Archive for January, 2013

carrie’s guys

carrie rodriguez

After spending a half-hour on the phone with Carrie Rodriguez, an interesting though unexpected career trajectory came into view. Without intending to, the conversation regimented itself into sections detailing the contributions of four inspirational figures that have helped guide her bright Americana music.

First, she talked about Lee Townsend, the famed California producer that has overseen her last three albums. The conversation then turned to Luke Jacobs, the multi-instrumentalist that will her accompany Rodriguez for her return concert at Natasha’s on Thursday. In discussing the development of her musical voice, the talk centered on songwriter Chip Taylor, who essentially discovered Rodriguez. And in closing, the Austin, Tx.-based fiddler, songwriter and vocalist reflected upon a recent tour where she placed her own music on hold to play backup for actor/singer Jeff Bridges.

You could almost add a fourth figure into the interview – the man indirectly responsible for her first gig of 2013.

“Our first show is at the Texas Black Tie and Boots Inaugural Ball in Washington, DC.,” Rodriguez said. “It’s an inauguration party for President Obama, so that will be a fun kickoff.”

First up is Townsend, the producer of Rodriguez’s new Give Me All You Got album as well as its two predecessors. Noted for his work with the pioneering guitarist Bill Frisell among others, Townsend sets tunes with folk, bluegrass and even R&B overtones within light and live-sounding frameworks.

“Lee is a very laid back guy,” Rodriguez said. “He is California through and through having lived in the Bay Area for 30 years. Before he got into the music business, he studied psychology, which is really helpful as a producer because he is so good at making all the musicians, including myself, feel at ease.

 “Lee encourages us all to do what we do best. I’ve seen him work with Bill Frisell and it’s really a special talent that Lee has to sort of direct without letting the artist feel like they’re being directed.”

Jacobs has been Rodriguez’s bandmate for years and has become increasingly visible on her recordings. The pair co-wrote some of the strongest material on Give Me All You Got, including Tragic and the album-closing I Don’t Mind Waiting. Jacobs will serve as Rodriguez’s lone accompanist at her Natasha’s show.

“Luke and I have been out on the road together for the last couple of years, so a lot of the songs were pretty well worked out because we had been playing them live. That’s really a luxury.

“We currently perform as a duo – a duo with a lot of gear. Luke plays lap steel guitar, electric guitar, acoustic guitar, harmonica; I’ve got electric mandolin, fiddle and tenor guitar. We even have a portable record player that we’re going to be spinning some records from before the show starts.”

Give Me All You Got also sports several songs written or co-written by Taylor, the mentoring songsmith best known for the ‘60s hits Wild Thing and Angel of the Morning. Taylor discovered Rodriguez at Austin’s SXSW conference in 2001 and introduced her to national audiences through a series of duet albums and tours

“I had no interest in even being a singer before I met Chip,” Rodriguez said. “I had never tried it, except for maybe in the car with the windows rolled up. No, I spent the young part of my life working on the violin, first in classical music and then studying different fiddle styles. My goal in life was to get a gig with someone like Chip Taylor as a sideman.

“Today, it’s hard to even put into words how much he has affected my musical life. I think it’s taken getting away from working with him a little bit to fully appreciate that.”

And then there is The Dude. Prior to completing Give Me All You Got, Rodriguez was asked, upon recommendation by T Bone Burnett, to complete a series of concert dates with Bridges. True to his character credo of “The Dudes abides” in the Coen Brothers classic The Big Lebowski, Bridges dubbed his band The Abiders.

“That was so cool,” Rodriguez said of the experience. “Jeff Bridges is just one of the most down to earth people I’ve ever met. It’s amazing that someone with that kind of fame can be such a regular guy.

“To start that tour off, we went out to his Montana ranch for a few days to rehearse and get to know him, his lifestyle and just the whole vibe before we went out on the road. He’s just like The Dude, only a bit more responsible.”

Carrie Rodriguez with Luke Jacobs perform at 8 tonight at Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. Warren Byrom will open.Tickets are $15. Call (859) 259-2754 or go to www.beetnik.com

critic’s pick 264: eberhard weber, ‘resume’

When the word Resume gets appropriated as the title of a popular music recording, it usually indicates the work at hand is an anthology of some kind – an overview or, at least, an estimation of an artist’s past work and worth.

In essence, that definition holds true for a fascinating new instrumental album by the acclaimed Stuttgart born bassist Eberhard Weber. The record indeed collects musical fragments of the past. But none are familiar or qualify even remotely as “hits.” One of the defining artists of the European-bred “ECM sound” that combines improvisational invention with spacious and highly impressionistic ambience, Weber has collected a series of 12 bass interludes performed during 17 years worth of European concerts as a member of the Jan Garbarek Group. Resume then edits and remixes these passages into near cinematic compositions that place the wintry, Nordic-flavored atmospherics that dominated early ECM records alongside more intimate, folk-enhanced settings.

It’s important to keep in mind that Resume is not a solo bass recording. There are typically otherworldly contributions by Garbarek on tenor and soprano saxophone and selje flute along with earthier percussive colors from Michael DiPasqua. Weber dominates, though, having built this music from the ground up on five-string electric double bass before fleshing it out onstage over the years with a variety of echo, reverb and delay effects. Keyboards were also employed to further orchestrate the music.

As such, the album-opening Liezen (the tunes are all named after the cities these blueprint bass experiments were recorded in) oozes in like late afternoon clouds with the spontaneously dubbed solos creating fascinating musical monologues. Amsterdam works in percussion for a punctuated ballet of sorts before the bass takes off at a modest gallop. Then on Bath, the bass sings over bowed counterpoint playing as a keyboard melody is repeated like a distant mantra. The resulting music is simultaneously fanciful and, as the piece progresses, pastoral.

But the highlight is Wolfsburg, where the rich definition of Weber’s bass work stands alone until brief showers of keyboards and piano provide a lovely twilight feel.                                                                                                                                                                               There is perhaps an ulterior motive for fashioning the present day compositions of Resume out of previously recorded improvisations. Weber suffered a stroke while on tour with Garbarek in 2007. Partial left hand paralysis has left him unable to play in recent years. But where the fingers shut down, the intellect takes over. As such, Resume’s sense of musical reinvention is remarkable. But don’t dwell too greatly on the recording’s construction process. Instead, simply bask in the warm, wintry glow of music that discovers a beguiling new place for the bass.

playing catch

A curious parallel runs through the production of Catch Me If You Can that opens its four-day run at the Opera House on Thursday. It marks not only the first touring version of the Tony-nominated musical but the national tour debut of its lead actor, Stephen Anthony.

“You know, it’s a huge learning experience,” said the recent Florida State University graduate and current New Yorker. “I’m surrounded by these actors, some of whom are on their fifth tour. And they’re just brilliant. They know how its works and they know all the little tricks of traveling well. So touring for me has been a huge adventure. And that’s kind of what the show is about – this big traveling adventure. I feel like I’m living my own dream every night – minus the crime.”

Ah, yes – the crime. Anthony plays the central character of Frank Abagnale, Jr., the playboy con man who passed himself off as a pilot, doctor, professor and lawyer before the age of 21. In the process he forged and cashed checks worldwide to the tune of $2.5 million, prompting the years-long pursuit of the FBI.

The theatrical version of Catch Me If You Can, which earned four Tony nominations, was inspired by Stephen Spielberg’s popular 2002 film of the same name (with Leonardo DiCaprio as Abagnale), which in turn was based on Abagnale’s New York Times best-selling autobiography.

stephen anthony

“I will tell you flat out, I have been in love with this story forever,” Anthony said. “I think the idea of a con man has become part of American folklore. For example, Frank Abagnale himself has almost become an American legend in that he was really the first of his kind. I remember watching the movie when I was a kid and was just riveted to the screen.

“Leonardo DiCapprio’s work in the movie is incredible. But besides that, the story itself is everyone’s kind of fantasy. You get to run off on your own as a kid and be whoever you want to be and go wherever you want.”

Including jail. Abagnale was eventually imprisoned for his mischief. But that also held a sense of fascination for Anthony, who said the musical version of Catch Me If You Can also focuses on the broken family story that led to Abagnale running away from home at age 16 and setting out on a life of young male fantasy. But he said the imprisonment also suggests a sense of redemption and somewhat delayed responsibility.

“That’s really what I think is so beautiful about the story, especially in the way that this stage version tells it – that, eventually, this life becomes not so glamorous anymore. This kid has to decide to grow up and make hard choices for redemption.

“Frank spends the whole story trying to put his family back together. Ultimately, I think that’s one of the huge perks of the show as opposed to the movie. You get the family’s story a lot more in the show. Frank is just trying to take care of them. But ultimately, it comes full circle. He realizes by the end, ‘Who’s taking care of me? Who’s telling me to make the right choices and do the right thing?’ So at the end, he’s the one who has to decide for himself. He has to grow up and see his life for what it really is. He’s got to let the glamour go, let the girls go, let the money go and pay for what he’s done so that he can start over.”

But as a musical? Granted, many contemporary musical theatre works are based on decidedly unmusical stories. Still, when watching the Spielberg film of Catch Me If You Can, images of Abagnale and Hanratty as song and dance men don’t exactly spring to mind.

“For me, musical theater is my medium of choice,” Anthony said. “It’s the way I love to tell stories. So for me, this show hits home. It packs an even greater emotional punch. The music itself is so loaded with adventure, glamour and romance. It’s all ‘60s big band, so it puts you right in that time period when pilots were really the rock stars of the generation.

“I think that the musical makes the story so much more immediate. The audience sort of gets to feel like they’re the con men themselves, like they’re in on all Frank’s mischief. But the music also makes it so much more personal. That beautiful turn of melody is sort of a window into the character’s hearts.”

‘Catch Me If You Can’ performs at 8 p.m. Jan. 31, Feb. 1, 2 and 2 p m. Feb. 2, 3 at the Lexington Opera House, 401 West Short. Tickets range from $30 to $100. Call (859) 233-3535 or (800) 745-3000 or to www.ticketaster.com.

tee dee on beale street

tee dee young.

It’s only Wednesday and already Tee Dee Young has had a full week.

On Monday night, the Lexington-based blues guitarist was onstage at the Lyric Theatre helping Michael Johnathon and Mayor JimGray celebrate the 700th taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour.

The next morning, he was enroute to Memphis to take part in the International Blues Challenge, an annual competition that will bring over 200 blues acts to clubs all along Beale Street. The event is promoted as “five days of blues and schmooze.”

This is the 29th year of the IBC, which bills itself as the world’s largest gathering of blues-related artists. Young will be among the acts whose showcase performances will be judged in competition over the next four evenings. Susan Tedeschi, Michael Burks and Tommy Castro are a few of the star acts that have competed in the IBC in years past.

If Young gets past preliminary rounds, he will proceed to semi-final competition on Friday and possibly the finals Saturday at Memphis’ Orpheum Theater.

Cash and prizes go to the winners. But they pale alongside the most coveted trophy – visibility. Winning acts often receive bookings for blues festivals, cruises and other high profile performance events.

This will be Young’s second visit to the IBC. He competed previously in 2011. The Musical Box wishes him the best of luck this week as he squares off against blues talent from Australia, South America, Germany and all over the globe. For more information and IBC updates, go to http://blues.org/ibc.

in performance: big bad voodoo daddy

scotty morris, center, and big bad voodoo daddy.

Jazz winds from at least three different swing epicenters converged last night at the Lyric Theatre as Big Bad Voodoo Daddy plugged into the past for a sound that was vintage in design but wildly vigorous and immediate in execution.

From New Orleans came Devil’s Dance, a tune drenched in Dixieland. Rhythmic strains of banjo and percussion drove the tune while buoyant exchanges between trombone and trumpet set the mood. But as was the case for the entire 10-song set performed for the 700th taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour, the key to the tune’s musical jubilation was the placement of leader/founder Scotty Morris’ lightly animated vocals over the pure glee of the Voodoo Daddy’s five-man horn team.

The program then shifted to Harlem for the big beat rumble and joyous stroll of the Cab Calloway gem Reefer Man. Perhaps more than any tune in the set – even the solemn Calloway medley of Minnie the Moocher and The Ghost of Smokey Joe the band opened with – Reefer Man revealed a love of performing that has only intensified over Voodoo Daddy’s 20 year history.

But the inspiration that seemed to gush out most readily out of the band’s music hailed from Kansas City, from the fat, brassy sass and jovial group chorus of Let It Roll Again to the car chase tempo, round robin solos and dizzying arrangement of 5-10-15 Times. Both tunes were part of a six-song segment devoted to the newest Voodoo Daddy album, Rattle Them Bones.

Being a WoodSongs taping, this wasn’t perhaps the optimal environment to hear this kind of ensemble. Morris’ vocals took a beating from the sound mix, as did some of the tastier keyboard support of band arranger Joshua Levy and the deeper extremes of Andy Rowley’s baritone sax work. But saxophonist/clarinetist Karl Hunter sounded like a cool million, especially in the beefy tenor lead that propelled the encore version of Go Daddy-O.

As brief and sonically compromised as the show was, a glowing sense of purpose still pervaded – one that unified the jazz spirits that thrived ages ago in cities scattered all over the country into a single, remarkably vital performance voice. And that, my friend, constituted some serious voodoo.

who’s your (voodoo) daddy?

scotty morris, center, and the rest of big bad voodoo daddy.

Want a crash course in everything that makes the music of Big Bad Voodoo Daddy such grand, unspoiled fun? Then give a look and listen to the video for Why Me?, a vigorous original tune from the band’s newest album, Rattle Them Bones.

The song is steeped in the revivalist swing sound that has long been the bread-and-butter of this Southern California troupe. But the clip also warps the retro approach by shifting gears into what can best be described as garageland vaudeville. You witness singer Scotty Morris crooning with a live chicken on his shoulder, a fake mustache on his lip and a comedic gleam in his eyes that makes him look like a stunt double for Will Ferrell.

“That video encompasses pretty much what we are,” said Morris, who leads Big Bad Voodoo Daddy back to Lexington tonight for the 700th broadcast of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour  .

“We shot it in Andy (Rowley, the band’s baritone sax player)’s garage. In the middle of filming, our manager came in said, ‘You guys going to have any chicks in this video?’ It was joke, a complete joke and we all started laughing. Then Andy, being Andy, grabbed one of his chickens and put it on my shoulder. I didn’t even hesitate. I did not question his judgment at all. I just went for it. For me, it just ended up being one of the best shots.”

For over two decades, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has relished in the swing sounds of the ‘40s and ‘50s. That might come as a surprise to those who thought the band was solely a product of a swing revival that made rapid rounds on the pop charts in the mid ‘90s. The lasting popularity stems from an ability to both embrace and deviate from its swing era smarts.

But before Rattle Them Bones, the ensemble decided to refresh its own scholarly swing with the 2009 album How Big Can You Get?, a tribute to the ‘30s and ‘40s music of bandleader, singer and swing stylist Cab Calloway.

“I had a handful of things ready for our next record when then the Cab Calloway project came up,” Morris said. “And I’ve been wanting to do a Cab Calloway album since 1998. So when we got the green light for that, me and Josh (Levy), our pianist and arranger,  jumped in full force.

“The Cab record was such a high learning experience for both of us, and for the whole band. It just opened the doors to I was tapping into, the ‘20s and ‘30s inspirations coming from New York, Harlem and Kansas City. And it all opened up on Rattle Them Bones.”

That may explain why Big Bad Voodoo Daddy peels back the years to 1928 by kicking off Rattle Them Bones with one of the cornerstone tunes of the Prohibition Era, Diga Diga Do. I had been having a hard time figuring out where Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was at the time, so what better way to find out than with a song from that era. Everybody and his brother has covered Diga Diga Do. So I thought, ‘Why not take one of the most popular songs from that era and do it our way?’ I’m not daring anyone, but I am saying, ‘Judge it. See what you think. Play it against any other version out there and see how ours holds up.”

Rattle Them Bones later plunges forward some 50 years for Randy Newman’s wickedly ironic portrait of stardom, It’s Lonely at the Top and an arrangement that sounds more like back alley ragtime than swing.

“I think if people didn’t know it was a Randy Newman song, they wouldn’t question it being on the record,” Morris said. “Randy Newman is one of my favorite American composers, and I don’t mean just for what he’s done in the movies and what he’s done with his pop success. I just mean, in terms of songwriting, he’s an absolute monster.

“He wrote Lonely at the Top for Sinatra. And Sinatra thought it was too egotistical and denied it, which I think is hysterical because the irony is in how egotistical the song really is. The way Randy does it takes a really bitter view. His version is kind of scolding and mad. So I thought it would be really great for me to see if I could tackle it.

“Mostly, I wanted to put that song on the record just because there are no rules, you know?”

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy performs at 7 tonight at the Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third, for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Tickets are $20. Call (859) 252-8888, (859) 280-2218.

In performance: Lucinda Williams

Lucinda Williams.

Nearly 15 years after its release, the chorus to Joy – the most pivotal track of Lucinda Williams’ most essential album, Car Wheels on a Gravel Road – remains the single most potent and succinct lyric in a catalog filled with brilliant songs of love, loss, betrayal and, on occasion, redemption. “You took my joy. I want it back.” Kind of says it all, doesn’t it?

On Thursday night at Louisville’s KCD Theatre, Williams seriously got her joy back. That’s not to say her live shows have ever been as desolate as her songs. But with a sold out audience before her and a 60th birthday barely 24 hours away, the acclaimed Americana songstress cut loose.

During the closing minutes of a two-hour performance aided by guitarist Doug Pettibone, Williams invited the show-opening Kenneth Brian Band (a fine and highly literate indie country-rock troupe from Alabama) onstage and tore into Get Right with God, prompting a modest tent revival clap-a-long and a finale where the singer put down her guitar and simply danced to the groove.

Dancing the night away in front of your audience as you’re about to turn the big 6-0. Now that’s what you call getting your joy back.

Of course, there were all kinds of other delights packed into the show, including a pair of achingly lovely tunes from 2003’s World Without Tears album (the show-opening title track and Over Time), a wonderful vocal duet version with Pettibone of Jailhouse Tears packed with exquisitely profane humor, a trio of unrecorded new songs highlighted the country fried Bitter Memory (with Pettibone tastefully working in licks from the Chuck Berry classic Memphis) and a sterling impromptu cover of the Tammy Wynette hit Apartment #9 that boasted the same stark emotive cast as Williams’ own songs.

Joy was there, too, but it steered closer to the stripped-down strident version featured on the new West of Memphis soundtrack than the rockish Car Wheels original. The intent was unchanged, though. Last night, Joy remained a boozy, bruised blast of defiance that sounded, as did all of this splendid performance, positively youthful.

critic’s pick 263: konitz/frisell/peacock/baron, ‘enfants terribles’

The liner notes to Enfants Terribles states the quartet at hand is leaderless. That the recording gives equal billing to all four players seems to underscore the claim. Then as the music elegantly unfolds – an hour’s worth of well worn standards given tantalizing new life by the loose but very versed interplay  – you can’t help but buy into the record’s sense of jazz democracy.

To a degree, Enfants Terribles plays to expectation. Recorded live over two June nights in 2011 at New York’s Blue Note jazz club, the foursome quickly establishes and then deconstructs the familiar. Drummer Baron is spaciously mischievous throughout, guitar great Frisell is the picture of taste until solos that detail his wiry but conversational tone are uncorked and bassist Peacock serves as the rock, even though the revisionist intentions within the playing (impromptu as they are) never anchor the music in a set position.

But if there is a boss of this supposedly boss-less mob, it would be Lee Konitz. At age 85, his musicianship guides Enfants Terribles from atmospheric ambience to free jazz journeying to beautifully understated studies in swing. With an alto saxophone tone that is alternately vigorous and sagely, Konitz seems decisively connected to his bandmates and to the set of rediscovered staples that make up their repertoire.

The album-opening reading of What is This Thing Called Love? starts with Konitz and Baron deep in conversation, matching an alto sax bounce that flirts briefly with the tune’s familiar melody to percussive chatter that recalls the wily ingenuity of the great Paul Motian. But as soon as Frisell enters with light, scattershot runs on guitar, the tune takes on a luscious elasticity that is regularly tested by Peacock. The latter’s playing, at times, shadows Frisell but soon gathers the required steam to spar with Konitz’s animated lead.

Frisell later sets the stage for 10 gorgeous minutes of I’ll Remember April that plays tag with Konitz’s bright-eyed lyricism as Peacock and Baron percolate briskly alongside them. The resulting groove, sunny and flexible, plays off of light Caribbean-flavored runs instigated by Baron.

A sparse but beefy bass solo from Peacock bleeds into the finale of I Can’t Get Started that patiently but efficiently strolls around the tune’s lovely theme. Baron’s hushed brushed percussion, the ballet-like exchanges between Frisell and Konitz and the ultra-tasteful bass support of Peacock mingle, allowing the tune to quietly glisten. What a fitting coda for an all-star jazz summit recorded at the dawn of summer that now emits an inviting, wintry glow.

rush hour

bobby rush.

Yes, he’s a bluesman. But you might not pick up on that right away when speaking to Bobby Rush.

Take for instance, his response to that most common and obligatory of greetings – “How are you?”

“Man, I’m on fire. I can’t help it. I’m a blessed man. I’m just on fire.”

That little blast of jubilation is indicative of a blues and R&B stylist that, at age 77, feels like he is the luckiest singing soul out of Homer, Louisiana. In his lifetime, Rush – born Emmitt Ellis, Jr. – befriended blues icon Elmore James after his pastor father moved to Arkansas. Then came lessons from the great electric bluesmen of Chicago when his family relocated again. Finally, after an R&B single called Chicken Heads became a radio hit in 1970, Rush set up base in Mississippi and established revue-style bands that steered closer to the groove conscious soul of James Brown than to the amped up blues of Muddy Waters.

And to everyone’s good fortune, Rush has been grooving ever since.

“There is really not that much difference between Chicago and Mississippi,” said the Grammy nominated singer and  bandleader who performs tonight for the first taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at its new home in the Lyric Theatre.

“Chicago has those hot streets. Mississippi has those hot cotton fields. But the people are all the same. They are all in love and out of love. I just love bringing these songs and stories to people.”

While he has been a touring mainstay of the blues and R&B circuit for decades and has played everywhere from the shiniest of Las Vegas nightspots to the most remote and rural of Southern juke joints, Rush found a powerful but unlikely ally in Hollywood that would introduce him to an entirely new audience: Martin Scorsese.

The famed film director produced a seven-part series for PBS that aired in 2003 titled simply The Blues. In the fourth segment, The Road to Memphis, director Richard Pearce offered a detailed slice-of-life portrait of a working bluesman. In this case, the bluesman was Rush.

“That was the biggest thing that ever happened to me in my life. I thought it was kind of a fluke. There wasn’t really any money in doing it. But I agreed as long as the guys filming spent the day with me. I wanted them to come out to my home and come on the bus with me. I want them to come with me to church. I guess I just wanted people to see what I was really about, that the same people I play for in the juke joints on Saturday nights were the same folks I saw at church on Sunday morning.”

Rush recently issued a new album, Down in Louisiana, that offers more of the old school blues (Don’t You Cry) and earthy country funk (Rock This House) that has defined his music throughout the years. Tunes like Tight Money, though, add in a touch of swampy, neo-Cajun  spice.

“You put it all together and you get kind of a Bobby Rush stew. It’s Bobby Rush up and down.

“I didn’t want some big production with this record. I was looking for a deep woods kind of sound instead. A lot of my records have crossed over, which helps me bring in younger audiences. But as you do that you can’t forget the people, especially the R&B crowds, that have always been with you. You can crossover but you can never cross out.”

While the album title suggests a sense of homecoming to the singer’s Louisiana roots, an even deeper flashback was provided once recording sessions got underway in Nashville. That’s because Rush tuned into the city’s longstanding radio giant, WLAC, as a child. The station offered equal helpings of blues and country tradition.

“I came up with WLAC as a kid. It educated me in all these great R&B and blues musicians. That’s where I first heard Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf and Junior Parker. But that’s also where I heard Roy Acuff and Willie Nelson. There really wasn’t much difference between any of them. They were all singing about the same things.”

Bobby Rush and Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper perform at 7 p.m. Jan. 21 at the Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Tickets are $10.

Call (859) 252-8888.

in performance: russell moore and IIIrd tyme out

iiird tyme out: wayne benson, edgar loudermilk, russell moore, justen haynes and steve dilling.

You have to be one seriously confident bluegrass commando to open a Kentucky performance with The Old Home Place, a tune that has essentially served as a theme for J.D. Crowe and the New South for close to four decades. Up the ante if you discover the recently-defunct New South’s final vocalist, Ricky Wasson, sitting in the audience. That was the scenario as Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out got the first of two Saturday evening sets underway at Meadowgreen Park Music Hall in Clay City.

But then again, the veteran bluegrass troupe proved resourceful enough to take full possession of a stylistically-far reaching repertoire during the set. Take Pretty Little Girl from Galax by Kentucky songsmith Bill Castle (who, curiously enough, was also in attendence). The increasingly rustic tenor of Moore’s vocals, the old-timey tone of Justen Haynes’ fiddle colors and the almost Celtic inclinations of a melody line that recalled the folk staple Shady Groves provided the tune (penned for IIIrd Tyme Out’s 2009 Prime Tyme album) with a vividly traditional feel.

Then there was the cherished Bill Monroe instrumental Bluegrass Special, which strayed from familiar arrangements as a fiddle tune into a wild exercise in string band democracy. Shuffling elements of jazz and swing, IIIrd Tyme Out’s version actually placed most of the heavy lifting on longtime mandolinist Wayne Benson, whose animated playing fueled much of the arrangement’s rhythmic drive and swagger.

Straying perhaps the furthest from bluegrass convention was a cover of John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads, an early ‘70s country-folk radio hit served here as an unassuming vehicle for the conversational ease of Moore’s singing. Working cleaning off supporting vocals from banjoist Steve Dilling and under-the-weather bassist Edgar Loudermilk, Moore placed the tune’s rural imagery and light country lyricism at the forefront without letting the song disintegrate into heavy sentimentalism.

For a band that has continually juggled traditional and contemporary inspirations, IIIrd Tyme Out opted for more of the former in this neatly executed performance. Perhaps that’s because the set bypassed the more extreme country and pop tunes from the band’s recordings. But mostly, the band has simply has developed a spacious, inviting ensemble voice of its own for songs that crossed as many generational divides as it did stylistic ones.

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