Archive for profiles

texas bluegrass

robert earl keen.

robert earl keen.

The bio material sent out ahead of Robert Earl Keen’s new bluegrass-based recording Happy Prisoner described the album’s 15 songs (make that 20, should you splurge for the vinyl version) as “untraditionally traditional, Kentucky-by-way-of -Texas music – Lone Star-grass, if you will.”

Now before you start busting up your mandolins over the notion of a cherished Texas songsmith taking a step into the regionally sacred terrain of bluegrass, know that string music has been an integral part of Keen’s evolution as a champion Lone Star song stylist. Sure, his loyal fanbase may know him for such Texas-sized reveries as The Road Goes on Forever, Gringo Honeymoon and Five Pound Bass – songs offering a distinctive slant on Texas-bred honky tonk and Americana that place Keen in the pantheon of such Lone Star giants as Lyle Lovett, Joe Ely and Townes Van Zandt. But one of the seeds to his sound is bluegrass, even though the music wasn’t a secure fit with all the other Texas inspirations that played into his music.

“Actually, it didn’t fit at all,” said Keen, who returns to Lexington for a Thursday performance at the Lyric Theatre. “I just liked it. I was a lone wolf on that deal. I stumbled into bluegrass just from old records that my mom had, like Bill Monroe records and stuff. Then when I went to college, I ran into people that were fiddle players and mandolin players and we dug more and more into bluegrass music as we started playing because country, in that acoustic way, doesn’t speak out as well. So I just became a big fan of the music.

“I think my best story about this, really, comes from when I was16. I got a date with this girl in my neighborhood. It was maybe my first official date and I took her to a bluegrass festival, which was weird. But I always thought there was something important about this music other than the fact that the girl wasn’t so crazy about it.”

More than the rustic acoustic instrumentation, more than even the strong narrative nature of many bluegrass songs that strongly appealed to his songwriting instincts, what appealed most to Keen about bluegrass was the heavily social atmosphere in which it was (and still is) created.

“What I love about it is that you can sit down with a total stranger and they’ll say, ‘Let’s play How Mountain Girls Can Love and five or six other people will chime in, ‘Great. What key do you play that in?’ And you start playing. It’s an incredibly communal music. I can’t think of anything like it other than, maybe, bridge. You get together with people that you don’t know and from many parts of the country. You start playing different songs and people just know them. It’s just a wonderful way to get connected musically and friendship-wise.”

That spirit not only informs the far reaching repertoire on Happy Prisoner – which runs from vintage favorites such as Flatt & Scruggs’ Hot Corn, Cold Corn to comparatively modern fare that includes the Del McCoury via Richard Thompson hit 1952 Vincent Black Lightning – but Keen’s current performances. His Lyric concert this week will be presented in an acoustic bluegrass format with his longrunning road band augmented by mandolinist Kym Warner (from the Austin-based bluegrass/Americana troupe The Greencards) and fiddle player Brian Beken.

“I got to a point where I wasn’t sure if my own songs were relevant or making a difference anymore. So I did this project. Now I have a whole new perspective on my own thoughts, my own playing and how we present our show. It’s been a completely rejuvenating adventure.”

Robert Earl Keen performs at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 19 at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 East Third. Tickets: $44.50. Call: (859) 280-2218 or go to Tickets for the originally scheduled July 22 date will be honored.

the cray way

robert cray.

robert cray.

After four decades of playing the blues, Robert Cray decided it was time for a celebration. So instead of adding to a remarkably prolific library of studio recordings, the Grammy winning guitarist and vocalist decided to put the current version of the band that bears his name onstage with a few friends at four different Los Angeles venues and record the whole run.

But given the milestone that inspired the shows, Cray also wanted to offer a glimpse of where his band had been. So the resulting concert album, 4 Nights of 40 Years Live, additionally sported a second disc of performances from 1982 (before the band won over the fanbase that made Cray the most commercially visible “new” bluesman of his generation) and 1987 (after the Strong Persuader album established Cray as a star). Completing that package would be a DVD offering video footage from concerts featured on the two CDs along with commentary by a few of Cray’s pals – namely, Keith Richards, Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and Jimmie Vaughan.

Combined, the three discs make 4 Nights of 40 Years Live as monumental an album release as its title suggests.

“Well, we were celebrating 40 years last year,” Cray said. “I was talking with my manager and Steve Jordan, who produced the record (as well as Cray’s 2014 studio release In My Soul and two earlier recordings). We came up with the concept, which was to try and let people know a little bit about us and give them a little bit of personality – the kind of thing you don’t really hear on most records and CDs. We just wanted to show them a little bit of what it has been like for the band over the last 40 years.”

The first disc boasts a repertoire that runs from the title tune to Cray’s 1983 album Bad Influence to the David Porter/Issac Hayes classic You’re Good Thing is About to End first cut by the guitarist on the vintage R&B-leaning In My Soul. There are also guests, including Jordan (on drums and percussion), Kim Wilson of the Fabulous Thunderbirds (the famed Texas band whose mid ‘80s commercial breakthrough largely coincided with Cray’s), harmonica ace Lee Oskar and a three man horn team. (names cq)

But the big thrill is hearing the current Cray Band lineup – keyboardist Dover Weinberg (whose initial tenure with the band dates back to the’70s), bassist Richard Cousins (another longstanding member that left the ranks but returned) and a comparatively new recruit, drummer Les Falconer. (names cq)

“This lineup is great,” Cray said. “Richard has been back in the fold since 2008. Dover, of course, was around in the early days. The three of us go way back and share a lot of the same tastes in music, whether it be gospel, blues, jazz, country – everything like that. When we get together and start playing, we automatically know where everybody is going to go. Les has a background of playing with a lot of other people in the past we enjoy. That’s what makes this unit really strong. It’s always important to have some kind of commonality between the players.”

Such chemistry is also evident of the second disc of earlier recordings – especially the tunes pulled from an appearance on the Dutch television program Countdown in 1987, the same year Strong Persuader picked up a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Recording. The win cemented a period when enormous commercial and critical attention came Cray’s way. Much of it, curiously, viewed the guitarist as a new artist.

“Well, the attention that came out of all that was fantastic,” Cray said. “But like you mentioned, we weren’t new when Strong Persuader came out. That record was released in ’86 and we had been a band since ’74. It was just funny hearing yourself on the radio.

“By that time, we were basically playing in clubs and doing 200-plus shows a year anyway. We didn’t think we would be able to do any more work with the record’s popularity than what we were already doing. The gigs got bigger, the traveling became heavier. But you know what? We were able to handle it.”

The Robert Cray Band performs Nov. 14 at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third. Tickets: $46.50. Call (859) 280-2218 or go to


storm large. photo by laura domela.

storm large. photo by laura domela.

As she strolls through New York City, Storm Large is processing the contrasting imagery playing out before her as through it were an internal cinema, a panoramic set of snapshots flowing together with almost frightening continuity.

“Right now, I’m walking through Tompkins Square Park,” she reports. “There are these impossibly beautiful models walking their little gorgeous dogs by a bunch of homeless guys. There are these weird scenes where you hear 10 different languages on one block. It’s stimulating and it’s repulsive. It’s exciting and it’s erotic. I don’t know. I got ADD. My brain explodes with everything.”

If Large’s artistic psyche teeters on the point of continual eruption, so does her glorious music. Though nurtured on rock ‘n’ roll and a theatrical bawdiness as deliberate as it is unapologetic (one of her early bands was called Storm and her Dirty Mouth), the New England born, California raised and now Portland, Oregon residing singer became versed in a genre-free cabaret spirit cemented by an unexpected alliance with the globally inclined pop ensemble Pink Martini.

It comes as little surprise then that her newest album, Le Bonheur has Large covering such strange bedfellow artists as Cole Porter, Lou Reed, Rodgers & Hart, Randy Newman and Jacques Brel.

“It’s a sort of ADD punk rock cabaret,” Large said. “I grew up with so many different kinds of music. I identified with punk rockers and layabouts and the lowlife scum of New York, etc, etc. That was what I emotionally and artistically related to. But my voice and my music sensibilities ran the whole gambit of Patsy Cline to Mozart to hip-hop. It was all over the place.”

Curiously, Large’s musical express was nearly derailed before it ever gained national exposure for her powerfully distinctive name (which, by the way, is not an alias; she was born Susan Storm Large). Fed up with the music business in the late ‘90s, she moved from San Francisco to Portland with the notion of junking her career and becoming a chef.

“I was going to go to the culinary institute because I was so disenchanted with music,” she said. “I wanted to be in a band, I wanted to tour and I wanted to sing, but I didn’t care about being a rock star and I didn’t care about being famous. I wanted to get paid more than beer. I wanted to be able to pay my band, have a tour bus and actually function as a business. But the whole ‘90s thing in San Francisco was about ‘Oh, you’ve got to get signed, you’ve got to write a hit song.’ Every time I saw a record deal, it was awful. It was like, ‘We’re going to lend you $5 and you will owe us $5,000 and we own everything you do.’ I was just a singer, but that’s a (expletive) deal. So I was like, ‘You know what, this isn’t fun.’ I set out to learn another skill where I’m generating happiness for people.

“But I started bartending at this club called Dante’s. The owner, who was a friend of mine, said, ‘You know, I could really use some music on Wednesday nights. Could you maybe put something together?’ That was 15 years ago. Then it became fun again.”

In due course, the projects rolled in. There was national television exposure as a semi-finalist in the 2006 CBS reality/contest series Rockstar: Supernova (“A good business education that made me the most famous I’ve been. I don’t want to be that famous ever again.”). After that came a role in the Randy Newman musical Harps and Angels in 2010 (“As an artist, Randy has a very sharp, cynical tongue that can insult with the most venomous yet funny imagery. I would never want to see him mad.”). Then it was Martini time.

When the multi-lingual, cross-generational pop troupe Pink Martini searched for a temporary touring replacement for singer China Forbes, who was sidelined due to vocal cord surgery, Large was drafted.

“Storm is incredible,” said Pink Martini chieftain Thomas Lauderdale prior to the group’s 2011 concert at the Singletary Center for the Arts. “She’s very smart, too. She took classes so she could sing our French songs. By the end of two weeks she was conjugating and joking in French. That’s how smart she is.” Large, though, was initially reluctant to fill in.

“I told China, ‘No way. Your fans are going to hate my guts.’ China has got such a flawless, beautiful voice. I would never pretend to do what she does. But Thomas was such a wonderful teacher and wonderful curator of these beautiful ballads where you don’t technically need to be flawless. You just need to be emotionally honest about what it is you’re interpreting.

“It’s been the best musical education of my life being with Pink Martini. Thomas takes songs that really move him with melody, with beauty, with color and with stories. What I discovered was my strength of interpretation and my strength of emotional honesty through song.”

Storm Large performs at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 5 at the Kentucky Theater, 214 E. Main. Tickets: $25, $35. Call (888) 718-4253 or got to

shuur thing

diane schuur.

diane schuur.

One point of order is established within the first few minutes of a conversation with Diane Schuur.

“You can call me Deedles,” said the veteran singer and pianist, who performs tonight with the Count Basie Orchestra at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville.

It’s not an exclusive club, mind you. An entire jazz generation knows the nickname. Aside from referencing the bright and exact tone of her singing and scatting, the moniker was also used as the title to her 1984 debut album. Throughout the three decades that followed, the name on her recordings – as well as the two Grammys she picked up – is Diane Schuur. But to the friends and fans she has made along the way, she is simply Deedles.

“I’m always Deedles and always evolving,” Schuur said by phone from her California home near Palm Springs. “Just because I’m in my 60s doesn’t mean my music won’t still evolve. And I’m not ashamed to say my age. I’m 61. I’ll be 62 on Dec. 10 and I am in a very good artistic place. But I think there is a lot more to do.”

Blind since birth, Schuur developed an early fondness for country music as a child growing up in suburban Seattle. But the vocal stylist who influenced her bold and remarkably clear singing style was a jazz titan, an artist Schuur is still regularly compared to – the preeminent ‘50s-era vocalist/pianist Dinah Washington.

“Oh, she was a great influence on me,” Schuur said. “She was the first influence, really. There is such a strident, joyful sound that came across in the way she delivered a song. Even with the blues there was a joyful kind of passion. It was just wonderful. I think people pick up on the fact that I have the same kind of thing.”

If Washington’s music helped guide Schuur’s sense of vocal passion and songcraft, two very different artists helped set her career in motion. The first was the genre-breaking jazz saxophonist stylist Stan Getz. The other was a vocal star who knew a sharp singer when he heard one – Frank Sinatra.

Schuur honors both artists on her most recent recording, 2014’s I Remember You (With Love to Stan and Frank).

“Stan was a very interesting individual. He could be the sweetest person in the world or he could be a curmudgeon. He used to tell me that less is more – in other words, try to bring simplicity, have the performance be understated, like he was in his playing.

“Frank and I performed in 1988 at a benefit his wife put on. Liza Minnelli wasn’t going to be able to make the date, so they asked me. So I went to Palm Springs – traveled there, I think, from somewhere in Oklahoma. It was my first trip to Palm Springs. Little did I know that I was going to wind up living there. We did the gig, Quincy Jones conducted the orchestra and it was a lot of fun.”

But the orchestra that brings Schuur to Danville tonight has maintained a longstanding partnership with the singer. The 1987 album Diane Schuur and the Count Basie Orchestra won Schuur her second Grammy. It teamed her with saxophonist, arranger and Basie alumnus Frank Foster (who took over the Basie Orchestra from Thad Jones in 1986) and the sublime Basie swing jazz guitarist Freddie Green, who died a week after the sessions with Schuur were completed.

“I was in Columbus, Ohio doing a gig that night at the Major Chord (a short lived jazz club that closed in 1989). A friend of mine called and said, ‘You just won the Grammy for Best (Jazz) Female Vocalist, second time in a row.’ Of course, I was just really thrilled. That night at Major Chord, Joe Williams happened to be in town and sat in. It was a very interesting time.

“I’ve worked with the Basie Orchestra through the years for the last couple of decades. Now we’ve got an opportunity to do so again in Kentucky. I’m pretty excited about it, too.”

The Count Basie Orchestra featuring Diane Schuur perform at 8 p.m. Oct. 30 at Newlin Hall of the Norton Center for the Arts, 600 West Walnut Street in Danville. Tickets: $39-$55. Call (877) 448-7469 or go to

dead man’s mountain

Town Mountain: Phil Barker, Jesse Langlais, Bobby Britt and Robert Greer. Photo by Sandlin Gaither.

Town Mountain: Phil Barker, Jesse Langlais, Bobby Britt and Robert Greer. Photo by Sandlin Gaither.

What happens when a bluegrass ensemble with national notoriety works on a new studio project but hopes to remain visible in the record buying marketplace pending its completion? Easy. It puts out a live album, hence the 2014 issue of Town Mountain’s exuberant concert recording, Live at the Isis, cut on the band’s home turf of Asheville, North Carolina.

Now, what happens when said band sits on said studio record, now completed right down to post production and cover art, with no confirmed release date? Why, it puts out a Dead album.

In one of the more novel stop-gap moves by a band in any genre, Town Mountain is filling the time it takes to search out a record label home for its newest studio set by re-releasing a two-song EP disc on Nov. 13 called The Dead Session. It consists not of new original works showcasing the band’s heavily rhythmic, traditionally minded bluegrass or even revisions of traditional Americana string band tunes. In instead offers a pair of honky tonk-hearty renditions of two songs by one of Town Mountain’s favorite non-bluegrass inspirations: the Grateful Dead.

“We always make jokes about it, but the two things everybody in the band can almost always agree on are Mexican food and the Grateful Dead,” said Town Mountain guitarist and principal vocalist Robert Greer. “Everybody in our band is a really big fan of the Grateful Dead and has been for years. So it was kind of a no brainer to go in and do this. I don’t remember whose idea it was initially, but everybody jumped all over it like white on rice.”

The two songs making up The Dead Session are Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo, a Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter composition that dates back to the Dead’s 1973 album Wake of the Flood, and Big River. The latter isn’t a Dead song, per se, but a Johnny Cash hit from 1958. Still, it became such a staple of Dead shows that it was largely viewed – along with other regularly covered classics like Not Fade Away, Turn On Your Love Light and Iko Iko – as part of the band’s song catalog.

Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodleoo proved a challenge because it’s extended refrain is so detached from the song’s primary melody that it sounds another tune altogether.

“I listened to Mississippi Half-Step for years before I realized it wasn’t a medley. It was all the same tune. But I love the whole thing. It’s probably my favorite Grateful Dead tune. It was a lot of fun to actually have a drummer in there, too. You need a drummer on that tune and not just somebody slapping a train beat on a snare.

“Now, Big River was a Cash tune and a classic. Bob (Weir) sang that with the Dead. But we do it as just a stompy bluegrass thing done very much in a Jimmy Martin style. Mississippi Half-Step follows pretty much the same rhythm patterns the Dead used. It’s by no means a bluegrass rhythm or structure, though. I’m not sure that those songs were consciously decided for those reasons. We just liked both of them a lot.”

Aside from appealing to the younger, jam-friendly audiences that constitute a healthy portion of Town Mountain’s fanbase The Dead Session also takes the sting out of the waiting game the band is currently playing as it searches for a record label to issue its first full studio album since 2012’s Leave the Bottle.

“The thing is in the can,” Greer said. “It’s done. It’s mixed. It’s mastered. The artwork is done. We’re all so ready to share it with everybody, but we can’t do that until we know exactly what we’re going to do. We don’t have a release date for it or anything. The label will decide that or, if we end up doing it ourselves, we’ll decide. But it won’t be out until 2016, probably in the spring.

“We’re basically in limbo waiting on this thing to come out, so it could be a time of frustration. But I’m glad to see we’re not experiencing that. I’m proud of each member keeping their head down and not worrying about what’s going on around us. We’re always going to keep doing our thing and coming back to areas we’ve spent time developing in, like Lexington, and seeing that work pay off.

“So everything is going well, but it will jump into another gear, of course, when the album comes out. There is a lot to be excited about in the future of Town Mountain for sure.”

The Travelin’ McCourys, Town Mountain and The Wooks perform at 6:45 p.m. October 28 at the Robert F. Stephens Courthouse Plaza, Main and N. Limestone. The free performance is part of Breeders’ Cups Festival.

guitar party

ben lacy and tee dee young. herald-leader staff photo by pablo alcala.

ben lacy and tee dee young jamming at young’s club on second street. herald-leader staff photo by pablo alcala.

At the very moment that the University of Kentucky succumbed to Auburn on national television last week, an occasion marked by the collective groan from those watching the football game from the lounge at bd’s Mongolian Grill, Tee Dee Young and Ben Lacy sit down nearby and chat like they are lifelong friends.

But they aren’t.

Young and Lacy are two of Lexington’s most versed and versatile guitarists with decades of local performance experience and considerable national and international touring to their credit. Young has long served as Lexington’s prime ambassador of the blues, although his shows can easily incorporate touches of r&b and funk. Lacy is the technical pro – a one man troupe that plays lead and bass lines simultaneously and dabbles in everything from pop and rock covers to jazz and jam instrumentals.

So despite hailing from very different stylistic camps, it seemed only fitting the two guitarists would share a prominent outdoor concert bill for the Breeders’ Cup Festival. That, in turn, would suggest they are also longstanding pals. But when asked how long they have, in fact, known one another, both dissolve into an immediate fit of laughter.

“We don’t even know each other that well, which is weird because we both play out all the time,” Lacy said. “It’s good to cross paths for something like this.”

“I heard you at the Lyric Theatre for the Lexington Music Awards,” Young replied. “Ben’s great,” Young replied. “He’s a great guitar player. I went online after that and listened to him do a few songs and thought, ‘No one’s doing what he’s doing. He’s unique.”

Lacy paused a second to consider the compliment. “Unique,” he said. “I like that word.”

The admiration is reciprocal as Lacy is also at the ready to pour on the praise for Young, whose Monday night shows and jam sessions at his East Second St. club have long been one of Lexington’s foremost weeknight music traditions.

“Tee Dee is awesome,” Lacy said “Tee Dee is a killing guitar player. He brings that blues essence, that smoking guitar sound and is a hell of an entertainer on top of that. It’s a rare trait to do both of those well. You’ve got cats that can entertain pretty good but can’t really play. He does both and is an awesome singer, too. Tee Dee is a triple threat.”

A Lexington native, Young has been a guitarist since his teens and has been holding court at his club, Tee Dee’s, for over 30 years. But his music has often spread beyond local stages. He has shared bills with giants like James Brown, Aretha Franklin and Albert King over the years and has competed in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis. He will take part in the latter for the fourth time early in 2016 with a tour of Europe already confirmed for later in the year.

Here at home, though, he views the Breeders’ Cup Festival show with Lacy as a form of musical solidarity as well as a way to properly promote local talent at time when a lot of outside guests will be flocking in and around downtown.

“I think all the musicians in town should come together and be one big family,” Young said. “It doesn’t matter what style they play. Musicians are musicians. It doesn’t matter who you are.”

Lacy took up the guitar at age seven and, as his bio proudly states, quickly got on the wrong side of a classical guitar instructor after stating the teacher was out of tune. Despite appearances in various duo and collaborative settings – as well as concerts with guitar luminaries like Al DiMeola, Larry Coryell and Phil Keaggy – Lacy is perhaps best enjoyed on his own. There his singular approach to harmony, melody and bass designs – the combination of which regularly suggests multiple players at work – can be experienced.

“I’m going to make sure we come out rocking,” Lacy said of his Breeders’ Cup Festival performance plans. “I want to make sure we’re out there swinging. We don’t want anything too mellow. There will be a lot of funky improvs and some rock stuff, and Tee Dee’s got the blues covered, obviously. I mean, you’ve got to love a good outdoor show. It’s going to be high energy, high octane and a lot of fun.”

Tee Dee Young and Ben Lacy perform at 6:45 tonight at Robert F. Stephens Courthouse Plaza, Main and N. Limestone as part of the Breeders’ Cups Festival. The performance in free.

time it is a-changing

time for three: nicolas kendall, ranaan meyer and zach depue. photo by leann mueller.

time for three: zach depue, ranaan meyer and nicholas kendall. photo by leann mueller.

The notion of stylistic diversity within any musical genre is no longer a distinction or bragging right – at least not to the members of Time for Three. To them, it’s just a given that stretches from the audiences the boundary-busting string trio performs for right through to artists defining contemporary music in and out of the classical world.

“Music is all about twelve notes, half steps and rhythm that is instinctual in a world where the i-pod is a mixture of genres,” said Time for Three bassist Ranaan Meyer. “I challenge anyone to find one person, even the most purely musical person in the world, that only listens to one genre. Even if they think they only listen to one, they probably don’t. They’re probably just unaware that they like more than that.”

That explains why Meyer, along with violinists Nick Kendall and Zach De Pue command a repertoire than includes works by Americana giants like Aaron Copeland, commissioned concertos and interpretations of songs from such contemporary artists as Leonard Cohen and Kanye West.

The blend brought the three players, who met as students at the Curtis Institute for Music in Philadelphia, to the Lexington Philharmonic for a March 2012 performance. They return for the orchestra’s Americana Soundscapes concert tonight at the Singletary Center.

“We tend to rule our own world with a communal sense of organic development where it’s not about feeling restrained,” Meyer said. “It’s actually the opposite of that. It started from day one when we began to jam. We were just doing it for fun. I never thought it was going to be a profession. I never thought we were going to become a band where we would play a classical piece and then put a bluegrass groove under it, etc.

“We were just being silly at times because we were experimenting. All of a sudden, we were saying, ‘Whoa. This actually sounds good.’ So Time for Three for 15 years has lived in this sense of incubation where we have a sense of freedom, and that freedom has just created something where we can’t even consider going any other way. For us, this is what is normal.”

The meat of tonight’s concert with the Philharmonic will be the trio’s second commissioned concerto, Chris Brubeck’s Travels in Time for Three. The composer, son of iconic jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, developed much of the work out of watching and even recording Time for Three in performance.

“Chris and I got together for several days of jamming and just letting the music organically develop. After that, he had the theme of the piece. I remember vividly during the third movement when I started to read my bass part. I said, ‘Chris, this is really hard.’ He said, ‘Dude, you played that. I transcribed exactly the solo you played into my recording device and put it on paper. That came from you.’ There were many instances like that, where we were just shocked. It was like, ‘Really? We actually did that?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ So that felt really great, like the piece truly was ours.

“That said, Chris comes from a rich tradition of jazz and American roots music and he really put that into this piece. I’m not sure if he thinks of it this way, but I view it as Time for Three getting in a time machine and going through all these different eras of music of our country, from the Celtic music traditions all the way into the development of jazz and Jelly Roll Morton, etc. as it travels into New Orleans and into bebop, hard bop, funk and almost everything in between. It really is this incredible fusion of modern day American music.”

As forward thinking as Time for Three has been, the Lexington concert will also mark one of its final dozen or so performances with De Pue, who will soon depart the group to work as concertmaster for the Indianapolis Symphony. His successor, violinist Nikki Chooi, has already been performing on the trio’s current tour. The Friday concert, however, will highlight a last look and listen to the founding lineup.

“Nikki is the new rookie who is 10 years younger than us and just has this spark and energy. He can, sort of speak, run faster than the two older guys. We’re all learning from each other in a new way. It’s like going from one marriage to another marriage. We appreciate the times that we’ve had with Zach, but we’re moving on. The differences with us, though, are that these marriages are all amicable.”

The Lexington Philharmonic and Time for Three perform at 7:30 pm.tonight at the Singletary Center for the Arts, Rose and Euclid. Tickets: $25-$75. Call (859) 233-4226 or got to

take two for rodney and emmylou

rodney crowell and emmylou harris. photo by amy sussman — amy sussman/invision/AP

rodney crowell and emmylou harris. photo by amy sussman — amy sussman/invision/AP

As Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell were in the midst of touring behind their first fully collaborative album after a decades-long personal and artistic friendship, the inevitable question surfaced.

Would Old Yellow Moon, their debut record as a duo and a 2013 Grammy winner for Best Americana Album, be a one-off adventure before the two resumed active solo careers or the catalyst for perhaps a second project together.

“I think it was Emmy’s birthday,” Crowell said by phone earlier this week. “We were having a band dinner in Charleston or Savannah – somewhere. We were celebrating and Emmy turns to me and says, ‘This is so much fun. Let’s make another record.’”

That set in motion a follow-up. But Crowell sought to rattle the game plan for the album that became 2015’s The Traveling Kind.

Where Old Yellow Moon leaned more toward covers of country-inspired tunes both vintage (Roger Miller’s Invitation to the Blues and Crowell’s own Bluebird Wine, which also served as the first song on Harris’ 1975 Warner Bros. debut album, Pieces of the Sky) and comparatively contemporary (Matraca Berg’s Back When We Were Beautiful and Patti Scialfa’s Spanish Dancer), the new record was to stress original songs – new original songs. Crowell anticipated some hesitation on Harris’ part on that front and got it.

“The one thing I know about Emmy, and she’ll be the first to say this, is I was the one who got her into the studio and into the writing for this record. I knew all I had to do was get her in there. That took a little bit of, ‘Okay, let’s do this. We’ve got to write these songs.’ But I knew what would happen. Once Emmy gets into the room and gets down into the work, the other responsibilities she has fall away. Then you can’t get her out of there. Once that faucet’s on, she is a source.”

What resulted were a string of new tunes the two co-wrote that included the chiming Cajun charmer La Danse de la Joie, the bluesy environmental call-to-arms The Weight of the World and the delicate tale of spiritual wanderlust within The Traveling Kind’s title song. Also new was the aid of a master pop stylist as producer who more than knew his way through a graceful, roots-friendly Americana session – Joe Henry. That ensured The Traveling Kind would be a true collaborative work and not just a cumulative array of songs largely fashioned by the artists on their own.

“That was very much the intent with Old Yellow Moon, too,” Crowell said. “A lot of the time we spent getting that record to the place it got to involved Emmy and I making sure what we were doing was a conversation rather than so much of the ‘me, me, me’ and ‘I, I, I’ stuff. That’s why we decided to do Dreaming My Dreams (an Allen Reynolds song of love outlasting loneliness previously covered by such stylistic disparate artists as Waylon Jennings and Cowboy Junkies). It’s a conversation. It’s not necessarily a conversation between two people trying to work out a romantic relationship, but two old friends trying to work out life’s ups and downs.

“There is this tendency for men and women to come together and present this image of being lovers. Emmy and I never had to do that. First of all, it would have been a fake pose. What we were aiming for was using our sensibilities as one.”

That sensibility underscores the longevity of their friendship, which extends back to 1974. Crowell would become a key member of Harris’ initial Hot Band lineup before leaving in 1977 to pursue his own music. Through the years, though, Harris would record and popularize numerous Crowell’s songs (Till I Gain Control, Ashes By Now and I Ain’t Living Long Like This – all gems from her Warner records) and well as co-write with him (Wrecking Ball’s Waltz Across Texas Tonight and Red Dirt Girl’s Tragedy).

“On a personal level, what we’re doing now is an expansion and a deepening of a love I already had for a really good friend of mine,” Crowell said. “I love Emmylou. We sometime joke and say, ‘We were smart enough not to try and get romantically involved.’ As a result, we bring no baggage to this collaboration. And that’s a shared experience.

“On an artistic level, to work night after night with one of the great vocalists of our time has helped me grow a great deal as a singer. There are things I can do now – reaching those notes and finding that feeling – without having to labor. Before, it just took a great deal of effort. The beauty of that for me is I’m now moving closer to the music I’ve always wanted to make.”

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell perform at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at the Lexington Opera House, 401 Short St. Tickets are $85.50. Call (800) 745-3000, (859) 233-3535 or got to

radio waves

debraun thomas this week at the break room at pepper. herald-leader staff photo by rich copley.

debraun thomas this week at the break room at pepper. herald-leader staff photo by rich Copley.

Debraun Thomas has made radio his livelihood for much of the seven years he has spent in Lexington. But that didn’t exactly brace him for the experience of hearing his own music on the very station that serves as his employer.

“I’ve been getting some airplay on WUKY, which in itself has been an interesting thing because I do work there,” Thomas said. “So I understand how some folks might look at that as favoritism, but it really isn’t.

“I was sitting in my car when the station played the first song on the album. As the music started, it really hit me what was happening. Over the years I’ve been in radio, I have played thousands upon thousands of songs. But I didn’t know that was going to be what it felt like to have your song played on the radio.”

The album in question is All My Colors Are Blind and the tune Thomas heard played back on WUKY was Bedroom Stranger, a propulsive blast of funk-driven rock ‘n’ roll with Thomas’ meaty vocals leading the charge with waves of churchy organ and horns at his back. The tune – and the entire album, for that matter – also sports a guitar voice as commanding as his singing.

“I think Solomon Burke actually coined this phrase, but I call the music I do rock and soul. It’s rock, it’s roll, but it’s full of everything in between. As an artist of color, I think it’s easy for me, because I play guitar, to get lumped into a blues category. While blues is very much a basis of American music and is the very basis of the music I grew up listening to, that’s not really all it is. Each song on the album characteristically sounds different from one another.”

Though his mother is from Adair County with several other family members hailing from Kentucky, Thomas is a native of the San Francisco Bay area. He moved to Lexington to study journalism at the University of Kentucky (he graduated in 2012) and has been working regularly at WUKY since then in various capacities. There he hosts Local Music Mondays, a weekly series that profiles Lexington artists.

“The Bay Area is filled with a lot of really great music,” Thomas said. “But the one thing I find really special about Lexington, perhaps because it is so centralized, is this really large and concentrated talent pool of musicians. When I moved here, I found there were a lot of people in this particular city that are super, ridiculously talented. That’s just been another thing I love about Lexington. I get to jam with really great people and learn from them.”

Having performed with the local hip hop ensemble A Tribe Called Lex, the soul/R&B cover band Soul Funkin Dangerous and a semi-regular Funkadelic tribute troupe called Freak of the Weekend (“That’s another really fun thing I love about Lexington. There are a lot of people here who love Funkadelic.”), Thomas most frequently appears with a trio that includes bassist Smith Donaldson and drummer Daniel Mohler. All My Colors are Blind, however, also sports help from a who’s-who of local music faves, many of whom are planning on joining Thomas for his album release show this weekend at Cosmic Charlie’s.

“The CD is a culmination of the last five years of my life where I was trying to figure out musically what I wanted to do. I’m still dealing with the fact that I can hold one of these things in my hand. The great thing, though, is each one of these songs still means a lot to me. The fact I can finally share them with everybody is tremendous.”

Debraun Thomas performs at 10 p.m. Oct. 17 at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. Admission is $7. Call (859) 309-9499 or go to

the brand new ben rector

ben rector. photo by eric ryan anderson.

ben rector. photo by eric ryan Anderson.

By his own admission, Ben Rector is a pessimist.

You wouldn’t sense that by listening to his songs – reflective, subtle ruminations full of folk-fortified detail and pop laced accessibility. You wouldn’t know that by his fanbase, a devout following that sent his aptly titled Brand New album to No. 9 on the Billboard 200 charts in August during its first week of release. Similarly, you wouldn’t view a sold out performance at the House of Blues in Chicago last month or two more sellouts this weekend at the Ryman Auditorium in Rector’s current home base of Nashville as products of a downcast attitude.

It’s also hard to detect any clouds of doubt in conversation with the 28 year old songsmith. Much like his music, a chat with Rector reveals an artist of polite, exacting but quiet confidence. But he is also the first one to tell you he never fathomed his still-young career would trigger much appeal to, well, anyone.

“Anytime we’re taking a step forward, I’m always a little bit antsy,” said Rector, who makes his Lexington performance debut tonight at the Singletary Center for the Arts. “I’ve always been like, ‘I don’t know. Will however many thousand people in all of these cities come to see me?’ I mean, it’s crazy that they would, but it has gone well so far.”

A strong indie artist for the past five years, Rector has amassed impressive indie sales (over 250,000 albums and two million downloads) and chart visibility (his 2013 album, The Walking in Between, was a Top 20 hit). But there is a reason his sixth and newest studio release is titled Brand New. The rigors of non-stop touring coupled with self-imposed demands on songwriting and recording left the Tulsa native depleted after his Live in Denver set hit stores last year.

“In total honesty, I was tired. Things in my career so far have gone better than I ever thought they would. But it has also been pretty taxing because I’ve played a ton of shows and have made a few records in quick succession. That was just what I was used to. When I finished the last record cycle, I realized I was burned out. I knew I needed to rediscover why I loved music and get back to that.

“When I was in college, everything was new and everything felt vibrant. I was doing it because I loved it. More recently, I felt I had been squeezing some of the joy out of the writing and recording process. This is going to sound weird, but if my creative mindset was a garden, it didn’t feel like it was very fertile.”

Rector’s remedy involved making a recording he felt possessed the freshness and purpose of a debut work. In doing so, though, Brand New worked as a travelogue of his personal and professional life. Songs like The Men That Drive Me Places, a reserved, piano led work, contemplated exactly that – the people from other walks of life who chauffeured his touring adventures. Other tunes, including Paris, are more overtly romantic with a hushed pop bounce that brings such master songwriters as Paul Simon to mind.

“I really wanted to get back to a place where the music I was making felt like it was just jumping out of the speakers, like it was something infectious. But trying to recreate that kind of mind set was remarkably difficult. At some point, when you sit down at a piano or with a guitar, you’ve played everything you know how to play. It’s hard to find something that hits your ears and your mind as a new and inspiring thing.

“But instead of worrying about stuff so much – like maybe that the show isn’t good enough or the record isn’t good enough – I feel like I’m trying to soak up the good parts of everything that is happening because things are definitely at a stage that I never thought they would be. It would be a big loss not to look around and enjoy that.”

Ben Rector performs at 8 tonight at the Singletary Center for the Arts Concert Hall. Tickets: $25, $35. Call (859) 257-4929 or got to

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