Archive for October, 2016

in performance: dierks bentley/randy houser/drake white and the big fire

dierks bentley.

dierks bentley.

“We’re a long way from The Dame,” remarked Dierks Bentley two songs in to his Rupp Arena return last night. From a literal standpoint, of course, the long demolished Main St. rock club located where the CentrePointe project now resides, was just a few blocks away from the cavernous Rupp. But The Dame was where Bentley essentially introduced himself to Lexington in 2004. So figuratively, the singer has indeed traveled far since then with a trio of possible wins at the annual Country Music Association Awards awaiting him next week.

The celebratory feel of last night’s Rupp outing – his fourth appearance at the venue, a stat he worked into a verse of the road anthem “Every Mile a Memory” late in the show – was mixed with a touch of honest gratitude for the venue, right down to a remark about the absence of Rupp’s famed “Big Bertha” speaker cluster. The good natured vibe carried over into the music, too, with a set launched by a pair organically designed, bluegrass-savvy works, “Up on the Ridge” and “Free and Easy (Down the Road I Go).”

The set quickly morphed into the kind of rockish drive indicative of contemporary inclined country with barroom themed works like “Am I the Only One,” anthemic pieces such as “Hold On” and every curiosities that included the title track to the singer’s recent “Black” album that matched Americana sentiment with the U2-like guitar chatter of Brownsville native Ben Helson.

But it was Bentley’s attitude that essentially sold the performance. The usual bro country machismo and modern country pandering were absent from the show. Instead, it relied on honest physicality, drive and musical gusto.

A similar sense of earnest cheer also pervaded the show-opening set by Drake White and the Big Fire. While some of their tunes tended to possess a shopworn country-rock feel, “That Don’t Cost a Dime” proved a novel stylistic mash-up of rural boogie, country swing and even reggae (via a chorus snippet of “Stir It Up”). Throughout, though, White’s vocals reflected a vintage swagger reminiscent of bands like Old Crow Medicine Show.

The antithesis of both Bentley and White was the artist sandwiched between them on last night’s bill, Randy Houser. A singer boasting a booming voice tailor made for arenas but little understanding of dynamics or artistic humility, Houser mistook vocal potency for artistic ingenuity. What resulted were bludgeoning performances of “Boots On” and “My Kind of Country” full of puffed up self-importance. Even the solo acoustic “Like a Cowboy” was a one man vocal stampede packaged with its own dramatic pause so the audience could bask in the strenuous feat that had just been executed.

The crowning touch to what may have been one of the more preposterous country performances to hit Rupp Arena in recent years, even more so than the video and lighting blitzkrieg that suggested Houser might have been imagining himself as headliner, was a bizarre remark the singer made following “How Country Feels” – specifically toward the hearty crowd adulation awarded to it.

“Well, that doesn’t suck at all.”

Sure, this was probably just a backhanded way of sounding appreciative. But one couldn’t help but imaging a different audience response fashioned as a response to such a classless quip.

“Wanna bet?”

 

in performance: john mellencamp/carlene carter

carlene carter and john mellencamp performing last night at the EKU center for the arts in richmond. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

carlene carter and john mellencamp performing last night at the EKU center for the arts in richmond. herald-leader staff photo by mark cornelison.

“Watch out for the creepers,” sang John Mellencamp last night at the onset of an efficient and entertaining performance at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. The bemused warning, part of a hapless blast of modern day paranoia and mistrust called “Lawless Times,” signaled business as usual for the Indiana rocker. His singing voice may have changed a bit with a coarser delivery that was likely the by-product of age and tobacco. But the creakiness, along with the loose, roots-driven sound of an expert band, kept the hard times from hitting too close to home. In fact, Mellencamp made himself one of the tune’s unwitting victims. “If you want to steal this song,” he sang, “it can easily be loaded down.”

The program evolved into an appealing mix of songs new and old, familiar and obscure. “Lawless Times” was one of three tunes offered from Mellencamp’s 2014 album “Plain Spoken,” a record that colored the Americana-savvy narratives that have long been trademarks of his finer compositions with a leaner, blues-leaning sound. The highlight of the trio was “The Isolation of Mister,” a personal requiem where regret and loneliness out measured any pervasive sense of loss. “I thought happiness was a transgression,” Mellencamp sang with stoic solemnity. “I just took it as it came.”

There were also instances where the blues attitude won out, as in a version of the Robert Johnson classic “Stones in My Passway” (cut for Mellencamp’s 2003 covers album “Trouble No More”) that whittled singer and band down to a lean quartet. Curiously, as the economical roots music charge intensified, the vocals took on a near James Brown-level fervency.

The hit parade, of course, was what electrified the crowd. Patrons listened patiently as the more ragged extremes of Mellencamp’s singing triggered the very Tom Waits-like turns of “The Full Catastrophe” (a deep cut from 1996’s “Mr. Happy Go Lucky” album). But when a highly electric “Rain on the Scarecrow” revealed the full might of the band or when Mellencamp took on a solo acoustic reworking of “Jack and Diane,” the audience erupted.

The latter was performed with almost apologetic candor. “The only reason I still play this is because I know you guys want to hear it.” Playing is about all he did. Mellencamp sang a lead-in verse or two, but largely let the audience handle the vocal chores.

Some of the show’s older works have aged better than others. “Pop Singer” just needs to be jettisoned. It wasn’t that strong of a single when it hit radio in 1989. If there was any intended irony within the storyline (“Never wanted to be no pop singer”) it was lost years ago. If it was intended as something more matter-of-fact, then some explaining of the ticket prices – which topped out at over $200 – was in order. On the flip side, “Check It Out” remained every bit the effortless everyman anthem it was when the song was released in 1987, still bolstered by an Americana flair and a surprising lyrical hopefulness that have not dimmed.

The show-stealer, though, was another sleeper, “Longest Days.” The leadoff song from 2007’s T Bone Burnett-produced “Life, Death, Love and Freedom” album, it was introduced by a touching and quite humorous remembrance of Mellencamp’s late grandmother. The song itself was pure folk poetry written – and, curiously, sung – with the directness and simplicity of a John Prine chestnut.

As a bonus, the performance sported a 45 minute opening set by Carlene Carter. The singer’s career has shifted from post-punk pop (in the late ‘70s and ‘80s) to mainstream country (late ‘80s and ‘90s) to the roots-driven Americana of the Carter Family, of which she is a third generation member. While her stage persona was often the astonishing embodiment of her late mother, June Carter Cash, the unaccompanied set was an arresting blend of Carter Family faith (“The Storms are on the Ocean”), vintage originals reflecting a surprisingly deep vocal resonance (“Easy From Now On”) and learned folk expression (“Blackjack David”). She joined Mellencamp later it in the evening to preview tunes from a collaborative album due out next year. But it was on her own that Carter merged three distinct career chapters into a single, joyous set.

 

in performance: doyle bramhall II

doyle bramhall ii. photo by danny clinch.

doyle bramhall ii. photo by danny clinch.

“This is not the first barbeque joint I’ve played, coming from Texas,” said Doyle Bramhall II last night at Willie’s Locally Known. “But it is the best.”

Hopefully, someone at the Southland Drive music joint/barbeque hangout got a recording of that. It was the sort of soundbite that brings in customers. But for all the Lone Star heritage that ran through the guitarist’s veins – along with, in all likelihood, barbeque sauce – Bramhall’s tastefully scalding 95 minute performance steered clear of any expected exercises in Texas roots rock. It was instead a stripped down, internalized and heavily psychedelic variation of the music from his new “Rich Man” album.

So dedicated was Bramhall to the recording that he devoted all but three tunes last night to it, which meant the majority of the audience that packed Willie’s was likely experiencing music they didn’t know.

But from the show-opening strains of “My People,” such unfamiliarity proved a non-issue. Steeped in a Southern soul accent full of swampy solemnity, the tune, as was the case with much of the “Rich Man” material, simmered in a roots sound that took its time to grind out a groove before erupting with a guitar blast that was less in line with Texas blues-rock and more akin to the kind of dense, dark psychedelia fashioned by Traffic at the dawn of the 1970s.

Sure, the Southern slant of Bramhall’s soul sound possessed a warm cast at times, especially during “Keep You Dreamin,’” which became a funk treatise before Bramhall turned on the psychedelia via a solo that sounded like something his former employer, Eric Clapton, designed during his Cream years.

Similarly, covers of Johnny Guitar Watson’s “Lovin’ You” and Bill Withers’ “Better Off Dead” (the latter serving as an unassuming encore) detailed the brighter soul casts of Bramhall’s playing. But the mix of free jazz and Eastern fusion during “Saharan Crossing” and the suite-like construction of “The Samanas,” which began with sparse psychedelic ambience and concluded with pure rockish ensemble might, better reflected the palette of colors, moods and tempos that distinguished not only Bramhall’s remarkable musicianship but the rich, organic drive of music that prided itself on soaring outside of Texas tradition.

 

in performance: peter frampton

peter frampton.

peter frampton.

The idea of Peter Frampton performing a predominantly acoustic concert might not seem very novel at first. Lots of veteran rock artists whose careers capitalized on electric environments in arena settings opt for unplugged performances as their careers progress. They offer the chance to play more intimate venues, operate with smaller bands and (usually) smaller budgets and, if nothing else, engage new arrangements for hits played night after night, decade after decade.
Last night’s self-described “raw” performance by Frampton at the Opera House did all of that. The theatre confines and acoustic make-up let the longstanding British rocker design a program that allowed for considerable between-song discussions of the inspirations behind his compositions, like the family heirloom that triggered the idea for the title tune to his 2014 EP for the Cincinnati Ballet (“Hummingbird in a Box”) or an especially moving dedication to his patents that segued into a remembrance of longtime friend David Bowie – specifically, the latter’s invitation for Frampton to join his 1987 world tour, thus redefining him as a guitarist instead of a rock star (“Not Forgotten”). Similarly, there were moments when some of Frampton’s biggest hits were keenly reinvented, as in when he directed the Opera House audience to sing the famed talk-box medley to “Show Me the Way” and turned the set closing “Do You Feel Like We Do” into a sing-a-long that eventually erupted into an intriguing acoustic jam with guitarist/accompanist Gordon Kennedy.
But what was so surprising – and, ultimately, appealing – about the sprawling, 2 ½ performance was how comprehensive the repertoire was. All the expected “Frampton Comes Alive” hits were delivered, as was a show-closing encore of “I’m in You” (which is actually something of a rarity in his full band shows), which sent Frampton to an electric keyboard, marking the concert’s only non-acoustic moment. But with the familiar fare came loads of rarities that covered Frampton’s entire career.
From the early days was a playfully rhythmic revision of Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” which he first recorded in 1969 with Humble Pie. Helping out the song on harmony vocals was the guitarist’s son Julian Frampton, who also opened the evening with a half-hour set. Equally unanticipated was an encore medley of “You Had to be There” (penned for the 2000 “Almost Famous” soundtrack) and the title tune to one of Frampton’s most overlooked albums, 1980’s “Breaking All the Rules.” But the real surprise had to be “The Lodger,” a track from Frampton’s 1972 debut album “Wind of Change” that switched out the original version’s brassy instrumental coda for the show’s most dizzying guitar solo.
Finally, there was a hit that seems to have grown old gracefully with Frampton, 1973’s “Lines on My Face.” An inherently sad tune to begin with, last night’s version seemed like a requiem, a tale of loss balanced by almost sagely reflection. It was the evening’s truest example of how this acoustic incarnation of Frampton’s catalog sounded both invigorated and ageless.
dea of Peter Frampton performing a predominantly acoustic concert might not seem very novel at first. Lots of veteran rock artists whose careers capitalized on electric environments in arena settings opt for unplugged performances as their careers progress. They offer the chance to play more intimate venues, operate with smaller bands and (usually) smaller budgets and, if nothing else, engage new arrangements for hits played night after night, decade after decade.
Last night’s self-described “raw” performance by Frampton at the Opera House did all of that. The theatre confines and acoustic make-up let the longstanding British rocker design a program that allowed for considerable between-song discussions of the inspirations behind his compositions, like the family heirloom that triggered the idea for the title tune to his 2014 EP for the Cincinnati Ballet (“Hummingbird in a Box”) or an especially moving dedication to his patents that segued into a remembrance of longtime friend David Bowie – specifically, the latter’s invitation for Frampton to join his 1987 world tour, thus redefining him as a guitarist instead of a rock star (“Not Forgotten”). Similarly, there were moments when some of Frampton’s biggest hits were keenly reinvented, as in when he directed the Opera House audience to sing the famed talk-box medley to “Show Me the Way” and turned the set closing “Do You Feel Like We Do” into a sing-a-long that eventually erupted into an intriguing acoustic jam with guitarist/accompanist Gordon Kennedy.
But what was so surprising – and, ultimately, appealing – about the sprawling, 2 ½ performance was how comprehensive the repertoire was. All the expected “Frampton Comes Alive” hits were delivered, as was a show-closing encore of “I’m in You” (which is actually something of a rarity in his full band shows), which sent Frampton to an electric keyboard, marking the concert’s only non-acoustic moment. But with the familiar fare came loads of rarities that covered Frampton’s entire career.
From the early days was a playfully rhythmic revision of Buddy Holly’s “Heartbeat” which he first recorded in 1969 with Humble Pie. Helping out the song on harmony vocals was the guitarist’s son Julian Frampton, who also opened the evening with a half-hour set. Equally unanticipated was an encore medley of “You Had to be There” (penned for the 2000 “Almost Famous” soundtrack) and the title tune to one of Frampton’s most overlooked albums, 1980’s “Breaking All the Rules.” But the real surprise had to be “The Lodger,” a track from Frampton’s 1972 debut album “Wind of Change” that switched out the original version’s brassy instrumental coda for the show’s most dizzying guitar solo.
Finally, there was a hit that seems to have grown old gracefully with Frampton, 1973’s “Lines on My Face.” An inherently sad tune to begin with, last night’s version seemed like a requiem, a tale of loss balanced by almost sagely reflection. It was the evening’s truest example of how this acoustic incarnation of Frampton’s catalog sounded both invigorated and ageless.
sounded both invigorated and ageless.

in performance: manhattan transfer/take 6

Take 6 and Manhattan Transfer. Clockwise from left: Joey Kibble, Cheryl Bentyne, Alan Paul, David Thomas, Janis Siegel, Alvin Chea, Khristian Dentley, Claude McKnight, Trist Curless and Mark Kibble. Photo by John Abbott.

Take 6 and Manhattan Transfer. Clockwise from left: Joey Kibble, Cheryl Bentyne, Alan Paul, David Thomas, Janis Siegel, Alvin Chea, Khristian Dentley, Claude McKnight, Trist Curless and Mark Kibble. Photo by John Abbott.

Around the half way point of their robustly entertaining collaborative concert last night at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville, the Manhattan Transfer and Take 6 turned the tables on each other and began covering each other’s hits. Take 6, the longstanding vocal sextet, began by turning a snippet of the Transfer’s “Twilight Zone/Twilight Tone” medley into a a roots music mash-up that fell somewhere between gospel and doo-wop. The quartet-strong Transfer countered with Take 6’s “Mary,” replenishing the song’s spiritual swagger with a revival-esque fervor all its own. Back and forth it went until both ensembles settled into the vintage Transfer hit “Operator,” serving up a joyous gospel charge that spoke not just to the potency of the 10 vocalists onstage but to an endearing sense of camaraderie that made this combo platter concert, aptly dubbed “The Summit,” so enjoyable.
Though their respective repertoires over the decades have led both groups through myriad styles, the Transfer and Take 6 are, at heart, jazz groups with a deep affection for harmony cultivated through instrumentally leaning blueprints. The Tranfer’s mix of male and female vocalists operated as a horn section – sometimes overtly so, as in Janis Siegel’s trombone like scatting during “Straighten Up and Fly Right.” The all male Take 6 modeled itself on band designs favoring rhythm sections, whether it was through modern touches of beatboxing or bass singer Alvin Chea’s punctuated improvising, which was modeled closely on the rubbery tone of an acoustic double bass.
Sometimes such craftiness underscored glorious, keenly orchestrated collaborations, as in the sleek cool both groups provided the show opening “Killer Joe” In the other instances, specifically during the brilliant Gene Puerling arrangement of “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square,” such instrumental inclination underscored the singers’ artful command of harmony.
Both groups enjoyed fine moments apart from one another, as well. Take 6 nicely showcased its pop-soul preferences during a joyous take on Stevie Wonder’s “Overjoyed” that juggled vocal leads, vocal percussion and even a brief exhibit of instrumental color on keyboard and guitar (although the bulk of the program used the Transfer’s regular trio, led by longtime pianist Yaron Gershovsky). The Transfer’s solo highlight was unavoidably sentimental – a lovely, elegant performance of “Candy” dedicated to the memory of group founder Tim Hauser, who died in 2014.
But it was the collaborative moments, like Take 6 joining the Transfer for the final chorus of the latter’s career-defining hit “Birdland” or the exchanges the groups batted off each other during the encore version of “What I’d Say” that unlocked the potential of 10 voices in unison celebration. That’s where The Summit went over the top.

frampton comes alive acoustically

peter frampton.

peter frampton.

Having forever solidified his rock ‘n’ roll celebrity status with the release of “Frampton Comes Alive!” 40 years ago this past summer, one might suspect Peter Frampton would kick back a bit as a pop elder. But at age 66, the veteran guitarist and songwriter isn’t about to shut himself away and let his legacy speak for him.

Just look at the recordings he has released in the last decade alone. In 2006 came “Fingerprints,” an all-instrumental album that earned Frampton a Grammy. A platter of new original songs, “Thank You, Mr. Churchill,” followed in 2010. Then he co-produced a 2013 four-disc expansion of “Rockin’ the Fillmore,” Frampton’s landmark live album with Humble Pie, the band that directly prefaced his solo career. A collaboration with the Cincinnati Ballet resulted in 2014’s “Hummingbird in Box.” That brings us to his newest adventure, “Acoustic Classics,” the aptly named 2016 set of predominantly solo reworkings of hits (“Show Me the Way,” “Do You Feel Like I Do”) and assorted career gems (“Fig Tree Bay,” “Wind of Change”).

“My M.O., in general, is I want to play something tomorrow that I can’t play today,” said Frampton, who concludes his third “Raw – An Acoustic Tour” on Saturday at the Opera House. “I want to write something that has a structure, lyrically or musically, that I haven’t done before.”

An initial idea proposed to Frampton as a recording project was to simply re-cut his past hits for a new album, thus allowing him to own the rights to those versions of his work. Disinterested in simply repeating himself, the idea emerged to revisit some of his music in an acoustic setting and then offer them in a more intimate performance environment that allows him to share stories of the inspirations behind his compositions. But being essentially a child of rock ‘n’ roll, Frampton also found such a prospect a little, well, frightening.

“My management remarked that I’ve never done an all acoustic record and said, ‘What do you think?’ I said, ‘Well, there’s a reason for that. I’m scared to death of it.’

“Well, maybe not scared to death. But I was apprehensive. What became so enjoyable about playing acoustic, however, was how different the performances were. We’re playing in these theatres, anywhere from 900 to 1,600 seat places. It’s like being in a large living room. Say you came over for coffee one day and we were just talking and I said, ‘Hey, you want to hear this new song I wrote last night?’ Well, that’s the kind of performance I want to give everybody.

“So when I first started recording ‘Acoustic Classics,’ I thought, ‘Oh, this is just going to take a couple of days. Well, no. I did the first couple and went into the control room and listened. It sounded like me without the band, obviously, but it was like I was performing with the band in my head. So I want to go back to that moment, reverse engineer my songs, and return to one acoustic guitar and one voice. I even lowered the key just a semi-tone here and there so I don’t have to be so forceful, so the music can be much more intimate. I’m not going to be screaming the songs. I’m going to be singing them just as if I was on my own and it was a brand new song.”

Frampton won’t entirely go it alone on Saturday. Guitarist Gordon Kennedy will accompany him with son Julian Frampton, the show’s opening act, sitting in during some of the set.

“You know, I’m playing guitar more now than I was in my teens. It’s a passion that re-energizes itself. Playing guitar is the most important thing to me apart from my family.

“I was very young when I started it. It was something I was using to just hide away and do my thing. I was very shy when I was young, so that was the thing that got me through the night, as it were. And guess what? It still does.”

Peter Frampton performs at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 22 at the Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short St. Tickets: $95.50. Call 859-745-3000, 859-233-3535 or go to ticketmaster.com.

a transfer of harmony

cheryl bentyne of the manhattan transfer.

cheryl bentyne of the manhattan transfer.

The two groups are essentially a generation removed from each other with stylistically preferences that reflect sometimes markedly different inspirations. But Cheryl Bentyne didn’t take notice of that when she and the other members of the Manhattan Transfer began rehearsals with the singers from Take 6 for their current collaborative tour. Their alliance is, in all senses of the term, harmonious.

“I think what we bring differently to our performances is pretty obvious,” Bentyne said. “In the Transfer, have the four voices – two women and two men – that create a real horn section type sound. But with Take 6, there is this incredible, immediate harmony because they’re all men and they’re all singing within their own structure of ranges. It goes all over the scales. The groups are different, but we’re from the same mother of harmony.”

A blend of jazz and pop harmony with a largely unparalleled command of styles like vocalese (the singing of lyrics to tunes initially composed as instrumental works) made the Transfer – Bentyne, Janis Siegel, Alan Paul and Trist Curless – one of the most distinctive vocal groups of the past four decades. Vocalese was also a passion of group founder Tim Hauser, who died in 2014. Tonight’s Norton Center show will be the quartet’s first regional performance without him.

“Tim was kind of my father/brother figure when I came in into the group (in 1978),” Bentyne said. “He helped define my role by bringing songs for me as a soloist because I didn’t know exactly how I would fit in. They obviously knew how I would fit in, but I certainly didn’t. He had a lot of ideas for me and was always in my corner. He was absolutely insane with information, too. I think he had some kind of photographic or maybe phonographic memory. He had every song he had ever heard lodged somewhere in his brain, along with the B-sides of those records.”

Perhaps the definitive vocalese statement of the Transfer is “Birdland.” Composed by Josef Zawinul for his fusion band Weather Report in 1977, the song was recast with lyrics by Jon Hendricks (of the famed ‘50s/’60s vocal trio Lambert, Hendricks and Ross, seen by many as a precursor to the Transfer).

“I walked in for an audition with them one day in Los Angeles and sang a few songs. After that, we sat down and Janis played ‘Birdland’ for me, the Weather Report version, just to get my response. I said, ‘Oh my God, that’s a great song. You guys are going to sing that?’ So I was thrilled. Jon Hendricks wrote a story about Birdland and the history of jazz in New York City. When we got the lyrics, just pages and pages of them, it blew us away. Even before I was in the group, I don’t think they had done anything of that caliber. It took us quite awhile to break it down and start singing it. Now, it is our foundation piece.”

The song is also part of a musical legacy than has inspired numerous subsequent vocal groups, including Take 6.

“We were talking at dinner last night and Mark Kibble, who is Take 6’s arranger, spoke about seeing us when he was beginning one of his first vocal groups. Hearing that kind of gave us a sense of, ‘Yeah, we really did start something 45 years ago.’

“This group was Tim Hauser’s dream – a vocal group with two men, two women, based on the Count Basie sax section that sang all kinds of music. I think a music teacher told him that once you become categorized, you become disposable. So it was a conscious effort for us, and an easy one, to do all kinds of music with the basis of it always being harmony. We could do almost anything with harmony. We stretch out on all of our different styles because we can. With four voices and harmony you can do that.”

Manhattan Transfer and Take 6 perform at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 21 at Newlin Hall of the Norton Center for the Arts, 600 West Walnut St. in Danville. Tickets: $39-$65. Call 877-448-7469, 859-236-4692

or go to nortoncenter.com.

amanda shires embraces home

amanda shires. photo by josh wool.

amanda shires. photo by josh wool.

When Amanda Shires played a June 2015 performance at the Singletary Center for the Arts, she was in the company of three individuals who, to put it mildly, figure prominently in her personal and professional lives.

The first was her husband, Jason Isbell. That night, the immensely popular Americana songsmith was an unannounced guest but served strictly as Shires’ lone accompanist, a placement she had to re-iterate when an eager audience member shouted out to hear “Cover Me Up,” one Isbell’s more popular tunes. “If you want to request any of Jason’s songs, you’ll have to go his show tomorrow,” Shires replied. “In Chicago.”

The second was the evening’s headliner, John Prine. As a folk elder with a massive fan following that includes Shires and Isbell, Prine likes camaraderie. He invited Shires back to the stage during his set to sing “In Spite of Ourselves,” the title tune to a 1999 album of duets with female artists. Prine just released a sequel of sorts, “For Better, or Worse,” and enlisted Shires again to sing on “Dim Lights, Thick Smoke and Loud, Loud Music,” a barroom swing staple that, curiously, was never designed to be a duet.

Finally, there was her daughter Mercy Rose Isbell, who may have been in the house but had yet to make a formal entrance. Shires was still pregnant with her at the time. In fact, the Singletary show would be among her last before taking a sabbatical from the road to become a mom. It was during the interim period at home – along with the changes, thrills and worries that come with adding “parent” to one’s job description – that songs began to brew for her new “My Piece of Land” album.

“I was about 33 weeks pregnant and started having to go to more doctors’ appointments,” said Shires, who performs Saturday at The Burl. “Being on the road wasn’t the safest or healthiest thing to do in the late part of pregnancy, so I took some time off and stayed at home. While I was there, Jason was still touring, so I did all the things that kind of go along with the hormones and the pregnancy. I did so much cleaning and nesting, as they call it – everything from cleaning out the drawers to hanging up art in the garage, because the baby needs to see that when she comes home.

“I finished everything I could think of to do. I was left to face myself and face the real situation of bringing a child into the world with all the hopes and anticipation and, at the same time, all of the doubt and wondering about what kind of childhood she would have. All of a sudden, I started thinking about home and what that meant to me. Through that, I discovered, for me, how home isn’t at all my address. For me, home is with my friends and family. It doesn’t have to be defined by the four walls that I live in. While those walls are nice and I love them and I love to be at home, for me it’s about being together, sharing things together and making awesome memories together.”

That sentiment soars to the forefront on the closing tune to “My Piece of Land,” an atmospheric meditation called “You Are My Home,” a song of both solace and longing that moves along with slow, fervent solemnity. Then, roughly half way through, Shires picks up her favored musical weapon of choices, the violin, and tears into a solo that matches the jagged, electric intensity Isbell offers alongside her on guitar.

Unlike Shires’ last show here, Isbell’s presence will be his absence this weekend. He will be at home tending to parental duties while Shires digs into a three week tour that marks her longest time away from her daughter.

“I’m lucky to have Jason, who is just the ideal co-parent. But, honestly, I feel today a little bit like I’ve shot myself in the foot because I didn’t know what my limits would be in how long I could go without seeing Mercy. To be gone about 21 days without seeing her – that is a lot, and I’m just now internalizing that. I don’t think that’s ever going to happen again. I’m just pretty much praying I can get through it and set my limits and boundaries a little better next time. I’m not trying to go down a dark road or anything. She’s going to be fine, but she can’t ride in a van for a million hours a day. It’s barely bearable for adults, but it’s for the end goal. I want to work as hard as I can now so I can set her up better for the future.

“But, really, everything is going wonderfully. I feel super lucky and grateful that I get to do this for my job. I mean, I’m really a crappy waitress.”

Amanda Shires and Lilly Hiatt performs at 9 p.m. Oct. 15 at The Burl, 375 Thompson Rd. Tickets: $15, $18. Call 859-447-8166 or go to http://theburlky.com.

in performance: aoife o’donovan/willie watson

aoife o'donovan.

aoife o’donovan.

As her genre-defying trio performance headed for the home stretch last night at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville, Aoife O’Donovan lamented the fact that a six hour-plus drive today to her next gig in Memphis meant passing up an invited tour of the Bourbon Trail. As a means of commiseration, she offered up “Oh, Mama,” a song that saluted the liquid spirits in question before morphing into a sing-a-long that approximated a tipsy lament.

An American born songstress of Irish ancestry, O’Donovan was many things. Vocally, she was wondrously deceptive, ushering in a sense of delicate, hushed articulation (on the set-opening “Briar Rose”) that was regularly capable of flaring up to match the mightier electric atmospherics of guitarist Anthony Da Costa (especially during “The King of All Birds”). That resulted in an Americana sound dressed with an attractive ambience led by the more plaintive clarity of O’Donovan’s singing. Drummer Steve Nistor was as imaginative as Da Costa in designing the mix of atmospherics and understated Celtic rhythm that fleshed out the music. But quite often, the most delicate moments of the show were overpowered when Nistor’s playing turned rockish. You tended to notice that more when the drums were absent, as on “Donal Og.” Without such anchoring drive, the lighter textures of O’Donovan’s singing seemed to float.

willie watson.

willie watson.

This double-bill concert began with an hour long set by Willie Watson, who continued to perfect his persona as a modern day troubadour of very traditional folk music. Armed with six string guitar, five string banjo and a high tenor voice that switched out antique Americana’s prevalent sense of woe for an clear, almost sinister sense of cheer, Watson sounded unexpectedly gleeful in his slow-opening treatment of Leadbelly’s “Take This Hammer” and the largely murderous retribution staple “Rock Salt and Nails.” That the song’s very dark extremes were sung with the same temperament and gusto of the horse racing staple “Stewball” or the otherwise ribald “Keep It Clean” spoke directly to the kind of high spirits Watson employed to fashion such vintage music for modern ears.

O’Donovan and Watson joined forces for an encore to honor Bob Dylan, who made history earlier in the day by becoming the first songwriter to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. The headliners traded verses with Da Costa on “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” making all three sound like eager disciples of a suitably ageless folk muse.

 

a magic hour with aoife o’donovan

aoife o'donovan.

aoife o’donovan.

This time last fall, Aoife O’Donovan already had a pretty good idea of how 2016 would play out. She would release her second solo album, “In the Magic Hour,” in January. The rest of the year would be spent touring, promoting and, eventually, reinventing the record.

First up was the winter release of “In the Magic Hour,” a record that retraced the childhood remembrances of the Massachusetts born and New England Conservatory of Music schooled songstress. Much of the inspiration came from the summers she spent in Ireland, often with her grandfather, who had recently passed away at the age of 93. While O’Donovan’s initial music with the Boston band Crooked Still borrowed heavily from American folk and bluegrass, “In the Magic Hour” also incorporated the inherent influences of her family’s Irish heritage.

“My father is from Ireland and is a great lover of Irish art and of literature. There are even references on my record to a children’s book that was one of my dad’s favorites, an old Irish children’s book called ‘The Turf-Cutter’s Donkey.’

“I think the culture in Ireland, the culture of family, of music, of people getting together and singing – that was such a huge part of how I grew up, of my musical personality. It’s the community and camaraderie you get from playing music. I think putting that into original songs, into a singer-songwriter mold, kind of becomes its own thing. It can feel really trite if you’re not careful, so I really try to access some deeper emotions that other people can relate to in that way.”

With “In the Magic Hour” done, O’Donovan began plotting out a subsequent tour that would reposition the performance spotlight on her own music. Throughout her young career, O’Donovan has been a high profile collaborator with such disparate artists and acts as The Goat Rodeo Sessions (the genre-busting string group with Yo-Yo Ma and Chris Thile), I’m With Her (an all-star trio featuring Sarah Jarosz and Sara Watkins), Garrison Keillor and, in what she called “my most favorite project,” jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas. But for her 2016 tour, O’Donovan wanted a sound altogether different yet still her own, so she enlisted guitarist/bassist/vocalist Anthony da Costa and drummer Steve Nistor and hit the road as a trio.

“I really wanted to take myself out of my comfort zone and just play with some new people, if for no other reason than to just change things up. So I called Steve and asked if we wanted to do this tour with me. But I also wanted to really strip the music down and just have a trio. Then I ended up running into Anthony at a festival in Arkansas. I asked if wanted learn some stuff from my record to see if it worked for the stage. He showed up at my house a couple of weeks later having learned every single thing in my entire catalog – all the harmony parts, all the guitar parts.’ So that happened.

“We got together in December, made our TV debut on “CBS This Morning (Saturday)” after, like, one day of rehearsal and then went on tour. There was kind of an immediate musical history and it’s only improved. These guys have become such close friends of mine.”

The chemistry clicked so rapidly that O’Donovan has already released a concert album of from the tour titled “Man In A Neon Coat: Live From Cambridge.” Placing her in front of what was essentially a hometown audience, O’Donovan retooled the atmospheric Americana and folk from “In the Magic Hour” and her 2013 solo debut album “Fossils” along with covers of Emmylou Harris’ famed Gram Parsons eulogy “Boulder to Birmingham” and Joni Mitchell’s 1972 hit “You Turn Me On, I’m a Radio” to fit the lean but spacious sound of her trio.

“I was so impressed with how this trio was working to recreate the songs from the albums in a very different, new way, especially with Anthony’s singing and guitar playing, that I decided I wanted to make a live album. We recorded at the Sinclair in Cambridge because I grew up in the Boston area. I knew it would be a packed show with really great energy in a really great room. Then I called up Dave Sinko, who is an incredible engineer. For anybody who has seen a Punch Brothers show, he’s the guy who makes it sound great. He’s the best sound engineer ever. He flew up to meet us at the show, brought his recording rig and that was that. It could not have worked out better.”

Aoife O’Donovan and Willie Watson perform at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 13 at the Weisiger Theatre of the Norton Center for the Arts, 600 West Walnut St. in Danville. Tickets are $38, $49. Call 877-448-7469, 859-236-4692 or go to nortoncenter.com.

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