Archive for July, 2013

Reflections of a Nocturnal

grace potter and the nocturnals

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals: Matt Burr, Scott Tournet, Grace Potter, Benny Yurco, Michael Libramento. Photo by Phil Andelman.

As co-guitarist for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals since the group formed more than a decade ago, Scott Tournet has prided himself on being able to offer a speedy reply to just about any inquiry tossed his way about the band.

Want to know about the fan base the Vermont-born troupe has assessed in increments over the years, as opposed to one huge burst of pop stardom? He’s got you covered.

Curious about the stylistic breadth of the band’s music and the triumphs and drawbacks tagged to it? How much time you got for an explanation?

But ask Tournet about the chief Nocturnal, the devine Ms. Potter herself, and what has made her one of the most formidable female rock ’n’ roll artists of her day, and the guitarist seems briefly – briefly, mind you – stymied.

“Usually I have tons of answers for everything,” said Tournet, who will help Grace Potter and the Nocturnals bring this weekend’s Forecastle Festival to a close on Sunday evening in Louisville. “Really. I have an opinion for everything. But that one’s a little tricky just because I’m pretty close to the flame, so to speak. Trying to talk objectively about Grace and our band is tough.

“One of the things we talk about as a band is how cool it would be to be able to watch our own show onstage sometime to understand it better. Because when you’re in it, sometimes it’s hard to understand the power it may hold. It’s weird. I’ve known Grace as a friend for a long time (Potter and drummer Matt Burr formed the Nocturnals with Tournet in 2002). I respect and realize that she is a star. But I don’t really see her as one. I do when she sits in with someone else and I’m not playing. That’s when I can actually see what she carries into a performance.

“Something just happens when we go up onstage. We morph into this huge thing. It didn’t used to be like that. Grace has always carried some charisma and an energy that people were attracted to. But we became this rock ’n’ roll band. It’s like watching your child grow up. They grow gradually and gradually. It’s like when the uncle shows up and goes, ‘Look how much you’ve grown!’ That’s because he only sees you periodically. For me, I see Grace’s growth day to day.”

Potter’s name has been regularly referenced over the years alongside legends like Janis Joplin. But a more accurate parallel would be to Ann Wilson of Heart, just for the immediacy and confidence that underscore her vocal chops. There are leanings to pop and the blues, too, but Potter mostly takes an elemental and energetic approach to a sound rooted strongly in ’70s-style arena rock. The 2007 album This is Somewhere, 2009’s Grace Potter and the Nocturnals and 2012’s The Lion The Beast The Beat embody and build on those inspirations, but her live shows overflow with tireless vocal stamina and a desire to give her audience as intensive a performance workout as the one she puts herself through.

Witness the opening line she delivered to a delirious audience locally at The Dame in 2009. “By the end of the night, you-all are going to be a mess.”

“That’s the thing about Grace that people don’t really understand,” Tournet said. “She’s actually a multi-faceted chameleon of a person. We could totally do one full album of songs like Paris (the 2010 hit from Grace Potter and the Nocturnals that earned the band considerable exposure on radio and television) that are very physical. We could do a total art-rock album. We could do a blues album. We could do a folk album. We could do a million different things. So that’s the good news. But sometimes that’s been our Achilles’ heel, too, because we don’t fit in snugly with one genre.”

How far outside conventional rock boundaries has Potter journeyed? How about touring with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw on a stadium tour last summer and turning up as a guest on the former’s 2011 hit You and Tequila (just as Chesney did a year later for the Nocturnals single Stars)?

“I thought it was kind of hilarious that we played Coachella – the coolest, trendiest, most hip and now festival – and then went out with Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, which is the antithesis of that,” Tournet said. “It’s crazy. It’s weird. We’ve always been able to blend into different environments.”

Grace Potter and the Nocturnals perform on the final night of Forecastle. The festival runs today through Sunday at Waterfront Park, 129 East River Rd. in Louisville. Start times are 4:45 p.m. (June 12), 2:15 p.m. (June 13) and 1:15 p.m. (June 14). Tickets are $75, $85, $180. More ticket info at http://forecastlefest.com.

sisters’ new sound

tegan and sara

tegan and sara quin.

Throughout the decade that gave rise to their joint career, twin sisters Tegan and Sara Quin became the unofficial queens of indie-pop introspection.

Packed with songs of strong (if not somewhat moody) folk imagery and strong pop accessibility, albums like 2000’s This Business of Art, 2002’s If It Was You and especially 2004’s So Jealous established an international following for the Calgary-born duo that came to be known simply as Tegan and Sara.

But an inevitable side effect to a career that achieves longevity is a creative, as well as commercial, restlessness. Breaking free of it almost always works against the component most essential to an extended artistic lifespan: audience expectations.

“I felt like we made a lot of sad and very introspective, very heavy records,” said Tegan Quin, who joins sister Sara as one of the featured opening night acts at this year’s Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati. “That’s been great because that has helped us acquire an incredible audience of very passionate music listeners. Our souls are really intense and electric because of it.

“But, absolutely, we wanted to make a record that had maybe a bit more of a pop vibe, more of an upbeat feel. We just felt if we want to create a really interesting catalog and live show we needed to move in a different direction.”

With that, Heartthrob was born – a new album that took Tegan and Sara’s pop consciousness to the dance floor. The heavy electronica beats that fuel Closer, the album’s leadoff single, may have caught the indie faithful off guard. But the pop mainstream was quick to react. Heartthrob hit No. 3 on the Billboard 200 last winter during its first week of release. It was the highest chart position, much less chart debut, of any Tegan and Sara album.

“I could talk for hours about why we chose to go in the direction we did for Heartthrob,” Tegan said. “But the honest and most basic answer is that we’ve been making music for almost 20 years together. We’ve been writing since we were teenagers. In order to keep our band interesting and to keep Sara and I inspired and excited and challenging ourselves, we cannot make the same record twice. With Heartthrob, that is what we had to do. We had to make a record that was going to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, push our audience outside of its comfort zone and push the industry, hopefully, outside of its comfort zone. We didn’t really see anything like us in the mainstream, so we wanted to make a record that helped us reach the mainstream.
”We felt it was time to challenge pop radio and challenge commercial music. Basically, we felt like we had a lot of big challenges ahead of us and wanted to accept them rather than just make another Tegan and Sara record. The themes on this record are still very intense and personal and vulnerable and dark, in some cases. But we wanted to try juxtaposing those themes with more upbeat sounds to create a really interesting vibe for the record.”

The success of Heartthrob is just part of what has Tegan and Sara so excited as they hit the road this summer. Artists with activist streaks, the twins are openly gay and championed the recent Supreme Court ruling that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act.

“We were thrilled,” Tegan said. “We were in Europe when that happened and, obviously, we were very excited. This is something that is very important to us. Aside from our political leanings and us just being gay and caring about it on that level, it is very personal for us. It was very personal as someone who was raised with very high self-esteem to feel very confident about who I was. I grew up in a very supportive community and lived in Canada to become really outspoken about being an equal citizen. There is a big fight still ahead and lots of ground still to cover. But I feel this is a huge step.”

Adding to all that was a perk that might seem miniscule when compared to the commercial triumph of a hit album and the social milestone of marriage equality. The Quin sisters recently had the opportunity to meet one of their most formative – and, perhaps, unexpected artistic inspirations – the members of the ‘90s boy band New Kids on the Block.

“People laugh about how excited we were,” Tegan said. “But we were, like, really, really excited. We were literally part of the generation that was obsessed with New Kids on the Block. Sara and I were eight years old when they put out their first cassette tape. I remember going to see to them perform in Calgary when I was 10. Speaking of Heartthrob, they were our heartthrobs. We loved them and they were real. I remember sitting in my seat, watching them dance around and sing. I was going, ‘Oh my God, they’re real.’ After that we became really obsessed with music. We performed in the choir in school. We were obsessed with Bruce Springsteen. We loved lots of other kinds of music, too. But New Kids was kind of the first music we picked that wasn’t our parents’music. So meeting them was really exciting.

“We’ve had incredibly humbling experiences throughout our career meeting everyone from Paul McCartney and Neil Young (Tegan and Sara record for Young’s Vapor label) and playing with them to meeting New Kids. As a child, that was the thing that kind of made us want to perform. I think they provided a very important stepping stone for a lot of artists.”

Tegan and Sara perform tonight as part of the Bunbury Music Festival at Yeoman’s Cove of Sawyer Point Park, 705 East Pete Rose Way in Cincinnati. The festival runs through Sunday. Start times are 2 p.m. each day. Tickets are $65-130. Call (513) 352-6180 or go to www.bunburyfestival.com.

critic’s pick 287: preservation hall jazz band, ‘that’s it!’

that's it!The ultra-fun new recording from the Preservation Hall Jazz Band opens with a sense of dislocation. What you hear is a big beat rumble, a cross between the spirit of Gene Krupa and the threatening swing you would have expected to blow out of Kansas City instead of Preservation Hall’s native New Orleans. Entering next is the bass. That’s the giveaway. It’s a deep, bouncy creation of tuba and sousaphone. Then the horns hit like a thick, humid breeze. It’s vital yet antique – a mix of sass and brass from the other side of the musical tracks that Preservation Hall usually calls home.

Then you glance at the title. A tune by current Preservation Hall chieftain Ben Jaffe, it doubles as the title to the album itself, a recording full of firsts for such a gatekeeper of New Orleans jazz tradition. The title reflects a eureka moment, an instance where the sounds of Preservation Hall – not to mention the artistic liberties that have been taken with them – coalesce into the realization that a new musical chapter for the band is at hand. The title makes complete sense once the music kicks in. You can almost hear yourself saying it.

That’s It!

For over 50 years, Preservation Hall has been a torchbearer of serious old-school New Orleans jazz – a light, fragrant sound rooted in Dixieland, blues and combo-sized swing. The name alone suggests its mission. But That’s It! completes a transitional run that perhaps could only have been realized in a post-Katrina New Orleans. Having nearly been obliterated by the city’s worst natural disaster in recent memory, the band regrouped and took on several collaborative situated well outside of its stylistic norm. The first was 2010’s Preservation, an all-star benefit that teamed Preservation Hall with such unexpected pals as Tom Waits, Andrew Bird and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James. A year later came American Legacies, a brilliant album mash-up with the bluegrass scholars of The Del McCoury Band.

That’s It! retains James as producer but retreats from the genre-jumping of those projects. Instead it focuses, for the first time in Preservation Hall’s half-century history, exclusively on new original works. The fun shifts from the parlor style serenading of Come With Me to the redemptive gospel shake-up of Dear Lord (Give Me Strength) to the G-rated graveyard celebration Rattlin’ Bones.

But within the solo, stately funereal piano rolls Rickie Monie provides to Emmalena’s Lullaby, which closes the album, you hear the full majestic sweep of today’s Preservation Hall. It’s a tradition that delights in being alternately dark and joyous. This is what This is It! is all about.

the quality of mercy

amy grant

amy grant.

She may not have realized it at the time, but a very specific muse guided Amy Grant as she set to work on her newest album, How Mercy Looks From Here.

Listen to the songs as unrelated works and you might think several were by her side – specifically, spirits depicting her faith and family through stories of love, life and loss. The literal-minded might even suggest the high profile guests helping her ignite these songs – talents like James Taylor, Carole King, Sheryl Crow, Will Hoge and, of course, husband Vince Gill – could be collectively viewed as the muse at work.

But it wasn’t until How Mercy Looks From Here was completed that the primary inspiration, one Grant has known all her life, was revealed.

“I remembered a conversation I had with my mom a couple of months before she died,” said Grant, who will perform at the Lyric Theatre tonight as the lone guest of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. “She was not quite in her right mind. She didn’t remember that I sang. But we really had this lovely visit. When I told her I had to go pack for a couple of shows that weekend, she was so enthusiastic, as though this was all new information. It was like, ‘You sing? Will you sing something for me now?’ So I chose an old hymn, because those old songs tend to be logged way deep in the memory. At the end of the conversation, she called out in a really upbeat manner, ‘When you walk out on that stage, sing something that matters.’

“So after all these songs came together, when the sort of fluffier ones had been left on the chopping blocks, I looked at what was there and went, ‘Oh, my gosh.’ Without even knowing it, I really kept a promise made to her.”

The songs on How Mercy Looks From Here were not exclusively penned with Grant’s mother in mind. She said all songs are as specific in the inspirations that spark them as the audiences are that eventually receive the music.

“Every song has its own story. Every song stands alone. I’ve always believed that every song also finds its own audience, but that just happens one person at a time. So when you write a song, you have to determine what best communicates that song – instrumentally, vocally, everything.

“I’m a very average guitar player. So when I sat down and played these songs for the producer (Marshall Altman), I said, ‘This is going to sound like we’re sitting around a campfire.’ But every song sounds like a campfire song when you just play it with a guitar. That’s when you bring in the brilliance of all the other players.”

Leading the guest list on How Mercy Looks From Here was Taylor, a life-long favorite of Grant. But finding the right song to share with the veteran songwriter – in this case, the album’s first single, Don’t Try So Hard – took some time.

“I had asked James to sing with me for a record in the ‘90s, and he was so quick to say yes. So I sent him a copy of this song that I had written. Then I didn’t hear anything and didn’t hear anything and then when he finally contacted me, he said, ‘You know, this is not a very special song.’ And I appreciated that. Of course, that song got pulled from the record. So I was a little nervous when I sent him this newer song. But I couldn’t think of a voice I trusted more. His voice is the wallpaper of my entire life.”

Having Gill singing beside her on Better Not to Know and playing guitar on several other songs on the new album was an affirmation of the music that is a vital, everyday part of Grant’s home life.

“Just to have Vince always making music somewhere within earshot is one of the greatest gifts and experiences of my life. It’s hard to explain how grateful I am for that.

“We have a long hallway in our house. The laundry room is at one end of the hallway and our bedroom is at the other. All of the living space is in between. So one day Vince had (Nashville guitarists and songsmiths) Chris Stapleton and Al Anderson over to write songs. I was carrying a basket of laundry down the hall and I was just about to pass this little stepdown den where they were working. All three of them were chugging away on their guitars and wailing. I put my laundry basket down and took a deep breath. I don’t remember if I laughed or if I cried. But I thought, ‘I am so thankful to be surrounded by music like this everyday.’ So to have Vince on my record, that’s me getting to share the amazing gift that I get to enjoy all the time.”

Best of all, How Mercy Looks From Here, perhaps more than any record Grant has made, blurs the once disparate genres that, at times, seemed to have been at odds in her music. You find yourself not listening for Grant, the top selling Christian artist that earned her first platinum album 30 years ago any more than you would for Grant the pop star who became one of the most commercially recognized crossover artists of the ‘80s.

What you hear is simply a singer of her own songs, a storyteller of lessons learned throughout a rewarding life and told, quite happily, with friends in her corner.

“You know, if I’m sitting on a plane, making conversation with a person sitting next to me and they ask me what I do, I just say that I’m a songwriter. And the great thing about being a songwriter is your skill set improves with time. Hopefully, that’s what’s reflected on this record – a maturing ability.”

Amy Grant performs at 7 tonight at the Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. The taping is sold-out.

in performance: tim daisy

tim daisy I

tim daisy.

Where does a schooled drummer turn to for performance advice? Why, to another, equally versed drummer, of course.

That accounts for Tim Daisy’s remark halfway through a fascinating solo percussion concert last night at Griffin’s Modern Motel. In seeking inspiration for a tricky navigational turn during one of several improvisational pieces, Daisy said he adhered to the philosophy of veteran prog rock and jazz drummer Bill Bruford: “When in doubt, roll.”

It was tough to tell where the actual doubt came in. Daisy gave every indication of being in complete control of his performance, whether it was through a quartet of composed works played on solo marimba or the improvisations he summoned on a drum kit augmented by a bagful of tiny percussion utensils. But one thing was certain. The concert rolled and then some.

One of the more industrious drummers in a very fertile Chicago indie jazz scene, Daisy has been a frequent visitor to Lexington over the past decade through a series of duo, trio and ensemble concerts presented by the Outside the Spotlight series. Last night’s OTS return was his first unaccompanied show here, and it was smashing. Literally.

As the solo segments of his past OTS appearance have shown, Daisy displayed plenty of cunning in carving music out of various scrapes, shakes, brushings and basic poundings on bowls, cymbals, gongs and even a small length of chain. The catalysts for such contact last night were assorted mallets, sticks and brushes as well as, in a few instances, his bare hands. Sometimes the chatter took on the form of giddy static. In other instances, especially when snare and hi-hat cymbal were involved, a beat and groove would develop, crest and quickly disintegrate. In terms of sheer construction and development, these improvs were continually engaging.

What distinguished the performance, and provided it with considerable balance, were the marimba tunes. Utilizing two works of his own along with interpretations of pieces by a pair of longtime pals and collaborators (the longstanding jazz saxophonist Joe McPhee and West Coast reed player Kyle Bruckmann), Daisy revealed a skilled and sensitive approach to compositional material while uncovering the rich, sleek tone of the marimba.

Some of latter quality could be attributed to the performance setting. Playing in an enclosed, parlor-like room without accompaniment or amplification made the gorgeous wooden tone of the instrument come alive. But the compositions and the artist at hand did their part.

The most inviting of the marimba tunes was Daisy’s own Soft Focus, a work first cut with strong chamber-like accenys by his Vox Arcana trio in 2011 (it serves as the title piece of the group’s newest album). Last night’s version was just as complete but vastly more playful than the trio version. So delicate was the performance that you could hear Daisy’s foot tapping on the floor in tandem with the music.

That’s the kind of magic that happens when you’re on a roll.

in performance: americanarama festival

americanarama festivalYou sensed Bob Dylan was inadvertently tempting fate last night as the Americanarama Festival of Music hit Riverbend in Cincinnati.

Seriously, in a holiday weekend that resembled monsoon season, was it really that keen an idea to the play apocalyptic High Water, even if its stormy temperament was buffered by strains of banjo from BR5-49 alumnus Donnie Herron, or the classic A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, even if the 72 year old Dylan transformed the tune into a fractured waltz?

Jeff Tweedy, who preceded Dylan with a comparatively streamlined set by Wilco, seemed to be the more favored rock ‘n’ roll meteorologist. “Maybe the sun will shine today,” he sang to considerable audience cheers during the set opening Either Way. “The clouds will blow away.”

In effect, that’s what happened. While a steady rain greeted patrons when Americanrama got underway 15 minutes ahead of the announced start time (meaning Richard Thompson fans, even the punctual ones, missed half of his opening set), a second band of storms scheduled to slam into the venue skipped to the south. The result was a relatively dry and safe setting for the 5 ½ hour festival. Why waste time here musing over the weather report? Trust me, if you have ever seen what happens when the river crests at Riverbend you would understand.

Headliner Dylan was in typically opaque form, shuffling through a set of severely revamped classics, some of which were sublime (like the dark reggae turns that kept Love Sick sounding so vital). Others were total train wrecks, as in Tangled Up in Blue (which seemed to leave guitarist Charlie Sexton, who rejoined Dylan’s band last week after the sudden departure of Duke Robillard in the wind).

Dylan, as always, acted as if he had no one to please but himself. That’s not to stay his performance stance was at all arrogant. It was merely isolated – almost withdrawn. If anything that only added to the sullen drama behind a trio of tunes from his 2012 album, Tempest (there he goes with the weather again). Topping that lot was Early Roman Kings, which more than ever revealed a loose Muddy Waters blues feel. Just as thrilling was Beyond Here Lies Nothin’ (from 2009’s Together Through Life), which was performed as a sort of psychedelic tango that brought to mind Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac.

Neither Wilco nor Louisville’s My Morning Jacket, which preceded Tweedy and company, had new albums to showcase. So their respective 70-plus minute sets went heavy on familiarities.

Wilco’s performance was the more far-reaching of the two, starting with a selection of quieter, more wistful tunes that had handfuls of patrons near the front of the stage calling for more volume. “Hey, I’m not here to entertain you,” Tweedy replied in a mock scolding tone. He then led Wilco into Art of Almost, which culminated in a feisty jam driven by an unyielding snare slam from drummer Glenn Kotche and a mounting guitar squall from Nels Cline.

Tweedy’s crowd statement after this little musical riot subsided: “Can you hear us now?”

Jim James, looking more than ever like a younger, hairier David Crosby, injected My Morning Jacket’s set with the requisite vocal wails and reverb that set the neo-psychedelic tones of the opening Circuital and It Beats 4 U while Carl Broemel supplied much of the band’s guitar ammo, including subtle, colorful pedal steel during Wonderful. The succession of finale riffs closing out Gideon got to be a bit self-involved. But that was a minor quip in this fine return-to-duty set by Kentucky’s most prominent rock export.

Thompson’s set – brief and schedule-challenged as it was – was still a dandy. It consisted of three songs from his new Electric album that efficiently underscored his narrative strengths as a songwriter and two oldies – Tear Stained Letter and You Can’t Win – that let Thompson the guitar demon loose. Merry, but remarkably unflashy instrumental fireworks ensued.

The highlights, as is always the case in festival settings, came when the artists joined forces. Dylan, not surprisingly, kept to himself. But all of Wilco crashed My Morning Jacket’s set for a cover of George Harrison’s Isn’t It a Pity with James and Tweedy exchanging verses.

The killer moment, though, came when Thompson sat in with Wilco to resurrect his 1970 Fairport Convention jam Sloth and engage in some deliciously ferocious guitar sparring with Cline. That’s when Americanarama hit the jackpot.

the sound of one drummer drumming

tim daisy II

tim daisy.

To heavily paraphrase an old cliché and place it within the context of Lexington’s long-running Outside the Spotlight Series, an artist’s sense of invention can often be judged by the company he keeps.

Through OTS’s 11 year run of jazz and improvised music performances, no one has epitomized that philosophy more than Tim Daisy. It has been reflected not only in the frequency of concerts the Chicago drummer has given in Lexington but through the wild variety of band performance settings he has played in.

Since subbing for an ailing Paal Nilssen Love at a show by the Free Music Ensemble at the Downtown Arts Ensemble in November 2002, Daisy has played locally in duo settings (with saxophonists Ken Vandermark and Dave Rempis), trios (Triage and the sublime Dragons 1976), various celebrated combos (the landmark Vandermark 5, the classically modernist-slanted Klang) as well as his own groups (the most recent being Vox Arcana).

As varied as all of these projects have been, they all share a common link – a group sense of collaboration. For his return performance this weekend, however, even that shared sensibility will vanish. On Sunday at Griffin’s Modern Motel, Daisy will be on his own. There will be no bandmates, no collaborators – just Daisy, a drum kit, a marimba, assorted percussive devices and a bucketful of ingenuity.

“It’s the most challenging way to improvise,” Daisy said from his Chicago home last weekend before embarking on his first-ever solo percussion tour. “One of the beauties of pure improvisation comes when you’re playing with others and bouncing ideas off of each other. Here, that’s obviously not going to happen. So I end up thinking a lot about pacing and about not rushing through ideas.

“I’ve done about four or five solo concerts in Chicago. And each time I’ve done it, I’ve felt I’m getting a little bit stronger in relation to how I base the material I play. At the first solo show I’ve ever did, which was a few years back, I went through all these ideas and thought I had been playing about 40 minutes. It had only been 10. So I’m learning to pace my ideas. In effect, it has really helped make me a much stronger improviser. Typically, when I come back into a situation and play with other people, I feel that I’ve formed some new ideas and I have some stronger vocabulary to bring into other ensembles. It’s very challenging for me but something that I really love to do.”

Don’t expect Daisy to stay out on his own for long, though. He will be back in Chicago by mid-month to celebrate the release of a new recording with bass clarinetist Jason Stein before traveling to California for a series of shows with Kyle Bruckmann’s Wrack. Then in September, Daisy heads to Berlin to record with Norwegian pianist Havard Wiik and Australian bassist Clayton Thomas.

“A career is often up and down,” Daisy said. “But right now it’s up. It’s good to be working and doing things you care about.”

Tim Daisy performs at 7 p.m. July 7 at Griffin’s Modern Motel, 199 Loudon Ave. Admission is $5.

whole hoge

will hoge

will hoge.

Long before audiences outside of the Nashville region knew his name, Will Hoge was getting business done in Lexington.

It could have been at the dawn of the 2000s, when the release of such electric Americana albums as Blackbird on a Lonely Wire and Carousel took him to the long-defunct Lynagh’s Music Club. Or maybe it was through an abbreviated set of protest songs (2004’s The America EP) or an indie-released, blues-infused epic (2006’s The Man Who Killed Love) that earned several billings at the long demolished Dame.
Whatever the sound or style, Hoge has been a regular around these parts as he bounced back and forth between the commercial confines of major label recording contracts – situations that, by Hoge’s admission, were “bad experiences” – to indie intervals of unabated creativity and genre-less categorization.

Today, Hoge is back in town and playing in the ball park – specifically, Whittaker Bank Ballpark, where he will be one of the lead-off men in the annual WBUL-FM sponsored Red, White and Boom country music fest.

But such a billing suggests Hoge is either a new country artist or an artist that is new to country music, neither of which is the case.

“I don’t feel like anything’s different,” Hoge said. “I don’t feel like there was this big decision where me and my minions sat around and said, ‘Okay, we’re going to go after a country career or a country following.’ I think in some ways, country music has come around to what I do.

“I was born and raised in Nashville. So what I do musically is a mix of rock with bits of country and Southern influence. It seems like all of a sudden, the mainstream country crowd has said that it’s okay. They sort of opened their arms and accepted what I’m doing as a writer and as an artist. We’re flattered that anybody will let us do what it is we want to do.”

“I’ve always loved Will’s work,” said Amy Grant, who featured Hoge as a guest singer on her recent How Mercy Looks from Here album. “He’s a great songwriter who doesn’t waste his words. His storytelling is amazing, and, off course, his life story is so poignant.”

Much of the current industry attention Hoge is enjoying stems from a new version of an older tune – specifically, the affirmation anthem Even if it Breaks Your Heart, which he wrote with Eric Paslay (who will also be performing at Red, White and Boom). The tune was a monster hit last year for the Eli Young Band, earning Song of the Year nominations by the Country Music Association and the Academy of Country Music, as well as a Grammy nomination. But it was first featured on a 2009 Hoge album called The Wreckage.

The title can be viewed in very literal terms. While recording the album a year earlier, Hoge was hit on his motor scooter by a van. Multiple fractures (especially to his legs) and lacerations required extensive surgery and physical therapy.

“Everything about The Wreckage was really personal and really thought out – that song (Even if it Breaks Your Heart) in particular,” Hoge said. “We put it out as a single and it just didn’t connect. I thought it was because the song was so incredibly personal. It really tells the story of my life, of falling in love with music and wanting to be in a band and all of those things. But I just thought that maybe it was too much about me. Then all of a sudden when the Eli Young Band did it and I started to hear the reaction to their version, it really made me realize the song has taken on a bigger meaning. It became a sort of anthem for anybody that wanted to follow their dreams and do what they believed in. It’s really special to stand beside the stage as they’re singing it and see people really react.”

Hoge has had several chances to do just that this summer. He has been on the road of late to write with members of the Eli Young Band. And that means taking in several stadium dates as the group performs Even if it Breaks Your Heart as part of its opening sets for Kenny Chesney.

“I go out Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights with those guys to write and get to see them do my song in front of 70,000 people. That’s a pretty cool thing.

“Really, the whole emergence of that song has been one of the coolest things I’ve ever seen. One, getting to see that exposure for myself as a songwriter is cool. I mean, I’m so down on record labels and music business people because I’ve had such bad experiences with them over the years. But it was interesting to watch from an insider’s perspective, to see something actually work for the Eli Young Band and hear the label guys say, ‘Hey, we’re going to put this out as a single.’

“I’m used to having that mean the label works on the song for maybe four weeks, then nobody cares. After that, you’re back to slugging it out again. But to see these guys and their record label really work to get this song heard and to see people react to it like I always felt they would if people heard it has been real special.”

Of course, the Young Band’s success doesn’t rekindle any interest for Hoge in signing to a major label again. His own career continues to follow an indie trajectory. Hoge’s newest recording is a seven-song follow-up of sorts to The America EP that broadcasts it style, sentiments and intent proudly in its title – Modern American Protest Music.

“It seems about every eight years we get a batch of those songs that stand on their own,” Hoge said. “And so we put these kinds of records out. I’m sure there are a lot of folks from a marketing standpoint that would argue that it’s a terrible idea for any artist in any genre to put out those kinds of songs and that kind of record. But I don’t know. I think, artistically as a writer, there are just things I have to say and kind of get out of my head and get out of the way so I can make other records.”

“It’s important for me to challenge myself, challenge my band and sort of challenge our audience, really. I mean, I’m not foolish enough to think every person that hears our records even cares about anything politically. They certainly don’t care what I think about the socio-economic state of our country. But it’s all part of building a real relationship with fans as an artist when you get to do some of those things. You get to take that rollercoaster ride together.”

Red, White and Boom 2013 featuring Rodney Atkins, Craig Morgan, Randy Houser, Josh Thompson, Brett Eldredge, Rachel Farley, Cassadee Pope, Eric Paslay and Will Hoge kicks off at 6 p.m. July 5 at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. Tickets are $9. Children 12 and under will be admitted free. Call (866) 698-4253.

current listening: fourth at the fillmores

On July 4, 1971, the Fillmore West shut its doors after serving as the performance haven to a new rock ‘n’ roll generation for nearly six years. To mark the occasion, along with more traditional Fourth of July honors, The Musical Box used this rainy day to spin records that were cut at the Fillmore West in San Francisco and the sister Fillmore East in New York during their glory years. This is music that lets freedom ring and then some.

fillmore the last days+ Various artists – Fillmore: The Last Days (1972). A chronicle of a week’s worth of shows that led up to the closing of the Fillmore West. Today this stands, even with occasional excesses, as a capsule of a vibrant Bay Area scene that dictated the tone of a national psychedelic rock movement. It’s a Beautiful Day, Quicksilver, Tower of Power, Hot Tuna, the Grateful Dead and a ferocious young Santana highlight the farewell party.

jefferson airplane+ Jefferson Airplane – Bless Its Little Pointed Head (1969). Combining recordings from the heralded Fillmores East and West, Pointed Head presents the Airplane at the height of its flight with a full crew at the ready. Paul Kantner mans the trippy Fat Angel, Marty Balin ignites the funk of Plastic Fantastic Lover, Jorma Kaukonen rides the blues wave of Rock Me Baby and Grace Slick pilots the psychedelic meditation of Bear Melt.

aretha live at fillmore west+ Aretha Franklin: Live at Fillmore West (1971). The Queen of Soul’s landmark string of R&B hits began to subside at the dawn of the ‘70s. But her creative side hit a peak. With her underrated Spirit in the Dark album only a few months old, Franklin ceased being a jukebox, recruited soul music sax legend King Curtis and served up a string of Fillmore West shows that make up one of the most powerfully earthy records she ever issued.

miles davis+ Miles Davis – Black Beauty: Miles Davis at Fillmore West (1977). Cut in the spring of 1970 with a band that included an insanely eager Chick Corea on electric piano going toe to toe with Davis’ trumpet outbursts, Black Beauty was a testament to how diverse billings were at the Fillmores and how eager Davis was to reach the audiences that gathered there. Black Beauty was released in Japan in 1977 and not until 1997 in the U.S.

abb at fillmore east+ The Allman Brothers Band: The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East (1971). Few live albums defined an entire genre, much less a band, than Fillmore East did with the Allmans. Southern rock pretty much began and ended with this record, although the set is best enjoyed as a blues party. But it was a strangely fateful one. No sooner did the record catch fire in the summer of 1971 than guitarist Duane Allman died in a motorcycle crash.

the mothers+ The Mothers – Fillmore East, June 1971 (1971). Cut at the height of Frank Zappa’s Mothers alliance with ex-Turtles Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, Fillmore was a true rock ‘n’ roll tent show that shifted from performance art extremes (especially in the vocals) to guitar mayhem and to jams of jazz-prog severity. The music was expertly tight even though the performance itself seemed so loose that it nearly imploded in on itself.

in performance: david byrne and st. vincent

david byrne and annie clark

david byrne and annie clark.

At first glimpse, the Whitney Hall stage at the Kentucky Center for the Arts in Louisville last night resembled a concert aftermath. Strewn about the floor were nearly a dozen musical instruments, the majority of them brass. It was as though the show had been suddenly interrupted with the players making a hasty exit.

But then, en masse, the troupe entered led by elder pop journeyman David Byrne and new generation songsmith/stylist Annie Clark (who still bills herself as St. Vincent, even though she was never introduced or referred to as such during the evening). The instruments were retrieved like temporarily forgotten toys and a flow of music followed that fused two askew pop intellects together in an unlikely alliance. The resulting music deemphasized the rhythm section in favor of an eight-member horn section that was equal parts carnival troupe, marching band and jazz-intensive rock orchestra.

At age 60, Byrne was the undeniable focal point even though he worked diligently to be a team player. When Clark was given the spotlight, he stood to the side and became part of the light choreography that kept the horn section in almost constant motion. All of that went out the window, though, when Byrne served up a Talking Heads oldie, which he did four times during the two hour performance. Then it was star time.

But the task at hand was promoting the 2012 collaborative album Byrne and Clark released last year, Love This Giant. The quirky pop dance structures of Who and the elegiac Outside of Space and Time, which opened and closed the set proper (and, similarly, bookend the album) played well to the still involving dynamics within Byrne’s singing. But so did less likely solo career picks, which included Lazy (a decade-old work with the electronica group X-Press 2 that, in this reworked version, sported a fresh coat of brassy cool) and Strange Overtones (yet another collaborative work cut initially with Brian Eno).

Clark’s material was often as intriguing as Byrne’s, even though the mighty brass orchestration tended to stifle her vocals at times. The best of her Love This Giant offerings was Lightning, where her light, animated singing worked in and around the punctuated, neo-soul bursts of the brass. But the large ensemble arrangements greatly enhanced such solo St. Vincent works as Cheerleader and especially The Party, to which Lexington native Kelly Pratt added striking harmonies on flugelhorn.

The latter was probably the closest thing the horn section offered as a solo. Instead, the team of eight worked with almost respiratory singularity, fortifying whatever bounce, groove or reflection the Love This Giant songs called for while turning the quartet of Talking Heads gems into true party pieces. The highlight of that lot was the show-closing encore of Road to Nowhere, where Clark joined the horn players in a snake line that weaved around a stationary Byrne to clap hands with audience patrons at the front of the stage. It was a suitably festive end to this inventive, cross-generational pop party.

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