Archive for July, 2014

‘a hard day’s night’ 50 years on

a hard day's night 2

on set, but offscreen: ringo star, john lennon, paul mccartney and george harrison during a break from filming ‘a hard day’s night.’

The mood is set the instant A Hard Day’s Night begins.

From the soundtrack, we hear that single isolated guitar chord – the signal that kicks one of the Beatles’ most familiar and endearing hits into gear.

From the screen, we see Beatlemania in all its 1964 splendor with the boys from Liverpool racing down a backstreet pursued by the screams and cheers of teen hysteria. It’s a staged scene of a very real pop phenomenon. But within this segment there is a moment of priceless spontaneity. Within seven seconds of the opening frame, down goes George Harrison. It’s a moment worthy of Monty Python, not because the guitarist stumbled on the sidewalk but because director Richard Lester – presumably with Harrison’s approval – left the shot in.

a hard days night 2Thus begins the remarkable moment-in-time that is A Hard Day’s Night, which celebrates its 50th anniversary with a fully restored version that will be screened Wednesday as part of the Kentucky Theater’s Summer Classics Movies series.

A Hard Day’s Night isn’t a documentary, but it might as well be. With the Beatles’ global popularity having just spread to America, the film follows the band on a supposed day of promotional activity and improvised mischief. That’s it. There is no real plot and no conflict to speak of other than the brief disappearance of a hapless Ringo Starr before a TV performance and the innocuous sideline exploits of Paul McCartney’s “very clean” grandfather.

The obvious intent at the time was to capitalize on what was already a boundless pop enterprise. But what the film translates into today is a remarkable time capsule of the Beatles at perhaps the most seemingly innocent point of their career. American audiences already saw how the four, especially John Lennon, won over the media during press conferences marking their Stateside TV debut the previous winter. That charm plays into the seemingly unscripted remarks and asides that pepper A Hard Day’s Night. A personal favorite comes offscreen from Lennon as Starr gathers his cash winnings from a card game: “That will never buy you happiness, my son.”

In the end, A Hard Day’s Night revolves around its presentation of the Beatles’ still spectacular music – the railway storage car setting for I Should Have Known Better, the swinging social club backdrop for All My Loving, Lennon’s playful rehearsal serenading of Starr for If I Fell and the gloriously dated outdoor foolery (“Sorry we hurt your field, Mister”) for Can’t Buy Me Love that reminds us this was, indeed, 1964.

For better or worse, A Hard Day’s Night stands as the template for countless teen pop and boy bands over the generations as they created their own commercial profiles. But it’s also more than mere nostalgia. Viewing it today is like looking at any snapshot of youth. Captured by Lester and crew in brilliant black and white, A Hard Day’s Night is a chronicle of promise. Within it, we witness up close the vigorous, playful personalities of four pop soldiers merrily conquering the world.

‘A Hard Day’s Night’ will be shown at 1:30 and 7:15 p.m. July 16 as part of the Summer Classics Movies Series at the Kentucky Theater, 214 East Main. Admission is $6. Call (859) 231-6997 or go to

in performance: kenny vaughan

kenny vaughan

kenny vaughan.

On most Saturday nights, you’re likely to find Kenny Vaughan on the road, ripping through a country roots repertoire as guitarist for Marty Stuart. Last night, though, Vaughan was on his own at Willie’s Locally Known – and we do mean “on his own.”

With his bassist succumbing to stomach flu earlier in the day and his drummer taking another Nashville gig as a result, Vaughan performed as a true solo act. But if anything, that only heightened the stylistic breadth of his playing while giving the crowd an intimate and in depth look at one of Nashville’s premier fretmen at work.

Those expecting the kind of vintage county fare that Vaughan ignites with Stuart were rewarded with the Buck Owens-like groove of Country Music Got a Hold on Me (and a truly fearsome blast of warp speed picking that served as its coda) and the George Jones-like drive of Who’s on the Other Side of That.

But Vaughan’s setlist was hardly content to spend the evening rolling in the country. The 90 minute performance opened with the clean jazz stride of Mose Allison’s Ask Me Nice and concluded with a hearty encore of the Little Walter blues jam It Ain’t Right. The latter was one of three tunes that sported help from Lexington guitar maker Chad Underwood. The rest of the show employed loop-like pedal effects that captured and played back riffs and grooves. That effectively allowed Vaughan to serve as his own rhythm guitarist.

Such a practice has become increasingly popular among solo artists. But Vaughan’s use of such technology was judicious. It wasn’t implemented to create layer upon layer of melodies, as is the want of some guitar stylists. Vaughan used the effects primarily as a lean, rhythmic supplement to solo over during Ghost Riders in the Sky and as a harmonic device within the nocturnal jazz-blues soundscape of Mysterium.

Technology, stylistic daring and pure instrumental prowess combined during the new Vaughan instrumental Blues for Bill (a jazz centerpiece colored by a splash of psychedelia that was named after the guitarist’s one-time teacher, the then-unknown Bill Frisell) and an exquisite acoustic guitar reworking of Bill Monroe’s My Last Days on Earth. Vaughan dedicated the latter to Tommy Ramone, who died a day earlier.

Linking Monroe and The Ramones? No one but Vaughan would have attempted such a feat or made the results sound so honestly and simply poignant.

thomas erdelyi (tommy ramone), 1952-2014

tommy ramone

thomas erdelyi, aka tommy ramone in 2007.

Now they’re all gone. With the passing yesterday of Thomas Erdelyi – better known to vets of the ‘70s punk revolution as Tommy Ramone – all four original members of The Ramones have left us. Erdelyi, who was 62, was the third to die from a cancer-related illness (the other, bassist Dee Dee Ramone, died of a drug overdose in 2002).

Erdelyi’s involvement with the famed New York rockers has largely been unheralded. As drummer, he was the least inconspicuous and the most businesslike. He was the first player to leave and the first to return.

ramones 1976

the ramones in 1976: johnny, tommy, joey and dee dee ramone.

Initially the band’s manager, Erdelyi took over the role of drummer because, in an oft-quoted remark attributed to Dee Dee, “no one else wanted to.” He also wrote one of the Ramones’ cornerstone hits, I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend, and contributed greatly to the composition of several others. All were ultra-economical, ultra-basic garage rock gems with a deceptively high quotient of pop. He stayed with the band for its first four years and its first four albums – Ramones, Leave Home, Rocket to Russia and It’s Alive. He returned to produce the underrated 1984 album Too Tough to Die.

The Ramones have been rightly revered as a vanguard band of the punk movement. But of all the flagship acts of the era, it was hands down the most fun. The Ramones were seldom political, completely un-fashion conscious and, once you got past their street thug looks, refreshingly non-threatening. Their battle cry was never revolution, per se. It was a simple pronouncement of youthful vigor: “Hey, ho. Let’s go.”

One shouldn’t spend too much energy pinpointing Erdelyi’s role in the Ramones’ early music. This wasn’t a unit where fans devoted time to deciphering lyrics and dissecting riffs and solos One must approach any Ramones roster, especially its founding lineup, as a whole that shot out tunes with remarkable briskness, drive and authority. Their songs were always a treat while they lasted. They just never lasted long. That was the point.

In his final performance years, Erdelyi formed the string music duo Uncle Monk and re-embraced a love of folk and pre-bluegrass country that predated his work with the Ramones. But wherever he played, including an April 2007 WoodSongs date, the shadow of Tommy Ramone sat right beside him.

“There is a kind of cognitive dissonance that goes on with people like us,” Erdelyi told me in an interview prior to the WoodSongs appearance. “Ramones fans can’t imagine me doing acoustic music, not realizing that I’ve been listening to it all my life.”

crows landing

counting crows

adam duritz of counting crows. photo by danny clinch.

In the 20-plus years he has piloted Counting Crows, Adam Duritz has seldom found his way to Kentucky. So the singer and songsmith behind such ‘90s radio hits as Round Here, Rain King and Mr. Jones and such stylistically disparate albums as 1993’s smash debut August and Everything After (which sold over 7 million copies) and 2007’s distinctive covers collection Underwater Sunshine was both pleased and surprised to find his band booked as the headline attraction at this weekend’s Master Musicians Festival in Somerset.

“It’s funny,” Duritz said. “You tour forever and then realize, ‘How do we keep missing these places?’ But we do it. We still manage to miss these places over and over again. That’s why we said yes when they told us about the festival down there because it’s been a long time since we’ve been in Kentucky. We’ve played in Louisville on occasion, but not a lot.”

Counting Crows’ Saturday evening performance comes as a new chapter in its career unfolds. The band completed what Duritz promises as a very different new album (“It’s not like anything we’ve ever done before”) last spring as an indie act. But it will issue the project, titled Somewhere Under Wonderland, this fall as the first release under a new contract with Capitol Records.

“It’s really cool,” Duritz said of the new recording. “The songwriting is different – the lyric writing, especially. The tunes are very emotional. But the record has also got humor, which I’ve never allowed myself to write with before.

“My songs come mostly from my life. Even with this record, where there are stories, the emotional weight always comes from how I feel about things. But the imagery in the stories that I’m trying to tell is a lot different this time. They are a lot more impressionistic. I’ve allowed myself to be a lot freer with imagery on this record.”

Somewhere Under Wonderland comes at a time when the record industry is in great flux, with sales of product plummeting and major labels investing less in the cultivation of new artists. But as an act set to release its next album on a major label after recording the work entirely on its own, Counting Crows is using what is left of the record industry to full advantage.

“Some of the greatest songs ever are being written right now,” Duritz said. “You just have to look for them. They may be a little harder to find, but they’re out there. I mean music is being made by really good musicians all over the place.

“We did get lucky and make it. But it’s going to be very hard for us to sell close to 10 million copies ever again. I mean, it will probably never happen again for us. I don’t even know if we’ll sell a million copies again. Maybe we will. Maybe this album will be different because it’s been awhile (Somewhere Under Wonderland is Counting Crows’ first album of new songs since 2008’s Saturday Nights and Sunday Mornings) and people are hungry for it. I don’t know. I do know that we were free to make it. It was affordable for us to make a record ourselves so we could bring a finished product to the record companies. Normally, they’re telling us what we need to do with it, which is nothing we ever listened to anyway. But now it’s not an issue because it’s done.”

charlie haden, 1937-2014


charlie haden.

If there is a unifying factor within the multi-directional music of Charlie Haden, it would be the bassist/bandleader’s inexhaustible love of collaboration. From his redefinition of jazz’s harmonic infrastructure on Ornette Coleman’s groundbreaking 1959 album The Shape of Jazz to Come to the release last month of his often wistful second album of duets with pianist Keith Jarrett, Last Dance, Haden’s playing has been steadfast in its solemn, articulate beauty but gloriously restless in its sense of stylistic exploration.

This was, after all, a jazz titan whose company of collaborators included – along with Coleman and Jarrett – Ginger Baker, Beck, Michael Brecker, Don Cherry, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie, Robert Downey Jr., Bruce Hornsby, Rickie Lee Jones, Joe Lovano, John McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, Paul Motian, Yoko Ono, David Sanborn and Ringo Starr.

Haden died yesterday at 76 after an extended illness. He contracted polio at age 15 and had battled post-polio syndrome in recent years.

Haden was a jazzman by reputation – a player with a vocabulary on the bass that ranged from revolutionary soloing and arranging (as evidenced by his late ‘60s work with the Liberation Music Orchestra) to a love of surprisingly traditional jazz composition and songcraft (as shown by his ‘80s and ‘90s albums with Quartet West). But Haden was also a lover of American roots music. Perhaps his most commercially visible album was 2008’s Rambling Boy, a folk and country session cut with family members, a legion of top Nashville artists and guests that included Metheny and Hornsby.

“I always operate on the platform that there is not much time left,” Haden told me in a March 1996 interview prior to a concert with Quartet West at the Singletary Center for the Arts. “And that’s the way I play music, too. I dedicate my life to the notes that I play. There aren’t enough seconds in the day to implement all of the things that I have in my head. I really want to do so much.”

Of those myriad projects, my preferences ran to drummer-less duo and trio groups – settings that cut Haden loose from any grounded rhythm, allowing his playing room to roam. The last times I saw him perform were on a pair of 2008 dead-of-winter nights at the Blue Note in New York where Haden offered successive evenings of duets with two landmarks guitarists – John Scofield and Jim Hall. These were situations where the bassist was in peak form, summoning a level of jazz conversation that was alternately playful, exact and wondrously intuitive.

Similarly, the record I reached for last night was the self-titled 1980 debut album on ECM by Magico, a trio rooted in jazz and ancient folk that featured Haden, Norwegian saxophonist Jan Garbarek and the underappreciated Brazilian guitarist Egberto Gismonti. It’s by no means a career-defining work for Handen, but one rich in a collaborate spirit that resulted in some the bassist’s most spacious but stylistically indefinable playing.

“All I want to do with these projects is to make beautiful music, honest music and music of purity,” Haden said in our 1996 interview. “And I want to use it to try and bring more and more people to the art form of jazz.

“Jazz is an alternative that can enhance their lives tremendously and touch something in their souls that has never been touched before.”

lips service

flaming lips-george-salisbury-

the flaming lips. from left: steven drozd, michael ivins, kliph scurlock (no longer in band), wayne coyne, derek drown. photo by george salisbury.

“So, what would you like to talk about today?”

Nice of Steven Drozd – vocalist, multi-instrumentalist and 23 year member of the Oklahoma-born psychedelic pop collective known as The Flaming Lips – to toss out the first question in a recent phone interview. Truth to tell, there is a lot to discuss about the band, its performances and offshoot projects.

For starters, there is the concert Lips leader Wayne Coyne, Drozd and company will stage Sunday evening to close this year’s Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati. Then we have an upcoming side project album credited to Electric Wurms where Drozd and Coyne trade frontman roles. If that’s not enough, a Beatles tribute record awaits fall release. And what about the Lips’ alliance with one of its most outspoken yet unexpected fans – Miley Cyrus?

“There are always so many things going on,” Drozd said. “I think they all kind of move along together. But there’s the planning and there’s the reality, as in trying something that might not work. Like a year ago, we were performing most of (the 2013 Flaming Lips album) The Terror. Some of our fans really liked that, but I think a lot of people wanted something more than just that vibe. So Wayne started considering all that. He’s always working to maximize what we can do with the live show, but there is only so much planning we can do. A lot of it we just have to try and see if it works or not. If it doesn’t work, we just move on to something else.

“We have definitely done our share of festivals, though. I feel if any band has learned how to do a festival show, it’s us. We’ve already played a bunch of them this year, so I think when we get to Bunbury, we’ll be doing probably our biggest festival show. It will be pretty crazy and insane and we’ll pull out all the stops. It should be a good time, for sure.”

The band’s summer plans also include morphing into Electric Wurms with the Aug. 19 release of a debut album titled Musik, Die Shwer Zu Twerk (cq). The recording features Drozd on vocals, guitar and keyboards but has Coyne assuming a background role on bass. A mix of prog and psychedelia, the record’s six songs culminate in a very Lips-y cover of the 1972 Yes anthem Heart of the Sunrise.

“I think we wanted to do something that was obviously us but not the Flaming Lips,” Drozd said. “It all went from there. Some of it stayed within the realms of what we imagined and some of it is a lot better than we thought it would be.

“Wayne and I have talked about doing Heart of the Sunrise in the Flaming Lips for years. But we thought it would be cool to strip away all that extra stuff and just have it be real basic, almost like a (former Yes vocalist) Jon Anderson folk song, like him singing it by himself. That just seemed like a weirder take on it than doing the full nine minutes that Yes did. If you see us live, you will see us do some of the crazy riff parts, too. But if you have the record, it’s just that beautiful song.”

A Flaming Lips tribute recording to the Beatles, With a Little Help From My Fwends will follow in the fall. It will reimagine tunes from the immortal Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, including a version of Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds that features Moby and Miley Cyrus. The latter has been an especially vocal fan of the Lips.

“Wayne is always off doing something. He can’t sit at home for too long. If he gets a chance, he’ll be like, ‘We’ll go out to LA and shoot a video with Miley Cyrus. And Moby’s in town, too. We’ll get him to come over and do some stuff.’ There’s just this constant hub of activity with him.”
The Flaming Lips perform at 9 p.m. July 13 to close the Bunbury Music Festival at Sawyers Point/Yeatman’s Cove, 705 East Pete Rose Way in Cincinnati. The event runs July 11-13. Tickets are $69 (single day admission) and $154 (weekend pass). For a full schedule and info, go to

robot road trip

the fanged robot

The Fanged Robot. From right: Jason Clarkston, Joseph Drury, Robby Cosenza and Jim Earley. Photo by David Stephenson.

It’s nothing for active members of any community music scene to juggle duties in multiple artistic projects. Few, however, have maintained such a balancing act longer in Lexington than Robby Cosenza.

This summer, you can catch him playing bluegrass with Small Batch, roots-driven music with local songsmith Warren Byrom and vintage R&B with the Northside Shieks. And that says nothing of special performance situations like the Led Zeppelin tribute troupe Get the Led Out or one-off guest situations, like last month’s Phoenix Fridays concert, where he played drums behind Louisville-born, Brooklyn-based Americana popster Dawn Landes.

But the project that Cosenza can fully call his own is also the one he performs with the least on local soil. Dubbed The Fanged Robot, the pop-infused band will resurface this weekend not on home turf, but as one of two Lexington acts taking the stage at the Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati. The veteran pop ensemble Big Fresh is the other.

“I did so much touring from ’92 to about four years ago that my brain just turned into mush,” Cosenza said. “I didn’t have any sense of community in any of that stuff. That doesn’t seem too important when you’re in your 20s and early 30s. But now, it’s just about the most important thing in the world to me.

“So we don’t travel that much. We’ll do regional stuff – Louisville, Cincinnati, Indy, stuff like that. But we don’t get out much anymore. But this Bunbury show will be a nice thing for us.”

To get a sense of where Cosenza’s music with The Fanged Robot originates, you need to peel the calendar back 13 summers to when the drummer, guitarist and songwriter was on the cusp of national attention with the Lexington trio Pontius Co-Pilot. The band had amassed critical attention, financial backers and a touring schedule that included a fateful performance in New York City – on Sept. 10, 2001.

“Then everything went down. All our investors were a few blocks away from the (World) Trade Center and weren’t giving any money out to anybody, especially an independent band from Kentucky. We had put everything we had in the world into that band. We all lost our places to live, our jobs and basically all our stuff.

“I moved to Louisville, to the Crestwood area, and just hunkered down. I co-ran a lawn and landscape company and didn’t play an instrument for two years. I mean, I didn’t touch anything. I quit playing drums. I quit everything. I eventually started doing four-track stuff which ended up being The Fanged Robot stuff. That threw a little bit of confidence into my own writing and guitar playing. So the project has been around for awhile. It’s just been in the last couple of years that I’ve gotten the first wave of confident, full time musicians (guitarist Joe Drury, drummer Jason Clarkston and bassist

Jimmy Early) that I can play with that understand where I’m at and just have a good time with the music.”

While the folkish Let the Countdown Count Me (from 2012’s fine 10 in 20 compilation of Lexington artists) serves as the most available example of recorded work by The Fanged Robot, a completed but still-unmastered album awaits release. But Cosenza cautioned the recording purposely differs from the band’s stage sound.

“People see the live show and say, ‘You’ve got to send your record to us.’ And they hear it and go, ‘This doesn’t sound like anything we heard at the club. I’m like, ’Well, no. But if I wanted to do that, I’d buy a Rush record because that will sound just like their live show.’

“(Lexington musician and producer) Duane Lundy and I produced the record. We really went through just about every note and really, really fine tuned all the stuff. It’s very synth-heavy. It’s very mood heavy, so you don’t get the Crazy Horse vibe of the live band being in the studio doing their thing. But I didn’t want that. My songs are so basic that I really wanted them to have more of a Jeff Lynne kind of treatment. It’s a very sonic record.”

The Fanged Robot performs at 5:45 p.m. June 11 at the Bunbury Music Festival, which continues through Sunday in downtown Cincinnati. Tickets are $69 per day, $154 for the entire event. For tickets and a full schedule of performance times, go to

nights out with jay, kenny and whitey

jay flippin

jay flippin.

The weekend is at hand with a wealth of fine music that includes a pair of shows at Buster’s (Shooter Jennings on Saturday and Black Stone Cherry on Sunday) and the 3rd Annual Bunbury Music Festival (with Lexington’s Big Fresh and The Fanged Robot on the bill) invading Cincinnati.

But The Musical Box wanted to also clue you in three other not-to-miss events here at home over the next few evenings.

Thursday: The ongoing Jazz at the Library Series has a massive tribute in store for composer, arranger, pianist and all around jazz scholar Jay Flippin, who has been battling cancer for much of the year.

The series will present a reunion of The Dynasty Band, a collective of Morehead State University students, alum and area jazz players that played throughout the region for over four decades (Flippin is a MSU Hall of Fame member). The band will include Flippin, an expanded rhythm section, a six-member horn section and a team of four vocalists.

The free performance begins at 7 p.m. But as a bonus, the band’s afternoon rehearsal (12:30-3:30 p.m.) will also be open to the public.

The concert and rehearsal – which will draw upon horn driven jazz, pop and fusion works by Chicago, Tower of Power and Earth, Wind & Fire and others – will be presented at the Central Library Theatre, 140 East Main.

Saturday: It’s the return of Kenny Vaughan to Willie’s Locally Known, 805 North Broadway.

Vaughan’s notoriety stems largely from his connection to traditional country music and his ongoing role as guitarist in Marty Stuart’s Fabulous Superlatives band. But he is, quite simply, a guitarist’s guitarist

On his own, Vaughan can fly with scholarly ease through Buck Owens-style country roots music but also easily slip down a soul-blues side road with a Freddie King tune or a Chuck Berry staple. Or he might color his playing with a dash of psychedelia, surf or rockabilly. The ace-in-the-hole of past Vaughan shows at Willie’s has been his set-closing, no-holds-barred cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky.

This will be at early show at Willie’s (8 p.m., $10). Lexington’s own Fifth on the Floor will then host a late set at 10:30 for the nite owls.

Sunday: Wrapping up this run of fun is Whitey Morgan and the 78s, probably the most rustic pack of country outlaws to storm out of Flint, Michigan. This one will also be at Willie’s.

The first tune I heard by Morgan was a cover of Waylon Jennings’ Waymore’s Blues done as a roughcut shuffle with Sneaky Pete-style pedal steel and vocals that sit somewhere between a knowing wink and a clinched fist. But Morgan unloads a merry batch of vintage country muses on his 2010 self-titled debut album for Bloodshot Records. Highlights include the Dale Watson-penned Billy Joe Shaver saga Where Do Ya Want It? with Morgan displaying the vocal confidence of a young Waylon at the wheel and the 78s’ cover of Johnny Paycheck’s broke spoke swing gem Meanest Jukebox in Town. (8 p.m., $10).

critic’s pick 330: jack bruce, ‘silver rails’ and ginger baker, ‘why?’

jack bruceFor a surprisingly brief period in the late ‘60s, Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker were the rhythm section for the juggernaut trio Cream. Since then, their respective musical careers have sped past the half-century mark to appropriate numerous shades of jazz and worldbeat music. Still, that sliver of time when the two shook the world with the volcanic blues psychedelia of Cream – a sound that cemented the stardom of the trio’s other member, Eric Clapton – will forever tower over the solo music of Bruce and Baker.

While two recent recordings – Bruce’s first in 10 years, Baker’s newest in 14 – make such comparisons fruitless, ghosts from the past, albeit unexpected ones, are at work.

Bruce, 70, possesses a still-hearty vocal tenor that references his Cream legacy. You hear it within the thick, pervasive melody of Hidden Cities and the rumbling bass groove that undercuts Rusty Lady with longtime pal Robin Trower handling guitar duties. Similarly, Bruce’s longtime lyricist Pete Brown (their alliance stems back to the Cream years) contributes to seven of Silver Rails’ 10 tunes.

But Bruce is no nostalgist. If Cream fans some of the flames on Silver Rails, Spectrum Road, the all-star fusion combo the bassist recorded with in 2o12, sets the house on fire. That group’s keyboardist, John Medeski (of Medeski Martin & Wood) is all over Silver Rails. He enhances the light dub-style framework of Candlelight while Spectrum Road drummer Cindy Blackman Santana drives the ragged, rockish No Surrender.

Best of all, the new album’s blend of retro vocabulary, fresh instrumental fire and vocal color sounds surprisingly vigorous. It makes this rock elder sound vital and, at times, even youthful.

Ginger-Baker-WhyBaker, 74, has zero interest in Cream or in rock ‘n’ roll on Why? The scare-the-children portrait that serves as album cover art practically serves as a No Trespassing sign for any would- be rock archivist. Instead, Baker follows the jazz and African roots sounds that have stood as his prime post-Cream preferences.

The repertoire takes few chances. Ain Temouchant was first featured on one of Baker’s finest jazz records, 1994’s Going Back Home (with Bill Frisell and Charlie Haden) while the traditional Nigerian tune Aiko Biaye is revisited from 1970s’s Ginger Baker’s Air Force. But on Why? they are retooled into lean, spacious, unhurried rhythmic exercises with one time James Brown saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis.

Throughout the album, Ellis plays off of Baker’s largely steadfast fills in a way that recalls the more meditative late ‘60s records of sax giant Pharaoh Sanders. But percussionist Abass Dodoo often lights a greater fire under Baker, as shown during their extended drum duet on Aiko Biaye.

Mostly, though, Why? serves as a set of loose, unvarnished jazz jaunts with the Cream decidedly skimmed off.

a banner year for lee brice

lee brice

lee brice.

What’s better than playing sold-out arenas and stadiums all year on a bill with one of country music’s hottest headliners? In the case of Lee Brice, it would be playing a sold-out festival where he is, in essence, the headliner.

Admittedly, this weekend’s sold out Red, White and Boom festival, as has been the case in years past, is composed of artists of varying degrees of familiarity. All are in the process of establishing or fortifying their careers. Brice sits comfortably in the latter category.

A South Carolina native who has written songs for such Nashville notables as Jason Aldean, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton and Kenny Chesney, he established his own string of hits over the past five years. The newest, I Don’t Dance, is the title song of an album that is still two months away from release.Then there is the little matter of Brice’s current touring situation. Since January, he has been serving as one of two opening acts on a tour with country sensation Luke Bryan (fellow Red, White & Boom performer Cole Swindell is the other). So mark 2014 as a pretty decent year for Brice.

“Things are definitely at their highest point,” Brice, 35, said Tuesday by phone from his home in Nashville. “We’ve been doing this a long time and started from nothing but a van driving all over the country, so it’s nice to be able to tour like Luke. Now, Luke is a good buddy, but Luke is also the biggest thing in country music right now. It’s a privilege to be out there. I mean, all of his fans are rabid, so I’m enjoying this very much.”

When Brice played with Bryan at Rupp Arena in February, his manner of connecting to the audience was as casual as it was confident. Sure, the packed house thrilled to hits like I Drive Your Truck (which, despite the title, is actually a requiem for a friend) and A Woman Like You. But it was the singer’s direct and completely non-pandering treatment of his crowd that distinguished the performance.

“I grew up singing in church and my mama grew up singing in church, so I watched her for a lot of years soloing on Sunday mornings,” Brice said. “She was so spiritual. For her, it was all about communicating the song and communicating that moment. Sometimes, if she needed to not sing and just speak the words, she would, even though she was an amazing singer and still is an amazing singer. I watched that my whole life. She would connect with people on a different level just by getting up there and singing a song.

“I love writing music and I love producing records and I love performing. But one of the most special things is that moment of connection, like trying to look somebody in the eye all the way in the very, very back. I saw Garth Brooks when I was 17 years old. I was way up in the top of the stands and felt like he was talking to me. At that moment was when I knew I wanted to do this. That was what I was trying to follow.”

To that end, I Don’t Dance will serve as the next part of that connection. The album, which Brice produced and wrote much of the material for, is due out Sept. 9. But the title song — which Brice wrote for his and wife Sara Reeveley’s wedding — is burning up country airwaves this summer.

“When I wrote that, I thought, ‘This is the beginning of this record.’ I started from that moment of production in building each track and taking my time. That was the direction I wanted to go for each and every song, to find out how they needed to be made and not have some big theme over the whole record.

I Don’t Dance also connected my personal life with my career. But that song was just the special thing that got this project started. It was the very beginning.”

Lee Brice performs July 5 as part of the two-day Red, White and Boom festival at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. The entire event is sold out.

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