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critic’s picks 313: the beatles, ‘meets the beatles’ and ‘the beatles’ second album

beatles 1Leave it to a music conglomerate like Capitol Records not to miss the opportunity an anniversary can present.

To commemorate the arrival of The Beatles on these shores – which took place 50 years ago this weekend – Capitol is issuing the United States edition of every Beatles album for the first time on individual CDs (they became available as a boxed set in 2004). While the songs have always been available in longer British versions and in innumerable anthologies, individual editions of the band’s domestic releases have been unavailable in any format since the late ‘80s, when vinyl, supposedly, was becoming extinct.

Our focus here goes on the first two Capitol releases, Meet The Beatles and The Beatles’ Second Album, which were released less than three months apart at the beginning of 1964. Bolstered by the mammoth popularity of the band’s first No. 1 single, I Want to Hold Your Hand in February, Meet the Beatles stayed atop United States charts for 11 weeks. It was unseated by The Beatles’ Second Album, which remained at No. 1 for another month. That doesn’t even take into consideration the third Capitol album, A Hard Day’s Night, which ruled the charts for much of the summer and fall of 1964. That’s how inescapable Beatlemania was 50 years ago.

Though each album clocks in at a scant 27 minutes, the Capitol recordings represent two distinct sides of what was already a booming pop profile.

Meet the Beatles is essentially a shorter version of With the Beatles, the band’s simultaneously released second British album, and leans heavily on original songs. Kicking off with the brilliant guitar riff that ignites I Want to Hold Your Hand, Meet the Beatles runs through John Lennon’s vibrant vocal charge on It Won’t Be Long, Paul McCartney’s jubilant lead on All My Loving and George Harrison’s discreetly moody Don’t Bother Me (the later proving, even then, there were three masterful songwriters in the band).

beatles 2The Beatles’ Second Album was the party record – a platter dominated by hearty covers of pop, rock and even Motown staples (the band makes the 1963 Marvelettes hit Please Mr. Postman very much their own). But the closing one-two punch I’ll Get You and She Loves You affirms the composition prowess of the Lennon-McCartney team.

These records hardly mark the beginnings of The Beatles. But as far as the American chapters of the saga are concerned, they remain the albums that opened the floodgates of Beatlemania.


In performance: Aoife O’Donovan/Joe Louis Walker

joe louis walker

Joe Louis Walker

The most enjoyable tapings of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour revolve around featured performers that are distinct to the point of being stylistic opposites. The magic then comes when a level of common ground is discovered – or, in some cases, simply stumbled upon – that is a surprise to the artists as much as their audience.

Such was the case last night when blues guitarist Joe Louis Walker, who performed with gospel fervency within a highly electric quartet, and Americana songstress Aoife O’Donovan, whose solo acoustic set possessed a delicate but almost incantatory urgency, shared the WoodSongs bill at the Lyric Theatre.

Walker, a recent inductee into the Blues Hall of Fame, obviously reveres the great Buddy Guy. While little of the elder stylist’s monstrous tone was appropriated, Walker promoted a cheery, rockish accessibility within songs like Too Drunk to Drive Drunk (which was performed twice, with the second version unleashing the evening’s most assertive guitarwork) and Ride All Night.

aoife o'donovan 2

Aoife O’Donovan.

But it was during  Soldier for Jesus that Walker’s vocal drive, a singing style drenched in the kind of gospel/R&B bravado that has long been integral to Guy’s music, was placed front and center.

O’Donovan, whose debut solo album, Fossils, is still three weeks away from release, is poised to be the next celeb performer in Americana music following tours this summer with Garrison Keillor and Yo-Yo Ma’s all-star Goat Rodeo Sessions. You could detect a different recent why in each of the five fine Fossils songs she performed.

Red & White & Blue & Gold reflected subtle folk melancholy, Fire Engine emphasized the hushed urgency of her singing, Beekeeper mixed New England coffeehouse folk intimacy with ‘70s-era West Coast folk expression and Lay My Burden Down proved an exquisite showpiece for captivatingly quiet vocals that navigated tricky melodic turns with schooled cool.

But the show stealer was Oh, MamaFossils’ finale tune – which bloomed into a very impromptu Band-like jamboree. Keyboardist Eric Finland (from Walker’s band) supplied a solo full of churchy calm before Walker chimed in with leisurely slide guitar that fell right in line with the folk-roots groove that sat at the heart of O’Donovan’s charming song.

a few minutes with andy mason

andy mason, photo by beverly james.

andy mason, photo by beverly james.

Taking in a performance by local music vet Andy Mason can mean bearing witness to a generous sampler of sounds.

Catch him with Lexington faves The Swells and you will hear an integral part of a musical fabric that honors vintage jazz, blues and more. If he happens to be onstage with fellow local-ites Big Maracas, the focus shifts to a more summery Brazilian vibe. And this goes without covering Mason’s local history as one-third of the ‘90s power trio The Blueberries and his crafty solo piano shows staged during the early days of The Dame.

Much of that versed background figures into Mason’s new Off-Camera album.

There are light, tropical touches scattered about and even a jazzy flourish here and there. Mostly, though, it’s an expert pop outing full of deftly played, articulately penned and crisply produced songs. Imagine the cunning songcraft and vocal finesse of early ‘80s Squeeze records but with arrangements that favor a more traditional, almost parlor-style pop setting, and you have an idea of what Off-Camera aims for.

“I usually hear what kind of set-up I want for a song,” Mason said. “Then when I get the basic tracks and everything, I start experimenting with ideas. It’s like you perceive at first something that you want, but you’re not sure if that’s what the song is going to sound like when you record it.”    

Having recorded in the past at the home studios of Blueberries mate Otto Helmuth, Mason cut Off-Camera locally with Chico Fellini’s Duane Lundy.

“I really wanted to see what ideas he could present. I’ve worked with Otto so much before with so many other things, so I wanted to get someone else’s perspective on the music. I also wanted Duane’s production sensibility available. I still kind of steered the whole thing, but I was definitely grateful to have his thinking available to me.”

Off-Camera enlists the help of local blues-and-groove merchants The Tall Boys, as did Mason’s 2008 album Illumination. Similarly, the band will back-up Mason at tonight’s record release show at Cosmic Charlie’s. While that will help fortify the new tunes’ rich pop flavor, having The Tall Boys on tap will also assist in heightening the live profile of a local artist known far more as a band man than a solo act.  

“Locally, I seem to do better with The Swells and the other bands. It’s tougher to get a crowd for myself, although I’ve had some good opportunities lately to get in front of larger audiences.”

That’s an understatement and-a-half. In December, Mason opened a sold out Singletary Center for the Arts concert by Chris Isaak.

“Exactly,” Mason said with a laugh. “That’s what I was referring to. But like with any band, you have to be playing a lot to bring a crowd out. I haven’t been doing a lot of that of late because I’ve been focusing so much on the other bands I’m in. But that’s been fun, too. We’ve done a lot of gigs and built up a lot of business over the years. It’s fun and it’s good for the bank account.”  

Andy Mason with The Tall Boys will perform at 8 tonight at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. Coralee and the Townies will play a late set. Cover charge is $6. Call (859) 309-9499.

a few minutes with jason ringenberg

jason ringenberg. photo by paul needham.

jason ringenberg. photo by paul needham.

You used to need earplugs whenever Jason Ringenberg came to town. But then, those were the days of Jason and the Scorchers.

Back in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, Ringenberg used high volume roots rock anthems like Shop It Around, White Lies, Golden Ball and Chain and a crunchy reinvention of Bob Dylan’s Absolutely Sweet Marie to establish the Scorchers as the foremost cowpunk outfit of the era.

There have been many fine Scorchers shows in Lexington over the years, from a 1980 romp at the long gone punk club Café LMNOP to a 1986 concert with the Georgia Satellites at the University of Kentucky Student Center Ballroom (still one of the loudest shows ever to hit these ears) to a 1993 downtown outing at The Wrocklage that ended with Ringenberg dancing like a marionette on top of the bar.

Today, though, Ringenberg prefers quieter times with less company.

For Saturday’s Dame concert (his first Lexington performance since a 2004 show with Ollabelle at the club’s demolished West Main location), Ringenberg has prepared a solo acoustic program that will sum up the music that has defined his career over the past three decades.

There will be acoustically redrawn numbers from the Scorchers years along with songs from such recent Ringenberg solo albums as All Over Creation and the more topically minded Empire Builders. And there may just be a tune or two by Farmer Jason, the singer’s kid-friendly alter-ego.

We recently caught up with Ringenberg by phone just after his return from a tour of Scandinavia and Spain.

Who stays busier these days – Farmer Jason or Jason Ringenberg?

“In America, I’m doing much more Farmer Jason work. So this will be kind of a rare thing in Lexington. I’ll just be doing a Jason Ringenberg show.”

You still have a very strong fan base throughout Europe.

“I’ve worked real hard at that. You get out of something what you put into it, and I’ve worked hard to maintain the European audience. Interestingly enough, I’m even getting Farmer Jason work in Europe now, especially in the UK.”

What can we expect in terms of repertoire from your solo acoustic concerts?

“You know me. I’m a performance guy. So I don’t think in terms of, ‘Oh, I’m bored with this song’ or ‘I like that song better.’ To me, it’s all about the audience. Most of the fans want to hear all of the stuff. They want to go back and hear the Scorchers songs, too. So I’ll be doing stuff from the whole range of my career, the whole 30 year career.”

Do you find a greater flexibility in performing solo as opposed to band shows with the Scorchers?

“Oh, sure. The solo shows are all very spontaneous. To me, the audience is the band. You’re working off the audience. There’s an interaction there that’s quite exciting. It’s quite addictive, really.”

Are young audiences also “the band” at Farmer Jason shows?

(laughs) They’re the band, alright. They’re the cooks, the security – everything, really. You never know what a room full of kids is going to do. It’s completely unpredictable. What they’re going to say or how they’re going to react – it’s always a totally interactve experience. You never know what’s going to happen..

Is a different songwriting sensibility involved when composing Farmer Jason songs?

“Our team does sort of have a goal to make records that are also as interesting for adults as possible. The music is still for kids, of course. But we try to have that as a goal. Mostly though, I think you have to be much catchier, more rhythmic and use a lot more repetition that you would with adult music.”

You helped out Scorchers drummer Perry Baggs with a benefit concert last year.

“Yeah, Perry has not been in the best of health for a long time. Kidney failure and diabetes – issues like that. So the Scorchers did a benefit for him a year ago last June. It was a big success.

How has Perry been doing since then?

“No better, no worse, I would say.”

You still play other occasional electric dates with the Scorchers. How have they gone?

 “I enjoy them. For me, it’s stepping into a whole different world. The guitar player, Warren Hodges, still plays so brilliantly that it’s such a pleasure just to sit and listen to him. After all these years and with all the different people I’ve played with, he’s still such an exciting guitar player.

Do you hear a little of the Scorchers spirit in younger Americana bands today?

 “Yeah. And it’s always really fun when that happens. It’s quite an honor. The band, I think, was influential way beyond its commercial level. It has been a pretty big influence on a lot of people all across the music world. We’re quite proud of that.

You just celebrated a milestone birthday.

(laughs) “You’re correct. And, yes, it was a big birthday. Yes sir. I aim to reach 100, so I’m now past the half way point. You can do the math.”

Jason Ringenberg performs at 7 p.m. Dec. 6 at The Dame, 367 East Main. Tickets are $10. Call (859) 231-7263.

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