Archive for August, 2015

critic’s pick 287: sly and the family stone, ‘live at fillmore east – october 4th & 5th, 1968’

sly stone“We would like to play a few songs,” says Sly Stone at the onset of the second disc to the monumental new archival release Live at Fillmore East – October 4th & 5th, 1968. With that, the vanguard rock and soul stylist gathers the Family Stone for a party chant that makes you think you’re on hand for a sporting event rather than a pop concert. Then the combustible soul groove of Sly and the Family Stone blows up and the party is underway.

As a concert chronicle and timepiece, Fillmore East is a diamond mine. A four-disc set that collects a quartet of performances captured over a two-night stand at Bill Graham’s famed New York venue, this music was recorded with the intention of an official release over 45 years ago. Stone and company were rising stars at the time with Dance to the Music already a major hit. But then came the avalanche – the chart-topping success of Everyday People, the atomic fourth album Stand! and a career defining 1969 appearance at Woodstock. Subsequently, the live recordings were shelved. Now they emerge as a long belated affirmation of the Family Stone’s ceremonious soul charge.

Fillmore East is rich with performances that reveal just how wildly resourceful the band was. Sly Stone may have been the ringleader with an organ and vocal punch that connected gospel fervency with pure pop immediacy. But there was so much more going on, like the electric bass runs of Larry Graham that sounded positively monstrous on their own (during solo snippets of M’Lady and Dance to the Music) as well as when strapped to the band’s two member horn team on the first disc’s introductory Are You Ready. Sister Rosie Stone also stretches out with versions on each disc of the 1961 Aretha Franklin hit Won’t Be Long. Hearing her voice crack and crackle with R&B vibrancy is one of the many great sleeper moments to Fillmore East.

All of this combines for a soul sound with a remarkable sense of dynamics. The Sly original Color Me True swirls with fearsome funk urgency but also cools down to where the only sounds driving the ensemble are organ and percussion. Later on the first disc, We Love All (Freedom) suggests the psychedelia that exploded within the band’s music in 1969.

You also can’t discount the calls for peace and unity the Family Stone offer as rallying cries – vital stuff considering the performances came just five months after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Don’t hate the black, don’t hate the white,” Sly offers during Are You Ready. “If you get bitten, just hate the bite. Make sure your heart is beating right.”

That party vibe remains as vital today as when it rang out at the Fillmore East in another lifetime.

meghan trainor cancels state fair concert

meghan trainor.

meghan trainor.

Looks like the upcoming Kentucky State Fair will have to do without a stop by the M Train.

Pop singer Meghan Trainor has cancelled her Aug. 20 performance at Freedom Hall, the opening night concert for the fair, along with all remaining dates on the current North American leg of her M Train Tour. The reason is a vocal cord hemorrhage that will require surgery.

The singer, known for the mega hit All About That Bass, announced the cancellation earlier today through social media.

“I am devastated, scared and so sorry,” she posted on her website. “I love touring and seeing your beautiful faces every night. I am determined to do what it takes to get better and come back around stronger than ever.”

Trainor also thanked the two acts who shared her summer concert bill on Facebook.

“I’m sorry to my amazing openers that we had to cut it short. Charlie Puth and Life of Dillon, you guys put on great shows every night with big smiles and I will be forever grateful that you were a part of this experience, even though it was cut too soon. Thank you and your teams for everything.

While the cancellation leaves Freedom Hall without an opening night concert, the State Fair’s Turf Concert Series of free shows will begin on Aug. 20 with the pop metal bands Slaughter and Great White.

For more State Fair info, go to


critic’s pick 286: amy helm, ‘didn’t it rain’

amy helmAs soon as the studied cool and rich, rootsy drive settles in on Amy Helm’s sumptuous debut album Didn’t It Rain, you sense a welcome though unexpected sense of stylistic displacement.

A native of the Woodstock region of New York, the singer possesses a singing style steeped in Southern gospel-soul as well as a pure roots rock immediacy that sounds like it was conjured on the West Coast at the dawn of the ‘70s. Her tone is assertive but sweet while the delivery is wildly confident yet unhurried. In the case of a tune like Sky’s Falling, the great R&B empress Ann Peebles comes to mind. But you could probably find a vintage inspiration to pin to any of the dozen songs that make up Didn’t It Rain, eight of which the singer wrote or co-wrote. But Helm dresses this music with a voice that uses those inspirations simply as reference points. The album’s effortless poise, vigor and soulfulness ae all her own doing.

The drum rumble of the album-opening title tune nicely sets the mood with a bone rattling groove and colors of slide guitar that rain like buckshot over a punctuated melody. Helm’s singing is churchy to the point of being incantatory with a gliding wail full of grit and grace. The party just gets hotter from there.

Among the general influences that greet you is the kind of Bonnie Raitt/Little Feat rock and soul feel that Warner Brothers Records cooked up in California over four decades ago. Part of that is unavoidable. Feat co-founder Bill Payne guests on Sky’s Falling, but also helps orchestrate the glowing soul affirmation Rescue Me on piano with subtle shades of gospel that Helm sings gloriously to.

Bassist Byron Issacs, Helm’s bandmate in the great New York Americana/soul troupe Ollabelle, doubles as producer. He also pens several tunes here with Helm, the best being Heat Lightning, a commanding rocker that employs a nasty, jagged guitar riff to trigger to a country shuffle that sets up Helm’s soul-savvy vocal lead.

There is, of course, a prime guiding spirit throughout all of Didn’t It Rain – the singer’s legendary father Levon Helm. Drum tracks cut by the elder Helm prior to his death in 2012 are featured on three songs including a rapturous version of Martha Scanlon’s Spend Our Last Dime. You even hear his voice, raspy but defiantly robust, kicking the tune off. The resulting music unfolds like a country waltz with daughter Helm proudly piloting the ensuing celebration.

Didn’t It Rain may mark Helm’s arrival as a solo artist. But her extensive work in Ollabelle and her father’s final recordings (and famed Midnight Ramble performances) have fashioned her into something of a roots-rock scholar. Such wisdom flows richly and openly on this sublime record.

the summer of lera lynn

lera lynn.

lera lynn.

There are probably other grand titles you can give the season now heading into the home stretch. But if you’ve been tracking the blossoming career of a certain Nashville by way of Georgia by way of Texas songsmith and the rather explosive turn it is now taking, you might agree we are in the midst of The Summer of Lera Lynn.

The headline performer at this weekend’s Well Crafted Festival at Harrodsburg’s Shaker Village, Lynn began creating serious indie commotion in 2014 with the release of her sophomore album The Avenues. The recording boasts richly emotive and often darkly atmospheric songs that touch on elements of Americana, country, pop and more with a decidedly noir cast.

One especially smitten fan was David Letterman, who summed a Late Show performance by Lynn of The Avenues’ David Lynch-ian snapshot of country-esque longing Out to Sea with a proud boast. “Remember, you heard it here first.”

But next week, Lynn will expand on that exposure with the release of True Detective: Music from the HBO Series. It includes a set of newer songs produced by T Bone Burnett that are leaner in design and more quietly disruptive than her music from The Avenues. The singer has already been featured in a recurring role as a dour songstress performing in the series’ dank dive bar The Black Rose. Her performance of My Least Favorite Life, which played under a scene featuring True Detective stars Vince Vaughn and Colin Farrell was especially arresting.

While the tune is also a highlight of the soundtrack, the album’s first single, The Only Thing Worth Fighting For, features a pair of very different celebs. It was jointly penned by Lynn, Burnett and Rosanne Cash.

“On the plane to LA, I was kind of having a pep talk with myself before my first session in the studio with T Bone,” Lynn said. “I was kind of saying, ‘Okay, Lera. It’s time to deliver. Get it together.’ It was intimidating, obviously, but he and Rosanne were both great – just really sweet and easy to work with and encouraging. Really, it was a dream come true.”

“It’s all thrilling in that I’m able to perform now for more people and connect with more people. I mean, the process itself was obviously thrilling, as well. But on the other side of that, it’s also exciting just to see people responding to the work that I’ve done previously by coming up after the shows and buying records. It’s all of that.

Lynn admitted Burnett encouraged her to explore her “dark side” when composing the True Detective songs. But such terrain isn’t foreign to her. She took a few strolls there when making The Avenues.

“It was actually a very natural process. I think it’s an element that has been present in my music for years. It’s just that it’s the thing people don’t think they can market, plus no one has ever really encouraged me to do it until now. I think that’s why T Bone chose me to do the True Detective music, because he could see that peaking through. He wanted to really highlight that. But it was fun. It’s an easy thing, the dark side.”

One might suspect with the True Detective soundtrack still a week away from release that Lynn wouldn’t be rushing back to the recording studio anytime soon. In actuality, she’s already there working on music for what will become her third album. But the collaboration with Burnett and Cash on the True Detective music has opened a new perspective on songwriting she says will play out on her next recording.

“I think the songs I did for True Detective have given me a greater confidence in doing what I find inspiring rather than what I find to be marketable. So with the new record, I’m trusting my instincts even more and digging a little bit deeper into the territories that I have hinted at in my previous records.

“There was a time in my life when I thought, ‘To be an artist, you have to be in pain.’ Usually to be in pain you have to be involved in drama. A certain part of that is true. I still experience pain and drama. But I think the writing process also involves drawing on other people’s stories and maybe implying my own feelings as they relate to something I’ve experienced. It’s just different for every song.”

But what of the music itself, the dreamscapes that ooze from one genre to another to create a sound that is introspective in its hushed beauty but cinematic enough to bring the corners of a shadowy but popular television series to life? For that, Lynn credits her upbringing – specifically, a household ruled by a rotating musical set list.

“I grew up with my mom playing Vince Gill and then skipping to Joni Mitchell and then Michael Jackson. I think that’s what most people do, really. I mean, why would you limit yourself to one thing?”

While translating that to her own songs has become second nature, finding a place for her stylistically disparate songs might be seem arduous if she had to answer to the whims of major record label marketing. Luckily, as a still-independent artist, she doesn’t.

“It’s difficult to find a balance between business and art. But I think the best thing you can do as an artist is to try not to think about what’s marketable and just do what moves you the most because chances are that’s what is going to move other people the most, too. That’s always been my M.O.”

Lera Lynn performs at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 8 as part of the Well Crafted Festival at Shaker Village of Pleasant Hill, 3501 Lexington Road in Harrodsburg. The festival begins at 12 noon. Admission: $25. Call (859) 734-5411 or go to

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