubted that the dripping-red-ink Amtrak could meet the target.

The train service has long been under fire for its moneylosing ways as well as poor service and management blunders. Amtrak’s debt has tripled in the past few years, to more than $3 billion, and it lost nearly $1 billion last year, a record.

During the booming 1990s,Amtrak’s ridership largely remained flat while airline, bus, and car traffic exploded.

Amtrak’s foray into high-speed rail service was also troubled. Its high-speed Acela Express service, linking Boston, New York, and Washington, was plagued by delays and cost overruns. It got so bad that in June Amtrak mortgaged some of NewYork’s Penn Station for $300 million to make up for lost Acela revenue and avoid insolvency.

Acela, whose hefty prices exceed some airfares to coma parable cities, also suffered from an inability to actually be fast because many of the tracks, tunnels, signals and stations it traverses are in such bad shape.The sleek Acela trains can run at 150-mph top speed for only a few miles of the corridor between Boston and Washington. It is thought that Amtrak might need to spend $20 billion over the next 25 years on infrastructure improvements to get the most out of Acela.

Trains Full Amtrak’s ridership increased 17% in the week immediately following the September 11 terrorist attacks and settled at about 12-15% higher in the following several weeks, according to spokesman Bill Schulz. The rail carrier normally hauls an average of 60,000 passengers a day Most of the increase in passengers was in the train service’s Northeast corridor. This area’s transportation system was most disrupted after the attacks, including the closing of Washington’s main domestic airport for three weeks.As a result, many Amtrak trains were fully booked for days on end. go to web site amtrak promotion code

“Thank God the Northeast corridor existed at the time of the World Trade Center attacks.Amtrak was able to step in and play a big role in keeping things going,” says Gilbert Carmichael, chairman of the Amtrak Reform Council, a group established by Congress in 1997 to monitor Amtrak’s progress in becoming operationally self-sufficient.

Still, most observers don’t expect the increases in ticket sales to do much to help solve Amtrak’s immediate financial problems, especially since it will also have to spend more money on security now.

“Higher passenger levels are fine, but it doesn’t change the fundamental issue that Amtrak needs direct federal capital funding going into the bricks and mortar it needs;’ says one Wall Street financier who has been in on many deals to finance transportation in the United States.

Amtrak president and chief executive George Warrington says its financial crunch is due to its conflicted dual mission. Amtrak is expected to run like a business but also provide national service, including running unprofitable long-distance and rural routes, he says. website amtrak promotion code

Amtrak supporters says it’s unfair that the rail service is held to such a high standard when the US government spends billions of dollars every year to subsidize air traffic control for the airline industry and the building of highways for road travel. In its 30 years, Amtrak has received more than $27 billion in subsidy payments from the US government. That’s a drop in the bucket compared with what other forms of transportation have received.The government’s $15 billion bailout package for the airline industry is the most recent example of this. In all, the government has invested $750 billion in highways and aviation during Amtrak’s existence.

Pleas for Subsidy Amtrak and its backers say Washington should similarly be willing to pony up the money needed to build the train stations, tracks, tunnels, bridges, and cars needed to modernize the nation’s passenger rail system.

“Amtrak provides a national benefit, and like air and highway travel, it cannot survive unsubsidized,” a recent Los Angeles Times editorial said.

Several legislative proposals circulating on Capitol Hill would provide Amtrak with more funding and/or finance high-speed rail development. One proposal would put Amtrak at the center of high-speed rail development by authoring it to issue $12 billion in bonds over 10 years to fund fast-rail projects in a number of states. This bill seems to have stalled after two years in circulation, say congressional observers.

Another proposal, introduced by Republican Representative Don Young of Alaska after the terror attacks, would put states at the forefront of high-speed rail development. It would allow states to issue $36 billion in tax-exempt bonds over 10 years and provide another $35 billion in low-interest loans or direct loan guarantees for upgrading rail systems for faster train travel.

The bill wouldn’t ease Amtrak’s financial problems as the debt-ridden rail carrier wouldn’t be eligible to apply for money, although it could compete to run the resulting new train lines.

How these legislative actions will ultimately pan out is unknown. On the one hand,Amtrak’s role in moving people after September 11 have given its backers ammunition for seeking more money for the carrier. But there’s still no shortage of harsh critics of Amtrak on Capitol Hill, including Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona.

For example, Amtrak in late September asked Congress for $3.2 billion in emergency funding to increase security, expand service, and fulfill increased demand. McCain and other legislators implied that Amtrak might just be using the current concern over security as an excuse to get more money from Congress to cover its operating budget shortfalls. Senator McCain and his colleagues whittled the package down to $1.8 billion before passing it.

Reforms Recommended In another legislative move, Democratic Senator Ernest Hollings of South Carolina introduced a bill to eliminate the requirement that it be self-sufficient by the end of 2002, and provide $35 billion in loans and loan guarantees for rail development. Hollings believes that Amtrak needs more financial help and time because the terror attacks have altered the landscape for Amtrak and passenger rail the United States. The proposal is likely to encounter stiff opposition.

Amtrak’s critics on Capitol Hill say no amount of federal money will solve the rail carrier’s problems until it proves it can cover its own operating costs or until it’s restructured. (Few want to go as far as closing it down.) “I think Congress’s anger at Amtrak is that the darn thing is not organized properly. It’s trying to do everything,” says Carmichael of the Amtrak Reform Council.The council has recommended that Amtrak be split into two separate entities-one that concentrates on the core business of running the national passenger rail system and another that manages and finances Amtrak’s Northeast corridor and other rail infrastructure.

[Author Affiliation] Rombel, Adam

steve ferguson, 1948-2009

steve ferguson.

steve ferguson.

In the midst of what has been an especially active October for live music, we lost an often neglected artistic neighbor. Steve Ferguson, founding guitarist for NRBQ and a longtime staple and elder of the Louisville music scene, died last week after an extended battle with cancer. He was 60.

A Louisville native, Ferguson’s tenure with the acclaimed NRBQ was brief. He stayed for two albums – a self-titled debut recording (noted for its crackup cover of Sun Ra’s Rocket Number Nine, a tune that would pop up in NRBQ’s stage shows well into the ‘90s) and Boppin’ the Blues (a collaboration with rock ‘n’ roll forefather Carl Perkins) – before leaving the band in 1970. But an extraordinary live document of Ferguson’s NRBQ days was offered in 2006 thanks to a concert recording pulled from the archives of shows held at Cincinnati’s fabled Ludlow Garage.

Over the past two decades, especially, Ferguson became a fixture in Louisville clubs with his band the Midwest Creole Ensemble. Stabs were made at forging a similar following in Lexington. But aside from a few slimly attended shows at the defunct Lynagh’s Music Club, such an audience never materialized.

The NRBQ link remained strong enough, however, for Ferguson and fellow NRBQ founder Terry Adams to reunite for a 2006 studio album called Louisville Sluggers. But slip on Ludlow Garage 1970 and you will hear the splendidly ragged guitar speak of Flat Flew Flewzy and the wonderful rootsy corrosion of Wan Do. Within the playing are seeds of the wondrous groove Ferguson would explore so inventively later with his own bands.

critic’s picks 93

rosanne cash: the list

rosanne cash: the list

Born within two years of each other, Rosanne Cash and Patty Loveless represente a country music generation once embraced by radio. Since then, Cash explored heavily introspective songwriting that took her light years away from corporate Nashville while Pikeville native Loveless designed albums with husband/producer Emory Gordy, Jr. that received widespread country acclaim before refocusing on the mountain inspired roots music of her youth.

Now as members of a demographic that Nashville regularly shuns (women artists in their 50s), Cash and Loveless have again found common ground. For Cash, it comes with a collection of covers suggested by her legendary father, Johnny Cash. For Loveless, the link is a sequel to a hit recording of traditionally inclined rural country inspiration.

Cash’s The List, a new collaboration with her own husband/producer, John Leventhal, takes its cue from a catalogue of 100 songs termed essential by the elder Cash. Some are country staples forever associated with the Man in Black, including the always-dramatic Long Black Veil. Daughter Cash’s telling of the gallows tune’s storyline is understandably gentler than her father’s version. But some neat guitar tremolo and world weary harmonies from Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy make the song’s ghostly inspiration all her own.

Equally daring are grand takes on the Patsy Cline hit She’s Got You and the Merle Haggard classic Silver Wings. Both tunes indicate the grand sweep of The List by showcasing a voice than conveys heartache, urgency and simple human drama in a manner that respects regal country and pop traditions.

patty loveless: mountain soul II

patty loveless: mountain soul II

Loveless doesn’t quite go for the epic tone of The List when approaching Mountain Soul II, a sequel to 2001’s Mountain Soul. That record was exquisitely timed with renewed interest in pre-bluegrass country music at a peak thanks to the hit soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? But Mountain Soul II is every bit as homey as its predecessor with acoustic arrangements that bring out the deeper contours of Loveless’ singing.

The bluegrass spiritual Workin’ on a Building, especially, is a work of wonders. It sports support from two of the mightiest bluegrass forces on the planet, Del and Ronnie McCoury, but the gospel gusto fueling the tune belongs to Loveless alone.

Loveless and Gordy add a few fine originals, too. But the killer is a cover of Emmylou Harris’ Diamond in My Crown, which is delivered as a hymn-like lament. As the vocal wail is reigned in, the gospel fortitude is magnified with only organ and Harris’ wildly plaintive harmonies as backdrops. Have mercy.

critic’s picks 92

keith jarrett: testament

keith jarrett: testament

Already this year, we have seen two elder American jazz labels, Prestige and Blue Note, turn 60 and 70 years old, respectively. In November, the deliciously atmospheric Euro-based ECM turns 40. The celebration commences with fine new recordings from three of the label’s flagship artists: pianist Keith Jarrett, Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek and guitar journeyman John Abercrombie.

Jarrett’s mammoth three-disc Testament chronicles improvisational solo piano performances given days part late last year in Paris and London. Both are full of typically gallant passages. Then, just as the lyricism starts to sound too settled after 23 minutes of the Paris concert, his playing fractures, rumbles and bounds around the Salle Pleyel before briefly coming to a halt. Rapturous applause, of course, ensues.

Personally, 2006’s The Carnegie Hall Concert sounds more emotive and complete. And while were on the subject of the ECM legacy, nothing in the label’s solo piano library stands up to Jarrett’s majestic Koln Concert from 1975. But Testament is just that – a beautifully recorded pair of performances that again displays the spontaneous beauty that flows whenever Jarrett sits at the piano with only the sounds in his head to guide him.

jan garbarek: dresden

jan garbarek: dresden

The stunner of the bunch is Garbarek’s Dresden, another live recording. This one was cut two Octobers ago with a modified version of his long running quartet. Bassist Eberhard Weber (another veteran ECM recording artist) is gone due to heath reasons and is replaced here by Brazilian Yuri Daniel. Drummer Manu Katche, who has toured internationally with the likes of Peter Gabriel and Sting maintains an understandably rockish approach to the performance which manages to up the urgency level of Garberek’s playing without defusing any of its ghostly appeal.

But the true Garbarek foil is keyboardist Rainer Bruninghaus. His tensely orchestrated backdrops are arresting from Dresden‘s outset as they weave an almost cinematic web around Garbarek’s soprano sax squeal on the album-opening Shankar composition Paper Nut. Similarly, Bruninghaus’ piano intro is equally complimentary as it dances around cymbals and, again, the soprano, on Twelve Moons. A truly unearthly delight of an album.

john abercrombie quartet: wait till you see her

john abercrombie: wait till you see her

Abercrombie’s Wait Till You See Her has the guitarist once more working off of violinist Mark Feldman on studio sessions marked by studied reserve. Well, most of them are, anyway, like the lusciously quiet title tune and Sad Song. But on Out of Towner, the groove heightens, drummer Joey Baron is unleashed and the more dynamic fun starts.

Through it all, though, is Abercrombie’s remarkable tone. It remains clean, warm but delightfully restless.

in performance: os mutantes

sergio dias of os mutantes.

sergio dias of os mutantes.

Midnight was less than an hour away when Os Mutantes took the stage last night at Buster’s to close out the Boomslang festival. But for the duration of its 80 minute set, the sunny inspiration of the band’s Brazilian homeland brought an ample measure of sunlight to the room.

Though often pinned as a psychedelic band – a label made good on when founder/frontman Sergio Dias let his guitarwork bow happily to distortion during the encore jam of Bat Macumba or fly with Zappa-esque animation on A Hora e a Vez do Cabelo Crescer (Cabeludo Patriota) – Os Mutantes unleashed all kinds of stylistic invention during the performance.

Top Top strutted to a funk/pop groove, Anagrama brought in some very Americanized pop/soul inspiration and the piano ballad Balada do Louco sailed from Hey Jude-era Beatles to crunchier guitar rock terrain.

And then there were the lovely moments where the Brazilian heritage was championed not only by the band but by a hearty pack of countrymen in the audience who waved the nation’s flag and sang along in Portuguese.

Baby, for instance, was pure pop-flavored bossa nova as well as a lyrical showcase for singer Bia Mendes while 2000 e Agarrum dizzily juggled warp speed samba, carnival-esque pop and shards of mambo.

But the show closing encore of Panis Et Circensis literally said it all. Just as the evening opener Tecnicolor introduced the band’s bright pop voice in English, so did the mantra-like chorus of the finale: “The music lighted by the heat of the sun.”

On a chilly October night, the beaches of Brazil might as well have been on the moon. But through a performance that was ceaselessly inviting and upbeat, the warmth of Os Mutantes’ music more than compensated.

judy, judy, judy

judy collins

judy collins

In some ways, the career of folk empress Judy Collins has come full circle.

Take the performance residency she entered into last year. For six weeks in the spring, she performed at the Café Carlyle in New York. Sure the venue was vastly more upscale than the Greenwich Village clubs Collins performed in during the formative years of her extensive career. But the sense of immediacy and intimacy the Carlyle afforded was a welcome throwback for the singer.

“Oh, the Carlyle is very intimate,” said Collins, who turned 70 during the café engagement. “It only seats about 100. So it is a very similar experience to old New York folk clubs like The Bitter End. That kind of intimacy, really, was what built the folk movement in the first place. The only thing different now is the way people are dressed.”

Well, that and the cover charge. Since her recording career began in 1961, Collins has become one of folk music’s most familiar, welcoming and distinctive voices. Her singing – high, clear and jubilantly expressive – has aged remarkably little over the years.

For proof, compare two performance clips readily available for viewing on YouTube. Both feature Collins singing the wistful Ian Tyson renegade love song Someday Soon. One comes from an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman in July. The other originates from the Smother Brothers Comedy Hour 40 years earlier. Her voice today may reveal more sage-like contentment. But the art of singing for Collins, in both approach and execution, remains as resolute as ever.

In a New York Times review of Collins’ opening night performance at the Carlyle, Stephen Holden wrote, “The higher she sings, most of the time with perfect intonation, the more she projects the ethereality of a flute played by the wind.”

Collins’ impact on today’s folk and pop generation is equally commanding. A 2008 tribute album titled Born to the Breed featured 14 Collins songs as interpreted by Chrissie Hynde, Rufus Wainwright, Dolly Parton, Dar Williams and others. The record is an unexpected celebration, in a way, as Collins is viewed by many fans as primarily an interpretive singer.

Such a paradox is explored at the end of Born to the Breed when veteran folk troubadour Leonard Cohen offers one of the album’s two versions of Since You’ve Asked (Joan Baez sings the other). Again, a career comes full circle as one of Collins’ most beloved interpretations remains her 1966 version of Cohen’s poetic and plaintive Suzanne. She has also dedicated an entire album to Cohen’s music – 2004’s Judy Collins Sings Leonard Cohen: Democracy.

“I was the first person to put Leonard Cohen on a stage in 1966,” Collins said. “He had read his poetry in tiny little places in Montreal and Toronto. But he had never really been onstage to perform. So when I was doing a benefit show in New York, I told him, ‘Come on up.’ It was a big concert. I think Jimi Hendrix was on the bill, as well.

“So Leonard came to the show and got out onstage. He started to sing Suzanne and then stopped right in the middle and walked off. I always thought it was because he was terrified. He said later it was because he broke a guitar string, but I don’t believe that for a minute. He, of course, went on to become a phenomenally good performer. I always thought he was wonderful.”

Curiously enough, it was the initially stage-shy Cohen who prodded Collins into putting aside other artists’ work and focus on her own compositions.

“After I started recording Leonard’s music, he said, ‘How come you’re not writing any of your own songs?’ All I could say was, ‘I don’t know.’ That’s when I started writing, and Since You’ve Asked became the first song I ever wrote. So to have him sing it on the tribute album was thrilling.”

Collins celebrated the release of Born to the Breed with a performance at another grand New York locale, the Public Theater. The concert brought together several artists that have followed her folk path, including Shawn Colvin and Mary Gauthier, along with a sterling songwriting contemporary, Jimmy Webb. While the concert also served as a benefit for the famed New York music venue Joe’s Pub as well as a celebration of the 10th anniversary of Collins’ Wildflower record label, it was similarly a testament to a love of performing that, much like her singing voice, remains ageless.

“Performing is very much what I love,” Collins said. “It’s the way I make a living. It’s how I find a way to get through to an audience. And it’s all wonderful.”

Judy Collins performs at 7 tonight at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main, for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. The performance is sold out.

in performance: kings of leon

kings of leon: matthew, caleb, nathan and jared followill. photo by lego.

kings of leon: matthew, caleb, nathan and jared followill. photo by lego.

“We’ve had a hell of a year,” commented Caleb Followill after On Call, a blast of cerebral Southern soul that morphed into brawling post-punk pop, wound down last night at Rupp Arena. “Who’d have thought?”

Who indeed? Maybe we can start with the 9,200 very vocal fans that turned out for the show. A year ago, few, if any of them, would have even imagined Rupp as a workable performance home for this band of three brothers and their cousin. But things change quickly when you come up with a hit album that takes its sweet time ascending the pop charts to remain a Top 30 seller 54 weeks after its release.

Needless to say, that recording, Only By the Night, figured prominently in the 95 minute performance. The show, as does the album, opened with a one-two punch of Closer and Crawl. The former employed a bass hook by brother Jared that sounded like a synthesized loop to usher in the sweaty, scratchy singing of brother Caleb. The latter set up a serious sonic roar anchored by cousin Matthew’s guitar lead – a sort of dissonant, Southern inflected reflection of early U2 music – and brother Nathan’s jackhammer drumming.

That was the elemental thrust of the show right there – four family mates playing with focus and intensity, creating an original spin on Southern music with an increasingly anthemic pop appeal in the process.

Of course, with Kings of Leon now being an arena band, the stage presentation came with a few bells and whistles. Specifically, video screens projected keenly edited images of the onstage action. The visuals amounted to what was, in essence, a made-to-order music video that nicely augmented the no-frills performance.

There was a touch of humor, as well, as when the screens briefly jumped from live action to splice in the silent, split-second screams of a ‘60s Hollywood vixen (Janet Leigh from her Psycho days seemed to be the inspiration) during Charmer, a tune already ripe with zen mischief ( “she stole my karma… sold it to the farmer”).

The U2 references reappeared often as the show progressed, as in the mix of stuttering guitar and militaristic drums during Only By the Night‘s Be Somebody – not to be confused with the monster radio hit Use Somebody from the same album, which was served as an encore – and Sex on Fire. But this was by no means a show of derivative influences. Kings of Leon has nicely allowed what was once a fairly primal, almost rootsy sound to evolve into something more expansive.

Last night, during an encore of Knocked Up (from the band’s underrated third album, Because of the Times) a percussive shuffle bled into a simple, roaming bass line – the kind that sticks in your brain for hours. Then a guitar groove emerged, all bright and atmospheric. It sounded like something the veteran British guitar pioneer Robert Fripp might create were he from Tennessee.

Ultimately, such a metamorphosis revealed the key to the show’s potency (and, perhaps, to Kings of Leon’s overall appeal) – the ability to retain its Southern heritage regardless of how dense, brooding, mysterious or ambient the music became.

The British band White Lies opened the evening with a good-natured set of ‘80s inspired pop. True to those times, songs like Farewell to the Fairground were built around efficient guitar and keyboard melodies. The high, winding vocals of Harry McVeigh, which very much brought bands like The Fixx and The Outfield to mind, nicely completed the retro fit.

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