Archive for September, 2013

lunch with mayer hawthorne

mayer hawthorne

mayer hawthorne. photo by jeremy deputat.

It’s Monday – lunch time with a performance in Baltimore on tap for the evening. But as the noon hour hit, Mayer Hawthorne is just looking for some quiet.

“Sorry, dudes,” he says to nearby pals as he attempts to converse by phone. “I’ve got to do an interview. You don’t have to leave. You just have to not say anything.”

Curiously, the fun-loving pop-soul stylist is surprisingly soft spoken when he outlines his newest and most progressively minded album, Where Does This Door Go. Maybe that’s because he wants to let the record’s narrative heavy, soul saturated tunes – all of which he wrote or co-wrote – speak on his behalf. They certainly do a commendable job of setting a mood and carrying a groove.

“I definitely did not have any set sound in mind for this record when I went in the studio,” said Hawthorne. “I intentionally threw all the rules away. The only rule I kept was that the music had to be fun. Consequently, the record was very liberating for me. Instead of worrying about what the album sounded like, I just focused on having fun with it. That allowed all my other influences to come out like Steely Dan and The Doobie Brothers, (techno music pioneer) Juan Atkins and Black Sabbath… a whole bunch of stuff I’ve always loved that has never come out in my music before.”

Admittedly, none of these inspirations surfaced noticeably on previous records fashioned by the Ann Arbor song stylist born Andrew Mayer Cohen (his adopted stage name of Hawthorne comes from the Michigan street he grew up on). A fertile city for music, Ann Arbor also sits a mere 45 miles west of Detroit. So rock and soul were in abundance during the singer’s childhood.

“Ann Arbor is very close to Detroit, so we got to hear all that great Motown and Detroit soul. But Iggy Pop is from Ann Arbor. So are Bob Seger and the MC5. Man, there is so much other great music that’s from that area. There is a lot of rock ‘n’ roll. But it’s very diverse.”

The sounds explored on Hawthrone’s first three albums centered on self-produced, retro-inclined soul that used high tenor R&B singing to color songs rich in groove and sass. The culmination was the 2011 hit The Walk, a mix of brassy soul and bad attitude brought to life in a video that had Hawthrone and a paramour settling differences with a protracted gun battle.

Needless, to say those initial records stamped Hawthorne a retro soul music revivalist – a label he neither accepts nor distains.

“Stuff like that doesn’t bother me at all. I always say I don’t care what you call me as long as you call me. I mean, everybody is going to label you something. I understand that. Definitely, I have a lot of influences from the ‘60s and ‘70s. But I don’t know what it was like in the ‘60s and ‘70s because I wasn’t even alive then. I can only draw from what I know.”

What Mayer, 34, reveals on Where Does This Door Go is a richer, vastly more modernized pop sound that enlisted a host of top drawer producers, singers, rappers and writers that included Pharrell Williams, Kendrick Lamar, Jack Splash, Oak (of Oak & Pop) and Greg Wells. The myriad styles converge on the single Her Favorite Song, a work grounded in steamy funk but accented by bossa nova-style background vocals.

“This is the first time I’ve recorded with other producers. A lot of these songs were just written on the spot in the studio. I would sit down with Pharrell or Greg Wells or Oak and just start jamming. A lot of them were written in a very spontaneous manner in a very short period of time. So it was very free form.

“But I’m also a firm believer in that you have to write what you know. Otherwise, it’s just not going to be believable. This album is very story-driven. It’s a storyteller record. That was one of the things Pharrell was adamant about, that I just tell a story in the most detailed manner possible. These are all stories – real stories from my life, mostly from my youth. It’s a very coming of age record.”

But Hawthrone has hardly abandoned tradition. Prefacing the release of Where Does This Door Go by less than a month was a new studio album by Booker T. Jones, the legendary soul keyboardist and frontman of the groundbreaking instrumental R&B troupe Booker T. and the MGs. Hawthorne sang vocals on the record’s title tune, Sound the Alarm, and then reprised the song in performance with Jones on The Tonight Show late last month.

“That was so much fun,” Hawthrone said. “Booker is a legend for a reason. He wrote Green Onions when he was, like, 16 years old and I got to work with him. I actually got to work with a living legend. That is an amazing thing.”

Mayer Hawthorne performs at 7:30 p.m. September 21 at the Singletary Center for the Arts. Tickets are $22, $28, $35. Call (859) 257-4929 or go to http://finearts.uky.edu/singletary-center.

back into orbit

rick roberts

rick richards of the georgia satellites.

When the Georgia Satellites hit big, there didn’t seem to be a venue the band wouldn’t play or an act it wouldn’t share a bill with.

In Lexington alone, the barnstorming Atlanta guitar-rock quartet best known for the huge 1986 hit Keep Your Hands to Yourself, played downtown at the long defunct Wrocklage on Short St., the University of Kentucky Student Center Ballroom and Rupp Arena.

“There was another place too,” remembered co-founding Satellites guitarist Rick Richards. “Wasn’t there a club called Breeding’s?”

Yep. Make that another in a string of local haunts the Satellites played all within roughly a year’s time (l986-87). Not only that, but most of those concerts had the band in different company.

The Wrocklage show came when the Satellites had only a 1985 EP disc, Keep the Faith, to promote. The Breeding’s date came after a self-titled debut album became a No. 5 hit. But between those shows were dates that proved how far reaching the band’s appeal had become. The Rupp concert, for instance, placed the Satellites on a bill with country rock renegade Hank Williams, Jr.

“It’s weird,” Richards recalled. “Someone just sent me this ticket stub from a show we did in Vancouver which was with (David) Bowie and Duran Duran. I remember we flew from a Hank Jr. concert directly to the Bowie concert.  The common thread was having the Satellites there.

“We were just a rock ‘n’roll band, basically. But all of those acts, really, got their start as a rock ‘n’ roll band regardless of what they eventually became. Still, it was really weird going from Hank  Jr. to Bowie.”

The UK show teamed the Satellites with fellow post-punk roots rockers Jason and the Scorchers. To this day, it remains one of the loudest rock shows the university has presented.

“I remember those shows,” Richards said. “That was great fun and a great tour. We were all idiots – just these Southern idiots out there having fun. Like you said, there was no shortage on the volume at those shows. We used the volume to make up for some of our musicianship.”

Of course, that was the late ‘80s. By the 1990 vocalist and songwriter Dan Baird departed, as did drummer Mauro Magellan, leaving Richards and bassist Rick Price to soldier on. But the musical course the Satellites set in the ‘80s still guides the band today despite an overall lack of new recordings. 1997’s Shaken Not Stirred remains the band’s only post-Baird recording.

New music is the works, said Richards, who performs with the current Satellites tonight for the first evening of the Christ the King Oktoberfest (fellow ‘80s rockers The Romantics headline on Saturday).

“When we first started, we were just an off the cuff rock ‘n’ roll band. So when Dan left, we just decided to pretty much return to that format – just playing good stuff that we enjoy playing and stuff that we were fans of when we first started the band. So it kind of regressed into a really cool thing. It regressed into what it initially started out being.”

Georgia Satellites perform at 9:20 tonight as part of the Christ the King Oktoberfest, 299 Colony Blvd. Admission is free. Call (859) 268-2861 or go to www.ctkoktoberfest.com.

up on marble creek

marble creek1

evan belt, matt duncan, andrew english and ryan moore posing for guy mendes at marble creek. herald-leader photograph by mark cornelison.

Guy Mendes has spent much of the past four decades promoting and preserving the central Kentucky watershed region known as Marble Creek.

A self-described “card carrying, tree-hugging environmentalist,” he is happy to talk at length about the region’s history, its ecological importance and the very personal nostalgia that still ties him to it. But with the area facing the very real possibility of becoming disrupted, if not destroyed, by a 13 mile stretch of road that would connect I-75 with Nicholasville, Mendes has turned again to the ally that has always expressed most convincingly the unspoiled natural beauty of Marble Creek – his camera.

“I’ve been photographing down there since 1975,” he said. “When I started, it was just to take a hike and swim on a hot day. It is a world class landscape that has been continually threatened by development. We’ve lost so much of it. In Kentucky, we’re losing 10 acres every hour to rural development.

“So what we’re in is one of those classic battles of environmentalists vs. the development people. They have more money and access to the pulpit. But a lot of people have really rallied against this.”

Rallying is exactly what Mendes and a team of local environmentalists and activists that call themselves The Disconnectors intend to do today. An exhibition of Mendes’ photography of the region entitled Marble Creek: Endangered Watershed will open that afternoon at the Ann Tower Gallery. Tonight, an awareness/fundraising event combining Kentucky poets, writers and musicians called Off the Road! A Rally Against the I-75 Connector convenes at the Lyric Theatre.

“I like to call the rally a poetry slam/hootenanny,” Mendes said. “Younger people might not know what a hootenanny is. It’s a term for getting together with people, playing music and singing protest songs.”

The keynote tune of the evening will be presented through the premiere of a music video of an original song, The Vampire Road, by Lexington songwriter and composer Steve Broderson. The title isn’t solely his creation. It’s a term area protestors have used in the past to describe several failed attempts to construct roads through Marble Creek. Broderson found that description so vivid and revealing that he said his resulting song all but wrote itself.

“Actually the name The Vampire Road was coined by someone who had written an op-ed piece,” Broderson said. “So I kind of used that phrase. As a songwriter, that was like gold. It has built in metaphors and imagery.

“I didn’t want to write a real direct song. I didn’t want to make it too obvious. So I thought why not set it in the future when this thing has already happened and tell it as if we didn’t do enough to stand up against it.”

Musically, The Vampire Road is almost purposely removed from folk song tradition. It sounds less like Woody Guthrie and more like the kind of early ‘70s country-rock you

might hear from a band like Poco.

“While I didn’t really want to go down that Woody Guthrie kind of road, I still wanted to make the song relevant and make it accessible to people who would take the time to listen to it. It’s being called a protest song, but it’s really more of a make-you-think type of song.”

While The Vampire Road will be represented through video, the rest of Off the Road will be very much live. Wendell Berry (who was recently presented the Dayton Literary Peace Prize’s lifetime achievement award) and Barbara Kingsolver (winner of the National Humanities Medal) will lead a list of Kentucky authors and poets offering readings. A healthy lineup of local music that includes performances from Matt Duncan, Tee Dee Young and The Northside Sheiks will round out the program.

For Duncan, one of Lexington’s most versed and visible pop stylists, Off the Road hits home. As a youth, he frequented Marble Creek regularly with his parents.

“I do have a bit of a history with it,” Duncan said of the area. “I had a good friend growing up whose family had a farm out that way. We used to go down there quite a bit with them and play in the creek by all those incredible waterfalls. It’s a pretty magical area.”

Duncan also participated in a preamble event for Off the Road in June, The Marble Creek Music Festival, where patrons hiked alongside the creek. The stroll reemphasized that just how powerful and unblemished the area’s beauty still is.

“I have these childhood memories of that area that seem sort of surreal and idyllic,” Duncan said. “So I kind of expected to go back and just feel, ‘Oh, yeah. It’s pretty.’ But actually I went back and found it’s just as beautiful as I remembered it. It’s an amazingly gorgeous area that they are trying to build this road through.”

As with all protest-driven events, the key mission of Off the Road is simple awareness of its cause, although proceeds will go to legal funds for The Disconnectors’ fight against the I-75 extension.

“Marble Creek and the farmland between Nicholasville and I-75 is in very real danger of extinction if a big road comes through that would take up hundreds of acres,” Mendes said. “Between 1995 and 2005, we lost 80,000 acres out of the Inner Bluegrass to developments – shopping centers, parking lots, strip malls, subdivisions. At some point, we have to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ We need our farmlands. We our need wild creeks. These are the things that make us, landscape-wise, one of the most spectacular places in the world.”

An opening reception for Guy Mendes’ photography exhibit, Marble Creek: Endangered Watershed, will be held at 5 p.m. today at the Ann Tower Gallery in the Downtown Arts Center, 141 Main. Admission is free. Call (859) 425-1188 or go to www.anntowergallery.com.

Off the Road: A Rally Against the I-75 Connector featuring Wendell Berry, Barbara Kingsolver and others takes place at 7:30 tonight at the Lyric Theatre, 300 East Third. Tickets are $12 in advance and $15 at the door. Call (859) 280-2218 or go to http://lexingtonlyric.tix.com.

For more information on both events, go to www.stopi-75connector.com.

in performance: chicago

chicago

Chicago 2013: Lou Pardini, Tris Imboden, Jason Scheff, James Pankow, Walter Parazaider, Robert Lamm, Keith Howland and Lee Loughnane. Photo by David M. Earnisse

Call it coincidence or a sign of just how pervasive the music of Chicago continues to be.

No sooner did I arrive home last night from an impressively vital sounding performance by the veteran brass-driven pop band at Richmond’s EKU Center for the Arts than its music shot to life again on television.

Specifically, Paul Shaffer and the CBS Orchestra used one of Chicago’s earliest hits, Questions 67 and 68, as lead-in music for a commercial break during the Late Show with David Letterman.

That 1969 hit was No. 2 on the lengthy hit parade Chicago offered last night. A truncated version of the aptly titled Introduction was first out of the gate with group co-founder Robert Lamm handling the funk-enforced vocals the late Terry Kath sang on the original version just as bassist Jason Scheff took over the upper range R&B wail Peter Cetera first adopted for Questions.

Adjusting and adapting a considerable pop past for a present day audience was the mission statement last night. Lamm all but acknowledged that fact early into the two-set, two hour performance. “What you’re listening to tonight,” he told the EKU crowd, “is a band with a history.”

Much of the oldest material (meaning works from its first three albums) essentially stood on its own with arrangements that put the horn trio of James Pankow, Walter Parazaider and Lee Loughnane (like Lamm, all original members) centerstage. Their playing was consistently tight technically but never seemed stiff or academic. After four plus decades, these guys still seem to have a ball with the music.

The comparatively streamlined ballads that provided Chicago a commercial rebirth in the ‘80s held less fascination, but that was more due to the compositional nature of the tunes as opposed to how they were delivered in performance. Credit Scheff (who replaced Cetera in 1985) and Keith Howland (a band member since 1995) for beefing up those songs on vocals and guitar respectively.

As nostalgia rides go, last night’s show was fairly time specific. Chicago may be a 46 year old band, but the scope of its repertoire never extended past the ‘80s. But why fault that? When a band can fill a full evening with familiar hits that can energize audience and artist alike (okay, 1979’s disco-fied Street Player was an odd exception), then you can afford you choose what history you want to put on display.

next stop chicago

robert lamm

robert lamm.

When an audience witnesses a cherished pop act in performance, expectations and excitement inevitably go hand in hand, especially when a benchmark hit is played. After all, such an occasion could easily be the only opportunity some patrons will ever have to hear a favored artist play their most popular music in person.

But what is it like for the artist to dig back into those hits night after night, year after year or, if fortune lasts long enough, decade after decade? How can a level of performance fun and freshness be maintained through the ages?

The longstanding horn-driven pop ensemble Chicago answered that question in bold, immediate terms when it performed at the Louisville Palace last December. No sooner did the stage lights dim than the band tore into Ballet for a Girl in Buchannon, a lengthy suite from its 1970 self-titled sophomore album that underscored its use of horns, rich pop melodies and dynamic vocal interplay. It also included two of Chicago’s biggest and earliest hits – Make Me Smile and Colour My World.

What resulted wasn’t some tired, choreographed piece of pop nostalgia, but a tight ensemble performance that sounded remarkably vital considering it has probably been played, in one form or another, at every Chicago concert for the past 43 years.

“I think that is the result of several factors,” said Chicago co-founder, co-vocalist, songwriter and keyboardist Robert Lamm. “Individually, and as a group, we remain curious about music. We remain open to discovering new aspects of music – both music that we are already familiar with, like our own catalog, and just music in general.

“So we’ve hit upon a thing that is really unspoken between us. When we perform songs that we’ve done, as you say, hundreds if not thousands of times, the intention is to try to play the music as perfectly as we can. And, of course, no night is perfect. No performance is perfect. So it’s the process of pursuing that perfection makes it fun, and I think that freshness comes through to the audience.”

For many fans – whether they favor the innovative, orchestrated rock arrangements that defined the band’s early ‘70s hits (25 or 6 to 4, I’m a Man, Beginnings) or the smoother pop ballads that won a renewed following in the mid ‘80s (Hard to Say I’m Sorry, Hard Habit to Break, You’re the Inspiration) – what has long distinguished Chicago is its use of horns. While it is hardly the first pop band to utilize them, few have found such lasting appeal with brass as one of the chief components of its music.

Like Lamm, trombonist James Pankow, trumpeter Lee Loughnane and saxophonist Walter Parazaider have been Chicago members since the band’s inception in 1967.

“When I can get out of the sort of lunch bucket attitude of being onstage with these guys, I can appreciate how really unique the three of them are, especially when they are totally on,” Lamm said. “The way they play so well together, the way each bit they play is phrased is very unique.

“Not to belabor it, but having that experience now when we record new things that are not so easy to write and not so easy to play… to hear them break those things down and make sure that they sound great is incredible.”

Ah, yes – new music. For any pop band that has enjoyed extended commercial popularity, creating new music can be a thankless undertaking. With concert audiences paying to hear tunes from the past and a recording industry that has radically decayed in an age of online downloading and streaming, the incentive for soldiering on with new music diminishes. Lamm admitted such a situation has caused friction in the Chicago ranks over the years. But this summer, the band has been recording, while on tour, what will become its 34th album.

“Having lived through several eras of pop music, what I’m finding now is that it’s really kind of the Wild West again. It’s not unlike the late ‘60s where the A&R (artist and repertoire) people at the record companies were very young. I mean they were at least the same age as many of the artists, so we had the ability to stretch out and experiment and have the record company at least be open to that. We’re finding that again now because basically artists are being left to their own devices. That has created an environment where we really can do anything we want. Not that anybody has ever had control of the result of what we have done.”

Still with artistic independence comes artistic responsibility – or at least, discipline. That’s something the band learned during the commercial lull that separated its ‘70s and ‘80s chart successes.

“I think there was a bit of an illusion going on back then, even for a successful band like Chicago. After a half-dozen albums, we foolishly assumed that anything we did was going to sell and that we were always going to have a hit. But I believe that was just an illusion brought on by our youthful arrogance. So rather than be arrogant anymore, we’re just enthusiastic.

“Frankly, I think we are at a highpoint now. Maybe 10 years ago, we passed through that phase where some of the guys in the band were not that interested in doing new music. It was a very discouraging time. But this Wild West climate that we’re experiencing now is boding good things for Chicago. We’re experiencing a kind of renaissance.”

Chicago performs at 7:30 tonight at the EKU Center for the Arts, 521 Lancaster Ave. in Richmond. Tickets are $57-$87. Call (859) 622-7469. For more info, go to, http://ekucenter.com.

critic’s pick 296: elvis costello and the roots, ‘wake up ghost’

wake up ghost“Why is your face drawn on so glum, old chum?”

So ponders Elvis Costello near the end of his new, noir-like summit with The Roots, Wake Up Ghost. Given the groove-centric but decidedly downcast tone of the record, all kinds of answers could be devised for such a query. The song it comes from, The Puppet Has Cut His Strings (one of the three tunes tacked onto the record’s deluxe edition), speaks of askew and largely unwelcome liberation – meaning death, perhaps. It could also be a song of departure or abandonment (“the crowd went home and left you for dead, my old woodenhead”). Whether he is puppet or puppeteer, Costello is singing about solitude – specifically, the kind of tough love solitude that forges strength. That’s quite a curious sentiment for a record so musically juiced by collaboration.

It’s easy when listening to Wake Up Ghost to savor an abundance of largely understated grooves peppered by The Roots’ funereal R&B and jazz touches. They abound in arrangements that lovingly encourage subtle horn accents while sampling bits of previous Costello songs. One of the record’s most fascinating mesh-ups, Stick Out Your Tongue, is a rewrite of 1983’s deliciously creepy Pills and Soap. Here, a dirge-like recitation of lyrics mingle with Roots impresario ?uestlove’s loop-like keyboard-and-drum groove before a splash of  horns and mantra-like background vocals complete the song’s fashionable rebirth.

Wake Up Ghost is a record that regularly keeps you guessing. Several of its opening tunes (Sugar Won’t Work and Refuse to Be Saved) possess sentiments that seem positively seething. That might seem like a welcome moodswing from the warmer cast of recent Costello records. But then we hit Tripwire. A bonafide Costello classic sung like an R&B lullaby, it seeks and then forsakes forgiveness with a trigger finger on the polarism that has become frighteningly topical in almost any culture (“Torn from the pages of history, repeated again and again and again. You’re either for us or against us. That’s how the hatred begins.”)

There are echoes here of several previous Roots albums. But given the band’s vast (yet still organic) stylistic reach, Wake Up Ghost becomes something of a playground – from the way organ echoes about the retro soul bounce of the truly frightening Walk Us Uptown to the more elemental drive behind the dangerously fenced in funk of (She Might Be a) Grenade.

Ultimately, though, Costello rules the Roots’ roost on Wake Up Ghost like a modern day Rod Serling. He is half host/half henchman on one of the year’s most satisfying but unsettling groove adventures.

in performance: the rides/beth hart

the rides

the rides: stephen stills, barry goldberg, kenny wayne shepherd

“Believe me, I’m just as surprised as you are,” remarked Stephen Stills last night at the Opera House after hitting and sustaining a high note at the conclusion of a new song called Don’t Want Lies.

No, Stills didn’t sound like a teenager, either. But if you’ve experienced how poorly his singing has been represented on record (and quite often onstage) over the past two decades, his clearance of the upper octaves of Don’t Want Lies – one of the finer tunes by the new blues-rock troupe The Rides he co-led last night with Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Barry Goldberg – was rock ‘n’ redemption in action.

But The Rides’ nearly two hour performance was all about guitar, which Stills has always had command of throughout his 45 year career. Still, sharing the stage with a new generation guitar buck like Shepherd clearly brought out the best in Stills in terms of performance attitude and instrumental aptitude.

Little by way of innovation was intended – certainly not during the lion’s share of the set devoted to all 10 tunes from The Rides’ debut album Can’t Get Enough. Instead, the show revolved around even-keeled, high volume jams.

Shepherd possessed a light, fluid tone that sounded like a smoother, more streamlined variation of Texas blues-rock giant Stevie Ray Vaughan. Not coincidentally, the late Vaughan’s drummer, Chris Layton, has been a mainstay of Shepherd’s band in recent years. He also kept The Rides running like clockwork last night.

Stills’ guitar sound was denser and dirtier. Subsequently, tunes like Roadhouse and even his vintage political rant Word Game sounded less like blues jams and more like guitar grudge matches.

Keyboardist Goldberg kept a safe distance from the string sparring. But when his solos on piano and organ were given room to groove, as on his vintage composition I’ve Got to Use My Imagination, The Rides’ roots-driven vision nicely expanded.

Beth Hart’s opening set was a total blast. A vocalist with arena rock gusto one moment, a reflective keyboard balladeer the next and, later, a cabaret stylist that serenaded while sitting on the edge of the Opera House stage, Hart proved a deserving star in the making.

in performance: ohio river throwdown

tedeschi trucks

susan tedeschi and derek trucks.

If you ever wanted to be witness to the full genesis of a contemporary music jam, you should have been on hand as the Tedeschi Trucks Band closed out the day-long Ohio River Throwdown at Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati yesterday.

With the moon shining brilliantly over the stage and crisp autumnal cool blowing in off the river, the 11 piece rock and soul revue let a fearsome free jazz implosion deconstruct, reassemble and then skyrocket into the volcanic groove of Nobody’s Free. All the band’s strengths took over from there – Susan Tedeschi’s clear but potent R&B vocal charge, the ensemble’s double-drum rhythms and horn accented textures and a sterling Derek Trucks guitar solo that took flight as the band briefly trimmed itself down to a quintet.

But this was just one of many treats that highlighted the inaugural Throwdown, which utilized the Riverbend stage, the smaller PNC Pavilion and a makeshift stage set up on the concession grounds.

Here are some of the other standouts:

+ A typically no frills set of regal roots rock comfort food by Los Lobos that mixed cumbia, Tex Mex and brilliant triple guitar jams. But the comparatively bittersweet meditation of Burn It Down (from 2010’s Tin Can Trust) proved Los Lobos hasn’t lost a step through the decades.

+ A blast of revivalistic Florida soul and funk courtesy of JJ Grey and Mofro, which ignited a late afternoon set with the self-help jams of Better Days and the more ferocious 99 Shades of Crazy, the latter of which worked off a playful, ambient keyboard riff.

+ A somewhat shell-shocked Alejandro Escovedo who compensated the absence of his guitarist (who “left unexpectedly”) with the impromptu additions of Los Lobos vets David Hidalgo and Steve Berlin. A resulting cover of Neil Young’s Like a Hurricane became stormy indeed.

+ Two variations on soul music essentials – the lean, contemporary, keyboard driven drive of Chicago’s JC Brooks and the Uptown Sound and a vastly more traditional serving of Wilson Pickett-style R&B and funk from the tireless Charles Walker and the Dynamites.

We’ll hold off on comments on sets by The Rides and Beth Hart until after their Monday reprise concert at the Opera House. Both sounded great. Just don’t be late for Hart. Her joyously nasty set truly offered the lowdown on the Throwdown.

riding along

the rides

the rides: stephen stills, barry goldberg, kenny wayne shepherd.

“I actually wanted to call the band The Ghost Riders because we are feeding off the many generations before us,” said the double Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, who will introduce The Rides to the region with performances in Cincinnati on Saturday and here at the Opera House on Monday.

“But we also feed off each other and what we have garnered from a hundred years of blues and 200 years of pre-Nashville country. Just simple love songs, just the simplest kinds of music that you can make at home or on the front porch – that’s what we’re feeding off of. And because all three of us love it, the process between the three of us making it is virtually instantaneous.”

To appreciate how The Rides got rolling, become acquainted with a 1968 record of loose, impromptu jams that called Super Session. Stills and Goldberg played on it but, curiously, not together. Pianist Goldberg contributed to two tracks with his Electric Flag bandmate, guitarist Michael Bloomfield. After Bloomfield bailed on the album, Stills, then in his final days with the Buffalo Springfield (the first of the two bands that landed him in the Hall of Fame), was quickly recruited.

Amazingly, Stills and Goldberg wouldn’t work together until the idea for The Rides was triggered 45 years later.

“Unless the wax melted on Super Session, we never came together for a long, long time,” Goldberg remarked. “Basically what happened was our mutual manager Elliot Roberts was over at my house and we had a poker game. Elliott was looking at some of my records and saw the Super Session record and a lot of my blues stuff and he said, ‘You know, Stephen was talking to me about maybe making a blues-oriented record just to have a good time and play. Maybe you guys can write together. I thought, ‘Wow. That would be amazing.’

“So it started out with the concept of a jam sort-of-thing, but it was actual songs that we were writing and not just eight minute jams. Still, we needed a third person, maybe a younger person to come in and join us. The mutual idea was one of my favorite guitar players, Kenny Wayne Shepherd.”

One of the most popular torchbearers of blues-directed guitar rock to emerge after the death of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Shepherd’s first album, Ledbetter Heights, turned platinum while he was still in his late teens. He is now 36. Just as Still maintains his ongoing partnership with David Crosby and Graham Nash (which put him into  the Hall of Fame a second time) and Goldberg stays active as a songwriter and instrumentalist, Shepherd continues to front his own band.

“Everybody has their own career going,” Shepherd said. “Obviously, Stephen has CSN. I have my band. Barry has his songwriting career. But all of those things considered and all of those things aside, I don’t think The Rides is going to be a one-off thing. We’ve already started the songwriting process for another record. Of course, there’s got to be a balance there. I mean, Stephen is going to have to do shows with his band. I’m going to have to do shows with my band. But I think we can all can the find the right opportunities and create the right balance between these bands because I feel like this is a priority for all of us as well.”

To call the August-released Rides debut Can’t Get Enough a blues album in any strict sense of the term is misleading. While there are several blues entries within the record’s 10 song lineup (Elmore James’ Talk to Me Baby and Muddy Waters’ Honey Bee), there are also several new works co-written by the three Rides co-pilots that combine hearty guitar exchanges and juke joint flavored pianowork (Roadhouse and Can’t Get Enough of Losing You). Capping it all are well amped covers of the Stooges classic Search and Destroy and even Rockin’ in the Free World, an anthem penned by Stills’ Buffalo Springfield (and occasional CSN) bandmate, Neil Young.

Of particular interest is Word Game, an acoustic tune written and recorded decades ago by Stills but recut by The Rides with an electric authority that enhances the song’s still-topical narrative slant.

“I quit even listening back to the rough mixes as we made the album,” Stills said. “It was like, if these two said I got a good vocal performance, then I don’t want to hear it. We would all feel that and just go home after a session. When we came back the next day, the music we heard could have just sucked, but it never did. That’s how we recorded the album in seven days and seven nights.

“I’m really happy with it, too. It’s simple and straightforward. There aren’t any tricks to it. What you hear is what you get, but it’s only going to get better because by the time we get on the road to play we will actually have had time to rehearse.”

The Rides perform at 8:15 p.m. Sept. 14 as part of the daylong Ohio River Throwdown at Riverbend Music Center and PNC Pavilion, 6295 Kellogg Ave. in Cincinnati. Tickets are $49.50-$69.50. Call (513) 232-6220, (800) 745-3000. The band also performs at 7:30 pm Sept.16 at the Lexington Opera House with Beth Hart. Tickets are $65.50, $75.50. Call (800) 745-3000, (859) 233-3535. For tickets, go to www.ticketmaster.com.

critic’s pick 295: fleetwood mac, ‘then play on’

thenplayonThe newest edition of Then Play On, the definitive studio recording by the Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac, ends with a subtle guitar instrumental titled World in Harmony. The music blooms from sparse, autumnal ambience into a summery, almost country-esque serenade. It’s a quiet study in harmony and conflict, opposites that always seem to surface when Fleetwood Mac is at its best.

Named after the oft-quoted opening to Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night (“If music be the food of love, play on”), the album is a masterwork that faded from view somewhat as the band shot to pop stardom with Lindsey Buckingham and Steve Nicks in the mid ‘70s (Christine McVie joined in 1970). But Then Play On, Fleetwood Mac’s third studio work, takes us back to 1969 and remains a portrait of lost rock ‘n’ roll innocence. It was the first record to feature co-guitarist Danny Kirwan and the last to include band founder Green. The band’s third guitarist, Jeremy Spencer, is curiously absent.

This new version differs from most archival reissues. While there are four bonus tracks, three of them (the slo-mo guitar romp The Green Manalishi and the two-part boogiefest-turned-folk meditation Oh Well) were Green-penned singles that stand as the early Mac’s signature tunes. Only World in Harmony (Manalishi’s b-side) is evenly remotely obscure. What this new edition accomplishes, though, is to gather all the material issued on various truncated British and American versions of Then Play On. The basic running order matches the original British release with the singles tacked on as a postscript.

Still, it’s the nuts-and-bolts design of the music that makes the album so extraordinary – specifically, the giving way of the blues roots blueprints that brought Fleetwood Mac to life in favor of looser, more introspective portraits from Green and Kirwan.

The record rocks quite handsomely at times (on Green’s Rattleshake Snake and on the first part of Oh Well) but often eases into leaner, less defined lyricism that propels the instrumental Under Way and the neo-poppish My Dream which suggest the calmer melodic waters to come in the post-Green years. Even more overt blues pieces such as Like Crying present Green and Kirwan in casual sympatico without a full rhythm section. Such songs sound, blissfully, like rehearsals.

Kirwan plays the role of disciple to Green throughout Then Play On. His Although the Sun is Shining is a beautifully weathered shadow of vintage Brit-pop – a bit of folky romanticism laced with a touch of low-fi psychedelia.

But the farewell Green leaves us with is a stunner – Before the Beginning. Its lyrics are as restless, wispy and forlorn as its superbly crafted guitar melodies, all of which are underscored by a disquieting drum rattle from Mick Fleetwood. It is a spellbinding coda to Fleetwood Mac’s most underappreciated triumph.

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