Archive for November, 2013

the babbler speaks

todd snider

todd snider.

What defines a man? His intellectual persuits? His stamina? His grooming?

In the case of Todd Snider, it may well be a level of honesty – or, more exactly, what that honesty reveals.

In describing a new band project that will come into public view in 2014, Snider’s conversational pace simulated a rush hour traffic jam. Sentences and thoughts ran at a feverish pace, often bumping into each other while seeking their destinations. There was laughter. There was blunt seriousness. There was focus. There was scattered frenzy. Then Snider paused, grabbed hold of some honesty and made a confession.

“Man, I’m just babbling.”

It wasn’t an apology. It didn’t need to be. It was simply a reflection of how the gears work for Snider, the famed East Nashville songwriter who has fashioned a strong Lexington following over the past two decades. The bond with local audiences remains strong enough, in fact, that Snider will be sharing some of his holiday weekend with us. He will perform a solo acoustic concert at Buster’s on Friday. This will be his first performance since a co-billled June 2012 concert with Drive-By Trucker Patterson Hood at the Opera House, a show Snider remembers well for all the wrong reasons.

“Boy, I was really sick that night,” Snider recalled. “I couldn’t play and there I was with Patterson. He’s one of my all time favorites, man. Especially that last record he did, the folk one (Heat Lightning Rumbles in the Distance). Sometimes people make records that are so good I send them hate mail.

“I ended up going through all these tests and found out I had this really terrible ulcer. I wound up falling down onstage and going to the emergency room. I remember I called Patterson a couple of days later and said, ‘Man, the next time we do a gig, I’m going to it. I swear.’

The performance followed the near simultaneous release of two recordings – a folk-rock driven platter of social, political and personal venting called Agnostic Hymns and Stoner Fables and a tribute album devoted to the songs of Texas hill country troubadour Jerry Jeff Walker titled Time As We Know It.

But Snider was a few light years removed from those projects during our conversation. Foremost in the ideas racing through his mind was a new band he has formed with Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools, Neal Casal (of the Chris Robinson Brotherhood), Duane Trucks (bandmate of Col. Bruce Hampton) and longtime pal Chad Steahly (Great American Taxi).

Snider serves merely as vocalist for the troupe, whose repertoire consists of beloved rock, folk and Americana tunes by Gillian Welch, Randy Newman, The Bottle Rockets, Elizabeth Cook and others rewired with a “heavy hippie rock” sound. The band will issue an album early in 2014 and undertake a brief 20-show tour around the members’ other performance commitments.

“It happened how I liked things to have things happen,” Snider said. “I usually will go with something if it’s really easy. I picture it as a leaf falling off a tree and landing in a creek. It just sort of keeps rolling on. That’s about as much effort I want to put in.

“David Schools and I started talking about songwriting and how I felt the Americana world and jam world make up a party that is just waiting to collide in a big way. You’ve got a whole nation of kids working on their poems and a whole other nation of kids working on how to put music underneath them. I said, ‘Someday, that’s going to collide.’ Then he said, ‘Well, why not today?’

“We all knew each other a bit before we really came together underneath this band name and the ironic thing we thought it meant. I mean, here we were, all these total burnouts and we’re calling ourselves the Hard Working Americans.”

Todd Snider performs at 9

pm Nov. 29 at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St. Tickets are $20. Call (859) 368-8871 or go towww.bustersbb.com.

 

critic’s pick 306: big bad voodoo daddy, ‘it feels like christmas time’

big bad voodoo daddyIt Feels Like Christmas Time isn’t the first foray Big Bad Voodoo Daddy has taken into holiday music. But it is, in many ways, the most appealing. Unlike many Christmas recordings that treat seasonal music as a ripe target for any novelty style that can be hammered into place, It Feels Like Christmas Time is unusually streamlined. There are a few instances where BBVD pianist, arranger and orchestrator Joshua Levy takes some broad liberties in the name of fun. Mostly, though, the music flows with the same matured ensemble swing that has adorned several of the band’s recent recordings.

With the ‘90s swing revival long in the past, BBVD has chilled its sound somewhat, allowing familiar holiday fare like Santa Claus is Coming to Town, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and the album’s title tune (the record’s lone original song, penned by vocalist/frontman Scotty Morris) to glide with along with the kind of big band elegance that shines just as brightly off the dance floor as on it.

That’s not to say there isn’t a sense of invention about the record. Run Rudolph Run deviates from its ingrained Chuck Berry flight pattern for a sense of R&B exuberance. The wind-up of the horns almost makes you feel Morris and the band are going to rip into the Otis Redding rave-up I Can’t Turn You Loose. We Three Kings, however, slides into reverential cool that steers briefly into piano trio swing and brass ensemble elegance.

The big deviation from holiday norm is Winter Wonderland, which becomes a rumba flavored party piece. While you can almost see the conga lines forming as the groove percolates, the music is neatly tempered by Morris’ conversational singing. But the brass steals the show, parading on as the record fades to black. It’s exhilarating proof that there is no better way to end a party than to exit swinging.

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy’s Dec. 3 concert at the Lyric Theatre had been postponed. A new date in 2014 is to  be announced.

balkan beat box’s world party

balkan beat box

balkan beat box: ori kaplan, tomer yosef and tamir muskat.

For the past decade, Balkan Beat Box has forged a sound that attempts to bridge multiple musical worlds – from the organic to the technological, as well as from the personally reflective to the globally political.

So when it came time to record its most recent album, 2012’s Give, the band’s three Israeli-born frontmen – saxophonist Ori Kaplan, drummer Tamir Muskat and vocalist Tomer Yosef – engaged in a bit of deconstruction. They shoved its lottery of sounds and styles into a room and went to work.

“The album before that (2010’s Blue Eyed Black Boy) had many guests,” said Kaplan last week from his current home in Vienna, Austria. “But with the Give album, the three of us just sat in a room with a bunch of analog electronic equipment. We started brainstorming and a lot accumulated along with, I guess, a bunch of changes in our perspectives. It was just good for us to sit down and create this electronic world in different songs.

“Another aspect of it was that this was when the Arab Spring was going on. So was Occupy Wall Street. A lot of that social unrest and frustration touched us, so we wrote about it.”

In turn, the music the trio created began to touch the world. One of Give’s most potent tunes (which boasts a title that is a touch too salty for print) was made into a video with protest images that coincided with the Arab Spring protests. As the release of the record also coincided with the beginnings of the Syrian Civil War, the video was re-edited, without the band’s permission or involvement, to introduce the world to the horrors of that conflict. It was regularly broadcast on the Arabic news network Al Jazeera.

“Re-editing the content of the video was a small deal compared to the fact that an Israeli band made the clip of the week on Al Jezeera. That was very cool. And I heard that in cafes in Beirut, people really liked it. It just shows you how music can cross borders to help people communicate with one another. Maybe that’s a lesson for all of us to learn about communication.”

While the Balkan Beat Box principals all hail from Tel Aviv (“politically, the place is a disaster;  musically, it is very rich”), the band got its start in Brooklyn where they pursued decidedly different musical agendas. Kaplan’s included immersion in a fertile improvisatory jazz scene in New York alongside giants like bassist William Parker and trombonist Steve Swell.

“Definitely my journey in New York was about finding a language, about finding my improvisational voice. That was an important period for me, playing with these amazing musicians like William Parker and so many others. But when Balkan Beat Box took over, there was no longer time for these smaller projects. We were about creating a language that communicated with a lot of people. We found it, became successful and started touring around the world. But for me, the search for that language began with the improvisers from New York.”

The band name, Kaplan said, was devised to describe the meeting ground where the band’s modern beats and grooves blended with more roots conscious fabrics of jazz, soul and folk.

“Balkan Beat Box says everything in encapsulated form. Balkan is folk and the Beat Box is the computer. It’s where the folk meets the modern digital world.

“The thing is, Tamir is a great drummer, Tomer is a great singer. Everything we do meshes up together.  We are organic and digital people. The combination of people is such that Tamir is more in charge of the beats and production, I’m more the guy who comes up with the melodies and Tomer comes up with the lyrics. But we interject into each other’s work all the time because we always sit in the same room. We all have opinions, shape the music and tend to agree. We all shape it and then create our own aesthetic. We know it now when we hear it. It’s like, ‘Oh, this is us.’”

Balkan Beat Box performs at 10 p.m. Nov.25 at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. Tickets are $15. Call (859) 309-9499 or got to www.cosmic-charlies.com.

in performance: the avett brothers

avett brothers

the avett brothers: scott avett, seth avett, joe kwon and bob crawford.

Fans will undoubtedly argue the point, but there has always been a sense of something missing within the music of The Avett Brothers. As far back as its days of playing The Dame as an indie unknown, it was easy to appreciate the band’s rootsy ingenuity more than its songwriting or its performance immediacy over its instrumental prowess. Or maybe all of these integral elements, while helping to establish a rabid band following among college age audiences, simply fell short of creatively colliding.

Last night at Rupp Arena, before a modest sized house of 5,300 and without any opening act as support, it could be justly said that The Avett Brothers had arrived. Its love of pre-bluegrass country inspirations, rockish temperaments and sentimental (often darkly so) narratives seemed in balance as did its far-reaching vocal and instrumental colors. Toss in a batch of new songs from its newest and most realized album (Magpie and the Dandelion, the Avetts’ third collaboration with A-list producer Rick Rubin), an expanded seven-member lineup and an audience that was, by Rupp standards, refreshingly attentive, and you had the making of an Avetts performance that was, at long last, complete.

The most significant plus that siblings Scott and Seth Avett had on their side last night, in contrast to their last Rupp outing in October 2011, was the return of bassist Bob Crawford. A founding member of the band officially billed as The Avett Brothers, this was Crawford’s first Lexington showing after taking a sabbatical to tend to his severely ill daughter. When the core Avetts trio sang the spiritual Just a Closer Walk with Thee around a single microphone with arms around one another, a sense of camaraderie that outweighed perhaps the music itself was revealed.

Curiously, Crawford’s stand in at the 2011 Rupp show, Paul Defiglia, has been retained on this Avetts tour as a keyboardist, fleshing out an auxiliary lineup that also included drummer Mike Marsh and violinist Tania Elizabeth. Cellist Joe Kwon – who save for a brief instance when he was seated during Through My Prayers, never let his instrument touch the stage floor – has been promoted to full membership in the Avett Brothers.

That leaves the siblings themselves, a pair of wiry, tireless characters that seldom allowed the performance intensity to slip – even during comparatively quiet pieces like Murder in the City (performed solo by Scott Avett) or the set closing I and Love and You (which erupted into a solemn, arena-sized sing-a-long).

The brothers’ exchanges on banjo (Scott) and acoustic guitar (Seth) triggered robust, jamboree style bursts of brittle percussive energy. A case in point was Talk on Indulence, which began with rap-style vocal play before panning out into a rustic and heavily rhythmic instrumental firestorm. But the Magpie tunes impressed the most. Their construction had the band’s strengths unfolding more gradually, like the way Open Ended Life worked itself into a hoedown-like lather before subsiding. Ditto for Souls Like the Wheels, which allowed Seth Avett to plug into electric guitar while maintaining the ensemble’s homespun charm.

There were covers of varying resourcefulness, too. A tropically minded take on the Waylon Jennings/Willie Nelson outlaw hit I Can Get Off on You and the Doc Watson-popularized murder ballad Little Sadie were both bullseye hits. But John Denver’s Thank God I’m a Country Boy was an audience pandering misfire, the lone hiccup in a performance by a band of Brothers working with a musical voice that has become beautifully complete.

the advancing sound of harpeth rising

harpeth rising

harpeth rising: maria di meglio, rebecca reed-lunn, chris burgess and jordana greenberg.

Every sound that sits on the singular stylistic plate of Harpeth Rising is geared toward advancement.

That translates into advancement of visibility, something this Nashville quartet is continually attuned to, having recorded and released four independent albums in the first four years of its existence. But advancement also applies the music itself, the product of a novel instrumental makeup (violin, banjo, cello and percussion) and a wildly broad spectrum of stylistic influences (classical, folk, Western swing, jazz, Latin and more).

So it’s a touch ironic that the band’s best description of its very forward thinking sound and career is best revealed through a backward glance.

“The truth is, we’re making original music,” said violinist and co-founding member Jordana Greenberg, who will perform with Harpeth Rising on Sunday at Natasha’s for a performance designed to celebrate the release of its new Tales from Jackson Bridge album. “In that sense, there is no way to really define it right now. That definition comes further down the road when you’re looking back at something.

“Right now, the best thing I can say about what we do is ‘original.’ Definitely we’re interested by a variety of different genres. We have very strong classical backgrounds but we also grew up listening to folk music and blues and rock ‘n’ roll. So these are all things that are incorporated into our writing to create our brand and our own sound. We’re just not exactly sure what to call it.”
With numerous Nashville area awards to its credit, the band has taken its eclectic string-and-percussion music to such esteemed gatherings as the Cambridge Folk Festival and the London Folk Festival as well as to the Lexington produced airwaves of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Greenberg, a California native now living in Bowling Green, planted the seeds for Harpeth Rising by performing as a folk duet with banjoist Rebecca Reed-Lunn. From there, very specific ideas surfaced regarding where the band’s sound should go.

“We started by playing old time music and traditional bluegrass,” Greenberg said. “From there, we began writing our own songs. Once we really delved into original songwriting, we realized we wanted to fill out the sound with a full group. We knew that what we wanted to go along with our instruments would be cello and percussion. From there we just got very, very lucky because had wonderful friends who happened to play those instruments. So at first the changes were intentional. Then it became a matter of luck.”

Nashville cellist Maria Di Meglio and Memphis percussionist Chris Burgess complete the band lineup. But their additions triggered another avenue of exploration for Harpeth Rising – specifically, a vocal harmony sound every bit as audacious as its instrumental voice. On Tales From Jackson Bridge, that extends to jazz phrasing on Burn Away Your Troubles, California-flavored folk-rock on Ghost Factory to the barbershop quartet accents on It Don’t Really Matter.

“We love to sing so much, and writing harmonies is, for all of us, one of our favorite things about being a musician and writing original music. We all studied our instruments for so many years – 16 or 17 years – before we even started singing or writing. So the harmony writing is still very new and exciting.”

In the end, however, all of Harpeth Rising’s adventures have to be countered against the reality that this is still a young band that works independently and tours constantly just to be heard. That keeps the collective eyes of its players very much on what is ahead of them.

“We don’t have a record label and we have no big money behind us,” Greenberg said. “So it’s all a matter of getting the people who love our music to tell other people about it. Right now, that’s starting to happen in more exciting ways than it ever has before.”

Harpeth Rising performs at 8 p.m. Nov.24 at Natasha’s Bistro 112 Esplanade. Tickets are $7. Call (859) 259-2754 or call www.beetnik.com.

chasing nashville, not stardom

julia knight

julia knight performing on ‘chasing nashville.’ photo by richard mclaren.

The title of the music-based reality series Julia Knight finds herself in this fall pretty much says it all – Chasing Nashville. But the ironic thing about her involvement is that Nashville – or, more exactly, the Lifetime network, which is producing the show – came calling on the Lexington songstress first.

“The opportunity to do this show pretty much just fell in my lap,” said Knight, 16, who returns to her hometown performance haven, Natasha’s Bistro, on Saturday for a performance with The Voice Season 5 finalist Brandon Chase.

“The producers saw me on youtube. I mean, that’s crazy. I never dreamed of anything like that happening. I was totally good with just doing my own thing here and stuff like that. Then they found me and we ended up doing the show. I went from doing a lot of hometown things to going to Nashville and working with cool people there. For anyone, I would say that would be pretty insane.”

Insane, sure. But the senior at Lafayette High School, who has been performing and writing much of her material since she was 12, isn’t about to become part of the usual gossip and infighting that is standard operating procedure for most reality shows, Chasing Nashville included.

“I basically told them, ‘I don’t care how much airtime I have to lose.’ I was never really worried about not being featured maybe as much as the other girls. I was really happy to just do music because my fear going into the whole thing was that this would just be a show. When you’re a true artist and you’re making your own music, it gets a lot more personal. That’s why I’m really thankful that I got to do my music and not do anything else.”

The singer’s mother, Gina Knight, agrees.

“We pretty much told them, ‘If you want music, Julia is your girl. If you want drama, you probably ought to go somewhere else.’ That’s just not who she is. What has really been great in watching her on this show was seeing how she has been able to be true to herself. She did not want to play any scripted role or anything like that. So it’s been really cool that she would have a venue just for her ability as a musician, her art and her talent and at the same time be the genuine person she is without getting caught up in the drama.”

Similarly, the singer said her goal in pursuing a career in music doesn’t necessarily include stardom. Julia said she is simply hoping for a work life built around her performances and songwriting. If doing that means being removed from the spotlight, that’s just fine.

“I don’t really have the dream that I think a lot of people new in the business have. That goal of just being famous was never really appealing. The ultimate dream for me will always be about getting to do what I love, which is music. To grow up and get to do that every day would be the ultimate dream for me.”

“I’ve always told her that if this ever stops being fun or if you want to do something else, I will support that, too,” said Gina Knight. “But the experiences that we’ve shared, whether they have part of the show or not, and just the friendships and connections that she’s been able to make in Nashville, have been wonderful.

“Plus, we’ve been able to spend some time on the road together. That’s always a bonding experience, because a lot of teenage daughters don’t spend that much time with their moms, so I feel pretty lucky that I’ve been able to be part of her pursuing her dream.”

Julia Knight and Brandon Chase perform at 8 p.m. Nov.  23 at Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. Tickets are $10 advance, $12 day of show. Call (859) 259-2754 or go to www.beetnik.com.

critic’s pick 305: the beatles, ‘on air: live at the bbc, volume 2’

beatles bbc vol 2It figures that after the 63 songs and interview fragments (nearly 2¼ hours of predominantly unreleased material) that make up the new archive Beatles release On Air: Live at the BBC, Volume 2, the last word would go to Ringo Starr.

Far and away the most unassuming of the Fab Four, the drummer was asked in a 1966 interview conducted during a break from the Revolver sessions about the Beatles’ ascent to stardom.

“I wouldn’t change any of it” Starr said with deadpan candor. “Even the bit before. This bit’s much better.”

What has been excavated from the seemingly bottomless archive of the BBC vaults comes mostly from “the bit before” – specifically, radio broadcasts from 1963 and 1964 via the programs Pop Go the Beatles and Saturday Club. Like the 1994 set Live at the BBC (which is being reissued this fall in conjunction with On Air), the resulting music here is a treasure trove of aural snapshots that capture the band at the most crucial of its many transitional moments. This was the era where Paul McCartney, John Lennon, George Harrison and Starr were evolving from a band bred on American pop, rock and soul into the kind of craftsmen whose original music was already changing the face of pop forever.

As such, On Air is split between covers that touch upon mainstream pop (Till There Was You), Motown (Please Mr. Postman) and especially Chuck Berry (via one of On Air’s biggest discoveries, the first officially released Beatles version of I’m Talking About You).

Most of the BBC performances, like the jangly album-opening take on Buddy Holly’s Words of Love, are patterned closely after the original versions. But since no audiences are present, we get at least a modest feel how exact the Beatles could sound as stage performers after years of woodshedding in London and Hamburg clubs.

Similarly, the originals – I’ll Follow the Sun, You Can’t Do That and I Saw Her Standing There are near replicas of the band’s own hit recordings. Improvisation was never exactly called upon by the BBC, except for the spoken word and interview excerpts interspersed throughout the album. Those moments reflect, perhaps even more than the music, the innocence that still pervaded the daily doings what was already a pop juggernaut.

in performance: jimbo mathus/cynthia sayer

jimbo mathus

jimbo mathus.

The last time Jimbo Mathus played the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour was as one-third of the all-star South Memphis String Band, a trio devoted to the Hill Country roots music inspirations he grew up with in Northern Mississippi.

His return last night to WoodSongs at the Lyric Theatre was nowhere near as specific. On his own (with ¾ of his Tri-State Coalition band supporting him), Mathus wailed with a potent R&B moan that regularly drifted into a coarse, country blues wail. There were obvious traces of the blues, but they seemed to mingle in and around pre-bluegrass country music. His compositions – specifically, four new tunes from his forthcoming Dark Night of the Soul album – reflected a quietly anthemic, late ‘70s Dylan feel (Shine Like a Diamond and the new record’s title tune) while accents of pedal steel, acoustic bass, piano and Mathus’ own primitively brittle guitar work formed the sort of country-soul bounce that to brought to mind the early ‘70s music of Van Morrison (Casey Caught the Cannonball and Tallahatchie)

All of this reflected the sort of roots music dichotomy that has always been at work within Mathus’ songs. When he is part of a collaborative band project, Mathus is a solid, focused craftsman.  Last night, he obviously relished the stylistic wanderlust. The boundaries were less defined and the sense of performance abandon was heightened into a loose, restless sound that was 100% Jimbo.

cynthia sayer

cynthia sayer.

This WoodSongs program was contrasted by the very distinctive New York banjoist Cynthia Sayer. Hailing from New Jersey (“the land of banjos”), Sayer flat picked on four string banjo against a jazz inclined trio that included reeds and upright bass. The result was ‘30s-era jazz heavy on Euro leanings that used a sound very reminiscent of clawhammer banjo as its focal point. Though intensely percussive in design, Sayer’s music was undercut with a strong sense of performance whimsy. One of her more mischievous vocal tunes, You Talk Too Much, took honors for ingenuity by rhyming “torrent” with “abhorrent.”

The show wound down with both artists jamming alongside each other. First, Sayer added rustic banjo runs to Mathus’ cover of I’ll Fly Away. Then Mathus played Django Reinhardt to the Eastern European swing that drove Sayer’s take on Dark Eyes. Both tunes abounded with a playful but very learned renegade spirit.

jimbo time

jimbo mathus

jimbo mathus. photo by elizabeth decicco.

Over the past two decades, the roots music adventures of Jimbo Mathus have shifted with the regularity and rapidity of a slide show.

One night he might gigging with a blues great like Buddy Guy or a new generation contemporary like the North Mississippi All-Stars. Or he might be matching rural blues chops with Alvin Youngblood Hart and Luther Dickinson in the South Memphis String Band.

The Mississippi bred guitarist, singer and songsmith could be touring with his newest Southern-style roots music troupe, the Tri-State Coalition. Then again, he might just be playing a show on his own or performing behind another like­-minded musical pal trying to bring rock, blues, soul and juke joint charm to the masses.

“I’m kind of a journeyman,” said Mathus, who will return to Lexington for tonight’s taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. “I can play in a solo, duo or trio setting. I play drums sometimes. I play bass sometimes. Sometimes I’m even known as a mandolinist. I frequently play other instruments that I’m not known for just to pay the bills. It’s as simple as that. So my repertoire benefits me because I can get into any musical situation and do something that is appropriate

Much of that journeyman attitude is reflected in the music of the Tri-State Coalition, which touches on numerous roots-friendly styles in the course of a concert or recording. They might rip through a guitar dominate roadhouse groove in one song, switch to vintage-style honky tonk on the next and then wind up in a jam overseen by the primal Hill Country blues spirits Mathus grew with.

The job that Mathus confronts on the band’s two Fat Possum records – the 2012 debut White Buffalo and follow-up Dark Night of the Soul (due for release in February) – is to weave those inspirations into a cohesive sound of his own.

“We’re reconfiguring the basic components of this music, and Tri State is the band that can really roll with the punches I throw at them.

“I’ve never liked pigeonholing in one style in the first place. I like listening to Buck Owens as much as I liked listening to Muddy Waters. I’ve never seen the difference between the genres to where I would get classified one set way, and that has probably been difficult on my career – not sticking with one thing. I’m just not satisfied doing that.

“Predominantly, I’m an entertainer and a songwriter. With that, there certain topics I want to discuss in my songs but they need to be presented with a certain sound – be it through honky tonk or something heavier. I look at the genres of American music that I have at my disposal as pieces of a puzzle that have been laid out for us by our forefathers – be they white, black, Native American, whatever. They are all part of the canon and language that is American music.”

Piecing. together musical jigsaws is nothing new to Mathus. In 1993, he co-founded  the Squirrel Nut Zippers, a roots music troupe that was essentially unclassifiable as a whole even though its songs referenced jazz, blues, ragtime, folk, swing and even vaudeville.

“The Squirrel Nut Zippers, if you look at the band, was an example of me searching the deepest roots of American popular music. We were starting with Stephen Foster. We were starting with Tin Pan Alley. That was what that group expressed. The research and the energy I put in involved taking the roots all the way back.

“People can call that a swing revival or whatever. It was not a swing revival. The Squirrel Nut Zippers were a roots revival band. It’s hard for people to understand that who aren’t as deep into this music as I am. It seems like a bunch of disparate elements from the outside to them. But to me, it all makes sense. And it all greatly impacts my music now. I know how to arrange for big bands. I know how to arrange for the ensemble band that I have now. I arrange for them the same way I arranged for the Squirrel Nut Zippers. Everybody has to play their proper parts.”

Perhaps more than any single dominating influence, Mathus’ newer music with the Tri-State Coalition (which will operate at WoodSongs as a trio rounded out by pianist Eric Carlton and bassist Stu Cole) is a product of heritage. A native of Oxford, Miss., Mathus feels artistic tugs from scores of artists, musicians and writers that have hailed from in and around the region. Even the landscape, he added, is an influence.

“There is everything from Elvis to Howlin’ Wolf. There is Memphis to draw from. There is the Delta. There is Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. There is every great writer you can shake a stick at, from William Faulkner to Larry Brown. The list goes on and on. The personalities, the character of the people, even the nature just resonates with me.

“It’s the history and the many issues we’ve had to deal within that history. Man, I couldn’t imagine being from any other place.”

Jimbo Mathus plays at 7 tonight at the Lyric Theatre, 300 East Third, for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Cynthia Sayer will also perform. Tickets are $10. Call (859) 252-8888 or go to www.woodsongs.com

in performance: jerry douglas

Jerry Douglas

jerry douglas.

It figures that the first unaccompanied performance by Jerry Douglas in his one-time hometown would go up against the first University of Kentucky home game held on a Sunday night in anyone’s memory. Against those odds, it’s no wonder the dobro great played to the few, the proud, the fanatical last night at the Lyric Theatre.

Meager turnout aside, the show was extraordinary in ways that went beyond Douglas’ pioneering display of the dobro. Given the show’s ultra-loose structure and Douglas’ quite adept skills as a raconteur which positively bloomed in the Lyric’s intimate setting, the evening seemed less like a formal concert and more like session spotlighting a virtuoso at play.

Initially, the show was like a symposium. After establishing his knack for shifting from conversational grace to grassy gutso on the concert-opening A New Day, Douglas offered remembrances of the two dobro giants that came before him – Josh Graves and Mike Auldridge.  He then offered generous performance samples of the former’s rustic, rural traditionalism and the latter’s comparatively cosmopolitan phrasing. Douglas also dedicated the entire performance to the late Bobby Slone, his ‘70s bandmate in J.D. Crowe and the South.

But the one performer that continually sprang to mind during the 80 minute show had nothing to do with the dobro or the instrument’s bluegrass heritage. It was guitarist Leo Kottke, whose early slide playing was remarkably similar to the kind of winding melodies Douglas carved out on the dobro. That was especially true of a medley that matched the near boogie strut of Lil’ Roro with a richly textured cover of the Allman Brothers Band classic Little Martha (a tune Kottke has also interpreted in the late ‘80s).

Stylistically, though, Douglas remained the greater journeyman. He gave a tasty Little Feat-friendly treatment to Leadbelly’s On a Monday (the only vocal tune of the night), utilized a jig-like demeanor for the new The Perils of Private Mulvaney and let the dobro shift gears from a stately reading of Paul Simon’s An American Tune to a wildly festive variation on the Chick Corea staple Spain.

The evening wound up all-too-quickly with Sir Aly B, a gentle, reverential salute to the great Shetland fiddler Aly Bain (Douglas’ co-host on the BBC music series Transatlantic Session). On a rainy autumn Sunday where most Lexington eyes and ears were tuned to basketball, this lovely finale capped off a performance of intimate, unadorned and scholarly charm.

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