Archive for September, 2013

dave douglas’ interstate jazz

 

dave douglas

dave douglas

When Dave Douglas strikes up any of his many performance projects in a metropolis like New York or San Francisco, a certain clientele that share his sense of jazz exploration can usually be counted on to make up an audience. After all, these are regions, where world class jazz has long thrived.

But what about Wyoming, Iowa or Oklahoma? What about, say, Kentucky?

As part of his 50 States Project, the heralded trumpeter, composer and bandleader – viewed critically as one of the country’s leading voices in independent jazz – has vowed to take his music to every state in the country. And in doing so, he has formed an industrious quartet of young protégés that has already released two albums and will soon figure prominently in a third.

So it stands to reason the reception Douglas will receive on Sunday when he makes his Kentucky debut at Louisville’s Clifton Center will be different than at comparatively familiar settings like the Monterey Jazz Festival in California (where he performed last week) or the Village Vanguard in New York.

 “When we do go to places that are not hearing current sounds or where touring bands generally don’t go, there is this enormous enthusiasm, excitement and passion,” Douglas said. “That’s why we play the music, after all. It’s really exciting to feel that energy.

“With a lot of jazz, we’re creating things in the moment. So the best feeling you can have is when the audience is discovering with you in the moment.”

The 50 States Project culminates in October with the release of the triple disc box set DD/50. It compiles the two previous records by his current quintet, 2012’s Be Still and 2013’s Time Travel. The new Pathways will complete the package.

All three albums were triggered by two intense events in Douglas’ life – the death of his mother in 2011 and his 50th birthday in 2012. Be Still, in particular, was built around hymns his mother requested to be played at her memorial service (she had battled ovarian cancer for three years). In giving the music a new voice, Douglas augmented a new group of young musicians that included bassist Linda Oh (a former Douglas student during his recently completed 10 year tenure as director of the Banff International Workshop in Jazz and Creative Music in Alberta, Canada) with the decidedly non-jazz voice of Americana songstress Aoife O’Donovan.

“Through all of my projects, I try to bring in all sort of ideas to the music to make something that is new – that I can call my own, let’s say. First of all, being given these hymns by my mom to play… that was something I had never done before. I knew the hymns from church as a child, but to really bring them into my own practice as a musician was a challenge.

“I didn’t just want to recite them from memory. I wanted to find my own way of doing it. I already had the new project kind of formulating, and I knew I was going to be playing these songs somehow. But it was when I met Aoife O’Donovan in January of 2012 that I knew I was going to do this record this way. The way she sang this stuff was so perfect.

“This was also the launch pad for this idea of connecting with the country. I tour a lot overseas. I’ve played in more countries that I’ve played in states. So I wanted to change that.”

The Dave Douglas Quintet performs at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Clifton Center Eifler Theatre, 2117 Payne St. in Louisville. Tickets are $10 (student) and $18 (public). Call (502) 896-6950.

train in the distance

wayne hancock

wayne “the train” hancock.

Wayne “The Train” Hancock is what you call a man out of time.

Widely considered by critics, fans and especially fellow artists as one of today’s finest purveyors of juke joint country roots music, the Texas native never felt much kinship with the sounds that surrounded him in his youth. His tastes had already settled on styles that ruled the world decades earlier.

“It was mainly big band and swing music, Broadway show tunes, some classical music, Burl Ives – a lot of the music from the ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s,” said Hancock, 48, who returns to Lexington on Thursday for a performance at Willie’s Locally Known. “As a consequence of listening to that kind of music, I just wasn’t into anything that was on the radio. I’ve never liked any kind of music I heard there. When you turned on the radio back then, it sounded like the better percent of my generation just didn’t get it. Frankly, I feel like I fit in better now than I did 40 years ago.

“I use to listen to these trucker stations late at night. They always used to play late ‘40s and early ‘50s country music back in the day. Then at some of the places I worked at, especially here in Texas, everybody was listening to Tejano music. And there was Top 40 radio. Whether you liked it or not, you got to know the tunes because those stations rammed them down your throat 16 times a day. I don’t have anything in common with radio, man.”

The country inspirations that took hold, though, manifested in Hancock’s extraordinary 1995 debut album, Thunderstorms and Neon Signs. Nearly 20 years and 10 albums later, the singer’s devotion to that vintage sound remains steadfast. On his 2013 record, Ride, Hancock’s country roots sensibility is eerily authentic. The most obvious ghost hanging around his new tunes is Hank Williams. You hear it not only in Hancock’s confessional high tenor singing but in the giddy, pervasive sentiments created by pedal steel guitarist Eddie Rivers.

You can guarantee a lot of attention was paid to the latter during the recording of Ride. At the helm of the sessions was producer Lloyd Maines, who doubles as one the great Texas pedal steel players of his generation.

“There has always been some kind of telekinesis going on between me and him,” Hancock said of Maines. “I never have to really tell him what I want. But whenever he makes a suggestion, it usually winds up being what I want. Lloyd used to play steel guitar on all of my earlier stuff. Now he won’t do it anymore because he said my steel player is better. That’s pretty high praise.”

But the Williams influence runs even deeper. Though Ride abounds with a joyous juke joint sound that borders on rockabilly, the storylines to several of Hancock’s newest songs embrace a level of darkness that even the great Hank would likely find chilling.

Case in point: Deal Gone Down, a Ride song Hancock fashioned out the kind of violent, unexpected tragedy that can only come from real life.

“There was an old honky tonk I used to frequent in the late ‘80s,” Hancock said. “There was this blonde haired Fabio-looking character who always had all these women around him. I was pretty young and naïve, so I didn’t really understand what was going on. Well, what was going was he was fooling around with everybody’s wives when their husbands were all out working in the oil fields.

“Later on, my dad sent me a newspaper article about how somebody got wise to that guy, went into that honky tonk with a shot gun and killed everybody in the whole damn bar. He killed the waitresses. He killed the patrons. He killed the wives. Then he went to a hotel in Tyler, Texas and took his own life. I used the story because I knew the people that got killed.

“When I write songs like Deal Gone Down, somebody might go, ‘That’s terrible and sad.’ Well, yeah. It is terrible and sad. But it’s also a reminder to people that you should do right because if you do wrong like that, it’s going to come around to you again.”

Hancock has had his own trials, too. He added that he received the newspaper clipping while in a Dallas hospital (“that was around ’88, about two weeks after I went rehab for the first time”). But life on the road as a world class juke joint songster has never been better. The hours are long but the rewards – specifically, getting to sing his brand of swing-infused country the way he wants – are substantial.

“It’s a long road, man. But sometimes the longest road is the best one to take. I had a shot at the big labels some years ago, but the conditions weren’t what I wanted. I didn’t want to dress the way I don’t dress or sing songs I damn sure didn’t agree with. There’s no guarantee what will happen when you take that road.

“So I make a living. I pay my bills and keep my lights on. The good Lord willing, there will be a little money left over for some fun, too.”

Wayne Hancock with The Kentucky Hoss Cats perform at 8 p.m. Sept. 26 at Willie’s Locally Known, 805 N.Broadway. Tickets are $15. Call (859) 281-1116 or go to www.willieslex.com.

critic’s pick 297: the band, ‘live at the academy of music’

The BandUpon it release 41 years ago, Rock of Ages quickly lived up to its title. It was a double concert album of rock and Americana fire split between the quintet going it alone and tunes beefed up by a horn section playing arrangements by the great New Orleans soul stylist Allan Toussaint. In terms of rootsy might, artistic abandon and sheer performance drive, the recording was (and still is) a concert album for the ages.

Rock of Ages was recorded over four nights at New York’s Academy of Music at the close of 1971. Since then, other bits and pieces from those shows have surfaced as bonus tracks on reissues of the album. But two editions the new Live at the Academy of Music offer the motherlode.

The first, a two disc version, is essentially Rock of Ages with a few more bonus tracks and a revamped running order that reflects the setlists of the actual concerts. That’s all well and good. But the real kick is a five disc (4 CD/1DVD) set that includes the entire double disc edition plus the full New Year’s Eve performance of that run.

Admittedly, revisiting the Rock of Ages shows in such luxurious fashion might seem like a lesson in redundancy for some. Here are two reasons why that’s not the case.

There are several songs here that weren’t included in any form on Rock of Ages – mostly album tracks and non hits that are nonetheless wonderful keepsakes of The Band’s rootsy ingenuity. Among the pick of these entries are Smoke Signal, a forgotten gem from the 1971 studio album Cahoots that serves as yet another reminder of what a potently soulful vocalist Levon Helm was, and The Rumor, the finale song from 1970’s Stage Fright that has Helm, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel trading vocal lines in the manner of a vintage spiritual.

The other reason to dig into this huge mass of music is the sound quality. The original Rock of Ages was considered state of the art during its time. Live at the Academy of Music’s new sound mix, courtesy of Bob Clearmountain, redefines that sound with sublime vocal clarity and an even greater brass charge. Hearing them both in overdrive on the Helm-led cover of Don’t Do It (the standout track from the original Rock of Ages) is truly exhilarating.

The alternate versions of previously released Rock of Ages songs are a riot, too – like Garth Hudson’s organ solo excursion The Genetic Method, which finds even greater expanse between the psychedelic and the spiritual. And while not entirely new finds, the four encore tunes with Bob Dylan on the New Year’s Eve disc offer a sense of historical perspective to a rock sound that is proudly ageless.

in performance: the zombies

zombies band

today’s zombies: jim rodford, colin blunstone, rod argent, tom toomey and steve rodford.

Few songs captured the head on crash of late ‘60s psychedelia and vintage Brit pop more vividly than Care of Cell 44, the leadoff tune to the Zombies’ storied sophomore album, Odyssey & Oracle. Last night, before an enthusiastic but somewhat meager-sized crowd at the Kentucky Theatre, the present day Zombies let every element of the tune’s masterful construction shine brilliantly.

There was the bright melodic framework designed by co-founder Rod Argent. On top of that was the ageless, near-operatic tenor singing of fellow original Zombie Colin Blunstone. Coloring the charge were bouncy, wordless harmonies from four of the band’s members that could put the Beach Boys to shame. Wrapping everything up were lyrics that captured the song’s simple but wildly unlikely premise: to offer salutations to a jailbird (“thinking of you while you’re so far away”).

It was a wild pop moment – one that summoned the ingenuity of the song’s original 1967 version with a level of technical and artistic proficiency that is largely absent when a band with such a cherished – and, in pop terms, ancient – history relaunches itself in the present day.

Credit such credibility to the two Zombie holdovers. Argent was always the key architect of the band’s sound. Last night, he proved that with keyboard orchestration that propelled the r&b sway of the 1965 single Can’t Nobody Love You and the summery pop-soul title tune from the band’s 2011 album, Breath Out Breath In. And, to absolutely no surprise, there was the scholarly but beautifully loose jazz solo that punctuated the signature hit Time of the Season.

Blunstone was the great wonder of this latest Zombies uprising. At age 68 (he is exactly 10 days younger than Argent), his vocal range and clarity was astoundingly strong, from the high chorus wail he summoned during the show-opening I Love You to the studied harmonic lead of A Rose for Emily (performed as a lean trio piece with Argent and bassist Jim Rodford).

Those talents also extended to the family tree concept applied to the concert repertoire. While Zombies tunes new and old dominated the set, the two leaders interjected hits from their respective careers. Highlights included Blunstone’s cover of What Becomes of the Broken Hearted (which enhanced the song’s Motown roots with a blast of ‘70s-style British rock) and the unexpected show-closing encore of God Gave Rock and Roll To You (an anthemic 1973 hit Argent and Rodford scored with the band Argent).

While their steadfast instrumental and vocal skills provided the foundation of the 90 minute show, Argent and Blunstone also seemed genuinely jazzed by the music they were making. In short, this was no phoned in oldies act. This was a vital, involving pop parade fashioned from the past but built very much for the here and now.

interview with a zombie

zCOLIN & ROD SOFA2

colin blunstone and rod argent of the zombies.

It’s gotten to where an honest Zombie can’t catch a break.

Look around. Zombies have been all over television. They have invaded cinema screens. At least two local theatrical productions have been devoted to them.

So how can an ardent and completely authentic Zombie make his way in 2013? When you are British pop veteran Colin Blunstone, you simply follow the same professional instincts you have relied on for over 50 years.

Of course, Blunstone isn’t your garden variety, flesh-munching, undead. He is the founding vocalist and frontman for The Zombies, the immensely influential ‘60s pop band with the astonishingly brief lifespan – brief, that is, until it rose from the dead.

“It’s a very exciting thing to see” said Blunstone, 68, by phone from his London, England home shortly before The Zombies began its third North American tour of the year. “The way I look at it, we haven’t had a hit record in recent years. So when I see the audiences building up and getting more and more enthusiastic, it’s because of the way we’ve played. It’s a word of mouth thing. That makes this a very exciting project to be involved in. It’s exciting just be in a band at this time in our careers that is still gaining new fans and playing in bigger and bigger places.”

The Zombies’ commercial heyday was nearly a half-century ago. Following a string of hits (She’s Not There, Tell Her No and I Love You) built around Blunstone’s almost operatic tenor singing and the groove-conscious keyboard work of Rod Argent, the band cut what would become an almost iconic psychedelic pop album Odyssey and Oracle. That’s when legend takes hold of the story.

Odyssey and Oracle was recorded in 1967. But The Zombies disbanded amicably before the record was released in 1968. In 1969, one of the album’s sleekest pop singles, Time of the Season, became a worldwide hit. Since then, several pop generations have championed The Zombies, from hordes of ‘70s and ‘80s rock celebrities to younger college and indie-pop crowds.
“If a group like The Zombies appeared now, they would own the world,” wrote Tom Petty in the liner notes to the 1997 box set anthology Zombie Heaven.

“We recorded Odyssey and Oracle and then the band finished,” Blunstone said. “We never went out and played those tracks. I think that started this mystique about the band. ‘Why did this happen? Why didn’t they reform and come out and play?’ The fact of the matter was that we were all committed to other projects. I don’t think any of us have ever really wanted to look back. That might sound a bit strange and ironic now that we are in another incarnation of The Zombies.”

There were a few attempts to resurrect the band in the ‘90s. But what has led to a fully operative Zombies lineup led by Blunstone and Argent that has lasted nearly 13 years began as unceremoniously as the dissolve of the original group.

“All of this came up quite by chance,” Blunstone said. “I originally got back together again with Rod to play six concerts. We were very specific about that – just six concerts. But we both enjoyed it so much, really from the first half-hour of the first concert, that we just thought we would keep going. And here we are 13 years later still playing.

“When we first started again we didn’t call the band The Zombies. In the UK and in Europe we were playing mostly songs from our solo careers with hardly any Zombie tracks. But after we got back together again we were very pleasantly surprised to find there was a huge interest in The Zombies. Bit by bit, we started playing Zombie tunes. We had to relearn many of them. That was the beginning of what we’re doing at the moment.”

Connecting again with Argent wasn’t difficult. The keyboardist co-produced three of Blunstone’s post-Zombie solo albums. While Blunstone’s solo popularity was largely limited to Europe, he found new audiences through vocal cameos on early ‘80s records by the prog rock-minded Alan Parsons Project. Argent, who continued a songwriting relationship with Zombies bassist Chris White, found international fame in the early ‘70s with a band that bore his name and a major 1972 hit, Hold Your Head Up. The bassist for Argent (the band), Jim Rodford, was retained for the current Zombies incarnation along with his son, Steve Rodford, as drummer.  Guitarist Tom Toomey joined in 2010. The reconstituted Zombies have cut three studio albums of new material, the most recent being 2011’s Breathe Out, Breathe In. A fourth recording is near completion.

But the most remarkable aspect to the band’s return isn’t that it is simply enjoying a second artistic life, but that it is doing so with Blunstone and Argent performing with a level of sharpness and vitality few ‘60s reunion acts can muster. Blunstone, especially, was hitting the high tenor peaks of tunes like I Love You with ease when The Zombies performed here at The Dame in 2004.

“Rod and I just love to play. It’s just something in our DNA, I suppose. It gives us a great sense of fulfillment and excitement. We just laugh at it all sometimes because we never ever thought that, at this time in our lives, we would be playing live as much as we are. Neither of us expected to be doing this. But that adds just a little bit to it the excitement.”

The Zombies featuring Colin Blunstone and Rod Argent perform at 7:30 tonight at the Kentucky Theatre, 214 E. Main. Tickets are  $35 and $75. Call (859) 231-7924 or got to www.kentuckytheater.com.

in performance: the 23 string band

23 string band 1

the 23 string band celebrate the first day of fall: t. martin stam, dave howard, scott moore, chris shouse and curtis wilson

Whatever fears that may have hit when the inaugural Crave Lexington opened its gates Saturday to skies of rain and gray had to have been distant memories by the time the festival hit its stride Sunday afternoon. For my money, a brilliant first day of autumn, a plate of chicken chimichangas and a concert length set by the 23 String Band makes any festival a winner.

A Louisville-based group (although its members hail from throughout Kentucky along with one evacuee from North Carolina), the 23 String Band reflected the youthful gusto of new generation pre-bluegrass country groups. Granted, when the band chose to serve the bluegrass straight, it did so beautifully. Such was the case with a regal reading of Bill Monroe’s Kentucky Waltz. Mostly, though, bluegrass was a springboard for string sounds that incorporated classical, European swing, jazz, new grass, folk and, on occasion, pop.

Sometimes the genre jumping was obvious, as in the headfirst leap the band took from fellow Louisvillian Stephen Couch’s East Kentucky Water into a hopped up hoedown version of Tom Petty’s Listen to Her Heart. Juxtaposing styles became more ingrained when the quintet turned to the staple Stewball, where string tradition was accented by call-and-response verses that sounded more like the product of a vintage chain gang song.

But for all the stylistic standoffs that took place within the 23 Band’s repertoire, the most dynamic musical offering was also the most progressively minded. On the instrumental title tune to the band’s 2011 sophomore album Catch 23, the ensemble recalled the jazz-like dexterity and compositional depth that champion new grassers Bela Fleck and Mark O’Connor exhibited three decades ago. Violinist Scott Moore and mandolinist Dave Howard were in the driver’s seat for much of the composition. But it was the ensemble dynamic that astounded most during a series of dramatic but unforced crescendos that often deflated so the tune’s lighter lyricism could take flight. Then, in almost respiratory fashion, the tune built and climaxed again.

Put all of that under a sky of crystal blue with eats as far as the eyes could see and you had one hearty gala welcome for fall.

in performance: blake shelton/easton corbin/jana kramer

Blake Shelton

blake shelton.

As the lights went down at Rupp Arena last night, one had to wonder if Blake Shelton had become just a touch too uptown for his country boy roots. After all, how many Nashville stars preface their stage entrance with a recording of Bust a Move?

But for the better part of his 90 minute-plus set, the singer who is possibly the most visible country celeb of his day thanks to his TV presence on the hit music talent search show The Voice, was surprisingly faithful to a brand of rocking country that was alternately raunchy and reflective. In fact, the only concession to The Voice (aside from the fact that one of his “team” members, Gwen Sebastian, served as a backup singer) was a cover of the Cee-Lo Green hit Forget You, which the singer launched into vigorously but then just as decidedly halted, fearing it might intrude on his country credibility. A turbo charged Hillbilly Bone followed, solidifying the devotion of the more vocal and enthused patrons among last night’s crowd of 13,500.

Shelton may play the cosmopolitan card on TV, but there was – quite purposely – nothing highbrow about the rowdier fare that dominated the performance, as underscored by the sing-a-long choruses to some of the show’s bigger hits, like The More I Drink (“The more I drink, the more I drink”) and the set-closing, Beatles-bashing Boys ‘Round Here (“Chew tobacco, chew tobacco, chew tobacco, spit”).

It all fell in quite naturally within a performance that was part of Shelton’s current Ten Times Crazier Tour (named after a tune on the singer’s recent Based on a True Story… album that wasn’t performed). The party mood got a bit contrived, though, with the lugnut anthem Kiss My Country Ass. The song wasn’t particularly offensive, just offtrack in its whiney tone of country disenfranchisement. Perhaps someone can explain how the concert’s encore cover version of Footloose fit in with KMCA’s sentiments.

Far more effective and emotive was a two-song solo acoustic segment near the end of the performance. This included Over You, a song co-written by Shelton and wife Miranda Lambert about the death of the former’s brother. Recorded thus far only by Lambert, Over You was delivered as a simple, dignified remembrance. A folkish reading of Shelton’s first No. 1 single Austin rounded out the segment and sounded just as complete and involving as any of the singer’s current hits.

Florida singer Easton Corbin opened with a set fashioned very much after Shelton’s, right down to the between-song banter. At one point, in fact, Corbin told the crowd, ‘The more you drink, the more we drink.’ Not all the material was terribly inventive (the Top 10 hit Lovin’ You is Fun was about as distinctive as its title), but there was an assured, neo-traditionalist streak to Corbin’s vocals that nicely ignited Are You With Me and A Little More Country Than That.

Singer/actress Jana Kramer opened the evening with a largely antiseptic pop-savvy set that boasted a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover (Simple Man), a Taylor Swift-style hissy fit rant (I Hope It Rains) and a blast of Disney-style pop (the Top 5 hit Why Ya Wanna). No thank you to all of that.

holy grails: boomslang goes to church

grails

grails: emil amos, ash black bufflo, alex john hall, william slater and zak riles. photo by john clark.

Much like the music they create, some bands come together almost by chance.

For instance, take Grails, which will be among the many featured acts at this weekend’s Boomslang festival. A critically heralded instrumental ensemble with a sound that often suggests prog-laced psychedelia, its members came together a decade ago as moonlighters from other bands (Holy Sons and Om, among them) within a fertile Portland, Oregon music scene.

As such, their recordings are often aural quilts constructed when creative whims coincide with the professional availability of its members.

“Grails formed somewhat accidentally,” said co-founder and multi-instrumentalist Emil Amos. “So for years we had a pretty cavalier attitude towards all the basic expectations and responsibilities of a ‘rock band’. That kind of freewheeling, ‘let’s just party and get weird’ attitude ended up contributing deeply to our inherent sense of sonic freedom and a kind of non-need for identity. So in the end, Portland merely served as the place we all met each other, built the compositions and got drunk for over a decade.”

Some Grails’ recordings, like 2011’s Deep Politics are lavish sonic affairs that balance guitar textures and melodic frameworks that recall pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd but with more global and ambient leanings. Other works, like its six volume Black Tar Prophecies series (the last three of which will be issued in a single CD package next month), are more open and experimental.

“All the Black Tar songs are generally made at home in a consistently experimental state of mind  whereas a studio record like Deep Politics is a bit more focused compositionally and costs more money to make,” Amos said. “So there are benefits to both scenarios. In the studio we can emulate old Giallo-era Italian recordings of string sections and big, pleasing drum sounds. But at home we’re forced to submerge deeply into mood pieces and sonic manipulation, which is usually just as rewarding but in a different way.

“The three songs on Vol. 6 were specifically cooked up in an exploratory state… just crashing sounds into each other until they formed a logic and took a shape of their own.”

But what happens when a pack of industrious, indie-minded instrumentalists take to the stage and present music created like a lab project at home and in the studio for a live performance setting with a curious audience in attendance?

“When we’re recording, the timeline and methods are very disjointed,” Amos said. “Sometimes I’ll drop into a studio to record Holy Sons material and bang out a couple drum beats that end up sitting around for six months. (I’ll) go on tour with Om and give the files over to Alex (John Hall, guitarist and keyboardist for Grails). Two years later we somehow have a record.

“But on stage we all come together as a unified cohesive beast. The recordings are pieced together in post-production that eventually creates a kind of cohesion. Live, there’s an immediate cohesion.”

Boomslang 2013 featuring Pallbearer, Thou, Grails, Inter Arma and Locrain performs at 7 tonight at Embrace Church, 1015 N.Limestone. Tickets are $15. For a schedule of all Boomslang events, go to http://boomslangfest.com/schedule.

 

in performance: georgia satellites

georgia satellites

todd johnson and rick richards of georgia satellites.

The music of the Georgia Satellites has never been what you would call scholarly stuff. Packing an well-amped roadhouse sound built around Chuck Berry hooks, Rolling Stones riffs and a generous touch of rural country soul, it was the ultimate ‘80s bar band, a unit as forthcoming about its often streamlined musicianship as it was about the inevitable sense of fun that surrounded its shows.

Last night, at the first of two free evening concert bills at the Christ the King Oktoberfest, the Satellites held court as if nothing had changed since the band’s late ‘80s heyday. Of course, plenty had. Only guitarist Rick Richards, the key architect of the Satellite’s fat, cranky barroom sound, remained from the old days (bassist Rick Price is still a member but is on sabbatical following a family bereavement). That left guitarist Fred McNeal, bassist Bruce Smith and drummer Todd Johnston (the latter a 20 year veteran of the band) to bolster the vintage Satellites sound and attitude.

For the most part, all four members did a commendable job. None came close to dangerous performance drive and giddiness of co-founding songwriter and vocalist Dan Baird, who left the Satellites in 1990. As a result, the set suffered somewhat in the singing department. But oldies like Battleship Chains (sung by Richards), Railroad Steel (sung by McNeal) and, of course, the signature hit Keep Your Hands to Yourself (sung by Smith) were still every bit the loose, lively grinds they were decades ago.

The surprises came when the repertoire slipped past tunes from the Satellites’ self-titled 1986 album. Since the band has done so little recording since Baird’s departure, it opted to bolster its setlist with cover tunes. A few of them, like the set-closing take on the Swinging Blue Jeans’ Hippy Hippy Shake, have been part of the band’s shows since the ‘80s (they cut it for the Cocktail soundtrack in 1988). But the Stones’ No Expectations? The Beatles’ Don’t Pass Me By? The encore of Chantilly Lace? Those were perhaps less obvious avenues for the band and steered closer to creative filler.

But perspective prevailed. This was a free outdoor show on a balmy evening that served as a coda to summer. Beer, pizza and a catholic church made up the surroundings with the mix of rock nostalgia and roadhouse fun guiding the music. Even the predicted rains, by and large, held off. Hard to argue with all that.

bluegrass by the numbers

23 string band 2

the 23 string band: scott moore, chris shouse, t. martin stam, dave howard and curtis wilson.

The band name says it all. You get lots of strings and lots of sounds to sing about.

Sure, bluegrass largely dictates the music of the Kentucky-based 23 String Band, but this is no traditionalist outfit. Some members were schooled in rock ‘n’ roll, others have degrees in classical music and there are leanings to jazz all over the place. When these sounds hit the stage, what results is a homey, harmony-rich and ultra-playful sound that is less like Bill Monroe and more in line with such new generation renegade acts as Old Crow Medicine Show.

“As far as genre goes, I think we have a number of different genres that we pull from,” said Breckenridge County-born fiddler Scott Moore, who will perform with the 23 String Band as it helps brings the food and music celebration Crave Lexington to a close on Sunday. “But all the genres are filtered through our own capabilities.

“John Hartford once said, ‘Style is based on limitation.’ So whether it’s our limitations or our abilities individually or as a group, I think it all tends to give our body of music a sound all its own.”

With members from Owensboro and the Cumberland Valley region, along with a North Carolina defector from Chapel Hill, the 23 String Band has been as comfortable performing at largely traditional string music events like the Festival of the Bluegrass as it has at more youth driven jam band gatherings like the Terrapin Hill Harvest Festival. Nationally, the band has performed at the prestigious Grey Fox Festival in New York and such equally heralded RockyGrass in Lyons, Colorado.

The breadth of the 23 String Band’s demographic appeal is outdone only by its stylistic reach. Among the delights on its 2001 indie recording Catch 23 is a percussive, chant-like cover of Hartford’s Long Hot Summer Nights that could pass for a generations-old work song. But then the recording veers into its title tune, an animated instrumental that follows in the literate musical footsteps as such jazz-savvy New Grass stylists as Bela Fleck and Jerry Douglas.

“One of the unintended bright shining spots of this band is how universal the appeal really is, whether its older folks who generally prefer traditional bluegrass or younger folks who have seen us play at Forecastle or at a club. We can go from playing the Sally Gap Festival in Williamsburg, Ky. one weekend to a rock festival the next weekend and in both places have people coming up and saying how genuinely excited and pleased they were with the performance. The feeling is very mutual.”

Moore is also looking forward to be part of Crave Lexington, viewing the event’s focus on locally sourced food as a natural fit for the 23 String Band’s multi stylistic but grassroots-produced music.

“All of us feel pretty strongly about craftsmanship, local food and issues of sustainability. It all ties in together with roots music. Especially with younger folks, all of those things are tied in together. I think there are going to be lot of like minds out there. I’m looking forward to taking part in the festival with them.”

The 23 String Band performs at 3 p.m. Sept. 22 as part of Crave Lexington at MoonDance Amphitheater at Beaumont Circle, 1152 Monarch St. Admission is free, although there is a charge for food and drink tickets. Some meal events also require tickets. For a full schedule, go to www.cravelexington.com.

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