Archive for December, 2012

10 from 12

The best pop music of 2012 boiled down to one thing – rebirth.

In some cases, that meant pairing veterans with new generation producers. In other instances, it meant reenergizing and even reinventing the past, reaching a more realized level of songcraft and capitalizing on solo careers that had remained in the shadows of more established ensemble projects.

Sure, there were impressive debuts by the likes of Frank Ocean and Alabama Shakes. We experienced vital comebacks by warhorses Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan. Multi-stylistic works by Antibalas and John Cale also demanded attention.

All were considered for a spot on a list of the year’s finest pop recordings. But in the end, the most lasting music of 2012 came down to rediscovery.

Here, then, is a critic’s pick look at the year’s Top 10.

1. Dr. John: Locked Down – With the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach as producer and chief collaborator, Dr. John returns to his gris-gris roots. But faithful as the resulting sound is to the funky, spiritual slant of his early ‘70s records, Locked Down still echoes with the pain and neglect of present day New Orleans. 

2. Kelly Hogan: I Like to Keep Myself in Pain – “A laundry list in aclenched fist,” sings one of indie pop’s great unheralded singers at the onset of this extraordinary set. As vocalists, Hogan ranks as an equal to longtime friend and collaborator Neko Case. The record’s torch song ruminations seal the deal.

3. Jimmy Cliff: Rebirth – The comeback album of 2012 surfaces in a session that teams one of reggae’s all-time greats, still possessing a voice full of gospel-esque fervor and joy, with a sympathetic disciple of a producer (Rancid’s Tim Armstrong). Worldly in tone and forever sunny in temperament, Rebirth is exactly that.

4. Andrew Bird: Break It Yourself – With each successive record, the great Chicago song stylist, violinist and, yes, whistler, equalizes his talents. With Break It Yourself, Bird’s singing and songcraft have finally caught up with his considerable musical ingenuity. An album ripe with exquisite pop expression, lyricism and imagery.

5. Patterson Hood: Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance – On his third album away from Drive-By Truckers, Hood relishes in songs that still reflect the dark, rural mystery his band is known for. But a sense of family loss and renewal serve as strong undercurrents on an album that offers an intimate yet autumnal feel.

6. Neil Young and Crazy Horse: Psychedelic Pill – The second of two 2012 albums that reunite the forever restless Young with the forever unrefined Crazy Horse is a wonderful indulgence. Songs stretch on for as long as 28 minutes with ragged, electric grooves that seldom shift. What results is an album is that is playfully and purposely hypnotic.

7. Chuck Prophet: Temple Beautiful – Intended as a love song to San Francisco, Prophet concocts another crafty slab of rock ‘n’ roll jubilation. The themes grow stormy and reflective at times. But amid all the killer guitar hooks and power pop melodies, Prophet has created the best Tom Petty album that Petty never made.

8. Bob Mould: Silver Age – The former frontman of Husker Du and Sugar returns to what he does best – ultra basic power trio songs that rock with clear-headed attitude, a touch of ageless fury and the tempering element of an expertly designed melody. Silver Age is a garage rock album suitable for any age.

9. Spectrum Road: Spectrum Road – A cross-generational tribute to the very electric music of the late Tony Williams, Spectrum Road is an alliance between John Medeski, Vernon Reid, Cindy Blackman Santana and a veteran of the primal fusion wars that served alongside Williams – Jack Bruce. An instrumental volcano of an album.

10. Buddy Miller and Jim Lauderdale: Buddy & JimMiller and Lauderdale are scholars of traditional country music. But Buddy & Jim is no revivalist exercise. Rhumba beats, Cajun colors, honky tonk fiddle tunes, Louvin Brothers-style harmonies and the rocking charge of The Wobble highlight the year’s top Americana party album.

still striking up the band

It wasn’t a case of the annual Lexington performance tribute to The Last Waltz throwing in the towel. But after six years, a few of the key participants were wondering if taking a breather after 2011 might be in order.

“We had decided that we were going to let it rest for a year and kind of renew ourselves,” said Ray Smith, principal organizer of The Last Waltz. “But then, Clark (Case, owner/manager of Buster’s) kept texting me about it. Finally, on Thanksgiving Day, he sent me a screen shot with some messages off Facebook from people saying, ‘This is a holiday tradition. When is it going to happen?’ That day I texted everybody and, ‘Let’s do it.’ And everybody was in.”

For the uninitiated, The Last Waltz was the final concert by the original version of The Band. Staged on Thanksgiving Night of 1976 and filmed for posterity by Martin Scorsese, The Band invited several high profile guests to participate in the performance, including Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Van Morrison, Joni Mitchell and Eric Clapton, among many years.

Smith and his band Tula never set out to recreate the performances of the original Last Waltz. Their goal was simply to interpret the songs – whether they were by The Band or the guest artists – played in the 1976 concert, irregardless of whether they made the final cut in Scorsese’s film.

“The question everybody always asks is, ‘Who’s going to be Van Morrison?’ or ‘Who’s going to be Bob Dylan?’ We’ve never approached it that way. We don’t assign roles. We just try to find good matches – good people that can embody the songs.”

This year’s Last Waltz features several Lexington regulars – specifically, Coralee, Robby Cosenza, Matt Duncan, Otto Helmuth, Willie Eames, Mike Tevis, Fred Sexton and others – as well as a few prime first timers, including singer Erin Reynolds (from Oh My Me) and Nashville’s Kenny Vaughan and Sam Lewis (who have become semi-regulars through several bookings at Willie’s Locally Known).

Also new at this year’s Last Waltz will be an opening set by local roots music faves The Swells devoted exclusively to the solo career recordings of Band drummer Levon Helm, who died earlier this year.

“They had already been working on a bunch of Levon songs,” Smith said. “So this wasn’t scripted at all. It was just once of those really cool things.”

The 7th Annual Tribute to The Last Waltz – 9 p.m. Dec. 29 at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St. Tickets are $10. Call (859) 368-8871 or go to www.bustersbb.com.

Critic’s pick 260: The Who, ‘Live at Hull 1970; Eric Clapton, ‘Slowhand — 35th Anniversary Edition’

Mick Jagger remarked during the televised 121212 benefit that the concert was a summit of sorts for the elders of English rock. Well, here we are, exiting 2012 with a pair of newly released live recordings by two of the celebrated Brits from that evening.

But these aren’t entirely new documents. These unearthed albums are essentially postcards from an era when The Who and Eric Clapton were commercially and artistically invincible.

The Who’s Live at Hull 1970, for instance, is the brother of the band’s iconic concert set Live at Leeds. It was cut at a performance given the night following the February 1970 show captured on Live at Leeds. While the Hull recording was issued as part of an expensive anniversary edition of Leeds a few years back, this fall marked its debut release as a separate album.

For completists, Hull boasts the exact same setlist as Leeds with the exception of a furious version of Magic Bus that remains exclusive to the Leeds album. Luckily, the raw intensity of the Leeds concert – a raucous mix that placed Pete Townshend’s guitar work (specifically, the electric fire that pours out of Young Man’s Blues) and Keith Moon’s riotous drumming (highlighted by the wildly syncopated grooves supplied to Shakin’ All Over) – is also in abundance on Hull.

This was the sound of rock ‘n’ roll anarchy. But the music comes across – especially during the longer instrumental passages from Tommy (served up in its entirety on Hull’s second disc) – less like punk and more like abrupt, roughcut pop.

The liner notes explain that considerable restoration had to be done to the Hull tapes, including the grafting of John Entwistle’s bass lines from the Leeds show onto several tracks. But vigor and immediacy still dominate this deliriously cranky Hull concert.

Clapton’s 1977 album Slowhand cemented a commercial comeback that began three years earlier. But despite including several of the guitarist’s signature hits (Cocaine, Wonderful Tonight and Lay Down Sally are the album’s first three songs), Slowhand is a somewhat timid sounding album today.

But look at what its new 35th Anniversary Edition comes packaged with – a full disc of performances from an April 1977 concert. The timing is intriguing as the original Slowhand didn’t hit stores until November of that year. That explains why none of the album’s material found its way onto this new live album.

Instead, we have a blast of Derek and the Dominoes-era boogie (Tell the Truth), a double dose of reggae (Knocking on Heaven’s Door and a 14-minute groovecentric take on I Shot the Sheriff) and a country-blues-gospel revamping of a Blind Faith gem (Can’t Find My Way Home with Yvonne Elliman singing lead). It all makes for a fine archival/anniversary celebration.

the kennedy center honors go blue

The 2012 Kennedy Center Inductees. Back row: John Paul Jones, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant and David Letterman. Front row: Buddy Guy, Natalia Makarova and Dustin Hoffman.

The Kennedy Center Honors are being telecast tonight. It’s traditionally one of the finer arts entertainment specials to be found on network TV after Christmas. In truth, it’s one of the more enjoyable programs of its type to found on the air all year.

This year’s lineup is an intriguing and deserving – the seminal actor Dustin Hoffman, champion talk show host and wisecracker David Letterman and the landmark Soviet-born ballerina Natalia Makarova.

The music honorees, however, are both monsters, each keenly indebted to the other.

The surviving members of Led Zeppelin – Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones – represent a sound that had to have scared the living daylights out of every parent of an eager, curious teenager in 1968. To call the music primal is being coy. To call it sensuous is being timid. Led Zeppelin was the embodiment of all that was seemingly fearsome in rock ‘n’ roll with a thick, bludgeoning psychedelic sound that was new to most ears. But at heart it was the blues. The bawdiness, the rumbling grooves, the sheer desperation – it was all blues. Led Zeppelin simply defined it in terms a new generation of listeners could appreciate. That is what all great pop artists have done. And in almost all cases, the blues and/or R&B have served as source material.

The other musical entry is Buddy Guy. Now we’re really talking the blues. Guy is perhaps the greatest living embodiment of the blues tradition outside of B.B. King – and in many ways, Guy is still the victor. King was always the revue-style bluesmen. And he excels to this day in the role. Guy was far and away the wilder artist. He forged a brilliant roadhouse soul-blues sound with Junior Wells but then matched all the great Chicago inspiration that fueled his music with the growing rockish intensity of the younger blues and rock bucks around him. And if his guitarwork didn’t grab you, the riotous gospel intensity of his singing surely did. You better believe the Zeppelin gang spent more than a few hours listening to Guy. But you also can count on the fact that Guy was tapping into all of the youthful contemporaries and protégées that surrounded him.

Sure, it will be very cool to see Dustin and Dave get awarded. But the real treat at tonight’s Kennedy Center Honors will be watching the blues get their due.

The Kennedy Center Honors will air at 9 tonight on CBS-TV. The network will also offer a rerun at 11:35 p.m. of The Late Show with David Letterman featuring the host’s interview with Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin.

buyin’ into the mayan

Joe Harbison of Ford Theatre Reunion. Photo by Tamera Paskey.

Should the world end today, as predicted by the Mayan calendar, and the earth becomes a dead orb of ruins floating through the cosmos, there is a good chance the music venue of your choice may experience a disruption of concert and performance activity.

As such, we heartily recommend before attending any music related activity tonight that you call ahead and ask a representative of the club or concert hall in question if they will be open or if there will be a change in their hours of operation due to the obliteration of the planet.

They will appreciate your concern.

Cosmic Charlie’s certainly seems to be buyin’ into the Mayan. Tonight, the club will be hosting an apocalyptic celebration called The First and Last Annual Absolute End of Everything Extravaganza.

Headlining and curating the event will be the Ford Theatre Reunion, the immensely animated carnival/vaudeville troupe that self-describes its songs as “circus freak music for circus freak people.” But the Extravaganza also boasts nearly a dozen other local and out-of-town acts that cover ska, electro-swing, burlesque, acrobatics, juggling, belly dancing, puppeteering and more.

In short, this is not exactly the kind of show one finds in Lexington at any time of year, much less during the weekend before Christmas.

“Well, we figured it’s the end of the world, so we’ve got to go all out,” said Ford Theatre Reunion mainstay accordionist Eric Myers.  “Over the past year or so, we’ve been on the road an awful lot and have met some amazing people from all over the country that are of a like mind when it comes to performance and spectacle and the kinds of shows we like to put on. We found out there were people doing the kind of thing that we’re doing.

“This provided a perfect opportunity to bring in some of our friends from out of town. We’ve got performers coming in from Chicago, North Carolina, Ohio and Indiana. On top of that, we’ve put together a bill that also features some of the local people (including Rakadu Gypsy Dance and The Rough Customers) we’ve been involved with for a long time.”

Tonight’s performance, aside from honoring the end of the earth, also winds up four very fruitful years of performance service for Ford Theatre Reunion. The group came to local prominence after organizing “freak show” carnivals in the Buster’s parking lot during the first two years of the Boomslang festival.

“We actually started doing this at Common Grounds about four years ago. At the time, we never thought we would be able to find enough of an audience for us to take what we do on the road. We’ve gone through a lot of lineup changes and a lot of musical changes since then, but so much of that audience base is still there.”

In recent years, the group has been transferring the fractured bits of folk, ragtime and swing that decorate their songs, along with some of the narrative elements that pepper its live shows (described by Myers as being “along the lines of carnival barkers on a pier announcing puppet shows as you walk by”) into two full length albums. A third is in the works. But therein sits a puzzle. What becomes of a recording project if civilization isn’t around to hear it?

“We’re thrilled about the album. Unfortunately, the world is going to end before we can get it out.”

The First and Last Annual Absolute End of Everything Extravaganza featuring Ford Theatre Reunion and Friends begins at 7 tonight at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. $10. Call (859) 309-9499 or go to www.cosmic-charlies.com.

Critic’s pick 259: King Crimson, ‘Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, 40th Anniversary Edition’

Fewer recording from the height of the ’70s-era progressive rock movement brought about swifter and more assured transition to a band than Larks’ Tongues in Aspic did for King Crimson in 1973.

After struggling with the disintegration of two touring versions of the band and lineup changes that shifted dramatically over the course of its first four albums, Crimson sharpened and streamlined (somewhat) its sound by dumping horns and reeds, adding violin, intensifying its percussive attack and placing the guitar work of group founder Robert Fripp (the only holdover from the previous Crimson bands) front and center. Those attributes become luminous on a new 40th-anniversary edition of Larks’ Tongues mixed by Porcupine Tree’s Steven Wilson and Fripp.

The interplay between two then-new members, percussionist Jamie Muir (who toured with this lineup at its inception in late 1972 but vanished by the time the album was released) and violinist David Cross percolates like a wind-up toy during the opening Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One and colors much of the animated music that follows. But it is during the opening passages that their playing benefits most from the clarity of this new mix.

The three vocal tunes (Book of Saturday, Exile and Easy Money) introduce bassist/vocalist John Wetton (who would gain international fame a decade later with Asia). But the rubbery depth of Wetton’s bass playing during the neo-bolero The Talking Drum is what truly comes alive on this edition.

The big delight is still the pairing of Fripp with drummer Bill Bruford (who had exited Yes at its creative zenith before joining Crimson). The two are musical juggernauts throughout the album. The real magic of this newly remixed music is the drive created when the two lock horns during the closing Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two. Cross gets his licks in, too, but the introductory sparks created by Fripp and Bruford form one of the cleanest, simplest and most infectious riffs of prog-rock past. What a delight it is to hear it again with such assertive detail and depth.

Lark’s Tongues returns to us this winter in several editions, including a monster box set that compiles virtually every available studio and concert recording by this quintet Crimson band (the latter being comprised of bootleg recordings of varying quality.

Reviewed here was a two-disc edition that adds unreleased versions of Book of Saturday and a more elemental version of The Talking Drum with a chattering percussive preamble by Muir. The second disc is devoted to audio and video mixes highlighted by vintage television performances of this Crimson band.

Still, the basic album rightfully remains the big prize. Artfully restored and enhanced, Larks’ Tongues can now reclaim its place as an essential prog recording. This new edition should delight veteran fans and, in a perfect world, astound new ones.

In performance: Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit

Jason Isbell.

Jason Isbell certainly had time on his side last night as he returned to Buster’s fronting a quartet lineup of his long-running band, 400 Unit.

First off, the Alabama-bred Americana songsmith was fresh off an appearance on The Late Show with David Letterman the previous evening. There he performed Outfit, a country-esque rocker about home and humility from his days with Drive-By Truckers that is enjoying a second life as a centerpiece tune on Isbell’s fine new album, Live from Alabama. Last night, the song remained a crowd favorite and was performed as a sing-along, with hands clenching tall boys swaying in the air.

Then there were the maturity and confidence levels that Isbell has reached as a solo artist and the complementary ways in which the 400 Unit – augmented last night by Texas violinist Amanda Shires – addresses his songs. The show-opening Go It Alone, although marred by a muddy sound mix that was quickly corrected, reflected a swampy drive indicative of the Truckers. But on Tour of Duty and Alabama Pines, two very different homecoming stories, the music took decidedly country turns.

There also were strong but streamlined shades of Muscle Shoals soul by way of the Candi Statton hit Heart on a String (which nicely retained its vintage R&B feel despite the absence of the horn section that deliciously dresses up the tune on Live from Alabama) and New Orleans funk with a suitably second line-flavored version of Hey Pocky Way (with 400 Unit drummer Chad Gamble on lead vocals).

The timing also offered a sense of perspective. Granted, much of the 1¾-hour performance was devoted to a present-day artistic portrait of Isbell. But the program was very much at peace with the past. There were five songs from the Truckers days (all taken from the albums Decoration Day and The Dirty South). Among them was the Neil Young-flavored Never Gonna Change, into which Isbell injected a funkified update of Jimi Hendrix’s Stone Free.

The Young inspiration surfaced more literally in a faithful, show-closing reading of his Crazy Horse classic Like a Hurricane. It was as if a blast of cool air soared in from the West Coast and ran smack into Isbell’s distinctly Southern sense of rock and soul. Needless to say, a merry storm ensued.  

Alabama piner

Jason Isbell.

When your artistic reputation is staked so solidly on live performance, the release of a concert album becomes something like a rite of passage. And so it is for Jason Isbell.

Since amicably splitting from Drive-By Truckers in 2007 following a six year stay, he has established himself as an expert songsmith that meshes the sounds and lyrical inspirations of his Alabama heritage with a strong country/Americana sensibility. But the fanbase earned in the five years since fronting his current band, The 400 Unit, has come mostly through roadwork – specifically, a religiously rigorous touring schedule that has finely honed his sound and his songs.

So it is any wonder that his new album, Live in Alabama, is something of a mile marker recording? It presents a tight, soulful and often reflective maturation of Isbell’s music.

And, yes, the fact that the album is pulled from concerts performed on home state turf doesn’t hurt either.

“I think the purpose of any album, really, is to record a certain group of people at a certain moment in time,” said Isbell, who returns to Lexington this weekend for a Saturday performance at Buster’s. “It kind of charts your creative evolution.

“You try to keep challenging yourself and challenging your audience. We’ve come to a good point as a band. We’ve gotten very consistent and very familiar with each other over the years. So I thought it would be a really good time to try to capture that, get it down and get it out to folks so they could listen to it.

“The music is constantly evolving. I feel like I have a pretty solid catalog of songs to pick from now. That was another reason I wanted to do the live record – to consolidate a lot of that material from the last 10 to 12 years.”

A highlight of both the record and the “evolving” Isbell sound is Alabama Pines, a song with a country spirit both restless and homesick. A tune that, in essence, pines for the pines, it first appeared on Isbell’s third and newest studio album, 2011’s Here We Rest.

Last summer, Alabama Pines won Song of the Year honors at the Americana Music Awards and Honors ceremony in Nashville.

“In that particular circle, I think it means more to me than it would in other groups,” Isbell said. “You look at the Grammys every year. Some acts wound up getting those things and you know they didn’t write any of their own songs or really sing that much on their own recordings. That kind of thing just doesn’t happen in the Americana world. They’re not about whatever is most popular. They’re going on what they feel like has quality to it. So it was really nice to be judged as something of quality by those people. They have been influences and inspirations for a long, long time.”

Saturday’s performance also comes with a note of caution. This may be your last glimpse of The 400 Unit for awhile. Isbell plans to devote 2013 to the recording and promotion of a solo recording. A few audiences caught a glimpse of a solo, acoustic Isbell last year when he toured as an opening act for the similarly unaccompanied Ryan Adams.

“The songs I have right now will fit really well in that kind of a setting, so I think that’s what you have to go with. You have to make a decision based on where the songs feel like they want to be played and how they’re going to be recorded.”

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit with Communist Daughter performs at 9 p.m. Dec.15 at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St. Tickets are $15 in advance, $18 day of show. Call (859) 368-8871 or go to www. bustersbb.com.

don’t call him doctor

J.D. Crowe.                                                                                                         Photo by Herald-Leader staff photographer Mark Cornelison.

You shouldn’t change the way you address or interact with someone you’ve known for years, even if the most prestigious of honors come their way. At least, J.D. Crowe doesn’t think you should.

The legions of associates and musicians inspired by the Grammy-winning Central Kentucky banjo legend still address him simply, but very respectfully, as Crowe.

The fans who have followed his music over the past six decades – from his formative years with bluegrass great Jimmy Martin to his ’60s gigs with the Kentucky Mountain Boys to the groundbreaking blend of traditional and progressive string sounds forged with the New South – rely on a less formal though equally endearing means of greeting. To them, he will always be J.D.

From a purely technical standpoint, that changes this weekend. With his final performance with the New South at hand and retirement from touring (but not from all artistic duties) set to begin, Crowe will receive an honorary doctorate tonight from the University of Kentucky for his career’s work and music.

That will officially make the banjoist Dr. Crowe. But here’s a tip: Don’t call him that.

“I tell you, if you want to tick me off, call me Doctor,” said Crowe, 75. “That’s not where it is. That’s not what it is. If you’re involved with education or with UK, I can maybe see calling somebody that. With a real doctorate, I can see that. Not an honorary doctorate. That’s the way I look at it.”

Such a response shouldn’t indicate for a second that the honor isn’t welcome. Crowe is openly thrilled by it. But despite the recognitions that have come his way in an extraordinarily influential bluegrass career – the Grammy, induction into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and adulation from successive generations of artists and musicians – Crowe remains unspoiled.

“Of all the accolades I’ve had, this has to be right up there at the top. For one thing, there’s the doctorate itself. But the next thing is where it came from.UK. Because I’m a big UK fan. That right there is like two honors.

“I’ll have to go to the commencement just to see you in cap and gown,” added longtime friend H. Russell Farmer, producer/director of the 2008 KET documentary A Kentucky Treasure: The J.D. Crowe Story.

Crowe responded with laughter. “I keep telling people it took me 60 years to get this. But, no, don’t call me Doctor. Don’t even call me Mister. I’m still J.D.”

Retirement from the road: On Saturday, one night after receiving the doctorate, Crowe will travel to The Birchmere in Arlington, Va. to play his final concert with the New South, the pioneering bluegrass band he has led, in various lineups, for more than 35 years. After that, he will retire from touring and bandleading duties. Crowe will continue to play occasional concerts with all-star groups and special friends. After this weekend, though, his tenure as chieftain of the New South will be complete.

“I told my band at the first of the year that this was what I was doing. It wasn’t really a surprise. It was just time. I’m just relieving myself of the responsibility of having a band.

“Luckily, the guys I’ve got with me now, they’re good people and great pickers. It’s probably the easiest band I’ve ever had to work with.”

Crowe retired from the road once before, in 1988. But the reasons then were different. The cumulative demands of leading a bluegrass band during an era when commercial interest in the music had started to wane, along with a never-ending touring schedule that he was largely booking himself, was taking a toll on the banjoist and his music.

“I was just burned out. The band wasn’t really what I thought it should have been given the amount of talent that was there. There was the traveling and all the booking. I was tired.

“I had a little different outlook on everything when I came back (in 1994). I said, ‘I’m going to play the music I want to play, regardless. If they don’t like it, tough. I wanted everyone to know that was the situation when I hired them into the band. We’re going to play what we want to play.”

To the musicians who passed through the various New South lineups over the years – including progressive bluegrass virtuosos Jerry Douglas and Tony Rice, country stars Ricky Skaggs and Keith Whitley, and longtime ally Bobby Slone – Crowe became as much a mentoring figure as a bandleader. Testimonials from many New South alumni, and interviews with musical pals whose association with Crowe predated the New South (Doyle Lawson), and with high-profile fans (Alison Krauss) are featured in Farmer’s documentary.

“It wasn’t supposed to be that involved,” Farmer said. “I told Crowe, ‘Do you mind if I follow you around with a camera for a couple of days?’ And he said, ‘Sure.’ But then I started doing some research and found out that something like this needed to be done better and bigger.

“The other thing that made the documentary so successful was the eagerness of the artists we interviewed. I didn’t ask any of them to go out of their way. Everyone was eager to do it.”

“It’s a great feeling to go to these people today and know you’re still friends, still buddies,” Crowe said. “Most of the guys who played with me, they’re like brothers, but closer. I learned as much from them as they learned from me – without them knowing it, of course.”

Deserving the doctorate: Tom Adler found a legion of educators, artists and political figures to be in equal admiration of Crowe’s music and accomplishments.

That discovery surfaced when the Lexington folklorist, author and fellow banjoist went in search of letters of recommendation. The letters were forwarded to an anonymous nominating committee at UK that, in turn, made recommendations for honorary doctorate recipients to the university’s board of trustees.

“The inspiration just came from my love and respect for J.D. Crowe,” Adler said. “That’s what put the energy into it for me. He has always been a hero of mine and to 100,000 other banjo players from around the country. Next to Earl Scruggs, he is unquestionably the most influential banjo player there is. So I thought, ‘Who better deserves a doctorate from the University of Kentucky than J.D.?’

The primary concern UK came back to Adler about had nothing to do with Crowe’s artistic merit for a doctorate. Adler said the institution wanted to make sure Crowe would be in attendance for the commencement. Turns out that was an issue the only other time UK awarded an honorary doctorate to a bluegrass artist.

“Apparently that came up in ’84 when Bill Monroe was to receive a doctorate,” Adler said. “Probably, in his characteristic way, he said he had a concert booking to honor the same day as the commencement.”

Monroe wound up receiving the honor in 1985.

“The doctorate was mentioned to me a while back,” Crowe said. “I mean, you hear all this and it goes in one ear and out the other. I thought, ‘Yeah. That would be great.’ But I figured it wouldn’t ever happen. But all of a sudden, here it is.”

121212 scrapbook

On Wednesday night, New York came pouring into everyone’s living room by way of the all-star 121212 benefit concert. Held at Madison Square Garden, the five-hour program was designed as a fundraiser for relief efforts in New Jersey and New York in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Here are highlights, low points, great sounds and big laughs from 121212.

+ Bruce Springsteen – Typically celebratory, The Boss set a mood of purpose and fun. Probably could have done without Bon Jovi’s cameo during Born to Run. But Jersey boys will be boys, even when they hit their 50s and 60s.

+ Roger Waters – A performance that seemed to be more about Waters himself than the matter at hand. A strong band, strong pals (a set-stealing Eddie Vedder on Comfortably Numb) and strong material helped, but the smugness was obvious.

+ Adam Sandler – What in the world prompted Sandler to turn Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah into some deconstructed parody that was as pointless as it was unfunny?

+ Bon Jovi – Polite. Efficient. And like much of their material, not especially memorable. For all its clarity and vigor, sets like this simply make me wonder how Bon Jovi has sustained a fan base for so long. Still, his Jersey connection made him an apt guest.

+ Eric Clapton – A serious, wonderful surprise. Honestly, has any rock celebrity run more hot and cold over the years than Clapton? Last night, he cut the pop schmaltz and cut loose with a wild new power trio and a set that culminated with a joyous Crossroads.

+ Jimmy Fallon – Offered a genuinely heartfelt reflection on the destruction of Coney Island. Thank God they didn’t let him sing this time.

+ The Rolling Stones – A sadly brief two-song set that paired an obscurity (You Got Me Rocking) and a classic (Jumping Jack Flash). Mick Jagger was a tireless frontman. But what a kick seeing 71-year-old Charlie Watts, as always, tastefully tear it up on drums.

+ Stephen Colbert – As usual, hysterical. Typical of his banter was the career advice he said he gave to a budding celebrity backstage. “I told him, Paul McCartney, cut your hair, lose your accent … and grow up.”

+ Alicia Keys – One of the few unaccompanied sets of the night. Singing lines like “put your cell phones in the air” didn’t exactly inspire. But the sleek piano pop-soul of Brand New Me sure did.

+ The Who – Though ragged in spots, its set offered two touching highlights: Roger Daltrey raising his arms to the projected image of the late Keith Moon during Bellboy, and video shots of Hurricane Sandy first-responders as a backdrop for Listening to You.

+ Chris Rock – A heartfelt salute to the submerged Staten Island – “the good part, not the Wu Tang part.” Also of note was his introduction of “the very humble” Kanye West.

+ Kanye West – In an evening heavy on, as Mick Jagger termed it earlier, “old English musicians,” West was the proverbial fish out of water. A nicely stripped-down set, but the heavily sampled songs felt a bit cold in a show dominated by organic rock and soul.

+ Seth Myers and Bobby Moynihan: An interview skit called “Drunk Uncle” that tied Sandler for the most humorless thing in the show. What the hell has happened to Saturday Night Live?

+ Billy Joel – It’s hard to deny the thrill of watching one of New York’s own stepping up to the plate at times like this. That’s especially true when he has a booming, unblemished voice and hometown-referenced hits like New York State of Mind to share.

+ Chris Martin with Michael Stipe – Martin is a pathetic comedian. But he came up with a good line after Stipe exited quickly after a ramshackle duet of Losing My Religion. “He came out of retirement for that,” Martin said. “Now he’s gone right back in.”

+ Paul McCartney – Deviating from the usual run of Beatles hits, Sir Paul bashed it up with Nirvana mates Dave Grohl and Krist Novoselic, cooed cocktail pop with Diana Krall and devoted half the set to Wings tunes, culminating in Live and Let Die.

To contribute to the benefit, go to www.121212concertorg.

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