Archive for April, 2012

in performance: leon russell

leon russell

 “Well, bless his heart,” remarked a female fan after Leon Russell opened a spirited 90 minute performance last night at Buster’s with Delta Lady and Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms. Bless him, indeed. The career renaissance Russell is currently experiencing at age 70 is a welcome but unexpected pop music occurrence. To celebrate the resurgence, Russell stuck to the familiar – specifically, tunes steeped in vintage piano blues and boogie woogie along with a churchy brand of Okie-bred R&B. And while the youthful bravado that fueled such a primitive Americana soul sound during the early ‘70s has long been a thing of the past, Russell was full of considerably more fire last night than he was  during club appearances from recent decades.

The program was organized more as a career retrospective than a recitation of hits – so much so that roughly one-third of the setlist was devoted to covers associated with the artists Russell has encountered, from bluesmen B.B. King and Ivory Joe Hunter to folk/country pioneers Bob Dylan and Gram Parsons. Of particular interest was a revivalistic cover of the Rolling Stones’ Wild Horses, a tune suggested by Parsons years before Russell recorded it on his underrated Stop All That Jazz album in 1974.

Other welcome interpretations included a countrified take on The Beatles’ I’ve Just Seen a Face (based on the 1981 bluegrass arrangement Russell cut with New Grass Revival) and the Stones classic Jumpin’ Jack Flash. The latter has settled considerably since Russell lit at match to it for George Harrison’s The Concert for Bangla Desh in 1971, although it still sounded properly righteous last night.

One could argue that Russell should have played more of his own fine songs, even though music from all of his classic Shelter albums cut between 1970 and 1975 was featured. And it was especially curious that the 2010 collaboration with Elton John (The Union), the record that triggered his career comeback, was ignored. But to hear Russell fortify Bob Dylan’s A Hard Rain’s-a-Gonna Fall last night with a tough-as-oak piano blues sound re-asserted his ability to make most any song within his grasp very much his own.

in performance: bela fleck and the flecktones

bela fleck and the flecktones: roy "futureman" wooten, howard levy, bela fleck and victor lamonte wooten.

 “Savor every note.” That was the introductory advice Richard Van Kleeck offered last night to a sold out audience at Louisville’s Brown Theatre. Van Kleeck was the former programming executive behind the Kentucky Center for the Arts’ famed Lonesome Pine Special series during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Among his many accomplishments was bringing banjo great Bela Fleck together with three fellow musical journeymen for an August 1988 performance. That was the beginning of the Grammy winning banjo jazz, funk and fusion ensemble known as Bela Fleck and the Flecktones. Last night, after a year of touring with its original lineup, the quartet ended its current activities in the city, and alongside the father figure, that brought the band to life.

As sentimental as all that may seem, this exhilarating three hour performance spent little time looking back. There were some welcome retreats back to the three initial Flecktones albums cut before pianist/harmonica ace Howard Levy departed the ranks. But with Levy back on board, the prime focus was on last year’s fine Rocket Science album and the ways the band’s multi-stylistic sound has matured through the years.

The show opening Bottle Rocket (ironically, Rocket Science’s final tune) emphasized just how far that sound has come. It balanced groove-centric rhythms from bassist Victor Lamonte Wooten and percussionist (and elder brother) Roy “Futureman” Wooten. In the other corner sat the more organic, country-savvy leads of Fleck and Levy. So it was perhaps fitting that by the time the tune coalesced it splintered again into a playful reggae strut.

And so it went. Life in Eleven (which won composers Fleck and Levy a Grammy earlier this year) upped the animation with a wheezy barnyard accent on harmonica while Storm Warning ascended from a rumbling bass intro into wild ensemble drama that brought to mind the compositions of another previous Fleck collaborator, Chick Corea.

The best of the Rocket Science works came early into the show’s second set. During a segment of what Fleck termed “unplug-ish” songs (Victor Wooten was still very much amplified), the quartet gathered together at the lip of the stage to explore the appealing lyrical mischief of Gravity Lane, a tune that employed a simple, wistful harmonica riff as a springboard for all kinds of commanding ensemble color.

Each Flecktone was awarded a lengthy solo segment to stretch out in. But Fleck’s spot, an unaccompanied outing on acoustic 5 string banjo, was fashioned as a tribute to the late bluegrass icon Earl Scruggs. It sailed confidently into the various moods and tempos of Scruggs’ compositions and fingering technique before summing up with a slow, almost elegiac version of The Ballad of Jed Clampett.

Perhaps fittingly, Fleck reprised Clampett at the onset of an encore segment on electric banjo with assorted synthesized effects. The brief sonic collage then bled into the 20-plus year old Flecktones fusion favorite, Blu Bop.

Sinister Minister, a concert staple from the band’s 1989 debut album, wound the show, as well as this tenure of the Flecktones, up. Fleck promised the band would return in “another year,” but added, “We don’t exactly know when that year will be.”

king of leon

leon russell

It was on my 12the birthday that the music of Leon Russell first made itself at home in my head. Among my gifts that year was a 45 rpm record – you know, those two sided vinyl miniatures with the big hole in the middle – of Joe Cocker singing Cry Me a River.

The history of the song was unknown to me at the time. I knew nothing of its existence decades earlier as a hit for Ella Fitzgerald and Julie London. No, my introduction to Cry Me a River was through Cocker’s soul-blasted carnival version that transformed the tune into a brassy, gospel-tinged, psychedelic ragtime confessional.

While Cocker’s scorched vocals sold the arrangement, what hit me hardest was Russell’s piano work – specifically, the strides of boogie-woogie piano runs that served as the catalyst not only to this performance, but for Cocker’s entire Mad Dogs and Englishmen album, a chronicle of his ensemble tour with Russell earlier that year (1970).

Russell had enjoyed a hearty decade of recording studio work before the summit with Cocker. He played almost anonymously behind such pop stars of the day by The Byrds, Gary Lewis and the Playboys and even Glen Campbell. Another decade would pass before I would actually witness Russell in performance. That came by way of a 1979 Rupp Arena performance with Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris. By that time, Russell’s fierce Okie-bred pop-soul charge was already showing signs of settling down.

So it was during the ‘70s – particularly, the first half of the decade – that Russell’s signature music surfaced. In rapid succession came three career defining albums: Leon Russell (1970), Leon Russell and the Shelter People (1971) and Carney (1972).

The first boasted the titan piano ballad A Song For You, which would live on through the years thanks to cover recordings by celebrities like Frank Sinatra and Ray Charles. Shelter People then pushed the Mad Dogs and Englishman sound to the forefront with gospel-singed rockers like Crystal Closet Queen and Alcatraz.

1971 also saw the release of another live recording where he again worked as a sort of hired hand. For George Harrison’s all-star The Concert for Bangla Desh, Russell provided some tent revival-style pop-soul for a medley of Jumpin’ Jack Flash and Youngblood. Harrison, Eric Clapton and Bob Dylan sounded stately, regal and fine. Upon a renewed listening to the album last weekend, Russell’s set was positively primal in comparison.

Carney became the true breakthrough, though. Still perhaps Russell’s finest recorded work, it tempered his sound considerably. With exception of the rollicking Roller Derby, Russell’s new tunes were leaner, darker and vastly more contained. The modestly jovial Tightrope became a radio hit while the ballad This Masquerade would reappear four years later to redefine the career of pop-jazz star George Benson. But a fresh listen to Carney revealed the album-closing Magic Mirror as the most lasting highlight. It was a quiet portrait of lyrical (and perhaps personal) unrest recorded with only piano, a primitive electronic percussion beat and an atypically reflective variation of Russell’s by-now popular Okie drawl.

After that, the seemingly restless Russell began to experiment. He went country for a fine roots music cover collection, 1973’s critically lauded Hank Wilson’s Back, that, in retrospect, places the later Nelson collaboration in more appropriate perspective. 1974 brought a record of Mose Allison-style swing and blues, Stop All That Jazz, which triggered Russell’s first serious critical setback (“Stop all what jazz, Leon?” was the headline to Rolling Stone’s less-than-enchanted review). For 1975’s Will O’ The Wisp, he retreated to more streamlined pop pronouncements underscored by synthesizers and the multi-tracked backing vocals of soon-to-be wife Mary McCreary.

Russell was never a darling of the pop charts. Despite the popularity of Tightrope, Lady Blue and Back to the Island (the latter two came from Will O’ The Wisp), the closest thing he earned to a No. 1 hit was, curiously, a countrified cover of Heartbreak Hotel with Nelson in 1979 (it went as high as No. 2).

Following a wildly underappreciated foray into bluegrass with the New Grass Revival in 1981 (resulting in The Live Album and high speed string band readings of The Beatles’ I’ve Just Seen a Face and his own early ‘70s chestnut Prince of Peace), Russell went into a mode that would last for nearly 30 years. He recorded independently and toured constantly, content to play rock clubs instead of the arenas he headlined during the early ‘70s.

In the years to come, two other pop piano men stepped up to showcase the influence Russell has had upon their music. Bruce Hornsby co-produced 1992’s Anything Can Happen, furthering the fascination with electronic keyboard voices and creating at least one Russell classic in the process (No Man’s Land).

But the real renaissance began with 2010’s T Bone Burnett-produced The Union, a full, collaborative album with Elton John. It was not exactly a return to the wild, soul revival sound of decades past. After all, Russell turned 70 this year. But it was easily the finest recording either artist had put their name to in decades. The Union became a Top 5 hit, put Russell in front of TV audiences with John on Saturday Night Live and set the stage for a 2011 induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

“I just play,” Russell told London’s Telegraph newspaper prior to the release of The Union. “When it comes natural, you don’t know what unnatural is.”

Leon Russell and Tula perform at 8 p.m. April 29 at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom. 899 Manchester St. Tickets are $22 in advance, $25 day of show. Call (859) 368-8871.


The Boston Globe (Boston, MA) July 16, 2000 | Davis Bushnell, GLOBE CORRESPONDENT DRACUT – Even though Dracut residents voted overwhelmingly last month to repeal a longtime ban on self-service gas stations, service station operators are not exactly pumped up over the development.

These operators say they are pleased that, if the attorney general’s office goes along with the change, they will have the option to let customers pump their own gas, as do most of their counterparts across the state. However, they shy away from saying they’ll convert full-service pumps to self-service in short order.

Their equivocal responses raise a question: Why was the self- service ban, adopted probably before 1950 (no one knows exactly when), overturned after several previous attempts failed? The quick answer, suggested Jack DiTillio, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, “is that voters wanted to give gas stations a level playing field since other stations in the immediate area and across the border in New Hampshire have self-service.” Yet the appeal that full-service has here won’t disappear overnight, DiTillio and service station operators said, adding that the elderly in particular favor full service. About 4,000 of the town’s 22,000 residents are 65 years of age and older, according to the local Council On Aging.

“I’m not going to offer self-service because I don’t want to have to ask elderly people to pump their own gas in freezing weather,” said Jim Xinidakis, who has owned Jim’s Service Station, selling Sunoco products, for 35 years. in our site adp self service

Xinidakis said he’s not worried about his three competitors in Dracut. “I now have the lowest prices in Dracut, and I’ll be able to match any price changes at other stations,” he said. He currently charges $1.69 a gallon for regular.

The proposer of the bylaw repeal measure, Jay E. Calkins, owner of Jay’s Service Center since 1981, said he’s going “to talk to customers” before going the self-service route.

“I proposed that the ban on self-service be lifted because I felt it was a restraint of trade – that I and others should at least be given the opportunity to offer self-service when everyone around here offers it.” Only Kal Hamze, owner of Dracut Shell, said he’ll definitely provide self-service down the line. “Now I have a choice, and I’m going to convert six of my eight pumps to self-service. The other two will remain full-service.” The other service station operator in town, Tony Karouz of Dracut Citgo, couldn’t be reached for comment. web site adp self service

Last week, Town Clerk Gary McCarthy notified the state attorney general’s office of the June 12 Town Meeting vote repealing the prohibition on self-service stations. The AG’s office, which reviews all new bylaws and bylaw changes, has 90 days to make a ruling.

Only 16 of the state’s 351 cities and towns still prohibit self- service stations, according to the Massachusetts Petroleum Council. Arlington is among them, having had a self-service ban since 1983.

“Three years ago, there was an unsuccessful effort by some of the more than a dozen service station operators to repeal the bylaw,” said John Maher, Arlington town counsel. Fears about safety and that the elderly would be inconvenienced carried the day, he said.

However, over the last 10 years, when there has been the most dramatic increase in the number of self-service stations, their safety records “have been good,” state Fire Marshal Steve Coan said. “More advanced fire-suppression equipment has proved to be effective.” Fire safety was an issue, though, when he was Dracut’s fire chief, said Gerard Carle, who retired in 1985 after 19 years in the post. “And there were a lot more gas stations then – 12 to 14, at least.” If he hadn’t been away, he would have attended Town Meeting “and spoken against” doing away with the self-service ban, Carle said. “There are still issues such as serving elderly drivers and those with handicaps as well as preventing people from driving away with gas nozzles in their tanks.” The current fire chief, Joseph DiRocco, said that he had decided before last month’s Town Meeting “to let people decide what they wanted. But I still think it’s safer when service stations only offer full-service.

“Gas prices might be cheaper at first under self-service, but in the end, they’ll all be the same.” Noting that about 80 percent of his customers have told him they would line up to pump their own gas, Hamze said he figures he can offer them a price of $1.65 a gallon for regular gas, or 6 cents less than he is now charging. “I’ll then be competitive with dealers a mile away in Pelham [N.H.] and those in Lowell,” the Shell dealer said.

Calkins, who pushed hard for lifting the ban on self-service, said he could be persuaded to convert two of his 10 pumps to self- service. “As an independent – I buy my gas from Best Petroleum – I can do a lot of things. But I also want to do the right thing for my customers.” And he has changed his mind before, said Calkins, a director of the 600-member New England Service Station and Automotive Repair Association. “I started out being for self-service, but then, in the early 1980s, I fought to keep the self-service ban in effect in Dracut. I worried about the number of people who would be put out of work. However, times change – self-service stations are everywhere – and fire-prevention techniques today are much better.” Davis Bushnell, GLOBE CORRESPONDENT

in performance: eric church/brantley gilbert/blackberry smoke

eric church

With a backdrop of the ol’ red, white and blue behind him and a front line of four – count’ em, four – guitarists fortifying his very electric music, Eric Church painted a portrait last night that could have initially been pulled out of any other country concert at Rupp Arena. But instead of completing the scene with some generic, jingoistic anthem, Church churned out a tune called Pledge Allegiance to the Hag that honored the great country traditionalist Merle Haggard.

Of course, the music, the performance – shoot, the entire evening, for that matter – operated a few dozen light years away from country music tradition. Bolstered by metal-singed guitar crunch and a tireless performance demeanor, Church’s set had more in common with a Slayer concert than a demonstration of vintage or even contemporary country.

There was something refreshingly unapologetic about the approach, too. Last night’s show seemed geared clearly toward the rowdy, Hank Williams, Jr. set. And judging by the turnout, it seemed to hit the mark. Attendance topped the 13,000 mark – an almost unheard of figure for a young artist on his first headlining arena tour. But Church’s performance was vastly heavier, tighter and more streamlined than a Williams outing.

The show-opening Country Music Jesus was typical of the approach. It began with Church alone onstage, strumming a dark, folkish melody before his band’s chunky, thunderous support kicked in. Then, just to assure you this was indeed no Merle Haggard concert, came gusts of flame from the stage floor.

The Haggard reference seemed quite genuine. But Church clearly saw country as something more abrupt and forceful yet still orderly. That explained the metal-friendly I’m Getting Stoned and the beefier, guitar-centric How ‘Bout That. Only mid-tempo semi-ballads like Carolina and Hungover and Hard Up even remotely slowed the performance’s volume and pace.

Show opener Blackberry Smoke opted for a very different electric route. In both looks and sound, the Georgia ensemble seemed to have stepped directly out of the early ‘70s. Its music favored blues jams, recalling the heyday of Southern mainstay The Allman Brothers Band. Not surprisingly, a verse of the Allmans hit Midnight Rider was inserted into the original Sleeping Dog LIe.

In another welcome switch from most modern country shows where acts pay heed to “influences” that go no deeper than classic rock radio, the decidedly rockish Blackberry Smoke showcased its roots by going purely country, as in a snippet of the Willie Nelson staple Whiskey River that neatly prefaced Son of the Bourbon.

Middle act Brantley Gilbert was odd man out last night. Known more as a writer than a stage artist (he penned the Jason Aldean hits My Kinda Party and Dirt Road Anthem, both of which were performed last night), Gilbert piloted a hard rock country sound often seemed quite contrived. The big problem? The singing. Gilbert came off as a tepid vocalist that never came close to matching the bravado of his band.

A footnote: this was the first country show in recent memory where none of the three acts included fiddle or pedal steel guitar in their instrumental lineups. Given how so many Nashville artists today utilize these instruments as little more than ornamental devices, this wasn’t much of a loss. This was a night where arena-sized guitar rock, regardless of the country billing, clearly ruled.

chief church

eric church. photo by john peets.

 As he outlines the specifics of his first headlining tour, the very rock-savvy country stylist Eric Church cites an inspiration that seems, well, unexpected – Iron Maiden. I then assure him that in all of my years of writing, he stands as the first country artist to reference the veteran metal band in an interview.

“I’ll probably be the last, too,” replied the North Carolina bred singer, who performs tonight at Rupp Arena.

The Iron Maiden parallel isn’t what you might expect. Admittedly, Church’s boozy, bluesy songs are delivered at a high, electric volume that sometimes makes him indistinguishable from a conventional arena rock act. But the singer’s reference is a technical one. Distaining the usual practice of employing video screens at arena shows, Church said he is borrowing a trick Iron Maiden used once on tour that involved a variety of backdrops to illustrate specific songs and show segments.

“Even though we know some people wish we would, we don’t use video screens. I just don’t want people to have to go to a show and, in effect, watch TV from the audience the whole night. If you do that, you might as well be at home watching the show on CMT.

“I remember when I use to go to concerts, regardless of where I was sitting, I loved seeing the whole stage. I loved the lights. I loved seeing the movement of the band and feeling the entire presentation. So what we borrowed from Iron Maiden was this whole thing with the backdrops. They run on this sort of old school pulley system, but it’s really neat. It will be interesting to see what fans at Rupp think.”

Church talks about Rupp as if he knows it. And he does. He played there twice before as an opening act. His most recent visit was last year for a sold out show by headliner Jason Aldean. But the first goes back to 2007 when he played on a bill with Bob Seger. Though decidedly not a country artist, the veteran Detroit rocker has many country fans. Church is one of them.

“To this day, opening for Seger was the coolest thing I’ve done in my career. Those 25 or 30 shows I did with him… I remember every one of them. That was pretty early in my career.”

Indeed so. Reception to Church’s debut album, 2006’s Sinners Like Me, was strong enough to land him a support slot on a series of arena shows by country-pop stars Rascal Flatts. But when his opening sets ran too long, he was dismissed from the tour. Then came Seger.

“We had just gotten fired from the Flatts tour, so we went from this big production with video screens and the glitz and all of this ‘look at me, look at me’ to Bob just walking out onstage. He had lights and sound and then didn’t stop for two hours. I mean, some of his hits are older than I am. But to his audience, these are all brand new No. 1 singles. That really taught me a lot about the power of making great music that lasts.”

Sinners Like Me and the 2009 follow-up Carolina established Church as a worthy successor to the school of countrified Southern rock. But in formulating his musical voice, styles and influences came from just about anywhere.

“I loved The Band. I loved Little Feat. I loved the slinkiness of their records. But I didn’t discover them until I was in college, when you’re exposed to all kinds of eclectic stuff. Growing up, I listened to country. But you couldn’t ride around town without hearing AC/DC, Metallica, Seger, Tom Petty or (Bruce) Springsteen. When I got to college, I discovered singer-songwriters. For me, it was Kris Kristofferson. The way a lot of people feel about Dylan is how I feel about Kristofferson.

“Then when I started playing in a band five nights a week, things really opened up. I got into all the bluegrass stuff – Doc Watson, Tony Rice. Then came the jam bands – Phish and Widespread Panic. So I hope we can keep making records that are representative of having a lot of different influences.”

The catalyst for Church’ newest success – a popularity that has taken him from opening act to arena headliner – is Chief, his third and newest album. The record fine tunes assorted ‘70s-style rock and country flavors in both its music (like the meshing of Tom Petty and Johnny Paycheck on Drink in My Hand, which last winter became Church’s first No. 1 hit) and its themes (as in Springsteen, a direct ode to one very specific inspiration).

”I hate the process of making a record,” Church admitted. “I love the result, but making a record just consumes my life. I go completely nuts. It’s almost paralyzing. When a record is done, there is just this huge release. So when Chief was done, I stuck it in the truck and listened to it from start to finish. It felt alive. It had a heartbeat.

“I hope people respect the fact that I’m nowhere near ready to make a new record. That is going to be a ways down the line. I pretty much emptied the tank on this one.”

Eric Church, Brantley Gilbert and Blackberry Smoke perform at 7:30 p.m. April 27 at Rupp Arena. Tickets are $34.75-$42.50. Call (800) 745-3000, (859) 233-3535.

critic's pick 225

“Getting old might make you wiser, like they say it should,” sings Loudon Wainwright III at the conclusion his very sagely new Older Than My Old Man Now album. “But getting old’s just getting old, and old ain’t much damn good.”

Over the course of 15 songs – some deeply sardonic, others quietly poetic and a few downright frightening – the veteran songsmith ruminates on mortality, family and the uncomfortably beautiful ways both are linked.

Wainwright has covered some of this ground before, but never so comprehensively. He approaches family this time by singing about his parents with other members of his very musical clan by his side. Life, death and, yes, sex – they all get their say on Older Than My Old Man Now. But nothing here sounds weighty, not even starker remembrances like All in a Family (sung with the late night accompaniment of accordion and vocals from daughter Lucy Wainwright Roche) and The Days That We Die (that spins from an opening 1981 narrative penned by the singer’s late father, Life Magazine columnist Loudon Wainwright, Jr., to an elegiac treatise on fragile family relations with son Rufus Wainwright).

In typical Wainwright fashion, there is abundant humor throughout the album, especially when the songs shift from family to fleeting mortality. Double Lifetime (which enlists ageless folk troubadour Ramblin’ Jack Elliott) begs for a complete mortal makeover, My Meds ponders better senior life through pharmaceuticals and Ghost Blues offers a glance back at a weary life from the hereafter.

But the highlight of the mortal musings is I Remember Sex, a flat out hysterical remembrance of more mischievous times by an aged couple. Wainwright sings the part of the husband, comedian Dame Edna Everage plays the wife and bright strains of parlor piano serve as their only accompaniment. “A thing that we all thought about,” Wainwright sings of the subject matter, “and all that we thought of; that distant crazy cousin to the scary thing called love.”

The title tune, which again opens with the recitation of an essay by Loudon Jr., places all these adventures in context. As the title implies, the song honors a milestone that father Wainwright didn’t attain while at the same time realizing just how fleeting Loudon III’s own time on earth has become.

“I wasn’t sure the day would come,” Wainwright sings. “I’d been living under his thumb. But I don’t feel so free. I don’t even feel like me, now that there is no race left to run.”

Older Than My Old Man Now’s regularly brilliant music comes instilled with reflections of a wistful past, becomes anchored by family visions of the present and future and yet still remains open to humor that is never less than human.

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wing man

laurence juber

Even if you don’t recognize the name of Laurence Juber, you have undoubtedly heard his music. He has scored numerous television documentaries and has had his music featured in nearly three decades worth of film soundtracks, from Dirty Dancing to Good Will Hunting to The Muppets.

But here is the resume buster. Juber has also been in the service of a Beatle. He was guitarist in Paul McCartney’s final lineup of Wings and is featured on what is perhaps the band’s most underappreciated album, 1979’s Back to the Egg.

A masterful finger style guitarist, Juber has recorded over 20 solo albums while moonlighting as a studio musician on recordings by such disparate artists as Seal, Dan Hicks and Barry Manilow. He also interpreted a solo guitar version of Henry Mancini’s immortal Pink Panther Theme for the Grammy winning Mancini tribute album, Pink Guitar.

The former Wing-man will land in Central Kentucky twice in the days head. He headlines a Wednesday performance at the Kentucky Coffeetree Café, 235 W. Broadway in Frankfort (7 p.m., $20). He swings back through Lexington next week for Monday’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour (7 p.m., $10).

Expect Juber’s performance focus to be on his new Soul of Light album, which offers newly recorded solo guitar readings of songs from throughout his solo career. While Juber has devoted entire albums to the music of artists ranging from The Beatles to Harold Arlen, Soul of Light’s retrospective repertoire sticks exclusively to original compositions.

Call (502) 875-3009 for ticket information on tonight’s Frankfort performance. Call (859) 252-8888 for WoodSongs reservations.

Sears department heads shown the exit

Chicago Sun-Times March 29, 2005 | Sandra Guy Four top Sears Roebuck and Co. executives were let go and a fifth will retire in the first wave of top-level job cuts after Kmart Corp.’s $12.3 billion takeover of Sears was approved last week.

The heads of Sears Roebuck’s human resources, public relations, information technology and customer direct (Sears’ catalog and online sales) will be replaced in the hierarchy of the new Sears Holdings Corp., according to an internal memo released Monday.

Two will be replaced by Kmart executives.

Bill Bass, who worked as both senior vice president of e-commerce at Lands’ End and as head of Sears’ online and catalog operations, will be replaced by Kmart’s Chris Shimojima, who becomes general manager of online and catalog sales for Sears Holdings.

Garry Kelly, who became Sears Roebuck’s chief information technology officer in October 2002, will be replaced by Kmart’s Karen Austin as CIO.

Two others will be replaced by their former employees at Sears Roebuck.

Bob O’Leary, who became head of public relations and government affairs in July 2003, will be replaced by Edgar “Ted” McDougal. here sears coupon code

Greg Lee, who left Whirlpool to become head of Sears’ human resources in December 2000, will be replaced by Bob Luse.

A fifth executive, William White III, executive vice president of store operations and a 34-year Sears veteran, will retire. White was general manager of Sears Roebuck’s specialty stores, including appliance and hardware stores and the Orchard Supply chain.

The duties of White and Jerry Post, who also is retiring and who led Sears’ move to build standalone stores away from malls, have been parceled out to others.

Catherine David, whom Sears named to lead its Great Indoors home- decor chain last July, will take over Sears’ two other stand-alone formats, Sears Essentials and Sears Grand.

Rob Lynch, who previously reported to White, will become general manager of the Orchard Supply hardware chain.

One key executive will report to a new boss. Luis Padilla, whom Sears hired from Marshall Field’s to fill the crucial role of merchandising guru, will now report to Aylwin Lewis, Kmart’s former CEO who is now president of Sears Holdings and CEO of Kmart and Sears Retail. web site sears coupon code

Padilla previously reported to Sears CEO Alan Lacy, who is now the CEO of Sears Holdings.

Separately, the Fitch debt-ratings agency on Monday downgraded to junk the new Sears Holdings Corp.’s $2.7 billion in domestic, unsecured debt.

The operations of Kmart Corp. and Sears Roebuck and Co. are the only assets supporting the debt; no physical assets back it up.

The two-notch downgrade was caused by several factors, including Sears’ and Kmart’s inability to stem falling sales, the tough competition they face from fast-growing rivals such as Target and Wal- Mart, and the risks that Kmart’s $12.3 billion takeover of Sears will be so distracting that it will worsen the two retailers’ store operations and customer service, said Fitch analyst Philip Zahn.

“It reflects there’s more risk inherent in the new Sears Holdings Corp. than was previously the case at Sears Roebuck and Co. [alone],” Zahn said.

Sears Holdings aims to convert 400 Kmart stores in the next three years to Sears Essentials, a new convenience format that will combine the top-selling brands of Sears Roebuck and Kmart.

Executives believe their strategy can increase sales by $200 million while cutting costs by $300 million.

Also Monday, Sears Holdings announced preliminary results showing that about 95 percent of Sears Roebuck shareholders chose to hold shares in the new company, which will remain headquartered in Hoffman Estates. The rest chose cash.

Sears retirees and shareholder dissidents who opposed Kmart’s takeover of the 119-year-old Sears Roebuck said last week that they wanted to keep some stock in the new company so they could continue to air their grievances at shareholder meetings.

Sandra Guy

in performance: mark o’connor

mark o'connor

Even in a performance setting that is more like a classroom than a concert stage, Mark O’ Connor is nothing if not resourceful.

When technical problems briefly interrupted last night’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Kentucky Theatre, where O’Connor was the featured guest, host Michael Johnathon asked the Grammy winning fiddler if he had a two minute jig he could play to fill the recovery time. With typical efficiency, O’Connor and piano accompanist Melissa Tong dispatched an impromptu but eloquently merry Rippling Water Jig. It clocked in, by my watch, at about 95 seconds. Filling dead air time never sounded so grand.

O’Connor is one of the rare, remarkable artists that Lexington is gifted to hear in performance every year or so. But never is the musical setting the same. Just in past WoodSongs appearances alone, he has performed with his swing jazz trio and his Americana-based chamber group, the Appalachia Waltz Trio. Last night, he had Tong as his lone touring companion but enlisted a troop of nine student fiddlers from Lexington’s Carwile String Studio (along with proprietors Dan and Amy Carwile). The purpose was to showcase the instructional violin method O’Connor has developed utilizing a repertoire of American folk-based standards as opposed to familiar European classical works.

The first half of the program was devoted exclusively to duet performances with Tong on works from O’Connor’s new American Classics album. Performances of Rubber Dolly Rag and Old Folks at Home were deceptively accessible. They maintained a light but formal parlor-like feel with O’Connor’s clean, stately tone fully in charge. But when he slipped in a delicacy like Stephane Grappelli’s Daphne, you saw discreet levels of technique emerge. Ditto for Simple Gifts, where O’Connor’s tone briefly tightened into thicker, accordion-like runs.

The second half of the program enlisted the Carwile students for compositions that sported lovely ensemble passages accented by subtle but luminous solo work from O’Connor. Especially appealing were arrangements of Amazing Grace and Appalachia Waltz that put the Americana influences that have long been abundant in O’Connor’s playing (inspirations, in fact, that thrive further within his violin method) on brilliant display.

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 “It’s been an incredibly busy year.”

With that summation of activities, one has no choice but to interrupt Mark O’Connor and pose this question to him.

“When was the last time you experienced a year that wasn’t incredibly busy?”

That sends the usually soft-spoken O’Connor into laughter. But the truly funny thing is the Grammy-winning fiddler, composer, performance artist and educator can actually pinpoint an answer.

“Around age 22,” he said. “I don’t think I was doing much that year.”

That was around the time O’Connor was setting out on a career that would simultaneously make him one of Nashville’s most visible studio musicians and a solo artist crafting albums that ran the stylistic extremes from fusion to bluegrass to country to classical.

The latter field has kept O’Connor especially occupied over the past two decades. He helped forge a prestigious merger of chamber and Americana music on 1996’s Appalachia Waltz and then amassed a library of compositions ranging from fiddle concertos to string quartets to full symphonies. Oh, yes. He also played swing music – the kind immortalized by one of his mentors, the great French violinist Stephane Grappelli – on the side.

Such adventurous compositional and performance activity has very much changed the way contemporary audiences listen to fiddle music. But of late, O’Connor has also been changing the way people play it, as well.

He has just released the third instructional book detailing the O’Connor Method, a means of violin instruction that, unlike older and more widely utilized learning systems like the Suzuki Method, draws its inspiration from American music – specially, scores of fiddle tunes, folk material, pre-bluegrass country songs and more.

Also new is the aptly titled American Classics album, a recording of fiddle and violin duets that highlights the repertoire featured in the third O’Connor Method book.

“I was always hoping that, at some point, I was going to release a professional CD from my Method,” said O’Connor, who will put his Method on display at Monday’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Kentucky Theatre.

“I felt the recording is another message that I wanted to put out there, one that boasted, especially to teachers, that this American music method, even at intermediate levels, is still professional music. It’s ready for the stage. There is nothing that prevents a professional musician from walking onstage and playing my transcription of Deep River or Old Folks at Home or Simple Gifts.

“But it offers a great message for students, too. It says that this is not just kids’ music or beginners’ music. This is music that professional musicians have historically played.”

O’Connor has invested much of the past seven years not only in designing the O’Connor Method, but in promoting it. His WoodSongs performance, for example, teams him with pianist Melissa Tong as well as with Lexington violin students from the Carwile String Studio. He has also collaborated in classrooms and with youth orchestras in bringing the O’Connor Method to life.

“It’s almost like any other project I’ve done,” O’Connor said. “I have a mixed bag of feelings. I always hope things can move faster and that people can become involved with the Method more quickly. Then when I put my objective hat on, I realize that everything has really gone quite far in a fairly short period of time.

“What I’m basically trying to create is a school of music that uses our entire American string language. It doesn’t choose bluegrass over old-time music or jazz over Texas fiddling. It’s not designed to indoctrinate students by saying, ‘Okay, you’re going to be a bluegrass player.’ The essence of this string method is to make sure they can play well. And once they play well, they can make their own choice about what direction to go in.”

The O’Connor Method, however, represents only one of the components of the fiddler’s most recent “incredibly busy year.” Others include premieres of an improvised violin concerto (“the symphony orchestra part is completely scored, but the solo violin line is made up on the spot”) and an orchestral overture titled Queen Anne’s Revenge (“Blackbird’s ship was discovered recently off the coast of North Carolina, so I wanted to immortalize that event”).

“You could argue that the 18th and 19th centuries belonged at the music that exploded out of Europe,” O’Connor said. “But you can also make a great case that the 21st century is not going to follow suit. This is the American century of music. And my biggest responsibly, especially with my method, is to make sure that string playing is relevant to music – not just to Mozart or even old-time music but to music that happens right now.”

Mark O’Connor performs at 7 p.m. April 23 at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Admission is $15. Call (859) 252-8888.

Geoffrey Jennings: lawyer/bookseller wary of e-books, loyal to print.(CHANGE MAKERS)

Publishers Weekly February 23, 2009 | Kirch, Claire [ILLUSTRATION OMITTED] “I’m 40, right in the middle of Gen X; I can look forward at all the people younger than me, how they read, how they use technology, and I can look back at older readers, and how they’re using it,” declares Geoffrey Jennings, a bookseller at Rainy Day Books, the independent bookstore his mother, Vivien Jennings, owns in Fairway, Kans., a Kansas City suburb. here chinese food menu

“Customers look to the book in all its multiple formats. They want to be able to experience all of those different things,” Jennings insists. “But it all comes back to that one original product: the [printed] book.” While his sentiments are certainly not unusual among those in the book-retailing business, Jennings is not your run-of-the-mill bookseller. Not only does he claim to read two or three books every night at a rate of 300 pages per hour, but he holds both an M.B.A. from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a law degree from the University of Oklahoma.

Almost seven years ago, Jennings gave up his thriving solo practice specializing in small businesses to work the floor as a bookseller at Rainy Day, when he’s not representing the retailer as its corporate counsel. Rainy Day, launched by Ms. Jennings in 1975 as a 450-sq.-ft. used bookstore, has transformed into a full-service general bookstore occupying a 6,000-square-foot building that “easily grosses seven-figures” in revenues each year. The store is renowned for hosting upward of 250 author events annually, with audiences ranging from 50 to a record 3,000.

His business savvy and legal background come in handy for Jennings’s personal mission: to vociferously advocate for traditional print books in a rapidly changing industry focused on digitizing content for consumer use on Kindles, Sony Readers, even cellphones.

The publishing industry is “definitely having to adjust to alternate revenue streams and alternate outlets for books,” Jennings admits. In the next breath, however, he describes the trend toward making literary content available to readers in digital formats as “a problem” that will not add to, but will, instead, detract from publishers’ revenue streams.

“Once you flip something into electronic media, there’s nothing to stop someone who has the electronic version of the document from doing knock-offs back into the traditional form,” Jennings argues, pointing out that while this might not be feasible in the U.S. because of the economies of scale, it would be possible elsewhere.

“What’s to prevent someone from taking the e-book version of the latest James Patterson, knocking off 200,000 copies and selling them in the Hong Kong airport?” he asks. “Publishers haven’t thought much about piracy. It’s not sexy.” It’s really all about the actual book, Jennings maintains, suggesting that publishers would create a more viable business model if consumers were compelled to purchase the print edition, rather than purchasing only the cheaper electronic versions.

Purchasing a book should not be like “ordering off a Chinese food menu,” he says. “You can’t just say, ‘I want the $2 version for my Kindle, because the $25 hardcover is too expensive.’ Publishers can’t afford that. Nobody can make any money off that.” Emphasizing that the customer’s initial book purchase would have to include the e-book version and/or the audiobook, because “they aren’t going to keep paying for it,” Jennings points out that the retail price for this bundled product would have to remain the same to make his proposal viable from the consumer’s perspective, with the book’s format as either a hardcover or a paperback affecting its price. Hardcover sales would provide immediate access to electronic versions, and paperback sales would offer later availability. “Publishers are all trying to adapt,” Jennings insists. “But they’re failing to take into account we’re not all going to shift to e-books.” Despite Jennings’s contention that publishers are “cutting their own throats by disconnecting the revenue stream,” when it comes down to it, he remains optimistic about the future of the industry. web site chinese food menu

“Independent booksellers close the loop between readers and books,” he says. “And they do it better than anyone else. No amount of technology, no amount of money, no amount of hype is going to defeat being able to close that loop.” Profile Name: Geoffrey Jennings Age: 40 Job: corporate counsel/bookseller, Rainy Day Books, Fairway, Kans.

First job: Salesclerk, Peaches Audio Video, Kansas City, Mo., 1984-1986 Publishing in the future will be … “similar to what publishing is now. The difference is, a small percentage of the market will deliver content through electronic media.” Kirch, Claire

in performance: iris dement

iris dement.

“I’ve got nothing else to do,” remarked Iris DeMent as she returned for an encore last night at First Presbyterian Church. “You’re the only friends I have in Lexington.”

Admittedly, the patrons at this solo concert (a benefit for Habitat for Humanity) became fast friends with DeMent and her richly literate but staunchly traditional country-folk songs. But it was a sheepish, if not altogether telling remark.

In performance, DeMent let loose with a voice that’s half dust bowl wail and half country croon. It’s big, emotive and arresting. Out of the spotlight and between songs, however, she spoke in often self deprecating terms in a tone that registered barely above a mumble. And in a few rare instances last night, those two personas collided.

Case in point: Morning Glory, one of several new tunes pulled from recording sessions conducted over the winter with Richard Bennett and Bo Ramsey producing. (DeMent said a resulting album, her first in eight years, is due out in September.) Like much of the new material, it was bright and confident, fitting DeMent’s buoyant vocals around parlor-style piano rolls so steeped in Americana tradition that they could pass for Randy Newman melodies.

But the singer seemed almost apologetic after the tune concluded. “We recorded that with a horn section. Man, was I missing that tonight. But you can only do what you can do.”

For the run of the 1 ¾ hour performance, DeMent made do very well, digging into only a select number of early favorites (the show opening Sweet is the Melody, the set closing heartbreaker Our Town), the occasional cover (a hymn like reading of Lefty Frizzell’s That’s the Way Love Goes) and even a few comparatively recent originals that mimicked the construction and content of traditional spirituals (He Reached Down).

During the more powerful vocal moments, DeMent matched the authority of any number of country classicists. In quieter, more plaintive sections, her singing strongly recalled Emmylou Harris. The only thing working against DeMent was the hall itself. The church provided wonderful intimacy and atmospherics, but also an unavoidable echo that robbed some of the performance of its vocal clarity.

Overall, that’s a minor gripe. But given the unspoiled and immensely reflective detail of DeMent’s songs, especially the newer ones, missing even a few words seemed a crime. 

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