Archive for December, 2016

rocking the new year with the band’s “rock of ages”

the-band-rock-of-agesWith all the Thanksgiving ballyhoo surrounding the 40th anniversary of “The Last Waltz,” the all-star swan song concert by the original lineup of The Band, it is perhaps understandable how this weekend’s 45th anniversary of a series of New York performances the group gave that became “Rock of Ages” – still one of the most soulful and engaging concert recordings of, well, any age – is getting overshadowed.

In retrospect, “Rock of Ages” and “The Last Waltz” accomplished essentially the same thing. Both treated the art of performance as a hootenanny of sorts. On “The Last Waltz,” infatuated with the idea of a grand farewell, The Band went to work with a hefty celebrity guest list of contributors. On “Rock of Ages,” the party was more contained and combustible with Robbie Robertson, Levon Helm, Rick Danko, Richard Manuel and Garth Hudson being augmented by a five-man horn section playing sublime horn arrangements by the great Allen Toussaint. The latter’s charts also propelled “The Last Waltz,” but it’s on “Rock of Ages” where they were first unleashed, fashioning “Rag Mama Rag” into a barrelhouse breakdown and bolstering “Life is a Carnival” with a deep, punctuated groove.

The Band’s old boss, Bob Dylan, showed up for the final night (New Year’s Eve), as he did in “The Last Waltz,” even though recordings of his contributions were kept under wraps for over 40 years until a collection of concert out-takes were assembled and released as “Live at the Academy of Music 1971.”

The drive and rootsy integrity of “Rock of Ages” are cemented as soon as Helm guides the group through an album-opening “Don’t Do It” with a performance that transforms the largely overlooked 1964 Marvin Gaye hit into a barnstorming blast of brass and lean rock ‘n’ roll might. At the other end of the show, Hudson brings The Band down the home stretch with his calliope-like organ improvisation, dubbed “The Genetic Method,” that veers off into “Auld Lang Syne” in a bout of dizzy jubilance before collecting itself into the churning musical fireball that ignites “Chest Fever” and a loose encore reading of the 1958 Chuck Willis b-side “(I Don’t Want to) Hang Up My Rock and Roll Shoes.”

As a whole, “Rock of Ages” was a both a summation and celebration of The Band in a way that was far more unassuming than the more purposely artful “The Last Waltz.” That’s why the former will forever be the better record.

Four decades ago, “The Last Waltz” honored a career – well, a phase of it, anyway – that had ended. Five years before that, the shows that became “Rock of Ages” placed the still actively vital music of The Band in proper perspective by placing it onstage without the intrusion of sentimentality. It was instead, a chapter of business as regally usual. As a result, its performances rocked like mad. That the music sounds so fresh and alive this New Year’s Eve, is a testament for a record that remains of and for the ages.

 

the music of bond… james bond

hilary kole. photo by bill westmoreland.

Hilary Kole is hardly a Bond Girl is any conventional sense. But the toast of Manhattan’s most prestigious concert venues (among them, Carnegie Hall, by way of performances with the New York Philharmonic) and cabaret rooms (the famed Rainbow Room, which she began playing at age 21) unquestionably has a fondness for James Bond films. Her preferences, though, run to the music that has been as vital to the evolution of the long running spy movie series as the villainous plot twists, global locales, and, yes, glamorous women.

“You have all kinds of people from all different periods that have kind of bonded through Bond,” said Kole, who will celebrate New Year’s Eve by performing “Casino Royale: The Music of James Bond” with the Lexington Philharmonic. “I feel like its music for everybody.”

Philharmonic conductor and music director Scott Terrell concurs, citing not just the vocal compositions that have served as theme songs to Bond movies for over 50 years but the instrumental scores, especially those composed for the Sean Connery-era films from the 1960s by John Barry, as key to the continued success of the series and to Bond’s overall charisma.

“Great film music really sells us the character,” Terrell said. “But the music becomes yet another character on the screen, even though it’s not a spoken character. I don’t think the success of James Bond is as good without the music – at all, just as ‘Star Wars’ isn’t as good without John Williams. I’m sorry, it just isn’t going to work.

“But what’s interesting, particularly with ‘Goldfinger’ (the vanguard 1964 Bond movie, much of which is set in Kentucky) is how the music is really evocative of this particular era of the Bond movie. That’s Shirley Bassey (the singer who performed the theme, as well as those from two other Bond movies in the ‘70s) at her best. It draws a very strong image of the picture.”

The “Casino Royale” program is striking because is represents a parade of hits by predominantly female vocalists whose styles and temperaments reflect the many eras in which the Bond movies were made. Aside from Bassey, those singers include Nancy Sinatra, Carly Simon, Sheena Easton, Rita Coolidge, Gladys Knight, Tina Turner and, as recently as 2012’s “Skyfall,” Adele.

“You can’t really compare the originals,” Kole said, “My goodness, there are so many singers that have recorded these songs. So I don’t try to do that. I try to just be true to the song.  It’s always a fun thing for me to see how far I can push things, starting off with one tradition, going into rock ‘n’ roll and then the music of someone like Adele.”

Even though Kole plans on putting her own interpretative spin on the music, Terrell said the stylistic breadth of the songs, from the soft spoken pop of Marvin Hamlisch’s “Nobody Does it Better” (sung by Simon for 1977’s “The Spy Who Loved Me”) to the more brazen rock and soul of the U2 penned title tune to “Goldeneye” (recorded for the film by Turner) calls for a vocalist with an equally dynamic range.

“You need somebody like Hilary to tackle the variety and range of this music,” he said. “It’s a heavy lift, which she does really well. Plus, she is a very engaging personality both on an off the stage.

For Kole, the appeal of the Bond movies stems back to her childhood, although she confessed her father, Broadway actor and singer Robert Kole, was the bigger fan.

“My dad was a James Bond addict. I remember my parents watching the films and then getting to see them on television myself when I was very young. When I started researching for this show, I took another look at a lot of the films and was thinking, ‘Wow, they let me watch this?’”

Terrell also considers himself part of the Bond films’ enduring, cross-generational audience.

“I think Bond still has the same allure,” he said. “That’s ultimately it. It hasn’t lost its interest for any generation.

“Hey, I’m not going to lie. Whenever the next James Bond movie comes out, I will likely be there within the first week.”

Casino Royale: The Music of James Bond featuring the Lexington Philharmonic and Hilary Kole will be performed 7:30 p.m. Dec. 31 at the Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short. The concert is sold out.

critic’s pick: bob dylan, ‘the real royal albert hall concert’

Few artists, let alone folk icons, have so continually defied expectations surrounding their career trajectory, as well as those within the very stylistic foundation of their music, as Bob Dylan. He did it 50 years ago with a performance now issued as “The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert” and he did earlier this month in the quizzical way he non-acknowledged and then ultimately accepted, via proxy, the Nobel Prize in Literature.

In fact, the very title of “The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert” is a bit of a puzzle. An aural snapshot of a tour that reintroduced the folk giant as a rock ‘n’ roller, often to the considerable consternation of his audiences, the album puts into historical perspective the 1998 release dubbed “Live 1966: The ‘Royal Albert Hall’ Concert,” which was later revealed to have actually been recorded in Manchester.

Pop historians can and will argue at length about the virtues of both performances. They certainly have the ammo for it as “The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert” is a two-disc ambassador of a beastly new 36 disc box set, “The 1966 Live Recordings.” The latter is an assemblage of every known bootleg, soundboard and professionally preserved artifact from Dylan’s tour that year. But with a price tag of roughly $16 (the boxed set sells for about $140), “The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert” makes for a simpler yet still exact examination of a pop scholar in a state of extraordinary transformation.

What remains curious, all these years later, is that for all the ballyhoo about Dylan going electric, the first half of the 1966 concerts featured him in the familiar guise of solo folkie. In fact, some of the biggest treats within “The Real Royal Albert Hall Concert” come from the acoustic performances and the astonishing audio clarity they are now presented in. There is simply no way to understate the immediacy of an early ‘20s Dylan upholding the lean, patient vitality of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” “Just Like a Woman” and especially “Visions of Johanna” when all were essentially new works.

Of course, the electric music that roars out of the second disc remains the sound of very purposeful anarchy. Backed by The Hawks, the unit that would become The Band the following year, Dylan creates heavy drama out of the set opening “Tell Me, Momma,” wailing over the clang of a young Robbie Robertson on guitar and especially Garth Hudson’s calliope-like keyboard orchestration.

Levon Helm sat this tour out, but Mickey Jones nicely propels the drive on drums during cranky versions of “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” and “Ballad of a Thin Man.” But Dylan remains ringmaster of this fascinating carnival, clueing the London audience in prior to a rewired “I Don’t Believe You” on what his electric intentions were in 1966.

“It used to be like that,” he says with deadpan solemnity before reintroducing the song as a plugged-in country romp. “Now it goes like this.”

critic’s pick: kate bush, ‘before the dawn’

kate-bushIn the liner notes to “Before the Dawn,” Kate Bush admits to how she “never expected the overwhelming response of the audiences” to the 2014 stage show this three-disc live album chronicles. Maybe that’s because the songstress, one of England’s most celebrated progressive pop stylists, is also something of a Garbo when it comes to the stage. “Before the Dawn” preserves Bush’s first set of stage performances (it wasn’t really a tour, as all 22 shows were presented at London’s Hammersmith Apollo) in 35 years. So, yeah, overwhelming audience anticipation is pretty much a given.

The album’s mighty 2 ½ hour running time is divided into three “acts.” The first is essentially a warm up of unrelated songs from Bush’s last five studio albums (nothing on “Before the Dawn” predates 1984). The second and third discs are dominated by thematic suites from 1984’s “Hounds of Love” and 2005’s “Aerial.” The former, “The Ninth Wave,” is darker and more abstract, a song cycle as told by a woman stranded at sea. The latter, “A Sky of Honey” is an emotive opposite, a spring serenade dominated by light, art and birdsong.

Here is where things get interesting. Bush has long been such an exacting stylist that one might expect “Before the Dawn” to be an equally precise replication of her studio works with a tonnage of post production gloss administered to clean up the rawness of a live show. Well, there’s none of that. The album opening “Lily,” in fact, erupts with a wild and surprisingly immediate concert energy. Gone are the layers of synths and multi-dubbed vocals from the song’s initial version on 1993’s “The Red Shoes.” What we hear instead is a solemn guitar groove, the choir-like support of a vocal quintet and Bush’s robust singing, which towers over the pageantry. The same holds for “King of the Mountain,” an “Aerial” tune Bush powers with an incantatory wail that rises like a windstorm. Its siren potency is maintained until the song crashes into rounds of thunder and what sounds, for all the world, like the roar of elephants.

“The Ninth Wave” also has instances where the live intimacy sparkles. The most obvious is capped by “The Morning Fog,” a serenade of lovely acoustics that lets the sun pour in following the suite’s profound drama and darkness. “A Sky of Honey” has far more suggestions of organic approachability, especially in the way it morphs from churchy meditation into a flamenco-like acoustic party piece during “Sunset.”

The wildest thing, though, about “Before the Dawn” is that it is essentially a soundtrack to what was a very elaborate and theatrical stage presentation. But with the visuals gone, the focus remains on the music, which sounds simply glorious. We can only hope this live opus represents a prelude to a more sustained concert return for a true performance titan.

 

critic’s pick: kacey musgraves, ‘a very kacey christmas’

The inherent sweetness of Kacey Musgraves’ new holiday album “A Very Kacey Christmas” is revealed early on. During “Christmas Don’t Be Late,” the country music stylist transforms a nearly 60 year old pop relic into a spry country waltz with a hint of accordion providing a bordertown kick. The original version, of course, was popularized by Alvin and the Chipmunks and came loaded with kitsch. But Musgraves sings the song straight, embracing its childlike wonder and unavoidable innocence while discarding its campy extremes.

That, in a nutshell, is what “A Very Kacey Christmas” is all about and why it stands as one of the year’s more appealing new holiday recordings. Musgraves avoids carols and focuses strongly on the pop side of the season. But she also avoids the excess sentimentalism that country artists ladle onto Christmas music by the pickup truckload. Credit that to the mix of traditionalism, roots-consciousness and cunning that has made her one of the more refreshing young voices out of Nashville.

Four original tunes are served up on this holiday platter, the most immediately amusing being “A Willie Nice Christmas,” a clever collaboration with – who else? – Willie Nelson. The tune is played against a ukulele rhythm, creating a sense of tropical escape anchored by the promise to, with Willie’s help, “leave some special cookies for Santa.” Use your imagination.

That is about as far as adult innuendo extends on “A Very Kacey Christmas.” “Ribbons and Bows” is all hand-clapping, Ronettes-style girl group pop – a total vacation from anything Nashville oriented. On the flip side is “Christmas Makes Me Cry,” a waltz of lighter, more fanciful but also more purposely bittersweet design. Spliced emotively between the two is “Present Without a Bow,” a romantic encounter that falls between vintage country and soul with Leon Bridges serves as a suave ambassador of the latter.

The standards get an appealing makeover, too. “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” sparkles with colors of prairie-flavored pedal steel, percussive ‘60s orchestration and Musgraves’ wide eyed singing while “Feliz Navidad” surrenders to full Tex Mex treatment, joyous and gorgeously rhythmic.

Color me crazy, but the sentiments of “A Very Kacey Christmas” crystallize best during “I Want a Hippopotamus for Christmas.” Musgraves’ Nashville-meets-Dr. Seuss treatment of the 1953 novelty hit barrels along like a cartoon parade enriched by a sense of glee as genuine as it is unassuming. In keeping with the record’s mission of capturing and/or recreating a sense of secular childhood joy (Willie’s “special cookies,” notwithstanding), the performance nicely balances sentiments nostalgic and contemporary. And after the kind of year 2016 has turned out to be, who really wouldn’t want “to see my hippo hero standing there” on Christmas morning? I don’t know about you, but that’s the holiday gathering I want to be invited to.

critic’s pick: rolling stones, ‘blue & lonesome’

Sometimes you have to disconnect from your past in order to fully explore it. That’s what the Rolling Stones have done with “Blue & Lonesome,” its first studio album in 11 years. Instead of furthering its own storied history, the vanguard rock band looks back to the DNA of what made the blood flow through their songs in the first place. It’s the source material that co-founding Stones Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Charlie Watts (all in their 70s) and guitarist of 40-plus years Ron Wood (69) reach for on the album. Specifically, it’s the blues – music of simple compositional design steeped in a sense of soul so distinct and pervasive that anyone attempting such a style that is not fully versed in its emotional depth will simply come off as a pretender.

On “Blue & Lonesome,” the Stones are no pretenders.

Recorded in a period of three days with no overdubs and only modest auxiliary help (bassist Daryl Jones and pianist Chuck Leavell are the key contributors), this collection of 11 blues nuggets penned or popularized by Magic Sam, Little Walter, Otis Rush, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed and the like possess a spark that only comes from a band playing live. The Stones have almost never sounded like this on record – certainly not for the entirety of an album. There is no studio gloss, although the band never sounds scrappy. There is rawness, but the music still seems robust and complete. Above all, there is an alertness. You hear it in the ensemble gusto of Eddie Taylor’s “Ride ‘Em On Down,” a blast of Chicago blues swagger that blows in, blows up and blows away in under three minutes. But it’s as just as evident in the heavy vocal wail Jagger unleashes at the onset of the 1967 Magic Sam gem “All of Your Love” that slows the tempo, but not the Stones’ heavy blues sway. On the flip side, Willie Dixon’s “Just Like I Treat You” bounces around with pure juke joint glee, with the guitars of Richards and Wood rattling the music’s rhythmic cage. Throughout, though, it is drummer Watts that pilots these roots celebrations with a pulse and deep pocket groove that gives “Blue & Lonesome” much of its drive and emotive authenticity.

More than anything else, though, “Blue & Lonesome” is the sound of a band emancipated. Freed from the sense of commercial and critical expectation that comes with such a vast and chronicled history, the Stones honor immediacy on this almost impromptu blues soiree.

Who knows if we will ever hear another album of new Jagger/Richards songs, especially one that can hold its own with the Stones’ mighty legacy. If one doesn’t surface, take comfort in the fact that “Blue & Lonesome” will serve as one grand wrap party.

greg lake, 1947-2016

keith emerson (left) and greg lake, circa 1977. photo by neal preston.

keith emerson (left) and greg lake, circa 1977. photo by neal preston.

In the very early ‘70s, my key to the musical world around me was a pint sized transistor radio. From a technical standpoint, the sound it produced was, not surprisingly, tiny and tinny. But the sounds it brought to me, from the pop mainstream to the rock underground, were beyond nourishing. The discoveries I made, from local rogue stations playing album tracks in lieu of hit singles to late night reception of out of town stations like WCFL in Chicago, were many.

I remember one occasion well that involved the latter. It was early 1971 and WCFL was flowing in and out through waves of static during a thunderstorm. But it settled long enough for me to lock onto a voice singing a forlorn chorus followed by the low moan of an electric instrument I had never heard. The combination was dark but immediately arresting.

“Ooh, what a lucky man he was,” the song went. That was the chorus fading in from “Lucky Man” and my introduction to the singing of Greg Lake. The instrumental coda came from what I later found out was a Moog synthesizer, an altogether unknown beast at the time. That was my introduction to the music of Keith Emerson.

The first five albums Emerson and Lake recorded as trio with drummer Carl Palmer were a collective soundtrack for my adolescence. Their sound was unapologetically huge – arty and classical at times, but mostly just massive in way that was purely rock ‘n’ roll, only with keyboards subbing for guitars and the robustly clear singing of Lake, who died yesterday at the age of 69, as its prime point of commercial appeal.

ELP was a band that was either revered or reviled. There was no middle ground. Those that championed it were fiercely loyal to its representation of a prog sound that had somehow managed to gain commercial acceptance. Those that hated it seriously hated it – so much so that bands like ELP sat at the center everything the punk revolution sought to destroy when prog’s moment in the sun faded in the late ‘70s.

I didn’t discover Lake’s epic pre-ELP prog work – specifically, the 1969 debut album by King Crimson (“In the Court of the Crimson King”) until a few years after that faint reception of “Lucky Man” popped through on WCFL. In retrospect, the Crimson record is easily a stronger and more enduring work. But those early ELP albums were essentially companions of my youth, especially 1971’s “Emerson, Lake & Palmer,” 1972’s “Trilogy” and 1973’s “Brain Salad Surgery.” So, yes, nostalgia rules.

Laugh all you want, but the ELP records turned me on to Aaron Copland, to the structure of the bolero and to early advancements in electronic keyboards and percussion. Unfashionable? Of course. But part of one’s admiration of any art comes from knowing when something speaks to you even when critical evidence and popular acclaim suggest you’re in the wrong gallery.

Emerson died in March. Now Lake is gone, too. It’s a sad time of year to lose anything, especially a sound that befriended you in your teens and stay true during the stumbles of the “awkward years.” But to have had Lake and ELP in my corner then – and now, for that matter – creates a comfort that far outweighs loss.

To that end, I’m appreciative of what a lucky man I was.

in performance: joe bonamassa

joe bonamassa.

joe bonamassa.

It wasn’t until the halfway point of his 2 ¼ hour guitar manifesto last night at the Singletary Center for the Arts that Joe Bonamassa paused long enough to chat with the near capacity crowd.

There was business to tend to at this juncture, the concert’s only substantial break. The guitarist thanked the audience, his crew and his band of heavy hitters (which included longtime CBS Orchestra drummer Anton Fig, Double Trouble keyboardist Reese Wynans, heralded Nashville bassist Michael Rhodes and former Tower of Power trumpeter Lee Thornberg). But before any of that, there was some justifiable gloating to do over the announcement earlier in the day that Bonamassa’s newest recording, “Live at the Greek Theatre,” had received a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Blues Album. In giving the news a homey spin, Bonamassa acknowledged he learned of the honor not through the Recording Academy that oversees the Grammys, but via a message from his mother.

Outside of that little chat, Bonamassa was all business, wielding a guitar sound born out of the blues but fortified with an electric stamina that generously and frequently borrowed from rock ‘n’ roll. The show opening “This Train” began a five song selection of original compositions off of “Blues of Desperation,” a studio album released earlier this year. While some of these works called upon colors from Bonamassa’s seven-member band (a barrelhouse piano run by Wynans here, a Southern fried horn riff from Thornberg and saxophonist Paulie Cerra there), the music was driven by heavy, humid guitar grooves and one piledriver Bonamassa guitar solo after another.

The mood didn’t noticeably lighten until the show began veering into the “Three Kings” repertoire of “Live at the Greek Theatre” – specifically, songs popularized by guitarists Freddie King, Albert King and B.B, King. There was still a weight to Bonamassa’s treatment of these tunes, including a toughened version of “Never Make Your Move Too Soon,” a Crusaders-penned song B.B. King cut with a jazzy vibe in 1978. Bonamassa had none of that last night. His version let the guitars roar (both in his leads and in solid, propulsive rhythmic playing) before Thornberg and Cerra capped a pronounced party mood with brief but boisterous horn solos.

There were also a few detours into dynamics, as in the way a quartet version of Led Zeppelin’s “How Many More Times” veered from its expected aural thunder to a guitar solo of surprising sparseness and delicacy. But the full, tireless spirit guiding this performance was best showcased by an encore finale of “Hummingbird” that served as a double tribute. The song was popularized by B.B. King (who died last year) and written by Leon Russell (who died last month). Though still abounding with gusto, the work offered a more balanced vocal and ensemble blend, allowing Bonamassa to lighten ever so lightly his voluminous guitar sound. One had to imagine that making room to pay homage to two legends simultaneously demanded that.

 

the first wave of forecastle 2017

james murphy, chieftain of forecastle co-headliner lcd soundsystem.

james murphy, chieftain of forecastle co-headliner lcd soundsystem.

Start thinking summer, people. The 15th Forecastle festival in Louisville has just announced its “first wave” of acts for next year, a roster that includes Brooklyn dance rock/electronica troupe LCD Soundsystem, pop stylists Weezer and the electro pop duo Odesza.

Want more? Then plan on sets by Bowling Green-bred rock renegades Cage the Elephant, British pop-punk experimentalist PJ Harvey, soul/Americana sensations Nathaniel Rateliff and the Nightsweats, roots rock champion JD McPherson, veteran soul/funk brigade Charles Bradley and the Extraordinaires, Christian rockers Needtobreathe, rock/folk/Americana favorite Conor Oberst and Louisville’s own Twin Limb.

Forecastle will run July 14-16, 2017 at downtown Louisville’s 85 acre Waterfront Park. General admission weekend passes are on sale, just in time for holiday shopping needs, at $149.50 excluding ticketing fees. For more ordering information, go to forecastlefest.com.

Further performance bookings, schedules and single day ticket sales will be announced early in 2017.

king of the road

joe bonamassa.

joe bonamassa.

There is a credo printed on the inside cover art to Joe Bonamassa’s new “Live at the Greek Theatre” album. What it entails isn’t so much a philosophy but a practice, a four word summation of the guitarist’s life as a working musician.

“Always on the road.”

For Bonamassa, this is a simple truism. Since opening for B.B. King at the age of 12, he has amassed a critical reputation as a vanguard instrumentalist that is exceeded only by an even greater profile as a live performer, be it in a format of straight blues or through any number of side projects that veer into rock (Black Country Communion with Glenn Hughes, Jason Sherinian and Jason Bonham), jazz/funk (Rock Candy Funk Party) or collaborative blues/soul settings (with singer Beth Hart).

Add to that the number of live albums he has released chronicling his touring adventures (an astounding 10 since 2012) and there is little doubt Bonamassa indeed lives for – and on – the road.

“A lot of musicians make a record, do a tour and then they go away for four or five years,” said Bonamassa, who returns to Lexington for a Dec. 6 concert at the Singletary Center for the Arts. “That’s fine if that’s how you want to do it, but I come from the B.B. King school of touring where you make a record just so you can stay on the road.”

That’s why Bonamassa’s vast catalog of live recordings is peppered with studio albums, the works he promotes on tour and, ultimately, the products of what his touring life brings him. His newest is “Blues of Desperation,” an hour long set of original compositions released in March that displays a broad dynamic range of the blues, from barnstorming guitar excursions to comparatively meditative pieces.

“I wanted to do another original record,” the guitarist said. “It’s been great for me to rediscover songwriting. I kind of had a few years of dormancy where I wasn’t inspired to write as much. It’s nice to get back into it and create your own world again. It’s a lot of fun.”

Music from “Blues of Desperation” will constitute roughly half of the Singletary Center show. Much of the rest will be devoted to the repertoire from “Live at the Greek Theatre.” Don’t let the somewhat unrevealing album title fool you. This isn’t a standard revisit to older, familiar music. Instead, Bonamassa fronts an 11 member band on the record boasting horns, backing vocalists and, most importantly, songs drawn exclusively from careers of the guitar-slinging Three Kings of blues music – Freddie King, Albert King and B.B. King.

“Those are the cats,” Bonamassa said. “That’s where the DNA is written in my world. I don’t think 10 years ago I could have done something like this. I just don’t think it would have been in my wheelhouse to pull it off, vocally or musically. I mean, I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish with an 11 piece band. I mean, 10 or 15 years ago, the fact that I had 11 people in my whole crew on the road was an undertaking much less an 11 piece band. We’re traveling now with an eight piece band including two great singers and two horns. It’s been great. To have that big sound is really important because those guys had big bands. Those guys had big show bands. So this is an honor. I’ve always wanted to have a big band on the road.”

The ensemble – which includes former CBS Orchestra/David Letterman drummer Anton Fig, Stevie Ray Vaughan keyboard alumnus Reese Wynans and veteran trumpeter Lee Thornburg (all of whom are scheduled to perform with Bonamassa at the Singletary) – also allows the guitarist to explore the stylistic differences within the music of the Three Kings, from Freddie’s muscular guitar tone to Albert’s soul/blues fondness to B.B.’s gifts as an instrumentalist, bandleader and, especially, vocalist.

“Freddie was the firecracker of the three. Albert was the soul man and B.B. was the blues. It was harder to find songs of Freddie’s. We tried to stay away from the well worn paths, but it was also one of these things where we wanted to get deep into the catalog to some of Freddie’s pre-vocal era, into the Shelter years (referring to the label Freddie cut a trio of superlative albums for during the early ‘70s) and beyond. Albert was soul based, straight up, and B.B. was a shouter. B.B. had, arguably, to me, the best of the three voices. But that’s like saying, ‘What’s better, a Ferrari or a Ferrari?’”

The record and tour also boast another, more unintended tribute. Among the B.B. King recordings they cover is a soul-steeped, quietly combustible tune initially cut by the blues giant in 1970 called “Hummingbird.” Its composer was the great song stylist Leon Russell, who died last month.

“At first, I wasn’t so keen on doing it. Kevin (Shirley, Bonamassa’s long time producer) kept telling me, ‘You’ve got to try it.’ Then as soon as we got an arrangement of it, I was, ‘Oh, man. This is the best thing we’ve done in a long time.’ It’s a beautifully written song, but a quirky song. It works, though. We close our show with it every night. I would like to close with something more uptempo, but you can’t follow that song. That’s a tribute to the writing, to the bigness of it.”

Joe Bonamassa performs at 8 p.m. Dec. 6 at the Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose St. Tickets: $89-$125. Call 859-257-4929 or go to finearts.uky.edu/singletary-center/joe-bonamassa.


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