Archive for April, 2011

in performance: my morning jacket/ben sollee

the hair-raising jim james onstage last night with my morning jacket at memorial coliseum. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

the hair-raising jim james onstage last night with my morning jacket at memorial coliseum. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

In addition to his many performance milestones with My Morning Jacket, Jim James proved, as of last night, that he is also impervious to dehydration.

For the better part of the Louisville band’s nearly 2 ½ hour single set performance at Memorial Coliseum, the MMJ frontman paraded, stalked, wailed, testified and flat out rocked out while draped in layers of black under a thick overcoat and scarves. And that didn’t even include the instances where he added a black cape to the get up. The costuming was so thermally imposing that one almost experienced heat exhaustion just looking at him.

For James, who led MMJ’s first Lexington concert in nine years before a crowd of roughly 2,500, the garb must have possessed supernatural powers. During a cheery encore of Wordless Chorus, he bounded around stage shaking a mane of gravity-defying hair and voguing with the sheets of black about his face. He looked like the world’s happiest vampire.

And so it went, with James as a tireless onstage spirit playing multiple performance roles.

For Gideon (one of seven tunes performed from what remains MMJ’s finest album, 2005’s Z), he was a rock ‘n’ roll shaman with hands raised to the heavens during a lushly ambient opening that exploded, as did so many songs last night, into volcanic guitar-driven jams.

For the encore of Highly Suspicious, he was a makeshift Prince, serenading with a stratospheric soul falsetto against jabs of fuzzy funk. For the nearly 17 minutes of Dondante, James was a merchant of psychedelia, conjuring a vocal and guitar mix of ample orchestration and tension that allowed MMJ co-guitarist Carl Broemel the opportunity to add in some Pink Floyd-ian slips on saxophone.

And then there were the many instances where James and company operated simply as a magnificent pop enterprise, from the rock steady keyboard lines supplied by Bo Koster on Anytime, the reggae-fied party groove of Off the Record to the summery pop melodies circulating around the encore version of Touch Me I’m Going to Scream, Pt. 1 (the more disco-fied Pt. 2 preceded it as a set closer).

James’ most curious role last night, though, was nostalgist. Though MMJ is a decidedly Louisville band that rose from indie underground ranks to international popularity, James and several of its members have strong Lexington ties. Last night, the singer, who was a University of Kentucky student during the late ‘90s, spotlighted several of his own links to the city.

He introduced a predominantly acoustic Butch Cassidy by outlining its on-campus creation in his Holmes Hall dorm room after a work shift at Fazzoli’s. He also name dropped a few unglamorous campus area hangouts essential to daily college existence (“God bless the Kroger on Euclid”).

The nostalgic aspect of the performance extended to the setlist, as well. Only two songs were featured from the band’s upcoming Circuital album – the title track (a tune that neatly shifted from an atmospheric guitar reverie into a folky hoedown) and Wonderful (a ballad that served as one of several onstage collaborations with Lexington cellist and show opener Ben Sollee).

But that hardly made the show a rerun. Lexington has never heard the bulk of these songs performed live before. From the powerhouse opener of Mahgeetah to the encore finale of One Big Holiday, the performance was less of a look backward than a celebratory means of re-acquaintance between Kentucky neighbors.

Sollee’s 50 minute opening set helped introduce songs from his forthcoming Inclusions album with the novel power trio makeup of cello, violin and drums. Highlight tunes included the bass-like cello orchestration that fortified Hurting and the jittery, rockish punctuation of Electrified.

Sollee will offer a more expansive view of his new music with a headlining concert at the Kentucky Theatre on May 5.

happy record store day!

When I was a kid – ok, then… a wayward adolescent – the neighborhood record store was something of a shrine. It was equal parts candy shop, library and amusement park. It was a place I could be left unsupervised for hours to soak up endless discoveries.

On one afternoon, I heard a recording where a guitarist, all electric and edgy, wound his way through melodies that were unmistakably British and more than a little, as the store clerk would say, “heavy, man.” The album was Fairport Convention’s Full House and the guitarist was Richard Thompson.

Then there was the time I heard a collision of sounds on the store’s PA – orchestrations that were nothing like what I was experiencing at my piano lessons, ensemble passages that seemed like rock without any conventional drive and animated vocals that kept referencing how “touring will make you crazy.” The album was 200 Motels and the man behind the madness was Frank Zappa.

Similarly, I recall this incredibly groove-happy sound that the store played week after week. It was brassy, soulful and a little touchy in the lyric department, using terms like “whitey” and that “n” word I kept hearing in school. The guys (and girls, thank God) behind the counter would shut their eyes, tighten their facial expressions and dance ever so slightly to the music’s fervent groove, urging me to “feel” what I was hearing. The album was Stand. The band was Sly and the Family Stone.

Those were just three adventures documenting the time and, yes, money, I devoted to the local record store. There were several of them at the time. My favorite, though, was a shop at the corner of Bardstown and Bonnycastle in the Louisville highlands called Karma Records. They had the coolest records (the then-new stuff by The Kinks, T. Rex and Mott the Hoople), the cheapest records (the glorious $1.99 stash known as “the cut-out bin”) and what seemed like the hippest customers, although I was good five years younger then most of the regulars. I was still made to feel I fit in, though.

Stores like that have become an endangered species of late. But they aren’t extinct – not yet, anyway. Some soldier on in a climate where consumer fascination with the purchase of modern music centers around a click at, a download at iTunes or flat out piracy from countless, virus-drenched websites.

That brings us to Record Store Day, which, ta-dah, is today. No, it’s not an actual holiday, per se. And, yes, it’s a consumer-driven promotion in every sense. But it’s also a way of celebrating a means of arts distribution and awareness that fades a little more into oblivion every year.

Record Store Day has become an event that more than 700 indie outlets team up to celebrate. It’s an instance when scores of new and veteran bands alike (from Deerhunter to The Rolling Stones) release limited edition vinyl and CD recordings exclusively for the occasion. It’s an acknowledgement of their roots.

Artists honor the day, as well. The members of My Morning Jacket, for example, the Kentucky-bred band with an international fanbase and a solid love of the American record store concept, will be hanging out on Saturday afternoon at CD Central ahead of its Sunday night concert at Memorial Coliseum.

Admittedly for me, much of the appeal of the record store is nostalgic. I do my share of Amazon-ing and iTuning, too. But to still have a place locally that sells music you can hold in your hand, a store serving as a community marketplace that sets the stage, even for haggard long-timers like me, where cool new sounds can be discovered, is special indeed.

So happy Record Store Day, everyone. May you discover a sleek new sound to celebrate it with.

Nordstrom Rack to Open at Hastings Village Shopping Center in Pasadena, California.

Science Letter December 2, 2008 Seattle-based Nordstrom, Inc. (NYSE:JWN), a leading fashion specialty retailer, announced it will open a 42,625-square-foot Nordstrom Rack, a unit of the company’s off-price retail division, at Hastings Village shopping center in Pasadena, Calif. in fall 2009 (see also Nordstrom, Inc.).

“We’re eager to begin serving the community, and we hope that customers will enjoy the outstanding value and merchandise that we have to offer,” said Scott Meden, president of Nordstrom Rack. nordstrom promotion code

This will be the retailer’s twelfth Nordstrom Rack in the greater Orange County/Los Angeles area. A new Nordstrom Rack will also open at Beverly Connection in Los Angeles in fall 2009. Additionally, the company operates 16 Nordstrom full-line stores in the OC/LA area.

Hastings Village is one of the major shopping centers in the city of Pasadena. Located directly off Interstate Highway 210, its existing tenants include Old Navy, Chick’s Sporting Goods, Ross, Best Buy, ULTA and Bed Bath & Beyond. go to site nordstrom promotion code

Nordstrom Rack is the company’s off-price retail division offering savings of 30 to 70 percent on apparel and accessories for women, men and children, including one of the most extensive collections of name-brand shoes available. Nordstrom Rack merchandise is made up of products from Nordstrom full-line stores and the company’s online store at, as well as special purchase items.

new morning in lexington

my morning jacket: patrick hallahan, carl broemel, jim james, bo koster and "two tone" tommy blankenship. photo by danny clinch.

my morning jacket: patrick hallahan, carl broemel, jim james, bo koster and "two-tone" tommy blankenship. photo by danny clinch.

By now, the Louisville lineage of My Morning Jacket is pretty much common knowledge.

The celebrated rock ensemble formed there, cut its initial recordings in the region (specifically, Shelbyville) and honored the city regularly as fame took the band from Derby City bars and clubs to festivals and concert halls around the world.

With the release next month of its Circuital album, My Morning Jacket is celebrating those roots. Having cut 2008’s wildly popular Evil Urges in New York, frontman Jim James and company returned to Louisville last year, set up a makeshift recording studio in a church gymnasium and came up with a record that made the band feel, in all senses of the term, home.

“It was very sweet,” remarked James. “We had one session in the summer. It was so hot. But the heat really brought us together. I feel like you can hear the heat in the air in those songs. We just wanted it to be natural, where we were getting our main performances in one take. It just turned out that this beautiful old church gym where we set up to try some stuff out worked perfectly. And being in Kentucky, close to family and friends, gave us that full circle feeling.”

“For our last couple of albums, we intentionally put ourselves in situations that weren’t in our comfort zones,” added My Morning Jacket drummer Patrick Hallahan. “We did that just to see what it would yield because you don’t want to get caught in a rut. But we very much wanted to come back to Louisville this time. Everything started out as a demo session. We didn’t even know at first that we would be making an album. It ended up working out very organically.”

So far, much of the music on Circuital has been kept under wraps. But this week, the album’s title tune was made available as a free download at It’s a spacious sounding song, mildly reminiscent of the more atmospheric psychedelia from the band’s early albums. You hear it in the ominous guitar patterns, James’ reverb-accented vocal wail and the eventual rockish detour that defies common categorization.

“The songs themselves always dictate the record,” James said. “Then you kind of follow. Before I knew that, I would come in with all these grand ideas about a certain way I wanted things to be. But then at the end of the day, you only have the songs that the universe has given you at that point in time.”

The road back to Lexington: Here is the curious thing. For all the intensive roadwork the band has clocked since its formation in 1998, My Morning Jacket has played Lexington exactly three times. The first was on a dirt floor stage in the basement of the long-since-vacated Mecca studios on North Limestone in 2001. The others were opening gigs at the defunct Lynagh’s Music Club (now Cosmic Charlie’s) in early 2002. The band shared bills with the Ohio rock troupe Howlin’ Maggie that January and with the veteran (and Louisville born) roots, rock and R&B brigade NRBQ in May during the club’s final month of operation..

Hallahan remembers the latter show well. It was his first performance as a member of My Morning Jacket. A lifelong Louisvillian, he was pals with James long before joining the band. But his presence has always been felt. He is generously credited as band photographer (under the moniker “Sir Patrick T. Hallahan”) on the liner notes for My Morning Jacket’s 1999 debut album, The Tennessee Fire.

“We’ve been so close over the years that we have kind of let each other be,” Hallahan said. “I think it’s important for the working environment of a band to not micromanage each other. It’s easy to go down that path. But we have definitely gotten to a point in our friendship and in our band/business relationship that everything is pretty harmonious.”

This weekend, nine years after its last shows here, My Morning Jacket finally returns to Lexington. And just as Circuital reconnects the band with its Louisville beginnings, Sunday’s concert at Memorial Coliseum rekindles an underlying Lexington connection.

James, in fact, was an art student briefly at the University of Kentucky during the mid ‘90s. That’s when some of the initial sparks of ideas and songs for the band began to take shape.

“I began the My Morning Jacket project in my dorm room at Holmes Hall at UK on my buddy Todd’s 4-track,” James said. “A few of the first shows I ever played were in places likes Common Grounds, Yat’s (a ‘90s eatery at South Hill Station), open mic nights and such.

“I worked many jobs in Lexington… at Fazzoli’s and Subway, in landscaping. You name it. Walking the streets of Lexington, particularly downtown and up into the beautiful sections of 3rd St. filled my mind with so many crazy ideas and ghosts. There are a lot of ghosts in Lexington, particularly where Boots bar used to be and in the Reynolds Building. After many walks, I have come to find most of them are good.”

New Morning: Circuital is set for release on May 31, with a lengthy summer tour to follow in June. The Memorial Coliseum date is, in essence, a warm-up for the more formal concert trek to come. But it is also an opportunity for one of Louisville’s finest rock ‘n’ exports to reacquaint itself with a neighboring city that played its own role in helping the band find its feet.

“I think it’s fantastic,” Hallahan said. “I just wish we would have planned something like this a little sooner. A lot of us have deep, personal relationships with Lexington. It will be great to be back on those streets again.

“I cannot believe how long it has been,” James added. “I have deep ties to Lexington and have come back many times over the years. I am always amazed at how much Lexington seems to be growing, and how so much of it seems so positive.

“We went to see Sharon Jones at the new Buster’s and were blown away by the venue. There is also the volume of local talent like Ben Sollee (who will open Sunday’s concert) and These United States.

“The spirits are deep in Lexington for me.”

My Morning Jacket with Ben Sollee performs at 7 p.m. Sunday at Memorial Coliseum. Tickets are $45 and $50. Call (800) 745-3000.

Members of My Morning Jacket will also be on hand at CD Central, 377 S. Limestone, at 4 p.m. Saturday for Record Store Day. Though they won’t be performing, the band will be “spinning records,” including tunes from its new Circuital album.

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in performance: patty larkin

patty larkin. photo by jana leon.

patty larkin. photo by jana leon.

Leave it to Patty Larkin to equate the restorative power of romance to the music of a jazz icon.

“Kind of like champagne,” she sang during the show-opening Tango last night at Natasha’s. “Kind of like Coltrane with the volume turned up to 10.”

The bulk of Larkin’s 75 minute set was established around songs that brimmed with similar vigor and discovery. Some, such as the lovely 2003 tune The Cranes operated with a folkish reserve that recalled vintage David Crosby recordings. Others, like Booth of Glass (which dates back to what remains one of the singer’s finest albums, 1993’s Angels Running), possessed a more elusive romantic spirit that unfurled beautifully with Larkin’s expert guitar orchestrations and a singing voice that reflected equal levels of narrative confidence and emotive color.

All three songs were revisited last year on a two disc set titled 25 that celebrated Larkin’s quarter century involvement in what she termed “the acoustic folk industry.”

“I bet you didn’t know there was an acoustic folk industry,” she added, only half-jokingly. Perhaps the audience didn’t. But then, the performance also opened up at the midway point to plug in and detour from folk tradition.

A selection of tunes from 2008’s Watch the Sky, a recording where Larkin operated as a one-woman-band within soundscapes of multi-layered guitar and percussive effects, emphasized some especially keen instrumental technique. Dear Heart and Beautiful worked off a series of electric guitar loops (“something very popular with the youth”) to create instantaneous textures.

Onstage, loop effects can often sound static and gimmicky. But the Watch the Sky material – especially Beautiful, which placed slide guitar under simple, soul-style riffs – possessed enough rhythmic ingenuity to pump the music full of elemental and organic groove. The effects merely accented them.

But the performance highlight was a light-as-air encore reading of Good Thing (Angels Running), one of several fine duets performed last night with opening act Merrie Amsterburg. Larkin sheepishly referred to the tune as “my hit,” as it was recorded in 1995 by Cher.

“I used to think that was funny,” Larkin admitted. “Until the royalty checks came in.”

DFS taps team to take Sephora global. (DFS Group) website sephora coupon code

WWD October 28, 1997 | Born, Pete Sephora, one of France’s most innovative beauty retailers, is bringing its superstore concept to the rest of the world.

Sephora’s sister LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton retail subsidiary, the DFS Group, has taken the first step in its mission to bring the Sephora concept to the Americas and Asia/Pacific by assembling a key executive team.

DFS has recruited Steve Bock, who has resigned as executive vice president of Saks Fifth Avenue, to head merchandising for Sephora in the Western Hemisphere.

Bock will return to DFS headquarters — where he worked before Saks — in San Francisco as an executive vice president.

He will join Howard Meitiner, who recently was named president and chief executive officer of Sephora at DFS for the Americas and Asia/Pacific. He previously headed the Oceania region at DFS.

Myron E. Ullman 3rd, DFS Group chairman and ceo, has been assembling the Sephora team and is expected to add to the squad two vice presidents — for operations and for finance.

But Meitiner and Bock are expected to get down to work in San Francisco next Monday to begin mapping the expansion.

The combination of Sephora and DFS promises to be one of the most dynamic matches in international beauty retailing. The giant DFS has long dominated the travel retail business, particularly in Asia, and had sales of $2.74 billion last year. Sephora is France’s premier perfumery chain; its 54 stores rang up $225 million in sales last year, giving it an 8 percent share of the country’s fragrance and beauty market.

But it has not led only in terms of sales. Last December, Sephora opened a 14,000-square-foot flagship store on the Champs-Elysees that quickly became the most talked-about beauty showcase in the world. It not only features one of the widest assortments of fragrance and beauty products, but offers an entire playland of merchandising touches, encouraging customers to test virtually every product in sight.

Management at Sephora’s French headquarters will continue to direct the development of the chain in Europe, and there are plans to open 30 more outlets in France in the next four years, as well as about 20 stores in other European markets. But DFS will be responsible for the Western Hemisphere. this web site sephora coupon code

Reached for comment Monday, Ullman said he hopes to have a “reasonable number” of Sephora stores launched the first year, perhaps beginning in the second quarter, opening “simultaneously” in the U.S. and Asia.

The timing and location of openings hinges mostly on the availability of real estate; the average Sephora store in France measures 4,500 square feet. The largest unit so far is the 14,000-square-foot Champs-Elysees superstore.

Ullman said he sees Sephora as a powerful ally for DFS. “It clearly is one of the more exciting specialty concepts in retailing today,” Ullman said, adding, “I am quite pleased. It helps diversify our business base.” DFS is a global retailer, but there’s a limit to the growth potential of some markets, Ullman noted. And while 12 of DFS’s more than 150 stores are downtown units far from any airport, most volume is generated from travel. The Sephora acquisition will allow DFS to cross into mainstream retailing. Unlike the discount-driven travel retail business, Sephora offers DFS an entry into a regular-priced merchandising world that is defined by fashion. This opens a new frontier of market development.

And not only for DFS. It also could be useful to parent LVMH in distributing its beauty brands — Christian Dior, Guerlain, Parfums Givenchy and Parfums Kenzo. Cosmetics industry sources have speculated in the past that LVMH chairman Bernard Arnault would create his own U.S. retail channel, such as a chain of Sephora stores, for relief from the financial pressures of doing business with American department stores.

Sephora now has 57 stores in France — and a lone foreign unit in Luxembourg — and sources indicated DFS feels there is no reason there can’t be as many units in the U.S. and Asia/Pacific.

Regarding Bock’s addition, Ullman said, “We are very pleased to be able to attract an outstanding executive such as Steve. He brings the kind of leadership we need for a new venture with new, exciting concepts.” DFS reportedly had begun wooing Bock months ago, even before LVMH acquired Sephora in July.

Saks has not named a successor to Bock yet. Bock is the second top executive to leave the store in as many months. Rose Marie Bravo resigned as president in September to join Burberrys Worldwide as ceo (see related story, page 2).

Bock joined Saks in early 1993 as vice president and divisional merchandise manager. After three years, he was named senior vice president of fragrances, cosmetics and women’s designer fashion. In the wake of Bravo’s resignation, he moved up to executive vice president before subsequently accepting DFS’s offer.

Prior to Saks, Bock was at I. Magnin, San Francisco, for four years before joining DFS as vice president of fragrance in late 1991. He was with DFS through 1992 before briefly moving back to Magnin’s –just prior to the store’s shutdown. He then moved east to Saks.

Bock began his career at Jordan Marsh in Miami and was a divisional merchandise manager of cosmetics at Goldwater’s in Phoenix.

Born, Pete

25 and counting

patty larkin. photo by jana leon.

patty larkin. photo by jana leon.

When one is inclined to celebrate a birthday, a party is usually in order. And when a party is called for, the next step in the festivities is to invite a few friends to share in the occasion. Patty Larkin adjusted that ritual modestly as her career approached its 25th anniversary.

The Iowa-born, New England-based songstress decided to honor the milestone by revisiting a selection of songs pulled from the approximately one dozen albums she has cut over the past quarter century. But some reinvention was required. Larkin’s past recordings have generously experimented with electric guitar-centric arrangements and densely textured, almost orchestral settings. For the anniversary set, she wanted to transfer the tunes to their acoustic, folkish elements.

Seeing as the project was something of a birthday/anniversary party, there also had to be guests. Lots of them. In total, 25 pals were recruited to play 25 songs representing 25 years of Larkin’s songwriting career. The title of the resulting album? What else? 25.

“Heading to the 25 year mark a couple of years ago, I started thinking about doing a special project,” Larkin said. “I wanted to do something where I would reprise some of my songs through the years by doing acoustic versions of them. But I decided to focus on love songs, because that was kind of a thematic way of saying thank you to the people who have listened to me all these years.

“So 25 began as an acoustic project where I would invite maybe a couple of friends. Those people said yes, so I thought, ‘It would really be interesting to have 25 people on it.’ So I called some more friends and some of my favorite artists. It was like a chain letter.”

Here is just part of the guest list that showed up for the acoustic anniversary party that makes up Larkin’s 25 album: Bruce Cockburn, John Gorka, Shawn Colvin, Suzanne Vega, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Rosanne Cash, Merrie Amsterburg (who will perform with Larkin on tonight at Natasha’s), Dar Williams and Lucy Kaplansky.

“The amount of work everyone put into this project is not lost on me,” Larkin said. “I’m so grateful to have had these artists join me on this. To have thought a few months out, ‘OK, I’m going to get 25 artists and friends to help out this album’ would have been pretty daunting. Instead, I kind of pretended I wasn’t doing what I was actually doing.

“Still, I had a lot of work to do myself. I still had to get up in the morning and put something down in the studio for, say, Suzanne Vega, to sing on.”

A rundown of the guest list also offers insight into the inspirations that have guided Larkin’s 25 year career. The collaboration with veteran Canadian songwriter Cockburn on Open Arms revisits a song the two also cut in 1995 for Larkin’s Strangers World album. On 25, the song is reborn as a concise, harmony-rich meditation.

“The amazing thing about Bruce is when he sings, you know exactly who it is. He has his own character and personality. This song in particular sounds really sweet. Bruce sang it a little differently than on the original version, so it was very interesting to see where he went this time.”

Also of note is Déjà Vu, which, is revisited with Gorka, one of Larkin’s greatest folk friends. The Ohio songwriter played alongside Larkin at her first Lexington concert appearance – a mid ‘90s ensemble show that also included Cheryl Wheeler (another of the 25 guests) and Cliff Eberhardt.

“There is a real depth of friendship and love between John and myself. It doesn’t get much better than that. Not that it matters, but John and Bruce were among the first people I asked to be part of this project.”

Having so many friends and inspirations involved with the 25 sessions also proved to be an unexpected comfort. Shortly before sessions for the album commenced in September 2009, Larkin’s mother died.

“I went home after her passing (Larkin resides in Cape Cod). Two weeks later I started recording. Coming off of that experience kind of emboldened me in way that I never had been before. I’m fairly shy most of the time and so I don’t like asking people for a favor. But it was like my mom was there with me saying, ‘Go ahead and ask them. What are they doing to do? Say no? Just ask them.’

“So the record holds a very special place in my heart because of everyone that joined me. Every moment that went into making it was a little gem. And every person that came in to sing with me was more important to me than they will probably ever know.”

Patty Larkin performs at 8 tonight at Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. Merrie Amsterburg will open. Tickets are $20 in advance, $24 at the door. Call (859) 259-2754.

critic's pick 171

You don’t realize until the brisk 39 minute running time of So Beautiful or So What runs its course that the world music rhythms and accents Paul Simon so famously appropriated for the landmark Graceland album and its often overlooked (and, frankly, superior) follow-up The Rhythm of the Saints have become a natural part of the folk icon’s newer tales of modern life and, oddly enough, afterlife.

The chattering guitars and percussion on the beautiful Dazzling Blue, the flourishes of kora that color Rewrite, the Afro-pop groove with the Cajun backbeat on The Afterlife – they all dance about like welcomed and unobtrusive guests. Such enchanting sounds never call attention to themselves unless Simon commands them to. Mostly, they illuminate 10 wonderfully plain-speaking meditations, the kind of which we had almost come to think that Simon had forgotten how to conjure.

On The Afterlife, heaven becomes a crowded workingman’s hell – or, at least one that seems that way. But the forms to fill out and the lines to wait in are merely inconveniences in obtaining a level of worldly knowledge that mortality is unable (or unwilling) to reveal.

Love is Eternal Sacred Light ups the ante with a chattering guitar riff that jolts the album out of its largely acoustic comfort zone into an elegantly rocking gospel groove. The showdown outlined is older than time itself: good against evil, darkness against light. “Evil is darkness, sight without sight,” Simon sings with a typically whispery tone that nonetheless conveys ample urgency.

The light is more fleeting, though, on Love and Hard Times – a tale of earthly want (“the light of her beauty was as warm as a summer day”) and Godly discontent (“these people are slobs here; if we stay there’s bound to be a mob scene”) against lovely, slight orchestration. It’s a work one might more readily associate with Randy Newman than the more wistful Simon.

Questions for the Angels brings such spiritual dilemmas to a land Simon knows well – New York. Images of the Brooklyn Bridge and the homeless in their “cardboard blankets” set the scene. But the tune still balances spiritual wonder with earthly cynicism. “Who believes in angels?” Simon sings. “Fools do – fools and pilgrims all over the world.” But the graceful, calming acoustic colors surrounding the song suggest otherwise.

But the killer here is the title tune, another electric jump-start that may well stand as the most spiritually compelling four minutes of song Simon has concocted since the chant-style title piece from The Rhythm of the Saints. This newer work is vastly simpler, though. Against an African guitar hook that you can bank on sticking in your brain long after the tune fades, Simon offers a wildly simple credo of a chorus to live by: “Life is what we make of it, ‘So beautiful’ or ‘So what.'”

Ol’ Rhymin’ Simon may wrestle with Godly mysteries, but here on earth, those words ring with resounding clarity.


Capitol Hill Press Releases February 12, 2004

Capitol Hill Press Releases 02-12-2004 For Immediate Release February 12, 2004 CORNYN HIGHLIGHTS HIS IMMIGRATION REFORM BILL AT SENATE HEARING Senate panel examines President’s immigration reform principles WASHINGTON-U.S. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) joined his colleagues on the Immigration, Border Security and Citizenship subcommittee Thursday for a hearing to examine President Bush’s immigration principles and much-needed immigration reform. During the hearing, chaired by Sen. go to web site immigration reform news

Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Cornyn discussed legislation he introduced in July, The Border Security and Immigration Reform Act (S.1387), which largely mirrors the President’s immigration reform proposals. Key members of the administration testified at the hearing-titled Evaluating a Temporary Guest Worker Proposal-including Eduardo Aguirre, Director of Citizenship and Immigration Services (U.S. Department of Homeland Security); Asa Hutchinson, Undersecretary of Border and Transportation Security (U.S. Department of Homeland Security); and Steven Law, Deputy Secretary, U.S. Dept. of Labor.

Also, the president of the Texas Roofing Company, Richard R. Birkman, testified at the hearing and met with Sen. Cornyn in the Senator’s office earlier in the afternoon. Cornyn’s bill was the first comprehensive legislation proposed after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and played a key role in restarting the dialogue on implementing much needed immigration reform.

For more information about Sen. Cornyn’s bill, please go to:

— Below is the complete text of Cornyn’s statement at the hearing as prepared — I would like to thank Senator Chambliss for holding today’s important hearing on immigration reform and for giving me this opportunity to briefly discuss the comprehensive immigration reform bill that I introduced in July. I was eager to become a member of the immigration subcommittee because I’ve seen firsthand how broken our immigration system is through my experiences in Texas. My immigration reform bill, The Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2003, acknowledges that millions of undocumented men and women go to work every day in America in violation of our immigration law, outside the protection of our labor law, and without any way of our government knowing who, or where they are. The program I propose would allow us to account for undocumented individuals, distinguishing those who pose a threat to America from those who do not. The fact that we are having this hearing shows that we have common ground in this belief: that the status quo simply cannot continue. I thought the President spoke courageously and forthrightly when he outlined his five immigration reform principles last month, and I believe the President’s basic principles are embodied in my bill. In particular, the President’s fourth principle of immigration reform, as outlined in his speech, is to provide incentives for temporary workers to return to their home country. I believe this is a crucial component of comprehensive immigration reform and one that is embodied in my bill.

We must provide incentives for risk takers to return to their home country with the capital and skills they have acquired as temporary workers in the U.S. if we are going to address the root cause of illegal immigration.

In my recent visit with government leaders in Mexico City, I was repeatedly told that they want their workers to come back, to return home with capital and skills. They need those small business owners, those entrepreneurs to strengthen a weakened middle class. But our current immigration policy fails to give undocumented immigrants any incentive to make such a return.

My bill includes a provision that would create individual investment accounts from the payroll taxes of temporary workers that they can only collect when they return to their home country. The fact is that there will be no end to illegal immigration across our southern border without economic recovery in Mexico- and that won’t happen unless Mexico’s workers return and build the economy there. Those of us here in America cannot afford for our southern border to remain a one-way street. The guest-worker plan I propose is neither amnesty, nor a guaranteed path to citizenship. Instead, it acknowledges the vital role hard-working immigrants play in our economy and creates a comprehensive program as an important step toward re- establishing respect for our laws and restoring safe working conditions for immigrants who work here. It will enhance America’s homeland security, facilitate enforcement of our immigration and labor laws, and protect millions who labor today outside the protection of the law. My proposal will encourage undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, to work within the law, and then to return to their homes and families with the pay and skills they acquire as guest workers in the United States. We must act now. We must strengthen the security of our borders and reform the immigration policy for those who seek to work within the framework of our laws. I urge Congress to act without delay – to follow our President’s lead and pass meaningful immigration reform. Our economy and our homeland security depend on it. immigration reform news


in performance: the drive-by truckers; patterson hood and jay gonzalez

drive-by truckers: brad morgan, shonna tucker, mike cooley, patterson hood, jay gonzalez and john neff

drive-by truckers: brad morgan, shonna tucker, mike cooley, patterson hood, jay gonzalez and john neff

Among the few repeat songs Patterson Hood performed yesterday afternoon at a jam packed in-store show at CD Central and last night with the full Drive-By Truckers lineup at Buster’s was a slab of Southern fried soul called Everybody Needs Love. Unlike the darker, rowdier songs he and co-guitarist Mike Cooley have designed for the band, Everybody Needs Love was the sunny product of Eddie Hinton, the late guitarist for the legendary Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section that included Hood’s father, bassist David Hood.

In both instances, the song morphed into a cheery sing-a-long. Having stone sober music store customers joining in on the tune’s jubilant chorus at the CD Central show (a half-hour acoustic set by Hood and fellow Trucker Jay Gonzalez on accordion) was a kick to watch. At Buster’s, having wall-to-wall beer-soaked patrons raising their tall boys as they belted away was perhaps less surprising.

Either way, the song was a fun reminder that the Truckers deal in more than dark, dysfunctional tales of what they so lovingly refer to as “the dirty south.” In fact, the CD Central show was often as light in temperament as the acoustic set-up its songs were performed in.

The six song set (five tunes from the Truckers’ new Go-Go Boots album and the surprise inclusion of Granddaddy from Hood’s 2009 solo album, Murdering Oscar) certainly began in the shadows with Ray’s Automatic Weapon. But the mood soon brightened with songs of family and back porch faith that included The Thanksgiving Filter (“a bit of holiday cheer in the middle of April”) and Mercy Buckets before Everybody Needs Love sent everyone home happy.

The evening show couldn’t help but seem stormier, what with songs like Drag the Lake Charlie, Your Daddy Hates Me and Pulaski. But the sheer sonic force of the band’s three-guitar lineup cemented the songs’ tough-knuckled storylines.

Curiously, it wasn’t Hood that lit the temperamental fuse at Buster’s. It was Cooley. After Hood’s show-opening confession of personal faith I Do Believe, Cooley hit a power chord that instantly shifted the mood and set the stage for the gloriously bumpy ride of Where the Devil Don’t Stay. Bassist Shonna Tucker later provided a third, more mischievous fronting voice with Dancin’ Ricky.

Sure, everybody needed love. But a swift shot of the Truckers’ tough love tales went down pretty well, too.

Discover Native American culture.(Neighbor)

Daily Herald (Arlington Heights, IL) September 29, 2010 On Saturday, Oct. 2, come to Lords Park for the annual celebration of Native American culture hosted by the Elgin Public Museum. see here native american culture

Discover Native American culture, past and present, from housing to arts, dance to cooking techniques.

Throughout the day, different activities will be available to the public. See native dancers perform jingle and Shaw dances. Renowned musician Bill “Conquering Bear” Buchholtz will play the native flute from spirit. Take advantage of his knowledge of the history, healing power and communicative role the flute had in many native societies. go to web site native american culture

Enjoy a portrayal of a Potawatomi Indian from the late 18th and early 19th century, as performed by Sal Red Hawk. Red Hawk, garbed in traditional cloths, will set up a wigwam and demonstrate life in a Potawatomi household. Other activities will include crafts, games and more.

One of the most popular events, the Bison Blessing, will be at noon across from the bison pen. A Native American elder will bless and thank the bison for all that they have provided.

In conjunction with Native American Cultural Day, the Elgin Public Museum has a new temporary exhibit, “The People.” This exhibit celebrates the culture, history, achievements and contributions Native Americans have brought to the fabric of our country.

in performance: robert plant and the band of joy/north mississippi all-stars duo

robert plant.

robert plant. photo by gregg delman.

“All aboard,” shouted Robert Plant after his Band of Joy opened a rigorous two-hour, sold-out performance last night at the Louisville Palace by recasting the Led Zeppelin staple Black Dog as an ambient swamp boogie serenade. This wasn’t the slow, blues-fortified version of the song Plant conjured three years ago at this same venue with Alison Krauss. Last night’s reading was denser, operating with a more spacious sounding palette and more intuitive stylistic soundscape. And it rocked. It just understandably rock the way Led Zeppelin did decades ago.

But Black Dog encapsulated the mission and, ultimately, of the appeal of Band of Joy. Unlike the very popular Krauss collaboration, an appealing yet unlikely alliance of two pop stylists, Plant’s newest Americana project – an all-star unit bolstered by Buddy Miller, Patty Griffin and London, Ky. native Darrell Scott – strayed a bit from blues and bluegrass into a wilder and heavier sounding spectrum of songs penned by Los Lobos, Richard Thompson, Low and Townes Van Zandt.

Judging by the numerous youths clad in Zeppelin t-shirts and elders donning tie-dyes, the hope of hearing Plant in his lusty ‘70s prime – unrealistic as that may be – ran high. But they weren’t left in the cold. Plant and the Band of Joy offered several more items from the Zeppelin dungeon done up with the same rootsy fiber that dominates their 2010 album of newer recordings (also titled Band of Joy).

Houses of the Holy, for instance, began as a lighter, country-style reflection before Miller’s vocabulary of guitar colors, distortions and effects – one of the true delights of the performance – let the tune yield to its rockier persuasion and those great Jimmy Page chords that came crunching through at the conclusion.

A set-closing (and suitably psychedelic) Ramble On and an encore of the more folkishly reflective Tangerine were perhaps more faithful to the Zeppelin versions. But the songs’ ties to Plant’s newer Band of Joy music were obvious.

Los Lobos’ Angel Dance, for instance, came storming into view with a Miller guitar hook that sounded like a team of stampeding cellos. Later, Thompson’s House of Cards came off as a gospel confessional with a still-distinct British cast while Low’s Monkey was steeped in thick guitar atmospherics than enhanced its already hearty sense of mystery.

Plant was in fine voice throughout. But at 62, he doesn’t wail with the otherworldly abandon of his Zeppelin days. He instead engaged lower, earthier moans for Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down and suitably spooky harmonies with Griffin for Silver Rider.

The Band of Joy members had many fine moments as well. Aside from the flexible support of bassist Byron House and drummer Marco Giovino, the frontline of players were allowed brief solo segments with Plant providing support from the shadows on harmonica. Curiously, Griffin and Scott, both popular songsmiths, opted for cover tunes (Big Maybelle’s ‘50s-era gospel-soul nugget Ocean of Tears and the country-folk meditation A Satisfied Mind, respectively). Miller delivered his own Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go with hootenanny-style intimacy and intensity.

The show ended with a tag-team rendition of Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall with Plant trading verses with the other three singers. It came off a convincing pronouncement of faith for the times and an affirmation of Plant’s new, hard-won Americana lexicon.

luther and cody dickinson of the north mississippi allstars duo.

luther and cody dickinson of the north mississippi allstars. photo by jason thrasher.

An opening set by a duo version of the North Mississippi All-Stars – brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson minus bassist Chris Chew – was a serious treat.

The dirty, slide savvy guitar rolls and playful percussion fills of the Allstars’ trio music were in abundance. But they also made room for an appealing acoustic guitar duet and a loose duo jam that let Luther match the primal sound of a cigar box guitar with Cody’s ability to play drums and washboard simultaneously. The songs – Back, Back Train and Goin’ Down South, in particular – were similarly spirited, allowing the siblings to operate as their own contained band of joy.

dark tales of the dirty south

patterson hood (foreground) with the drive-by truckers. photo by danny clinch.

patterson hood (foreground) on the move with the drive-by truckers. photo by danny clinch.

The South is a tumultuous land for Patterson Hood.

It has been his life long home, the source of his most esteemed musical influences and the catalyst for songs he and the rest of the Athens, Georgia rock troupe known as the Drive-By Truckers have taken around the country and around the globe over the past 15 years.

But it is also a source of conflict. Much of the music he has penned for the Truckers steers clear of any grand visions of Southern legacy and certainly bypasses the bragging, boogie-centric sounds promoted over the decades under the banner of Southern rock. The Truckers’ songs instead chronicle the South’s desperate and rural extremes. To underscore that fact, the band titled its championed 2004 album The Dirty South.

The tamer tunes deal with what are perhaps obvious themes of redemption, family and blue collar survival. But the Truckers’ darker songs, the ones that flow frequently from Hood’s pen, pull no stops. They deal with death, racism, lurid sex, violence, abuse, alcoholism and corruption – sobering realities of perhaps any corner of the country. But when placed against the majesty of tradition that surrounds the South that Hood grew up in, they trigger uavoidable conflict.

“There is definitely a love/hate thing going on in my songs,” said Hood, who will set up shop in Lexington with the Truckers this weekend for a rare two-night engagement at Buster’s and an in-store performance at CD Central with the band’s keyboardist, Jay Gonzalez.

“I’ve lived in this region my whole life, so there is obviously a love for it. It’s where my family is. It’s where my roots are. So I continue to live here (his home remains in Athens). But at the same time, it has never been a comfortable or easy fit for me.

“Politically, I’m pretty out of step with most of the registered voters in the state I live in. Culturally, I’ve never been particularly religious. So there has always been a kind of push and pull thing with me and the South. And I don’t see that changing. I don’t see me moving anytime soon unless they run me off – which could happen. At the same time, I don’t see becoming a Republican either.

“I’ve spent a number of years writing about the racial aspects of where I grew up and the baggage that comes from living in a place with such a troubled history in that regard. A big part of my life’s work has been spent writing about and documenting these mixed feelings.”

There is a moment in the Truckers’ recently released DVD  documentary, The Secret to a Happy Ending, that speaks to such duality. While much of the film documents the band’s own conflict and near split around the middle part of the last decade, one section addresses directly a slice of history that empowers Hood’s vision of a divided South.

It points out two vividly different cultures that co-existed almost as neighbors in nearby Alabama during the 1960s. Specifically, it parallels the bloodshed unleashed in Birmingham that made the city a ground zero for racial unrest with the music that had blacks and whites working side-by-side in Muscle Shoals.

Hood is well versed on the latter. His father, bassist David Hood, was a key member of the famed Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section that cut landmark recordings with such soul legends as Aretha Franklin, Wilson Pickett and The Staple Singers.

“I couldn’t be prouder of what my father did,” Hood said. “Two hours south, all of these horrific things were happening. But in Muscle Shoals, my dad was recording with Wilson Pickett. He is a hero in my eyes for that.”

The South may be a calmer place these days than Birmingham was in the ‘60s, but its darker, meaner spirits continue to pervade the Truckers music. Two tunes from the band’s newest albums, 2010’s The Big To-Do and 2001’s Go-Go Boots offer a pair of especially creepy examples.

From The Big To-Do comes The Wig He Made Her Wear, a true-life story of a Southern preacher gunned down by his wife. But the story deals more with the reactions of a small town when evidence is revealed that the preacher made his wife “dress up slutty before they had sex.”

“It happened about 30 miles from where I grew up,” Hood said. “The song deals more with the gasps in the courtroom when they hold up the wig and the high-heeled shoes than the murder itself. The social aspects of our region, the mores, the religion – I couldn’t get past all that.”

The second is a Go-Go Boots tale titled Used to Be a Cop, a saga of a loner who loses his car, his wife and much of his identity and pride when he loses his job.

“That is actually someone I used to know once upon a time. He was a pretty scary guy.

“Sometimes, I don’t know what attracts me to these darker tales. I probably should have been a filmmaker instead of a songwriter.”

Drive-By Truckers perform at 9 p.m. tonight and Saturday at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St. Tickets are $25 in advance, $27 day-of-show. Call (859) 368-8871 or go to Dylan LeBlanc will open both performances.

Also, Patterson Hood and Jay Gonzalez will play a free in-store show at 4 p.m. Saturday at CD Central, 377 S. Limestone St. Call (859) 233-3472 or go to

the life and times of a pop heartbreaker

jessica lea mayfield. photo by michael wilson.

jessica lea mayfield. photo by michael wilson.

In the world of country and pop heartbreak, the position taken by songwriters is almost always reactionary. The music is usually built around – and the story is often told by – the one who is hurt. You build more empathy with a listener that way.

Jessica Lea Mayfield knows better. Her songs take delight in shifting the perspective. On her recent Tell Me album, several songs are delivered from the perspective of the one triggering the hurt instead of the one receiving and, ultimately, pining about it.

When that scenario shifts, all kind of intriguing things occur. The music loosens its bittersweet feel and turns more mysterious. The songs also open up. What seemed country blurs into hushed, detached layers of alternative pop – or a more indefinable sound that is alluring yet queasy enough to seem right at home in a David Lynch film.

“I can only write about things that I’m dealing with or thinking about or that have happened to me” said Mayfield, 21, who performs tonight at Cosmic Charlie’s. “And on the new album, there are a lot songs that are either about myself or things that I’m dealing with myself.

“In there are songs about me breaking other people’s hearts. I wish I could write a song that wasn’t about me. I wish I could write a song about someone horseback riding in the 1800s, but I can’t do that.

“There are pros and cons to this. The pros are that I’m letting these negative thoughts and feelings out of me by writing about them. Sometimes they’re negative. Sometime they’re just sad. But it helps me to get them out. It’s kind of like writing in a diary. But the cons are that I have to rehash every situation I’ve ever been through every night onstage.”

But Mayfield hardly goes through this process alone. Three principal co-conspirators help her define and break the emotive and stylistic boundaries on Tell Me.

The first, and perhaps most obvious, is Dan Auerbach – better known as the guitar playing half of The Black Keys. The story goes that Auerbach reached out to Mayfield after hearing her debut recording – a homemade project the singer cut while still in her teens. Only 100 copies of the recording were made. That led to Auerbach serving as producer for Mayfield’s first properly public album, With Blasphemy So Heartfelt, and eventually, Tell Me.

“Dan is a completely different person from me creatively,” Mayfield said. “And that has worked really well for us. I may have one idea for a harmony part and he will have another. They may be worlds-part ideas but we always have the same creative goal.”

The second is David Mayfield, the singer’s brother and musical mentor who plays a variety of instruments on each of Tell Me‘s 11 songs.

“David gave me my first guitar course. He taught me how to play Creep by Stone Temple Pilots. He’s my favorite living songwriter and musician. I really look up to him.”

Finally, there is guitarist Richie Kirkpatrick, a member of Mayfield’s touring band (all of which plays on Tell Me). His guitar colors help blur the styles and sounds on Tell Me, from the cranky electric squall that bleeds into the seemingly sunny pop manifesto of Blue Skies Again to the nocturnal twang that ignites the album opening I’ll Be the One You Want Someday.

“Richie has come up with some of the best guitarwork I’ve ever heard in my life. He is one of my favorite musicians in the whole world.”

As key as these sound architects are, the primary allure of Tell Me centers around Mayfield’s fascinating and askew tales of love and self-assigned heartbreak. Those songs, in turn, have been placing the singer in an increasingly bigger spotlight. She made her network television debut of The Late Show with David Letterman last month. This spring, outside of her own club dates, Mayfield will be touring extensively with The Avett Brothers and Justin Townes Earle.

“My songs are a way of purging myself of sadness,” she said. “It’s like, if I’m going to be happy, I’ll be happy. And if I’m going to be sad, I’ll write songs. Same with guilt. Guilt is another great reason to write a song.

“A lot of artists won’t do that. A lot of artists just like to make themselves out to be the victim, to be the one that has had their heart broken. I mean, it’s only natural that every once in awhile it’s going to be the other way around. I mean, why not write about that?”

Jessica Lea Mayfield and Daniel Martin Moore perform at 9 p.m. April 8 at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. Tickets are $10. Call (859) 309-9499.

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