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big belew nation

adrian belew 1

adrian belew

The ingredients were all there – the impending homecoming of Kentucky-born guitar hero Adrian Belew, a gray Saturday afternoon and a desperate need to place holiday madness on hold for a few hours. It all provided the ideal setting for me to become reacquainted with the sublime music Belew has created over the past 35 years.

To many, the Covington native is best known for the vocabulary of guitar sounds – from twang bar-happy solos to animalistic roars – that have colored his solo recordings (dating back to 1982’s The Lone Rhino) as well as the audacious works cut during a 33 year tenure with prog mainstay King Crimson (beginning with 1981’s Discipline).

Dig deeper, though, and all kinds of treasures reveal themselves, including seminal recordings with three of the pioneering acts Belew played with during the formative days of his career, specifically Frank Zappa (on 1979’s avant pop carnival record Sheik Yerbouti), David Bowie (the magnificent 1978 live set Stage) and Talking Heads (the progressive funk performances captured on the 1981 concert album The Name of This Band is Talking Heads).

But it was during and around King Crimson’s scattered periods of activity that the heart of Belew’s music fully revealed itself. The scorching nature of his guitar work had become a given. His compositions, however, began exhibiting strong echoes of Beatles-esque pop. While such inspiration was never imitative, you heard it powering through songs like Member of the Tribe (the joyous finale to 1992’s Inner Revolution album), I See You (the Lennon-esque power chord party piece off of 1994’s Here) and the Under the Radar (the rich psychedelic meditation from 2005’s Side One).

Belew has also remained very active over the decades as an instrumental composer and performer, stretching the pop inferences of his playing to more unexpected and sometimes abstract plains, as on The Gypsy Zurna (the one man Eastern safari tune from 1986’s Desire Caught by the Tail), Ring Around the Moon (an ambient slice of processed guitar music from 1995’s The Guitar as Orchestra) and b (a groove epic showcasing Belew’s Power Trio from 2009’s live-in-the-studio e).

Finally, there are the delicacies underscoring his gift as a collaborator. From that camp came Holy (one of Belew’s finest all around vocal performances featured on the 1989 Mike Oldfield album Earth Moving), Walking on Air (a gorgeously serene refection from the 1995 King Crimson reawakening record Thrak) and Life in a Nutshell (a powerhouse pop workout with his Cincinnati-based pals in The Bears from 2001’s Car Caught Fire).

The biggest rediscovery though was a bit of a revelation – a revision of The Rail Song, a bittersweet but anthemic remembrance of a lifelong fascination with trains originally featured on 1983’s Twang Bar King. But the version that hit me last weekend was an unadorned version from 1993’s The Acoustic Adrian Belew that stripped the tune down to a stark confessional while enhancing the song’s very natural sense of drama.

That was as much Belew as I could squeeze into a single afternoon. Left untested in this Belew review was Fuse, the new computer app he designed that delivers tunes in an infinite number of variations. That means the guitarist will have an especially keen job condensing a catalog of such masterful music into a single performance this weekend. His Sunday concert at the 20th Century Theatre will conclude a two month tour in his old Cincy stomping grounds with his comparatively newer Power Trio mates, bassist Julie Slick and drummer Tobias Ralph.

Then again, exploring the generous terrain existing between power pop accessibility and groundbreaking instrumental technique, composition and improvisation has always been the driving force behind the music of this Kentucky guitar pioneer.

In essence, that is Belew’s life in a nutshell.

Adrian Belew Power Trio with Saul Zonana perform at 8 p.m. Dec. 21 at the 20th Century Theatre, 3021 Madison Rd. in Cincinnati. $24, $28. Call (513) 731-8000, (800) 745-3000 or got to www.ticketmaster.com.

go nordic!

frodeOkay, we know asking you out on a Monday night isn’t exactly an enticing proposition, especially with the rather intrusive season premiere of the Polar Vortex at hand. Nonetheless, The Musical Box urges you to brave the snow and cold tonight by heading to the Mecca studio on 948 Manchester to help the Outside the Spotlight Series celebrate its 12th anniversary with a 8 p.m. return performance by the Frode Gjerstad Trio.

A veteran alto saxophonist and clarinetist who has collaborated with such vanguard jazz renegades as Peter Brotzmann, William Parker, Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Sabir Mateen and many others, Gjerstad will be fronting his longstanding all-Norwegian trio that includes frequent OTS guest Paal Nilseen-Love on drums and Jon Rune Strom on acoustic bass. For this outing, the Gjerstad Trio will also sport a special guest in trombonist Steve Swell, who will be making his first OTS appearance in close to eight years.

The Gjerstad Trio is something of a pressure cooker where improvisatory elements are hatched before blooming into blasts of intense trio interplay. While the final explosive summit of their music is something to behold, the real magic comes within the dynamics revealed as the band works its way from subtle, sparsely outlined introductions into massive anarchical crescendos.

The addition of Swell – whose extensive jazz history includes recordings and/or tours with Ken Vandermark’s Resonance Ensemble, Cecil Taylor, Anthony Braxton and Tim Berne, among others – should broaden the Gjerstad Trio’s already mighty free jazz vocabulary even further.

If you’re an OTS regular, you know how special these performances can be and the vital role they play in a balanced local music scene. Having them staged within the up close and intimate setting Mecca offers makes the shows all the more inviting.

If you haven’t yet taken in an OTS concert, we recommend the Gjerstad Trio’s performance wholeheartedly. If the music you hear seems new and foreign, it is. This is jazz built from scratch the instant you hear it. The music doesn’t come with expected melody lines or accessible lyricism, but it drives and grooves in its own immediate way. It is the sound of instant, undeniable art created without preconception.

So if the Arctic blast that settling around Lexington has you down, then take in the infinitely hipper warm front that’s about to roll in from Norway.

Time go Nordic, y’all.

An ’80s Oktoberfest

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The Smithereens: Jim Babjak, Severo “The Thrilla” Jornacion, Dennis Diken and Pat DiNizio.

The ’80s will live again in September. The free headliners for this year’s Christ the King Oktoberfest were announced this morning and both harken back to an era when MTV was pop’s top policymaker.

Sept. 19 brings The Smithereens, the no-frills New Jersey rock troupe responsible for the late ‘80s radio hits Behind the Wall of Sleep, Only a Memory and A Girl Like You. The band still tours with three of its four original members – guitarist/vocalist Pat DiNizio, guitarist Jim Babjak and drummer Dennis Diken.

The Sept. 20 lineup will feature The Fixx, the post New Wave British band defined by a string of early ‘80s singles that included Saved By Zero, One Thing Leads to Another and Secret Separation. Amazingly, the quintet’s mainstay lineup – vocalist Cy Curnin, guitarist Jamie West-Oram, keyboardist Rupert Greenall, bassist Dan K. Brown and drummer Adam Woods is still intact.

The event will be held outdoors at the Cathedral of Christ the King, 299 Colony Blvd. Showtimes and a full Oktoberfest schedule are forthcoming. For more info, go to http://www.ctkoktoberfest.com.

drummer, doctor and trucker

drive-by truckers 2

drive-bytruckers: brad morgan, patterson hood, jay gonzalez, matt patton and mike cooley

If you think drums are integral to the deeply literate, pile-driving rock ‘n’ roll of Drive-By Truckers, then spend some time with the band’s new English Oceans album.

The clap of sticks from Brad Morgan, who has manned the drum chair in the Athens, Ga. band for the past 17 years, is the first sound you hear before the Truckers erupt into a Mike Cooley narrative about life in wartorn suburbia. Morgan is also the last musician standing as the album fades with the beat of Patterson Hood’s eulogy for a longtime Truckers pal.

To bookend an album so powerful, a sound so huge and a band so continually vital speaks well to the kind of musical gusto Morgan can summon. But there is another, less visible role Morgan has played behind the scenes. Given the personalities at work in and around the band, the kind of relentless touring regimen they often fall into and the potentially devastating aftermath both can unleash, Morgan’s other duties have probably played into the Truckers longevity as deeply as his groove.

“I always saw myself as the psychiatrist of the band who was making sure everybody is happy and making sure everything is rolling the way it should be.

“It’s all about personalities living in very close quarters. I mean, we see the crew as band members. We’re all living together. We’re around each other all the time. It feels like there are 10 people in the band. All those relationships have to work. Everybody has to get along. If people have problems with somebody, I’m like, ‘Let’s figure this out or something else is going to happen.’ I’m kind of sensitive to that type of thing.”

His efforts seem to be working. Morgan said the current band spirit is high, thanks largely to its newest lineup, dubbed DBT 12 in the liner notes to English Oceans. The album marks the recording debut of the band’s latest recruit, bassist Matt Patton.

“As a drummer, a good bass player for the rhythm section is really important,” Morgan said. “Just having somebody there who is just nailing it every time really takes a load off me. Plus, it’s nice being on the road with a bunch of old friends and having everybody get along.”

But personalities have also been at the heart of the Truckers’ longevity. On English Oceans, Cooley and Hood take full and equal ownership of the band’s songwriting duties for the first time. The distinction between their narrative styles of songwriting (Hood’s songs read like dark, rural novels while Cooley possesses a more informal yet bluntly conversational tone) have fascinated Morgan even before he joined the band.

“I was like the No. 1 fan,” he said. “I would be at every show. One of my best friends was playing drums for them at the time. When I was able to start subbing in the band, it was great because every night I would get to hear those songs from the back of the stage. Even today, that puts me back in that state of just how much I love the band and the songs. People at the shows get that, too. I can see it in people’s faces.”

Perhaps the most the heartfelt personality surrounding the Truckers these days belongs to a friend who is no longer with them. On the Hood-penned Grand Canyon, the closing song on English Oceans, the Truckers honor Craig Lieske, a late touring companion who sold merchandise at concerts and was a beloved member of the Athens music community.

“It sucks to have that happen,” Morgan said. “We were on the road with Craig for, like, seven years. Before that, I had been friends with him for another 10. I mean, everybody loved him. It was a connection you kind of took for granted until he was gone.”

Drive-By Truckers perform at 9 tonight at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom.899 Manchester St. Tickets are $28. Call (859) 368-8871 or go to www.bustersbb.com.

a tucker, not a trucker

shonna tucker

shonna tucker.

Here’s a bit of rock ‘n’ roll coincidence for you. On the night before Drive-By Truckers return to Buster’s on Friday with tales of rural unrest, two of the band’s former members will play at Willie’s Locally Known, 805 North Broadway.

Tonight, Shonna Tucker, the band’s bassist for eight years will showcase her debut solo album, A Tell All, with her country-soul informed band Eye Candy. The group includes another Trucker alum, John Neff on guitar and pedal steel guitar.

During Tucker’s stay with the Truckers, she contributed one-to-two songs alongside the tunes pf Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley to their albums. The 2011 split with the band apparently wasn’t on the best of terms. When asked prior to a 2012 Truckers show at Buster’s if her parting was amicable, Cooley said politely but succinctly, “Not really.”

Tucker’s Eye Candy Band include several vets of a long-fertile Athens, Ga. music scene. Along with Neff, the lineup includes guitarist Bo Bedingfield, keyboardist Neil Golden and drummer Clay Leverett.

Bio material for A Tell All describes he album as “ten songs about love and jealousy, nights spent on the road and nights spent in the kitchen, the things men do to women and women do for men.”

Opening tonight will be The Campbell Family Band and The Kentucky Hoss Cats (7 p.m., $10). Call (859) 281-1116 or go to www.willieslex.com.

Tomorrow, we will hear from longtime Trucker drummer Brad Morgan ahead of the band’s Buster’s return.

Shining Brightly

kelly pratt

Kelly Pratt

Just a brief note about some swell sounds occurring Wednesday night that have nothing to do with bluegrass.

Over at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave., we have a homecoming of sorts. Lexington native Kelly Pratt, performing under his non de plume as Bright Moments, lets us in on some of the sounds he has been creating when not on the road with the likes of Arcade Fire, David Byrne/St. Vincent and Beirut or recording with Coldplay and LCD Soundsystem.

On Tourists, the Bright Moments debut on Byrne’s Luaka Bop label, Pratt fashions pop pieces both progressive and accessible with accents of trumpet, synths and, as described in one bit of bio material, the “occasional huffing accordion.”

Pratt’s Bright Moments project will open tonight for Mother Falcon, the 17 member, Austin, Texas-based troupe that creates soundscapes utilizing cello, violin, banjo, trumpet, accordion, guitar, piano, bassoon and more.

Last year alone, Mother Falcon collaborated with Alejandro Escovedo, Amanda Palmer, Tony Trischka, Lexington’s own Ben Sollee and more. (10 p.m., $10).

For more info, call (859) 309-9499 or go to Cosmic-charlies.com.

paul mccartney postpones louisville show

Paul McCartney

paul mccartney.

Looks like you will have to wait until fall to experience the first Kentucky concert by Paul McCartney in 24 years. Sir Paul has postponed all of his June concerts to fully recover from a virus that hospitalized him earlier this spring in Japan causing the postponement of several performances there and in Korea.

The ex-Beatle’s June 26 concert in Louisville at the KFC Yum! Center has been rescheduled for Oct. 28.

“I’m sorry but it’s going to be a few more weeks before we get rocking in America again,” McCartney said in a press release issued this afternoon. “I’m feeling great but taking my docs’ advice to take it easy for just a few more days.  Look forward to seeing you all soon.”

McCartney is slated to return to his Out There Tour on July 5 in Albany, NY.

book of ely

joe ely

joe ely.

In the spring of 1978, much of contemporary music favored one of three stylistically disparate routes. At one extreme was commercial pop, which was still in the grips of the disco fallout triggered six months earlier by Saturday Night Fever. At the other was the gradual mainstream acceptance of still-emerging punk and post punk acts like The Ramones, Devo, Talking Heads and Elvis Costello. In between all of that was the then-current state of country music, which was in the waning stages of an outlaw movement that had provided Willie Nelson with seemingly permanent residency at the top of the Billboard charts.

Somewhere in the midst of all this was the release of a record titled Honky Tonk Masquerade. Such was my introduction to Joe Ely.

Seemingly marketed as a country record, Honky Tonk Masquerade was as stylistically removed from Nashville as Ely was geographically. A native of Amarillo, Tx. who grew up in Lubbock among truckloads of Mexican migrant workers and the native music they brought with them, Ely weaved nearly every roots music resource at his disposal into the record.

The country songs sported the pedal steel colors of Lloyd Maines, which howled like the dusty West Texas wind. The Tex Mex music asserted the accordion work of Ponty Bone, who channeled the festive sounds Ely heard emanating from the cantina situated across the road from the clothing store his father ran in Lubbock. The rockers reflected all of the music’s forefathers, from fellow Lubbock expatriate Buddy Holly to Jerry Lee Lewis.

The compositions were similarly far reaching. There were entries by Jimmie Dale Gilmore and Butch Hancock, the two expert Texan songsmiths Ely teamed with during the early ‘70s as The Flatlanders – a group that would quickly disband and remain dormant until 2002. There was also one of Ely’s great roadhouse rock originals, the wry Lewis-flavored Fingernails (“I keep my fingernails long so they click when I play the piano”). Wrapping the whole party up was a hearty Lone Star makeover of the Hank Williams staple Honky Tonkin’.

As an unsuspecting teen turned on to the record at a college party, I was stunned. Honky Tonk Masquerade sounded deliciously foreign in its assembly of Texas inspirations but also curiously in line with the favored roots-country acts of the day – John Prine, Little Feat, early Bonnie Raitt and Ry Cooder. It also made Texas seem like another cultural universe.

I wouldn’t get to see Ely in performance for another six years. By that time, he had toured with The Clash, recorded two seminal roots rock albums – 1980’s Live Shots and 1981’s Musta Notta Gotta Lotta – and had become something of an international ambassador for Texas music. But at a 1984 festival performance in Austin, Ely turned songs like Dallas, Cool Rockin’ Loretta and Boxcars into jovial yet vital anthems that asserted his strengths as a live performer.

During the ‘80s and’90s, Ely made his way to Louisville and Cincinnati with some regularity. But he didn’t play Lexington until a 1998 performance at the long defunct Lynagh’s Music Club. That show was distinguished by an extraordinary band (it included the Dutch flamenco guitarist Teye and longtime electric guitar pal Jesse Taylor) and the fact that a stage amplifier briefly caught fire.

Subsequent local outings included a 2000 opening set for Dixie Chicks at Rupp Arena (a family affair of sorts as Chicks singer Natalie Maines is the daughter of Lloyd Maines) and a 2009 WoodSongs date with the reunited Flatlanders.

Today, Ely, 67, still embraces rock and roots music while on Texas turf. He joined Bruce Springsteen onstage in Houston as recently as last month. But he chooses unplugged settings for out-of-state touring. Ely’s regional return on Saturday will be an acoustic duo performance with guitarist Jeff Plankenhorn.

It may not be a rock show, but having one of the truly great Texas song stylists of our day back in Kentucky – on a Saturday night, no less – will surely set off some Lone Star sparks.

Joe Ely performs at 8 p.m. June 7 at the Southgate House Revival, 111 E. Sixth St. in Newport. Tickets are $20 advance, $25 day of show.Call  (859) 431-2201 or go to www.southgatehouse.com.

BoB brings the bluegrass

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dale ann bradley’s thursday night live performance on june 12 is also part of BoB: best of bluegrass.

BoB is back. Yep, the second annual Best of Bluegrass has confirmed its full lineup of concerts for the week of June 9.

As was the case with its inaugural year, BoB encompasses a week’s worth of performances at a variety of venues throughout Lexington – the majority of them located downtown. Best of all, most of the shows are free and serve as an extended prelude of sorts for the full Festival of the Bluegrass, which opens June 12 at the Kentucky Horse Park.

Here’s the full BoB lineup:

June 9: Special Consensus at the Lyric Theatre for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour (7 pm; $10). Lonesome River Band and Town Mountain at Natasha’s Bistro (8 p.m.; Free).

June 10: Newtown at Southland Jamboree (7 p.m.; Free). The Roys at Willie’s Locally Known (8 p.m.; Free). Blind Corn Liquor Pickers/Blind Ricky at Al’s Bar (8 p.m.; Free). June 11: The Misty Mountain String Band at ArtsPlace for Red Barn Radio (8 p.m; $8). Larry Cordle at Parlay Social (8 p.m.; Free). Steep Canyon Rangers/Local Honeys (9 p.m.; Free).

June 12: Dale Ann Bradley at Cheapside Park for Thursday Night Live (5:30 p.m.; Free). Stone Cold Grass at Parlay Social (8 p.m.; Free). The Bartley Brothers at Redmon’s (8 p.m.; Free).

Many of these performances will be streamed live online and/or recorded for broadcast on KET-TV, WEKU-FM and WUKY-FM.

For more Bob info, go to www.bluegrasslex.com.

case breaker

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peter case. photo by ann summa.

Picking a song that best reflects the emotive and narrative detail of Peter Case would be as frustrating as singling out a single champion work from the catalogs of Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Richard Thompson or any other world class songsmith.

But after sifting through two decades worth of extraordinary Case recordings last weekend, a selection surfaced that at least serves as a sublime primer for anyone not familiar with his music. It’s a bittersweet tune called On the Way Downtown that was first issued on Case’s 1998 album Full Service No Waiting and again on the fine 2004 compilation Who’s Gonna Go Your Crooked Mile?

The song is, in essence, a ghost story although its light folk-blues melody and Case’s cordial singing initially suggest otherwise. Poetically distraught with the present, the song’s protagonist returns to the scene of younger joys and glories (“where my friends who died still hang around”). An out-of-place intruder to the newer, younger inhabitants of his former haunts, Case still sings hopefully about a full circle sense of change (“the season’s been and gone, another one’s comin’ on”).

It’s a masterful bit of storytelling, one that provides at least one reason for taking in Case’s return performance tonight at Natasha’s. But On the Way Downtown is a snapshot in a career full of extraordinary solo recordings that emerged in the wake of tenures in two West Coast post-punk bands – The Nerves from San Francisco and The Plimsouls from Los Angeles.

Case’s own critical hit parade began in 1986 with a self-titled solo album that sported help by a pair of studio hands that would become two of the most heralded record producers of the ensuing decades: T Bone Burnett and Mitchell Froom. The tone, texture and temperament of Case’s following records shifted considerably from the rockish drive of 1992’s Six Pack of Love to the sketch pad folk immediacy of 1993’s Peter Case Sings Like Hell.

The stylistic changes were more subtle when Case signed to the longstanding folk label Vanguard in the mid ‘90s. Recordings from the period – which included two of his best, the aforementioned Full Service No Waiting and 2000’s Flying Saucer Blues – coincided with Case’s first Lexington performances at the long defunct Lynagh’s Music Club.

While little by way of commercial popularity has come his way through any of this, Case’s critical reputation has remained at a peak. A 2001 tribute album to the music of bluesman Mississippi John Hurt that Case curated (Avalon Blues) along with a 2007 record of folk-blues themed originals (Let Us Now Praise Sleepy John) both earned Grammy nominations. Still, Case’s commercial visibility remains sadly out of sync with his artistic reputation. His last album of original material was the 2010 roots savvy trio set Wig!

If his initial Natasha’s shows stand as an indication, Wednesday’s return performance should be a retrospective of sorts. His June 2010 show at the venue included Two Angels (a Case gem from the 1986 album), the sublime On the Way Downtown, several Wig! highlights including The Words in Red and a selection of covers that ranged from Bob Dylan’s Pledging My Time to Bukka White’s Fixin’ to Die Blues. A reading from 2006’s As Far As You Can Get Without a Passport – a whimsical memoir that treated Case’s initial move from his upstate New York roots to his ‘70s digs in San Francisco like a spiritual pilgrimage – rounded out the performances.

Peter Case performs at 8 p.m. May 6 at Natasha’s Bistro. 112 Esplanade. $15. Call (859) 259-2754.

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