Archive for August, 2011

critic’s pick 190

ollabelleThe music Ollabelle has designed over much of the past decade isn’t so much a strict product of roots-conscious savvy, but rather a keen ability to bring traditional folk and blues elements into the present day with a sound that is very much its own. The instrumentation may reflect antique accents of steel guitar and pump organ, but its vocal blend, as well as the melodic scope of its original material, possess a relaxed contemporary lyricism.

Such is the presentation of Neon Blue Bird, Ollabelle’s first album in five years. The opening version of Paul Kelly’s You’re Gonna Miss Me churns along with a rustic blues stomp that eases into the vocal cool of Amy Helm. Already the ages and styles run happily into each other with a roots driven authority that rides side-by-side with folksy intimacy and even a dash of poppish charm.

Reversing the strategy somewhat is Dirt Floor, a work by the late, great Chris Whitley, an artist similarly versed in merging jagged traditionalism with contemporary appeal. But this version begins with a rich, folksy sway executed on guitar, mandolin, mandola and Glenn Patshca’s conversational singing. Admittedly, this is one of Whitley’s more reassuring songs to begin with. But the Ollabelle treatment turns out to be as distinctive as it is complimentary.

Singer Fiona McBain turns in a pair of fine originals (including the beautiful Wait for the Sun). But her treatment of the traditional Butcher Boy just about steals the show here. Her whispery vocal lead retains the tune’s luscious sense of mystery and British folk ancestry. But the band arrangement lets the music simmer until its bleeds out in rich orchestral drama colored by harmony vocals from Helm. It’s an exquisite performance all around.

Perhaps the tune that plays best to Ollabelle’s sense of roots-driven discovery is also its biggest surprise – an update of Stephen Foster’s Swanee River that sounds positively pastoral. With an almost meditative vocal performance from Patshca, the arrangement opens as a percussive lullaby before building into a regal yet hushed affirmation.

Maybe that’s the secret to the ongoing appeal of Ollabelle and, ultimately, to what makes Neon Blue Bird so satisfying. The band continues to possess an ability to take something as familiar as an ages-old blues melody or as foreign as a folk tale from another shore and blur their respective edges. What results is music respectful of both extremes that also reveals a lustrous contemporary identity that is thoroughly original. It becomes – purely, simply and with enormous satisfaction – Ollabelle music.

Ollabelle will perform at 7 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Kentucky Theatre for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. For reservations, call (859) 252-8888.

summer album of the week 08/13/11

 

the allman brothers band: brothers and sisters (released august 1973).

allman brothers band: brothers and sisters (released august 1973).

Brothers and Sisters reshifted the Allman Brothers Band’s music following the deaths of founders Duane Allman and Berry Oakley by balancing leadership roles between Gregg Allman and guitarist Dickey Betts. But instead of twin guitar sounds, Betts worked off of leads from pianist Chuck Leavell. The result, curiously, was a commercial breakthrough by way of two Betts tunes – the radio staple Ramblin’ Man and the instrumental tour-de-force Jessica (a showcase for Leavell). Fine Allman originals like Come and Go Blues made the Brothers and Sisters balance the proud voice of a new Allman Brothers Band.

in performance: the b-52s

the b-52s: fred schneider, keith strickland, kate pierson and cindy wilson. photo by joseph cultice.

the b-52s: fred schneider, keith strickland, kate pierson,cindy wilson. photo by joseph cultice.

It wasn’t just that the music spanned a few generations. In pretty much all respects, last night’s performance by the B52s at the Singletary Center for the Arts was a party for the ages.

First, there was the audience. Within the first few packed rows were fans that ranged from well tanned, silver-haired elders to an 11 year old girl with hair artfully stacked in a beehive for the occasion.

Then there were the performers – the exact lineup that started the Athens, Ga. band 35 years ago save for instrumentalist Ricky Wilson, who died in 1985. And you want to talk about ageless? How about singer Kate Pierson, who at age 63, was decked out – from hair to dress to glowing mood ring – in shades of pink along with the confidence to credibly work a very abbreviated skirt.

Finally, we had the songs. Some defined the late ‘70s – such as the still-eccentric Planet Claire and Rock Lobster, both of which were served as encores. Others, like Cosmic Thing and Love Shack shifted ahead a decade to a more mainstream, late ‘80s dance-pop groove. And then there even more modernized dance floor-numbers, like the six songs performed from 2008’s Funplex album. All bore a vastly more organic drive onstage (thanks largely to Keith Strickland’s encyclopedia of infectious guitar hooks) than on record.

There were a few very fun surprises, as well, within all the time tripping. Topping the list was the title tune to 1982’s Mesopotamia EP that bore a percussive dance grind reflective of 1980-era Talking Heads (perhaps, not coincidentally, head Head David Byrne produced the recording).

Another less obvious offering from the B52s’ late ‘80s renaissance was Deadbeat Club, an ode to joyous resignation sung with wistful, appealing and convincing innocence by Pierson and Cindy Wilson.

And at the top of the Funplex material was the album’s groove-centric and coyly cynical title tune. A dance-heavy song introduced by Fred Schneider as celebration of the “safety and stability” of shopping malls, it also offered a refreshingly deviated view of retail relations. “I’m your daytime waitress,” sang Wilson. “Here’s your stupid 7 Up.”

The only bump in the performance road that linked Rock Lobster and Funplex was a noticeably muddy sound mix that robbed several of the performers (primarily Schneider) of vocal detail. The sound was bass heavy near the front of the stage and more treble saturated the further back you went in the hall.

The mix didn’t spoil the party. But robbing a pop parade this vibrant and colorful of even a sliver of performance definition seemed a bit un-neighborly.

the life and fun times of the b-52s

the b-52s. clockwise from upper left: fred schneider, kate pierson, keith strickland and cindy wilson. photo by pieter m. vanhattem.

the b-52s. clockwise from upper left: fred schneider, kate pierson, keith strickland and cindy wilson. photo by pieter m. vanhattem.

There was a point – a brief one, mind you – when Kate Pierson felt fans weren’t taking her beloved B-52s seriously. She thought, after years of constant touring, that audiences were only into the veteran Athens, Ga. band’s more outward thrills – like the mile high hairdos, the beat savvy tunes and an often campy charm.

Then it dawned on her – what’s wrong with that?

“There were definitely times in the band when I felt like – when, really, we all felt like – ‘Oh, everyone just talks about the wigs and the hair. They don’t really listen to what we’re saying in the lyrics.’

“Now I truly realize that the greatest thing we do is give people a good time. They come to our shows. They let their freak flags fly. They just get it. And they do listen. Someone told me after the show last night, ‘Wow, all your songs have a message.’ And I said, ‘Yes. But the top message is to dance your ass off.”

Such is the gainful, good time philosophy that has taken The B-52s from being a post-punk band that wowed a mounting New York New Wave movement with performances at legendary haunts like CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City in the late ‘70s to internationally established pop veterans that have managed to artfully – and often playfully – modernize its groove with the times.

“We started out as this tacky little dance band from Athens,” said Pierson, 63, who formed The B-52s with co-vocalists Fred Schneider and Cindy Wilson and instrumentalists Keith Strickland and Ricky Wilson in 1976. “We played our first show on Valentine’s Day 1977 at a friend’s house. Our friends danced so much that the house literally shook.

“We already had this crazy look that we didn’t formulate. We didn’t say, ‘We’re going to have a ‘50s look, a ‘60s look or even a ‘70s look. We just put together this sort of thrift store, off-the-cuff look. Cindy and I happened to find these fake fur pocketbooks that we turned upside down and kind of teased out. So when we came to New York, people were like, ‘What the hell? Where are they from?

“People thought we were from England – England or Mars.”

Let’s dance: In quick succession came two introductory albums – 1979’s The B-52’s and 1980’s Wild Planet – full of lean but heavily hook-laden tunes that were as quirky as the band’s visual profile. Rock Lobster, Dance This Mess Around and Planet Claire fortified the debut album while Party Out of Bounds and Private Idaho propelled the followup.

All were populated by elements that shouldn’t have worked together – half-spoken vocals from Schneider that played a kind of devilish cheerleading role, singing from Pierson and Cindy Wilson that ran from girl group-style harmonies to otherworldly shrieks and instrumentation that touched on elements of surf, rock, punk and spacey synth-pop.

“We started out thinking, ‘We like to dance, so we’re going to be a dance band,” Pierson said. “After doing shows for so many years now, we know that when the music is really cooking and the beat is great, it just gives us so much drive.

Rock Lobster, for instance, will always be fun for me. There’s a little bit of invention to it. We might do some fish sounds at the end or some crazy new dances. But, to me, that song is sort of timeless.”

Touring and recording continued steadily into the ‘80s until the band faced its greatest setback followed by its most unexpected triumph.

During the 1985 recording sessions for what became its fourth full-length album, Bouncing Off the Satellites, Ricky Wilson died from AIDs-related illnesses. The album was released a year later, but the group scrapped all touring plans to support it and essentially disappeared from public view. The B-52s returned three years later with Cosmic Thing, an immensely MTV-friendly pop affair that provided the group with its biggest commercial hits – Love Shack and Roam – as well as a sleeker, but still beat-centric sound fashioned for the ‘90s.

“After Ricky’s death, it just seemed like we couldn’t go any further,” Pierson said. “But we thought by getting back together to make Cosmic Thing, we were conjuring Ricky’s presence again in songs like Deadbeat Club (one of The B-52s most overlooked and curiously innocent pop creations). So, yeah, it was astounding when everything took off.

“We toured for a year and a half behind that record. We started off doing little clubs because we felt like we were starting all over again. Then Cosmic started taking off and we went around again and played medium sized places. We went around after that and played stadiums. It was a really wild ride.”

Rocking the Funplex: The post-Cosmic Thing years saw the departure and eventual rejoining of Cindy Wilson, a fine 1992 followup album (Good Stuff) and steady, year-after-year touring runs. Amazingly, it took 16 years for another studio record to surface. The resulting Funplex modified the music again by placing The B-52s’ distinctive vocal makeup over more club-savvy beats. In short, the group had once more retooled itself for the times.

“We were like, ‘Oh my God, it’s been 16 years?’ I mean, we honestly didn’t realize that” Pierson said. “We really weren’t counting because we never stopped touring.

“Keith started writing instrumentation for the album that was inspired by more of a clubby dance beat. Cindy, Fred and I wrote the lyrics, the melodies and the harmonies. That part you can’t mistake. It’s classic B-52s. But the production and everything else really helped us achieve a reinvention of our sound while satisfying fans that wanted new material.”

So how many more years can it all last? How long can the B-52s’ party remains out of bounds yet still in tune? As long as it wants, Pierson said, because the group’s core foursome is still, at heart, a family.

“We’ve been together so long that we understand each other’s idiosyncrasies. We accept each other for who we are. We are all very talented in very different ways, and I’ve really come to appreciate that. We still hang out. We still make each other laugh. And we remain grateful that we are still able to do this for a living.”

The B-52s perform at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 12 at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Tickets are $27, $35, $42. Call (859) 257-4929 or go to www.singletarytickets.com.

critic’s pick 189

wood brothers

On Mary Anna, the opening tune to Smoke Ring Halo, the fine third studio album by The Wood Brothers, a loose, roots-driven groove caught somewhere between a folksy rumination and a blues shuffle collapses into a ragged country waltz.

Three songs later, on Stumbled In, a jagged electric guitar riff lumbers under a fanciful vocal line that outlines the saga of an accidental entrance to heaven.

And at the album’s conclusion, Blue and Green offers an unhurried blues-folk melody that lingers like a summery breeze that slowly works its way into a merry blast of backyard gospel with swelling colors of spiritually inclined brass.

So where does this place the duo of guitarist/lead vocalist Oliver Wood and sibling bassist/sometimes singer Chris Wood? If the past two Wood Brothers albums glided past most obvious labels, Smoke Ring Halo defies categorization altogether. But that also happens to be the recording’s (and the duo’s) biggest charm.

A touch of unvarnished blues-soul here, a dash of folky intimacy there and an overall musical intimacy that makes its 10 tunes flow with the immediacy of a live performance, Smoke Ring Halo further fortifies The Wood Brother’s rootsy appeal.

There are no great stylistic leaps this time out, to be sure. Oliver Wood still sings the high, wiry expression of a young Van Morrison, whether he is riding the earthy boogie grinds of Shoofly Pie or surfing the sleek, almost jazzy cool that pours out the homey neo-gospel drive of Made It Up the Mountain. Chris Wood, however, turns the tables a little, if only for his rare lead vocal deliveries. Brother Chris’ singing neatly enhances his own slow-poke bass and harmonica colors to give The Shore a subtle but distant glow while he plays with equal ease off of Brother Oliver’s slide guitar orchestration during Rainbow.

Drummer Tyler Greenwell is added throughout, making The Wood Brothers something of a trio act while providing Smoke Ring Halo with a steady but refreshingly unprocessed beat. But his playing never detracts from the record’s open, cordial sound.

Finally, there is the guest list, which ranges from old pals like keyboardist John Medeski (the Woods’ former producer and Chris’ past-and-present colleague in the progressive jazz/jam trio Medeski Martin & Wood) and country star Zac Brown (who, aside from being one of the affirming background voices on Blue and Green, serves as Smoke Ring Halo‘s executive producer).

The thing is, though, these are only the components of this exquisitely diverse album. Slip it on and the boundaries blur as to what is blues, what might be country and what certainly stands as soul. What you hear will be a welcoming set of unfussy songs that should serve these final weeks of summer well indeed.

in performance: hot tuna/mountain heart

acoustic hot tuna: jorma kaukonen, jack casady and barry mitterhoff.

acoustic hot tuna: jorma kaukonen, jack casady and barry mitterhoff.

Jorma Kaukonen wasn’t about to be outdone. After the progressive bluegrass troupe Mountain Heart asserted its spiritual side last night for the weekly taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Kentucky Theatre with the ‘30s-era gospel quartet tune You Better Run, the guitarist/vocalist/frontman/co-founder of Hot Tuna decided to counter with something a little more, well, devilish. So he ended the evening with Julius Daniels’ bloody double barrel saga 99 Year Blues.

“Gonna shoot everybody I don’t like at all,” sang Kaukonen in a bluesy hum just after Barry Abernathy and Josh Shilling led Mountain Heart through a equally heated warning from the heavens. “It’s just a song,” offered Kaukonen, as if litigating the playful showdown between mighty blues and almighty gospel. Too bad both songs were served as encores, meaning they won’t make it to the program’s on-air broadcast.

For its part, Hot Tuna stayed true to the course of earthy acoustic blues it has piloted for over four decades. But for all of the casual, even rough cut exchanges between Kaukonen and longtime bass mate Jack Casady, the star of the set proved to be mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff, whose brittle but elegant string solos were prominently featured on the Rev. Gary Davis’ Children of Zion and Papa Charlie McCoy’s merry Vicksburg Stomp (both from the new Steady as She Goes album) as well as the leisurely stroll of another Davis gem, Hesitation Blues, that has been a staple of the Hot Tuna repertoire since the band’s inception in 1969.

Mountain Heart displayed its own variations on musical tradition by letting Aaron Ramsey’s wily dobro runs, Shilling’s crisp vocal lead and the superlative fiddle tone of Jim Van Cleve drive One More for the Road.

But the showstopper was obvious: an extended string music makeover of the Allman Brothers Band classic Whipping Post. From Jason Moore’s recreation of the immortal Berry Oakley intro on upright bass to Shilling’s unorthodox use of keyboards (which included a Leon Russell-style breakdown near the song’s end), this was an adventure that had its head and heart in a musical tradition that confidently sat several light years away from bluegrass.

night of the tuna

jack casady and jorma kaukonen of hot tuna. photo by barry berenson.

jack casady and jorma kaukonen of hot tuna. photo by barry berenson.

Few artistic alliances have weathered the years with more durable credibility than the one Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady have forged for over half a century.

During the mid-to-late ‘60s, the guitarist/bassist team formed the backbone of the Jefferson Airplane, piloting the lauded West Coast band through its most extreme psychedelic jams as well as its earthiest folk-blues grooves. Both are Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees for their adventures.

But well before the Airplane grounded itself in 1973, Kaukonen and Casady were furthering their rootsier profile with the side project known as Hot Tuna. As the decade progressed, the band morphed in and out of various electric guises – some of which bordered on metal-heavy personas. But the finest and most lasting ones were extensions of acoustic music built around Kaukonen’s love of blues greats like the Rev. Gary Davis, his own variation on traditional guitar finger picking and Casady’s expansion of the electric bass’ stylistic and melodic possibilities.

“Jorma has really had a huge impact on allowing me to play bass in somewhat of a different style,” Casady said. “This is particularly true in Hot Tuna’s acoustic format, where Jorma is playing with a thumb and two fingers. That keeps the pulse and the meter going within a song. It keeps him from playing like a linear guitarist.

“With that in mind, I can lift myself out of the normal range of the bass and inject a little more melody into the music and explore different registers on the bass because the bottom end is always there on the guitar.”

Though Kaukonen has played in Lexington a few times over the years, Casady has not. That makes the duo’s appearance for Monday’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour the first official Lexington outing by Hot Tuna in the band’s 42 year history. But the duo’s personal and professional bond extends back much further – to well before the first flights of the Jefferson Airplane, in fact.

“We met somewhere around 1958,” Casady said. “I was about 13 or 14. We all lived in Washington, D.C. Jorma was good friends with my brother and would come over to our house for these record listening sessions. We listened to bluegrass. We listened to rockabilly and blues. Then I found out he played guitar and he found out I played guitar. That’s when we struck up a friendship.”

A new chapter in that friendship was unveiled this spring with the release of Steady As She Goes, the first album of new Hot Tuna studio songs in over 20 years. That might suggest the group has been fairly dormant in recent decades. Casady insists the time has been spent “maturing” as players and staying very active on the road.

“We’ve never stopped playing live,” he said. “We always do 100-150 shows a year. Jorma plays solo a lot, too. He also has a whole separate career as a (guitar) teacher – which I contribute to, as well – at his Fur Peace Ranch in Southeast Ohio. So there has been a lot going on.

“But for Hot Tuna, the thing was we didn’t want to go into the recording studio and simply mimic ourselves. I think we have been maturing as musicians, especially through all the teaching. We accumulated more knowledge and worked more in our own personal styles to improve our individual playing. So the timing was right to put all this to a test and make a new album. I don’t think that timing was there even a few years ago.”

Part of that timing included finding the right producer (guitarist Larry Campbell, who essentially became part of the band during the recording sessions) and the right recording setting (Levon Helm’s famed studio in Woodstock, NY).

The album is full of familiarity and surprise. It explores Kaukonen’s continued fascination with the music of the Rev. Gary Davis through a reading of Mama Let Me Lay It On You. The tune features fiddle work from Campbell that recalls the late Tuna/Airplane instrumentalist Papa John Creech while the churchy soul-funk of the Kaukonen original Mourning Revisited neatly utilizes Casady’s solid bass support. Also of note is the album closing cover of Papa Charlie McCoy’s Vicksburg Stomp, which plays off the animated playing of Tuna mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff and drummer Skoota Warner.

“The record was just a joy to make,” Casady said. “My objective, as always, was to form the foundation of the songs within a creative atmosphere and really give something solid and concrete so that Jorma could work on his vocals and lead guitar playing.

“And, of course, Levon’s studio sounds so wonderful. It’s in this huge wood barn with a sound that is real comfortable to hear your instrument in. So we just set everybody up in a circle and played the songs.”

Hot Tuna and Mountain Heart perform at 7 p.m. Monday 8 at the Kentucky Theatre for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. The taping is sold out.

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summer album of the week 08/06/11

the beatles: help! (released july 1965)

the beatles: help! (released july 1965)

In honor of Thursday’s Cincinnati concert by Paul McCartney, we present a parting shot from The Beatles’ era of pop innocence. It’s tough to say who has the upper hand. John Lennon offers You’ve Got to Hide Your Love Away, You’re Going to Lose That Girl and It’s Only Love, three of his most beautifully bittersweet songs. McCartney counters with Yesterday, I’ve Just Seen a Face and The Night Before (all of which he played in Cincy). Toss in George Harrison’s melancholy I Need You and Ringo Starr’s hapless take on Act Naturally and you have a summer portrait of a pop dynasty still under construction.

in performance: paul mccartney

paul mccartney play to audience of 41,000 last night at great american ball park in cincinnati. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

paul mccartney played to audience of 41,000 last night at great american ball park in cincinnati. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

For the better part of his 2 ½ performance last night at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati, live images of Paul McCartney were projected onto a pair of towering video screens on each side of the stage. But it wasn’t until sunset – around the time Sir Paul and his immensely industrious four-piece band tore into Paperback Writer with ageless vigor – that the full impact of the twin projections took hold.

There he was, Paul McCartney – still, after all these years, larger than life.

That pretty much sums up the show’s obvious musical integrity, its very honest nostalgic appeal and its boundless sense of performance enthusiasm. Not surprisingly, the massive crowd of 41,000-plus ate up every moment.

Sir Paul, himself, continues to defy decay. Working almost in contradiction to his age (he turned 69 this summer), he looked and sounded remarkably fit. McCartney never once seemed out of step with an exhaustive 36 song program that ran from the earliest hitmaking days of The Beatles (1963’s All My Loving) to his most recent pop experiments with The Firemen (2009’s Sing the Changes).

Vocally, there was little to quibble with, as well. McCartney slipped into the trenches during the husky refrains of Maybe I’m Amazed and hit the comparatively high notes of Drive My Car with ease. Mostly, though, his singing was cordial and conversational as he settled into the almost plaintive melodies emanating from the forgotten 1976 Wings hit Let ‘Em In, the cheerleading chorus of Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da and the still-arresting rock charge of Back in the U.S.S.R.

There were a few surprises in the repertoire, to boot – namely the Help!-era nugget The Night Before and no less than three non-hit tracks from the 1973 Wings classic Band on the Run (Mrs.Vanderbilt, Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Five and a seriously rocking Let Me Roll It).

But the show’s few newer tunes possessed their own charm. The aforementioned Sing the Changes blasted forth with clean, pop-fortified efficiency (and a killer melodic hook) while Dance Tonight wonderfully downscaled the music to an elemental mandolin lead fortified ever so slightly by bass.

McCartney’s lean, no-frills band nicely propelled the performance, although it was a special thrill to watch drummer Abe Laboriel Jr. in action. A player of crackling percussive stamina and a harmony vocalist who absolutely glowed on The Long and Winding Road, he was also a beacon of the band’s joyous drive. This is a man who clearly enjoys his work.

But the show’s emotive highlight was unapologetically nostalgic and sentimental. McCartney covered late bandmate George Harrison’s Something on solo ukulele, as he has for years. Last night, though, the song blossomed into a full band finale accompanied by a scrapbook of projected images of the two sometimes contentious Beatles captured during indisputably happy moments.

They may not have possessed the impact of those massive live action projections of today’s McCartney. But then, what could? Few things compare to a pop colossus that continues to defy the years to do himself and his revered music proud.

critic’s pick 188

There has long been an appealing duality fueling the songs of John Hiatt.

One side represents the family man – a blissed out husband and father that spins love songs as if they were penance for a previous life misspent. The other is vastly darker – a sage-like teller of more turbulent tales from the troubled world around him.

Ever since 1987’s Bring the Family album set those contrasts in balance with masterful support from the band that came to be known as Little Village, Haitt has released one gem of an album after another full of songs that keep listeners guessing as to which side of the coin his emotive songs fall on.

Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns, in this context, is no different – which is a good thing. The comfort songs possesss a folky, spiritual warmth while the uneasy ones owe considerably to the stark, ageless restlessness reflected on the album photos of worn country churches and battered homefronts.

Come to think of it, you can literally judge Dirty Jeans and Mudslide Hymns by its cover. The inside booklet opens and closes with two tight profile mug shots of Hiatt. One has the songwriter caught in a huge grin. The other is a near duplicate, but with his eyes turned forward with all hints of a smile erased.

Musically, the album wastes no time in playing its meaner hand. On the opening Damn This Town, Hiatt outlines a gallery of family demons – a brother shot dead in a poker game, a drunken father who dies insane and a thieving sister “filled with hate.” The music is similarly extreme as a churchy organ intro gives way to a sledgehammer guitar riff. The beauty is that Hiatt save the song’s dirtiest secret for himself (“I can’t let my mama tell you what her youngest boy did”).

All the Way Under is more musically deceptive and morally redemptive. It sprints along with a spry acoustic country groove colored by dobro and accordion and a generally sunny melodic disposition. But the lyrics reflect a life hardened by time spent in a region suggested by the song’s title – a place that displays “all your good gone bad.”

There are also several world class love songs (Hold on for Your Love, I Love That Girl) that let some light through these collapsing storylines. But there is no mistaking just how powerful Hiatt’s songs sound when the chips are allowed to stay down.

“It’s always the last one in who’s in a hurry,” Hiatt sings with hushed scorn at the conclusion of Down Around My Place, “to try and slam the door in the next one’s face.”

That’s Hiatt for you – a master songsmith smitten by the world’s beauty but still beholding to its more sober realities.

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