Archive for January, 2017

u2 adds june 16 date in louisville to ‘joshua tree tour’

u2: larry mullen jr., adam clayton, the edge and bono. photo by anton corbijn.

Just when it looked like U2’s stadium-only Joshua Tree Tour was going to bypass the region completely this summer, word has been confirmed of a Louisville visit. The framed Irish band has just announced a June 16 date at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. OneRepublic will open.

Tickets will go at 10 a.m. Feb. 3 through livenation.com. Prices range from $35 to $280.

The performance marks U2’s first Kentucky performance since a Derby Eve concert at Rupp Arena in 2001. As the tour name suggests, the band’s summer trek will celebrate the 30th anniversary of what remains it best-selling album, “The Joshua Tree.” Over 1.1 million tickets have already been sold for the tour.

“The Joshua Tree” has sold an estimated 25 million copies, yielded several career defining hits including “With or Without You” and “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.” A 1987 tour for the album brought U2 to Rupp for the time that October.

While U2 has seldom played the region outside of its Rupp concerts, the band made its Kentucky debut at Louisville Gardens in 1981 as an opening act for the J. Geils Band.

Showtime for the June 12 stadium show will be 6:30. For more information, go to www.u2.com.

critic’s pick: tift merritt, “stitch of the world”

There is a wonderfully emotive and stylistic shift roughly three quarters of the way through Tift Merritt’s new “Stitch of the World” album so pronounced that it’s a wonder the eruption doesn’t register on the Richter scale.

It begins as the contemplative “Icarus,” a tune less about mythologic happenstance and more about personal healing, lulls you in. First there is the plaintive tone of Merritt’s singing and piano, a ghostly reflection of longing that has permeated much of her Americana-and-more music over the past decade. Enter then guitarist Marc Ribot and pedal steel pro Eric Heywood to accent the song’s mood. But once all that settles in, the introspection implodes and the jagged electric strut of “Proclamation Bones” takes its place with a booming balance of doom and chance (“the fate of man is still unclear, so why don’t you come meet me here tonight”), usurping the album’s settled ambience for an all out electric jamboree.

Those are just two of the highpoints of “Stitch of the World,” a record Merritt formulated in the midst of a personal crossroads that included a divorce and the impending birth of her daughter as well as a series of artistic collaborations with classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein and pop stylists Andrew Bird and M.C. Taylor. Adding to the scope of “Stitch of the World” was co-production help from Iron and Wine chieftain Sam Beam.

What all this boils down to is a fascinating album that is just that – a scrapbook of sounds, feelings and narratives as opposed to a conceptual song cycle, which many recordings, often unintentionally, come across as. “What strikes me most when I am writing these days is the changing nature of things,” Merritt states in her self-scribed bio for the “Stitch of the World.”  “Sometimes sex matters deeply, sometimes family eclipses all; sometimes aloneness is hell, sometimes it is a refuge.  Sometimes hometowns are constricting; sometimes they are a sight for sore eyes.”

That helps explain the quietly anthemic and affirmative stance of “My Boat” (one of several tunes on the record that reflects the tone and temperament of Emmylou Harris), the jangly, foot stomping charge of “Dusty Old Man” and the deceptive serenity that envelopes the closing three songs (“Something Came Over Me,” “Eastern Light” and especially “Wait for Me”) that prominently feature Beam.

Unsettling yet graceful, poignant yet plaintive, folkish in reflection yet unapologetically giddy in electric attitude, “Stitch of the World” is a grand pastiche. But despite the seeming disparity, Merritt emerges in full command of the beautiful yet troubled civilization she has stitched together.

butch trucks, 1947-2017

butch trucks.

Take all the stereotypical images of the rock ‘n’ roll drummer instilled through the decades – especially the ones that stressed bravado and Spinal Tap-level theatrics over taste, timing and talent – and then flip them. Among the artists you are likely to find on the other side is Butch Trucks.
For 45 years, Trucks occupied one of the two drum chairs in the Allman Brothers Band. From its inception in 1969 to its final dispersal in 2014, he was a deceptively quiet partner in a tight knit pack of mavericks that meshed Southern blues, rock, swing, country and jazz into a sound that spawned successive generations of imitators. The headlines always went to the figurehead players – namely, singer Gregg Allman or the succession of remarkable guitarists passing through the ranks that included founder Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Warren Haynes and the drummer’s heralded nephew, Derek Trucks. Aside from brother Gregg, the elder Trucks was the only player to serve in every incarnation of the band.
But listen to the Allmans’ studio or numerous live recordings and what you heard was a remarkable contrast to the machismo beats and grooves that dominated mainstream rock then and now. Trucks’ playing, like that of longtime Allmans co-hort Jaimoe, fell into an easier stride. It seemed more jazz-rooted than anything, pinpointing a shuffle or bit of swing and then leading it more by instinct than technique.
Wonderful cases in point: the light but relentless percussive groove that glides along with “Dreams” on the Allmans’ self-titled 1969 debut album, the subtle acceleration that pumps into action during 1972’s “Les Brer in A Minor” and the seemingly docile rhythm that whips itself into a slide-savvy frenzy during the crescendo of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” (especially the 1973 live version, a decidedly jazzy revision with Chuck Leavell on keyboards).
Sure, Trucks got plenty of room to solo during the increasingly long jams that became prevalent throughout the band’s later years. But like all truly great drummers, regardless of genre or generation, he was at his best when others were at the helm. A star he wasn’t. Trucks was instead the engine driver, an unassuming but assertive percussive force within a legendary band and sound.

jason isbell to play eku center on april 21

jason isbell.

Need another reason to think spring during the dead of winter? How about the announcement of a concert by Jason Isbell? The Grammy winning Americana celeb will perform on Friday, April 21 at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond.

Isbell’s profile as a songwriter, guitarist, vocalist and bandleader has grown steadily over the past decade. It began after the release of 2006’s “A Blessing and a Curse,” his final recording as a member of the celebrated Georgia rock troupe Drive-By Truckers. Isbell’s solo career has largely been played out in front of Lexington audiences since then.

Following the release of his 2007 debut album, “Sirens of the Ditch,” Isbell played an in-store set at CD Central followed by a headlining show at the now-demolished Dame location on Main. That and the now-defunct Buster’s on Manchester would remain near annual touring stops for Isbell up through the release of 2014’s “Southeastern.”

Isbell moved over the Singletary Center for the Arts in June 2015 for a surprise appearance alongside wife and fellow Americana stylist Amanda Shires, who was opening a sold out performance for John Prine. That set the stage for the summer release of Isbell’s Grammy winning “Something More Than Free” in July and a Rupp Arena appearance as show opener for the Avett Brothers that September.

From my review of the Rupp concert: “As his set headed for home, Isbell stepped out on guitar for extended solos during Never Gonna Change and the uproarious snapshot of past life decadence Super 8. The resulting music possessed the swagger and electricity of vintage Tom Petty but ultimately rocked with a confidence Isbell could clearly call his own.”

Pre-sale tickets for the Friends of the EKU Center begin at 11 a.m. Jan. 24. Public sales start at 11 a.m. Jan. 27. Tickets are $30-$65 through Etix at 800-514-3849 and www.ekucenter.com. Showtime for the April 21 performance will be 7:30 p.m.

critic’s pick: grateful dead, “the grateful dead: 50th anniversary edition”

Given the Grateful Dead’s cross generational popularity and influence as a jam band forefather, its recorded history has been far more extensively chronicled through a library of concert recordings than its studio work. So it is immensely refreshing to find a new Rhino Records reissue campaign starting, in effect, at the beginning with the band’s self-titled 1967 debut album. A new double-disc edition of “The Grateful Dead” comes to us two months shy of the 50th anniversary of the record’s original release date.

What you hear in the newly remastered tracks of “The Grateful Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition” may surprise fans familiar only with the countless live recordings documenting the band’s ensuing years. Within the album’s nine tunes is the sound of an understandably youthful troupe steamrolling through music rooted in pop. Unlike even the Dead’s considerably trippier second and third albums (1968’s “Anthem of the Sun” and 1969’s “Aoxomoxoa”), “The Grateful Dead” uses a set of largely jubilant, elemental tunes to essentially introduce itself.

Sure, trademark sounds defining its later music are already in abundance, especially the darting, jubilant guitar work of Jerry Garcia and the shades of psychedelia provided by organist Ron “Pigpen” McKernan. But mostly, there is a giddiness to this early music that the band quickly shed as it evolved. Such a spirit is most readily evidenced in tunes like “Cold, Rain and Snow,” which would remain in the Dead’s performance repertoire throughout its career, and the blues chestnut “Sitting on Top of the World.” Both sound less like the works of a jam-savvy unit and more the product of a youthful beat combo. “New, New Minglewood Blues,” in particular contrast to its later and sometimes more labored concert revisions, sounds like the catalyst for a hullabaloo. Ditto for “Cream Puff War,” which Garcia and McKernan pilot as though the music was rafting through the rapids

There are also suggestions of what was to come. “Morning Dew” is slowed to a psychedelic cool that brings the Dead more in line with such San Francisco co-horts as Jefferson Airplane to remind us “The Grateful Dead” was, in fact, first released in 1967. The clincher, though, is “Viola Lee Blues,” which starts as a renegade party piece before blooming into a groove that lets Garcia loose for a furious jam that stretches the tune out to 10 minutes.

“Viola Lee Blues” is also the centerpiece of the second disc that comprises “The Grateful Dead: 50th Anniversary Edition” – namely a previously unreleased recording of a Vancouver concert from July 1966. This snapshot from the band’s early days has Garcia and Bill Kreutzmann (then the band’s lone drummer) guiding a deliciously ragged jam within the tune that underscores the true dawn of the Dead.

in performance: rene marie and experiment in truth

rene marie. photo by john abbott.

After an extended suite-like composition called “Lost” took her from bossa-driven bass to subtle swing to multiple codas of the blues, jazz songstress Rene Marie took a moment at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville last night to collect her thoughts and catch her breath. While regrouping, she encouraged patrons to ask questions of her band.

“Where did you all meet?” was one query.

Marie answered in a deadpan whisper, a marked contrast to the steady exuberance she displayed during the one hour, 45 minute performance. “In a bar.”

The audience, almost expectedly, laughed at the matter of fact reply. Though it turned out to be the truth, the fact such an alliance was struck up so casually seemed to fly in the face of the music that wound up on display. Indeed, among the many extraordinary aspects of the concert was the musical symmetry Marie shared with pianist John Chin, bassist Elias Bailey and drummer Quentin E. Baxter, collectively known as Experiment in Truth. All were accomplished instrumentalists who drove the music’s giddiest extremes, the most buoyant of swing passages and the most intimate levels of phrasing. But it was how all four players clicked together that triggered the biggest and most natural fireworks.

You heard it in the way Chen’s bright, artful solo complimented Marie during “If You Were Mine.” It surfaced regularly in the fat, rubbery bass sound Bailey conjured at the onset of “Stronger Than You Think.” Similarly, such simpatico was apparent in the summery, percussive support Baxter designed for the Italian homage “Certaldo.”

Marie, of course, was always the ringleader. A singer of considerable range, she was not a belter, choosing instead to cater her crisp vocals to the songs’ specific emotive casts. The combustible confessions at the heart of “Go Home,” for instance, took passages of hushed vocal grace to bursts of high register desperation. But for the finale of “Joy of Jazz,” her bright and beautifully clear tone matched the trio’s South African inspired groove.

It should be noted that with the exception of a gorgeous take on Duke Ellington’s “Solitude,” which was included as a eulogy for her mother-in-law who died earlier yesterday, the concert was devoted exclusively to original material from Marie’s 2016 album, “Sound of Red,” which is up for a Grammy Award next month.

To offer a repertoire of largely unfamiliar compositions was an atypically bold move for a singer devoted to straight up jazz. But the resulting performance was so technically and emotively engrossing that Marie’s songs quickly became as accessible as the obvious simpatico the singer shared with her remarkable band.

Not bad for a bunch of artists who met in a bar.

 

critic’s pick: john abercrombie quartet, “up and coming”

It’s tough to miss the magic John Abercrombie conjures late into his splendid new “Up and Coming” album when the familiar melody of Miles Davis “Nardis” surfaces. The tune, essentially reinvented by the iconic pianist Bill Evans, assumes an almost meditative stance when Abercrombie reconfigures it again on guitar. The resulting sound is equally recognizable, as his playing has been integral to the music promoted by the celebrated ECM label for much of its history. Still, this embrace of a tune so readily associated with piano may initially seem a little foreign, especially given the spaciousness Abercrombie applies to it. But this interpretation doesn’t merely provide insight into the re-imagining of a jazz standard, it unlocks a dichotomy between piano and guitar that makes “Up and Coming” so captivating.

Abercrombie has long thrived in the company of keyboardists, from the raw exchanges with Jan Hammer that propelled “Timeless,” the guitarist’s 1974 debut album for ECM, to an astounding set of albums featuring Richard Bierach (reissued by ECM in 2015 as a box set collection called “The First Quartet”). But outside of an overlooked ‘90s trio with organist Dan Wall, keyboards of any kind have been largely absent from Abercrombie recordings in recent decades.

That changed when pianist Marc Copeland was enlisted to join bassist Drew Gress and longtime drummer Joey Baron on 2013’s sublime “39 Steps.” Copeland is hardly a new find. He and Abercrombie first played together during the early ‘70s in drummer Chico Hamilton’s band. The two have also recorded regularly in duo, trio and quartet settings led by Copeland.

The album title then seems quite fitting as “Up and Coming” reflects a sound created by longstanding like minds. That’s probably because the music Abercrombie and Copeland create is so complimentary in tone and spirit, continuing the guitarist’s shift to a lighter, more lyrical sound created by playing mostly with his thumb in lieu of a pick.

Though the mood is often contemplative throughout “Up and Coming,” there is always a lovely unsettled sentiment to Abercrombie’s playing, which is mirrored with eerie simpatico by Copeland on the dreamscape intro to “Sunday School.” The piano melody drifts with a wary, dark uncertainly before guitar gently pulls the music in out of the cold, warming it next to the full quartet’s subtle but glowing stride.

Copeland sounds almost stoic as the album opens, creating an understated solemnity slowly accented by Abercrombie and sparse percussion fills from Baron. That it glides with spacious uncertainty provides a marked contrast to the tune’s title – “Joy.”

Curiously, the album’s inviting lightness harkens back the early days of ECM’s quietly pastoral music, but not necessarily to Abercrombie’s initial work. On “Up and Coming,” the guitarist reaches a quiet, assured and beautifully unhurried plateau. It may breeze along with a Pat Metheny-like lilt on the album closing “Jumbles” or chill within the airy introspection of “Tears.” Either way, Abercrombie adorns the music with the elegance of a stylist who has remained altogether down with being up and coming.

in performance: david parmley and cardinal tradition

david parmley performing last night at meadowgreen park music hall in clay city. herald-leader staff photo by rich copley.

The typically inviting environment of Meadowgreen Park Music Hall in Clay City was even more intimate than usual last night. The combination of single digit temps and a televised University of Kentucky basketball game likely kept away many of the faithful that usually devote Saturday nights to live bluegrass music at the venue. All we can say is being homebodies was their loss. Last night offered the return of David Parmley. The veteran guitarist and singer has been off the road since 2008 but returned last year with a ensemble full of sterling singing and scholarly instrumental fire called Cardinal Tradition.
The name references the great Bluegrass Cardinals, the band Parmley toured in beginning at age 17 with his father. Cardinal Tradition built upon the former group’s sterling vocal blend with Parmley’s deep tenor leads coloring the Louvin Brothers’ “Are You Missing Me” (with harmonies provided by bassist Ron Spears and mandolinist Doug Bartlett) and Lefty Frizzell’s “I Never Go Around Mirrors.”
Cardinal Tradition also sported a profoundly clean and confident instrumental charge underneath all the vocal firepower. That was especially impressive given how the band’s fiddler Steve Day was sidelined only days earlier by a back injury. In his place was Steve Douglas, whose credits included tenures with such bluegrass stalwarts as Jim & Jessie and the Osborne Brothers, along with a legion of country music notables. His playing was as robust as it was effortless. But what was most astonishing was when Bartlett switched from mandolin to fiddle, providing Cardinal Tradition with a twin string sound that deftly navigated the treacherous traditional turns of “Monroe’s Hornpipe” and glided crisply through the Texas country lyricism of Bob Wills’ “Faded Love.”
Need more reasons to count Parmley and his band as the great new traditionalists of bluegrass? Then toss in Dale Perry’s deft turns on banjo during “Cripple Creek,” the patiently paced balladry of Randall Hylton’s “32 Acres” and perhaps the cheekiest version of “Long Black Veil” you’ve ever heard, with the verses staying true to song’s dark stoicism and harmonies illuminating a giddy undercurrent that enforced Cardinal Tradition’s resilient band spirit.

critic’s picks: bruce springsteen, ‘chapter and verse’ and robbie robertson, ‘testimony’

Two new single-disc anthologies by Bruce Springsteen and Robbie Robertson might initially seem like little more than footnotes to storied careers. Yet both serve the same specific and somewhat unexpected designation of “companion” albums to autobiographies each artist published late last year. As such, both are primer sets dominated by familiar hits but colored by nuggets from formative days that set the pace for the fame that followed.

Springsteen’s “Chapter and Verse” opens with five unreleased tracks, all of which predate his 1972 debut album “Greetings from Asbury Park, N.J.” The first few are fairly rudimentary bar band romps, although a primal sounding cover of Bo Diddley’s “You Can’t Judge a Book by the Cover,” dicey as the recording quality may be, forecasts the stage fury Springsteen was already capable of.

Curiously, it’s a solo acoustic tune called “Henry Boy” that best foretells the coming of The Boss, both in its circus-like wordplay and sense of restless fantasy. That it shares so much in common with songs that would soon surface on “Asbury Park” (especially “Blinded by the Light”) is no coincidence. Still, it’s a fascinating preview of the Jersey drive that propelled Springsteen into epics like “Growin’ Up,” “Badlands” and even much later works like “Wrecking Ball” that flesh out the rest of “Chapter and Verse.”

Robertson’s “Testimony” is especially curious. While it doesn’t boast any unreleased music, the album gathers songs that stray considerably from his vanguard recordings with The Band. As such, much of “Testimony” will seem new even to ardent fans.

The scope “Testimony” covers is considerable. Three songs peel back the years to Robertson’s early ‘60s tenure with The Hawks, initially as a backup unit for Ronnie Hawkins, via the Southern fried blues and pop of “Come Love” and then with more autonomously executed tunes with Levon Helm as de facto leader. The latter entries, “I’m Gonna Play the Honky Tonks” (with a sublimely ragged vocal from Richard Manuel) and the more soul infatuated “He Don’t Love You” (with a similarly realized vocal from Rick Danko), set the stage for The Band.

After a sampling of music from The Hawks’ tutelage under Bob Dylan and then The Band’s heyday (the latter of which is highlighted by a revealing piano demo version of the forgotten “Twilight”), “Testimony” wades through Robertson’s underappreciated solo career, from the Daniel Lanois-produced “Somewhere Down the Crazy River” to the ambient chill of the album closing “Unbound.”

There you have it – two brilliant rock ‘n’ roll histories distilled into a pair of 70-plus minute retrospectives. While both luxuriate in the hits, the albums’ exploration of career corners well outside the spotlight reveal intentions that, despite the obvious marketing plans, hardly go by the book.

in performance: lexington philharmonic with hilary kole.

hilary kole.

hilary kole.

The James Bond mood at last night’s sold out “Casino Royale” performance by the Lexington Philharmonic was placed into action as soon as the lights dimmed at the Opera House. Instead of the usual stoic calls for silenced cell phones, a recorded voice identifying itself as Bond superior “M” informed patrons their “assignment” was to cease all use of “world altering or covert electronic devices.”

Of course, in the fully realized world of 007, the absence of gadgetry would mute the fun factor greatly. But as it was, the concert’s mission of paying tribute to the scores and hit theme songs from the 55 year old spy movie series offered ample intrigue. Aided by New York vocalist Hilary Cole, the program covered music from nearly the entire Bond canon, from 1963’s “From Russia with Love” to 2012’s “Skyfall,” tracing with it a considerable slab of pop history.

First things first. The orchestra sounded splendid. In what may be one of the few exclusively pops oriented concerts since conductor/music director Scott Terrell’s arrival at the Philharmonic, the orchestra revealed an impressive grasp of drama and dynamics. This was most evident in instrumental works that delved far beyond the obvious pop themes of Bond films into the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s scores of John Barry. For instance, “Ski Chase,” which was essentially a variation of the theme to 1970’s “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” employed a simple, repetitive melody that steadily brought out deeper shades of colors from the winds and strings as it progressed. Ditto for “Dawn Raid at Fort Knox,” a bolero-like manipulation of the theme music from the 1964 Bond epic “Goldfinger.”

Barry’s music has been so pervasive in Bond culture that it was intriguing last night to hear fragments of it pop up in later themes he didn’t compose, like 1989’s “License to Kill,” which directly lifted the horn line from the “Goldfinger” theme.

Cole proved to be a serviceable, amiable but ultimately unremarkable singing presence. She revealed lovely tonality and phrasing, especially in some of the more formulaic theme songs (“For Your Eyes Only,” “Nobody Does it Better”) but was either under amplified or, more likely, simply not in possession of the kind of vocal firepower needed to sell and bolster “Goldfinger” or the more rock and soul inclined themes to “Live and Let Die” and “Goldeneye.” Also, her between song chat, good natured as it was, was often scattered or, in some cases, inaccurate. For instance, Shirley Bassey didn’t sing two Bond themes, as Cole stated, but three – “Goldfinger,” “Diamonds are Forever” and “Moonraker.”

Still, this was a grand idea for an audience-friendly pops program from the Philharmonic. One hopes this New Year’s Eve tradition, now in its third year, will continue not only as an alternative to the orchestra’s rigorous classical repertoire, but as a reflection of its considerable stylistic breadth.

 


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