Archive for July, 2012

critic’s pick 237

The tip-off came late last year with an EP disc called Sacred Fire. It introduced the unlikely alliance of reggae star Jimmy Cliff and Rancid chieftain Tim Armstrong. With the latter as producer, it used a mere five songs to rekindle the firepower of the former’s music.

First, it revealed Cliff’s angelic tenor voice to be in prime form. If anything, the few audible shades of age suggested a worldly, sagely tone. Then there was the material, music that underscored the social fabric that has always run through Cliff’s finest recordings. One tune in particular – a light, acoustic but very arresting reading of The Clash’s Guns of Brixton – was especially telling. The song’s lyrics referenced The Harder They Come, the great reggae-fied film forged in the shanty towns and slums of West Kingston 40 years ago. Its soundtrack introduced Cliff to the world.

Guns of Brixton, a ska-centric version of Rancid’s more personally political Ruby Soho and the beautifully summery Cliff original Ship is Sailing are reprised on Rebirth, Cliff’s first full-length record in eight years and his finest in over two decades. It’s also one the top contenders so far for Summer Album of the Year.

Sure, Armstrong’s production is sympathetic, supportive and tasteful. Sure, the songs are vital and complimentary throughout. One listen to the album-opening World Upside Down – a track as ska-savvy as Ruby Soho but bolstered by tales of global class clashing – will tell you that. But the proof is all in Cliff’s voice. It retains the same robust, uplifting clarity that ignited hits from The Harder They Come during the early ‘70s. You hear that kind of gospel-esque hope at once in One More, which Cliff, at age 67, has been performing with youthful gusto on the late night TV circuit for over a year. He also wails with urgency during Children’s Bread as the punctuated melody flies in the face of the tune’s storyline of social unrest (“they took the children’s s bread and gave it to the dogs”). This is music for the head and heart as well as the feet.

But on Blessed Love, Cliff’s message of healing and thanksgiving simply overwhelms. Riding on perhaps Rebirth’s most patient reggae melody, Cliff sings with the cheer of an evangelist, the honesty of a bluesman and the drive of a master soul stylist. As such, the song becomes a reggae anthem of Bob Marley-like proportions. Like the rest of Rebirth, it returns Cliff not just to a rightful place among the reggae elite but to the very throne of pop-soul royalty. This is, in all respects, a summer album for the ages.

in performance: tres hongos

tres hongos: marc riordan, frank rosaly and jacob wick.

Throughout its fine two-set Outside the Spotlight performance last night at the Embrace Church on North Limestone, the members of the free jazz trio Tres Hongos operated very much as free agents.

Their playing surfaced in the forms of separate musical monologues. Sometimes they seemed to answer one another through a series of sparse but often dramatically colorful phrases. Mostly, though, the voices seemed solitary, complete and very self-sustaining.

Chicago drummer Frank Rosaly (a veteran of numerous OTS performances with various ensembles over the years) was the most dominate. An active, playful and, quite often, physically involving soloist, his playing was in constant motion, from the chatter he summoned out of smacking dishes and gongs on drum heads to brief colors of thumb piano to segments where he played the snare with his hands like a bongo. Sustained grooves were absent almost entirely from his playing (and from the overall construction of the six untitled improvisations that made up the concert). Instead, the percussive strides Rosaly created were like scattered speeches. Some were contemplative, others were purposely unsettling. All were continually inventive.

Oakland trumpeter Jacob Wick seemed almost introverted in comparison. Each of the trio members sat out for brief sections of the performance. Wick seemed to stay silent the most. But his playing was nonetheless arresting, especially during long, whispery passages seemingly played through the trumpet’s mouthpiece that created an odd, but absorbing ambience. Such static-like abstractions recalled the work of the German horn man Axel Dorner (another OTS vet). When Wick’s playing opened up, it was still presented in economical bursts that recalled – in phrasing more than tone – Miles Davis’ mid ‘60s recordings.

What gave this OTS performance a clear level of distinction was the presence of piano, although the musician manning it, Chicagoan Marc Riordan, has appeared in previous shows in the series as a drummer (including a December 2009 date by Fast Citizens, where he subbed, oddly enough, for Rosaly). But in terms of temperament, he followed Tres Hongos’ less-is-more concept, coloring passages with clipped but colorful phrases and brief runs that shifted from riotous free jazz thrillseeking to more lyrical, plaintive embellishments that brought pioneering piano improviser Matthew Shipp to mind.

The church played a keen role in the performance, as well. The acoustics were splendid (the entire performance was unamplified) while the intimacy of the setting allowed the meager-sized audience to give the challenging improvisations Tres Hongos delved into the active attention they deserved.

jon lord, 1941-2012

jon lord.

At the core of Deep Purple sat the keyboard work of Jon Lord. Caught somewhere between the prog-rock melee of the early ‘70s, the blues music he was infatuated with and, when given enough latitude, some classical playfulness, Lord’s playing always possessed a human yet scholarly quality.

Sure, when we think of Deep Purple today and the ‘70s hits that defined the band – Highway Star, Space Truckin’ and, of course, Smoke of the Water, our ears usually tune to the guitar hooks of Ritchie Blackmore. But Lord was always in the engine room, fleshing out the scalding melodies to the band’s more ambitious hits (1973’s Woman from Tokyo comes to mind). And he was continually in sync with Deep Purple’s three guitar warriors – Blackmore, the late Tommy Bolin and present day Purple fretman Steve Moore, who Lord played behind until his retirement from the group in 2002. He could solo like a madman on Hammond organ in the old days, but the keyboard/guitar communion he instigated within the band was one of the keys to its artistic drive.

Lord died earlier today from a pulmonary embolism suffered following extended treatment for pancreatic cancer. He was 71.

It would easy to recommend Deep Purple classics like 1972’s Machine Head, 1973’s Who Do We Think We Are or the over-the-top 1973 live album Made in Japan for proper insights to Lord’s gift of keyboard gab. But to really dig into the full extent of his compositional and well as instrumental ingenuity, try tracking down the import pressing of his three movement Gemini Suite that teamed Deep Purple with the orchestral support of the Light Music Society cut during a performance from September 1970.

Yes, the classical/rock hybrid work is a dated indulgence. But it also presents a brilliant and often underappreciated rock journeyman defying all sense of stylistic convention. And what better legacy can you hope for than that?

song for woody

woody guthrie.

In honor of the lasting majesty of Guthrie’s music, we are pleased to pass along a link to a live version of California Stars the band currently has posted on its website.

In honor of the lasting majesty of Guthrie’s music, we are pleased to pass along a link to a live version of California Stars the band currently has posted on its website.

California Stars is probably the best known tune Wilco forged out of previously unpublished Guthrie lyrics. Having first appeared on Mermaid Avenue, its outstanding 1998 collaborative album with folk activist Billy Bragg, California Stars remains a staple of the band’s concert repertoire.

This particular version, recorded last weekend (specifically, June 8) near the band’s home base of Chicago, also has Andrew Bird adding a beautifully rustic country sway on violin.

Wilco performs tonight to close out the Forecastle festival. Andrew Bird will visit Lexington for a concert at the Singletary Center for the Arts on Sept. 29.

roger wilco, forecastle

wilco: patrick sansone, mikael jorgensen, jeff tweedy, nels cline, glenn kotche and john stiratt.

The onstage differences between an indoor concert and an outdoor festival are, understandably, numerous. Everything from sound mixes to the very songs that are played can shift drastically. Just ask University of Kentucky graduate Glenn Kotche, who is experiencing both perspectives this summer as drummer for Forecastle co-headliner Wilco.

“They’re just completely different animals,” Kotche said.

“Let’s say we’re doing a tour of theatres and larger indoor venues and there is a festival or an outdoor gig thrown in. We get so used to having that pristine sound from a theatre. Then we go outside. Typically at festivals there are no soundchecks. So when we walk on to play our set, it will be the first time we’re onstage with our gear that whole day.

“There is a lot to get used to for everybody – for the monitor man and for the front-of-house engineers – to get everything to where you feel comfortable with what you hear. So it’s radically different from playing indoors. It can be a bit stressful, too. Sometimes, you just hold on for dear life at these bigger festivals.”

An outdoor show or festival set can also dictate the music an act will perform, especially if that artist is – like Wilco – a band that mixes full-volume rock tunes with quieter, more reflectively pensive material. That kind of stylistic variance is plentiful on Wilco’s newest album, The Whole Love.

“It’s really an eclectic record,” Kotche said. “When we play indoors, we can kind of do whatever we want from it. But when we play in Louisville, some of the new songs are just going to be too fragile to translate – songs like Black Moon, Rising Red Lung and even One Sunday Morning. Those would be pretty tough to pull off in a festival situation. So we’ll have to wait until we come back through Louisville or Lexington for an indoor show to play those.”

When Wilco’s touring slows down later this year, Kotche will shift his artistic focus to his own music. A new solo recording is near completion. It will include compositions he has penned for Kronos Quartet as well as collaborations with the Chicago chamber group Eighth Blackbird and the Massachusetts Institute of Techncology’s Balinese ensemble Gamelan Galak Tica. “There’s some electronic tinkering on it as well,” he said. A new recording with his part-time duo On Fillmore is also in the works.

But for now, Kotche and Wilco are roaring through the great outdoors. And that means not only a different sound and set list from indoor performances, but also a different audience feel.

“The reception can depend on the venue, the city or simply when you’re playing,” Kotche said. “If you are the last act on the last day (which is exactly where Wilco sits on the Forecastle schedule), sometimes people are just worn out. Or if it’s an especially big festival, you may not necessarily be playing to your crowd. It’s not like an indoor show where everyone is there to see you. It keeps you on your toes.”

Wilco performs today with Neko Case, Clutch, Beats Antique, Ben Sollee, Deer Tick, Charles Bradley and his Extraordinaires, Cloud Nothings, Mike Doughty and others at Forecastle at Waterfront Park, 300 East River Rd. in Louisville. Tickets are $57, $65. For more info, go to  http://forecastlefest.com.

tales of forecastle and bunbury

forecastle at fever pitch in 2010.

Every artistic event, from the most intimate performance to the most formidable of festivals, requires some degree of time to formulate audience and community support.

Take Louisville’s Forecastle festival. Today it exists as one of the region’s most prominent music and arts summits, a three-day event that attracts tens of thousands of patrons and some of the most critically lauded acts in the business. But it began 10 years ago as nothing more than a neighborhood gathering with a budget of about $300.

Then we have the Bunbury Music Festival, which is introducing itself in Cincinnati as a full-blown, weekend-long entity without any growth period at all. But its organizer has overseen other prominent festivals and outdoor arts-related projects for the city. From those endeavors – and about two years worth of planning – he knew exactly what he and, hopefully, Cincinnati wanted out of a festival.

What is curious, though, is that both festivals will take over their respective cities this weekend. While some might say separate events in separate cities will translate into separate audiences, summertime festivals traditionally appeal almost as much to the vacationing rocker and the road-tripping music enthusiast as to the locals.

“It’s tough finding that perfect weekend during the summer,” said Forecastle founder JK McKnight. “I get asked that question all the time. ‘Why don’t you do it at the end of June… or in May or September?’ The truth is there really isn’t that much room. There are so many festivals during the summer. And you just can’t look at festivals within, say, a 300 mile radius. You have to look at what is going on nationally.”

“I’ll tell you the real reason this weekend was picked,” said Bunbury founder Bill Donabedian. “Yeatman’s Cove (the region of Cincinnati’s Sawyer Point Park where Bunbury will be held) was booked in some way, shape or form by a legacy event every weekend of the summer except for this one. It was really our only option. But I announced my dates a year ago. I told everybody we were coming.”

Forecastle redux: This year’s 10th anniversary Forecastle event may come as a mild surprise because there was no official ninth year event, save for the more modest Halfway to Forecastle. That was staged last summer primarily as a reminder that the full flown festival was getting an overhaul.

In 2011, McKnight teamed with the Knoxville-based AC Entertainment, the organization behind, among other high-profile concert gatherings, Bonnaroo. That event is widely viewed as the template for the modern day music festival.  But the partnership was solidified too late to organize a 2011 Forecastle with the same drawing power as its 2010 incarnation (which featured The Flaming Lips, The Smashing Pumpkins, Widespread Panic and Devo), much less one that could take an artistic step forward.

“I had worked on the 10th anniversary concept for a long time,” McKnight said. “I was just waiting to implement the ideas I had. Then MMJ came into the conversation.”

MMJ is My Morning Jacket, Louisville’s foremost rock ‘n’ roll export of the past decade. With AC Entertainment on board, the band was enlisted as curators of sorts for Forecastle’s 2012 roster as well as one of its three headline acts (Wilco and Bassnectar are the others). Having a star Louisville band assisting a Louisville-bred festival was paramount in maintaining a community feel as Forecastle continues to grow.

“That was a big focus this year,” McKnight said. “Well, it’s a big focus every year. The question is always how to merge a local, grassroots event – which is what Forecastle has been for many years and still is, to a degree – with a kind of big festival mentality. I’ve always said the strength of Forecastle is its ability to merge a big festival feel with small town amenities, hospitalities and conveniences.”

Enter Bunbury: While Bunbury may be an entirely new presence within the regional music festival landscape, Donabedian is a practiced veteran. He organized Cincinnati’s more showcase-oriented Midpoint Music Festival before managing a full schedule of downtown performance events at Fountain Square. But all along, he had in mind the kind of large scale festival he wanted to produce and present.

“I was just sick and tired of great bands going to other markets and never coming to Cincinnati,” Donabedian said. “I figured with this kind of event, we can repair the damage by bringing these bands here to see our city and our audiences and vice versa. Then we add in local and regional acts and make an event with some truly unbelievable ingredients.”

Even with a reloaded Forecastle in Louisville and the indie-dominant Pitchfork in Chicago competing during Bunbury’s inaugural weekend, Donabedian secured three marquee names as headlining acts for the festival’s three nights – Jane’s Addiction, Weezer and Death Cab for Cutie. As a result, audiences have been supportive of Bunbury since formal announcement of the festival was made in 2011. Corporate support – at least, initially – was less forthcoming.

“Audience response has been great,” Donabedian said. “But from the corporate community, it has been kind of cool, to be honest. We live in a conservative town with conservative companies who talk about wanting to attract and retain young professionals but don’t really get behind the events that strive to do that.

“But I think these companies are starting to hear their employees talking about the festival. They’re crawling out of the woodwork and starting to say, ‘What’s going on?’”

 Forecastle runs July 13 through 15 at Waterfront Park in Louisville. Featured acts include include Wilco, My Morning Jacket, Bassnectar, Andrew Bird and Neko Case. Tickets are $57, $65 (single day) and $159.50 (three day). More info at http://forecastlefest.com.

 The Bunbury Music Festival runs July 13 through15 at Yeatman’s Cove at Sawyer Point Park in Cincinnati. Featured acts include Jane’s Addiction, Weezer, Death Cab for Cutie The Gaslight Anthem, Manchester Orchestra. Tickets are $46 (single day), $93 (three day). More info at www.bunburyfestival.com.

see jane rock

jane’s addiction: stephen perkins, perry farrell and dave navarro.

For a band like Jane’s Addiction, the thrill of headlining an outdoor festival varies little from the sparks set off by any other kind of performance situation.

“I’m just the soundtrack to all the scenarios going on in the audience,” said Stephen Perkins, who has served as drummer for the longstanding Los Angeles punk/metal/post grunge/what-have-you band since its inception in 1985. Jane’s Addiction will headline the Friday lineup of the Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati.

“Whether you have 10 people or 10,000, you’ve got folks flirting and fighting, making up and breaking up. I really dig these big festivals where the audiences are there for the whole day. They’re there to enjoy the bands they love, the bands they never heard of, the bands their parents told them about, whatever it might be.”

But as conversation unfolds around tales from Jane’s Addiction’s early LA days to reflections on its recent The Great Escape Artist album, the real thrill of the modern day rock festival is revealed – competition. The more bands on the bill, the bigger the contest – it’s that simple.

“As a musician, I’ve always had that competitive spirit,” Perkins said. “I had it when I joined my high school band. I even had it at bar mitzvahs, where there were other drummers around. That spirit just makes you play better.

“Say we’re playing a show at a theatre. If a band opens up, we’re going to play great. But if you’re playing a show with 25 other great bands and 10 other great drummers that are on the side of the stage watching you after all these other great shows have been going on all afternoon, you bring it a little differently. I think that level of competitive spirit makes the show better for the audience and a whole lot more fun for the musicians.”

“We’re all coming out of the same rock ‘n’ roll factory. But who is the Porsche, who is the Ferrari and who is the VW?”

Then again, Jane’s Addiction – especially frontman Perry Farrell – helped redefine the contemporary design of the music festival over 20 years ago. When the nucleus of the band – Farrell, Jenkins and guitarist Dave Navarro – broke up Jane’s Addiction for the first time in 1991 (they have regrouped and disbanded twice since then), they used their farewell tour as a launch pad for an alternative music festival called Lollapalooza. After a run as a touring enterprise, Lollapalooza became a stationary, weekend-long festival staged every year in Chicago.

“Lollapalooza in ’91 was just seven bands on one stage on one afternoon,” Jenkins said. “Now, you’ve got a weekend of 100 bands and four stages. There’s a lot to pull from.

“Whether it’s the backstage hang or the onstage hang, the vibe is always that we’re here to show the audience a good time.”

if you go: Jane’s Addiction headlines the Friday portion of the Bunbury Music Festival at Yeatman’s Cove of Sawyer Point Park in Cincinnati. The festival runs through Sunday. Other acts include Weezer, Death Cab for Cutie, Guided by Voices and Gaslight Anthem. Tickets are $46 (single day) and $93 (three day). For more info, go towww.bunburyfestival.com

critic’s pick 236

The alliance of Cassandra Wilson’s vocal ambience with the heralded jazz label Blue Note two decades ago brought about a profound creative renaissance for both parties. For Wilson, it provided a platform for a rural roots sound her singing had only suggested up to that point. On the Blue Note albums that followed, her vocals – whispery in volume but lusciously husky in tone – employed elemental inspirations of jazz, blues and world music to weave a light yet rustic sound that was all her own.

Another Country is Wilson’s first album since leaving Blue Note. And while the accents surrounding her singing have shifted slightly, the hushed emotive atmospherics that became trademarks of her Blue Note recordings continue to enchant.

On the surface, Another Country relocates its inspiration to Italy. Wilson enlisted guitarist Fabrizio Sotti as co-producer and chief instrumentalist and recorded a set dominated by original material in Florence. The support comes from percussion (supplied in part by Weather Report and Sting alumnus Mino Cinelu), accordion and bass. From there, the music rains down in a variety of summery shades, from the feathery, near-Brazilian colors of Almost Twelve to the township harmonies of Olomuroro. (names/titles cq)

The approach Wilson takes to these tunes is essentially the same as on her Blue Note records. In other words, she remains a singer that works off her surroundings – especially guitar and percussion – with the flexibility of an instrumentalist. Throughout Another Country, her vocals produce chant-like impressions upon the tune’s spacious lyricism instead of serving as a center that the music has to revolve around.

The album-opening Red Guitar is a beautiful example. Sotti and accordionist Julien Labro set the stage with sunny variations of the blues. Once the percussion enters, Wilson takes possession and the tune blooms.

Another Country’s only cover is the standard O Sole Mio. But Wilson turns it into a seductive meditation that sounds like it took a turn through the Carribean while journeying back to Florence.

Sotti is given loads of room to roam, as well, including a pair of brief instrumentals that echo the more melodic playing of Pat Metheny. He also proves a wonderful foil for Wilson during the rubbery, finger-popping soul of No More Blues and the acoustic, lullaby-like When Will I See You Again.

Sure, the music of Another Country may be tied to a foreign land. But Wilson is such a worldly and conversational stylist that she makes the more exotic shades and sounds seem like they hail from just down the street. In doing so, she has created a summertime treat both wondrous and delectable.

just joshing

josh turner

How do you like to start your day? With a cup of coffee? Quiet time with the newspaper? A quick run, maybe?Josh Turner has you beat. He recently experienced the best way a contemporary country star could ever hope of kicking off a morning. Too bad it’s not the kind of thrill he can enjoy on a daily basis.

In the early hours of June 20, Turner was informed that Punching Bag, his new fifth and newest album, debuted on the Billboard Country Albums chart at No. 1 ahead of big gun acts like Carrie Underwood, Alan Jackson, Eric Church and Jason Aldean.

But the good news didn’t end there. Punching Bag also crossed over and entered the all-genre Billboard 200 at No. 4, placing him in the company of Usher, Adele, Rush and Neil Young.

“Getting that news was a pretty great way to greet the morning,” said Turner, one of the eight featured country acts that will be performing for 98.1 The Bull’s Red, White and Boom 2012 on Saturday at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.

“I was very relaxed, very confident in making this record. At this point in my career, everything is kind of established. We have the studio musicians that we have been using pretty much for every record. I’ve been using the same producer (Frank Rogers) for my whole career. And the songs came to us pretty easily. I wrote 8 of the 11 that made it on the record.

“I put a lot of heart and soul, a lot of work into this record as a songwriter. But that’s also the fun part of my job. The thing is, you never know where the songs are going to come from or how the album is going to turn out. But in the end, the songs tell the whole story. They determine the fate of your career.”

If that’s truly the case, Turner’s career success was assured almost from the onset. A South Carolina native whose fascination with music began with singing in his church choir, Turner used the 2003 single Long Black Train as his calling card. Loaded with strong traditional imagery and lyricism that sounded custom made for the bass and baritone depths of his singing, the song took Turner to the stage of the Grand Ole Opry nearly two years before radio embraced it.

Flash forward to 2010 and Turner could be found on a much larger stage – namely, one at Rupp Arena where he shared a concert bill with Alan Jackson. His then-current album, Haywire, further raised the visibility of his vocal and songwriting abilities.

“The first music I heard was in church, obviously. Beyond that, my daddy’s mom had a huge record collection filled with Southern gospel, bluegrass and traditional country. That really laid the foundation for me. The music was so earthy. Then when I got into my teens, I started listening to county radio. That was the first time I heard people like Randy Travis sing. From that point on, I was hooked.

”But I was also working on a farm with a lot of blacks and Mexicans and loved all the soul and Mariachi songs they would sing. I would study all of that music. I think you can hear the R&B and soul influences throughout my records. Haven’t done any mariachi songs yet, but I try to put as many of these different influences as I can into what I do.”

Punching Bag’s leadoff single, the domestically themed Time is Love (one of the album’s three non-original songs) is set to take its place alongside such previous Turner hits as Why Don’t We Just Dance, Would You Go With Me and Your Man. But the album’s most arresting work (and perhaps its most unlikely candidate for a future single) is the sobering Pallbearer, a tune that uses the death of a distant relative as the inspiration for a saga of collapsing romance.

“A story started unfolding in my mind about this guy who lost his true love and how he felt that dealing with what happened was kind of like carrying the dead. It was a huge burden to bear. I got to thinking there is nothing more lonesome on this earth than being a pallbearer. So I used that as a metaphor in the way I did. The story just told itself from there.”

Adding to the tune’s stark emotive terrain are the contributions of two significant country/Americana traditionalists – the vocals of Iris DeMint and the mandolin leads of Marty Stuart.

“Iris is different in that she’s not in the country mainstream, so a lot of my fans probably won’t know who she is. But she has this great, lonesome, twangy kind of sound that blended in perfectly. And Marty just has a way of taking the mandolin back to pre-bluegrass times to that Italian style of playing – a style with lots of single notes that lets the mandolin really ring out. It’s very ethereal and thought provoking and became one of the things that made this record sound really cool.”

Josh Turner, Darryl Worley, Kip Moore, Love & Theft, Jana Kramer, Tyler Farr, Kristen Kelly and Lauren Mark will perform beginning at 3 p.m. July 7 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark for Red, White and Boom 2012. Tickets are $7. The event is free for children 12 and under. Call (866) 698-4253, (859) 422-7867 or go to www.wbul.com.

critic’s pick 235

For over three decades, Jerry Douglas and Bela Fleck have been forging, broad-minded profiles for instruments previously viewed as exclusive property of bluegrass music. On their respective new albums, such stylistic exploration still abounds with music that is continually fresh, playful and unexpected.

Douglas’s aptly titled Traveler offers true musical emancipation for the slide-driven sounds of the dobro. Admittedly, just about any album Douglas has put his name to offers some new framework for the instrument. But Traveler transports to the dobro and a few other stringed devices to new geographic as well as stylistic ports.

High Blood Pressure, for instance, takes Douglas to New Orleans where a majestic piano processional from Dr. John rolls out the red carpet for a sleepy, brassy jam accented by conversational vocals from Keb’ Mo’. Douglas’s weapon of choice here isn’t the dobro but the sweaty, electric phrasing of lap steel guitar. But the dobro gets its say during an equally funky arrangement of the Leadbelly chestnut On a Monday, where Douglas also offers a very serviceable vocal lead that makes the whole excursion sound like latter-day Little Feat.

The guest list gets heavier from there. Mumford & Sons play up the pathos on Paul Simon’s The Boxer with help from Simon himself while Douglas’s steadiest employers of late, Alison Krauss and Union Station, set aglow the plaintive Frozen Fields.

But for all the high-profile help, Traveler’s highlight is a soulful solo dobro medley of Simon’s American Tune and the Chick Corea staple Spain. For five minutes, one is left spellbound by the depth of the dobro’s remarkably emotive tone and the pure ingenuity of Douglas’ musicianship.

Banjo great Fleck opts for the more contained company of the Marcus Roberts Trio and a setting devoted exclusively to acoustic jazz on the summery Across the Imaginary Divide.

A one-time protégé of Wynton Marsalis, Roberts long ago proved himself a player of great compositional and interpretative resources. On Divide, that makes for lot of playful sparring, although the resulting music possesses a wonderful lightness.

The album opening Some Roads Lead Home operates around an almost country-esque swagger before the tune blooms into expert swing. The rest of the album is just as stately and inventive, from the bright bop phrasing of The Sunshine and the Moonlight to the strong accents of  Steve Wonder-esque pop that bubble under One Blue Truth.

Longtime personal as well as professional friends, Douglas and Fleck also team on one of Traveler’s many delights, Gone to Fortingall, an instrumental rooted in Celtic fancy but draped with elements Eastern and African intrigue. What a fitting destination for these veteran bluegrass journeymen.

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