Archive for April, 2015

two trios are better than one

The California and Montreal Guitar Trios: Marc Morin, Hideyo Moriya, Sebastien Dufour, Paul Richards, Glen Levesque, Bert Lams. Photo by Pierre Larue.

The California and Montreal Guitar Trios: Marc Morin, Hideyo Moriya, Sebastien Dufour, Paul Richards, Glen Levesque, Bert Lams. Photo by Pierre Larue.

What can be more striking than a trio of virtuoso guitar players busting stylistic boundaries from tune to tune in performance? You guessed it – two trios of like minded thrillseekers pursuing parallel musical missions while remaining distinct.

Such a game plan sits at the heart of the perhaps unlikely alliance of the California Guitar Trio and the Montreal Guitar Trio that will perform Thursday at Natasha’s.

The California Guitar Trio, which has been visiting Lexington for over a decade, brings together acoustic players of three nationalities – Paul Richards (American), Bert Lams (Belgian) and Hideyo Moriya (Japanese) – that studied extensively in England with King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. Unassuming in its stage demeanor, the trio juggles classical, prog, surf, jazz, original works and more within its repertoire.

The Montreal Guitar Trio, which makes its Lexington debut with the Thursday concert, is as outward in its presentation as the CGT is reserved. All three – Marc Morin, Sebastien Dufour and Glenn Levesque – are French Canadians with strong classical backgrounds that, on recent albums, have reached out to tunes by modern rock vet Radiohead, tango giant Astor Piazzolla and fellow Canadian troupe Rush to intersperse with its own compositions.

A chance meeting at an Oregon conference led to a quick friendship as well as a part-time partnership that celebrated the trios’ stylistic similarities as well as often dramatically different approaches to the guitar.

“The differences, firstly, are in the guitars we use,” Richards said by phone from Los Angeles. “The California Guitar Trio plays steel string acoustic guitars while the Montreal Guitar Trio plays nylon string classical guitars, so the fundamental approach is quite different. The sound is very different.

“During the first half of the show, each group plays separately so people get to hear what the Montreal Guitar Trio sounds like on their own and also the California Guitar Trio for those people who haven’t heard us before. Then we play the second half of the show together. It’s important for people to hear the difference in the sound and the repertoire.”

The MGT’s Dufour agreed that differences in the guitars the trios play emphasize not only a difference in technique but how those techniques have led the groups to different stylistic terrains.

“Nylon string guitars also bring us to the flamenco music,” he said by phone from Montreal. “There are a lot of strumming techniques and rhythmic patterns that you find in Spanish and Latina music that have really driven the MGT. That’s something CGT has explored a little bit but not as much.

“The California guys have their repertoire from the progressive rock and the music they studied with Robert Fripp, whose influence is very obvious and present in their music. They have a kind of atmospheric approach to the music. We have more of Latina energy to the music. So when we bring the two things together, it seems to really expand the spectrum of what guitars can do in a normal ensemble. That’s what makes it so interesting to play together in this project.”

Another curiously complimentary aspect to this alliance centers around the on-and-offstage personalities that distinguish the trios.

“The Montreal guys are very wild, passionate French Canadians,” Richards said. “You can see that in the way they perform. Burt, Hideyo and I are pretty mellow. There is not much joking around, not much flashiness going on. They are really high energy players.”

“It’s a balance,” Dufour said. “The three of us in MGT are very energetic guys and the guys from California are really Zen. I think that’s why we’re able to stick together. It’s kind of a ying and yang. They’re really calm people. We’re talking all the time. They bring us a good vibe and we bring them a good balance. We like that.”

California Guitar Trio and Montreal Guitar Trio perform at 9 p.m. April 16 at Natasha’s Bistro. 112 Esplanade. Tickets: $20. Call (859) 259-2754 or go to www.beetnik.com

critic’s pick 270: the replacements, ‘the complete studio recordings 1981-1990’

the replacementsFeel like holding an entire rock ‘n’ roll era in your hands? Then grab hold of The Complete Studio Albums 1981-1990, which chronicles the entire recording history of Minneapolis upstarts The Replacements.

Born during the final crest of the punk revolution and a cultural shift that turned the pop landscape of the time into synthesized mush, The Replacements were the black sheep of the ‘80s. Led by the coarse, restless songs of Paul Westerberg, the band was an unknowing and perhaps unwilling architect of a movement that helped shaped indie rock as it exists today.

Such a legacy came at a price, though. There were fallouts along the way. Some were personal splits and casualties within the band, other centered around an eventual commercial breakthrough that bordered on heresy to the punk faithful that first championed the band.

Released in conjunction with a series of semi-reunion shows spearheaded by Westerberg and founding bassist Tommy Stinson, The Complete Studio Albums is a no-frills box set that gathers the eight recordings The Replacements plowed out in a 10 year span.

1981’s Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash (highlighted by the giddy yet caustic Shiftless When Idle) and 1982’s ultra raw Stink (an EP that bashes through eight songs in 15 minutes) define the band’s punk roots and garage rock sensibility. But it was 1983’s Hootenanny that centralized a boozy charge through nay-saying anthems like Color Me Impressed and the performance immediacy of guitarist Bob Stinson, Tommy’s older brother.

That set the stage for what were arguably The Replacements’ two strongest albums, 1984’s Let It Be and 1985’s Tim. The music retreated from a purely punk stance for power pop gems like Unsatisfied (from Let It Be) and Here Comes a Regular (the closing tune on Tim) that compromised none of Westerberg’s poetically disheveled outcast narratives.

The firing of Bob Stinson (who died in 1995) trimmed the band to a trio for 1987’s Pleased to Meet Me, an album full of wonderful surprises (the jazzy Nightclub Jitters) and familiar punk-pop drive (Alex Chilton). 1989’s Don’t Tell a Soul then cemented Westerberg’s more streamlined maturity as a writer and enlisted guitarist Slim Dunlap, a tempering, good-natured personality to compliment the band’s modestly retiring new sound. Punk die-hards hated it even though it remains The Replacements’ most fully realized and enduring album.

Mars left and was replaced prior on 1990’s fractured swan song record All Shook Down, the closest thing the band did to an incidental record, by Steve Foley (who died in 2008). The Replacements called it a day in 1991.

Now that Westerberg and Tommy Stinson have at least temporarily reassembled the band for a new generation, we have eight reminders, all packed together, of how The Replacements put a glorious hurt on the ‘80s.

cd central turns 20

steve baron at cd central. photo by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.

steve baron at cd central. photo by herald-leader staff photographer mark cornelison.

Feel like holding an entire rock ‘n’ roll era in your hands? Then grab hold of The Complete Studio Albums 1981-1990, which chronicles the entire recording history of Minneapolis upstarts The Replacements.

Born during the final crest of the punk revolution and a cultural shift that turned the pop landscape of the time into synthesized mush, The Replacements were the black sheep of the ‘80s. Led by the coarse, restless songs of Paul Westerberg, the band was an unknowing and perhaps unwilling architect of a movement that helped shaped indie rock as it exists today.

Such a legacy came at a price, though. There were fallouts along the way. Some were personal splits and casualties within the band, other centered around an eventual commercial breakthrough that bordered on heresy to the punk faithful that first championed the band.

Released in conjunction with a series of semi-reunion shows spearheaded by Westerberg and founding bassist Tommy Stinson, The Complete Studio Albums is a no-frills box set that gathers the eight recordings The Replacements plowed out in a 10 year span.

1981’s Sorry Ma, Forgot to Take Out the Trash (highlighted by the giddy yet caustic Shiftless When Idle) and 1982’s ultra raw Stink (an EP that bashes through eight songs in 15 minutes) define the band’s punk roots and garage rock sensibility. But it was 1983’s Hootenanny that centralized a boozy charge through nay-saying anthems like Color Me Impressed and the performance immediacy of guitarist Bob Stinson, Tommy’s older brother.

That set the stage for what were arguably The Replacements’ two strongest albums, 1984’s Let It Be and 1985’s Tim. The music retreated from a purely punk stance for power pop gems like Unsatisfied (from Let It Be) and Here Comes a Regular (the closing tune on Tim) that compromised none of Westerberg’s poetically disheveled outcast narratives.

The firing of Bob Stinson (who died in 1995) trimmed the band to a trio for 1987’s Pleased to Meet Me, an album full of wonderful surprises (the jazzy Nightclub Jitters) and familiar punk-pop drive (Alex Chilton). 1989’s Don’t Tell a Soul then cemented Westerberg’s more streamlined maturity as a writer and enlisted guitarist Slim Dunlap, a tempering, good-natured personality to compliment the band’s modestly retiring new sound. Punk die-hards hated it even though it remains The Replacements’ most fully realized and enduring album.

Mars left and was replaced prior on 1990’s fractured swan song record All Shook Down, the closest thing the band did to an incidental record, by Steve Foley (who died in 2008). The Replacements called it a day in 1991.

Now that Westerberg and Tommy Stinson have at least temporarily reassembled the band for a new generation, we have eight reminders, all packed together, of how The Replacements put a glorious hurt on the ‘80s.

in performance: vandaveer

J. Tom Hnatow, Mark Charles Heidinger (Vandaveer ) and Rose Guerin.

J. Tom Hnatow, Mark Charles Heidinger (Vandaveer ) and Rose Guerin.

Vandaveer refers to his current cross-country trek as a “living room tour,” meaning it is devoted exclusively to house concerts as opposed to club or theatre dates.

On the surface, last night’s performance at the Shangri-La Productions studio might have stretched that definition. It wasn’t a living room, even though the folk stylist – better known around these parts as former Lexingtonian Mark Charles Heidinger – admitted he has done his share of living within the studio walls, having recorded several times there.

The sense of house concert intimacy was nonetheless pervasive. The 100 or so patrons that filled the studio were actively attentive to the spacious and often contemplative songs Heidinger, harmony vocalist Rose Guerin (“Lady Vandaveer,” as she was dubbed) and guitarist J. Tom Hnatow served up, from the “terribly uplifting” confession of a self-promoted apocalypse within The Nature of Our Kind to the sunny but sobering Love is Melancholy (But It’s All We Got). The latter was a preview tune from a forthcoming Vandaveer record cut at Shangri-La.

On one hand, the performance was a homecoming with numerous friends, fellow musicians and family members of Heidinger’s in attendance. As such, longtime pal Robby Cosenza joined in on drums for the last portion of the set with vocalist Coralee teaming with Guerin for vocal support on a spirited cover of John Prine’s familiar but still-topical Paradise.

But the evening was also a farewell to Shangri-La’s National Ave. home. Though the studio is merely relocating to another Lexington locale within the next few weeks, the evening couldn’t help but seem like a parting shot of sorts. Heidinger dubbed the mood as “bittersweet and nostalgic.”

That hardly intruded on the show’s overall intimacy, which was strongly enhanced by the guitar atmospherics Hnatow added on steel, pedal steel and electric guitars, as well as Guerin’s singing, which grew more robust as the 90 minute set progressed.

Heidinger remained a steadfast, good natured skipper throughout, whether he was in the throes of the uneasy faith circulating in Beverly Cleary’s 115th Dream (“I’m on your side… most of the time”) or leading the crowd through an incantatory vocal coda during the closing Dig Down Deep that provided an almost churchy solemnity to the show’s living room feel.

drum roll, please

james campbell. herald-leader staff photo by pablo alcala.

james campbell. herald-leader staff photo by pablo alcala.

As the 30th anniversary of the University of Kentucky Percussion Ensemble drew closer, James Campbell began contacting the many musicians that graduated from the band and the percussion program he has overseen.

His question was simple: Did such a milestone warrant a reunion performance? The replies he received were swift and affirmative.

“I took kind of an inventory,” said Campbell, the UKPE’s director and the university’s first full time percussion instructor. “I asked, ‘Who are the alums and what are they doing now?’ I think we’ve had 23 doctoral students graduate and 19 are teaching at the university level.’ So I thought that was a pretty good track record.

“Looking back through all the people that have come through the program, they’re all working. They’re all professionals. I just sent an email out to all of them and said, ‘What do you think about doing a 30th anniversary concert?’ And I started sensing a lot of enthusiasm.”

Nearly 50 alumni players – from his son, Chicago percussionist Colin Campbell, to celebrity graduates like percussion artist and Wilco drummer Glenn Kotche – wanted in on the gig.

“Jim really hammered it home that we couldn’t be one trick ponies in college,” Kotche said. “We had to learn the basics from a lot of different areas of percussion. When I was there, I studied steel pan drumming and African drumming and hand drumming and jazz vibraphone, orchestral percussion and modern multiple percussion. All of those skill sets I still use on a daily basis. I really do. You wouldn’t think that would incorporate into what I do with Wilco, but it absolutely does.”

Then came a bigger question regarding the Sunday performance. What kind of music do you present to intrigue and challenge such a hefty guest list?

The piece Campbell settled on was Inuksuit by New York composer and Heinz Award recipient John Luther Adams. The 70 minute piece, designed to be performed outdoors, can accommodate up to 99 percussion artists.

“We couldn’t put everyone in a spotlight, so the John Luther Adams piece came to mind,” Campbell said. “It’s sort of an environmental space piece. That way, everybody is the same. There is no soloist. Everybody has an equal part in the production of the piece. “We’ve got alums coming from everywhere for this – from Syracuse University, the University of Michigan, the University of Tennessee. Glenn is coming back. They’re coming from California, New York, Michigan and Alabama, so we’re hitting all corners. We’ve even got one of our alums who is a law professor at Harvard. She’s coming back to play.”

“It’s quite workout, this piece,” Kotche said of Inuksuit. “But it’s a really wise choice on how to get all these alums together for a kind of collaborative weekend. Honestly, though, for as much as I love John Luther Adams and his music, the weekend is about Jim. More than the performance, this is about celebrating Jim and what he’s done for us.”

The alums will filter back into Lexington for a private reception tonight. That leaves time Sunday morning – mere hours before the performance – for everyone to gather for a single rehearsal.

“It’s a piece that doesn’t need a conductor. If you can envision this, we’ll have everyone outdoors in basically three circles. There are three parts to the piece and each of them has a leader. That leader will start, then someone else in that group will go from there. All of the notes are written out, but the timing is not synced up. All the notes and the sequence are in order, but you’re not synced up with other players. You’re reading a script and making sounds and music based on that script. When you hear someone come in, then you come in with your parts. It’s almost a follow-the-leader scenario. The music comes in waves.”

Though planned for presentation outdoors around Stoll Field, the concert will be revamped as an indoor performance at the Singletary Center for the Arts in case of rain. But the biggest thrill for Campbell isn’t the scale or performance setting for Inuksuit. It’s the opportunity to reconnect with players he has coached over the past three decades.

“I wanted my people to always be connected,” he said. “This is a small profession, and they help each other. We’ve really stayed in touch over these 30 years. I have students that graduate that want to go on to grad school and go on to study with an alum. I have alums that are superintendents at music schools. There are music programs where they hire our alums to be band directors. So we have a family sort of thing where we always stay connected. I just try to connect the dots between those people. That’s really made our program strong.

“I really don’t think Jim views himself as a teacher just for those four or five years you’re in Kentucky,” Kotche added. “He takes care of his former students long after they’re gone. He still informs them, still helps them. He’s always there to offer his expertise to guide us in the right way. I’ve called on him so many times just for advice on what to do with my career. He’s a lifelong teacher and simply a great guy who is still very inspiring to us all these years later.”

The University of Kentucky Percussion Ensemble’s 30th anniversary celebration on April 12 will include a 2 p.m. performance by the UK Wildcat Marching Band Alum Drumline at Stoll Field, a 2 p.m. talk with Glenn Kotche and Andrew Bliss at the Singletary Center for the Arts President’s Room and a 3 p.m. UK Percussion Ensemble Alumni performance of John Luther Adams’ Inuksuit at Stoll Field and the Singletary Center lawn. All events are free.

the kentucky music hall of fame 2015 induction

montgomery gentry (troy gentry, left, and eddie montgomery) are amoing the 2015 inductees to the kentucky music hall of fame.

montgomery gentry (troy gentry, left, and eddie montgomery) are amoing the 2015 inductees to the kentucky music hall of fame.

The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame is proceeding with its 2015 induction tonight despite an abrupt change of leadership.

The organization fired executive director Robert Lawson in February. He was later arrested for stealing from the Hall of Fame and other Rockcastle County organizations.

A statement released by Roy Martin, chairman of the Hall of Fame Board of Directors, said, “The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame has terminated Robert Lawson as its Executive Director as of February 9, 2015. As part of its ongoing oversight, the Board of Directors detected several questionable financial transactions. Thankfully, we believe that the problem was detected quickly, before any more significant damage was done.”

The statement also said the Hall of Fame shared its findings with the County Attorney and Kentucky State Police and is co-operating with their investigations.

Lawson’s firing, however, will not derail tonight’s induction ceremony. The event, held every other year, will welcome six new groups of artists and music professionals at Lexington Center, including local members of the pop group Backstreet Boys and country duo Montgomery Gentry. Several of the inductees will also perform at tonight’s ceremony

Here is a look at the 2015 class of inductees.

Brian Littrell and Kevin Richardson: Cousins born and raised in Lexington, Littrell and Richardson remain the Kentucky connection in one of the most commercially successful pop vocal groups of the ‘90s, the Backstreet Boys. While Richardson was absent from the group between 2006 and 2012, the Backstreet Boys remain active with recording projects and international touring.

Montgomery Gentry: After working for years locally in the band of John Michael Montgomery and on their own, Eddie Montgomery (John Michael’s older brother) and Troy Gentry established their own Southern rock-leaning country music career at the close of the ‘90s. Since the release of the duo’s debut album, Tattoos & Scars, Montgomery Gentry has chalked up numerous No. 1 country hits, including My Town.

Clarence Spalding: During the early ‘80s, Spalding was one of the managerial voices behind one of the most popular music clubs in Lexington, Breeding’s. But what sends him to the Hall of Fame is what he has accomplished since then. Over the past three decades, he has become one of the most respected managers in the country music industry with a client list that includes Jason Aldean and Brooks & Dunn.

Doc Hopkins: A native of Harlan County, Hopkins was introduced to banjo and steel guitar at an early age before a fascination with traveling medicine show acts hit after his family relocated to Rockcastle County nearly a century ago. During the 1940s, he was a regular performer on Chicago’s WLS Barn Dance and was rediscovered by a new folk generation taken with traditional and old-time music in the ’60s. Hopkins died in 1988.

Larry Cordle: Born in Lawrence County, Cordle was the songwriter behind several country hits for fellow Kentuckian Ricky Skaggs (most notably Highway 40 Blues). But he has also penned tunes that wound up on records by Garth Brooks, George Strait, Loretta Lynn and others. Curiously, Cordle’s anthem of Nashville commercialization, Murder on Music Row, was named Song of the Year by the Country Music Association in 2000.

The Moonglows: A pre-eminent pop vocal force during the 1950s thanks to the now-classic hits Ten Commandments of Love and Sincerely, the Moonglows cut much of their music after establishing a home base in Cleveland. The Kentucky connection comes from founding members Harvey Fuqua and Bobby Lester, who began singing together in Louisville as a duo around 1949. Lester died in 1980, Fugua in 2010.

Pete Stamper: A veritable country music entrepreneur, the Dawson Springs-born Stamper joined Red Foley’s Ozark Jubilee in the ‘50s, had a rockabilly hit (Cheva-Kiser-Old-Mo-Laca-Stud-War-Linco-Baker) in the ’60s and served as Dolly Parton’s road manager in the ‘70s. But he is best known regionally as a performer/comedian at Renfro Valley with an affiliation that began in 1950. Stamper is also a veteran broadcaster.

The Kentucky Music Hall of Fame’s 2015 Induction Ceremony will be held at 7 tonight at the Bluegrass Ballroom at Lexington Center, 430 W. Vine. Call: (877) 356-3263, (606) or got to kentuckymusicmuseum.com.

critic’s pick 269: billie holiday centennial

Today would have marked the 100th birthday of Billie Holiday, the jazz legend whose singing has all but defined the genre. Though she only lived to be 44, she shared a voice with the world that celebrated romance and the blues with rapturous depth – a depth that only suggested the very real life blues of her own existence.

Three new albums surface today to honor the centennial as well Holiday’s remarkable legacy. Two are wildly different re-imaginings of her music while the third is a fine refresher record from Lady Day herself.

Cassandra-WilsonComing Forth by Day is an astounding and heavily atmospheric tribute from Cassandra Wilson, a singer who has spent the last 25 years of her career discovering earthy, ambient links between jazz and blues. Not surprisingly, the deep, whispery huskiness of her singing in no way approximates Holiday, nor do the echoing colors of guitar and percussion that figure so highly in the soundscapes created by Nick Cave/Yeah Yeah Yeahs/Arcade Fire producer Nick Launay. As such, Crazy He Calls Me becomes an enchanting guitar hangover until the lustrous glow of Wilson’s singing and Van Dyke Parks dreamlike strings breakthrough to emphasize the song’s almost reluctant optimism (“the impossible will take a little while”).

josé-james-New generation singer Jose James plays matters relatively straight on Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday by slimming nine Holiday gems down to quartet settings with a troupe of jazz all-stars (pianist Jason Moran, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Eric Harland). That allows Good Morning Heartache to stand as a refreshed meditation and God Bless the Child to move with a tastefully urbanized groove under James’ robust baritone.

billie holidayThe Centennial Collection lets Lady Day speak. It’s a new 20 song anthology from Columbia/Legacy than runs from recordings made with Teddy Wilson and his Orchestra in 1935 to music cut under Holiday’s name as a leader in 1944. Though hardly a definitive representation for longstanding fans, the set serves as a fine primer for newcomers.

Curiously, the song that leaves the greatest mark here and presents the most width for interpretation is Strange Fruit. One of only two tunes featured on all three recordings (What a Little Moonlight Can Do is the other), it’s a sobering account of a Southern lynching.

Wilson sings it with hushed gravity under gusts of guitar ambience and strings. James transforms it into a gospel-esque prayer with only multi-tracked vocals and handclaps. Lady Day’s 1939 version, unsurprisingly, cut to the chase. She sings the lament as naturally as any other song that poured from her lips – with bucket loads of soul and a shattered heart.

full circle with joshua bell

joshua bell.

joshua bell.

Peruse the specifics regarding Joshua Bell’s performance tonight with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra and you will discover how everything – from the artist to the program to the very performance setting – is linked.

First, consider the pairing – one of the world’s most celebrated classical violinists collaborating with a student orchestra full of players roughly the age Bell was when the Indiana native made his performance debut in some of the most prestigious concerts halls in the world.

“I enjoy being around young people who are sort of at the cusp of a musical career,” said the Grammy, Mercury, Gramophone and Avery Fisher Prize winning Bell. “I enjoy being around that sort of enthusiasm. I feel at that stage they are still ready to soak things in and learn. They have a real love of music which one should have throughout one’s life.

“I spend most of my time playing with professional orchestras, and that can be wonderful, too. But there are times where you get the sense that most professional orchestras are doing it precisely as a profession. Sometimes it feels like you don’t get the same sense of youthful enthusiasm of a student orchestra. My point is I enjoy being around young people. I’ve had 30 years of touring and making music professionally. Hopefully, some of that wisdom might be able to rub off on them.”

Next consider the work that will feature Bell tonight, Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, a piece that has long been an integral part of the violinist’s performance repertoire. In fact, Bell made his Carnegie Hall debut playing the concerto with the St. Louis Symphony. That was in 1985, when Bell was 17.

“I’ve played the piece since I was 12 years old. It was also the first concerto I ever recorded, when I was 18. But I wouldn’t even dare listen to those recordings now. I approached the piece so differently. That’s the wonderful thing about these great classics, it’s that you grow with them. The way you look at the piece just changes. The greater the piece, the more depth there is to find. Even though Bruch not the kind of household name as a Beethoven or a Brahms, this particular piece is really up there with the Beethoven and Brahms concertos, as well as the really great pieces in the repertoire.

“But as you keep looking at a piece, you find different nuances. You look at a phrase and realize that it means something a little bit different than you had thought of before. It’s really a wonderful thing about classical music.”

Curiously, one of those early recordings of the Bruch concerto links Bell directly to the here and now. It was cut in 1988 with the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields, the reknown British orchestra Bell today leads as Music Director. The only other person to hold that title was Sir Neville Marriner, whose served as conductor for the 1988 recording.

“It’s probably been the most important musical experience for me of the last 20 years,” Bell said of his work with the orchestra. “It’s really taught me a lot about leadership, about how to articulate musical ideas and how to show them as a conductor. It’s also taught me how to look at music in a far deeper way because I’m so apt to be involved on a deeper level with every instrument in the orchestra. It’s made me a better musician, for sure, so I’m incredibly grateful.

“Also, it’s expanded my repertoire. Getting to do Beethoven symphonies, like the Eroica Symphony or the Fifth Symphony… these are pieces I’ve known my whole life, but it’s a dream to get to really interpret them. It’s been an amazing experience.”

Joshua Bell performs with the University of Kentucky Symphony Orchestra tonight at 7:30 p.m. at the Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose St. Tickets are $45-$85. Call (859) 257-4929 or go to http://finearts.uky.edu/singletary-center.

critic’s pick 268: joe pug, ‘windfall’

joe pug windfall“I can see it in the whites of your eyes if you’re in it to survive.”

Such is the affirmation offered by Joe Pug during the title tune of his fine new Windfall album. Sure, the song might seem like a survivalist anthem to some, especially given the more jagged folk turns of his two previous albums (and, to a lesser extent, the pair of EP discs preceding them that complete his discography). But breathe all of Windfall in and you’re hit by two things: an overall hopeful narrative character and a matured, more complete musical backdrop that a few Lexington hands had a say in.

A Maryland native now working out of Austin, Tx., Pug has been a tireless touring artist over the past six years both on his town and as opening act for songsmiths like Steve Earle. Onstage as well as on record he came across as an earnest Americana folkie fighting to contain the heartland rocker within. Perhaps that’s why so many songs on his last album, 2012’s The Great Despiser, seemed to follow folk intuition, especially in their more reflective moments, but suggested a Dylan-esque (or even Earle-esque) combustibility.

That doesn’t mean things boil over on Windfall. In fact, all 10 songs reveal a far warmer cast than The Great Despiser. But the new record is more musically realized thanks to the dexterity shown within basic tracks by his touring band (especially guitarist Greg Tuohey and bassist Matt Schuessler) as well as a crew of Lexington pros brought in by producer Duane Lundy, who recorded Windfall locally at his Shangr-La Productions studio. The local guest list includes pedal steel guitarist Tom Hnatow and percussionist Emily Hagihara along with expatriate vocalist/song stylist Mark Charles Heidinger (better known to indie audiences as Vandeveer) and Louisville violinist/songstress Cheyenne Mize.

The two band approach never sounds busy. In fact, it presents an elegiac, electric vitality to The Measure and the far more plaintive Pair of Shadows. Another guest, Wilco’s Pat Sansone, adds a touch of mellotron to If Still It Can’t Be Found’s elegant but bittersweet orchestration (“If still it can’t be found, it’s probably for the best”).

But the unhurried solemnity of Pug’s songs quietly drives Windfall. The lyrics to the record’s highlight tune, Great Hosannas, are recited with almost deadpan urgency as echoing percussion, piano and beautifully arid harmonica sweep about Pug’s singing like a twister. It’s a four minute stroll through an ambient folk purgatory reflective of Joe Henry’s late ‘90s records

Patch this fascinating, artful quilt of songs and sounds together and you have the full arrival of a Texas talent solidifying his identity with some loving, local help.

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