Archive for April, 2013

Critic’s pick 275: Bombino, ‘Nomad’

bombinoHave the immensely rhythmic and meditative sounds of the Saharan-bred Tureg people become the newest voices of global pop? Apparently so, if the textured, unyielding and powerfully infectious guitar grooves summoned by Niger native Omara “Bombino” Moetar on his new album, Nomad, are any indication.

The Turegs have long been nomads, hence the album title. In Bombino’s case, exiled life in the desert was initiated by numerous protests with the Niger government. But exposure over the years to such decidedly non-Tureg guitarists as Jimi Hendrix and Mark Knopfler also triggered a taste for a wider instrumental vocabulary.

Essentially unknown outside the Sahara before 2009, Bombino eventually came to the attention of Dan Auerbach. The Black Keys guitarist invited the Tureg artist and his band to Nashville to record Nomad. Fans of tradition-minded world beat and Afro-pop music had every right to be wary of such dislocation. After all, could any artistic  environment be more radically removed from the African desert than Nashville?

But Auerbach is respectful of the sounds, themes and song structures in Bombino’s music. Unlike his production work on Locked Down, last year’s outstanding comeback album for Dr. John, Auerbach takes a largely hands-off approach on Nomad. He stacks layer upon layer of Bombino’s guitar lines to create a huge streamlined groove that propels the album-opening Amidinine, the darting percussive strut of Adinat and the arid blues chant Zigzan.

There are no prolonged solos, aside from the ones that steer and service the rhythms. Similarly, the Americanized touches – specifically, the keyboard colors of Bobby Emmett and the steel guitar support of Russ Pahl, both of which bolster the sunny, soul saturated flow of Aman – are largely ornamental. It is always the massive, chiming guitar sound that leads Nomad’s inviting charge.

Auerbach’s only direct instrumental contribution is the fairly innocuous bass guitar he plays on Niamey Jam. But he very much leaves his print on the album. Nomad steers away from the sort of global dance-floor grind that has derailed recordings by world music great Angelique Kidjo, but Auerbach greases Nomad’s desert groove ever so slightly in a way that will probably make the music inviting to fans of vintage American psychedelia and some of today’s more organically inclined jam bands.

Nomad’s liner notes contain English translations to lyrics that reveal the political, personal and spiritual inspirations behind the album’s 11 songs, although the variances of timbre in Bombino’s chant-like singing suggest which emotional intent is at work. In the end, though, the groove commands all. And even though he has a Black Key in his corner, Bombino is at the heart of an intoxicating desert sound that isn’t likely to remain foreign for long.

In performance: Tinariwen


Ibrahim ag Alhabib (center) and Tinariwen.

When your band is comprised of nomads from the Sahara – musicians with strong militant roots – you have more than a few stories to tell. Now picture being on tour in North America, with Tamashek, the native tongue of your fellow nomadic Touaregs, as your primary means of communication. Talk about being a stranger in a strange land.

But in the case of the Grammy-winning Tinariwen, the desert troupe that headlined last night’s opening of the MusicNOW Festival at Cincinnati’s Memorial Hall, a sense of artistic communion bridged all borders.

As almost always seems to be the case in performances when language divides artist and audience, rhythm and groove took over. For Tinariwen’s 85-minute set, that meant tunes centered on mid-tempo ensemble grooves performed in relatively tight quarters. The sound was positively swelling at times, yet the group – which shifted between five and six members – never used more that two guitars, bass and hand percussion. There were no leads, no solos and no obvious refrains in the song structures. Instead, tunes like Imidiwan Win Sahara (from Tinariwen’s Grammy-winning 2001 album, Tassili) operated with vocals and verses established by guitarist and group leader Ibrahim Ag Alhabib that were sung like chants.

Sometimes the resulting mood was elegiac. In others, it was warmer and more contemplative. Throughout, though, its infectious sway was profound. Much of the audience, seemingly unfamiliar with the music they were about to experience, remained on its feet for the duration of the set.

This isn’t to say there weren’t at least a few barriers in this kind of presentation. Alhabib was the only group member who didn’t have his face at least partially concealed by the scarves that were part of Tinariwen’s native nomadic gowns. But the band’s visual profile, foreign as it might have initially seemed, only added to the music’s worldly grace and mystery.

It would have been even more fascinating to discover some of the narratives in their lyrics, but one message was conveyed clearly after Alhabib had someone from the audience translate it for him from the stage: “We are friends.”

Kentucky Music Hall of Fame inductee: Exile


Exile, from left: Steve Goetzman, Les Taylor, Sonny Lemaire, Marlon Hargis and J.P. Penington.

The history was there – all five decades’ worth. So was the notoriety – specifically a monster, nationwide pop hit from 1978 and a string of nine consecutive No. 1 country singles that defined their music during the ‘80s.

There was, in short, every reason imaginable for Exile’s induction into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. But as the long-running Central Kentucky band, now back to the lineup that made it one of country music’s most prominent acts, wasn’t about to lobby.

“We’ve discussed it over the years since the Hall came into being, and wondered if we would ever have a chance of getting in” said Exile founder, singer, guitarist and songwriter J.P. Pennington. “But we were the last guys that were going to contact anybody and say, ‘Hey, we’ve done this, we’ve done that. Can you put us in?’”

“But we found out last summer we were going to be inducted. That was quite a moment for us. We were actually in our manager’s office in Nashville. (Kentucky Music Hall of Fame executive director) Robert Lawson was in town and he wanted to stop by to ‘discuss another matter’ with us. That’s when he told us. He just dropped it right on us. We were excited beyond belief.”

Turns out Lawson had stopped by the Glasgow area enroute to Nashville to tell the Kentucky HeadHunters the same thing. The fact they will be inducted into the Hall of Fame the same night as Exile delights Pennington.

“We were doubly excited when we heard that the Headhunters were going to be put in, too. Those guys have been friends of ours for so many years.

“Years and years ago, we used to do little local gigs together in and around Kentucky. I remember vividly a band that those guys were in called Itchy Brother (a predecessor to the HeadHunters). We used to play all these gigs together. We’ve had a mutual admiration society for a long time.”

Although formed in Richmond as The Exiles in 1963, the group rose to national prominence during the summer of 1978 with a massive No. 1 hit called Kiss You All Over. Coincidentally, as Exile enters the Hall of Fame, the song is getting a second life. For his forthcoming album, country star Trace Adkins teamed with Exile’s popular ’80s lineup – Pennington, singer/guitarist Les Taylor, bassist/singer Sonny LeMaire keyboardist Marlon Hargis and drummer Steve Goetzman – to recut Kiss You All Over. It’s too soon to know if the new version will be issued as a single, but Pennington is thrilled that a new generation is getting introduced to Exile’s musical past.

“That song seems to resonate with them, especially with younger audiences,” Pennington said. “I can see it. I try to watch for it because I’m always interested in what young people think about music. They know the song, right along with the older fans. They’re right in there cheering. So, who knows? I feel like Trace’s audience might really like it.”

Even if the tune hits again, don’t expect Exile to duplicate the exhaustive touring schedule of past years. At the height of the group’s ’80s popularity, it played in excess of 230 dates a year. Today, it handles about 70.

“But it’s more fun for me now that it ever was,” Pennington said. “I think it’s the comfort factor. We’re all approaching our mid-60s now, so we don’t take ourselves so seriously these days. We’re human. Believe me, we’re very human.”

The 2013 Kentucky Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will held at 6 p.m. Friday at the Lexington Convention Center. The event is sold out.

Kentucky Music Hall of Fame inductee: Kentucky Headhunters

kentucky headhunters

Kentucky Headhunters: Doug Phelps, Fred Young, Greg Martin and Richard Young.

In preparing for tonight’s induction into the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, the Kentucky HeadHunters knew they were still a few steps behind a formative, homegrown inspiration.

“We took our families up to the Hall of Fame a while back,” said HeadHunters co-guitarist and co-founder Richard Young. “We already had a pretty cool little booth there. But to be honest with you, Exile had a magnificent booth. We knew we were not going to be able to outdo them. Let’s just say they had some pretty trendy outfits over the past 50 years.”

As luck would have it, Exile will be inducted into Hall of Fame alongside the HeadHunters tonight. One would think this would be the ideal time for Young to crow about the “electric barnyard” music that defined HeadHunters hits like Dumas Walker and the rockish honky-tonk transformations of such traditionally minded classics as Oh Lonesome Me and Walk Softly on this Heart of Mine, but the guitarist can’t suppress the thrill of being honored on equal terms with Exile, the Kentucky pop, rock and country ensemble that Young, brother/drummer Fred Young and guitarist Greg Martin championed as teens coming of musical age in Metcalfe County. Bassist/singer Doug Phelps completes the HeadHunters lineup.

“Seeing Exile back then was the closest thing you could get to seeing the Rolling Stones,” Young said. “We paid five bucks to see the band and drink beer. We didn’t have a whole lot of outlets for modern music when we were growing up. If we didn’t see them on The Ed Sullivan Show or Hullabaloo or some of those TV shows, it was hard to find that music.

“Greg’s brother lived in Louisville. He was older, and Greg would go up and stay with him and bring back these slews of albums – Cream and Moby Grape and all these things. So we were very fortunate to have that outlet.”

There was another means of experiencing the daring new pop music of the late ’60s for Young and his pals. But the location and its hosts could were equally unlikely rock ’n’ roll representatives.

“We had this place in Glasgow called Rice’s Radio and TV Service,” Young said. “Mr. and Mrs. Ellis Rice, who ran it, were some Jewish folks that had lived in New York but moved down to Kentucky. Well, every Saturday, we couldn’t wait to go over there. He had all these great Fender guitars hanging up and amplifiers. Mrs. Rice, on her counter, had one of these old time gray turntables. She turned us on to Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze. Can you imagine a middle-age woman turning a bunch of kids onto Purple Haze? She would say, ‘I’ve got this great new album from England by this band called The Jimi Hendrix Experience.’ So naturally, she sold us a copy of it.

“The first time I ever heard Exile was when I went in there one Saturday and Mrs. Rice played this great single. She said, ‘Boys, you’ve got to play close attention. Finally, we have a band from Kentucky that’s stirring up some dust.’ And it was Exile. I was maybe 14 at the time.

“So we latched on to Exile because they were kind of like our big brothers from the state. They made us hopeful that we could one day do what they did and have a career in music. We always looked up to them. So you’ve got to know this is a double whammy for us. Not only are we going into the Hall of Fame; we’re going in with some of our heroes.”

The 2013 Kentucky Music Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony will held at 6 p.m. Friday at the Lexington Convention Center. The event is sold out.

Critic’s pick 274: Gene Clark, ‘Here Tonight — The White Light Demos’

gene clarkFew pop artists saw a career of greater promise meet such merciless commercial disappointment as Gene Clark. After becoming what many consider the definitive songwriting voice of The Byrds, he set course on a solo career that never took flight. The music that followed, including collaborations with banjo legend Doug Dillard, was often extraordinary. But Clark, who died in 1991, never came close to matching the glories of his commercial heyday with The Byrds.

Among the lost treasures of Clark’s post-Byrds work was his first proper solo album, a 1971 record released domestically simply as Gene Clark. Overseas, it bore the title White Light. A mix of folkish reflection and country contentment, it remains the most artfully reserved and satisfying record that Clark made outside The Byrds. Aside from a few pockets of devout fans, no one paid much attention to it.

In what has to be one of pop music’s most unanticipated postscripts, we now have the newly released Here Tonight, a collection of 12 beautifully recorded (and preserved) demo recordings that Clark cut in preparation for White Light. As stirring as Clark’s overlooked masterpiece was, Here Tonight might just go down as the better work.

This demo collection is a calm set of solo acoustic blueprints, with Clark accompanying himself on guitar and harmonica. The song selection doesn’t replicate White Light entirely. Opening Day and Winter In, for instance, are rarities that are very much in keeping with the album’s warm, reserved attitude. But they surfaced (in fully produced form) on a 2002 reissue of White Light. Likewise, Here Tonight’s title tune was reshaped into a bit of cosmic country fun by The Flying Burrito Brothers on a 1973 anthology. Similarly, three tunes from the finished White Light aren’t among the “newly discovered” demos on this new release.

But Here Tonight is a gorgeous foreshadowing of the neo-country folk fashioned by guitarist/producer Jesse Ed Davis on White Light. The emotional cast of these demos is almost serene. Intentionally unassuming in construction (as they were never intended for release in this form), these recordings are a total about-face from The Byrds’ jangly pop or even the progressive country/bluegrass summits with Dillard.

There are strong references in style and wordplay to vintage Bob Dylan in Please Mr. Freud and Jimmy Christ (neither of which made it onto White Light), but songs like Because of You and the exquisite With Tomorrow rank as sterling examples of Clark’s singing.

Like all of Here Tonight, the songs are more than mere postcards from a forgotten corner of Americana past. They form what might be the greatest musical adventure in the career of a grounded Byrd. What a remarkable discovery for any generation.

First hits from Boomslang 2013


Detroit “electro-clash” duo Adult will perform this fall at Boomslang.

The initial lineup for WRFL-FM’s fifth annual Boomslang festival has been announced. As usual, the roster is ripe with decidedly off-the-radar sounds and styles.

Specific venues, dates, times and ticket prices are yet to be announced, but Boomslang will run through the weekend of Sept. 20-22. For more info, go to

Here is the first crop of confirmed acts:

+ Saul Willams: Poet, writer actor and hip-hop stylist from Paris by way of Newburgh, New York.

+ Adult:  Detroit ‘electro-clash’ duo of Jack Vulpine and Nicola Kuperus. ‘Electro-clash’ essentially is slightly downcast electronica with strong pop elements.

+ Jason Lescalleet and Graham Lambkin: Experimental duo that creates soundscapes of primitive sampling, found objects, electronics and more.

+ Marnie Stern: New York songstress and guitar stylist.

+ Dent May: Indie-pop craftsman from Oxford, Miss.

+ Ital: Dance/house music artist and producer from Brooklyn by way of Washington, D.C.

+ Locrian:  Darkly ambient, metal-enhanced drone artists from Chicago.

+ Jamaican Queens: Hard driving indie-pop from Detroit.

WRFL promises more lineup announcements in the coming weeks.

In performance: Richard Thompson Electric Trio

richard thompson 2

Richard Thompson

It was at the five-minute mark of an almost impossibly intense guitar solo Tuesday night at the Kentucky Theatre that Richard Thompson’s blend of jaw-dropping technique, tireless performance stamina and remarkably mature rock ’n’ roll nerve came to a boil.

The song that established such a sublime pile-up was Can’t Win, a neglected powerhouse tune from the British songsmith’s 1988 album, Amnesia. After the tune’s dark story line of conformity and mistrust was played out (“we harpoon dreams, we stiletto in the back”), Thompson, 64, let his fingers do some especially wicked strolling. He conjured long, sinewy lines that tightened around the melody like barbed wire. With the highly flexible groove of drummer Michael Jerome and bass guitarist Taras Prodaniuk at work under him, the break yielded an atypically solemn form of guitar shredding. Thompson’s facial expression was stoic to the point of being sphinx-like. But the sound he conjured was like Armageddon. No wonder Jerome bowed his head in a fit of seeming exhaustion at the tune’s conclusion.

And that was just one highlight from the nearly two-hour performance. The true charm behind the concert was that the power trio lineup – and a program highlighted by the first six songs from the new Buddy Miller-produced album, Electric, that generously catered to the format – offered a detailed and insightful look into Thompson’s considerable instrumental strengths.

Admittedly, Thompson long ago established himself as a monster player. But most of his past performances at the Kentucky have focused on the harmonic invention of his acoustic playing. And there were instances last night underscoring that, including the dance-hall shuffle and swing of Al Bowlly’s in Heaven, the dizzying picking in the inevitable encore version of 1952 Vincent Black Lightning and the deconstructing groove of Easy There, Steady Now, which Thompson coyly tagged as a “jazz odyssey.”

But between the jagged folk dance structures at the heart of Electric tunes like Sally B and Stony Ground and the dark power chords protruding from Shoot Out the Lights, there were unusually generous glimpses of the amplified Thompson working within jams and improvisations of fearsome richness.

Playfully tagging his power-trio potency as “wimpy,” Thompson purposely addressed convention by opening the second of two encore sections with a cover of the ’60s warhorse anthem Hey Joe that mimicked the chunky rhythmic drive of Jimi Hendrix. But truer fireworks came with the show-closing Tear Stained Letter, a blast of hearty folk/soul fire that was pure unrelenting fun.

Down on the ‘Rat Farm’

Meat Puppets

Today’s Meat Puppets: Cris Kirkwood, Shandom Sahm and Curt Kirkwood. Photo by Jamie Butler.

Throughout their 30-plus year history, the Meat Puppets have taken great delight in throwing stylistic curveballs.

Born at the height of pop’s New Wave movement during the early ’80s, the trio would shift course from ribald punk to folkish psychedelia to all manner of combo sounds that sprouted.

Sometimes the turns came between albums, such as the way 1985’s Up on the Sun (arguably the best of its early works) served up jangly, Byrds-like pop as a follow-up to the psychedelic meltdown of 1984’s Meat Puppets II. That record, in turn, was a diversion from the punk onslaught of the band’s self-titled 1982 debut. In other instances, styles would leapfrog within songs.

It was a stylistic course so jagged and unpredictable that one couldn’t help but view singer/guitarist/songwriter Curt Kirkwood and his bassist brother Cris Kirkwood as restless journeymen in a booming indie pop generation.

Today – three decades, a dozen albums and two breakups (and subsequent reunions) later – Curt Kirkwood revealed that the genre-hopping punk imperative of the Meat Puppets isn’t that calculated at all. In fact, with a new album, Rat Farm, due out next week and a concert stop at Cosmic Charlie’s on tap for Wednesday, he said the band’s music – from songwriting to recordings to the sustained drive that continues to fuel its live shows – is a blend of instinct and immediacy.

“Yeah, that’s the way it goes for us,” he said. “It’s always been that way. We never really plan too much. That’s part of the cool thing about making a record to me. I mean, I’m not way into being in the studio. I like recording, but I’m not the kind of guy who likes to get hunkered down in there for too long. It’s gets to be a little bit strange. You start picking at stuff. I like to go in and then sort of see what you get. That’s a big part of the fun.”

That’s exactly what happened when the Kirkwood brothers began work on Rat Farm. Out went the comparative spit and polish of 2011’s Lollipop. In came the trippy pop of Leave Your Head Alone (which could pass as an outtake of 1967-era Pink Floyd were it not for the modest country inflection in the vocals), the Up on the Sun-savvy Time and Money and the trio rumble and pop undertow of Rat Farm’s title tune.

“I’m kind of getting my head around the record now,” Curt Kirkwood said. “I wrote a lot of it in the studio, so I just kind of let it go. Now I’m trying to learn it. A song or two a night, we’re incorporating it into the set. But, yeah, I think it’s pretty cool.

“One of the things we did was set up in the studio and played the basic tracks as a band and tried to get a sense of playing live in the way we recorded. We went for an analog sound that capitalized on what the band has going for it. We wanted Rat Farm to sound less like a studio project, which we’ve done quite a bit of recently – like with Lollipop. That was really a studio album.”

The Kirkwoods have two key allies in bringing the music of Rat Farm to life. The record’s trio sound is fleshed out by drummer Shandom Sahm, who has been a Meat Puppet, on and off, since the late ’90s. The son of the famed Texas musician Doug Sahm, the drummer has proven a vital addition to the Kirkwoods’ wayward post-punk sounds.

“Shandom plays hard,” Curt Kirkwood said. “He likes to be real deliberate. His playing is kind of simple, too. He likes to get things down to the essence. I may show him chord changes, and then if I’ve got a particular beat in mind, he’ll play that. But a lot of times we will see what he can come up with. Shandom can play just about anything. But, primarily, I like to keep things simple – drum-wise, too.”

The other contributor is another Kirkwood: Curt’s son, Elmo Kirkwood. Although not featured on Rat Farm, he will flesh out the current Meat Puppets lineup as a quartet when they play Lexington this week.

“He’s got a magical approach to music,” Curt Kirkwood said of his son. “He’s really got his own thing going on. He’s been around the band a lot and grew up with it, so he knows what it’s supposed to be like. But he can also bring in a lot of his influences, which are different than ours. I pretty much let Elmo do what he wants.

“That’s how it was with me. I knew when I started to play music as a teenager that that’s what I wanted to do. I knew that much. And nothing has come up since then that has made me feel otherwise.”

Meat Puppets perform at 10 p.m. Wednesday at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. Tickets are $12. Call (859) 309-9499 or go to

The mayor of Pumpkintown

trio de pumpkintown

The Trio de Pumpkintown: Tim Eriksen, Zoe Darrow and Peter Irvine.

In searching for the sounds and inspirations that define their work, many musical stylists revert to their roots – specifically, to the hometowns that served as literal as well as figurative starting points for their careers.

Tim Eriksen did exactly that for his new album, Josh Billings Voyage. But instead of retreating to a home village, he invented one.

The town he devised is called Pumpkintown. It possesses all the traditional intimacy of a New England community, which shouldn’t come as surprise given that the multi-instrumentalist and composer hails from Northampton, Mass. Similarity, the multicultural music emanating from Josh Billings Voyage – and, seemingly, Pumpkintown – should be equally expected. Eriksen is a musicologist versed in everything from sacred harp singing to the construction of generations-old ballads and dance tunes. Among his credits is participation in the T Bone Burnett-produced Cold Mountain soundtrack and the subsequent Great High Mountain Tour, which played Rupp Arena in 2004.

But what is this Pumpkintown? If Josh Billings Voyage is an indication, it exists as a melting pot where Celtic, German, African, Native American influences (and more) mingle. It might or might not be a product of New England, but Eriksen, percussionist Peter Irvine and fiddler Zoe Darrow – who collectively tour as the Trio de Pumpkintown – will bring the community’s stylistically expansive sound to Willie’s Locally Known on Friday night.

“It’s been really gratifying to see the audience response to a very personal take on traditional music based on this fictional village,” Eriksen said. “It’s kind of funny. In some ways, it seems that when Americans want to tell the truth, they have go to a fictional place, like Ichabod Crane or some other fictional character in American history. When we want to tell the truth, we go to this kind of imaginary village which is both New England and maybe an imaginary Southern village as well. I think they are united in this sense of an American village that doesn’t really exist but at the same time tells some truths that we can all relate to.

“I just decided – intuitively, I guess – that I wanted to be open to any kind of possible influence recognizing our country. But I wanted it to be in this fictional village – something that could be grounded in cultural fact, psychological fact and historical fact. So this village, Pumpkintown, which provides most of the music that is the basis of our repertoire, has a very deep multi-cultural background, from the kind of Anglo-Celtic-German-Native American-African context of its origin to more recent developments due to immigration from all over the world. It’s kind of a place like all of our villages, really. It has become so multi-dimensional. At the same time, it has this deep sense of history. But even at its very roots, it was multi-cultural before there was that term. The stuff that we all listen to, be it pop music, country or whatever, it’s all coming from a bunch of different sources.”

Perhaps the essential reason for a made-up land like Pumpkintown was to provide a means to represent and communicate the traditions of music that have continually fascinated Eriksen in a present-day context.

“Even in the work of trying to encourage traditional music, there is always this engagement with what’s happening now and with what people are thinking now. So all of this kind of experimental music I’m doing and the questioning I’m doing very much feeds into my interest and encouragement of traditional music-making.

“Everybody wants to be making music that’s alive even if their interest is in historical music. They want to be part of something that’s really happening. I think for people of all musical interests, there are elements of experimentation and exploration as well as elements of remembrance, learning and reverence for prior forms. It always has to make sense right now.”

Tim Eriksen and the Trio de Pumpkintown performs:

+ 12 noon April 11 at the Niles Gallery of the University of Kentucky’s Lucille C. Little Fine Arts Library and Learning Center. Admission is free.

+ 7 p.m. April 11, also at the Niles Gallery, for a shape note singing workshop. Admission is free.

+ 7 pm April 12 at Willie’s Locally Known, 805 N. Broadway with Ami Saraiya. Tickets are $10. Call (859) 281-1116 or go to

Thompson becomes electric

richard thompson at the kentucky

Richard Thompson

There is an old saying that a good title reveals just enough about a story to make you want to read on. The secret is not to give too much away in the process.

Case in point: the title of the new Richard Thompson album – Electric. From that, one might surmise that the latest music by the veteran guitarist and songsmith, an artist who makes no secret of his British folk heritage, was designed to let his rock ’n’ roll roots show. And you would be pretty much on target. Electric is loaded with the kind of amped-up color and wily soloing that has made Thompson a revered yet highly unassuming guitar slinger. But the agenda hardly stopped there.

Thompson also let Electric become a cross-continental summit with one of the most heralded Americana stylists in Nashville. In addition, the album openly defied its title at times to offer a few extraordinary acoustic reflections that highlight a gift for intensely emotive narratives. And, truth to tell, Thompson wanted to create songs fashioned to the lean electric sheen of the power trio he often tours with. So, yes, along with the intentions came a little functionality.

“The genesis for the new album was the idea of writing for the trio,” said Thompson, who returns to Lexington for a concert Tuesday at the Kentucky Theatre. “My band is usually a five piece. But sometimes, if we’re just doing a one-off festival or something, we’ll take out the trio (which also features drummer Michael Jerome and bassist Taras Prodaniuk) because it makes economic sense.

“That’s when I would think, ‘Well, we don’t have any material for the trio.’ We usually just use old material that we’ve adapted. But writing for the trio would be fun. It’s a different thing. There are different harmonic possibilities. There isn’t a keyboard or rhythm guitar stretching the harmony all the time, so you have to kind of adapt the instruments. The whole idea for the new record was the trio and how you arrange for it. And that translates to the live situation extremely well.”

To create Electric, the immovably British Thompson went to Nashville. It’s not as far a stylistic leap as one might suppose. After all, Prodaniuk toured extensively with Dwight Yoakam before joining the trio. But heading to Nashville didn’t mean Thompson was out to make a country record. He instead sought out Americana giant Buddy Miller, who became the producer for Electric. As deep as Thompson’s roots are in traditional British folk and the pioneering folk-rock he fashioned with Fairport Convention as far back as 1966, so is Miller’s connection to American roots music.

“One of the things that is very attractive about Buddy as a producer is his empathy for a project,” Thompson said. “He doesn’t insert his ego into the process, which is a great thing. You can’t say that about all producers. If you want him to play guitar on a track, he’ll play. If you want him to not play, he is just as happy to do that. He’s really all about the project, all about getting the personality of the artist across. He’s a wonderful colleague to work with. He has a really strong feel for traditional forms of music, and I think he’s rightly celebrated for that.”

Thompson wound up recording all of Electric in Miller’s home, including one of the album’s least electric moments – a startling acoustic confessional titled The Snow Goose that calls on the powerfully delicate harmony vocals of Alison Krauss.

“It’s hard to say about how songs start. Sometimes I just sit down to write a story, and perhaps it starts with the first line. Then it just takes off in its own direction. You just become a storyteller. I’m never really sure, until it’s written, of what the song is even about sometimes.

The Snow Goose is a song about being young, I think. You have this desire. There is a part of your mind that says, ‘You’re going to end up failing. This is impossible. You can’t do it.’ And so, you never achieve anything. As I say, I don’t quite know how these songs happen. But I think it’s an interesting story that springs from my own past somewhere, from when I was a teenager, perhaps.”

Electric isn’t the sort of recording destined for chart-topping status, but it has again extended the mainstream visibility of an artist who has commanded a devout fan base for the past 45 years.

“I have steady, loyal fans – some of whom have been there since the ’60s. I thank them greatly for staying the course. But I suppose I make music for my own satisfaction first and hope that translates to other people.

“If it translates to 50 people, 500 people or 5,000 people, that’s great. Any size audience, to me, is encouraging. If I can earn a living, that’s tremendous. If the audience gets larger, then I think, ‘Maybe I can tour with an extra musician or an extra crew member.’ That’s the way I think about it, really. I’m not concerned with being famous or super rich. I just enjoy doing what I do.”

Richard Thompson Electric Trio performs at 7:30 p.m. April 9 at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main St. Tickets are $40 (including service charges). Call (859) 231-6997.

Next entries » · « Previous entries

Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | About Our Ads | Copyright