Archive for profiles

trombone shorty standing tall

Trombone_Shorty_Pic

trow andrews, aka trombone shorty.

Seldom do expectations brew around the buzz of a new artist the way they did when Troy Andrews – known to pop, soul and jazz audiences worldwide as Trombone Shorty – made his Lexington debut four years ago.

Granted, Andrews could have hardly been considered a novice at the time in his native New Orleans. Equally proficient on trumpet as well as trombone, he was playing professionally at age six, touring the world alongside Lenny Kravitz right out of high school and performing with the likes of U2, Green Day, the Dave Matthews Band and Jeff Beck before getting introduced to local audiences with a Courthouse Plaza performance tied to the 2010 Alltech World Equestrian Games.

Some who turned out for the performance knew the kind of profile Andrews was establishing. Others had no clue. But before a brilliantly diverse audience, especially in terms of age, Andrews and his Orleans Avenue band delivered a blend of New Orleans funk, rock and R&B accented by vintage soul and contemporary hip hop.

“That was such a great night because what we were doing was not really based off a hit song or anything like that,” said Andrews, who returns to town for a performance tonight at the Singletary Center for the Arts.

“To see that in Lexington at that time and for the people there to trust us enough to put on a show where they could dance and just have fun was great. It’s a thrill to have an audience like that. Those people didn’t have any expectation that night but to have a good time. They didn’t know what songs we were going to play or even what we would sound like. Now, I think, they might have some idea.”

Andrews’ return also comes a year after the release of Say That to Say This, a record that expands further the cross generational scope of his music.

To produce the record, Andrews enlisted Raphael Saadiq, the veteran singer and multi-instrumentalist devoted to finding new voices for old school soul. He has also produced records for stars like John Legend and Mary J. Blige.

“Raphael is just a legend all around in my eyes,” Andrews said. “He actually became a member of the band at certain points on this record. Sometimes you get producers that know how to produce records but they can’t explain to you musically or theoretically what they want. But he was able to get in there and show us by playing with us.”

Favoring tradition on Say That to Say This was a version of Be My Lady, a song written and recorded by the cherished New Orleans funk troupe The Meters in 1977. But Andrews wanted more than a cover tune. He was after a full blown Meters reunion for the session. That meant contacting members Art Neville, George Porter Jr, Zigaboo Modeliste and Leo Nocentelli separately as they had long ago stopped working with a band manager.

“We all pulled it together,” Andrews said. “At some point during the recording session when they got the song back up under their fingers again, they started to jam out. That very moment was the experience I never thought I would have. I saw The Meters and how they created all those legendary albums back in the ‘70s. It was amazing how exciting the vibes were when they got used to playing with each other in the studio again.

“That kind of tradition is in me, too. But I also have to create a new tradition so kids under me have something to base music off of the way I’ve had Allen Toussaint, the Neville Brothers and The Meters. Maybe I can become one of those people to give the new generation a platform to keep the music moving forward.”

Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue with Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds perform at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 12 at the Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose St. Tickets are $27-$35. Call (859) 257-4929 or go to http://finearts.uky.edu/singletary-center.

speaking trio with marcus roberts

Marcus Roberts

marcus roberts

The piano trio – it’s a stately, functional staple of jazz. From the famed ‘50s and ‘60s trios of Bill Evans through the present day groups of Brad Mehldau, the configuration of piano, bass and drums has created everything from impressionistic portraits of the blues to gallant exhibitions of swing.

But there is a reason such a setting is called a piano trio. Inevitably, the band interplay is built around the lead voice of a keyboard. That’s the part Marcus Roberts is out to modify – if not change outright – when he performs his first Lexington concert in nearly two decades tonight at the Opera House.

“What we’re ultimately about is a philosophy of playing,” Roberts said. “It’s about bringing the bass and drums to more of an equal position in the trio. A lot of that has to do with how the music is arranged. If it is arranged the right way, the bass and drums can participate a lot more in determining the musical direction, the rhythm, the grooves we play, the tempos, even the form depending on how well thought out it is. That’s the basic goal of it, to increase the power of the trio’s sound through making the drums and bass more equal in what is being featured.”

Equality like that is often born out of band spirit. On Roberts’ 2013 album, From Rags to Rhythm, the pianist’s longtime trio mates – bassist Rodney Jordan and drummer Jason Marsalis – create solo, duo and trio exchanges that purposely de-emphasize the piano’s dominance. (Program note: Roberts’ original trio drummer, Herlin Riley, who backed the pianist on his landmark 1989 album Deep in the Shed, will sub for Marsalis at tonight’s performance.).

On the surface, such diplomacy might seem a deterrent to Roberts’ enormous instrumental vocabulary, which covers rich stride styles, deep New Orleans rhythms (no mean trick, given how he is a native Floridian) and the performance inspirations of myriad piano giants (from Scott Joplin to Thelonious Monk). But another influence is also at work within Roberts’ music – namely, the bandleading abilities the pianist absorbed through an ‘80s apprenticeship with Wynton Marsalis (elder brother of Jason Marsalis).

“Wynton hired me at a point where, honestly, I don’t know if anybody else really wanted to or was as open as he was to it,” Roberts said “But he was willing to give me a chance. That was a very important opportunity for me.”

A Jacksonville native, Roberts lost his sight as a child due to glaucoma. Living with blindness as he worked, taught (as Associate Professor of Jazz Studies at Florida State University) and excelled as a jazz artist with a catalog of over 20 albums has proved to be largely an exercise in attitude.

“It’s a disability,” he said. “That means there is something that just doesn’t work at all. So what you have to do is make sure that disability doesn’t get in the way of what you want to do. My mother raised us and she is totally blind. That helped me grow up without any attitude toward the disability that made me a victim. That’s the first thing.

“The second thing deals with the music. I’ve always prided myself on being a total, complete musician. I certainly use my ears, of course. I like to do things naturally. But I also learned how to read braille music notation and I’ve learned enough about print music notation to dictate print music to people. In other words, the key thing is to make sure the disability in no way limits what it is you can do or want to do.

“That might require you to use your other senses more or sacrifice a lot of time to learn new things. Whatever you need to do, then that’s what you’ve got to do.”

Marcus Roberts Trio: A Grand Celebration. 8 p.m. Sept.12 at the Lexington Opera House. Tickets: $30-$50. Call (859) 233-3535, (800) 745-3000 or go to www.ticketmaster.com.

jason aldean through the years

jason aldean

jason aldean.

One of the intriguing side effects of the frequency with which many country artists play Rupp Arena is the ability to chart and sometimes predict career growth.

Review the venue’s history and you will find all kind of instances where the major leaguers of today were once humble show openers. Garth Brooks opened for The Judds in 1992. Tim McGraw opened for Dwight Yoakam in 1994. Comparatively recently, the unstoppable Luke Bryan opened for Rascal Flatts in 2008.

A prime example of how repeat performance business translates into steady, sustained growth is the career of Jason Aldean. In under a decade, the Georgia born star has played a New Year’s Eve concert at Heritage Hall (2007), a co-headlining show with Miranda Lambert in the pouring rain at the then-named Applebee’s Park (2009) and shows at Rupp as an opening act (2007) and sold-out headliner (2011).

With his return to Rupp on Saturday, I have revisited separate interviews I conducted with Aldean ahead of three of those concerts. Together they form a history of an artist on the ascent to stardom.

Let’s begin with the show that got everything rolling – a February 2007 opening set, also for Rascal Flatts, at Rupp. At the time Aldean was fresh from a hit debut album but far from the marquee country name now capable of headlining stadiums.

“Rascal Flatts was the first act that really took a chance with us,” Aldean said prior to that performance. “They put us on their tour when we didn’t really have a whole lot going on except for one song (the breakthrough Aldean hit Hicktown) on the radio. That right there tells you what kind of people they are.”

Fast forward to September 2009 and Aldean was back for the rain-drenched Applebee’s Park show. The performance came on the crest of a summer that kept Aldean atop the charts with two successive hits – She’s Country and Big Green Tractor.

“It’s amazing to have just one single come out and change your career,” Aldean said. “I’ve heard people say that before, but I never really understood it until She’s Country hit. And it did, too. That song changed everything for us. Now we’ve had back-to-back multi-week No. 1 hits. Who could ask for anything more? This has laid the groundwork for the rest of this year and will set us up for the future. We are now at a very good place.” 

Perhaps the gravity of that performance, and the tireless fervor of the audience attending it, didn’t fully register with Aldean until he returned to Rupp in March 2011.

 “Man, I remember that night,” Aldean said of the Applebee Park’s deluge. “As the rain was pouring down, I was thinking, ‘Man, by the time I get out there, half of these people are going to be gone.’ So to walk out onstage and see that none of them had left, that everybody was out there getting soaked… well, I just thought that if they were willing to do that, then I sure don’t mind getting soaked with them.”

Aldean’s third Rupp outing this weekend comes on the heels of the massive radio hit Burnin’ It Down, a preview single from his forthcoming Old Boots, New Dirt album. The record, the singer’s sixth studio work, is set for release on Oct. 7.

“I feel I’ve settled into a groove now,” Alden said in 2011. “I’m able to be at home more and even bring my family out on the road with me if I’m gone for a while. The schedule is still kind of crazy. But because there has been such a gradual climb to my career, the transition has been fairly easy.

“But this career… it’s just a different lifestyle, man. I don’t know if you ever get used to it. You live your life a certain way and then all of a sudden you’ve got a record deal and you start having some success. It’s like a light switch. Everything changes.”

Jason Aldean, Florida Georgia Line and Tyler Farr perform at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 13 at Rupp Arena. Tickets: $29.75-$59.75. Call (859) 233-3535, (800) 745-3000 or go to www.ticketmaster.com

stringdusting at terrapin hill

infamous stringdusters

The Infamous Stringdusters: Travis Book, Andy Falco, Jeremy Garrett, Andy Hall and Chris Pandolfi.

Take five string players residing in four different locales, gather them together so the varied stylistic agendas they have designed for their songs can be hashed out and you have the makings of a session with the Infamous Stringdusters.

Such summits – and, especially, the music that results – yield a crisp blend of bluegrass instrumentation, folk and pop song structures, jazz rooted improvisation and more. On the Stringdusters’ new Let It Go album, it all falls into place with a blend that sounds both cohesive and cordial. Still, one can’t help but wonder how a pack of geographically and stylistically varied players can all get their say in a Stringdusters song without it sounding like the musical equivalent of an arms race.

“You know, I wonder the same thing,” said fiddler Jeremy Garrett, who will perform with the Stringdusters at the band’s Saturday headlining set during the weekend-long Terrapin Hill Harvest Festival in Harrodsburg.”

“We will come up with an arrangement and, I swear, there will be five different opinions on how something could go. Who knows why we chose one idea over another. Sometimes I have no clue. Other times, it makes perfect sense and I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, that’s obviously how that part will go.’ But every time, the feeling is, ‘Man, that’s cool. If you want to do it that way, go ahead.’

“It doesn’t really matter which way an idea goes as long as it’s good and professional and fitting for the song.”

The self-described “bluegrass guy” of the band, Garrett lives in Nashville, where the Stringdusters formed in 2005. At present, dobro player Andy Hall and banjoist Chris Pandolfi reside in Colorado, guitarist Andy Cobb works out of Long Island in New York and bassist Travis Book has a home within the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. The sounds and styles the Stringdusters employ are rooted in inspirations that are equally far reaching.

“As a songwriter, I have certain things in mind for my songs and so does everybody else in the band that writes. But when you bring your song to the band, it takes on a whole new life. That’s when the magic happens – when the five of us are able to do our thing together by pulling on these different influences.

“I’ve been pretty much steeped in bluegrass since I was a kid. My dad was a bluegrass musician, too, but I also listen to Metallica and Nirvana and Guns ‘N Roses. I was influenced just as much by that music as I was by the music I was playing. Those influences can’t help but creep in – different little rhythmic things, vocal stylings and perhaps just the feel of a song. So it’s not just Flatt & Scruggs-type bluegrass we’re playing anymore and the reason is because of all the influences that we put together.

“That being said, we’re still drawing on that really solid bluegrass foundation, which has provided a sense of integrity to our musicianship. That’s why we sort of come off as bluegrass. But, yeah these other influences are definitely seeping through.”

The stylistic breadth of the band is also reflected by the kinds of musical company it keeps. The notables that have sat in with the Stringdusters of late have included Grateful Dead bassist/co-founder Phil Lesh, the esteemed jazz guitarist John Scofield and New Orleans’ cherished Preservation Hall Jazz Band.

“For me, the real treat was getting to play with true seasoned veteran musicians. To get to play with people like that is among the highest forms of satisfying moments you get as a musician.”

The Terrapin Hill Harvest Festival featuring The Infamous Stringdusters, The New Mastersounds, Rumpke Mountain Boys, David Gans, Vessel, Orgone, Mojoflo, Bawn in the Mash and others runs Sept. 5-7, at Terrapin Hill Farm, 96 Mackville Rd., Harrodsburg. Tickets are $50, $95. Parking $5. Call (859) 734-7207 or go to www.terrapinhillfestivals.com, www.ticketweb.com

a night on the townies

coralee

coralee rehearsing earlier this week at shangri-la, the studio where she recorded ‘criminal pride.’ herald-leader staff photo by mark conrnelison.

Among the gems on the debut Coralee and the Townies album Criminal Pride is a bit of honky tonk bashing called Cautionary Chorus, a tune of smalltown loves, lies and retribution set against as an assured roots country groove.

Take your pick as to what qualifies as the song’s most enticing attribute – the Townies’ scholarly command and assimilation of Americana traditions, the cool but scolding command of Coralee’s singing or the song’s masterful construction which gleefully goes digging for “the nitty gritty from the dirt committee.”

“I’m not a very good free speaker,” Lexington songstress Coralee said. “I’m not very good at expressing myself freely. I have to sit down and really think things out, which is not always a pleasant thing to do. But a lot of times, that’s where the songs come from, it’s me trying to work out something that I’m dealing with.”

For the past five years, Coralee and the Townies haves grown into one of Lexington’s top club draws. So it might seem surprisingly that the band is just now releasing its first album. The reason? Simple. It took three years to make.

“It’s the biggest thrill of my life,” Coralee said. “I love recording. I love playing live shows. I love playing with the band, but I really love recording. I love the sound engineering and the mixing and all that stuff. I just like the studio as another instrument.

“For me, this is the fulfillment of my vision for these songs – and that’s major. Now, even the guys in the band have come to understand the songs in a different way.”

Much of the band’s reputation stems from sounds rooted in traditional country and honky tonk. But there are also strong currents of vintage R&B within Coralee’s robust singing and numerous stylistic accents surrounding the playing of the established Lexington veterans that make up the Townies – keyboardist Lee Carroll (formerly of Exile and The Judds) and drummer David White (an alumnus of the Metropolitan Blues All-Stars) along with such equally practiced Lexington pros as pedal steel ace Fred Sexton, guitarist Smith Donaldson and bassist Scott Wilmoth.

Typicial of Criminal Pride’s unwillingness to be branded strictly as a country revivalist venture is the album-opening prelude to Night Song, a nocturnal wash of guitar ambience by Sexton and “Out of Townie” guitarist Justin Craig. The sounds were quilted together by Criminal Pride producer Duane Lundy, who also oversaw an initial EP record by the band in 2011, and Coralee, who wrote, co-produced and co-mixed all 11 songs on Criminal Pride.

“You hear a name like Coralee and the Townies and a lot of people associate you with straight country,” the singer said. “I wanted people to understand right off the bat that this isn’t your traditional country sounding record.”

Perhaps the next big question facing Coralee and the Townies is “Now what?” What is expected of the band’s new music now that Criminal Pride has found its way to audiences?

“I had to ask myself a lot of really hard questions about what I want out of having the record completed, about what I want for this band and myself,” Coralee said. “I guess the ultimate goal is to have the money to be able to make the records that we want to make, to spend time on the road and really make the music a full time job.

“But ultimately, I want to carve my own path in that regard. I don’t want anyone telling us what to do. I think we are a unique band and we all have to do it our way. As long as we can keep making records and keep playing, that’s all I really want.”

Coralee and the Townies and Small Batch perform at 10 p.m. Sept. 6 at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. Cover charge is $10. Call (859) 309-9499 or go to www.cosmic-charlies.com. Coralee and the Townies will also perform a free in-store set at CD Central, 377 S. Limestone at 7 p.m. Sept. 9. For info, call (859) 233-3472 or go to www.cdcentralmusic.com.

the continuing adventures of lyle lovett

lyle lovett 3

Lyle Lovett aboard Smart and Shiney during the 2011 Ariat Reining Cup at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Alltech Arena.

There are some things you just don’t ask a rancher, not even if he also happens to be one of the country’s most celebrated song stylists.

But there Lyle Lovett was two weeks ago on The Late Show with David Letterman, eager to discuss a summer tour with his famed Large Band that hits the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond on Thursday and perhaps give a plug to his recurring acting duties on the FX series The Bridge. But Letterman wanted to talk about the size of the Texas ranch built by Lovett’s grandfather in 1911 that still serves as the songwriter’s home today.

“I was always told not to ever answer those kinds of questions and certainly don’t ever ask them,” Lovett said. “Never ask anybody how big their place is, how many acres they have or how many cows they have.”

Never at a loss for a gracious phrase, even when ranch protocol is breached, Lovett smiled and replied that the acreage was simply “more than you could mow in one afternoon.”

Letterman politely conceded and countered with horse talk that brought Lovett to Lexington by way of a youtube clip of him astride his horse Smart and Shiney competing in the 2011 Ariat Reining Cup at the Kentucky Horse Park’s Alltech Arena – an event that came a mere seven months after Lovett and the Large Band closed the 2010 World Equestrian Games in the same venue.

“Dave’s producer told me before the show, ‘Dave wants to talk about horses and we found this this clip…’”

Of his acting exploits, Lovett is encouraged and excited. While he takes it as seriously as any other part of his very versatile work life, he views acting as a kind of extracurricular activity, one his musical career has helped place in proper perspective.

“I don’t pursue acting work the way actors do,” Lovett said. “But every now and then, somebody will ask for me. I’ve enjoyed every acting job I’ve ever done, just for the change of pace, the chance to eavesdrop on somebody else’s creative process, and to appreciate the differences.

“You know, we are 32 people on the road for this tour with the Large Band. That includes band, crew, everyone. But when I start feeling like that’s a lot, I think about what a day on a film set costs and how many people it takes just to make that work. It makes me appreciate just how flexible I am as a musician. I can work whenever I want. I can call my agent and say, ‘Let’s tour in two or three months’ and we can do that. Certainly with acting work, it’s not that way.”

Still, the most visible public profiles Lovett maintains are his roles as singer-songwriter and bandleader.

The former was bred out of a longstanding tradition of expert Texas songsmiths that fused folk-hearty narratives with expansive country and Americana soundscapes for a sound that was remarkably emotive, exact and human.

“I feel really lucky to have had that kind of direct access to great songwriters like Guy Clark, Townes Van Zandt, Willis Alan Ramsey and Steven Fromholz, and to be able to have heard Willie Nelson when he first came back to Texas after his days in Nashville. To be able to experience all that first hand really made me want to play guitar and write songs.”

Then there is the scope of that writing. Since his 1986 self-titled debut album, Lovett has fashioned songs of darkness (Baltimore) and grace (The Road to Ensenada), of desolation (Nobody Knows Me) and whimsy (Here I Am), and in one joyous instance – 1996’s That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas) – a song so overflowing with Lone Star pride that it was used in public service announcements for the Texas Travel and Tourism Board.

Of the many ensembles he has taken on the road over the decades, none has offered as complete a view of the vastness of Lovett’s songwriting as the Large Band – a part honky tonk troupe, part Western swing brigade and part jazz orchestra. This summer, the group sports 14 members. Among them is veteran soul songstress Francine Reed, who is touring with the Large Band tour for the first time in four years.

“What makes me fearless and confident going into a tour, what makes me look forward to just having a good time are the people I get to stand on the stage with,” Lovett said. “I look forward to every show, no matter if it’s hot outside and if there are mosquitos swarming around. The band makes me enjoy each show absolutely.”

Lyle Lovett and his Large Band will perform at 7:30 p.m. Sept. 4 at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. Tickets are $34-$80. For tickets, call (859) 622-7469 or to go to http://ekucenter.com.

revenge of the windbreakers

Spinal_Tap_Break_Like_The_Wind

spinal tap in 1992: cover art for ‘break like the wind’

In honor of Wednesday’s 30th anniversary showing of This is Spinal Tap at the Kentucky Theatre, here is a 1992 interview I conducted with Harry Shearer, one the film’s (and the band’s) three comic architects.

The occasion was a summer tour for which Spinal Tap transformed itself from a purely cinematic creation into an actual live performance band. There was even a new album, the poetically titled Break Like the Wind, to tie into the tour.

To our fine fortune, though, Shearer insisted on being interviewed in character as Spinal Tap bassist Derek Smalls. During our talk, he discussed those pesky pod props used during shows that were always a trial to climb out of, the clumsy reputation he feels his band earned as a result of This Is Spinal Tap and how tough it can be finding your way to the stage some nights. 

Q: How does it feel to be on tour again? 
A: Great. The amps are louder than ever now, so we’re able to feel the power more than ever. We’re able to dominate an audience far better as a result. It’s serious pain. 
Q: Is pain important to Spinal Tap? 
A: Oh yeah. It’s part of our philosophy as artists. What every artist wants to communicate is pain. True pain. What we do is play so bloody loud that we actually inflict physical pain on you. Also, our lyrical and thematic concepts are so multilayered and confusing that you experience mental pain trying to figure them out. So you really do feel our pain. That’s true communication.

Q: So if an audience member fled from one of your concerts screaming in agony, would that be a sign that you are getting your message across? 
A: That would be like a Nobel Prize. 
Q: Do you feel Spinal Tap has anything to prove with this tour? 
A: If we’ve got anything to prove, it’s just the movie was a hatchet job. We want people to know that the Spinal Tap you think you know is not the real Spinal Tap. 
Q: You really feel that the movie was a hatchet job? 
A: I know it was. We found the stage plenty of times. But they never showed that, did they? I made it out of the pod at least six times out of 10. For eight years, it was ‘Oh, Derek, you going to make it out of the pod tonight?’ 
Q: Do you think audiences agree with your opinion of the film? 
A: Listen, you can only pull the wool over people’s eyes for just so long before they go, ‘Oh, that’s hot and scratchy.’ Especially in the summertime. 
Q: Spinal Tap supposedly disbanded after the film was released. How is it that you got together again to make Break Like the Wind
A: We met up at (band manager) Ian Faith’s funeral. It was a joyous event. People really hated Ian’s guts. Well, they would have if he had any. So it was a real celebration of death. The vibe was so great that we didn’t want to leave. People were dancing on his grave. It was great fun. 
Q: Your current drummer is Ric Shrimpton, the brother of Mick Shrimpton. Wasn’t Mick one of your drummers that blew up? 
A: Well, yeah. Come to think of it, Ric broke his ankle Friday night before the gig in L.A. So it’s like old Mr. Curse going: ‘Don’t forget about me. I’m still here. I’ve still got my power.’ 
Q: How has the reception been at the shows this summer? 
A: The reception’s been good. We even get cable in some cities. The crowds have been great, too. 
Q: In the time between This Is Spinal Tap and Break Like the Wind, could you spot Spinal Tap’s sound in younger bands? 
A: Sure. I could all along. Only now, they admit it. All these Seattle bands admit to being influenced by Spinal Tap. But in the old days, it was always ‘ Spinal who? Sounds like a disease.’ 
Q: Is there any ultimate goal Spinal Tap would like to achieve? 
A: I’ll say this. We’ve been around for 25 years. It seems long past time for us to be in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame. Especially since there’s no bloody hall. Just the fame. So if they change their minds and realize they’ve made a mistake, now’s the time to do it. They don’t even have to take a plaque off the wall. The whole hall is only on paper at this point anyway. They can just take an eraser to it. 
Q: Do think Spinal Tap runs any risk of breaking up again? 
A: No. I think we’ll stay together as long as we remember how to play. What we stand for, people crave. We’re not like any of those labels. We’re not ‘pre’ this or ‘post’ that or ‘punk’ anything. What we do is just good old generic rock. Yes, generic rock — that’s what we stand for.

the sum of the fairfield four

fairfield one

Fairfield Four: Joe Thompson, Bobbye Sherrell, Levert Allison and Larrice Byrd, Sr. Photo by Lee Olsen.

For all of its critical and commercial success, the math didn’t always add up with the Fairfield Four.

When the Rev. J.R. Carrethers formed the a capella gospel group in 1921 with his two sons among the membership, the lineup was a quartet – hence the ensemble’s name. But photos from throughout its storied history, from versions led by the Rev. Samuel McCrary in the ‘40s and ‘50s to the Grammy winning roster featuring Isaac Freeman and Willie “Preacher” Richardson featured on the multi-platinum 2000 soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou?, reveal the head count within the group grew to five and sometimes six singers.

Yet the name never changed. For 93 years, the touring gospel that flowed from Fairfield Baptist Church in Nashville has been credited to the same troupe, regardless of the number of enlistees. It has always been the Fairfield Four.

This weekend, with its first Lexington appearance in over a decade at hand, the group is finally a quartet again. That means its current lineup – Joe Thompson, Levert Allison, Larrice Byrd, Sr., and Bobbye Sherrell – had to relearn a few very old traditions.

“Well, they started out with four, which is how they got the Fairfield Four,” said bass vocalist Thompson, 79. “It was from the church that all these guys belonged to. Then some started dropping out and they added more. Then Sam McCrary came in. He’s the one that really kept the Fairfield Four going. At first, he was my pastor. He baptized me.

“Now we have to learn how to sing with four people all over again. Most of the group got kind of lazy when they added that fifth person. It made it much easier on everybody. But I remember when the group got hooked up with a barbershop quartet. I would listen to it and go, ‘Man, these guys are doing the same thing we’re doing.’ The chords and everything were the same. We just slide into them a different way. So now we’re learning how to sing all over again in that barbershop style.

“Of course, it may be a barbershop style. But what we’re doing is a big ol’ gospel thing.”

Thompson, a cousin to original Fairfield Four members Harold and Rufus Carrethers, began singing with the group on a fill-in basis during the 1950s.

“They used to come get me out of high school to make trips when one was sick or something happened in someone’s family. They would call my mom and ask her if I could go with them. They would have me sing whatever voices they needed.”

For pop and Americana audiences, recognition of the Fairfield Four came much later. John Fogerty enlisted the group for his Blue Moon Swamp album in 1997. That same year, Elvis Costello collaborated on Fairfield’s Grammy-winning I Couldn’t Hear Nobody Pray. And once the O Brother soundtrack became a sensation, the singers found themselves on the road as part of an all-star tour with the likes of Alison Krauss, Emmylou Harris and Ralph Stanley that opened at Rupp Arena in January 2002.

But the full force of the Fairfield Four comes when you hear its four (or five) voices singing on their own. A fine example: the roar of the traditional hymn Hallejujah on the 2001 concert album Wreckin’ the House, where the only accompaniment to the members’ booming harmonies are their fervent handclaps.

“I look at these guys when we’re practicing and you can just see the excitement on their faces when we learn something new in the arrangements we try to put on these old, old songs,” Thompson said. “I just wish you could see the smiles. It’s a lovely thing in my eyesight.”

Fairfield Four performs at 8 tonight at Willie’s Locally Known, 805 N.Broadway. Admission is $20. Call (859) 281-1116 or go to www.willieslex.com.

violins, guitars and a linden tree

zach 1

zach brock. photo by janis vogel.

Inspiration can sprout anywhere. In one especially vivid instance – namely, an original composition on his new Purple Sounds album titled Brooklyn Ballad – Zach Brock discovered it towering out of the ground.

The inspiration the internationally acclaimed, Lexington-born jazz violinist found was something exceedingly precious for any musician working in New York – a tree. Specifically, it was a massive linden tree that grew outside of the one bedroom apartment Brock and his wife lived in for eight years after relocating from a fruitful jazz scene in Chicago.

“I don’t know how old this thing was, but it went up at least eight stories and was just gorgeous. There is so much ugliness in New York all the time that just to have one beautiful tree you can look at out of your window when you’re trying to write some music was wonderful. I didn’t realize how much it meant to me.

“Then, right before I wrote the song, this is probably in 2010, I came home one day and these guys sent by our landlord came in the front yard of our apartment building and cut the tree down. People lost their minds. I mean, there were people in our building throwing things out their windows at these guys. There were people crying and wringing their hands. I couldn’t believe we were all freaking out about a tree, but it was like they came in and took away the most beautiful thing we had. Coming to understand what that meant to myself and this little community I had become part of… the music kind of came from that place.”

Much of the rest Purple Sounds explores the kind of community that exists between jazz violin and guitar. In doing so, Brock chose works that celebrated several historical alliances that employed such instrumentation, including Frank Zappa and Jean-Luc Ponty (Twenty Small Cigars), Eddie Lang and Joe Venuti (the standard After You’ve Gone) and Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli (a fresh arrangement of the duo’s signature tune Nuages).

For Purple Sounds, Brock’s guitarist of choice was Norwegian born Lage Lund, Brock’s roommate when the two studied at Betty Carter’s Jazz Ahead program at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

“Lage is a dyed-in-the-wool musician’s musician. I think it’s pretty hilarious that he doesn’t even appear in the Downbeat polls and stuff like that. But people come to his gigs and study his playing. It’s crazy. You play gigs with him and he’s got admirers from all over the world. You go online and there are people trading Lage Lund solo transcriptions. So I just wanted to rekindle my musical relationship with him.”

For his homecoming concert tonight at Moondance Ampitheater, Brock will go local with Lexington jazz mainstays Raleigh Dailey (piano), Danny Cecil (bass) and Paul Deatherage (drums) along with local guitar mainstay Bruce Lewis, who lived and worked for many years in Eastern Europe.

“The last time I saw Bruce Lewis, I think, was in Vienna,” Brock said. “I was playing there with a band and he was living in Budapest. He drove over with his two sons just to see our gig. I remember when I was a youngster playing some gigs with him and seeing him with all the different groups he’s played in.

“Raleigh is a real monster, too. All of our opportunities to play together have been in stuff where he and I might be doing a sideman thing, like when we played with the (Lexington) Brass Band. That’s great, but it’s also like you hardly get to play together. So I’m looking forward to this. I’m just excited to get back to Lexington and kind of chill at the end of the summer.”

Zach Brock and Friends perform at 7 tonight at Moondance Amphithater, 1152 Monarch St. in Beaumont Circle. Admission is free. For info, go to www.moondancelex.com.

mountain climbing

town mountain

bobby britt, phil barker, robert greer and jesse langlais of town mountain performing at natasha’s in june. herald-leader staff photo by rich copley.

Sometimes you can’t help but notice the growth of an enterprise.

Take for instance, the rapidly expanding visibility and acceptance of Town Mountain, the tirelessly rustic bluegrass troupe out of Asheville, North Carolina that has come to think of Lexington as something of a performance home away from home. Sporting a sound rooted in string band tradition but with a fearsome instrumental drive that makes its music anything but a museum piece, the band has watched its audiences grow younger, larger and more feverishly enthusiastic.

Vocalist, guitarist and frontman Robert Greer got an inkling of Town Mountain’s mounting appeal two years ago when the quintet conquered the mighty bluegrass task of selling out a Seattle club on a Tuesday night.

“That was the first time I really noticed where things were going,” Greer said. “That’s really becoming more and more the way for us and I think that’s just due to us sticking around. I have great confidence in our band, in our songwriting and in our presentation. But a big part of it is hanging around, being persistent and not worrying about what’s going on around us.

“So, yeah, growth is a trend that is happening for us. And we’re welcoming it.”

Such growth has been on vivid display in Lexington over the past 18 months. Town

Mountain introduced itself through several intimate shows at Willie’s Locally Known, a pair of well-received sets at the 2013 Festival of the Bluegrass and a trio of sold out performances at Natasha’s culminating with a Best of Bluegrass kickoff in June with Lonesome River Band. Town Mountain’s Tonight’s return brings the band to Cosmic Charlie’s for the first time.

The change in performance venues was quite purposeful. Despite being a club known primarily for showcasing indie rock acts, Cosmic Charlie’s wasn’t simply a larger hall for Town Mountain to play, it was a move away from the sit-down atmosphere of previous performances into a setting that encouraged dancing, audience involvement and a bit more volume.

“We all feel like the band is more in its element whenever we’re able to let it all hang out and create more of a dancing quality environment,” Greer said. “I think a lot of our music lends itself to that. That’s why we’re stoked to play Cosmic Charlie’s because we’re going to plug in and be able to get above the crowd noise a lot better than a place where we’re playing strictly into the microphones.”

Also marking this latest growth spurt for Town Mountain was the release this week of the band’s first concert recording, Live at the Isis. Admittedly, much of the unvarnished excitement generated on the 10-song set comes from the band playing on home turf in Asheville. But the music also speaks to the performance direction Greer referred to. Mandolinist Phil Barker’s Lawdog sounds like White Lightning-era George Jones with an Appalachian makeover, Greer’s Up the Ladder could pass for Jerry Lee Lewis on a bluegrass bender and the ferocious instrumental Tarheel Boys taps directly into the speed, agility and drive that fuels Town Mountain’s overall sound.

“All of this music just evolves,” Greer said. “We bring a brand new take when we start playing it out live, so it evolves naturally. The more times we play a song, the more we figure out something that works dynamically. Then we’re going to work that into the music, too. It’s cool. Tarheel Boys in particular, sounds really good on the live record. It’s a high energy number.”

It also reflects a sound increasingly rare in a bluegrass world that often favors the spit-and-polish of modern country songwriting over the raw fervor of roots driven string music.

“Well, that’s good for us, I guess, because we’re going to continue doing what we do.”

Town Mountain performs at 10 tonight at Cosmic Charlie’s, 388 Woodland Ave. Tickets are $12. Call (859) 309-9499 or go to www.cosmic-charlies.com.

« Previous entries

Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | About Our Ads | Copyright