Archive for April, 2015

critic’s picks 272: alabama shakes, ‘sound & color,’ mavis staples, ‘your good fortune’

Separated by two generations, Alabama Shakes vocalist/guitarist Brittany Howard and gospel empress Mavis Staples today work as two stylistically different soul music ambassadors united in their goal of a greater artistic good. What makes their two newest recordings so fascinating is how respectfully they wander into each other’s camps.

alabama shakesThe Shakes’ Sound & Color, one of the more eagerly awaited sophomore efforts of recent times, is a complete inferno of a record. Expanding upon the retro reputation of its outstanding 2012 debut, Boys & Girls, Howard and company tantalize with a collar-grabbing mesh of torrential funk, deep pocket grooves and, often, orchestral psychedelia without shedding the music’s roots rock foundation.

Howard again serves as the Shakes’ earthshaker with a vocal fervency that is consistently arresting. Hearing her gather vocal ammo over a chattering guitar intro and a resulting groove of molten funk on Don’t Wanna Fight is like hearing James Brown wind up. The singing slides into action with an exhilarating squeal and then explodes.

Gimme All Your Love, on the other hand, balances suave soul cool with monstrous power chords. Howard’s vocal lead opens with Billie Holiday-like vulnerability before detonating into take-no-prisoners gusto bolstered by a blast of gloriously fuzzed out guitar mayhem.

But there are wonderful dynamics at work here, too, like the finger-popping falsetto Howard employs on This Feeling, the moody soul-blues feel the full Shakes crew creates to orchestrate Gemini (which wouldn’t sound out of place on a ‘90s Prince album) and the whispery confessional Over My Head that eases Sound & Color out with choral like overdubs and the same jazzy reserve that began this extraordinary album 12 songs earlier.

mavis staplesListen to Sound & Color side-by-side with Your Good Fortune, a wonderfully assertive new four-song EP from Staples, and you might actually be convinced you were taking in more of the same recording.

With vocals that roll in like waves during the title tune and production that blurs traditional and modern soul accents together, the resulting music defies time zones. Of course, once that deep and sagely voice enters, which has lost none of it emotive impact at age 75, you remember exactly who you are dealing with.

Staples sounds like a million dollars as she powers her way through a solemn reading of the Blind Lemon Jefferson blues staple See That My Grave is Kept Clean, a modernized reading of father Pops Staples’ 1963 gospel confession Wish I Had Answered and two new tunes by Roots/RJD2 collaborator Son Little, who produced the recording.

Little essentially provides Your Good Fortune the sound of a remix album, but his groove-centric approach is very complimentary to Staples’ earthy vocal command – a sound that still offers a few rootsy shakes of its own.

in performance: keefe jackson quartet

keefe jackson.

keefe jackson.

Even within the Outside the Spotlight Series, where music is never formulated given its often exclusively improvisatory nature, there is some track record to go by, some level of past history to serve as a reference point.

Not so with last night’s performance by the Chicago-rooted Keefe Jackson Quartet at the Farish Theatre. This was the regional debut of a new band, made up largely of OTS frequent flyers, that mixed compositional passages with a wealth of free improvisation. The resulting music was challenging to say the least. The composed sections, themes that seemed to surface in almost classical fashion, gave the program an accessibility some OTS concerts purposely avoid. But the three pieces Jackson unveiled (or maybe there were two; the second and third bled into each other like a suite) had Jackson and Dave Rempis juggling various saxophones (and, in Jackson’s case, bass clarinet) while Jason Stein grounded the music somewhat by playing bass clarinet solely.

Cellist Tomeka Reid and Norwegian drummer Tollef Ostvang often worked independently of the quintet’s front line and, in many instances, of each other. Ostvang colored the music with percussion both sparse and spacious while Reid proved the group’s most resourceful player, creating sounds that filled percussive and bass roles. But there were also several places where her bowed playing took on a gorgeous life of its own.

Presented in a largely academic fashion (Jackson’s only spoken acknowledgement of the audience was a quick introduction of his bandmates ) that brought to mind the way Henry Threadgill designed a concert here some years ago, the quintet saved its most exhilarating stylistic mash up for the program’s conclusion.

With the saxophones and clarinets engaging in quick, roulette-style solos, the front line slowly locked into a fearsome melodic charge that Ostvang and Reid quickly turned to swing. Then the whole passage quietly imploded, offering a fascinating slo-mo deconstruction of the compositional complexities the quintet had taken such pains to that point of creating.

Such was the design of this Chicago/Norway brigade, a band that employed composition only as a means of navigation. No wonder the players were so eager, after finding their bearings, to steer straight into stormy waters.

the reverential blues

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band: Breezy Peyton, The Reverend Peyton and Ben “Birddog” Bussell.

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band: Breezy Peyton, The Reverend Peyton and Ben “Birddog” Bussell.

Josh Peyton has been playing the blues in Lexington for a long time – clear back to the early days of The Dame on West Main, in fact.

Peyton was anomaly then. A child of the ‘80s reared in rural Southern Indiana (Brown County, to be exact), he became enamored of fingerstyle guitar, the blues that was born out of it and especially the legendary stylists like Charlie Patton that sought to expand and individualize the sound.

“My dad was into Johnny Winter and rock-blues stuff,” Peyton said. “Then we would go back and play Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf – that kind of music. When you go back to the early stuff, you see there were a lot fewer rules. Blues now, it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s got to be 12 bars, pentatonic scales and shuffles.’ I’m like, ‘Well, wait a minute. Go back early enough and there wasn’t hardly any of that stuff in blues. There weren’t any rules and the feel was awesome.

“The finger-style country blues just absolutely, I think, was the greatest guitar style America has ever produced. I love it. But I don’t want to just preserve it. I want to take it new places and maintain it as a living, breathing guitar form. Plus, me being a country kid, the rural music just spoke to me more. It just felt right to me.”

Those inspirations eventually found their way into an unconventional trio that matched Peyton’s growing guitar prowess with two percussionists – a washboard player (his wife, Breezy Peyton) and a drummer whose kit includes a five gallon bucket (Ben “Birddog” Bussell).

Then there was the matter of a stage name for Peyton and his trio that indicated something huge and reverential about the elemental blues grind he was forging. Thus was born The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, along with the start of a steady stream of Lexington concert stops that have continued for over a decade.
But The Reverend – not Josh, mind you – insists that if you haven’t experienced the big blues attack of the Big Damn Band since the Dame days, then you are in need of a serious refresher course.
“If you were someone who saw us even five years ago, then you haven’t seen us,” Peyton said. “That’s all there is to it. That’s not just bravado. It’s a literal fact. We literally work at getting better every day.

“Some artists get into kind of a groove and roll and think, ‘This is what we do. We’re going to stick to that.’ I get too bored with that thinking. I have to consciously try to get better. That doesn’t mean I want to be completely different, like, ‘Oh, I’m going to be someone else next week.’ I just want to figure how to be better at being me.

“Now, what does that mean? It means I want to be better at singing, writing songs and playing guitar. I want to get the feel right. It’s just something I work on every day. We work on the live show, too. The live shows are way better now, which is great because that’s our bread and butter.”

Part of that evolution is evident on the Big Damn Band’s new So Delicious! album, the first release by a contemporary artist on the famed Yazoo label (previously devoted exclusively to recordings of archival roots music). The music is so direct and down home that the album notes include Breezy’s recipe for pot roast.

“Oh man, I am more proud of this than anything we’ve ever done,” Peyton said of the record. “I just feel like it has such a cool diversity of sounds. It’s so organic. The vocals on it I’m really proud of – the background vocals, especially. They’re probably the best they’ve been. They really texture the record. The guitar picking on it, I’m just really proud of that, too.

“You make a record and you hope people like it. But with this, it’s like we’re at the top of our game.”

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band with Blacklist Royals perform at 9 p.m. April 28 at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. Tickets are $12 in advance, $15 day of show. Call (859) 309-9499 or go to


in performance: rosanne cash

rosanne cash. photo by clay patrick mcbride.

rosanne cash. photo by clay patrick mcbride.

“We love you, Rosanne,” shouted a zealous fan last night at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond.

On the receiving end of the adoration was Rosanne Cash. Rather than offering immediate reciprocation (it eventually came), the Americana songstress pondered before replying.

“Well,” she said, “I can be difficult.”

Be that as it may, what was offered during a 2 ½ hour program, which included a very unexpected intermission, was a cordial travelogue through the South courtesy of Cash’s Grammy winning 2014 album The River & The Thread and assorted delicacies from a career that stretches back well over three decades.

The material from The River & The Thread was presented in bulk at the beginning of the concert with the intention of running sequentially, as on the album. Aided by an expert five man band led by her husband and longtime guitarist/collaborator John Leventhal, Cash offered songs full of Southern inspiration that wasn’t always overt.

The opening A Feather’s Not a Bird was a Zen-like reflection where the open highway led to more than just a physical destination while Modern Blue stretched clear to Europe and back before making its Southern rounds.

Other Southern ruminations were more literal but not necessarily obvious, like a love song to the pioneering Memphis roots music radio station WDIA (50,000 Watts) and a beautifully rendered Civil War themed saga of romance and spiritualism (When the Master Calls the Roll).

Throughout The River & The Thread set were songs of love, family, faith, the earth, the Depression and numerous shades of the blues all delivered by Cash with a clarity and confidence that bordered on the serene and a band that generously colored the plentiful nuances of the melodies Leventhal penned for the songs.

But as richly devoted to the South as The River & The Thread was, it took a guest appearance by Mother Nature to bring the journey to a standstill. Six songs in, a tornado warning was sounded, causing a 20 minute relocation of the audience to the EKU Center’s ground floor level. The interruption was handled efficiently, calmly and professionally by the venue’s staff. A half hour later, Cash was back onstage offering a loose fitting cover of Heartaches by the Number before The River & The Thread music resumed.

A few older favorites concluded the evening, including Cash’s early ‘80s country hit Seven Year Ache and a lively update of father Johnny Cash’s Tennessee Flat Top Box that let Leventhal and bandmate Kevin Barry loose on guitar.

The evening’s true heartbreaker was saved for last with an encore reading of 500 Miles, one of four tunes played from Cash’s 2009 album of country covers, The List. A sentimental quagmire for singers of less finesse, the song’s sense of separation seemed far greater than its title suggested. But with Cash’s dignified singing, the feel was far more intimate yet, ultimately, just as devastating.

in performance: the fairfield four

The Fairfield Four. From left: Levert Allison, Bobbye Sherrell, Larrice Byrd Sr. and Joe Thompson.

The Fairfield Four. From left: Levert Allison, Bobbye Sherrell, Larrice Byrd Sr. and Joe Thompson.

The only hint of anything that even approached a put-on during the a capella revival the Fairfield Four presented earlier tonight at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church came when Levert Allison feigned the fading drive of a wind-up toy. It took fellow tenor Bobbye Sherrell to simulate a visual wind-up that brought his singing mate back to speed to tackle the hollers and moans of an almost defiant Don’t Let Nobody Turn You Around.

It was an innocent but telling bit of playacting. But if you thought for a second the jubilant energy that has driven scores of lineups of this veteran gospel group since 1921 was expiring, the joke was on you.

For close to 90 minutes, the current Fairfield incarnation – Allison, Sherrell, baritone Larrice Byrd and 80 year old bass singer Joe Thompson – summoned a gospel parade that was as tireless in its gusto as it was unwavering in its spiritual solemnity.

The focus fell on songs, both traditional and contemporary, from Still Rockin’ My Soul, the first album by this lineup. The quartet offered seven of the record’s 11 tunes beginning with the welcoming Come On in This House. Led by Sherrill, it established a simple and effective sound pattern that dressed the Fairfield’s booming vocal blend with only one item of accompaniment – the percussive acceleration of their own handclaps.

The only pronounced departure from that game plan came during the traditional I Love the Lord, He Heard Me Cry, which was delivered like an incantation first with a lone wail from Allison and through a powerful vocal call-and-response with Sherrell. Spiritual? Without question, but it was also deliciously ghostly.

On the other hand, the encore of Four and Twenty Elders (from 1997’s I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray) made the impending end of days seem almost festive with harmonies that, like much of the evening’s repertoire, drew clear lineage from gospel to secular traditions of soul, pop and especially doo-wop.

The Good Shepherd setting was a huge plus, too. While the amplified sound mix was often too boomey and harsh, the church’s intimacy and regal architecture nicely enhanced a gospel vocal charge that was ceaselessly fresh, timeless and spiritually persuasive.

rolling on the river

rosanne cash.

rosanne cash.

At the heart of Rosanne Cash’s Grammy winning 2014 album The River & The Thread sits a Civil War themed narrative titled When the Master Calls the Roll.

While the tune is as epically romantic as anything Cash has written in a recording career that stretches back nearly four decades and as Southern accented as the other 10 original works making up The River & The Thread, it is also a wildly expansive family snapshot. It draws on inspiration from Cash’s children for the song’s construction, her ancestry for its characters, her husband (producer, arranger and guitarist John Leventhal) for its music and even her ex-husband (veteran country/Americana troubadour Rodney Crowell) for its recording.

“My son was doing a project on the Civil War and I showed him a picture of our ancestor William Cash on the civil war database,” Cash said via email last week. “My daughter Chelsea wrote a great Civil War song and I loved it and wanted to write one myself. I found Mary Ann Cash in my family history – 20 years old at the beginning of the war. It was all very compelling.

“John wrote this gorgeous melody that seemed to be in the tradition of those narrative folk ballads, so I asked Rodney to re-write the lyrics he had already written for the melody as a story about my ancestors. It was a powerful, almost overwhelming experience to write the song. The characters were alive.”

Family, of course, plays an almost unavoidable role in Cash’s personal and professional history. The eldest daughter of Johnny Cash, she has devoted her career to establishing a remarkable songwriting voice of her own. Though a champion of Nashville initially, she long ago cut ties with commercial country music for recordings of powerful personal reflection that included 1990’s Interiors, 1993’s The Wheel and 1996’s severely underrated 10 Song Demo.

Her father’s shadow was never far from Cash’s side, however. She addressed their relationship directly on 2006’s Black Cadillac and devoted a follow-up covers album, 2009’s The List, to compositions the elder Cash deemed “essential country songs.”

In a way, her father was a catalyst for The River & The Thread, as well. After assisting in fund-raising for Arkansas State University’s purchase and restoration of Johnny Cash’s childhood home, she and Leventhal journeyed throughout the South and gathered snapshots and inspirations for what would become her first album of new songs since Black Cadillac.

Among those she contacted along the way was Marshall Grant, the bassist for her father’s early Tennessee Two band. His relationship with wife Etta formed the foundation for Etta’s Tune, one of the most poignantly romantic songs on The River & The Thread.

“They don’t figure just metaphorically in Etta’s Tune,” Cash said. “It’s fairly documentary – the house on Nakomis Ave. in Memphis, the collection of artifacts from Marshall’s years on the road.

“But it wasn’t a reconnection. I’d stayed in touch with them my whole life and Marshall called me every six or eight weeks in the few years before he died to talk about the old days and go over all his memories. That’s why I said (in the song) ‘don’t stare into the past.’”

Leventhal again designed a delicate musical fabric to support Cash’s lyrics on the tune. While he has served as a vital contributor to his wife’s recordings (mostly as a producer) and concert performances (as a guitarist) over the last two decades, The River & The Thread is a project where the two are on equal standing. Cash penned nearly all of the lyrics while Leventhal wrote, produced and arranged the music.

“This was a total collaboration,” she said of the resulting recording. “We are good at very different things and brought our best selves to work. His great gifts in arrangement and melody writing really serve my lyrics and vice versa. I’m lucky to have found the perfect collaborator and get to sleep with him as well. For twenty years.”

That brings us to the here and now. With the The River & The Thread now 15 months old, Cash is facing a milestone event next month – her 60th birthday. But that serves to underscore the greatest strength of her newer music – an emotional and narrative maturity that can only be attained through life experience.

“Not a sensitive subject,” she said of her impending birthday. “It’s a matter of public record, so no way I can avoid it.

“No, I couldn’t have written these songs at 30. Life shows up in your writing and in your voice. Observation is keener, bittersweet becomes an overriding sentiment at times, awareness that time is limited, losses accumulate. They all become urgent topics.

My actual process is much the same, however – writing in spurts, lots of rumination.

“I feel …settled, but still very curious.”
Rosanne Cash performs at 7:30 p.m. April 25 at the EKU Center for the Arts, 1 Hall Drive in Richmond. Tickets: $31.50-$59. Call (859) 622-7469 or go to

critic’s pick 271: dwight yoakam, ‘second hand heart’

dwight yoakam“I’ll buy you a ticket to the big time,” beckons Dwight Yoakam near the conclusion of his new Second Hand Heart album. “Might need a loan, but that ain’t nothin’ new.”

How very typical. With a mile high heart and sense of reason that is almost morosely honest, Yoakam again asserts himself as one of the last great hopes of contemporary country music. Now, just how ready a Nashville marketplace obsessed with odes to beer, beaches and pickups will be for Second Hand Heart is a different story.

On his second album since re-signing with Reprise Records, the label that co-piloted Yoakam’s career during the ’80s and ‘90s, the Kentucky born, California reared country stylist rocks out with a lean, live sounding set that could have been cut in 1969 instead 2015. Eight of Second Hand Heart’s 10 songs, in fact, are premium blasts of electricity that favor the almighty power chord. It’s like listening to early’70s Elvis cross-referenced with The Who.

“You ought to record this just for kicks,” Yoakam barks into the microphone as the diabolically fun Liar gathers its propulsive wits and rips out of the starting gate. The resulting music, ushered in by howls of delight and a power pop charge weirdly reminiscent of The Monkees is a pure electric hullabaloo. But on She, the darker Byrds-meets-Led Zeppelin reflection Believe, Second Hand Heart’s title tune and the album-opening In Another World, Yoakam honors the guitar riff for a feel both anthemic and immediate.

The show stealer among this mayhem is the record’s lone cover tune, a version of the well worn country roots staple Man of Constant Sorrow refurbished with a heavy dose of cowpunk spunk. The arrangement owes more to Jason and the Scorchers via Chuck Berry than, say, Ralph Stanley. But the rootsy drive of Yoakam’s singing – a mischievous, modern slant on a traditional mountain tenor – allows for a country authenticity that makes the garage rock backdrop glisten.

Second Hand Heart slows only for Dreams of Clay, a mid-tempo mood piece that recalls both the twang of Yoakam’s hit ’80s cover of Honky Tonk Man and the guitar jangle of his ‘90s hit cover of Suspicious Minds, and the orchestral sweep of V’s of Birds, the only tune on the album that tips its hat a touch too deeply to sentimentalism.

Admittedly, there is almost nothing here for country radio to latch onto. Second Hand Heart is too playful and rustic in the way it hotwires country tradition for today’s Nashville to care. But, to be blunt, the record is also too smart. Three decades into the game, Yoakam remains the most daring country ambassador since Merle Haggard. Second Hand Heart is earnest, vital and exquisitely honest proof.

in performance: wrest

jack wright of wrest.

jack wright of wrest.

It seemed strangely fitting that the final word at last night’s performance from the free jazz trio Wrest at the Bryan Ave. performance space formerly occupied by The Bazaar should come from the streets.

After two spacious, set-long improvisations that often sounded like distinct yet complimentary monologues, veteran Eastern Pennsylvania improviser Jack Wright started to wind down the evening with patient but puncturing jabs on alto saxophone that triggered guttural sounds more indicative of a tenor. Having initiated numerous squall-like effects and clarion call rings earlier in the set, his final alto run was like an exhale, an approachable coda to a performance loaded with dissonant immediacy.

Then you heard it. With the door to the now-nameless venue open, the quiet of a spring Saturday evening was interrupted by an automobile that plowed down North Limestone. The trio – completed by percussionist Ben Bennett and bassist Evan Lipson – held the   concert’s gradual disassembly as the car roared with an even longer fade into the night. It was a finale as unexpected as the rest of the performance.

In the first of six recently announced programs to be presented by the Outside the Spotlights Series and WRFL-FM over the next two months, Wrest offered what could best be described as purposeful abstraction. Nothing from the stage simulated even a fractured groove or rhythm with all three players shifting between stunning tone and animalistic expressions seemingly intent on working against the instruments’ inherent voices.

Lipson attached clothes pins to his strings and slapped his acoustic bass with a drumstick, but would also create a quiet, punctuated richness when playing under his bandmates. Bennett sat on the floor with a series of small drum heads, what appeared to be a bodhran and pair of bricklaying trowels used as cymbals. There was also a tin can with a latex glove stretched as a lid that he blew into for sounds that oddly harmonized with Wright’s more caustic playing.

Wright anchored the performance on alto and soprano saxophones. While just as adventuresome as his co-horts (he used his leg to muffle a few alto blasts and, briefly played the soprano against the stage floor), Wright largely avoided expected free jazz turns of volume, intensity and speed. He instead luxuriated in all the discoveries around him, seemingly intent on enjoying the pace and purpose of this journey into bedlam.

record store day 2015

cd central's most honored employee, zena the wonder dog, prepares for record store day.

cd central’s most honored employee, zena the wonder dog, prepares for record store day. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

Eight years ago, the initiation of Record Store Day seemed like a last gasp promotion to save a dying industry. With the music industry in a tailspan resulting from digital downloading of music, retail outlets selling compact discs or any other form of recorded music began to disappear. Suddenly, the neighborhood record store – once an epicenter of sorts for rabid audiophiles to mull over new releases, rediscover forgotten classics and exchange views with like minded enthusiasts – seemed headed for extinction.

The premise of Record Store Day was simple and effective – to promote independent record stores by having artists big and small issue products, primarily vinyl recordings, exclusive for sale that day. Sometimes those treats would be as simple as a two-sided, two song 7” record of previously issued music. In other instances, it might be an album or CD-length concert recording never heard before that would disappear again after Record Store Day passed. In recent years, Iron & Wine, Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Devo and Govt. Mule have indulged in the latter practice.

Then the artists got directly involved with performances and in-store appearances. My Morning Jacket, the Kentucky HeadHunters and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club are among the acts that have stopped by vanguard Lexington record store CD Central over the years. On a national scale, artists as diverse as Metallica, Paul McCartney, Neko Case, Tom Waits and Steve Earle have been vocal supporters of Record Store Day.

Today, Record Store Day hits again. Over 20 stores throughout Kentucky and close to 1,000 nationally will be participating. Again, the list of artists issuing exclusive vinyl recordings is extensive and stylistically far-reaching. They include Ryan Adams, Asleep at the Wheel, Courtney Barnett, The Black Keys, David Bowie, Junior Brown, Buena Vista Social Club, George Clinton, The Decemberists, Bob Dylan, Brian Eno, The Flaming Lips, Foo Fighters, Jethro Tull, Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, Robert Earl Keen, The Mavericks, Father John Misty, Mumford & Sons, Willie Nelson, Dolly Parton, Phish, Robert Plant, John Prine, Sun Ra, Steve Reich, The Replacements, Simple Minds, Todd Snider, Bruce Springsteen, Chris Stapleton, St. Paul and the Broken Bones, U2, Vampire Weekend, The Waterboys, Brian Wilson, Cassandra Wilson, Wu-Tang Clan and The Zombies – and many others. Not all stores will carry all the available product.

Three Lexington locales – CD Central, Sami’s Music/The Album and Pop’s Resale – will be celebrating Record Store Day. CD Central will again be turning the day into a mini-festival with an afternoon of free live local music. The store, which is celebrating its 20th anniversary in addition to Record Store Day, will present performances by Ancient Warfare, Doc Feldman and the Infernal Method and The Footsteps. DJs from WRFL-FM will be spinning records, as well.

For more info on the national initiative on Record Store Day, go to

in performance: california guitar trio/montreal guitar trio

montreal guitar trio: glenn levesque, marc morin and sebastien dufour.

montreal guitar trio: glenn levesque, marc morin and sebastien dufour.

If you were to judge last night’s perfectly wondrous joint performance from the California Guitar Trio and the Montreal Guitar Trio at Natasha’s by its first set, you would swear each group hailed from opposing universes of style and performance temperament. The beauty of such as an estimation, though, was that it turned out to be at least partly correct.

The first set was where each trio played separately. The MGT, which was making its Lexington debut, opted for a physical and percussive command that veered off into world music accents of flamenco drive, Latin lyricism and Eastern European fancy that culminated with the raga-like drama and texture of Garam Masala.

california guitar trio : hideyo moriya, paul richards and bert lams.

california guitar trio : hideyo moriya, paul richards and bert lams.

The CGT, a near-annual visitor to local venues for over a decade, again appeared relaxed and unassuming but used its five-song introduction last night to sail effortlessly through surf, Bach, originals rich with compositional finesse and its now-popular mash up of the cowboy classic Ghost Riders in the Sky with The Doors’ epic swansong hit Riders on the Storm, aptly dubbed Ghost Riders on the Storm. The seemingly disparate melodies meshed as readily as the medley’s title.

The latter piece seemed to preview the game plan of the second set, where the two trios played as a sextet. The differences in technique were spelled out in the combined group’s very design.

CGT members Paul Richards, Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya all stuck exclusively to acoustic guitars while the MGT players frequently switched to electric bass and accordion (Marc Morin), charango (Sebastien Dufour) and mandolin (Glenn Levesque). The combination transformed the high-spirited Breizh Tango into a Greek dance, Penguin Café Orchestra’s Perpetuum Mobile into a minimalist meditation and Radiohead’s Weird Fishes into a folk-prog séance that left artists and audience with a few beats of glorious silence at its conclusion before applause erupted.

The show closing treatment of Ennio Morricone’s theme from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly even went so far as to combine arrangements the trios have recorded on their own – one studied and introspective, the other more openly buoyant. It was a blissful union of two guitar groups united in senses of playfulness and discovery.

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