Archive for December, 2015

in performance: acoustic jam 2015

brandy clark.

brandy clark.

Out of the 12 artists that took turns swapping songs last night at the Opera House during the three-and-a-half hour Acoustic Jam 2015 benefit for the Kentucky Children’s Hospital, the show-stealer was the songwriter that adhered least to modern Nashville formulas and most to an often abandoned sense of country tradition.

The victor, by a country mile, was Brandy Clark, the veteran songwriter who has penned tunes for celebs like Miranda Lambert, The Band Perry and Reba McEntire but has revealed herself over the past three years as a vocal stylist with similar shadings of tradition and narrative cunning.

The crowning moment last night, quite fittingly, was a song no one had heard – a new single scheduled for February from an album not due until April. Titled Girl Next Door, it was a tale of unapologetic defiance and ragged confidence that suggested Loretta Lynn’s edgier songs in terms of temperament. “If you want the girl next door,” Clark sang with almost sardonic reserve, “then go next door.”

Clark’s recently Grammy nominated Hold Your Hand (a loving ode to country innocence) and Get High (the exact opposite) completed her three song set.

To be honest, the only other artist that even approximated Clark’s musical distinction was newcomer Drake White, whose singing was ripe with the soul inflections of his native Alabama. Then again, the other artists (Craig Campbell, Chase Bryant and RaeLynn) he performed alongside during the evening’s first set of round-robin performances constituted such a snoozefest of stoic sentimentality and grossly pop reared convention that the rootsy drive White summoned couldn’t help serve as a jolt.

It’s not that there weren’t other appealing moments. Regional hero John Michael Montgomery had the eyes of all other performers from the evening’s second round (Scotty McCreery, Keifer Thompson and Lauren Alaina) firmly focused his way as he delivered a quietly solemn reading of Letter From Home. There was also a refreshingly hardened toughness to Easton Corbin’s A Little More Country Than That and Jerrod Niemann’s One More Drinkin’ Song during the show’s final round. That lineup also featured Clark and a largely overblown performance by Lady Antebellum’s Charles Kelly.

But this night clearly belonged to Clark, the girl next door that that left everyone else in the December dust.

in performance: mary fahl

mary fahl.

mary fahl.

Mary Fahl had not performed in the Cincinnati region in over two decades, not since a 1995 concert by the wonderfully unclassifiable October Project. In those days, the powerfully sonorous clarity of her singing fronted an equally huge pop sound that gathered elements of prog, folk and even a touch of worldbeat.

Last night at the Southgate House Revival in Newport, Fahl returned not as the Goth-like figurehead of her former band but as a solo artist as chatty, vibrant and revealing as October Project was insular and proudly withdrawn. But that voice – that extraordinary, almost operatic voice – had not lost an iota of its emotive impact, deep seeded mystery or tonal clarity. Fahl may have had nothing but her own guitarwork and a discreet level of reverb in the sound mix as accompaniment, but that’s all she needed. Her extraordinary singing rightly took possession of the spotlight.

In terms of repertoire, Fahl went to a pair of October Project gems right off the bat, describing the group’s sound as “Peter Gabriel meets Indigo Girls drowning in a sea of Enya.” The show opening Deep as You Go and a gorgeously plaintive Ariel nicely set the mood. But with the songs pared down to skeletal acoustic arrangements, the lustrous colors of Fahl’s voice sounded especially commanding.

It wasn’t a forced singing style, either. When Fahl delved into a sleek cover of the Nina Simone hit Wild is the Wild, she held on to the phrase “clings to a tree” with delicious and undeterred confidence. Similarly, on October Project’s most identifiable hit, Bury My Lovely, she bent notes during the chorus in a manner that sounded like a variation of yodeling. The final delivery, though, was all textural cool.

Fahl was hardly held in place by the October Project material. Along with the Simone tune, she visited the affirmative pop-folk of Joni Mitchell’s Both Side Now (but in a lyrical fashion that better recalled Judy Collins’ hit version), the lullaby-like fragility of the Edith Piaf-popularized La Vie en Rose and, in the show’s most inventive turn, a folk-fortified makeover medley of Brain Damage and Eclipse, the collective finale of Pink Floyd’s The Dark Side of the Moon.

As satisfying as any of the covers, though, was the Fahl original Going Home, a Civil War inspired requiem delivered during an extended encore last night as a sparse, comforting prayer of peace.

‘the river’ rises: bruce springsteen to play louisville on feb. 21

Bruce-Tour-EmailThe Boss is heading back in town – okay, a nearby city.

Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band will return to the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville on Feb. 21. Billed as part of a nine-week run dubbed The River Tour, the performance follows today’s release of The Ties That Bind: The River Collection, a multi-disc overview of recordings that yielded the 1980 double-album The River.

Tickets will go on sale at 10 a.m. Dec. 11 through livenation.com, ticketmaster.com,

the Yum! Center box office, all TicketMaster outlets or by calling (800) 745-3000.

While exact ticket prices haven’t been announced for the Louisville date, seats for other shows on the tour are going for $65 and $150.

Springsteen last played the Yum! Center in November 2012. His upcoming show coincides, to the month, with the 35 year anniversary of a Rupp Arena concert that promoted the original release of The River. He hasn’t performed at Rupp since 2002.

Fans can get a taste for the February show when Springsteen performs on Saturday Night Live on Dec. 19.

scott weiland, 1967-2015

scott weiland performing at louisville's brown theatre in may 2002. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

scott weiland performing at louisville’s brown theatre in may 2002. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

At the height of his stage power and popularity, Scott Weiland was as wondrous as he was infuriating.

He was a rock star in every sense of the term – flamboyant, indulgent, self-absorbed and, ultimately, self-destructive. All are traits that go hand in hand when celebrity status, commercial stardom and good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll collide. Collectively, they form a circus that audiences not only accept, but often mercilessly encourage until the music stops and attention is shifted to the next sideshow in waiting.

Weiland’s tenure in the big top concluded yesterday. He died at the shamefully young age of 48, concluding a career that gained as much attention for his vices and excesses as it did for his music.

Critically, Weiland was revered and reviled. His initial recordings with Stone Temple Pilots helped define a grunge revolution even if many dismissed the band as blatantly imitative of contemporaries like Pearl Jam. The band’s performances, all rhythmically jarring and furiously electric, seemed to depend on how lucid Weiland chose to be.

When he performed a Derby Week concert with STP at Louisville’s Brown Theatre in May 2002, Weiland was a clear-headed, energized and inviting performer who provided a healthy sense of cunning to his band. That night, STP saved favorites like Vasoline, Crackerman and what remains my favorite entry in their catalogue, the piledriving groove workout Big Bang Baby, for later in the set and opened with 10 minutes of Pink Floyd’s prog-saturated Shine on You Crazy Diamond.

The latter tune was a requiem for Floyd founder Syd Barrett, a drug rattled champion of the psychedelic era who spent the last three decades of his life too broken to even perform in public. Even at his worst, Weiland never teetered that far out of bounds. But the parallel was obvious.

Standing tall and healthy that night in Louisville, Weiland seemingly shook loose of his demons and celebrated rock ‘n’ roll as the huge musical affirmation it was always intended to be. Naïve as it may sound today, that’s the snapshot I will keep of him – as one of the music’s proudest revelers instead of one of its latest casualties.

 

turning the corner with dailey & vincent

jamie dailey and darrin vincent .

jamie dailey and darrin vincent .

It was just over eight years ago that Jamie Dailey and Darrin Vincent uprooted themselves from duties in two immensely prestigious bluegrass bands – Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver for the former and Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder for the latter – to set in motion a group that would bear their own names.

With 2015 coming to a close, one can see how well the resulting alliance worked. Dailey & Vincent have become a monstrously popular act built on bluegrass tradition but with generous leanings to gospel and country as well as a performance style that blended virtuoso picking and harmony vocals with the expansiveness and agility of an orchestra. Of course, back in 2007, Vincent didn’t have much inkling as to what fortunes awaited the duo. In fact, he said the whole formation of Dailey & Vincent wasn’t even his idea.

“Honestly, I never thought about doing this. Jaime had the idea and the vision for all of it. When he was with Doyle, he said, ‘Look, I’ve been here nine years. Financially, we’re never going to get past this mark we’re at today. If we don’t do something out on our own, we’re always going to be here.

“We had already started a band together, but in January 2007, Jaime said, ‘This is our year to do this.’ He gave Doyle Lawson a year’s notice and I gave Ricky a year’s notice. We said, ‘Look, at the end of this year, we’re going to stop. We’re starting our own thing.’ So we went a whole year not knowing how long we would last. Looking back, Jaime made it to the middle of August with Doyle and I made it all the way to the first of November with Ricky. It was a blessing, but it was also a scary time back then. The bottom fell out of the economy, fuel prices went up. It was a hard time to start a band and start a new business. But we’ve come a long way in eight years.”

During that time, Dailey & Vincent chalked up 13 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, a trio of Grammy nominations and accolades for high energy performances that inspired the CMT network to dub the duo as “the rock stars of bluegrass.”

But from the onset, Dailey & Vincent were as much about instinct as tradition. After releasing the duo’s first three albums in a 19 month period, Dailey felt compelled to devote a record to one of his strongest musical inspirations – the country gospel vocal group The Statler Brothers. Vincent was game for the idea, but no one at the business end of the duo’s affairs was especially thrilled.

“Our label, Rounder Records, said, ‘Look, you guys are brand new. This is too early to do a tribute record in your career,’ Vincent said. “Our management didn’t want anything to do with it, either.”

What turned the corner on the project was as an abbreviated set at the Ryman Auditorium where Dailey & Vincent performed one of the Statlers’ most established hits, the harmony rich Elizabeth. In the audience were executives from Cracker Barrel, the country restaurant/store chain that also operated its own record label.

“As soon as we got backstage, they had somehow made it back there and said, ‘Look, how can we partner up with you guys? We are open to any ideas you have.’ Jamie just dropped his guitar and said, ‘Well, I’ve got this idea for a tribute to the Statler Brothers I would like for us to do.’ They said, ‘Count us in. We’re on board.’ After that, Rounder said, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea,’ and our management said, ‘That’s a perfect idea.’

Vincent lets out a howl of laughter at the recollection. “I love it.” The aptly titled Dailey & Vincent Sing the Statler Brothers was released in early 2010. Today, the focus for Dailey & Vincent is a new live CD/DVD set called Alive! In Concert. Recorded on the campus of George Mason University in Manassas, Va., the recording underscores the instrumental support of the duo’s backing band but also utilizes GMU’s 50 member orchestra and 100 member choir. What results is an atypically massive sound for a bluegrass project.

“Just being in the moment onstage, listening to the strings plus our band, the music sounded huge,” Vincent said. “It was so beautiful and full of joy. Me and Jaime didn’t want to stop. We were like, ‘Let’s do this again.’ It was wonderful.”

Dailey & Vincent perform at 8 p.m. Dec. 4 at the Norton Center for the Arts, 600 West Walnut Street in Danville. Tickets: $25-$46. Call (877) 448-7469 or go to

nortoncenter.com.

critic’s pick 302: sharon jones and the dap-kings, ‘it’s a holiday soul party’

sharon jones“Where’s that the party at?” asks Sharon Jones in a quest of seasonal celebration on her new holiday themed album. The response, courtesy of the accompanying singing duo of Shaun & Starr, is both immediate and resolute: “Right here.”

That exchange encapsulates the spirit of the aptly titled It’s a Holiday Soul Party, a record that happily lives up to its name with a mix of original and familiar Christmas odes along with the opening 8 Days (of Hanukkah), which may just be the first soul-invested tune of its kind.

The feel of this music doesn’t stray far from Jones’ previous records with the Dap Kings. The singer is a masterful soul stylist that reveres R&B tradition but doesn’t treat it like a museum piece. She can sound as cool, commanding, jovial and defiant as she pleases over horn-happy charts and warm, organic grooves. Since the holiday season offers plenty of musical and emotive initiative, Jones and the Dap Kings respond by turning their soul serenades into a suitably inviting celebration.

Of the original material, Ain’t No Chimneys in the Projects, brings the party back to earth by detailing the unexpectedly urban magic of Santa Claus and the parental love that ensues. The aforementioned 8 Days (of Hanukkah) takes its cue from the punctuated horn charge of James Brown before Jones lets her singing relax into velvety cool.

The classic songs are similarly diverse. White Christmas is whipped up into a hullabaloo that recalls Martha and the Vandellas, but with Memphis Soul substituting for the Motown sound. The often covered 1960 Charles Brown hit Please Come from Christmas is sung by Jones with the expected dose of torchy assurance while other favorites get more radical makeovers.

Funky Little Drummer Boy, for instance, struts with a deep pocket groove and an incantatory vocal wail while Silent Night is offered as the kind of lean, regal blues that brings vintage B.B. King records to mind. In both cases, though, Jones’ potent but unforced singing makes these well worn tunes very much her own.

Jones slips out of the party a tad early, leaving the Dap Kings to groove away on a brassy, instrumental God Rest Ye Merry Gents with a tasty dose of New Orleans blues and sass. But Jones’ earlier exit comes with a reading of Silver Bells that begins like hymn fortified only by gospel piano. The tune then opens up into a rock steady party piece that slides through elements of calypso, rumba and wildly sunny pop-soul.

The tip off to the unspoiled fun of It’s a Holiday Soul Party can be found right on the CD cover, where the Dap Kings unfold a streamer that reads “Dappy Holidays.” Inside, though, the most delicious new seasonal music in years awaits unwrapping.

critic’s pick 301: bob dylan, ‘the cutting edge 1965-1966: the bootleg series, vol. 12

bob-dylan-bootleg-series-12On The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 12, the newest and arguably most revealing entry in Bob Dylan’s long running sets of unreleased recordings, the master songsmith unearths blueprints to three of his most acclaimed albums.

Some of the finds are purposely lean demos, a few are rehearsal fragments and others are completed arrangements that differ so severely from the finalized versions fans grew accustomed to near a half century ago that they sound like different tunes altogether.

Borrowing from the concept of his last two Bootleg Series entries – which detailed sessions for Self Portrait and The Basement Tapes, respectively – The Cutting Edge allows us to be a fly on the wall with Dylan as he records. This time, though, three seminal works – Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde – were being assembled over a 13 month period between January 1965 and March 1966. No offense to Self Portrait and The Basement Tapes, but they were like lab experiments compared to the epic music covered on The Cutting Edge. This was the sound of the then-new electric Dylan and it was monumental.

The Cutting Edge is available as an inexpensive two-disc sampler, a pricier but far more comprehensive six-disc set and a limited edition, mortgage-busting 18 disc package that supposedly gathers every recorded note from these sessions. The sampler whittles these sessions, with a few exceptions, down to single takes. The six disc set, which is reviewed here, lets us hear how the tunes evolved through multiple versions.

Desolation Row as a rumbling piano demo? You Belong to Me as a sketch of the folkie persona Dylan had shed? Highway 61 Revisited as a neo-country shuffle? Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again in its formative acoustic framework? These demo-style takes are intriguing enough. But The Cutting Edge also offers completed versions full of far greater surprises, like Visions of Johanna as an accelerated rockish joyride, Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat as a slice of slow country blues and Positively 4th Street with more resignation and considerably less venom than the version Dylan issued as a single (it didn’t surface on an album until Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits in the spring of 1967).

But the door prize here is an entire disc devoted to the construction of Like a Rolling Stone. Piece by crystal clear piece, it presents the assembly of a classic and underscores The Cutting Edge as a brilliantly detailed aural account of pop history as it was made.

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