Archive for June, 2013

in performance: kim richey.

kim richey 1

kim richey.

Sometimes you can design a vividly detailed description of a song and then tell it with conversational ease and still not convey the full emotive beauty of the music.

It can happen, in fact, even to a master songsmith like Kim Richey. Last night, near the onset of a very inviting trio performance at Natasha’s, the Ohio native and longtime Nashvillian offered a visual backstory before The Circus Song (Can’t Let Go), a delight of a tune from her 2002 album Rise. It centered around a co-writer with an arm-length tattoo of a clown getting mauled by a lion. The illustration even came with its own title – Bad Day at the Circus. It was the sort of quirky, macabre remembrance you would expect from Lyle Lovett.

Yet the resulting music, painted with light shades of keyboards from Dan Mitchell and equally sparse percussion fills from Neilson Hubbard (who doubled on bass during the program and tripled offstage as the producer of Richey’s last two albums) kept quiet pace with the almost stoic vocal delivery to recall the finer music of Suzanne Vega. It was here where the song’s truly dark carnival spirits lurked.

Elsewhere, this fine 75 minute set drew from three prime sources. The first was an expert catalogue of songs, which extended from folkish revisions of the largely country material from Richey’s self-titled 1995 debut album (highlighted by These Words We Said and Just My Luck) to the more Americana slant of works off her newly released Thorn in My Side (especially the light country anguish of the title tune and Come On).

The second was the trio format, which gave an open and atmospheric slant to the music – an attribute capitalized on when Mitchell switched to flugelhorn for the elegantly weary London Town).

Capping it all was Richey’s extraordinary singing. Youthful and exuberant at times, schooled and worldly at others, her voice was effortlessly clear but boundlessly expressive throughout the show. A beautiful case in point: Reel Me In (another Rise song), which Richey colored with torchy shades of luscious blues cool. It was enough to make this summer evening feel downright autumnal.

london (no longer) calling

kim richey 2

kim richey.

Sometimes you can’t fully appreciate your home and surroundings until you leave it for awhile.

Take country/Americana songstress Kim Richey. An artist whose songs have helped fuel the careers of numerous country greats (Radney Foster, Dixie Chicks and Patty Loveless, among them) as well as her own indie-minded albums, Richey took an extended break from her Nashville digs in 2009 and relocated across the pond to live in London for three years.

Already well traveled (she recorded her Chinese Boxes in London with producer Giles Martin), Richey made new friends and discovered different cultures. But the songs she started to pen overseas didn’t always thrill her.

“A lot of times, I would be writing pop music in London,” Richey said. “But these were things I knew I would never put on a record. They were just more songs for the black hole.”

So a year ago this month, Richey came home – well, just north of home, really, to Goodlettsville, Tenn. There she found entirely new living quarters far removed from cosmopolitan life and set about constructing one of the finest albums of her 20 year recording career.

“I love being in big cities, but I think London finally got to me after a time,” Richey said. “Now I’m in a double wide trailer which sits out in the middle of nowhere. The first couple of months I was there I just couldn’t believe the space and the quiet. I could see the stars. Every time I would drive up to the place, I would think, ‘I can’t believe I live here.’ It’s so fantastic.”

What emerged this spring was a record called Thorn in My Heart, a sampler of 12 new tunes that expands the trio format Richey has toured with of late (with bassist, percussionist, producer and longtime songwriting pal Neilson Hubbard, and keyboard and flugelhorn player Dan Mitchell). But the tone of Richey’s songs remains intimate and often atmospheric. One work, in particular, could be viewed as a postcard of sorts from Richey’s travels.

“There is a song Neilson and I wrote, Something More, that’s kind of like a grouping of a lot of different things and a lot of stories that we know about each other and about people that we know. It’s like hearing about people moving to Nashville because they want to be a songwriter or a guitar player. These people have a dream and they pack up everything they have and leave home. And maybe once they got there, what happened was not quite what they pictured playing out. But these people never give up. It’s kind of about that. But it’s not any one experience, really.”

Helping fortify Richey’s trio sound is a hearty guest list that includes Americana mainstay Will Kimbrough, Pat Sansone of Wilco and Carl Broemel of My Morning Jacket. But another guest had already forged an especially solid bond with Richey’s music.

Back in 1995, the year Richey issued her self-titled debut album, Trisha Yearwood turned her song Believe Me Baby (I Lied) into a career defining hit. On Thorn in My Heart, Yearwood returns the favor by singing harmony with new generation Americana great Jason Isbell behind Richey on Breakaway Speed.

“Trish is such a great singer,” Richey said. “I finally asked her to sing on a record of mine because I never had guests on one before. As soon as she opened her mouth in the studio, Neilson and I were like, ‘What else can we have her sing on now that we’ve got got her here.”

Having artists as varied as Yearwood and Isbell backing her on the same song also begs a bigger question. Does Richey’s true artistic allegiance fall within the mainstream country camp that helped ignite her career or the indie world that has been her artistic home for many years?

“It’s kind of too late at this point, really, to concern myself with that,” she replied with a laugh. “When I started out, I just wanted to make the best possible record I could of the music I really loved. Also, when I began recording at Mercury Records (which issued Richey’s first three albums), I was given complete artistic freedom. I had that from the get go.

“It’s funny, really. As we were making my very first record, nobody from the label came by the studio. We were in there for a couple of weeks. So I called over to the label, even though I didn’t really know anybody that well back then, and said, ‘You guys know we’re in here, right? You know were making a record?’ They said, ‘Yeah.’ I said, ‘But nobody’s been here.’ They said, ‘We were waiting for you to invite us over.’

“That’s pretty extraordinary, I think.”

Kim Richey performs at 8 p.m. June 30 at Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. Admission is $15. Call (859) 259-2754 or go to www.beetnik.com.

no one left behind

devine carama

devine carama. photo by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.

Reference the phrase “No Child Left Behind” and you will almost certainly find yourself at the brink of a political debate. That’s kind of what Devine Carama had in mind.

In using the name of a controversial and, to some, failed government assistance program for underprivileged children initiated during the administration of George W. Bush, the Lexington hip hop artist is hoping to fuel some conversation. But politics isn’t necessarily the catalyst for such dialogue as much as the need to show hip hop can address family values and concerns as readily as its more mainstream stars can cling to materialistic desires.

In short, shedding hip hop’s negative stigma by embracing life, faith, family and responsibility is what happens in Carama’s world when no child is abandoned.

“When it comes to my family and our dinner table discussions, No Child Left Behind was kind of a failure,” said Carama, who celebrates the release of his No Child Left Behind tonight with a performance at Al’s Bar. “The program was looked at as a good idea, but it wasn’t funded and wasn’t followed through on. So there definitely is this negative connotation to it as far as the circle I’m in. So I wanted to flip that.

“People that are used to my music, which is a little bit progressive, may go, ‘Whoa. What is this, the soundtrack to the George W. Bush era? Where are you going with this?’ But I wanted to get people thinking. In this day and age, there are so many artists. The scene is so oversaturated that you’ve got to find ways to spark people’s attention. So I felt the title would make people curious, almost like, ‘What does this rapper know about No Child Left Behind?’ I wanted to get people to listen.”

But that was only part of the plan. Carama has personal investment in redefining the concept of No Child Left Behind. He has two daughters and addresses the concerns of parental responsibility head on in one of his new album’s strongest tracks, A Deadbeat’s Karma. The storyline deals with an underage girl in a bar drawn into a conversation with a stranger who is later revealed to be the father she never met.

“The whole aspect of No Child Left Behind, from where I’m coming from, is simple. You’ve got a lot of kids out here that don’t have a father figure in their life. So that can be one aspect of how children are ‘left behind.’ So that song is another way of presenting my point. Sure, the story is extreme and unlikely. But the best case scenario is one where you are part of your child’s life because what they get into and turn into could be affected by you not being there. That’s big to me.”

Hip hop with a conscience? It has always existed. But with the music’s commercial rise over the past three decades, rapping and writing about social issues and personal responsibility has always been at odds with more violent and materialistic suggestions expressed by hip hop’s higher grossing acts. Carama, who will de donating a portion of the profits from No Child Left Behind to Junior Achievement, doesn’t see the contrasts between the two camps as a negative as long as rap’s more empathetic side gets its say.

“I’ve always been torn between what I felt would sell and what was in my heart. Honestly, I think the game needs that balance. When I was coming up, mainstream hip hop had a lot of content. Sure, you had your Snoops (Snoop Dogg). But that was coupled with Common and Talib Kweli. Even Tupac’s music had balance. One minute it was the gangsta rap. The next minute he might drop Dear Mama or Keep Your Head Up. Nowadays, it seems it’s all one type of music with the same themes. There is no balance on the mainstream level. You have to go dig through the internet or the underground to find music with any substance.

“A lot these labels, they just see the money. But there are people that want positive music and, right now, that lane is wide open. People that get into that lane could become really successful. I think their music could be a good alternative. But you’ve got to give people a chance to hear it. That’s the key and that’s what gives me the motivation to keep pushing.”

Carama is determined to follow through on getting the word out on No Child Left Behind this summer. There will be considerable touring with a children’s book of the same title expressing the themes of his album due for publication in late summer or fall. There are also plans for college, high school and middle school performances that will allow Carama the opportunity to discuss the inspirations of his new music directly with audiences.

“I feel this is the right thing to do. Personally, it’s the type of music I want to make because I know my kids are looking to me. They want to be musicians coming up. But the reason I’m pushing this beyond being a hobby is because I do actually envision this open lane. I have no manager, no label. I’m doing a lot of this ‘out of the trunk.’ I’m a true believer in the direction I’m going in.”

Devine Carama with Blue Collar, Emanuel ‘Thorobred’ Webb, J. Shell,  JaLin Roze, T. Smilez and Young Lord at 10 tonight at Al’s Bar,  6th and Limestone. Admission: $5-$10.

Call (859) 309-2901.

critic’s pick 285: vieux farka toure, ‘mon pays’

vieux farka toureGiven the cultural and wartorn strife that has besieged his Malian homeland over the past 18 months, Vieux Farka Toure’s Mon Pays is a novelty. It’s not a protest album. It’s not even a postcard from the front. It is instead a remembrance of Mali’s cultural splendor, one intended as much for the outside world as for the thousands displaced by the fighting between the country’s native Tuaregs and invading Islamic extremists.

There is a narrative depth to the album that we, as Americans, probably can’t appreciate. None of the songs on Mon Pays are sung in English, which excludes us from stories of nationality (Kele Magni), generational faith (Diack So) and the homeland tragedies at hand (Yer Gando). But the music conveys the mood through guitar lines that dance about with the grace and lightness of snowflakes and a sensibility in its vocal makeup that is largely contemplative.

There is perhaps an unintended irony in the fact that the two songs possessing English titles – Future and Peace – are both instrumentals. But these are also the best points of entry for new ears. Both are duets between guitar and the beautiful, harp-like kora. Both pack a powerful sense of history. The guitarist is the son of the reknown Malian musician Ali Farka Toure while the kora player is Sidiki Diabate, son of the great Toumani Diabate. The fathers were also a famed duo, responsible for a pair of Grammy-winning collaborations (In the Heart of the Moon and Ali and Toumani). The songs their sons present on Mon Pays (complimented by the kora-dominate Doni Doni) unfold like ballets with delicate but pronounced lyricism and a sense of musical give-and-take that is both delicate and dramatic.

But the most telling collaboration closes the album. On Ay Bakoy, Toure reaffirms a recent alliance with Israeli pianist Idan Raichel. The two toured as the Toure-Raichel Collective behind the wonderful 2012 global jam album The Tel Aviv Session. Ay Bakoy, however, bears a temperament more in line with the meditative and slightly elegiac feel of the duets with Diabate

In the end, two things about the current unrest in Mali need to be considered when taking in any aspect of Mon Pays. The first is that is that the invading fundmentalists seek to outlaw music in one of the most musical fertile climates of the world. The second is that Toure is himself a Muslim, but one far removed from the militants and, as he has termed them, “hypocrites” seeking to transform his country and his religion for their own purposes.

It’s no wonder then that the English translation of Mon Pays is “my country.” But one listen to this intensely serene music will tell you that.

in performance: son volt/colonel ford

jay farrar

jay farrar of son volt.

What you heard initially last night at Headliners Music Hall in Louisville was the Son Volt sound of old – specifically,  a muddy, mid-tempo groove colored by the grey wail of Jay Farrar’s singing, Rhodes-style keyboards and a sullen wash of guitar. It all merged to form the show-opening Down to the Wire, a relatively recent tune – one of four, in fact, pulled from 2009’s American Central Dust album. But it could have easily passed for the kind of cloudy but fascinating Americana variations conjured during the band’s mid ‘90s formation.

But the Son Volt that closed out its current tour last night had a lot more to say and plenty to say it with. The current quintet version of the band revisited the more defined country preferences that Farrar explored during the final days of his previous band, the revered Uncle Tupelo. But that was simply part of a greater glance back to more traditional roots that were fleshed out in the five songs performed off of Son Volt’s newest album, the aptly titled Honky Tonk.

In bringing that music to life Farrar had two very industrious co-horts. One was Mark Spencer, a longtime ally since the disintegration of the original Son Volt at the close of the ‘90s. He spent the duration of the 90 minute show shifting between a portable keyboard that gave a huge, churchy boost to The Picture (replacing the horn arrangement from the original 2007 studio version) and pedal steel guitar, where he summoned wide, pining electric embellishment to such traditionally rooted Honky Tonk fare as Bakersfield.

The other co-pilot was Gary Hunt, a guitarist capable of immaculate country picking who also juggled duties on fiddle. But his highlight reel moment came during a heavily revamped Barstow, a murky tune from Farrar’s 2001 solo album Sebastopol. With Hunt on mandolin, the song shed its forelorn frame to approximate a rustic waltz.

Farrar, as usual, was a man of few words. No matter. His moodpiece material spoke volumes, whether it was through the warm country glow of Honky Tonk’s Wild Side, the   infectious melodic sweep he used to propel the Woody Guthrie lyrics of Hoping Machine or the still-commanding crunch of Drown, one of only three tunes performed from Son Volt’s early years.

The time tripping was more concisely defined by the show final three songs, all performed as encores. The first harkened back to Son Volt’s beginnings (the ever-hopeful country ode Windfall). The second shot to the heart of the country tradition Farrar has renewed his infatuation with (a cover of Merle Haggard’s Stop the World and Let Me Off that owed as much to the Beatles as it did Bakersfield). The finale offered a sample of the alt-country blueprints formulated by Uncle Tupelo 20 years ago by way of a still-celebratory Chickamauga.

If the evening’s show-opening set by Colonel Ford seemed to encroach on the more traditionally minded aspects of Son Volt’s renewed country vision, it did so purposely. The band was actually Son Volt minus Farrar performing a pokerfaced array of vintage country hits that included Another Day Another Dollar, The Old Home Place and Whiskey River with Hunt, Spencer and bassist Andrew Duplantis trading off vocal duties. Even Farrar briefly joined the fun, playing pedal steel on If You Ain’t Lovin (You Ain’t Livin’) without fanfare or recognition – a setting he no doubt felt very much at home in.

getting down with the dirty dozen

dirty dozen brass band

dirty dozen brass band: kirk joseph, roger lewis, gregory davis, kevin harris, terence higgins, efre towns and kyle rousel. photo by michael weintrob.

Roger Lewis knows all about the relationship between music and funerals.

As the baritone saxophone voice for the entire history of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, he has seen his group grow from a troupe of traditionalists performing in the spiritual street funerals of New Orleans to a pack of global ambassadors for Crescent City culture that have collaborated with some of the most prestigious names in jazz, pop and rock.

Such an alliance was re-established in 2004 when the Dirty Dozen released what was arguably its finest album, Funeral for a Friend – a record that captured the feel of a New Orleans funeral in a studio setting with a set of spirituals that favored soul over sorrow.

But as he ponders his performance return to Lexington with the Dirty Dozen tonight for a concert at Cosmic Charlie’s, Lewis seems to be in a very different state of mourning. His lamentation isn’t for a person, but a place he came to know well during his local visits – specifically, The Mad Hatter. The now demolished hat boutique thatoperated next door to The Dame on West Main, where the Dirty Dozen played many a show.

“Every time I would come to Lexington, I’d go to that shop and buy me a hat,” Lewis said. “Man, that place was historic.”

That Lewis would recall the specifics of a venue, much less a store that sat beside it, speaks well for his fondness of Lexington, especially given the amount of globetrotting the Dirty Dozen has engaged in during its 35-plus year career. The day before our conversation, in fact, the band had returned from a brief European tour capped off by a performance at one of the most prestigious jazz clubs in the world, Ronnie Scott’s in London.

“There were people standing up, jumping and clapping,” Lewis said. “We play jazz, man. But I think somewhere along the line jazz guys forgot that people like to get up and dance and not just sit and listen to a bunch of notes that don’t usually go together.”

To understand the Dirty Dozen’s worldwide appeal, one has to first understand how the band came of age in New Orleans. It was born out of the city’s vibrant brass band and social club tradition. But while the Dirty Dozen was profoundly respectful of that tradition, its members were also in tune with other sounds percolating away in the city. Prior to joining the Dirty Dozen, Lewis toured the world with another New Orleans pioneer – Fats Domino.

Younger crowds quickly took to the more expansive stylistic view of the band’s music. Hard core traditionalists – at least, at first – were less accepting.

“Bear in mind, a lot of people still don’t realize we was always playing traditional New Orleans music. Didn’t He Ramble, all the traditional songs and gospel tunes – we was playing all of that. Now, I’m the oldest guy in the band. I’m the grandpa. I was studying a lot of music, a lot of bebop, so I brought that in. You got your own band, right? Then you can play whatever you want to play and not limit yourself to one type of music. So I said, ‘Hey man, let’s play some Caravan (the Duke Ellington standard). Let’s play some Charlie Parker and Horace Silver. So we started playing that music in the streets. People loved it. And we had all of these tunes of our own, too, things like Blackbird Special, Who Took the Happiness Out, Feets Can’t Fail Me Now, Do It Fluid. All of these were original compositions. And people loved those, too.

“Yeah, some of the older guys didn’t like what we were doing. They would say (mimicking a mock-scornful voice), ‘Man, they ain’t playing no traditional music.’ But the rest of the people did. It was something different. It was fresh.”

The turning point for the Dirty Dozen came in 1984. That’s when the band released its first album, My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now, and connected with one of its foremost admirers, jazz impresario George Wein.

“That’s the cat who started all these jazz festivals all over the world (including the groundbreaking Newport Jazz Festival). We recorded our first album and George put us on every one of these festivals. We had the opportunity to be on the same stage as Buddy Rich, Cab Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie and all these cats. We even opened up for Miles Davis at a festival in Washington, DC. Miles liked us. But Dizzy was crazy about the band. He said we reminded him of when he was a young boy.”

The late Gillespie would go on to become part of an extensive list of all-stars to record and collaborate with the band. Others included Elvis Costello, Bettye LaVette, Dr. John, Branford Marsalis, Modest Mouse, Norah Jones, Widespread Panic, The Neville Brothers and Buddy Guy. Among the most recent and unexpected of the Dirty Dozen’s collaborative family is the Grammy winning Malian band Tinariwen. (names cq)

But the artists that excite Lewis most at present are two of the Dirty Dozen’s newest members, keyboardist Kyle Roussell and drummer Alvin Ford. They will join Lewis and group mainstays Gregory Davis (trumpet), Efrem Townes (trumpet and flugelhorn) and Kevin Harris (tenor saxophone) for Tuesday’s performance.

“These guys come out of the church,” Lewis said. “They’ve got that gospel in their playing. That’s what so special about New Orleans music. It sounds the way it sounds because of the gospel. These guys bring that vibe to the music. It makes you want to jump and dance and shout.

“It makes you feel good all over and deep down inside, you know what I’m saying?”’

The Dirty Dozen Brass Band performs at 9 tonight at Cosmic Charlie’s 388 Woodland Ave. Tickets are $15 in advance, $20 day-of-show. Call (859) 309-9499 or go to www.cosmic-charlies.com.

in performance: deadstring brothers

deadstring brothers 2

kurt marschke of deadstring brothers.

“We’re used to people standing, dancing and throwing stuff at us,” remarked Kurt Marschke with a tinge of disappointment in his voice last night to the sedate and seated crowd that turned out for his Nashville trio Deadstring Brothers at Willie’s Locally Known.

You would think Marschke would have welcomed the listening room environment, especially given the sort of patiently paced and convincingly emotive country yarns that make up the newest Deadstring album, Cannery Row. But having seemingly measured up the mood of the crowd before him, the singer/guitarist politely said he would adjust to the feel of the room in “about 30 minutes.”

Two songs later into the set (which, by the way, barely lasted 75 minutes), the trio kicked into a roadhouse-friendly version of Leon Russell’s You Look Like the Devil. But the overall performance ultimately felt like one long warm-up, the work of potent band operating at underachiever level

Much of the problem dealt with repertoire. Marschke has issued five albums under the Deadstring Brothers banner, each a modest of gem of boozy, roots-conscious charm infused with varying degrees of country soul. And there was a nice smattering of tunes from those recordings, from the rustic Sacred Heart (from 2006’s Starving Winter Report), which Marschke colored with wiry accents of slide guitar and harmonica, to the steel guitar-fortified encore of Lucille’s Honky Tonk (off of Cannery Row). But there was an unusually heavy reliance on cover material. Some of it has been featured on Deadstring albums (The Band’s Get Up Jake and the aforementioned Russell tune). But a lot hasn’t – including country fare from Delbert McClinton and Rodney Crowell, along with a trio of Merle Haggard favorites.

Marschke, bassist J.D. Mack and drummer Nathan Kalish juggled such jukebox duties admirably, especially Marschke’s champion guitar picking during the Haggard medley and the Crowell staple Ain’t Livin’ Long Like This. But why sell yourself short as a songwriter by ignoring an arsenal of well-crafted originals in favor of capable but hardly distinctive covers?

Plus, there was simply a laziness to the show that was irksome. It was more the product of attitude than actual musical involvement. Marschke mentioned several times from the stage that the trio was “going out” after the show. That seemed like innocent enough commentary at first. But when Mack gave the nod to “wrap things up” shortly after the set passed the one hour mark, one started to sense the Deadstring crew was more anxious to engage in a Saturday night of its own making than the one it was already booked for.

in performance: buddy guy

buddy guy 2

buddy guy.

The only break in the guitar squall Buddy Guy created at the onset of a sold out performance last night at the Opera House came when he drew his hands off his instrument, curled them into fists and let out a blues howl harrowing enough to wake the spirits of Muddy Waters, Little Walter or any of the other musical forefathers that figured so intensely in his music.

It was fitting that this introductory firestorm came during the show-opening Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues, a work that has served a dual purpose for Guy over the years. It was the namesake tune to a 1991 album that rescued his recording career from oblivion. But the title has also remained a credo of sorts, a working philosophy that – judging by Guy’s overpoweringly jubilant stage presence last night – is still very much adhered to.

True to ferocious form, the performance took Chicago blues tradition and amped it up to rock ‘n’ roll proportions. Sure, there were plenty of instances where tradition came first, like a playful Hoodoo Man Blues, where Guy mimicked the low blues moan of his late longtime performance partner, Junior Wells, as well as snippets of salutes to the likes of Waters (by way of an exquisite but shamefully abbreviated Long Distance Call) and John Lee Hooker.

But it was when Guy cranked up the ampage that the show turned especially devilish. A mash-up of Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile (limited mostly to its wah-wah saturated preamble) and Cream’s Sunshine of Your Love (reworked as an instrumental jam) revealed greater texture and intensity within Guy’s soloing through long, unrelenting guitar lines that maintained the jam’s gale force potency.

But perhaps the most encouraging aspect of the performance was watching a remarkably fit looking and sounding Guy still in full possession of the creative firepower that has fueled both his musical cunning as well as his tireless profile as a master showman. That level of vigor underscores Guy’s commitment to the blues. But it also continues to make his performances, for all their rockish volume and drive, such a ball of fun for artist and audience alike.

Lexington’s own blues hero, Tee Dee Young, opened the evening fronting a very brief set of guitar/keyboard duets. A keen vocalist with an obvious affection for vintage R&B, Young borrowed a page from the Guy playbook and devoted a good chunk of his limited stage time to a lengthy guitar jam that reflected a broad scope of emotive and stylistic inspirations. It made for an expert appetizer from one of our finest homegrown blues/soul journeymen.

your best buddy

buddy guy 1

buddy guy.

My favorite Buddy Guy story goes back a few years.

It unfolded over Labor Day weekend of 1990 in downtown Louisville. This was long before the days of Forecastle, when the top outdoor festival was the Louisville American Musicfest, a multi-genre outgrowth of an annual bluegrass event the city had hosted for well over a decade. The gathering went heavy on blues and roots driven music presented on multiple stages near Main St. Performers included Joe Ely, Lonnie Brooks and Bela Fleck and the Flecktones.

Over at the Belvedere, the Austin Lounge Lizards had just completed a late Saturday afternoon set of renegade bluegrass when a shout came from the main concert stage located outside the Kentucky Center for the Arts. The voice, even from a distance, possessed the vigor and almost spiritual command of rural preacher. This was the message it conveyed.

“If you don’t like the blues, then ya’ll just get on out of here.”

The star of the evening had arrived. Buddy Guy was onstage.

Guy’s career renaissance – specifically, the popularity incurred by a career redefining record titled Damn Right, I’ve Got the Blues – was still a year away. Still, a new blues generation had already flocked to the rockish potency of his playing, partly through the very vocal support of Stevie Ray Vaughan. The Texas guitarist spent much of the previous decade telling any fan and critic who would listen what a mentoring influence Guy had been on his playing. 

But the blues world was also in mourning at the time. Vaughan had perished in a horrific helicopter crash less than a month earlier. Nearly every performer that day in Louisville offered words of appreciation in his honor. Guy told the crowd he was dedicating “every show I’ll ever do” to his late disciple.

That’s when the sadness stopped. Maybe it was partly the testimony he had given in Vaughan’s honor. A likelier guess, though, was that Guy simply shifted into the gospel-like fervor and jackhammer musical intensity he lends to every performance. The show, almost with the flick of a switch, became a celebration.

That’s when things really got fun. About half-way through Sweet Home Chicago, the chestnut that doubled as an ode to the blues Mecca that has served as home for nearly all of Guy’s professional career, the guitarist left the stage, walked through the crowd and up the steps of the Center for the Arts to peer through the huge windows that enclosed the Bristol, a restaurant then situated on venue’s first floor. The crowd fell in behind him. He kept on playing guitar every step of the way.

One could only imagine the reaction of Bristol diners seated by the window as they glanced outside to see an African-American with a guitar, an electric smile the size of Texas and an audience army of about 500 patrons heading straight towards them.

How beautifully indicative the scenario was, though, of Guy’s performance demeanor. It was a setting initially beset by the loss of a musical hero but remedied with an almighty dose of the blues.

“I was never the type of artist who was so good that I could just stand there and sing like B.B. King or Eric Clapton,” Guy said in the DVD documentary My Time After Awhile, which is included in the 2006 box set retrospective Can’t Quit the Blues. “Plus, I’m from a Baptist family. In the Baptist church, when they feel good, they let you know it. I think that’s what people see in me when I play.”

Today, Guy is probably the most recognized living ambassador of the blues outside of B.B. King. Born into a Louisiana sharecropping family, he gained an early appreciation for the music’s Southern roots.

He has claimed John Lee Hooker’s Boogie Chillen was the first song he learned how to play. But it was upon moving to Chicago in 1957, where a young Guy eventually fell in with a blues contingency that featured innovators like Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and soon-to-be performance partner Junior Wells, that he became fascinated by the music’s electric possibilities.

Guy was also a reactionary. Tradition was great, but he remained in tune with the wave of British artists that amped up Chicago blues styles in a way that became popular with young America. That seemed to provide license to unleash a level of volume, intensity and pure vigor in Guy’s playing that had been kept almost purposely under wraps. While signed to Chicago’s landmark Chess label during the ‘60s, he recorded largely as a support musician for other artists. The rockish undertow of Guy’s music didn’t fit in with what label chieftain Leonard Chess envisioned for his organization. Guy wound up issuing only one album as a leader for the label, 1967’s heavily R&B-inspired Left My Blues in San Francisco, before moving on.

In the decades that followed, Guy became a hero to a new blues audience. He jammed with the likes of Eric Clapton, shared stages with the Rolling Stones and received induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and, as recently as last December, the Kennedy Center Honors. He even managed to convince President Obama to sing a verse of Sweet Home Chicago during a White House performance the preceding February.

Guy continues to tour heavily (he performed in Brazil earlier this month) and will release a new recording called Rhythm and Blues – a double-disc set featuring cameos by Gary Clark Jr, Keith Urban, Kid Rock and members of Aerosmith, on July 30 – his 77th  birthday.

“Funny thing about the blues,” Guy wrote in his 2012 autobiography, When I Left Home. “You play ‘em cause you got ‘em. But when you play ‘em, you lose’em. If you hear ‘em – if you let the music get into your soul – you also lose ‘em. The blues chase the blues away. The true blues feeling is so strong that you forget everything else – even your own blues.”

Buddy Guy performs at 7:30 tonight at the Lexington Opera House. The concert is sold out.

deadstring country

deadstring brother

kurt marschke of deadstring brothers.

Comparisons employed by many critics over the past decade to peg the music Kurt Marschke has fashioned with his Detroit-bred Deadstring Brothers invariably wind up at feet of the Rolling Stones – specifically, the loose, boozy, roots-driven party music of the landmark Exile on Main St. album.

Similarly, with Marschke now residing in Nashville and a splendid new recording titled Cannery Row to his credit, the labels have changed. Now Deadstring Brothers are perceived as a kind of alt-country troupe. Admittedly, with the sounds of pedal steel guitar, piano, dobro, even the strikingly familiar voice of longtime Willie Nelson harmonica ace Mickey Raphael coloring Marschke’s newest songs, such a tag would seem logical. Marschke will have none of that, though – at least not for now.

“This is not a country record,” he said of Cannery Row. “You know who makes great country records right now? Hayes Carll and Jim Lauderdale. Those guys make great country music, of which I’m a huge fan. But I did not make a country record. What we did was just make an American music record.

“We actually want to do a country record – more of a straight honky tonk record with covers and stuff – just because we do so much country music live. A lot of times, we’re out playing every night of the week. We’ll play in markets that might not really care a whole lot about Deadstring Brothers. But you’ve got to play Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and we do and we’ll play two hours of honky tonk. It’s such a big passion of ours that we feel it might be a wise thing to incorporate that more in our future recordings.”

Country or not – and Cannery Row sounds far more like the psychedelic comfort food country instigated decades ago by Gram Parsons than the pop-saturated fare that has become the Nashville norm – Marschke seems committed to making Deadstring Brothers a more going Americana concern than in the past. In fact, up until a little over a year ago, the band was essentially in limbo as he and longtime bassist JD Mack pursued outside projects.

“When JD and I kind of put the band back together last year, we set out a mission as to how we needed to do this,” Marschke said. “And it was going to be super aggressive because both of us wanted to make up for lost ground. After all, I had essentially shelved Deadstring Brothers for a year and a half.

“So we set up this plan. We’re in the middle of it now. I mean, we’re playing our 100th show for the year this week in Philadelphia. And we didn’t even start touring until the 31st of January this year. So it’s just a really, really aggressive campaign to put the band back in the market and let people know this is what we do. We’ve never actually toured this aggressively before because I couldn’t. I didn’t have the personnel to do it. I didn’t have an agent capable of booking that many shows.”

One thing is for certain, though. With Nashville as a home – even for the few instances during the year when Deadstring Brothers are not on the road – there is no time for slacking off. That’s just one of the reasons Marschke left Detroit Rock City to live there.

“I just knew that this was the right move to make. The musicians in Nashville, their lives are so encapsulated by ‘this is what we do.’ It’s all they do. There is no other work. This is it. It just seemed like you could up your game that way. For me, it seemed it would really up my game as a writer and as a player if I made that move. And I think it has.

“When I was off the road in Detroit, I would always have family and friends around. There were always things I could do to distract myself from my craft. In Nashville, there really are no distractions. I get completely absorbed in it.”

Deadneck Brothers perform at 8 p.m. June 22 at Willie’s Locally Known, 805 N.Broadway. Cover charge is $8. Call (859) 281-1116 or go to www.willieslex.com.

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