Archive for November, 2009

in performance: robert earl keen, todd snider, bruce robison

robert earl keen.

robert earl keen.

“Hey, it’s just like the Oak Ridge Boys,” remarked Robert Earl Keen as the pace behind a merry country melody picked up last night at the Opera House.

Well, maybe not – especially since the tune in question was Copenhagen, a love song where the only thing that comes between the guy and the girl is a mouthful of chaw. Truth to tell, Keen’s acoustic performance with Todd Snider and Bruce Robison was a lesson in magnificent imperfection. All three writers performed separately and together without bands. The often diverse temperaments of their songs served as the performance’s only real artistic glue.

Keen pulled a fast one on the crowd, especially the numerous late-comers, by opening the program with a half-dozen world class Texas-fueled yarns. There was little denying that a touch of the brilliant Lone Star color inherent in Keen’s music was lost without the aid of his expert touring band. But in its place was a heightened sense of storytelling that he has scaled back on in recent years. Sure, gems like Gringo Honeymoon and the wistful homecoming portrait Feelin’ Good Again needed little introduction. But Keen prefaced one his best known songs by recalling a correspondence between his mother and uncle.

“Joe, Robert has written the most awful song.”

“Well, Juanita, is the song true?”

“Hell yes, it’s true.”

With that he sailed into Merry Christmas from the Family, his irreverently poetic snapshot of a dysfunctional holiday celebration.

bruce robison.

bruce robison.

Robison, a fellow Texan whose songs have become hits for country kingpins like George Strait and Tim McGraw, offered a set of more streamlined tunes where the lyrical creases Keen so openly underscored were ironed out. That didn’t make songs with such generous melodic charm as Lifeline or Wrapped any less enjoyable. In fact, Robison poked fun at his own fortunes when introducing Travelin’ Soldier. The tune was a major hit for the Dixie Chicks the week Natalie Maines made public her infamous evaluation of then-President Bush. Robison last night dubbed the single as “the fastest descending No. 1 hit in country music history.”

todd snider.

todd snider.

Snider couldn’t resist a jab to corporate Nashville after Robison’s set. He admitted ahead of Money, Compliments, Publicity (Song Number Ten) that the tune was inspired less by the demons of artistic gluttony that inhabit its lyrics and more by a need to quickly think of a toss-off song to complete his new The Excitement Plan album. “Then I thought, ‘Hey, that’s how they make country music now.'”

A second set brought the three artists together to swap songs for just over an hour. But their stylistic differences were on display just as much when they weren’t singing as when they were given the spotlight. Keen played congenial host, Robison seemed eager to play some kind of accompaniment for his pals and Snider, his face buried in shadow from a loose fitting hat, generally looked like a caged animal.

But there was simpatico. Robison matched the barbed family sagas that pop up in Keen’s music during My Brother and Me, a tune influenced not by his sibling but by a black sheep grandfather. Similarly, Snider’s popularly giddy Beer Run made direct reference to Keen’s signature renegade tune The Road Goes On Forever, a tune Keen himself was more than happy to follow with.

But Keen was rightfully awarded the evening’s last song, I’m Comin’ Home – a travelogue tune that drew inspiration from heart and hearth. Performed with a sense of Texas country longing, the stune was a reminder that even though the road still goes on forever, it eventually leads one back home.

Pastel Picassos.(teaching how to paint)

Arts & Activities March 1, 2007 | Bowden, Jennifer Searching for an affordable and fairly easy project that could be applied to all levels of students, an idea came to me after finding some paintings by Picasso that were inspired by other famous artists’ works. It was a great idea for several reasons. First, it was inexpensive, quick and could work with elementary through high-school students.

Second, it gave the kids a starting point so they couldn’t complain about having no ideas. Third, it allowed even the kids without the best drawing skills to be successful. The lesson allowed them to experiment with oil pastel, color and abstraction while learning about art history. They felt the pressure to have things look “real” was gone so they could just relax and have fun.

The supplies needed are fairly simple and have an easy cleanup: oil pastel, paper, scissors, pencils and erasers are all that are required. Examples of Picasso’s Cubist art and his Cubist recreations of other artists’ work, along with postcards of famous artworks, will get the lesson off to a great start. The project should last for about six or seven 45-minute class periods.

There are four lesson objectives. First, students study the Cubist movement and Pablo Picasso. Second, they follow Picasso’s example of celebrating old masterpieces in a new way. Third, we review the terms: color, geometric, shape, line, abstraction and all of the art principles. Fourth, the students display and critique their work. see here how to paint

To start the lesson, I showed reproductions of Picasso’s work. We discussed his life and his entrance into Cubism and abstraction. Next, the students were introduced to other artists’ work from the Cubist movement and Picasso’s examples of “borrowing” ideas, thus recreating old masterpieces in a new way. I explained the idea of cropping a picture to create a strong composition and discussed how to create Cubism by trying to show several angles at once and breaking things down into basic shapes.

Next, art postcards were passed out and each student picked one. They then cropped the postcard with a paper “window” and drew four different views in the Cubist style, breaking some things down to basic shapes. This created four unique drawings from the same postcard.

Once finished, they picked their favorite drawing and recreated it on a larger scale on a piece of strong paper. After coloring the drawing using oil pastel, they titled the work. Lastly, we had a class discussion and displayed the student work. Grading was based on individual effort, following instructions, use of Cubism, use of art elements and principles, creativity, four “croppings” and critique participation.

Here are a few hints that really helped my kids and should help yours: Tell them to get crazy with color (i.e. faces can be blue, red, striped and so on). Have them create patterns and experiment with layering and smearing color. Also, using a pointed tool to scratch off some pastel will produce neat effects.

If students have trouble making things look Cubistic, suggest they draw a face from three sides on one piece of paper overlapping. Then take a dark marker and go over only some of their lines to create one Cubist image from the three overlapping drawings. Lastly, be sure you tell the kids to remember that oil pastel can stain clothes. go to web site how to paint

This is a great project for all levels of art students. Even the kids that were always saying, “This is too hard” or “I can’t draw” enjoyed being successful with Cubism.

LEARNING OBJECTIVES Elementary students and above will …

* study the Cubist movement and Pablo Picasso.

* follow Picasso’s example of celebrating old masterpieces in a new way.

* review the terms: color, geometric, shape, line, abstraction and all of the art principles.

* display and critique their work.

MATERIALS * Oil pastels * Paper * Scissors * Pencils and erasers * Postcards of famous artworks * Reproductions of Cubist art by Picasso and other artists REFERENCES * Book: Galassi, Susan Grace, Picasso’s Variations on the Masters. Harry N. Abrams, 1996.

* Reproductions of the artworks Picasso used by Grunewald, El Greco, Delacroix, Courbet, Gauguin, Manet and Velazquez among others.

* * Jennifer Bowden teaches art at Huffines Middle School in Lewisville, Texas.

Bowden, Jennifer

further down the forever road

robert earl keen.

robert earl keen.

Sitting among the tunes on Robert Earl Keen’s new album The Rose Hotel is a slackers’ yarn titled Something I Do. It’s far from the deepest dish on the disc with its lazy boy chorus, pseudo-tropical groove and everyman’s lyrical demeanor.

“I kind of like just doin’ nothing,” sings Keen in a sleepy Texas drawl. “It’s something that I do.”

If you have followed Keen’s masterful Lone Star songwriting over the years, you know he is capable of drilling pretty far into misfit psyches for a song. Sometimes the results are positively harrowing (as on Dreadful Selfish Crime). In other instances they turn violently comedic (The Road Goes on Forever) or brutally family friendly (Merry Christmas from the Family). And then there are songs like Something I Do that suggest the recording sessions for his newest album was merry affairs indeed.

“Just like tacos,” Keen said about the songs constructed for The Rose Hotel. “They’re fun to make and fun to eat.”

Keen’s music is deceptively learned too. His songs sport sturdy Texas country roots that, in some cases, extend to honky tonk turf with a giddy Lone Star fiddle leading the charge. For The Rose Hotel‘s Village Inn, though, echoes of pedal steel guitar are so vivid that you can easily picture the purple twilight skies that hang over the road stop. Granted, the song is actually set in Idaho. But when you hear Keen croon over the amenities… “free wi-fi, HBO, oh,” you know you’re dealing with the cosmopolitan campfire soul of a Texan.

“I really try to find a different level of thinking when I write,” Keen said. “If I can get to that level, I seem to be able to come up with some really cool ideas. And I can stay on that level for a long time as long as I’m not interrupted.

“I mean, you do a lot of writing in your job, don’t you? Doesn’t it take a certain amount of concentration and focus? But it’s so easy to find yourself sharpening pencils. Or maybe you go out and get yourself a hot dog. But then you’ve lost your focus. With songwriting, ideas don’t just run up to you while you’re driving to the store or something. To have something really significant to write about, you really need to spend time just cogitating a bit.”

The seeds of such cogitation for Keen were planted in the mid ‘70s when he befriended an unknown songwriting neighbor while attending Texas A&M. His name was Lyle Lovett. Their years of playing and writing songs together on Keen’s porch were chronicled on the mutually composed This Old Porch (The Front Porch Song). It has remained a vital part of Keen’s concert repertoire (and, frequently, Lovett’s) ever since.

“It’s a completely different perspective when I wrote with Robert because we were friends first,” Lovett said. “I just remember hanging out with him, playing songs and guitar together. It’s great to watch the world get that same feeling I used to get from sitting in that chair next to him and listening to him play.

“He is such an engaging and personable performer. It’s just nice to see that finally translate to the rest of the world.”

All of which begs the question, how did the world outside of Texas hear about Keen? His songs have hardly been radio staples, although The Road Goes on Forever gained a new life in the early ‘90s when fellow Texan Joe Ely recorded it. And Merry Christmas from the Family has been covered by numerous country acts (including Central Kentucky’s Montgomery Gentry), although Keen’s blueprint version is the one that tends to pop up most around holiday time.

The answer isn’t complicated. Keen simply fortified a reputation sparked by the popularity of a few renegade songs with relentless touring. Eventually, audiences discovered a larger artistic profile.

“By and large these days I have tons of fans that have either just found out about me recently or have known about me for years but never got to see a show until now. This is where the function of consistently being on the road comes in.

“When I first got out of college and moved to Austin for awhile, the word on the street was, ‘Man, you’ve got to hear (the veteran pop, soul and jazz inclined rock band) NRBQ.’ And the reason you had to see them was because they played all the time. And if you went to see them again, you weren’t seeing the same show you saw last time. You saw something different by guys who were fabulous musicians and sang really cool songs. But you found out about them because they toured all the time.”

The formula, at least in Lexington has paid off. Having established his performance reputation locally with late ‘90s shows at the long defunct Lynagh’s Music Club, Keen has gone on to bigger performance pastures. On Thursday, he will headline his third Opera House concert in as many years.”

“Sure, I think a lot of the stuff that’s going on for me now is filtered around certain songs like the Christmas song or The Road Goes On Forever. They’ve really found their way out to the counter culture. We see a lot of people like that at the shows. They go, ‘I heard you were playing here and that you wrote those songs.

“Luckily, I still have a burning desire to write more, and to write really good songs. It’s a task I haven’t completed at all.”

Robert Earl Keen, Todd Snider and Bruce Robison perform at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Lexington Opera House. Tickets are $22.50, $27.50, $32.50. Call (859) 233-3535, (800) 745-3000.

critic’s pick 96

genesis 1973-2007 live

genesis 1973-2007 live

Out to break the world record for most boxed set anthologies by an internationally established rock band is Genesis, ‘70s prog rockers-turned-‘80s pop stars. The ensemble turned out two separate boxes beginning in 1998 devoted to archival material. Starting two years ago, though, all of its studio recordings (save the 1969 debut) were remastered to 5.1 specifications and repackaged with loads of DVD treats and unreleased goodies. That series came to a conclusion last Thanksgiving with the release of 1970-1975, the collection that rightly restored the glory of the band’s early adventures with a very young and very wild Peter Gabriel.

So what is left? Well, the band’s concert recordings, for one. Thus we now have a big black box titled 1973-2007 Live. The title is something of a lie though. The box actually stops at 1992 after Phil Collins’ final tour with Genesis (chronicled on the lopsided two-disc The Way We Walk). Live Over Europe, which documented a 2007 reunion tour, isn’t included although there is a space conveniently reserved for it in the box along with a card stating the album is “available from all good retailers.”

But 1973-2007 Live isn’t the inessential indulgence suggested by such a marketing ploy. Three of its five albums wonderfully recall the band’s most fruitfully creative era.

Genesis Live and the previously unreleased Live at the Rainbow capture the primitive glory years. The liner notes claim both albums were pulled from concerts in February 1973, which doesn’t seem possible. Genesis Live relies mostly on darker material from the early ‘70s albums Trespass, Nursery Cryme and Foxtrot while Rainbow, save for the epic Supper’s Ready, is exclusively devoted to the breakthrough Selling England by the Pound.

The Gabriel era discs are wondrous stuff indeed for the die-hards. But in all honesty, the disc with the richest musical voice is actually 1977’s Seconds Out, which comes from the initial tours with Collins at the helm.

1981’s Three Sides Live is more troubling for veteran fans, as it delves more into Genesis’ MTV period (but nowhere near so as The Way We Walk). Still, autumnal relics like Me and Sarah Jane and Duchess satisfy, as do recreations of such earlier wintry delights as One for the Vine and The Fountain of Salmacis.

Again, Seconds Out is the standout here. Its mix of Gabriel-era greats (Firth of Fifth, The Cinema Show) and early Collins gems (Afterglow, Dance on a Volcano) along with some of guitarist Steve Hackett’s most sublime recorded playing and an already brilliant sound design that the 5.1 mix heightens even more, qualifies it as the greatest stage document in this mighty black box.

in performance: miley cyrus

miley cyrus onstage last night at rupp arena. photo by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.

miley cyrus onstage last night at rupp arena. photo by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.

Strolling down on a walkway last night at Rupp Arena to sing a fairly unadorned ballad called These Four Walls, Miley Cyrus appeared considerably older than her 16 years. Decked out in a short black dress and scratching a head full of thick brown locks, the still reigning teen pop queen looked as if she had already had a hard night.

In a way she had. With 18,000 fans screaming her on – at least, initially – Cyrus had, in the first half hour of a 90 minute performance, bounced between massive scaffolds that a team of 10 dancers dragged around the stage (during the show-opening Breakout), fell backward into a centerstage pit (only to return aquatically on a video screen during Bottom of the Ocean) and soared on wires near the arena roof (for Fly on the Wall).

Shoot, a night like that would wear anyone out. But such theatrics didn’t really spell out the stylistic shift Cyrus seems to be in the midst of. This was not the bright eyed Hannah Montana of just a year or two ago in many ways. Much of the evening revolved around guitar saturated tunes that Cyrus simply didn’t have the vocal pipes for. Her singing, noticeably lower and coarser than we’ve come to expect, sounded like a young but still smoky Stevie Nicks.

But here’s the thing. Imperfect as her voice was, at least she was indeed singing. This wasn’t some push button show with body mics and lip synchs substituting for an actual voice or even a production where vocals were little more than window dressing for dance moves. Sure, the show was heavily choreographed, from the grand piano that rose out of the pit to the mid-air motorcycle Cyrus took for a spin during a cover of the Joan Jett anthem I Love Rock and Roll. But the singing, warts and all, was very real.

The impression Cyrus’ production left, though, was curious. Its amped up, rock savvy and overall assertive tone certainly befits her age. But in looking around the arena last night, her audience, if anything has decreased in age. The number of 10-and-under year old girls was plentiful. So was a noticeable level of disconnect that appeared as the show progressed. When I Love Rock and Roll rolled around, Cyrus might as well have been singing in Portuguese. The kids sitting around me appeared taken briefly by the sight of flying motor bike, but found little connection with the song itself. After Cyrus rode by, they turned their attention to playing with a pair of blue glow sticks. Now that’s entertainment. 

It’s not like the audience was bored by any of this. The youthful crowd of 18,000 (minus the 30% or so that were parents) still made a mighty shriek when the lights fell. They also came alive when the radio hit Party in the U.S.A. was uncorked late into the show.

But one – namely me, an elder by any standard in last night’s crowd – was left with the notion that this very youngish crowd wasn’t always on the same page as Cyrus. Maybe they expected more of a cheery dance party. Maybe they planned on more of a safe pop exercise. They were bits of both on display last night. But mostly what was promoted was the growing pains and celebration of a teen idol clearing on the path to moving on.

The singer’s older, more liberally tattooed and Ashland-raised sibling, Trace Cyrus, opened the evening with his Los Angeles band Metro Station. Its half hour set went heavy on more expected dance pop fare like Seventeen Forever and Shake. If anything, Brother Cyrus overplayed the role of rock star to the point of sounding almost desperate when attempting to engage the crowd.

“I want everyone to bounce on this one,” he said. “C’mon. I’m serious.”

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