Archive for September, 2017

in performance: john doe

John Doe. Photo by Autumn DeWilde.

When you have spent the last four decades anchoring what has been one of the most celebrated punk rock bands to emerge from the West Coast, a degree of stereotyping is perhaps unavoidable. But what John Doe managed to do last night during an intimate solo acoustic concert at the Green Lantern was affirm what his career outside of the punk brigade X taught us long ago – that under the rock ‘n’ roll exterior is an artist with a far reaching affinity for folk, country and roots music capped by a singing voice reflecting ageless clarity and strength.

Those wanting X tunes got a few treats – namely, “The Have Nots,” “The New World” and an encore of “Poor Girl.” All might have been sonically tempered by the unplugged setting, but none lost their urgency, especially the way blue collar angst still percolates within “The Have Nots” (“Dawn comes soon enough for the working class”).

But the more aggressive moments of the set actually came from newer tunes off of Doe’s 2016 Arizona folk-rock sojourn “Westerner.” “Get on Board” chugged along with a lean, rootsy assuredness mirrored by lyrics emphasizing a shared destination for all passengers (“There’s no VIP or platinum reserved, ‘cause everybody’s on board this train”). For sheer stamina, though, the “Westerner” tune “My Darling, Blue Skies” proved the most arresting rocker of the evening by breaking free of any acoustic stigma to trigger a Bo Diddley-worthy drive.

The rest of the program was fascinating mix of Doe originals (a neatly scaled back “A Little Help”), covers (a powerfully emotive take on the Replacements gem “Here Comes a Regular” that led into a nicely roughed up reading of Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You”) and folk-directed staples cut by the X-spinoff troupe The Knitters (a suitably disquieting version of the murder ballad “Little Margaret” and the show closing encore of the Dave Alvin co-write “The Call of the Wreckin’ Ball”).

But the most moving moment of the performance came when Doe addressed his participation in the Harry Dean Stanton Fest, the event that brought him to Lexington in the first place. In tribute, he performed the lovely “Cancion Mixteca,” a century old Mexican folk song Stanton sang in the career-defining, Wim Wenders-directed film “Paris, Texas.” The song was topical not just for its connection to the Kentucky-born film actor, but for its sense of cultural displacement. In Doe’s hands, though, it was simply a loving tribute from a punk rocker who could sing soft without going soft.

John Doe will participate in a Q&A session following a free screening of “Slam Dance” as part of the Harry Dean Stanton Fest at 3 p.m. today (Sept. 30) at the Farish Theater of the Lexington Public Library, 140 E Main.

harry dean, cop cars and dodgers dates: the punk rock odyssey of john doe

John Doe.

John Doe got to know Harry Dean Stanton the old fashioned way – in the back of a police car.

No, the veteran Los Angeles punk rocker, actor and author didn’t connect with the late Kentucky born film celebrity through any untoward activity. Both were actually gaining experience for roles as policemen in Wayne Wang’s 1987 movie “Slam Dance,” which will be screened Saturday at the Farish Theatre as part of the Harry Dean Stanton Fest. Doe will also perform a solo concert covering music from throughout his 40 year career, including songs cut with the vanguard Los Angeles band X, tonight at the Green Lantern.

“We worked six, maybe, eight weeks on ‘Slam Dance,’” Doe recalled. “We did a lot of ride-alongs with homicide cops to figure out what they were all about. That was both intriguing and frightening because their world view has to be kind of skewed since they’re dealing with criminals a lot of the time and dealing with the aftermath of things gone very wrong.

“But then I asked Harry Dean to play music with me at this club in L.A. called McCabe’s Guitar Shop, and he said, ‘Well, sure.’ I knew he had played music from when he did ‘Paris, Texas’ and films like that, but little did I realize I was opening the door for him to reek havoc on the musical world for the next 20 years. He did a residency at The Mint and then at another place up on Sunset Boulevard. I feel pretty good about that.”

Cruising with cops has been just one of the unlikely but situations Doe has been led to by a remarkably far reaching career. Another came in August when all of X – Doe, vocalist Exene Cervenka, guitarist Billy Zoom and drummer DJ Bonebrake – were honored by the Los Angeles Dodgers prior to a baseball game at Dodger Stadium.

“That’s another mystifying turn of events. ‘Really? You want a punk rocker to sing the national anthem? Okay.’ Sure, I’ve spread out a little more from just being a punk rock musician, but, still, it’s weird. You don’t think about that stuff and then when it happens, you feel a certain odd sense of validation.”

“So for X Day at Dodger Stadium, we played gender reversal. Exene threw out the first pitch and I sang the national anthem. Usually it would be like, ‘Oh, let’s have the girl sing and the boy throw the ball,’ but we switched that around. She did great. She got it over the plate and Rich Hill, the pitcher that night, caught it. He pitched a no hitter until the game went into the 10th inning. We figured it was the magic Exene laid on the team.”

“Spreading out,” as Doe termed it, has included a long running solo career he has maintained outside of X, one that has taken him to various avenues of rock and roots-oriented music. His newest record, 2016’s “Westerner,” teamed him with producer Howe Gelb for a series of songs inspired by Doe’s friendship with the late author Michael Blake, best known for writing “Dances with Wolves.”

“I’ve been friends with Howe Gelb and a fan of his production and music for a long time. He’s really the main architect of what you might call the Tucson Sound, which would include Neko Case or Calexico and Howe’s band, Giant Sand. There’s a lot of space, a lot of reverb that really fit the songs.

“A lot of the songs were about my friend Michael. We were friends for 30 years, but he struggled with dementia for the last four of them. We talked a lot about art and what we want to do with the world and things like that. Before he was really sick I started writing these songs just because he was such an inspiration to me.”

Almost concurrent with “Westerner” was the publication of “Under the Big Black Sun,” a overview of the Los Angeles punk uprising that began in the late 1970s, the era that gave birth to X (the books shares its title with X’s third album, released in 1982). Doe, along with Tom DeSavia, was as much a curator of the book as an author since it also boasts chapters penned by other members of the L.A. punk community, including Henry Rollins, Mike Watt and Dave Alvin. The audiobook version of “Under the Big Black Sun” earned a Grammy nomination.

“I didn’t really want to be the authority,” Doe said of the book. “I couldn’t tell the story of what it was like for women in that era. I didn’t live at the Canterbury where Jane Wiedlin (of the Go Go’s) lived. I wasn’t part of a roots band, which Dave Alvin was. There are so many different stories that people have. They were the experts in those subjects, so that’s why we pulled them in.”

As for his solo concert tonight, Doe said fans should expect a little bit of everything: X tunes, “Westerner” music, “unexpected” cover selections and more.

“Plus, I know a hell of a lot of John Doe songs, so I can take requests. If I don’t know them, I’ll wing it. Sometimes, I crash and burn, and that’s fun, too.”

John Doe and Warren Byrom perform at 10 p.m. tonight (Sept. 29) at The Green Lantern, 497 W Third. Tickets are $15. Call 859-252-9539 or go to

Doe will also participate in a Q&A session following a free screening of “Slam Dance” as part of the Harry Dean Stanton Fest at 3 p.m. Sept. 30 at the Farish Theater of the Lexington Public Library, 140 E Main.

in performance: rufus wainwright

rufus wainwright.

Picking a point in Rufus Wainwright’s sublime solo performance last night at the Opera House where the music reached an emotional zenith will likely prompt generous debate. My vote, though, goes to the tune that kicked off a three-song encore segment. Titled “Going to a Town,” the work allowed the politics that had been largely personal up to that point to cover the country. “I’m going to a town that has already been burnt down,” Wainwright sang with the same undistilled drama that fueled the rest of the performance. “I’m going to a place that has already been disgraced. I’m gonna see some folks who have already been let down.” But the last line of the verse, the confession of an artist with dual citizenship in the United States and Canada, pinned down the song’s pensive deflation like a coffin nail. “I’m so tired of America.”

In musical terms, Wainwright had, as the very topical saying goes, taken a knee. But the tune was written and recorded over 15 years ago. Go figure.

Curiously, this song’s weariness fell near the end of a performance that included considerable globetrotting. For instance, Wainwright prefaced “Gay Messiah” (one of several quiet but powerfully emotive tunes from the two-volume “Want” albums) with a confession that the tune had earned him the title, courtesy of the Italian press, of “Lo Scandaloso.” Then there was the French-sung “Les deux d’artfice t’appellent (The Fireworks Are Calling to You),” a solo piano version of the closing aria to Wainwright’s 2009 opera “Prima Donna.” Most enchanting of all was an impromptu cover of Bola de Nieve’s Afro-Cuban serenade “Drume Negrita,” a souvenir of sorts from concerts Wainwright gave last weekend in Havana.

The latter, like many tunes in the evening, proved wonderful vehicles for the astonishing clarity of Wainwright’s singing. At times, as on “Gay Messiah,” his vocals soared into a pristine soul falsetto. On “Jericho,” they bloomed into an effortlessly rich tenor. But at its most captivating, the singing sank to a dark, spacious whisper, as on “Zebulon,” which served as a ghostly lead-in to “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk.” The latter, long a favorite of Wainwright crowds, bounced about with child-like abandon before a growing dissonance made the song jump the pop tune tracks altogether.

Capping it all were two Leonard Cohen classics – “So Long Marianne,” where Wainwright’s singing flew with regal drama into the stratosphere, and an encore version of the signature tune “Hallelujah,” performed as a stately, respectful nod from one master Canadian songsmith to another.

in performance: jazz at lincoln center orchestra with wynton marsalis

wynton marsalis.

For all of the power in numbers the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra packs, its performance last night at the Kentucky Center for the Arts’ Whitney Hall in Louisville began with a slice of hushed sunshine. Instead of the full ensemble’s might, trumpeter/founder/artistic director Wynton Marsalis and pianist Dan Nimmer engaged in a duet exchange honoring Jelly Roll Morton. Unlike the precision and drive the Orchestra would dig into just minutes later, this summery opening dialogue was loose and playful but still full of the same scholarly assurance that has long been a trademark of all Marsalis-led projects. But this warm-up also let the audience in on how accessible the music that followed would be.

Nearly two hours later, the Orchestra had journeyed through works by Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, a few more Morton selections and original compositions by the band members. Tradition was stressed, and with good reason. The Orchestra remains today’s most learned and proficient touring organization in terms of reviving the jazz repertoires of multiple eras. But never did any of the performed works come across as museum pieces.

Ellington’s “Big Fat Alice’s Blues” (from the 1965 album “Concert in the Virgin Islands,” a record that, as Marsalis proudly pointed out in his introduction, was actually cut in New York) was a gorgeous vehicle for the alto sax blues lead of Sherman Irby with only segments of the Orchestra (the rhythm section and the reeds, specifically) adding color.

The Afro-Cuban heritage of Gillespie’s “Fiesta Mojo” was funneled into samba patterns neatly triggered by trumpeter Marcus Printup and saxophonist Dan Block (on flute for this tune) while a segment of Sonny Rollins’ “Freedom Suite” expanded the 1958 piece, originally recorded as a trio work, into the evening’s finest exhibition of the Orchestra’s full dynamic range and the striking saxophone animation of Walter Blanding.

Marsalis, who with each passing year becomes more like a modern day Gillespie for his between-song chats alone, asserted himself nicely in “Let My People Go.” The tune was essentially a movement from “God’s Trombones,” a suite composed by Orchestra trombonist Chris Crenshaw after the poetry of James Weldon Johnson. The full ensemble touched alternately on lyrical warmth, sass, swing and the blues. Marsalis, resourceful as always, packed all of that into a single, hair-raising solo.

the tenuous kentucky connection to the world of rufus wainwright

rufus wainwright.

Having performed around the world with a wildly diverse variety of concert programs reflecting equally far reaching musical preferences, Rufus Wainwright is quick to point out his ties to the Bluegrass.

Until now, they have not included Lexington, although that will change with a Wednesday performance at the Opera House. He has played Louisville on occasion, but that’s not what Wainwright is recalling. There was an earlier link to the region that landed him in, of all places, Bardstown.

“My mother and aunt were huge Stephen Foster fanatics, so when I was a child, we did a pilgrimage to My Old Kentucky Home. So, yeah, I have a slight, tenuous history with your state.”

This Kentucky sojourn unlocks the first and perhaps most immediate aspect of Wainwright’s artistic identity – his family. The mother and aunt in question were Kate and Anna McGarrigle, the immensely celebrated Canadian singer-songwriting siblings from Quebec. His father is veteran folk songsmith Loudon Wainwright III and his sister is the acclaimed folk and rock stylist Martha Wainwright.

“Once you scratch the surface and get into our story, you realize it’s really like a three generation saga that I’m gratefully involved in with all the good music and positive outcomes that we’ve experienced as a family – along with some adversarial situations, of course.”

Over the past two decades, Wainwright has solidified a career of astonishing stylistic breadth. He recorded numerous albums of his own works (including the extraordinary two volume “Want” in 2003 and 2004) but also released a concert tribute record to Judy Garland (2007’s “Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall”), composed two operas (the newest of which, “Hadrian,” based on the Roman emperor of the same name, will have its premiere next year in Toronto), cut an entire album of Shakespearean sonnets set to original music (2016’s “Take All My Loves”) and, earlier this year, fashioned a cover of Stevie Wonder’s 1970 hit “Signed, Sealed, Delivered” for the Los Angeles charity The Art of Elysium.

What he will bring to the Opera House will be, in essence, all of that and more – a solo program encompassing his original works, standards, perhaps a pop cover, a sampling of the sonnets and a likely nod to some of the great Canadian songsmiths that came before him (the Leonard Cohen staple “Hallelujah” has been a frequent inclusion).

“I’m made up of three parts, shall we say. One being a songwriter, one being a composer of operas and the third being a singer. I find that in singing opera, singing standards or singing my own material, there is something about my voice specifically that is able to unite a lot of very disparate musical ideas to bring out the commonalities. So as a singer, I often have to look for themes as opposed to the variations.

“The show I’m bringing to you guys really just represents who I am as a working, eating, sleeping, loving musician. This is what I have to do to in order to earn my keep. It draws on a lot of elements of my career, be it pop songs or opera stuff.”

Born in New York and currently (as of a year ago) residing in Hollywood, Wainwright moved with his mother and sister to Montreal at the age of three following his parents’ separation. He has long maintained dual citizenship in Canada and the United States (“the best of both worlds,” as he called it) and has found considerable kinship with the music of other songwriters from his longtime homeland.

“I sing a lot of those songs, whether they come from Leonard (Cohen), Joni Mitchell or Neil Young. So, yeah, it’s a strange phenomenon, actually, as to how there are so many brilliant songwriters from Canada. I think it has to do with the light – of the lack of it, shall we say. It gets pretty dark up there in the winter – cold, too. You really have to escape to the nether regions of your imagination to make it through.”

That won’t be a problem this fall, though. Between our conversation last week and his Opera House concert this week, Wainwright will head to Havana for a string of concerts collectively titled “Wainwright Libre!” But this time, climate will play an altogether different role. Battered earlier this month by Hurricane Irma, Cuba was, as of this writing, bracing for a possible hit from Hurricane Maria.

“We’re just going where we’re needed, you know? But let’s just hope Maria doesn’t meet me there.”

Rufus Wainwright performs at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short. Tickets: $45.50-$55.50. Call (800) 745-3000, (859) 233-3535 or go to

in performance: randall bramblett

randall bramblett.

Let’s get the nasty part of the evening out of the way first.

Last night, Willie’s Locally Known became a sports bar – a surprising and disagreeable turn for those who plunked down a cover charge to hear a Randall Bramblett concert that was to have started at 9:30 at what they thought was a live music venue. Instead, Willie’s held off on showtime until after the demoralizing end of the Kentucky-Florida football game, sending the paid attendees into an at-times vocal furor that included a nearly five minute protest of clapping and jeering for the show to start at its appointed hour. That prompted Bramblett to personally apologize to patrons at each table for a delay he was in no way responsible for.

Priorities, people. If you’re running a business, know your clientele and then respect it. On all counts last night, Willie’s, normally a reliable and relaxing music spot, dropped the ball.

Now, on to the highlight reel. Once Bramblett and his remarkably resourceful band hit the stage at 11:10, the evening couldn’t miss. Out of a venue fumble came a performance touchdown by way of a two hour run of world class funk, soul, blues and swing from one of the most alert Southern songsmiths of our day.

Opening with “Pot Hole on Main Street,” the first of four tunes pulled from the new “Juke Joint at the Edge of the World” album, Bramblett set into motion a groove built around a churchy organ-style groove and a tenor sax break sent into exquisite distortion by pedal effects. “Garbage Man,” another “Juke Joint” entry, followed by utilizing the band’s other primary soloist, guitarist Nick Johnson, and a Fender Rhodes-flavored keyboard run from Bramblett. The latter’s sly word play also earned bonus points for rhyming “Simon and Garfunkel” with “cry uncle.”

From there, the quartet – keenly rounded out by bassist Michael Steele and drummer Seth Hendershot – shuffled boppish glee (during “Used to Rule the World”), brassy swing (“Reptile Pilot”), falsetto-savvy soul (“Angel Child”), jazzy playfulness (“King Grand”) and, in the closest thing the show presented to a ballad, disquieting reflection (“Detox Bracelet”).

That it was all presented with a band sound as immaculately tight or confidently loose as the song at hand called for was a testament to the players’ collective instrumental smarts. That such command was then executed with a sense of abundant performance fun and animation in the face of an evening that, given its start, could have dissolved into irretrievable chaos, revealed Bramblett and his bandmates as total champions.


in performance: mary chapin carpenter

mary chapin carpenter.

Time seemed quite the preoccupation for Mary Chapin Carpenter last night at Equus Run Vineyards. Her sterling 90 minute performance often referenced time as a commodity continually slipping away. She recognized songs from her catalog that were country hits 25 years ago (specifically, her cover of Lucinda Williams’ “Passionate Kisses”) as well as band members that have clocked tenures on the upwards of three decades (specifically, keyboardist Jon Carroll). Both mentions casually paralleled the passage of time as it related to age. Then again, Carpenter wasn’t always obvious when making her point.

For example, she opened a concert centered largely on elegantly reserved and introspective folk-pop with a protest song – in this case, Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” a tune born in 1964 that still speaks with eerie relevancy. But the topicality was underscored when Carpenter followed with her own “Stones in the Road,” a work, recorded at the dawn of the Clinton era that looked uneasily back the Reagan/Bush years that preceded it. Though more poetic that overtly political, any sense of fleeting time vanished when the singer updated a verse with a quip about a statesmen whose sense of social remedy is revealed when he “posts another tweet.” So much for nostalgia.

On second thought, the performance was loaded with familiar Carpenter songs, from chronicles that balanced poignancy and melancholy (“This Shirt,” “The Age of Miracles” and the exquisite “Goodnight America”) with a delicate lyricism that still proved sturdy enough to buoy her low, hushed singing. But the show’s poppish feel nicely accelerated when Carpenter and her four member band dug into the spunkier drive of “Shut Up and Kiss Me” and Dire Straits’ “The Bug.”

The most direct commentary on the passage of time, however, came from perhaps the evening’s least familiar work – a tune from Carpenter’s recent “The Things That We Are Made Of” album called “The Middle Ages.” Performed with whispery grace, the song’s timeline was more personal than historical with a snapshot that both begrudgingly and lovingly focused on mid life. More exactly, it was a song of arrival and realization.

“Now you see what it is that you would have changed if only you’d known,” Carpenter sang.

The times, it seemed, aren’t all that have been a-changin.’

in performance: noam pikelny

noam pikelny. photo by justin camerer.

Noam Pikelny had his performance philosophy whittled down to an efficient credo that he proudly shared with his audience last night at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville.

“Nobody cares if you play new music when you have no hits.”

With that, the Punch Brother mainstay presented a project of zero commercial familiarity – a solo banjo concert. Well, it was almost one. The sparsely adorned Weisiger stage also included three guitars of various lineage – a six string acoustic (utilized during a intimately rustic version of “The Wreck of the Old 97”), a Telecaster (plucked with tastefully vintage country electricity on “My Tears Don’t Show”) and an oddly shaped 1928 plectrum guitar (whose four strings provided the Josh Ritter murder ballad mash-up “Folk Bloodbath” and the Pikelny original “The Great Falls” with a hybrid voice echoing steel guitar as well as banjo).

Everything else, though, was Pikelny, his whispery, old world baritone of a singing voice (which he tagged as “funerary”) and solo banjo tunes that were embracing bluegrass tradition one moment and gleefully fleeing from all expectations associated with it the next.

The show opening “Waveland,” for instance, unfolded with hummingbird like speed, lightness and agility while “Sugar Maple” operated with more patiently paced momentum, equal delicacy and a dash of folkish fancy. Even the most deep seeded songs of bluegrass ancestry went through multiple stylistic rebirths, as with a medley of three tunes (“Mississippi Waltz,” “Ashland Breakdown” and “Jerusalem Ridge”) from 2013’s “Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe” – a record that offered banjo reconstructions of fiddler Baker’s original variations of mandolinist (and longtime employer) Monroe’s compositions. Baker made Monroe’s music often swing with jazz-like flexibility. While Pikelny’s versions last night restored some of the bluegrass luster, the solo setting (unlike the record’s quintet lineup) also revealed a starkness more clearly approximating the blues.

One could go on at length about the scholarly technique and sense of invention Pikelny put on very unassuming display. Half the magic of last night’s show, though, was the way the music was presented. Pikelny’s possessed a wry but engaging sense of humor which heightened the accessibility level of a concert that could have easily, for all of its honorable artistic intent, seemed foreign or even abstract to unsuspecting listeners. Instead, a set closing cover of Roger Miller’s “I’ve Been a Long Time Leavin’ (But I’ll be a Long Time Gone)” came with purposely indecipherable instructions for an equally improbable sing-a-long of a warp speed chorus. “Oh, this is going to be good,” he said in anticipation of the vocal train wreck to come. The banjoist also shared a hysterical account of a Grand Ole Opry performance centering on the potential mispronunciation of his name by host Roy Clark. Instead, the country veteran introduced champion fiddler (and Pikelny’s duet partner) Stuart Duncan as Cisco Kid actor Duncan Renaldo.

Best of all was a hapless explanation of how Pikelny’s moonlighting projects from Punch Brothers have involved successively smaller ensembles, resulting in his current unaccompanied performance status. He then joked the only logical follow-up would be “an avant garde evening of silence.”

“Get your tickets now. That one will be over in the big hall.”

in performance: blessed union of souls

Blessid Union of Souls. From left, Chris Arduser, David Lessing, Eliot Sloan, Brian Lovely and Dave Ramos.

“It’s a beautiful night for a show,” admitted Eliot Sloan a few songs into Blessid Union of Souls’ sleek and exuberant headlining set last night at the Christ the King Oktoberfest. No argument. With the rains of the week having dissipated and the beer gardens and bingo tents doing especially brisk business, the Cincinnati band settled into a 90 minute set focused squarely on the soul bravado of Sloan’s singing and his band’s efficient brand of power pop and retro-hued rock.

“Retro” was the operative but perhaps not obvious word for the performance. Blessid Union of Souls’ popularity can be traced to a pair of ‘90s radio hits – “I Believe” and “Hey Leonardo (She Likes Me for Me)” – from the Blessid Union of Souls’ first and third albums (1994’s “Home” and 1999’s “Walking Off the Buzz”). That era of commercial pop – defined by songs strong on sentiment, affirmation and frequent bursts of hook-heavy melodies – largely spoke to the base of operations Sloan and company operated from for much of the 90 minute set.

The show opening “Oh Virginia,” for instance, let Sloan’s tireless stage demeanor sell those traits through bursts of crisp, churchy sounding pop. Admittedly, the singer had help by way of two veterans of the Cincy pop wars – drummer Chris Arduser and guitarist Brian Lovely – who injected the tune, as well as the music that followed, with a strong, efficient drive.

So resolute was Blessid Union of Souls’ devotion to ‘90s pop that even the set’s plentiful of level cover tunes reflecting a jukebox level of familiarity (meaning hits by U2, Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty, The Beatles and more) largely wound up sounding like post grunge radio fare. It was all efficiently executed, but a little, well, safe sounding.

This devotion to pop past’s also extended to the band’s treatment of its own songs, even to the point of sandwiching “Hey Leonardo” in the middle of a cover of “Bohemian Rhapsody.”

It was all good natured, enough. Sloan consistently sounded strong and it was great having an ace like Arduser back on Lexington soil again. His explosive rhythmic turns on “Girl I’ve Been Telling You About,” in fact, were the highlight of the show. But after a closing cover of “Pride (in the Name of Love),” the crowd enthusiasm didn’t dissipate. That’s because the bingo tent has just crowned another winner.

Church bingo and rock ‘n’ roll. After all these years of Oktoberfest, that’s a combo platter that still astounds.


in performance: blind boys of alabama

The Blind Boys of Alabama. From left: Joey Williams, Ben Moore, Jimmy Carter, Ricky McKinnie and Paul Beasley.

The sagely jubilance of the Blind Boys of Alabama was placed on full display within the opening minutes of their performance earlier tonight at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Opening with a version of the 1970 Norman Greenbaum rock radio staple “Spirit in the Sky,” the group’s four-man front line sat stoically in matching tan suits and shades. One by one, they stood with only singer Ricky McKennie remaining seated and silent as the song’s sense of Southern fried salvation was conjured. Then, at the midway point, McKennie surrendered to the music by standing and swaying like a sudden convert to a brand of traditional gospel channeled through some very secular electricity. If you came to the theatre with any Monday blues, they were immediately washed away by this inviting blast of Sunday morning soul.

This was pretty much business as usual for the Blind Boys, but that didn’t make the eight songs performed for the WoodSongs taping seem any less striking. As always, it wasn’t just the group’s immovable sense of faith that fueled its sense of scholarly performance fervency, but the agelessly subtle vigor with which they delivered it.

Co-founder Jimmy Carter again personified that attitude. At age 85, he delivered the remarkably candid and autobiographically inclined title song to the Blind Boys’ new “Almost Home” album, a tune fashioned by the great contemporary Southern songsmith Randall Bramblett out of interviews with Carter and the group’s largely retired co-founder Clarence Fountain. It grew out of stark piano accompaniment with a storyline born out personal blues but ignited by faith.

Similarly, the John Leventhal/Marc Cohn composition “God Knows Everything” began with the elder vocal reflections of Ben Moore but eventually wound its way through to the more youthful falsetto of Paul Beasley for a serving of blues-gospel rooted in soulful grace and reserve.

Covers of “People Get Ready,” “Down by the Riverside” (performed as an encore with 15 year old Lexington singer Makayla Brown) and the group’s signature realignment of “Amazing Grace” set to the melody of “House of the Rising Sun” played more to the stylistic sense of adventure that initiated the Blind Boys global following and Grammy-winning popularity back in 2001. But the attitude didn’t blink last night. Carter and company may have basked in gospel’s confident assuredness, but the audience was very much part of the service. There was plenty of glow to go around.

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