Archive for April, 2016

in performance: mountain stage

robbie fulks. photo by andy goodwin.

robbie fulks. photo by andy Goodwin.

After nearly 33 years of broadcast history, the Mountain came to Lexington last night. The longrunning public radio live music radio show Mountain Stage, packed its bags, jumped over the state line from its West Virginia home and set up shop at the Singletary Center for the Arts with a five act bill that played out like a mini festival.

A typical Mountain Stage broadcast runs two hours. Last night’s presentation ran just shy of three with minimal downtime between acts and no intermission. Since host Larry Groce served strictly as an emcee, eschewing interview segments, the program focused almost exclusively on performances with each artist playing five tunes. Sarah Jarosz, the show’s de facto headliner, was allowed six.

Excluding between-set songs by Mountain Stage band singer Julie Adams and pianist Bob Thompson, here was what transpired, in order of appearance.

+ Robbie Fulks: After giving quick acknowledgements his numerous Lexington appearances at Lynagh’s Music Club and The Dame over the past 20 years, the Chicago song stylist juggled tales of despair, humor and delirious points in between, highlighted by the whimsical yet heartwarming Aunt Peg’s New Old Man. Backed by an authoritative band that leaned to traditional country, Fulks topped off his set with vocalwork that has never sounded clearer or more commanding.

+ Over the Rhine: Rounded out to a trio with the addition of guitarist Brad Meinerding, the Ohio husband-and-wife duo of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist offered a typically moving set of moody folk atmospherics. The songs were fine, especially wary narratives like Suitcase, I’d Want You and a delicate makeover of The Band’s It Makes No Difference. But the distinction this time was the group’s spot-on three-part harmonies. While Meinerding was an engaging instrumentalist, he also stands as one of the finer vocal foils to join the Over the Rhine ranks in many years.

+ Steve Forbert: After nearly four decades of making records, Forbert remains the disheveled but definitive folkie. Performing solo, he sang twisted reveries like Compromsied, Drink Red Wine and especially Complications like he was arguing with a friend and welcoming all ensuing conflicts. The resulting music, unrefined as it purposely was, still sounded soulful and solemn.

+ The Black Lillies: The only disappointment of the bunch. The Knoxville band had ample instrumental prowess, especially in the guitar department. But mainstay singers Cruz Contreras and Trisha Gene Brady, together the generally unremarkable Americana/pop tradeoffs within songs like Hard to Please and Desire, never fully caught fire.

+ Sarah Jarosz: The highlight of the night, Jarosz devoted her entire six-song solo set to new music from her forthcoming Undercurrents album (due out in June). After reflecting on her afternoon brunch at The Local Taco (“any day that includes tacos is a good day”), she settled into the often unsettled waters of her new songs. Within works like Early Morning Light and House of Mercy were largely emancipating sagas sung with an unsentimental exactness. Songs like the more vulnerable Everything You Hide and the more distantly endearing Jacqueline weren’t as stormy but reflected just as much emotive grace and detail. A simple, direct and often spellbinding set.

In what has long been a tradition for Mountain Stage, the program concluded with Groce leading everyone through an ensemble finale number – in this case, a cover of Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine. Owing more to the Kentucky Headhunters hit version from the late ‘80s rather than the Bill Monroe original, it was impressive more for Groce’s traffic cop conduction of the nearly 20 players assembled onstage than as actual cohesive performance.

sarah jarosz rides with the currents

sarah jarosz. photo by scott simontacchi.

sarah jarosz. photo by scott simontacchi.

On the second song of her forthcoming album, Sarah Jarosz sings with almost mystical intrigue. That the tune, Green Lights, is wrapped discreetly in reverb and has its delicate folk fabric colored modestly by electric guitar presents a paradox. In terms of storyline, it is remarkably grounded – romantic, but not for an instant sentimental. Yet the music all but leaves the earth to embrace a ghostly ambience that presents a lean but very atmospheric contrast to the rest of the spare acoustic framework to the album, which is aptly titled Undercurrent.

To those that have followed Jarosz’s music through her three previous albums (a remarkable discography considering she is only 24), Undercurrent will seem a logical progression in the ascent of one of the most heralded young songsmiths of the past decade. But for Jarosz, a Texas native who recently graduated with honors from the New England Conservatory of Music and subsequently established a new home base in New York City, Undercurrent is very much an emancipation.

“The headspace for this record was just being here in the city, living here for the first time and having, actually, a lot of solitary time,” said Jarosz, one of the artists performing at Sunday’s live broadcast of Mountain Stage from the Singletary Center for the Arts. “For the first time, I’ve lived by myself here. Really, in a way, this feels like a first album in a sense in that it was the first time I had all my time dedicated to focusing on writing and recording the record, whereas before it was running between classes and kind of fitting it in somehow. I felt more focused on it this time than I think I ever have before.

“This was also the first time that I really thought about the songwriting in a way that was more like a craft, whereas before it was kind of, ‘Okay, whenever the inspiration comes and whenever I have the time to kind of season it.’ This time around, I actually had the time to work at it every day. I feel that comes through on the record. I live on the Upper West Side and spend a lot of time walking around the Central Park reservoir. That really influenced a lot of the imagery on the album.”

Before New England and before New York, there was, for Jarosz, Texas – specifically the Hill Country near the center of the state and the neighboring music metropolis of Austin. She was versed enough on mandolin, clawhammer banjo and guitar to play her first bluegrass festival by age 11 and was signed to the established Americana label Sugar Hill to record her debut album at 16.

“I was talking with (Kentucky born songwriter and instrumentalist) Darrell Scott, who really believes the landscape of where someone grows up ultimately affects the music that they make and shapes them as a musician. I totally believe that in terms of growing up in the Texas Hill Country. It was kind of the rawness of that landscape, of Texas in general. It’s flat but it’s also hilly and I totally think that influenced that kind of music, that acoustic kind of raw music that I was drawn to, especially early on. I lived it every Friday night going to a weekly bluegrass jam. That totally shaped me.

“Last week, I was performing at (the renown Austin music festival) South by Southwest. It’s always good for me to go back to Texas and be reminded about how much I was influenced by that scene down there. It was kind of full circle for me because it was the first time that I performed many of these songs from the new record. It’s good to be reminded how that region is always going to be a part of me and my identity.”

 

Mountain Stage with Sarah Jarosz, The Black Lillies, Steve Forbert, Over the Rhine and Robbie Fulks. 7 p.m. April 3 at the Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose St.

Tickets: $25 advance, $30 day of show. Call 859-257-4929 or go to etix.com.

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