Archive for June, 2011

get your mofro working

jj grey performs tonight at buster's

jj grey and mofro performs tonight at buster's.

Just a quickie item here to remind you about a show tonight that kind of snuck in under the radar. It’s the return of J.J. Grey and Mofro at Buster’s.

Admittedly, Florida songsmith Grey and his band of soul/swamp rockers have become semi-regulars around these parts in recent years. But in a summer season that has a good chunk of the coolest concert action taking place out of town, it’s great to have Grey help usher in the holiday weekend.

Mofro introduced itself to Lexington in early 2002 by playing Lynagh’s Music Club during its last few months of operation. Word quickly spread on the band’s earthy funk and soul sound and Grey’s equally R&B savvy but folk infused songs.  A Kentucky fanbase grew, but it was primarily centered in Louisville. It wasn’t until Grey played a solo set for WoodSongs in early 2009 and subsequent performances at The Dame that the Mofro following began to firmly take hold in Lexington.

The bottom line: tonight will be a guaranteed grand time. Soul, funk and jam band fans will dig Mofro’s groove in a big way. But novice fans can also expect an evening of no-frills, unforced Southern soul.  Even if the holiday weekend wasn’t at hand, Mofro’s return is something of a little summertime oasis for Lexington concert-goers. Soak it in.
JJ Grey and Mofro performs at 8:30 tonight at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St. Tickets are $20. Call (859) 368-8871.

critic’s pick 182

Gillian Welch is the sort of folk traditionalist that can fashion tunes liberally from past traditions, be they ages-old Appalachian spirits or even more rustic temperaments that stretch across centuries and oceans to their decidedly British roots. But while it echoes the past, her music is clearly the product of the here and now, whether she and longtime partner David Rawlings are sharing their own songs or serving as purposely unobtrusive guests of The Decemberists or Old Crow Medicine Show.

But separating past muses and modern themes becomes refreshingly futile on Welch’s The Harrow & Harvest. Using Rawlings as her only bandmate, harmony singer and overall foil, she designs the album as a portrait of ambient Appalachia. There is a touch of Ralph Stanley here (most notably in Rawlings’ scratchy banjo lead on Six White Horses) and a dose of Neil Young there (The Way It Will Be, in particular, is a dead ringer, melodically, for Young’s 1974 political requiem On the Beach). Throughout, the songs move along at an almost glacial pace, as if it were saturated with Southern humidity.

Such a design hasn’t always serviced Welch well. On her last album, 2003’s Soul Journey, her light-as-air melodies were no match for the oppressive pace and sentiment of her lyrics. On The Harrow & The Harvest, the fit is just about perfect. She has never – on record, at least – displayed such simpatico with Rawlings, from the conversational tones of their vocal harmonies to the equally fluid dialogue they create on guitar and banjo. Dismissing drums and percussion entirely from the recording (save for some hand claps and knee slaps on Six White Horses) further enhances the album’s parlor-style appeal.

And then there are songs like the glorious Scarlet Town, which harkens back to the late ‘60s music of Pentangle with it dulcimer-like guitar tones and cloudy storylines of happenings that “did mortify my soul.” It’s a sound that recalls ancient England more than rural Appalachia.

Encapsulating the whole feel of The Harrow & The Harvest is the closing The Way the Whole Thing Ends. Presenting its verses like mantras without a refrain, the song possesses a slow country-folk appeal that recalls The Grateful Dead’s Workingman’s Dead. The storyline is purely fortuitous, with familiarity – be it familial or purely romantic – continually breeding dissolution. “That’s the way the cornbread crumbles,” Welch sings after each slow poke verse in a country tone that barely registers above a whisper. “That’s the way the whole thing ends.”

Capping everything off is the album’s tarot card-style cover art. It portrays Rawlings holding a lit match with flames that circle around to Welch’s fingertips. Like the music inside, it pictures a ring of fire around a folkish portrait both devilish in design and deceptively homespun in its presentation.

have jazz, will travel

saxophonists nathan treadway, dieter rice, will stafford and cara thomas of the university of kentucky jazz ensemble. photo by angela baldridge.

saxophonists nathan treadway, dieter rice, will stafford and cara thomas of the uk jazz ensemble. photo by angela baldridge.

With the culmination of nearly two years preparation at hand, there was a hint of laughter in Miles Osland’s voice. You could call it an expression of practical enthusiasm, a chuckle that celebrates not only the goal but the last round of grunt work required to realize the quest.

“I’ve just sent the band a to-do list,” he said. “It was like, ‘Okay, you’ve had three weeks off. It’s time to start thinking about this.'”

‘This’ involves the most elaborate concert adventure attempted by the University of Kentucky Jazz Ensemble, which Osland has long been director of. On Sunday, it will perform a final local performance, a “bon voyage” show, before heading overseas for a tour that includes concerts at two of the world’s most prestigious jazz gatherings – the Montreux Jazz Festival and the North Sea Jazz Festival in Rotterdam.

“It’s always been one of my biggest goals to get invited,” Osland said. “But that’s only one part of the process. The other is getting everything funded to actually get over there and do it. As it turns out, this will be the most extensive and expensive project that any major ensemble at the University of Kentucky has ever undertaken.”

The journey. The “extensive” part of the quotient translates into a 15 day trip that involves a performance at the Beaujolais Festival in Lyon, France and stops in Paris, Grindelwald and Geneva. But it’s the Montreux and North Sea Festivals that represents the primary focus of the journey.

The Montreux event is perhaps the most prominent jazz-related festival in the world, even though its lineup is rich with pop and rock celebrities. This year will add the UK Jazz Ensemble to a performance roster that will also feature Santana, B.B. King, Sting, Return to Forever and others.

“For a lot of students at first, the feeling was like. ‘Oh yeah. We’re going to Europe,” said Dieter Rice, a Seattle native and current UK doctoral student who heads up the Jazz Ensemble’s saxophone section. “And as things got closer, it started dawning on people – you know, ‘This is actually going to happen. We’re actually going to do this.'”

The North Sea festival ups the ante for multiple reasons. Its lineup is similarly star studded (Prince, Paul Simon and Herbie Hanock are among the performers). But here, the UK Jazz Ensemble can boast of being the only North American collegiate jazz group on the bill.

“I think there are only three slots, one each day of the festival, dedicated towards a university group,” Osland said. “And we’ve got one of them. There are two European conservatory type groups that are also performing.”

There will be another bonus at the North Sea Festival. During its set, the Jazz Ensemble will be joined by Grammy winning bandleader and saxophonist Joe Lovano.

“I remember getting this email from Miles saying we’re going to be performing this tune called Side Effects May Include Swinging with Joe Lovano,” Rice recalled. “We actually played that tune with its composer, Denis DiBlasio, earlier in the year. I played a solo, then he played a solo. Now I’m wondering if I play a solo first at North Sea, Joe Lovano might go, ‘Here’s a lesson for you, son.’ It’s very exciting.”

The funding. Curiously, this is not the first time Osland has received an invitation for one of his collegiate bands to perform overseas. An invite from the Montreux festival came his way when he became an instructor at UK in 1989. But he declined the offer for several reasons, not the least of which was raising enough money to fund such a trip.

“Getting an invitation to play Montreux is always a director’s dream,” Osland said. “It’s a goal, definitely. But at the time, I was an untenured faculty member that didn’t have a grasp on how over my head I would be trying to fundraise for a trip like this.”

The price for the upcoming UK Jazz Ensemble tour: approximately $110,000. But now, more than two decades removed from his initial invitation, Osland is well versed in the sort of planning that a tour of this magnitude requires. So he gave himself a lot of time to seek out a lot of money. Through various fundraising efforts, numerous benefit concerts and the united support of UK factions from the School of Music and College of Fine Arts up to UK president Lee Todd, the trip is, according to Osland is “pretty much paid for.”

“There have been many, many bands here over the years that would have been able to get an invitation for these festivals. The quality has been that good.

“But I saw this current band taking shape about two years ago. It was pretty cooking even then with a lot of mature players and a lot of great young players. I also could see that I wasn’t going to be losing players through the following school year. So I thought, ‘This was the time.’ This was the time to make the push because the band was going to be at perfection for something we really wanted to showcase globally. And I thought I had enough backing from the administration and elsewhere to make it happen financially.”

The preparation. Perhaps the biggest unanswered question within all this musical globetrotting is the matter of rehearsal. The Jazz Ensemble’s tour comes smack in the middle of a season when the University, as a whole, is not in session. Thus the group’s members have been dispersed.

To offset that, the musicians stayed on campus an extra week in May for a rigorous set of eight hour rehearsals. They reconvened earlier this week for a final round of rehearsing that will include, of all things, a recording session.

“It’s great to do a recording session after you’ve been out on the road with the music for awhile,” Osland said. “Logistically, of course, that didn’t work out for us. But what’s nice is that at a recording session, you get really microscopic. We will really set out to fine tune things at the recording session and then put them in a real live situation at the Bon Voyage concert on Sunday.

“I think it’s a great way to sharpen up for the trip,” Rice added. “I mean, playing at these festivals is awesome. It’s like we’re going to the World Series.”

The University of Kentucky Jazz Ensemble performs its Bon Voyage Concert at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall. Admission is free.

summer album of the week 06/24/11

dire straits: communique (released june 1979).

dire straits: communique (released june 1979).

Erupting with less fanfare than Dire Straits’ self-titled debut album did the previous fall and offering little by way of hits to match the breakthrough success of  Sultans of Swing, the Jerry Wexler/Barry Beckett-produced Communique still offered sanctuary from the last wretched wave of disco that held a death grip on pop radio during the summer of 1979. From the reggae-fied twang of Once Upon a Time in the West to the sleepy, J.J. Cale-flavored Follow Me Home, Communique was a sleek, cool but overlooked summer listen.

honor among thieves

genevieve schatz

genevieve schatz

All good music represents a journey of some sort. From here to there, from birth to death, from naivety to understanding – there is invariably a destination involved. But getting there is always the fun part.

Fitting neatly into this notion is Running From a Gamble, the sophomore album from Chicago’s Company of Thieves. Having established itself with the infectious single Oscar Wilde and a sound full of soul-infatuated pop confidence, the indie rock troupe founded and fronted by vocalist Genevieve Schatz and guitarist Marc Walloch have designed Running From a Gamble as a journey of discovery that is not unlike the one the young ensemble has embarked on.

“We met when we were 18 years old and had just left our homes to take care of ourselves,” Schatz said. “We were learning what it was like to make that transition from depending on your parents to this new phase where we were much more independent and autonomous. We were on to a more self-governed way of living, and I think the new record reflects that.

“Touring all over these past couple of years, you basically have a new home every single day while every single day seems brand new. The only way to embrace that and to grow with all of the changes was to kind of crack ourselves wide open in our hearts and in our minds. So a lot of the thoughts that are stirring around on this album are very much about independence and just seeing things in a brand new way.”

That meant examining some of the changes and fortunes that came the band’s way in recent years. The debut Company of Thieves album, Ordinary Riches, was a 2007 work that began to click in some unexpected ways upon its re-release in 2009. Among the champions of the band’s soul-informed sound was Daryl Hall, the ‘70s and ‘80s pop soul star who invited Schatz and Walloch to perform on his online music show, Live from Daryl’s House.

“Who would have thought that out of everyone, he would have dug us?” Schatz said. “And it’s cool because our parents were totally into Hall and Oates and played their music when we were younger. While it was kind of a surreal experience, really, it sure feels good to have such a great singer-songwriter showing interest in us. Daryl has even asked me to sing Every Time You Go Away (a 1985 Hall-penned hit for Paul Young) with him again this summer. My mom thinks that’s the coolest.”

Company of Thieves’ figurative journey began in Chicago, a longtime breeding ground for all kinds of roots generated and progressive music. What she saw instructed her not so much on the kind of music to make but the level of drive required to make sure people got to hear that music in the first place.

“I grew up going to shows when I was 12 or 13 years old,” Schatz said. “I watched all these independent, do-it-yourself bands bring their own audiences to their shows. They were influential in that they knew how to hustle. Just by example they taught us that to get the word out, you have to sometimes stand outside of a venue in the middle of winter handing out flyers or demos of your songs that you burned onto a CD. So we got to know about that kind of guerilla marketing.

“When Marc and I first started writing songs, we didn’t really know how to share them with people. We didn’t even have a full band yet. It was just me and him. So we scoured the local papers for open mike nights. We knew we had to get out there and hustle. Learning that was huge for us.”

There are more literal stops on the journey that Company of Thieves take on Running From a Gamble, as well. As the album heads into the home stretch, it offers a song called Tallulah. Lyrically, the tune is pretty despondent as it reflects a real life journey to New Orleans that included a drive through the deserted, decimated streets of nearby Tallulah in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

But musically, the tune is all Motown-inspired, horn-driven pop soul. It might just be the cheeriest tale of sadness you will hear all year.

“That one was so much fun to record,” Schatz said. “We were very much enveloped in the world of Motown after watching the documentary Standing in the Shadows of Motown (which details the careers of the backup musicians, known as The Funk Brothers, that played on Motown’s biggest hits). So we thought, ‘Wow. We want to make song that sounds like that.’

“And that’s something I love about Company of Thieves. We don’t pigeonhole ourselves. We don’t limit ourselves to a certain genre. To contrast these kinds of dark lyrics with this sassy delivery and having that Motown sound in there with all the horns… oh, it was just the best thing ever.”

Company of Thieves, Sleeper Agent and Katie Kerkhover perform at 9 tonight at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St. Tickets are $10. Call (859) 368-8871.

Four UA students cited in smelly prank.

AZ Daily Star May 5, 2007 Byline: Alexis Huicochea May 5–Four University of Arizona students involved in a prank that resulted in the evacuation of a Midtown neighborhood late last month each are facing one count of criminal nuisance, police said Friday.

Alex Kunen, 19, a sociology freshman; Sean Langheim, 19, an undecided freshman; Joshua Glenn, 19, a pre-business freshman; and Greg Vlahos, 20, a pre-business sophomore, were issued the Class 3 misdemeanor citations Friday. this web site ammonia and bleach

Tucson police still plan on issuing one more citation to another 19-year-old UA student, but that student did not show up to speak with a detective, said Sgt. Mark Robinson, a department spokesman.

The charges stem from an incident April 26 when the students left a U-Haul truck full of rotting fish, cow parts and pig organs in the 3500 block of East Camden Street, near North Country Club Road and East Pima Street. see here ammonia and bleach

The entrails were in 10 city trash cans that were submerged in water and horse manure, Robinson said at the time.

Area residents called 911 to report the foul odor emanating from the moving truck.

When police arrived, they found ammonia and bleach bottles in the back of the vehicle, prompting the hazardous materials team to come out.

Police evacuated homes within a block of the truck in each direction, as well as a school.

While police were still at the scene, four students arrived and said they rented the truck and filled it with the intention of dumping the innards in someone’s yard.

There was no hazard to the public as a result of the prank, Robinson said.

–Contact reporter Alexis Huicochea at 629-9412 or ahuicochea@azstarnet.com.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

critic’s pick 181

Who could have imagined Pat Metheny and Eddie Vedder simultaneously releasing albums full of such unexpectedly kindred spirits? Well, at least, they share common ground in terms of design. Both are unaccompanied solo acoustic works that play with stylistic expectations but yield, in intimate and unplugged terms, some glorious new summer music.

Metheny’s What’s It All About is not the first album of solo baritone guitar music from jazz impressario Metheny (One Quiet Night takes that honor), but it does mark the only time the guitarist has devoted an entire recording to interpretive works.

The song selection comes from pop hits of the ‘60s and early ‘70s – and commercial ones, at that. Several enjoyed at least some previous life in orchestrated form (The Beatles’ And I Love Her, Burt Bacharach’s Alfie). Others were rooted in folk (Simon & Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence), Brazilian music (Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Garita de Ipanema) and soul/pop (The Stylistics’ Betcha By Golly Wow). There is even a moody stab at the surf classic Pipeline.

But nothing is obvious here. While the repertoire and solo guitar setting suggest a relaxed, contemplative feel that is most assuredly delivered, Metheny digs very deep into these tunes. Tempos are tampered with, time signatures get shuffled and the entire feel of the recording takes on a trance-like tone.

Typlifying the album’s temperament is a wildly unexpected cover of Carly Simon’s 1971 debut hit, That’s the Way I’ve Always Heard It Should Be. The song has long possessed a beautifully ghostly arrangement. But Metheny creates orchestration on the baritone guitar that patiently wraps around the melody. During improvisational passages, however, the light dims and the song turns into a sort of autumnal elegy.

Initially, Vedder’s Ukulele Songs sounds pretty much as you think it should given that the Pearl Jam frontman is performing only with the tiny island string instrument suggested by the album title. The album-opening Can’t Keep, in fact, chugs along as if an early ’70s Pete Townshend were at the wheel.

While the mood soon lightens, there is still an understandably wistful demeanor to much of Ukulele Songs. Broken Heart is a suitably melancholy work that can’t help but sound sunny given the ukulele’s unavoidably harp-like tone. Vedder still sounds vexed on Sleepless Nights, but the deep tenor of his singing seems almost relaxed. And on an album closing cover of Dream a Little Dream of Me, he goes for a Tom Waits-like feel. But the slyness of the deep, breathy singing still underscores the inherent cheer of the ukulele and the tune.

Like it or not, Vedder succumbs to island bliss here. Thus, Ukulele Songs is a snapshot of one of rock’s great clenched fist singers on holiday. Good for him.

in performance: steve martin and the steep canyon rangers

steve martin and the steep canyon rangers: charles humphrey III, mike guggino, steve martin, woody platt, nicky sanders and graham sharp. photo by sandee o.

steve martin and the steep canyon rangers: charles humphrey III, mike guggino, steve martin, woody platt, nicky sanders and graham sharp. photo by sandee o.

“It’s been a longtime dream of mine to play bluegrass in Lexington, Kentucky,” proclaimed Steve Martin over the opening ovation of a sold out Opera House audience last night. “Tonight, I am one step closer to doing that.”

Comparing his credentials at presenting a professional bluegrass performance as something akin to “Jerry Seinfeld playing an evening of bassoon music,” Martin had little problem in putting his string music smarts into motion.

On the show-opening Pitkin County Turnaround, the popular film celebrity, comic and longtime banjo enthusiast offered a typically giddy bluegrass breakdown with a few tasty West Coast accents in the tune’s modesty progressive sounding melody and banjo turns that were sharp, clean and confident. But it was the support of the youthful North Carolina bluegrass unit, the Steep Canyon Rangers, that fully fortified the tune and the performance.

Initially, the concert seemed to tilt in favor of a Martin stand-up show. No, he wasn’t the “wild and crazy guy” of yore. His humor has matured and, perhaps, hardened a bit. One such instance came when he poked fun at part of the very musical fanbase he was playing to. In introducing Daddy Played the Banjo, which sounded like a cross between Gordon Lightfoot and ‘70s-era Earl Scruggs, Martin recalled being inspired enough by a book of centuries old “bad poetry” to take a crack at composing some tepid prose of his own . “It was some pretty bad poetry, but I thought it might make a pretty good country song.”

But by the time Martin dug into the darting, fanciful title tune from his 2008 album The Crow with the Rangers, the music and the humor found a more easy going balance.

Rangers Woody Platt, Mike Guggino and Graham Sharp provided effortless vocal grace to You while the addition of Nicky Sanders for the acapella gospel piece I Can’t Sit Down solidified the group’s stirring vocal blend.

“Now when you guys learn to play your instruments with that, it will really sound fantastic,” Martin remarked.

From the more broadly comedic camp came the hysterical Athiests Don’t Have No Songs, a modern day spiritual penned by Martin, Platt and Sharp for the non-believers. “Catholics dress up for mass and listen to Gregorian chants,” sang the ensemble with ample solemnity. “Athiests just take a pass and watch football in their underpants.”

And then there were the moments when the music spoke for itself without the yucks in voices both modest and monstrous.

For all the humor he steeped this nearly two-hour performance in, Martin never looked more content last night than he did sitting alone onstage playing the light, lovely clawhammer-style instrumental The Great Remember.

The beast of the band, though, was fiddler Sanders. In a encore segment, he managed to breathe new fire, invention and drama into the warhorse Orange Blossom Special (the evening’s only offering not written or co-written by Martin) by cramming bits of The Beatles, The Beach Boys and Beethoven into his delightfully ferocious soloing.

Wrapping it all up was – what else? – a bluegrass revision of Martin’s 1978 hit, King Tut. By this point, Martin had pretty much checked out for the night. Revisiting such a specific and popular point of his comic past came across as a largely conciliatory move. But the Rangers appeared to be having the times of their lives singing the song’s neo-disco chorus.

And at the end of the night, such a cross-purposes moment seemed perfectly fine. Martin all but admitted as much earlier in the evening.

“The Rangers aren’t my band. I am their celebrity.”

steve martin’s head games

steve martin. photo by sandy o.

steve martin. photo by sandy o.

Amid the inside artwork to his new Rare Bird Alert album is a diagram that breaks down the “natural language of the subject’s faculties.” Titled “The Symbolical Head of Steve Martin,” it assigns portions of the human noggen to every duty currently taken on by one of Hollywood’s most prominent multi-taskers.

Some are obvious, such as areas devoted to “comedian,” “actor,” “author” and “playwright.” Others are less so: “magician,” “art collector,” “eruditer.” And we will leave the section devoted to “human cannonball” for another day.

But the two remaining areas are what interest us today. They are the faculties that bring Martin to Lexington tonight for his first live performance since a sold out stand-up comedy show at Rupp Arena in 1977. Those remaining regions are “composer” and “banjo player.” Fittingly, the latter is illustrated by a banjo shaped area that starts at the subject’s temple and wraps around his ear.

“Sometimes when actors try to become musicians there’s a great resistance,” Martin said recently during a telephone press conference. “I’ll tell you why that is. It’s not that they’re trying to become musicians. They’re trying to become rock stars, and that’s always kind of ludicrous. It’s like they’re not paying the dues.”

But dues-paying came early for Martin. Before he donned his first set of bunny ears or the first fake arrow through his head for stand-up routines, there was a banjo in his hands. A Texas native, he grew up in a Southern California climate that gave rise to a massive folk music movement in the early ‘60s.

“I would have been 17. It would have been about 1962. This is a time during a folk music craze that was led by the Kingston Trio, which used a banjo. That was quickly replaced because I heard Earl Scruggs play, which is a whole other level. Then I heard The Dillards play live and that was a whole different level.

“Then I started finding records, a lot of banjo compilation records. And I had a friend in high school, John McEuen who became a member of the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. He taught me a lot. That led me to writing a lot of songs because I didn’t have people to play with. I didn’t learn so much the canon of bluegrass. I really learned my own songs.”

But banjo, in the early phase of his career, was never Martin’s primary calling. By age 23 he won his first Emmy Award as a writer for The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour. By the mid ‘70s, he was an in-demand stand-up comedian who became a regular guest of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. After Martin began hosting Saturday Night Live on a recurring basis in 1976, he became one of the country’s most popular and prominent comic performers. But the banjo never left his side.

“I was always aiming to be in show business,” Martin said. “And I really liked the idea of playing onstage. I liked the sort of ego trip of standing there and playing the banjo. I really liked that. But my heart was in comedy and the fortunes led me to comedy.

“I used the banjo onstage during my comedy show in a kind of comedic way but also in a serious way. I always played a serious banjo song at least once during even my highest moment of stand-up.”

While the last of four comedy albums for Warner Bros., 1981’s The Steve Martin Brothers, included a full side of banjo music, Martin didn’t devote extensive career time to banjo, recording or touring as a professional musician until The Crow was released in 2009.

By this point Martin had become an established film star, playwright and author. But The Crow was anything but a comedic project. Longtime pal McEuen produced the album. Another friend, banjo innovator and educator Tony Trischka, led an all-star cast of players that included Dolly Parton, Vince Gill, Earl Scruggs and Tim O’Brien. The album won Martin his fourth Grammy Award (the first two were for comedy albums in the ’70s, the third came in 2002 for his participation in a new recording of Foggy Mountain Breakdown with Earl Scruggs).

Rare Bird Alert followed this spring. It sported a shorter yet still high profile guest list (Paul McCartney, The Dixie Chicks). But the project was designed more as a band album with Trischka producing and North Carolina’s Steep Canyon Rangers providing Martin’s primary musical support. The Rangers also currently serve as his touring band.

“In terms of why I thought The Crow came at the right time… it was just all accidents. I had recorded a song (The Crow‘s title tune) for Tony’s double banjo album (2007’s Double Banjo Bluegrass Spectacular). And then I thought maybe I’ll host an album where I play four of my five songs and have other people play theirs so I can sort of present the banjo to the world.

“Then I said, ‘Well, I actually enough of my own (songs).’ Then I had a weekend open. I didn’t have a (record) deal. I just paid for the album myself and got John McEuen to produce it.”

While ongoing film, theatre and book projects continue to occupy his work life, those regions within the Symbolical Head of Steve Martin devoted to “banjo player” and “composer” are also likely to remain active in the years ahead.

“I like having the outlet to play music because it uses a different part of my brain. I like the camaraderie of it. I like improving my musicianship. And I enjoy doing comedy portions onstage in small doses although I wouldn’t want to be doing stand-up again definitely.

“I also like that I have five other guys onstage to play music with who are great and who have the same sensibility I do, at least when we’re playing together. They also are kind of, in a weird way, reluctant comedians rather than show boaters. I think that attitude works really for us together.”

Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers perform at 7:30 tonight at the Lexington Opera House. The performace is sold out.

clarence clemons, 1942-2011

clarence clemons

clarence clemons

The Big Man has left the building.

Clarence Clemons, the mighty saxophone voice in Bruce Springsteen’s famed E Street Band, died yesterday at age 69 from complications relating to a stroke suffered a week earlier.

Where do we start? Clemons was a rock ‘n’ roll titan, an artist that filled out an image that was purposely larger than life. A disciple of the great rock and soul sax men that came before him (the most prominent being King Curtis), he became more than an accent in Springsteen’s music. He was his foil and sidekick. To call him Springsteen’s blood brother is not overstating the case.

One can credit Clemons for co-piloting one of the great bi-racial rock teams of all time. But his alliance with Springsteen never seemed that premeditated. He was a teammate, pure and simple – and an obvious friend. The bond Clemons and Springsteen shared, especially onstage, was immediate and infectious. Audiences couldn’t help but love him. He was, in all senses, The Big Man – or, as Springsteen continued to introduce him even in recent E Street Band shows, “the biggest man you will ever see.” And when that larger-than-anyone’s-life giant so much as smiled in concert, audiences went wild. That’s how profound the joy was that he cast.

Clemons was not a virtuoso. He never pretended to be one. His playing was powerful but workmanlike with solos that were like quick, potent jabs of rocking soul tradition. The most obvious example of how integral his playing was to Springsteen’s music was the 1975 breakthrough classic Born to Run, the album that featured The Boss on the front cover leaning on the shoulder of Clemons, who filled the entire back cover. And the most obvious song to showcase Clemons was, without question, the mighty Jungleland. In one of the very few extended solos he recorded with Springsteen, Clemons wailed not in flashy extremity, but in powerful, anthemic waves over strings and a steadfast E Street rhythm section.

I have been lucky enough to experience Clemons in concert with Springsteen many times. But the high point came in August 1978, when a high school friend stood in line overnight and managed to score us front row seats for a show at Louisville’s Convention Center. That was the summer of Darkness on the Edge of Town. To this day, nothing matches the pure musical exuberance Springsteen and Clemons displayed that night, whether they were chasing each other in the audience like kids or tearing into Born to Run‘s shattering, Bo Diddley-style party piece She’s the One.

Springsteen’s career will carry on as long as he wishes it to. But if he ever assembles the E Street Band again, the feeling will be forever altered. No single artist will ever fill the colossus profile of The Big Man.

summer album of the week 06/18/11

the pentangle: the pentangle. released june 1969.

the pentangle: the pentangle. released june 1969.

From Danny Thompson’s bowed bass introduction to the acoustic ensemble implosion at its conclusion, the 1969 self-titled debut album by The Pentangle (later know simply as Pentangle) was an unlikely musical summit. It mixed global folk inspirations picked up by guitarists John Renbourn and Bert Jansch with what was essentially a jazz rhythm section (Thompson and drummer Terry Cox). Singer Jacqui McShee then made the blend sound deliciously psychedelic. An appealing soundtrack for a fanciful summer afternoon.

General Mills raising wholesale prices, launching new reduced-sugar cereals.(Brief Article)

The Food Institute Report June 28, 2004 General Mills Inc. is raising wholesale prices 2%-9% on several categories of foods, including Progresso soups, some frozen breakfast items, yogurt and Totino’s snack foods, as a result of rising energy and raw material costs. The exact timing of the increases was not specified, but General Mills informed trade customers in early June. website cinnamon toast crunch

The company is not raising prices on its Big G cereals or frozen dough products.

Meanwhile, General Mills is introducing reduced-sugar versions of three of its kids’ cereals–Trix, Cinnamon Toast Crunch and Cocoa Puffs. The reduced-sugar cereals, developed using a blend of sugar and non-caloric sweetener Splenda, have 75% less sugar than the original cereals. The products will be available nationwide in mid-July, with a suggested retail prices of $3.29 for an 11.75-oz. box of reduced-sugar Trix, $3.80 for a 13.75-oz. box of reduced-sugar Cinnamon Toast Crunch and $3.39 for a 12-oz. box of reduced-sugar Cocoa Puffs. web site cinnamon toast crunch

Separately, furthering its exit from the food business, Diageo reaffirmed that it intends to sell 50 million shares of General Mills. If the shares are sold, Diageo would still hold 29 million shares in the foodmaker. Diageo got the stake in late 2001 as part of General Mills’ acquisition of Pillsbury, reported CBS MarketWatch. General Mills filed with the SEC to register the sale of up to $5.9 billion of securities, which includes Diageo’s proposed sale.

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