Archive for September, 2017

troy gentry, 1967-2007

montgomery gentry in 2014: eddie montgomery (left) and troy gentry.

You can rewind and review his career. You can reminisce about his formative years, the pre-celebrity era, spent in Lexington. You can even admire the combination of performance stamina and mainstream popularity that kept the band that bore his name popular for close to two decades. But when the parting is so sudden and tragic, the impact of the exit winds up being what – for the moment, at least – sticks with you.

That was the feeling that hit when I got a call late yesterday afternoon that started with the three words you don’t want to hear in lieu of hello.

“Have you heard…”

That’s when the news began to quickly spread about the New Jersey helicopter crash that took the life of Troy Gentry, the Lexington born half of Montgomery Gentry. Gentry had long ago relocated to Nashville, but for most any Lexington country music fan, he will always be a local hero. It was here that he played weekends at the Austin City Saloon with siblings John Michael and Eddie Montgomery. When John Michael’s career took off in the early 1990s, Gentry reteamed with Eddie and forged a duo act through steady gigging at the Tates Creek Centre nightspot known as The Grapevine. By 1998, Montgomery Gentry was formed, signed and on its way to stardom.

At the height of the duo’s commercial popularity, around the time its third and fourth albums – 2002’s “My Town” and 2004’s “You Do Your Thing” – were nearing platinum status, Montgomery Gentry became a regular at Rupp Arena. One could only imagine the sense of accomplishment that must have come from singing the hit title tune to “My Town” in the big house of their hometown first at a show opener for Kenny Chesney and then as headliner for several New Year’s Eve performances.

Blending Southern rock inspiration with ample country bravado, Montgomery Gentry relished its role as a leading Central Kentuckv voice for contemporary country music. While the hits began to get sparser in recent years and the returns to their hometown became less frequent, the two never lost their popularity as a national touring act or as a local success saga.

“Playing the clubs then, you had The Greg Austin Band, Doug Breeding, Larry Redmon,” Gentry said told me in a 2014 interview of his early club dates with the Montgomery brothers. “Lexington was booming with live music. On the weekends you weren’t working or in between breaks on nights that you were, you would try and zip over to one of the other clubs and check out some of the other music.

“Then John Michael was discovered. But what was really fascinating was the fact that Eddie and I kept playing together. We were fortunate enough that we had something unique and different that Nashville heard about. So it’s pretty cool that we all played together in one band, split up and still make a career out of doing what we love to do.”

labor day at willie’s: doin’ for houston benefit

Have no plans for Labor Day? Then spend the afternoon and evening at Willie’s Locally Known, 286 Southland Dr. where a healthy roster of local and regional artists will gather and perform as part of “Doin’ for Houston: A Hurricane Harvey Relief Concert.” The program title tells you everything you need to know about its cause. In short, it’s a grand show of affection and desire to help on the part of the Lexington music community for those coping with the aftermath of one of the most destructive natural disasters in recent memory.

There is no cover charge for the show, but contributions will be accepted. Those donations, along with proceeds from a silent auction and a portion of select food and drink proceeds for the day, will go to benefit the Houston Food Bank.

Here’s the massive lineup.

1:30 p.m.: Chelsea Nolan
2:00 p.m.: Ben Lacy and Bob Bryant
2:30 p.m.: Kevin Holm-Hudson
3:00 p.m.: Bob Shirley
3:30 p.m.: The Compass Roses
4;00 p.m.: Michael Johnathon
4:30 p.m.: Derek Feldman
5:00 p.m.: Emory Joseph, Bob Bryant, Steve DiMartino
5:45 p.m.: RC and The NightShades
6:30 p.m.: George Molton
7:00 p.m.: The Barrows
7:30 p.m.: Southern Biscuit
8:00 p.m.: Warren Byrom
8:30 p.m.: Warren Byrom and Melissa Jackson
9:00 p.m.: Art Mize
9:30 p.m.: Derek Spencer
10:00 p.m.: Danny Dean and The Homewreckers
A concluding jam session will continue until closing time. For more information, call 859-281-1116 or go to
willieslocallyknown.com.

 

walter becker, 1950-2017

steely dan: donald fagen (left) and walter becker.

The rule of thumb with most great alliances is that there is usually a member of equal, if not higher ranking than the other participants known as the silent partner. The others may serve as the face of the operation, but the silent partner is often the architect, the bank roller or the engine driver. Or all three.

In the great jazz-pop enterprise known as Steely Dan, Walter Becker was the silent partner. Donald Fagen may have been the face of this popular but immensely aloof band. He served as its vocalist, keyboardist and, when the operation went live (which it didn’t for much of its lifespan), frontman. Becker would remain purposely out of the spotlight on guitar or bass knowing his contribution to the music at hand was already complete.

Becker, whose death at age 67 was announced this morning without details or fanfare on his website, was largely viewed as a 50-50 associate with Fagen in the music Steely Dan conjured. Its songs were always credited to the two players, giving the assumption that everything – the askew hipster lyrics, the generous pop slant and an even more devout jazz sensibility that increased with every album the band made between 1972 and 1980 – was a product of mutual consent. We’ll never know to what degree who designed what in the mix. Steely Dan was always as much a band of mystery as it was a purveyor of jazz-pop expression. That it ceased to be a touring quintet in the mid ‘70s and rode out the rest of the decade as a revolving studio collective of which Becker and Fagen were the chieftains only added to the mystique. But it will forever be part of Steely Dan’s fortune that Becker’s role, as deceptively passive as it might have seemed, was touted as prominently as Fagen’s. It was the essence of a classic partnership, and in the pop world, the Steely Dan alliance was as championed as they came.

I freely admit many years passed where I simply couldn’t listen to the band’s records anymore. Steely Dan had become such an overexposed fixture on rock radio (and sometimes beyond) that listener burnout had set in. But earlier this summer, for whatever reason, I dug out the seven initial records Becker and Fagen cut as Steely Dan. Their music sounded beautifully new – and, in many instances, exquisitely weird – all over again. Of course, Becker, wasn’t an obvious presence on the songs themselves. He may have contributed bass or an occasional guitar solo (or, in the case of the title tune to 1980’s “Gaucho” album, both), but his input came in the composition and arrangement process, the assimilation of all those rich jazz references (the wildly dynamic tenor sax and drum battle between Wayne Shorter and Steve Gadd on “Aja,” the more tender hearted alto sax solo from Phil Woods on “Doctor Wu” and the masterfully crafted guitar solos Larry Carlton contributed to “Kid Charlemagne” and my very favorite Steely Dan work, “Third World Man”) and the often darkly opaque narratives that would have killed off any lesser pop force.

In Steely Dan, Becker was in the cockpit right alongside Fagen, flying some of the most glorious genre-bending missions the pop world has ever experienced. Happy trails, gaucho.

in performance: red, white and boom – night two

sam hunt performing last night for red, white and boom at whitaker bank ballpark. herald-leader staff photos by rich copley.

Sam Hunt remarked near the halfway point of his headlining set for Red, White and Boom’s second evening stay at Whitaker Bank Ballpark last night that his Georgia youth was so specific to country music that he “couldn’t have told you the difference between Nirvana and Madonna.”

Inner reply to that: Swell. Another Nashville star with blinders on to the rest of the world. But that didn’t turn out to be the case. After dismissing his band, Hunt settled into a solo acoustic segment that exhibited where detours developed within his influences. He performed snippets of four cover tunes, one each by Alan Jackson (“Don’t Rock the Jukebox”), Travis Tritt (“Here’s a Quarter, Call Someone Who Cares”), Usher (“Nice and Slow”) and R. Kelly (“Ignition”). The country/R&B connection might not seem surprising to fans introduced to Hunt through his 2014 hit “Take Your Time,” a smoky mash-up of crooning indebted to both genres that was served up with fitting reserve near the end of the 75 minute set. But Hunt didn’t just use the medley as exposition. He backed it up with a wish that the 15,000-plus country fans assembled before him last night be accepting of diversity and strive to be more “culturally integrated.”

Those are two words you aren’t likely to hear together often in any context at a contemporary country concert. They were perhaps even more unexpected given how conventionally cosmopolitan Hunt’s set was up to that point. It relied heavily on a radio-friendly pop sound during the show opening “Leave the Light On,” the domestically themed romp “House Party” and especially his newest dance-directed hit “Body Like a Back Road.” But the message was clear and welcomed. May country artists and audiences alike heed it.

Curiously, the generation Hunt spoke of also made up all of last night’s Red, White and Boom lineup, which is the same roster the singer has been on the road with this summer for his 15 in a 30 Tour (the title references a chorus lyric from “Body Like a Back Road”). Each is an essentially young artist whose respective sets were built around the music of a single album.

ryan follese.

Lead off singer Ryan Follese, who came to country right out of frontman duties for the Nashville pop troupe Hot Chelle Rae (its biggest hit, “Tonight Tonight,” closed the singer’s 35 minute set) possessed a clean, expressive but largely antiseptic voice that dressed songs from a new self-titled debut album. Tunes like “Wilder,” “Roots” and “Put a Label on It” catered nicely to the crisp contours of Follese’s singing, but there was little to distinguish this material or even this performance from the work of numerous similarly designed country-pop merchants.

chris janson.

The exact opposite held true for Chris Janson, a Missouri born songwriter with a lit-fuse level of performance energy and immediacy that ignited his set at once during the opening “Redneck Life” and its credo-like chorus (“I didn’t choose the redneck life, the redneck life chose me”). While one could admire the gusto in such sentiments and execution, Janson didn’t impress much as a vocalist. Maybe it was because he could never stop talking before, after or during songs like “Fix a Drink,” “Everybody” and “Name on It” (which, along with “Redneck Life,” appear on the forthcoming “Everybody” album, due out on Sept. 22). He talked about himself, his wife, his faith, his mood, his stage moves, his somewhat flat ability to tell a joke and more. Maybe focusing some of that stamina on his singing might help.

maren morris.

That left a 45 minute by Maren Morris. Though the Texas songsmith played last year’s Red, White & Boom as a relative unknown, her return last night as an established star revealed little artistic growth. Morris again possessed a pleasing, serviceable vocal profile that reflected a wealth of pop inspirations dating back to the ‘90s. She earned considerable audience reception for her hit “My Church” in the process. But Morris’ set again revolved tightly around her 2016 album “Hero” – so much so that she performed all of the album’s 11 songs (the best being the pop-soul flavored “I Wish I Was”) along with “Greener Pastures” (a more traditionally flavored original tune cut last year by Brothers Osborne) and an attractive but hardly revelatory cover of the John Prince staple “Angel from Montgomery.” All in all, it was a nice summation of the year that made Morris a celebrity. But with a repertoire that was essentially a rerun, it was made one curious as what new music she has in development. Perhaps that was the point.

 

in performance: chamber music festival of lexington, mainstage concert II

matt ulery.

As last night’s sold out second mainstage concert of the Chamber Music Festival of Lexington got down to its main event at the Pam Miller Downtown Arts Center, two musical factions faced each other, seemingly ready for friendly fire. Seated on one side was a string quartet that included the festival’s artistic director Nathan Cole. Standing on the other was the jazz trio Triptych that included composer-in-residence Matt Ulery and artist-in-residence Zach Brock. What resulted was a summit in the form of an extended work from Ulery titled “Become Giant.” And, well, it did.

The composition’s world premiere, the centerpiece event of the festival, was indeed huge in scope – an 11 part, 40 minute assimilation of jazz flexibility and, at times, groove, with the more composed (as in structure, not temperament) design of the strings. At times, the two ensembles stayed true to their respective stylistic bases. At others, they merged almost without notice. They also took turns working as the dominant voicing and, in effect, a backup unit.

The switch-hitter in this set-up was Brock, who gamely bled into the pizzicato chatter that became a theme of sorts for the quartet. But he also helmed longer solo passages, including one striking occasion when he briefly played unaccompanied, that luxuriated in improvisation. There were also snapshots of unexpected symmetry within the groups – specifically, when Ulery, on double bass, and cellist Priscilla Lee locked into an almost bluesy line where both players set bows aside and plucked strings in unison for a rubbery, percussive feel.

Even with Ulery and Brock playing such pivotal roles, the musician driving “Become Giant” was Triptych drummer Jon Deitemyer. As the only non-string player in a combined group of six, he deftly guided the tune though hints of samba-like sway, boppish cool and whispery punctuation to the strings’ sometimes minimalist turns.

In introducing the piece, Ulery told the audience he was reluctant to explain its 11 part construction (“In case anyone was going to count until it’s over”) or overall intent. “We just want to go ahead and play it.” And that they did, in brisk animated fashion, offering a jazz-classical blend restless enough to alter its course at a moment’s notice yet cohesive enough to stand as an engaging and singular music statement.

The first half of the program presented Brock in purely classical mode. He joined Lee, violinist Akiko Tarumoto and violist Burchard Tang for Hayden’s String Quartet No. 4 (“Sunrise”) which glowed in its more pastoral passages as well as through accelerated ensemble gallops.

But the most dramatic performance of the evening belonged to pianist Alessio Bax, who skippered the remarkable dynamics within Faure’s Piano Quartet #2 in G Minor, Opus 45. From the tossed sea sensibility immediately conjured for the opening Allegro movement to the similarly sudden conclusion to the third Adagio non troppo movement that triggered an audible audience gasp a few rows behind me, this was perhaps the most fully realized and openly emotive performance so far in the festival.

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