Archive for May, 2013

all aboard the railroad of sin

sturgill simpson

sturgill simpson.

It took the better part of three decades for Sturgill Simpson to land in Nashville – time enough to see the world before devoting his creative life to country music.

The journey started in Breathitt County – about 30 miles from Hazard in Jackson – before a “second” childhood commenced after his family relocated to Versailles. Then came a hitch in the military that took the teenaged Sturgill to Japan, followed by a stay in Lexington where he fronted the vintage-style country outfit Sunday Valley. Restless for a more financially solvent existence, he headed West to work for the railroad only to realize there was still music boiling inside of him and only one place to go if he was serious about realizing its release

“My wife basically told me, ‘You’re going to wake up one day and be 40 years old and know that you never really had the chance to properly give this a go,’” said Sturgill, 34, who will celebrate the impending release of his debut solo recording, High Top Mountain, with a performance tonight at Cosmic Charlie’s. (The album is due out June 11.)

“Basically, I just made a conscious decision to walk way, sell everything we owned and move to Nashville. I mean, whether it’s performing or writing, if you’re going to try and do this as a career in any facet, you have to be where people who can actually help you are.”

Those who remember Sunday Valley’s shows at the long demised Dame will a find in High Top Mountain a kindred roots country sound, one packing a revivalistic spirit even though its songs can hardly viewed at retro. Credit much of the traditional tone to help received by veteran session hands like pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins” and steel guitarist Robby Turner. Both helped define a Nashville studio sound in the ‘60s and ‘70s but have been largely forgotten by today’s country-pop stars.

“I told my producer (Dave Cobb) that I wanted to make a pure, traditional country record. I wasn’t trying to get rich. I didn’t care if I got signed. I wanted to pay homage to the past, but I didn’t want the record just to be some retro novelty niche thing.

“Playing with Sunday Valley in Lexington, I wasn’t afraid to push the boundaries a bit in terms of sonic exploration. But I wanted this project to have the feel of those old country records. And Dave said, ‘Well, let’s just get the guys that played on those old records.’ So here’s Pig. He’s 80 years old, a Country Music Hall of Famer, but nobody calls him up for sessions anymore. And guys like Robby Turner, who played with Waylon (Jennings) for about 25 years. Dave called them up, they came and listened and said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ So I was like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’

“So looking out from the vocal booth in the studio to see Pig at the piano really, really forced me to step my game up. I had to do my best because these guys could call you out in a second if anything wasn’t up to par. It was a really good test just to find out what I was capable of. It did wonders for my confidence level. It was surreal.”

Then there are the songs, led on High Top Mountain by the hardcore honky tonk of Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean and the roots-driven Railroad of Sin. One seems almost defiant of the country music school of hard knocks while the other suggests a celebration of its excesses. But the genesis of both songs comes right out of Sturgill’s arrival in Nashville and the globetrotting that led up to it.

Life Ain’t Fair and the World is Mean is kind of a knee jerk reaction to a number of conversations that had taken place over the course of my first year in Nashville. It came from working with industry people and seeing things that had happened to friends. I heard some real horror stories. More than anything, it’s about life, how I came to Nashville with a very naïve perspective and some very quick, hard lessons learned. Without being too specific, it’s my own personal reminder of what I don’t want to do.”

Railroad of Sin doesn’t deal with Nashville directly. Nor does it reference the tenure Simpson spent working for Union Pacific Railroad during a three year hiatus from Sunday Valley. It instead takes inspiration from Simpson’s Navy years stationed in Japan. He even returned there earlier this month to shoot a video for the song.

“Going to Tokyo in the Navy as a 19 year old from Eastern Kentucky, you’re talking culture shock,” Simpson said. “But I always felt like I left a piece of my soul there. Instead of college and frat parties, I spent a lot of time hopping subway trains and partying my ass off all over Tokyo. Where else could I possibly capture that feeling of the railroad of sin for a video?

“I’m from Eastern Kentucky, but I made a very conscious effort at a young age to go out, do a lot of living and see the world. My grandparents and my mother went through hell to give me these opportunities. In a way, it would be like spitting in their face to stay in one place my whole life.”

“But it’s really weird now, because when I do talk to people back home, there is no real perspective. They don’t really understand how far away I still am from actually making it. I’m still waking up every day and wondering how I’m going pay bills and stuff like that. It’s interesting. It’s been a great year for me. But it is still a long way to the top.”

Sturgill Simpson performs at 10 p.m. May 31 at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave.

Tickets are $10. Call  (859) 309-9499 or go to

Critic’s pick 281: Henry Fool, ‘Men Singing’

henry foolThe joke surrounding Men Singing is that there aren’t any. This long-in-the-making sophomore album by Henry Fool, the prog-rock alliance of keyboardist Stephen Bennett and guitarist Tim Bowness, is entirely instrumental. Nonetheless, its four compositions – some bursting with melodic color, others luxuriating in states of stoic gray – are fascinating platforms for stylistic time-tripping.

Ground zero for the group’s explorations seems to be the mid ‘70s – an era when a dying prog-rock movement that ruled earlier in the decade intersected with a booming jazz-rock fusion generation. But one of the initial distinctions of Men Singing is the absence of the earlier era’s excesses. Instead of wayward noodling on synthesizers, Bennett employs the keyboard sounds more as orchestral and textural devices than as a lead voice. Assisting to that end is Jerrod Gosling who mans that most antiquated of modern keyboard instruments, the string-like mellotron on all cuts.

But there is an organic flow to this music, as well, thanks to the modest use of saxophone and flute by Myke Clifford and, on the album closing Chic Hippo, a bit of reedy ambience by Bennett credited as a Miles Davis “impression.” But Clifford adds considerable depth to these tunes, investing the sax with a choppy, almost percussive sound one minute and a sort of rhythmic stride in background passages the next that mimics vintage soul sing-a-longs.

There is star power, too. Given prominent billing is Roxy Music guitarist/co-founder Phil Manzanera. But there is nothing poppish about his playing. Henry Fool’s bio materials wisely point out that Manzanera’s contributions to Men Singing are mostly in line with the music of his side band Quiet Sun, a product of – what else? – the mid ‘70s. Mostly though, Manzanera calls precious little attention to himself on the album. During Men Singing’s title tune, his guitarwork serves as antsy electric chatter, a counterpart to the tune’s dominate sweep of mellotron, synth and flute.

But ‘70s prog and fusion influences abound throughout Men Singing. The 14 minute album-opener, Everyone in Sweden, bursts forth with the bright fusion cheer of Talespinnin’-era Weather Report crossed with the rhythmic muscle of the veteran Brit prog pack National Health while My Favorite Zombie Dream discreetly darkens the tempo (and mood) to recall latter day Soft Machine. Once the song intensifies, though, we are reminded of the more spacious sounding side of Hatfield and the North and the first few post-Peter Gabriel albums by Genesis.

But schooling in the specifics of ’70s prog is by no means a requirement for enjoying Men Singing. Instead, just power up this glorious sleeper of an album and let Henry Fool take you on 40 minute joyride. It’s one of the great instrumental chillouts of the season.

Mulgrew Miller, 1955-2013

mulgrew miller

Mulgrew Miller

On a late January evening in 2006, I found myself transfixed by the huge backdrop windows at Jazz at Lincoln Center that revealed the whiteout conditions blanketing Columbus Circle. It was a spectacular sight, even though my foremost concern was how on earth I was going to get back to my hotel, much less to LaGuardia the next morning for a flight that was mostly certainly to be cancelled. By midnight, some 17 inches of snow fell – hardly a record New York drop, but enough to close all of the Starbucks in Times Square. That seemed to constitute an emergency.

Inside, jazz proceeded as usual. Still, Mulgrew Miller seemed stunned by the setting. The blizzard played out in real time through the huge windows behind him while a near packed house at the JALC club Dizzy’s awaited his performance in front of the stage. “Man,” Miller said with a sigh and shake of his head. “Only in New York.”

That wonderful remembrance came to life again yesterday after reading about Miller’s death at age 57 following a stroke.

Miller was built like a linebacker, standing well over six feet tall and possessing a muscular, modal sound that, at times, could rival the great McCoy Tyner. But Miller seemed an altogether gentle soul, an attribute that played out within the trio settings he favored on a series of fine MaxJazz albums over the past decade (the second volume of Live at the Kennedy Center, released in 2007, remains my favorite). His playing was remarkably fluid and soulful. But Miller also took risks – often, in ways that seldom called attention to his playing. In some instances, he reflected the lyrical and compositional command of a legend like Bill Evans, although the similarity fell more within the temperament and expression he discovered on the piano – the playfulness, especially – rather than the actual tone. The same held true when he approximated Tyner. He could summon a beefiness in his playing, but it was never threatening, nor was it intended to challenge Tyner’s prizefighting solos. But he sure showed strength and dexterity when he chose to.

Miller wasn’t a star. In fact, he spent much of the last decade as an educator – specifically, as director of jazz studies at William Patterson University in New Jersey. But he occasionally made it to Kentucky. One of his final visits was on Mother’s Day at the now defunct Jazz Factory in 2007.

His swansong recording surfaced this spring with Ron Carter’s drummerless Golden Striker Trio. When bassist Carter mingles with Miller’s more contemplative playing, the sense of warmth is immediate. It worked like a fireplace seven winters ago in New York. But the seasons never mattered. Whenever Mulgrew Miller played the piano, it was summertime.

Current Listening 05/25/13

charles walker+ Charles Walker and the Dynamites: Love is Only Everything (2013) – On their newest blast of vintage-flavored Nashville soul, vocal vet Walker and guitarist/songsmith Leo Black stick to the familiar – namely original tunes that bring out the brassy orchestral R&B preferences of the Dynamites and the effortless soul/funk charge that makes Walker sound ageless. The cheery Still Can’t Get You Out of My Heart and the blues smackdown Yours and Mine (a duet with Bettye LaVette) rank among the many delights.

patty griffin+ Patty Griffin: American Kid (2013) – On her first outing following an extended stay in Robert Plant’s Band of Joy, Griffin offers up an album of stately but understated beauty. Sure, the ragged blues of Don’t Let Me Die in Florida kicks up some dirt. But the bulk of the record is steeped in antique quiet, from Highway Song, a captivating duet with Plant that serves as a reciprocal communion with the spirits, to Gonna Miss You When You’re Gone, which sounds like ‘40s-era serenading filtered through Brian Eno-esque ambience.

dead can dance+ Dead Can Dance: In Concert (2013) – The title is the only thing generic about this latest performance document by Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard, the Mulder and Scully of modern pop. The music is often as exact as the group’s studio works, mixing world music melodies, foreign rhythms and especially Gerrard’s lyric-less singing. At times, as on Ubitquitous Mr.Lovegrove, the resulting blend is otherworldly. At others, such as the luscious groove of Children of the Sun, Dead Can Dance sound dead sexy.

todd rundgren+ Todd Rundgren: State (2013) – Some might see this foray into big beat electronica as jumping on a stylistic bandwagon several years too late. But one man band experiments involving pop accessibility and advanced electronics have always been Rundgren’s modus operandi. While State takes a few listens to gain your trust, its songs reveal considerable wit and solace as well as a generous supply of melodic charm, all of which remain Rundgren trademarks. At 64, Todd still has the ability to satisfy and surprise.

stick men+ Stick Men: Deep (2013) – Stick Men is the prog alliance of Tony Levin, Pat Mastelotto and Markus Reuter. Levin and Mastellotto’s lengthy credits include extended tenures in King Crimson, which suggests some of Deep’s punctuated charge. But the record is both tough knuckled and textured, using Levin’s Chapman Stick, Reuter’s Stick-like touch guitar and Mastellotto’s acoustic and electronic drums to created densely patterned instrumental music colored by funk and a sense of prog that is truly progressive.

Critic’s pick 280: Grateful Dead, ‘Dave’s Picks, Volume 6’

grateful dead-dicks picks 6At this point, are there any creative insights left to reveal about the Grateful Dead that haven’t already been exhumed in the hundred or so concert recordings released since the band’s demise following the death of Jerry Garcia in 1995?

Probably not. But when additional relics surface from the Dead’s youth, we are nonetheless reminded of an adventuresome spirit, an extraordinary performance intuition and, yes, a few creative imperfections.

The sixth and latest offering in the Dead’s mail order Dave’s Picks series does all of that and then some. It covers, over three very long discs, a pair of concerts given only two months apart – in December 1969 and February 1970. But the performances often differ in temperament with the Dead opus Dark Star at the center of each show.

The ’69 outing is far more playful. Dark Star is dispensed with at the onset as a spacious, animated jam framed equally by Garcia, the puncturing bass of a young Phil Lesh and organ lines that dance with snakecharming flexibility in the background from Tom Constanten. Such looseness dominates the entire show, from the rubbery bounce of New Speedway Boogie to Ron “Pigpen” McKernan’s 35 minute tent revival recasting of Turn on Your Lovelight  How wild is to hear him continually shout “Wait a minute,” undoubtedly knowing that the band and the audience weren’t about to heed the call.

There is also a lovely take on High Time that foreshadows the exquisite balladry Garcia and lyricist Robert Hunter would fully unleash just a few years later in songs like Stella Blue and To Lay Me Down. The real surprise, though, is Me and My Uncle, where Bob Weir’s pre-outlaw country sensibility is transformed into a neo go-go party tune.

The 1970 set (cut after Constanten left the band) is considerably more solemn with Dark Star standing as a monument of everything the Dead did will – light, effortless improvisation that intensifies and subsides with Garcia’s brief vocals to reflect just a hint of desperate fancy. A few cracks surface, especially on the harmony support during a shorter, more subdued Lovelight. But the stark musicianship on Cold Rain and Snow and Black Peter (both of which set up Dark Star) beautifully compensate.

Ray Manzarek, 1939-2013

ray manzarek

Ray Manzarek

During the lifespan of The Doors, Ray Manzarek managed the impossible. He fashioned an instrumental voice that stood out in a band fronted by one of the most outrageous singers of his day. Such was the duality that made Doors music so compelling.

Jim Morrison may have been the rock star, the one who fascinated and confounded as the band’s focial point. But Manzarek was its musical conscience. Designing keyboard melodies that owed as much to classical and jazz as they did to pop, he often anchored Doors songs with a groove that would hold fast as Morrison raged.

On any number of Doors hits, it was Manzarek you heard first. Soul Kitchen, When the Music’s Over, Strange Days, Touch Me, Light My Fire and, most profoundly, Riders on the Storm, all began with a keyboard prologue that pinpointed a mood and motive before Morrison sang a note. And on two of the band’s wildest works – Crystal Ship and Unknown Soldier – Manzarek and Morrison began in unison, engaging in a quiet but pronounced musical communion.

Many forget that The Doors went on to cut two albums after Morrison’s death – 1971’s Other Voices and 1972’s Full Circle. While paling understandably in contrast to the Doors’ heyday records, both are still worth seeking in second hand stores out for keyboard colors that remain distinctive even without Morrison’s dark poetics.  

A few post-Doors delights peppered Manzarek’s later career. As a producer, he was at the helm for Los Angeles, the 1980 debut album by the vanguard punk band X. And during the mid ‘80s, the keyboardist struck up a curious alliance with Brit pop stylists Echo and the Bunnymen. Together they cut a highly faithful cover of the Doors’ People are Strange, which was buried on the soundtrack to The Lost Boys, and a fun, Doors-like original, Bedbugs and Ballyhoo.

Is there one essential Doors album to commemorate Manzarek with? Let’s sign off with two. Try any of the band’s many anthology sets, but augment your pick with 1971’s L.A. Woman, Morrison’s swansong album. It remains an alternately sleek, serene and deliriously earthy monument to a rock troupe riding out the final tide of a majestic storm.

In performance: Aoife O’Donovan/Joe Louis Walker

joe louis walker

Joe Louis Walker

The most enjoyable tapings of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour revolve around featured performers that are distinct to the point of being stylistic opposites. The magic then comes when a level of common ground is discovered – or, in some cases, simply stumbled upon – that is a surprise to the artists as much as their audience.

Such was the case last night when blues guitarist Joe Louis Walker, who performed with gospel fervency within a highly electric quartet, and Americana songstress Aoife O’Donovan, whose solo acoustic set possessed a delicate but almost incantatory urgency, shared the WoodSongs bill at the Lyric Theatre.

Walker, a recent inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame, obviously reveres the great Buddy Guy. While little of the elder stylist’s monstrous tone was appropriated, Walker promoted a cheery, rockish accessibility within songs like Too Drunk to Drive Drunk (which was performed twice, with the second version unleashing the evening’s most assertive guitarwork) and Ride All Night.

aoife o'donovan 2

Aoife O’Donovan.

But it was during  Soldier for Jesus that Walker’s vocal drive, a singing style drenched in the kind of gospel/R&B bravado that has long been integral to Guy’s music, was placed front and center.

O’Donovan, whose debut solo album, Fossils, is still three weeks away from release, is poised to be the next celeb performer in Americana music following tours this summer with Garrison Keillor and Yo-Yo Ma’s all-star Goat Rodeo Sessions. You could detect a different recent why in each of the five fine Fossils songs she performed.

Red & White & Blue & Gold reflected subtle folk melancholy, Fire Engine emphasized the hushed urgency of her singing, Beekeeper mixed New England coffeehouse folk intimacy with ‘70s-era West Coast folk expression and Lay My Burden Down proved an exquisite showpiece for captivatingly quiet vocals that navigated tricky melodic turns with schooled cool.

But the show stealer was Oh, MamaFossils’ finale tune – which bloomed into a very impromptu Band-like jamboree. Keyboardist Eric Finland (from Walker’s band) supplied a solo full of churchy calm before Walker chimed in with leisurely slide guitar that fell right in line with the folk-roots groove that sat at the heart of O’Donovan’s charming song.

Aoife time

aoife o'donovan

Aoife O’Donovan.

It has become fairly standard practice these days for a musical artist to exhibit – or at least, promote – a stylistically diverse artistic agenda. It could be a country artist embracing pop, a classical soloist moonlighting in jazz or a folk singer advocating the blues.

If you were to simply glance at her dossier, you might suppose Aoife O’Donovan was a champion at such genre-hopping. In recent years, while maintaining strong visibility with the Boston-based Americana troupe Crooked Still, she has collaborated with jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas, members of the multi-directional string group Punch Brothers, and the all-star chamber crossover quartet Goat Rodeo Sessions (which counts world class players Yo-Yo Ma and Punch Brother Chris Thile among its personnel).

But here is what sets O’Donovan apart from her contemporaries: instead of catering to collaborators: Her singing – a hushed, folk-fortified vocal sound full of powerfully emotive yet unassuming color – remains a refreshing constant.

“My role in all of these projects has been very consistent,” said O’Donovan, who performs at Monday night’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour at the Lyric Theatre. “I think that’s why I’ve stepped into a lot of different genres while retaining my own sound.

“I’m not the kind of collaborator who is going to step into a Dave Douglas record and all of a sudden start sounding like a jazz singer. I’m going to do what I do within the context of the Dave Douglas Quintet. Or I’m going to do what I do within the context of Goat Rodeo. I’m going to try and lay my sonic palette over the top of what they’re doing and then blend it all together.”

That speaks volumes for artists’ esteem for her singing. But after a decade with Crooked Still and a fistful of critically lauded collaborations, O’Donovan is finally ready to place priority on her name, her voice and her songs. On June 11, she will issue her debut solo album – a 10-song set of all-original music titled Fossils that is being regarded as one of the year’s most anticipated Americana releases.

“Definitely one of the things I’ve really enjoyed throughout my career is having a lot of different focuses. Now I’m very excited to be focusing on my solo album, the one thing that’s really been on the back burner for the last decade.”

Much of O’Donovan’s music seems shaped by her distinctive singing, but her writing has hardly gone unnoticed. Fossils’ opening tune, Lay My Burden Down, was first cut by Alison Krauss on her 2011 recording Paper Airplane. One can detect similarities in the understated vocal approach of both artists. But the songs define the difference throughout Fossils.

Shades of Joni Mitchell surface on Pearls, hints of ’70s-era Laurel Canyon folk-rock are draped over Glowing Heart, and the album finale of Oh, Mama is ripe with rustic waltz accents that bring to mind The Band.

“I am by no means prolific,” O’Donovan said. “But the songs on this record all came out with a mind of their own. And I think they have a common thread. Some of them might go in a slightly more folky style, and some of them might go with more of a Celtic influence or a jazz style or a singer-songwriter style. It really depends on the song. But I definitely don’t plan it out in advance. I don’t say, ‘I need to write this kind of song.’ It just kind of happens.”

Still, you can’t help but think – especially in the way her singing sweeps over electric shores in what might stand as Fossils’ finest song, Beekeeper – that writing and O’Donovan’s extraordinary vocal phrasing go hand in hand. That was certainly the case with the artists she grew up listening to.

“I remember learning Kate and Anna McGarrigle songs and Joni Mitchell songs. I mean, does anybody phrase anything like Joni Mitchell? And Paul Simon, who I always thought was one of the most underrated singers. Of course, he’s this highly rated songwriter. But the way he phrases on a song like Hearts and Bones is just beautiful. That, in a nutshell, is how I want to sing.”

“But I’ve also been a songwriter ever since I can remember, although it’s been hard to admit that to myself. Still, to this day, instead of describing myself as a singer-songwriter, I think of myself as a singer who writes songs. It’s a different thing.”

Aoife O’Donovan and Joe Louis Walker perform Monday night at 7 at  the Lyric Theatre, 300 East Third for the WoodSongs Old-Time Hour. Admission is $10. For reservations, call (859) 252-8888.

In performance: Todd Rundgren

todd rundgren

Todd Rundgren

Well, you can’t say Todd Rundgren didn’t warn anyone. The first words out of his mouth last night at Bogart’s in Cincinnati could have served as a mantra for his entire career, but they held especially true for the wildly indulgent performance at hand: “I am what I am.”

Familiar as that saying is, it also served as the opening line to Rundgren’s new indie album, State, which half of the program’s repertoire was devoted to. Take your pick as to which might have seemed more unsettling – the fact that State’s music is drenched in electronica-heavy dance beats or the idea Rundgren had of using such rave-friendly dance sounds as the basis for the entire performance.

He brought along two long-time bandmates – guitarist Jesse Gress and drummer Prairie Prince. But with very few exceptions, both, like Rundgren, were subservient to the show’s heavily computerized drive. In short, the better portion of the music was essentially canned. That didn’t seem to bother the crowd – heavily populated by 50 and 60-somethings – half as much as being showered with music they had never heard.

Frankly, that element proved quite intriguing. Good for ol’ Todd for not staying mired in the past. For those patient enough to hang tough with the State songs, there were rewards. Groove-dominate as the music seemed, it was still graced with plentiful pop hooks and a melodic sensibility that shifted from the contemplative (the set-closing Sir Reality) to the tensely textured (Ping Me) to the purely celebratory (Party Liquor). And while you couldn’t always tell underneath the live beats and synths, there was considerable humor in the new tunes, as well. “You shall receive what you deserve” sang Rundgren under the party funk of Serious. “Since you been dancing on my last nerve.”

It was in the delivery of this dance floor pop that things became problematic. Watching a truly pro groove merchant like Prince do little more that color a static, pre-established beat was a little painful. Same with Rundgren. While he obviously got a good aerobic workout leaping about in an effort to sell the crowd on the idea of a rave, his live musicianship was limited to two brief guitar solos at the start and end of the set.

Any concert that restricts Rundgren’s guitar time operates creatively in the red. In that respect, this program hemorrhaged.

In performance: The Time Jumpers

the time jumpers

The Time Jumpers

The cheer that burst forth from the music of The Time Jumpers last night at the Lexington Opera House was in no way subtle. You heard it in the scholarly but often carefree musicianship, the commanding but unassuming singing and the glossary of traditionally minded songs and styles this 11 member pack of Nashville all-stars could summon on a whim.

And then there were those moments so uncalculated but still so overtly upbeat that you couldn’t help but get swept up in the fun. Take, for instance, when Dawn Spears, one of the seven group members that took turns on lead vocals, announced she was going to sing a sad country song only to collapse in a fit of laughter so sustaining that reinforcements had to be called in.

Luckily, The Time Jumpers had plenty. Fiddler and de facto group leader Kenny Sears (Dawn’s husband) summoned Ranger Doug Green (of Riders in the Sky fame) to sing the sublime Western reverie Ridin’ on the Rio, one of five tunes offered from the group’s 2012 self-titled sophomore album.

But the giggles hardly got the best of Dawn Sears. She followed with the 1983 Vern Gosdin hit  If You’re Gonna Do Me Wrong (Do It Right), a solemn blast of traditional country heartbreak that was almost operatic in intensity. Not a bad trick, especially considering she was seated last night next to Vince Gill, who isn’t exactly a slouch of a singer himself.

That was the evening’s lone confessional, its only thematic ill wind. The rest of the near two hour show was devoted to music with a fluidity that was almost orchestral in design and a musical temperament that was continually sunny.

Two luminous examples were the instrumentals All Aboard and Texoma Bound, workouts that emphasized the band’s trio of fiddlers (Kenny Sears, Larry Franklin and Joe Spivey). Similarly good natured and free spirited was Kenny Sears’ Nothing But the Blues, a wry but light-as-a-feather dismissal of depression (“When my baby left me, I thought that I would die… but I didn’t.”), and the continually fascinating solo turns taken by pedal steel guitarist Paul Franklin.

Gill got his two cents in with Six Pack to Go, which was served as a leisurely blues light on desperation and high on the playful, animated solos and melodic runs that helped define The Time Jumpers’ tradition-minded, retro-inclined Americana fun. 

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