Archive for April, 2014

critic’s pick 320: the nels cline singers, ‘macroscope’

nelsclinesingersFrom the groove, drive and lyrical mayhem he has fashioned over the past decade for Wilco to the scholarly grinds and improvs that make up his solo recordings, there has always been considerable stylistic ground to cover within the music of guitarist Nels Cline. One minute is he a crafty rock ‘n’ roller, the next he is revealing the ingenuity of a jazz artist and somewhere off to the side he might be creating a sound sculpture where melody and tone deliciously corrode.

More than any of the four previous albums credited to the all-instrumental Nels Cline Singers, Macroscope serves as an overview. It slides, shuffles and, when necessary, pounds as many of the guitarist’s myriad profiles into song structures as it can over the course of an hour-long recording.

The opening Companion Piece, in fact, pits a few of them against each other over the course of a five minute tune. It unfolds with a soft focus melody and rhythmic lightness that would not have sounded out of place on an ‘80s-era Pat Metheny record. But by the half way point, the skies darken as the tone and pace of Cline’s playing hardens into a trio jam with bassist Trevor Dunn (new to the Singers fold) and co-founding drummer Scott Amendola. It’s as the though the band took a side road through the mid ’70s prog rock exploits of Soft Machine.

There is similar hemorrhaging during Red Before Orange. There, a smooth lyrical lead with the sunny finesse of Wes Montgomery steps into a scorched, wah-wah induced torrent before retreating again into sunny radiance.

Overall, there is an arc to the mischief of Macroscope. Even with its disturbances, the first half of the album has Cline, Dunn and Amenola following the straight but not-so-narrow practices of a serious jazzer. The second half, though, is another trip altogether.

The 11 minute Seven Zed Heaven is rooted in rumbling fusion but remains open to modest manipulation that discreetly references Weather Report and, in its more devious moments, early ‘70s Miles Davis – that is, until an almost Celtic flavored drone washes ashore. That causes Amenola to eventually release his inner John Bonham. The result is merry, beat-centric chaos all round.

That says nothing of the outer space hiccups and celestial noise that coalesce into the elemental garage rock bashfest of Hairy Mother or the layers of disassembled racket that tumble down during the album closing Sascha’s Book of Frogs. That’s when the seeming sense of melodic order that was obeyed so readily at the onset of Macroscope

de-evolves and the full scope of Cline’s music reaches it messy, artful but still fascinating conclusion.

de-evolves and the full scope of Cline’s music reaches it messy, artful but still fascinating conclusion.

in performance: made to break

Ken_Vandermark_by_Jim_Newberry

ken vandermark. photo by jim newberry.

Perhaps the biggest thrill during a consistently engaging Outside the Spotlight performance by Made to Break last night at The Bazaar came from not knowing what would happen next. One sensed the same feeling was likely shared by the musicians onstage.

First there was the sheer instrumental might of the band. Its roster boasted two Chicago jazz pros, and veterans of many OTS shows over the last 12 years – Ken Vandermark (on tenor and baritone saxophones and clarinet) and Tim Daisy (on drums and percussion). That both played with equal levels of stamina and invention should come as no surprise, nor should their ability to construct and dissolves a melodic idea. But their playing last night was especially groove-conscious, often to the point of approximately rock and funk. Add in the clean bottom end of a fine young bassist from Amsterdam, Jasper Stadhouders, and the grooves – especially ones the band built to that stopped on a dime at the end of each piece – packed even greater force while still sounding rhythmically flexible.

That was just half of the story last night. The rest came from Christof Kurzmann, an artfully clever sound sculpturer from Vienna (who, along with Stadhouders, made his OTS debut with this performance). Kurzmann’s musical by-line was simply “electronics.” What that translated to last night was a variety of multi-purpose sounds summoned with the help of a laptop. Sometimes that served as a second horn to Vandermark. At others, it appropriated the more traditional placement of keyboardist. And there were several instances where Kurzmann’s variety of oscillating sounds gave a ghostly, almost calliope like ambience to the music.

But Kurzmann was as much a processor of sounds as a creator. In one particularly arresting sequence during the first of the program’s two sets, he captured bits of Vandermark’s playing on loops and shot them back his way. That essentially allowed Vandermark the opportunity to harmonize with himself in an almost completely live fashion.

Outside of that, the four members took cues from one another like actors playing out a scene. When one idea shut down, another immediately started anew from a different musician, pushing this already exhilarating performance to yet more undiscovered territory.

ken vandermark’s breaking point

kv_2

ken vandermark.

When a band names itself Made to Break, you can’t help think its music is in some respect combustible, that whatever formation it was built upon was designed to splinter and scatter – and maybe even make a bit of racket in the process.

That explains some of what makes this quartet formed by Chicago reed player and free jazz forefather Ken Vandermark work. The band – rounded out by longtime Vandermark ally Tim Daisy on drums, Jasper Stadhouders on electric bass and Christof Kurzmann on electronics – often works off a groove before bending it, deconstructing it, refurbishing it and, in a few cases, obliterating it. Then, in a blend of compositional form and free improvising, the four players grab hold of another idea.

For Vandermark, though, Made to Break is simply another step toward a new form of jazz expression.

“This band is really focused on trying to come up with a different approach to improvising and using different kinds of materials that are less conventionally connected to jazz and improvised music. It’s more connected, really, to my interests in funk and reggae and rock music, but also my interests in working with electronic musicians.

“In the 21st century, for some reason, it seems like this idea of jazz has been really codified in terms of the stylistic concern, which doesn’t interest me at all. But the idea of playing and improvising and connecting that material you really relate to in your own time period…I directly connect with that. I think Made to Break is an example of a way to do that now.”

One of the more immediate differences between Made to Break and several of the groups Vandermark has brought to Lexington over the past 12 years as part of the Outside the Spotlight Series (The Vandermark 5, Free Music Ensemble and duo settings with Daisy) is that half of the music is conjured by electric instrumentation. Stadhouders (who replaced bassist Devin Hoff after the release of Made to Break’s third and newest album, Cherchez La Femme) supplies much of the initial groove while Kurzmann offers an ambient, almost orchestral canvas for new melodies and improvs to develop. Or at least, that’s one of the design plans within Made to Break’s music. Vandermark is keen on not allowing any form of routine to develop within the playing.

“With Made to Break, there is written material specific to a piece of music, but all those components are extremely flexible within the piece. So, in a sense, the form of the tune is improvised. We know all the parts but the way that they get assembled – the way I may play a melody or how Tim may play part of the groove or how the bass line will come in … all of that stuff is spontaneous choice. So no one can really decide ahead of time what they are going to do because they have to listen all the time.

“Getting familiar with working that way and not getting thrown by looking for the normal sign posts that indicate where to go next in a piece of music really took some time to get a handle on.”

Made to Break also presents a balance of nationalities. Vandermark and Daisy live in (and work out of) Chicago, Stadhouders resides in Amsterdam and Kurzmann divides time between Buenos Aires and his native Vienna.

“I came up in the Chicago scene and that defined a huge aspect of the resources I had and the experiences I had,” Vandermark said. “But I find a lot of connections in Europe. That’s partly why I go back so much to perform there. Very often with the bands I’m in now, I’m the only American – and I love that. It’s this dynamic between having a home base in Chicago and traveling to Europe that provides the balance in my creative life.”

Made to Break performs at 8 p.m. April 28 at The Bazaar, 720 Bryan Ave. Admission is free. Call (859) 254-1712.

in performance: joe bonamassa

Joe-Bonamassa

joe bonamassa.

Listening to an evening Joe Bonamassa’s guitar exploits is akin to sampling every greasy delicacy at a barbeque joint. Some of the tastes are familiar and flavorful enough to where you might overindulge. But the classier establishments always manage a variation of the form that is less expected but equally tasty.

That was essentially the menu served up last night at Rupp Arena before a crowd of 1,600 in the venue’s half-house seating configuration. The 2 ½ performance was divided evenly between electric blues adventures that often morphed into towering guitar rock pageantry and an acoustic set full of surprise and stylistic invention.

The former, of course, is what Bonamassa has established much of his reputation on. The electric set made use of varying quantities of the blues as the basis of a taut guitar sound that was let loose through a series of extended solos.

Sometimes the blues ran the roost, as in Blues Deluxe, a tune originated in 1968 on Jeff Beck’s classic Truth album. As with the original, last night’s version was presented as a study in contrasts – specifically, a lyricism rooted in slows blues tradition but with vocals distinguished by volume and urgency. Bonamassa handled all of it capably. Other songs, like the set opening original Dust Bowl, operated from a more progressive base, as shown by long, sinewy melodies and fusion-style interplay that brought Eric Johnson’s early playing to mind.

There were a few instances during the electric set when some editing would have helped. Lengthy solos during The Ballad of John Henry and Sloe Gin, muscular as they were, grew static after several minutes, although both segments were huge hits with the audience. More inviting, simply because it took Bonamassa out of guitarslinger mode, was Django, an instrumental presented as a sparse but spacious duet with keyboardist Derek Sherinian.

The opening acoustic set was a complete show stealer. Instead of a raw and rustic display of primal blues, Bonamassa threw open the stylistic gates for a wildly broad repertoire (Bad Company’s Seagull, Tom Waits’ Jockey Full of Bourbon and Chris Whitley’s truly fearsome Ball Peen Hammer) with a band that teamed Irish banjoist/fidder Gerry O’Connor and Swiss nyckelharpa player Mats Wester with Sherinian and the great Los Angeles pop percussionist Lenny Castro.

The acoustic set was orderly – nine songs played on nine guitars situated onstage in a semi-circle around Bonamassa – but wonderfully expansive in terms of sounds and source material. Among the many highlights was Jelly Roll, a work by the late and often underappreciated British guitarist John Martyn that sounded like a slab of Celtic boogie. It was the type of fun that turned this blues-based performance into a merry world party.

critic’s pick 319: johnny cash, “out among the stars”

johnny cashLeave it to The Man in Black to consider suicide as acceptable collateral damage for ending a doomed romance. On I Drove Her Out of My Mind, one of 12 aborted ‘80s songs resurrected for the new Out Among the Stars album, he imagines with no small amount of glee, driving himself and his deposed beloved off a mountain side in a fresh-off-the-lot Cadillac (“she’ll see all seven states as we drive to the pearly gates”). The thrill Cash confesses over Billy Sherrill’s lushly arranged vocal backdrop is alone worth the price of the album: “It’s gonna be gaw-geous.”

Save for a pair of tunes from 1981, Out Among the Stars gives new life to unfinished Cash and Sherill sessions from April and May of 1984 (exactly three decades ago). These were hardly Cash’s glory years. At the time, his label (Columbia/Epic) was home to several contemporaries, most notably Merle Haggard and George Jones. All were falling increasingly out of favor with country radio and corporate Nashville, both of which were focusing on younger, more pop-friendly talent. The result was a series of phoned in albums by the vets – recordings marred by dull or desperate production, equally drab material, and, worst of all, vocal performances that sounded like Cash and his cronies had essentially called it a day.

While it’s far from a classic, Out Among the Stars outdistances anything else Cash was committing to vinyl at the time. The record’s most immediate attribute is his singing. Unlike the increasingly frail but tremendously emotive vocals that gave Cash’s final albums with Rick Rubin such sage-like, genre-less brilliance, Out Among the Stars returns us to a voice of comparatively youthful vigor. The singer’s son, John Carter Cash, who co-produced these newly completed recordings, reveals in the liner notes that his father slid back into pill addiction in the early ‘80s but had recovered by the 1984 sessions. That info makes the darker corners of Out Among the Stars seem all the more harrowing.

Leading that pack is the Adam Mitchell-penned title tune, where a Texas liquor store robbery ends in bloodshed and an eerie balance of release and shame. Needless to say, this presents prime fixings for the stoic reverence of Cash’s singing. Hearing modern day Americana greats like Buddy Miller and Jerry Douglas flesh out these recordings ups the thrill even more.

Not everything works. If I Told You Who It Was is pure country corn while an ambient-style Elvis Costello remix of She Used to Love Me a Lot is full of good intentions but comes off as a gimmicky match for Cash’s epic tenor. Enjoy Out Among the Stars instead as a modest vindication for a period in a monumental career that has long been gathering dust.

in performance: easel

michael-zerang2

michael zerang.

The charm as well as the challenge of the new free jazz trio Easel seems to stem from its ability to negotiate sound – not necessarily music, but a vocabulary of sound – through a series of disconnecting improvisations.

When Easel succeeded last night during its 70 minute Outside the Spotlight performance at the Rasdall Gallery of the University of Kentucky Student Center, it presented aural vignettes of startling mood and color. When it didn’t, it sounded like a band in limbo tossing out found sounds in hopes of a connection that often sat just beyond its grasp.

Sitting centerstage last night, literally and figuratively, was drummer Michael Zerang. His roots with OTS stem back to the 2002 concert by the Peter Brotzmann Chicago Tentet that essentially launched the series, although he has been only an occasional returnee since then.

Last night, Zerang’s playing was something of a tease as he coerced long elastic sounds from the snare with his hands and later with a variety mallets and sticks. During the first of three untitled improvisations that made up the program, his percussive experiments matched the similarly exploratory sounds of Swiss reed player Christoph Erb (on tenor saxophone and bass clarinet) and frequent OTS guest Fred Lonberg-Holm (on amplified cello and guitar).

Their playing – at least, initially, purposely strayed from the tonal possibilities of their instruments. In its darker and more disparate moments, the music sounded like a tune-up – a scattering of ideas that would only briefly merge. One very intriguing point came when Zerang and Lonberg-Holm created a plaintive dialogue that sounded like the distant cries of birds. In other words, out of seeming disarray and fracture came wholly unexpected flashes of harmony.

The sounds flowed from there. During the second improv, Erb placed a bottle of water into the bell of his saxophone and shook the instrument as if it were a percussive device while Zerang used two small cables to create a vibrating hum on his drumhead – an odd acoustic sound that mimicked an electric one.

The third improv, though disappointingly short, was the pay off with the three players discarding the sound safaris in favor a suggestion of melody that brought their respective instrumentation together. The result served as an almost pastoral coda to a program that seemed to luxuriate in its own restlessness.

getting to know rosie

rosie flores

rosie flores.

You would think with a career that spans over three decades, audiences would be in-the-know as to who Rosie Flores is and the kind of musical munitions she packs.

Her most devout fans have always gotten the picture, from her late ‘70s days as part of a booming Los Angeles punk/roots movement to her celebrated tenure as the “Rockabilly Filly” to her recent moonlighting as a vintage jazz singer in her Texas homebase of Austin. Get even a little beyond that fanbase, though, and you’ll find a mainstream audience that could use some schooling on the music and career of the fine Ms. Flores.

Luckily, there is a recent primer record called Working Girl’s Guitar that should beautifully refresh everyone’s minds as to the soul, sass, and drive behind her fun but scholarly roots music.

Lesson No. 1, as taught by the album: understanding where the guitar sound is really coming from.

Working Girl’s Guitar is one of those records where I was the only guitar player,” said Flores, who returns to Lexington for a Wednesday performance at Willie’s Locally Known. “That was important because I’ve been touring that way for so many years.”

“A lot of my records would have all of these different guest guitarists playing with me, and that’s great and everything. But I think one of the things confusing people, especially if you listen to the radio, is that they always wind up wondering which guitar solo is really me. So I wanted to get down to the nitty gritty, to where there would be no question as to who is playing guitar on the record.

“I wanted to be marketed that way, too, so people would know that I’m a guitar player. You think about Bonnie Raitt and you go, ‘She’s a great guitar player.’ But people have just never thought of me that way. That was one of the reasons I wanted to make sure that I played everything on the record.”

Flores’ other main concern was opening up even veteran fans to a broader scope of inspirations on Working Girl’s Guitar. Sure, Drugstore Rock and Roll continues Flores’ devotion to rockabilly empress Janis Martin. But the sounds open out from there. Surf Demon #5 is all hot rod twang, Love Must Have Passed By cools the engines for some late ‘60s pop melancholy (complete with harmony vocals by Bobby Vee) and the album closing cover of While My Guitar Gently Weeps approximates Django Reinhardt-style swing.

“I wanted to move away from just strictly rockabilly and let people know where I was coming from as far as all the different decades I’ve been alive and grooving on music. So my first decade was the ‘50s and the rockabilly. Next was the girl group era and Motown, as well as surf. Then came the Beatles and my R&B influences. After that was rock ‘n’ roll and punk rock. So the record is a little bit diverse, but at least it shows a little bit of all of my sides. It makes my shows a little more interesting vocally, as well.”

But perhaps the most the telling tune on Working Girl’s Guitar is the title song. Flores provided the inspiration – and the guitar. Fellow Austin songsmith Ritchie Mintz came up with the rest.

“Almost a year before I started work on this album, I had an extra Taylor guitar that I didn’t need. So I brought the guitar over to Ritchie’s house and he kept it overnight. He called me up the next day and said, ‘Your guitar wrote a song for you.’ So he played me Working Girl’s Guitar, which had been written from the guitar’s point of view.

“So you see? Our guitars really do take care of us.”

Rosie Flores and The Kentucky Hoss Cats perform at 8 p.m. April 23 at Willie’s Locally Known, 805 N.Broadway. Admission is $10. Call (859) 281-1116 or go to www.willieslex.com.

particle practices

particle

particle’s 2004 album “transformation live: for the people”

Throughout its lifespan, Particle has been promoting a new sound fashioned from two seemingly opposing camps – heavily produced and programmed electronica and more organically driven jam band grooves.

But finding a common ground for such music hasn’t been half as tricky as keeping the Los Angeles group operating with a roster that lasts long enough to maintain a sturdy sense of band spirit.

As it takes to the road this spring, Particle will exist as an act with a 14 year history but with a lineup that has been performing for less than a month. Operate like that, and it’s no wonder its music always seems so new.

“It feels like this lineup has been playing together for years even though we’ve probably only played 25 shows,” said Particle keyboardist and co-founder Steve Molitz. “But time is so relative in the arts. If the chemistry is there, it’s not bound by normal laws of time in the way other work relationships might be in different fields. Within the arts – and music, especially – if things are clicking, then you can really accomplish a lot in a little bit of time. I feel like this lineup is a perfect example.

“It’s such a well-rounded bunch of people. The musicians come from several different backgrounds. Brandon (Draper) the drummer has a lot of world music and jazz influences. Clay (Parnell, Particle’s bassist) has played a lot of different kinds of electronic dance music. Then there is Ben Combe (the band’s longstanding guitarist) and his rock background, I feel like we have so many colors in our palette that we’re using on a nightly basis. I think if people come out to see this show, they would be amazed that this band is really only a few weeks old.”

That new recruits Draper and Parnell have taken so readily to being in Particle speaks highly for their instrumental ingenuity, as the band’s music isn’t something an unsuspecting player would pick up at a rehearsal or two.

“It’s not like a singer-songwriter situation where I just handed over a songbook to them and said, ‘Here’s the catalogue. Play these chords and the songs will play themselves.’ There is a lot of room in the music for individuals to put their stamp on it, both tonally and harmonically. So it’s been pretty exciting. Fans of this genre on a macro level, and Particle on a micro level, sense that, I think, and appreciate the process.”

The genre, in this case, has been dubbed “livetronica” – so named for its preference for using the kind of synthesized colors and beats normally associated with studio-created dance music in a live setting built around the improvisational savvy of jam bands. So far, the mix has won Particle some high profile pals. Grateful Dead alumni Phil Lesh and Mickey Hart, guitar stars Joe Satriani and Robby Krieger and hip hop stylists Blackalicious and DJ Logic are among those who have collaborated with the band through the years.

“There are some bands playing livetronica that are approaching it from much more of a purist, DJ/producer standpoint,” Molitz said. “That’s really never been Particle’s approach. We definitely incorporate elements of that in terms of live looping and using samples and that kind of stuff. But we don’t want to get into a situation where we’re just sort of painting by numbers and following a routine with some predictable, robotic dance track. We’re much more interested in using the electronic dance element as one of the spices we serve up.

“Even within some of the electronic elements, we’ve found ways to make them very flexible so we adjust tempos on the spot or change the song structure depending on the vibe in the room. We just try to be in the moment, react to the moment and have fun.”

Particle and Freekbass perform at 10 p.m. April 23 at Cosmic Charlie’s. 388 Woodland Ave. Tickets are $15. Call (859) 309-9499 or go to www.cosmic-charlies.com.

in performance: the kentucky headhunters

ketucky headhunters 2

the kentucky headhunters.

“Don’t you lie to me, you damn hillbillies,” said Richard Young of the Kentucky HeadHunters when asking for a show of hands this afternoon in the parking lot of CD Central of those who had ever enjoyed wine of, shall we say, modest and economical vintage. The song that triggered the inquiry was a tasty bit of blues-basted fun called Boone’s Farm Boogie and the occasion was a brief afternoon set at CD Central that served as both a celebration of Record Store Day and a warm-up to a full length headlining show at the Frankfort Convention Center.

Of course, Young’s outburst was purposely playful and the term “hillbilly,” in this instance, was one of mutual endearment. As the pride of Metcalfe County, the HeadHunters remain unspoiled ambassadors of rural country gusto, the kind of party music that owes more to vintage blues, boogie and juke joint R&B than anything remotely Nashvillle oriented. Similarly, Young’s vocal growl during Boone’s Farm Boogie recalled blues groove giant Slim Harpo more any vintage country stylist.

It was a short but merry set, one that didn’t strip the band’s sound down to the sort of unplugged setting one might expect at a record store engagement. The set opening Dixie Lullaby sported a lean but loose electric sound that fell between T. Rex-style crunch and groove and Wet Willie-inspired Southern soul while the punctuated Bo Diddley rhythms during My Daddy Was a Milkman were so prevalent that the HeadHunters tossed in the celebratory chorus from Hey! Bo Diddley as a bonus.

Still boasting four of the five members responsible for the HeadHunters’ Grammy winning debut album Pickin’ on Nashville, the band continually enhanced its well spring of roots music sources. At the musical helm were drummer Fred Young, who shifted from efficient blues-soul fills to grooves that regularly suggested swing, and guitarist Greg Martin, whose solo during the Freddie King blues classic Have You Ever Loved a Woman sailed from subtle, elegant lyricism into a rootsy tirade. Countering all that was the singing of bassist Doug Phelps, who ignited the blues backdrops on the HeadHunters’ signature hit Dumas Walker with a vocal lead as cordial and bright as the brilliant spring sky the band played under.

the unlikely activist

Melissa Etheridge

melissa etheridge.

The last thing Melissa Etheridge ever imagined for her career was activism. But as a long sought life in rock ‘n’ roll began to take hold, the Grammy winning singer-songwriter discovered that being herself also meant standing up for herself.

“Seriously and truthfully, I never wanted to be activist,” said Etheridge, who performs a solo acoustic concert Saturday at the EKU Center for the Arts. “I’m seriously lazy at heart. I just wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll star and live the decadent life. But I didn’t do that either.

“The thing is that I love music. The more I would get in it and the more successful I got, the more I saw how I had to be myself in this. The more I spoke the truth about who I was, the more that became activism. ‘Yes, I’m gay’ or ‘Yes, I have cancer’ or ‘Yes, I smoke cannabis’ or ‘Yes, I believe the environment is important’ – just by saying these things, I become an activist. Kind of what I’m trying to say is you don’t have to go out and change the world. All you have to do is look inside and be who you are. That will change the world.”

This year, Etheridge is taking the idea of being herself directly to her music. After 25 years with Island Records – a tenure that established a global fanbase for her rock/soul infused hits I’m the Only One and Come to My Window – she is now an independent. It’s a role she cherishes as much as that of activist.

“I began to looking at the record labels like, ‘Okay, I can do this with you and you might work one single and then you’ll put me on the pile’ or I can do it myself with my management, which has all the tools that I need to work an album, and they’re working me and not just the album.

“I think it’s a great day for the artist. I know the record industry is hurting, but I think the artist wins in this whole scenario.”

While her first album as an indie artist is nearly completion, Etheridge’s first recording away from Island came earlier this year with a song called Uprising of Love. Triggered by Russia’s demeaning treatment of its gay community, which drew international focus during the Sochi Winter Olympics, the song is more a call for unity than protest.

“The experience of the last 20 years in working for gay rights and civil rights and seeing my world change, seeing it willing to shed some light on some dark corners of our psyche and our sexuality, was like getting that boulder up to the top of the mountain. Then DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) was knocked down last summer and it felt like we really moved somewhere. We did something. But just weeks later, you get these pictures coming from Russia, and it’s like, ‘The work is really never done.’

“It is worldwide humanity. I just sat down and said, ‘What is the one message, what is the one thing I can say?’ I think above everything else, what changes hearts and minds is when a person changes their own heart and speaks truthfully so that people go, ‘Oh, I know a gay person. They are in my family or down the street or at work.’ So that’s what Uprising of Love is pleading to. It’s saying, ‘Look. This is how we can do it. I believe this and it starts with me.’”

Gay rights have been a focal point of Etheridge’s life and career since publicly coming out in January 1993, eight months before the release of her multiple platinum-selling album, Yes I Am. Numerous activist and benefit causes would be balanced with her music in the decade to come. But a diagnosis of breast cancer in 2004 reshuffled everything.

“This was at a time when I was really re-examining my life, my career and everything. ‘What is this? What is success? What am I doing? What do I want to do?’ And then to be broadsided by breast cancer just really wiped the slate clean for me. It really helped me set up my priorities.”

Bald and weakened from chemotherapy, Etheridge roared through the Janis Joplin classic Piece of My Heart at the 2005 Grammy Awards in what fans and critics still agree was a career defining performance.

 “When I was getting up there for Piece of My Heart at the Grammys, I hadn’t even been out of my house, basically. I did my radiation treatment that day and then went to the Grammys. I was seriously weak but I think that actually made for a good performance. It kind of settled me down.

“Basically, when I was going there, I just didn’t want anyone to make fun of me. I remember my guitar player saying to me, ‘You don’t know what you’re about to do, do you?’ I said, ‘No. I’m just going to do what I love.’ And I was so happy.”

Today, with a solo acoustic tour underway and her first indie album awaiting release, Etheridge feels enriched, empowered and a little wiser by her experiences.

“I love being older. I feel like life is really starting for me now. It’s like, ‘I’ve finally got the knowledge, the wisdom. It’s like, ‘Ah, I’m getting this now. I’m good here.’”

Melissa Etheridge: This is ME Solo Tour performs at 7:30 p.m. April 19 at the EKU Center for the Arts, 521 Lancaster Ave. Tickets are $51-$71. Call (859) 353-6382 or go to http://ekucenter.com

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