Archive for profiles

the mule at 20

warren haynes

warren haynes of gov’t mule.

Warren Haynes knows how to celebrate a milestone. With the 20th anniversary of his guitar-centric jam band Gov’t Mule at hand, he is preparing to release four new archival concert recordings in almost as many months.

“We never really had any designs on the band being anything other than a fun project,” the guitarist said. “We didn’t think about the next year or the year after that or a second record or a fifth record or a tenth record or a 20 year anniversary. We were just taking it one step at a time. I think that’s part of what has worked for us.

“Once we decided to be a band, it was like, ‘Okay. We can have fun with this. We can keep exploring more and more of our influences and bring our friends into the circle. We can include them in the music and just see where it goes.”

Haynes began Gov’t Mule in 1994 as an offshoot of the Allman Brothers Band, which he joined in 1989. The original lineup boasted drummer Matt Abts and Allmans bassist Allen Woody. As the years progressed, Gov’t Mule’s visibility flourished while the Allmans slowly retreated from touring detail (its final live shows were presented in New York last month). Though Woody died in 2000, Haynes and Abts soldiered on with a quartet lineup completed by bassist Jorgen Carlsson and longtime keyboardist Danny Louis.

“The chemistry with the band right now, musically and personally, is just wonderful,” Haynes said. “It’s kind of at an all-time high. It feels so good just to be out breaking new ground night after night. I’m very proud of where the band is right now. We’re having a blast.”

What of the four new recordings, you ask? Let’s have Haynes fill us in.

+ Stoned Side of the Mule, Volume 1 (a vinyl only collection of Rolling Stones covers recorded on Halloween 2009): “A lot of our hardcore fans know that every Halloween and every New Year’s, we do thematic shows where we cover somebody else’s music. The Halloween we did all the Stones stuff was a great night.” (Due out Nov. 28)

+ Dark Side of the Mule (3 CD/1 DVD set of Pink Floyd covers recorded on Halloween 2008): “That’s from another Halloween show. We did 90 minutes of Pink Floyd music with surround sound, a laser light show and three girl singers, two of which had actually toured with Pink Floyd.” (Due out Dec. 9)

+ Dub Side of the Mule (3 CD/1 DVD package including a reggae set with Toots Hibbert recorded New Year’s Eve 2006): “We did an hour with Toots Hibbert from Toots and the Maytals. In typical fashion for our New Year’s Eve shows, it was a really long concert so we included the whole night’s audio and a bonus DVD of the Toots performance.” (Due out early 2015)

+ Sco-Mule (2 CD set with jazz guitarist John Scofield): “John has been one of my favorites for a long, long time, and we’ve become good friends through the years. We’ve done more stuff similar to this since then, but this marks the beginning of the merging of our two worlds.” (Due out January 2015)

Covering rock classics, psychedelic staples, reggae and jazz on four separate live albums suggests Haynes and his Mule crew must possess a boundless love of music, especially when it stretches to styles that fall outside the beefy jams the band summons without the celebrity guest lists.

“I think musicians are the biggest fans of all,” Haynes said. “We start out as these geeky fans that want to take it further by learning how to play an instrument, learning how to sing and learning how to write songs. It’s all inspired by this passion of music and this feeling of music being an enormous part of your life. I know my passion for it has never dwindled.”

Gov’t Mule performs at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11 at the Lexington Opera House. Tickets are $35.50, $45.50. Call (800) 745-3000, (859) 233-3535 or go to www.ticketmaster.com.

spirt and bone

lucinda 1

lucinda williams.

There was a time the only significant gripe fans or critics could muster about the music of Lucinda Williams were the seemingly eternal waits between albums.

Following the release of two initial folk-blues leaning records, eight years slipped by before her landmark self-titled album surfaced in 1988 to introduce the world to the rootsy endearment of Crescent City and the obsessive severity of Change the Locks.

It took another four years before we heard Sweet Old World, an album highlighted by the regal but emotively devastating eulogy within its title track. Then, nothing again for six years. But that wait yielded 1998’s Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, a genre-defining work for a new Americana generation.

These days, Williams works at an altogether sharper pace – so much so that she attributes the wealth of music on her new Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone album to what she now views as a lengthy stretch of down time from recording.

“It’s been three years since Blessed (her previous record) and this album,” said Williams who returns to Lexington for a Sunday night performance at the Opera House. “That’s a good amount of time to come up with stuff.”

Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone is the work of an artist that can now boast of being prolific. It’s a double-disc set of 20 songs, all but two of which are exclusively original works of love, loss, contentment, vengeance, heaven, hell – the works. But it’s not just a double album, it a magnum opus of a recording with a 1 ¾ hour running time

“We broke a few rules on this one, definitely,” Williams said. “There’s the whole double album thing, which people think is a little risky because you don’t know how it’s going to go over. A lot of the reason people kind of get nervous about double albums is there will be a handful of good songs on them and the rest of it might be filler. But every so often, you do have these great double albums that have worked, like Bob Dylan’s Blonde on Blonde and the Allman Brothers’ At Fillmore East.

“So that was the first rule we broke, the double album. Another was putting Compassion first, a solo acoustic song. Usually you put something like that at the end. I believe it was Greg Leisz (the pedal steel guitar stylist who co-produced Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone with Williams and husband Tom Overby) that suggested putting it first. Initially, I wasn’t sure about that. But it proved to be the right move because the song really grabs you”.

Compassion is different from any other song the songstress has cut because she uses a poem penned by her father, Miller Williams, as lyrics. The album title is also derived from the poem.

“What was difficult about it was just taking a poem and making it into a song. That in and of itself was hard, but it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a really long time. So I worked on it for a couple of days after all the other songs were done and managed to come up with something, and we cut it with just me on guitar. Initially, I was going to add some other stuff to it and make it into a Nick Drake kind of thing – you know, cello and all that to flesh it out. But I went in and demoed it with just my guitar. Greg and Tom both said, ‘Let’s just leave it like it is.’ So we did.”

At the other end of the record sits its only cover tune, a lovely reading of Magnolia, a 1972 song by the great Okie songsmith and guitarist J.J. Cale, who died last year. Williams’ version lingers for nearly 10 gorgeous minutes with an arrangement that culminates in a positively enchanted instrumental exchange between Leisz and guitar titan Bill Frisell

“The other rule we broke was the length of some of the songs,” Williams said. “I mean, I love great guitar playing on some of my favorite albums, like the early Allman Brothers stuff and all those extended jams. Like at the end of Magnolia, the way it just keeps going. That was another thing. There was a lot of spontaneity that went into this album. I think people can tell that.

“We found ourselves in Tulsa just afterr J.J. Cale passed away. He’s from there, so we ended up doing that song during the encore. I used to perform Magnolia back in the ‘70s and always loved it. It sounded so good that when we went to record this album, Tom said, ‘Let’s do that as a tribute to J.J. Cale.’ It’s just a great song.”

stuck in traffic

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dave mason. photo by chris jensen.

At the heart of the near 50 year career of Dave Mason – a remarkable run that has included collaborations with the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Rolling Stones, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Fleetwood Mac in addition to a successful and extensive solo career – sits the sound of Traffic.

It was with the legendary British band that Mason’s musical teeth were cut. It was with that troupe, alongside fellow members Steve Winwood, Jim Capaldi and the late Chris Wood that Mason was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004. And it is the music of Traffic that the singer, guitarist and songsmith returned to this year for a concert program called Dave Mason’s Traffic Jam.

On more of a Kentucky bend, the Traffic Jam tour will mark Mason’s first Central Kentucky performance since a 1978 performance at the University of Kentucky’s Memorial Coliseum. He performs Friday at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort.

“I look back on Traffic and regard it as one of the original alternative bands,” Mason said. “I didn’t start writing until Traffic started. There were a lot of diverse tastes in that band, which in the end led to me having to go solo. But during the time of it, I was 19 or 20 years old. When you’re that age, there is nothing really you can’t do.”

Mason cut two psychedelic albums with Traffic before the band initially disintegrated in 1969. A critically acclaimed 1970 solo album Alone Together followed interspersed with guest guitar work on such landmark records as Hendrix’s Electric Ladyland, the Stones’ Beggar’s Banquet and Harrison’s All Thing Must Pass. Mason reteamed with Traffic for a small handful of 1971 concerts (chronicled on the live album Welcome to the Canteen), but quickly parted ways again to resume a solo career that would eventually yield the hit 1977 album, Let it Flow.

“The show is, I guess, kind of a condensed history of my music from Traffic all the way up to today.” Mason said. “It’s just a travelogue of my career.

“The show is in two parts. The Traffic set has a cool, reworked Dear Mr. Fantasy, (the title tune to Traffic’s 1967 debut album). You Can All Join In and Pearly Queen (the first two songs from the band’s self-titled 1968 sophomore recording) are in there. Then there are things like Medicated Goo (a December 1968 single that wound up on the 1969 compilation Last Exit). Mostly I’m sticking to stuff that was done when I was with the band, but I also worked up my own arrangement of The Low Spark of High Heeled Boys (from the 1972 album of the same name), even though that was not part of my time with Traffic. Usually, we take a break after that and come back to do stuff from Alone Together, Let It Flow and then some new stuff.”

The “new stuff” leans to Future’s Past, a 2014 recording fashioned very much along the lines of the Traffic Jam shows. There are new tunes (including Good 2 U and How Do I Get to Heaven) along with retooled Traffic and Alone Together songs.

“It’s more a collection of what I considered to be really cool sounding tracks,” Mason said. “I put them together in the hopes that people would enjoy it, obviously. But it’s also for people who maybe have never heard anything by me before. To a lot of them, all this music is going to be new.

“But to other audiences, there is a whole different scenario going on. I am part of the soundtrack of their lives. So a certain song will trigger certain memories for them on where they were, what they were doing. There are a lot of ways the music touches people on a very deep level that, to me, is very interesting.”

tales from the big emptiness

joe ely 2

joe ely.

He has shared international stages and recordings with the likes of The Rolling Stones, The Clash, The Chieftains and Bruce Springsteen. But delve into the fascinating Americana music Joe Ely has made on his own over the last four decades and you will find all roads lead to Texas.

They might wind up in his birthplace of Amarillo, where Ely was introduced to the possibilities of rock ‘n’ roll. It could be Lubbock, where he discovered how the union of music and culture could transform a town. Then again, his music might take to his current home of Austin, or just outside of it as the veteran songsmith and champion roots rocker still describes himself, at age 67, as an upstart of sorts.

“I’m kind of a noisy neighbor,” said Ely, who performs a duo concert tonight with accordionist/keyboardist Joel Guzman at Natasha’s. “So I live outside of town a little bit. I had to find a spot where I didn’t have anybody within half a mile of me.”

Take in his recordings, from the Tex Mex pageantry of West Texas Waltz to the roadhouse rock and soul of Musta Notta Gotta Lotta to the proud folk balladry of Gallo del Cielo and you get an idea of how Ely could easily wake up the neighbors. But his love of music first took hold during childhood in the heart of a duststorm.

“One of the earliest memories I had of seeing rock ‘n’roll was going with my parents to a Pontiac dealership in a raging duststorm in Amarillo. This was before we moved to Lubbock. There was the stage with a madman wearing a bandana around his nose who was pounding on a piano. The wind was blowing so hard his microphone kept falling over. It was Jerry Lee Lewis. I just thought it was the greatest thing I’d ever seen.”

Ely admitted live music was far from prevalent when his family relocated to Lubbock. Instead, he and soon-to-be singer-songwriter pals Butch Hancock and Jimmie Dale Gilmore (who continue to perform together as The Flatlanders) absorbed the blues that came barreling through the airwaves via high wattage radio stations out of Mexico. The live music that did exist in Lubbock tended to indigenous and spontaneous.

“When I was growing up in West Texas, my daddy had a used clothing store,” Ely said. “On the weekends, the migrant workers would come in from the fields and buy work clothes. Lubbock would increase by 50,000 people when the cotton was ripe. All of the migrant workers brought their musical instruments and filled the streets, and what generally was old, drab downtown Lubbock all of a sudden was completely alive with trumpet players and accordions and (guitar-like) bajo sextos. It was really a great time.”

While Ely formed some of his first bands in Lubbock, it was the fertile music community of Austin that gave his music a lasting home. That helped forge an expansive career with a catalogue of roughly 20 albums (including the newly released B484, an archival record cut as a precursor to 1984’s synth-savvy Hi Res) and an increased visibility as both author (he recently published his first novel, Reverb) and visual artist.

“Everytime I start a new record these days, I tend to go back outside of Lubbock and just drive up and down those old two lane roads and seeing absolutely nothing in every direction. That’s somehow inspiring to me. I don’t know why.

“There is just this big emptiness that hits you when you get out of Lubbock. Look in every direction and there’s just flatness. There is something about that giant sky that makes me want to fill it up. I’ve had my ups and downs in the town itself. But that area…I just like that big emptiness.”

Joe Ely and Joel Guzman perform at 8 tonight at Natasha’s Bistro. 112 Esplanade. Tickets are $20. Warren Byrom Call (859) 259-2754 or go to www.beetnik.com.

big mac

Ian McLagan by Jim Chapin

ian mclagan. photo by jim chapin.

The name he attaches to an extensive list of rock ‘n’ roll credentials, from founding membership in The Small Faces and The Faces to extensive work with The Rolling Stones to a reputation as one of the most jubilant keyboardists in the business, is Ian McLagan.

But to fans, contemporaries, protégés – everyone, really – he forever goes by a simple, endearing nickname: Mac. That’s the name the native Brit and transplanted Texan has happily answered to in a career that stretches back a half century.

“I’m the luckiest guy I know because I love what I do, and I can still do it,” said McLagan, 69. “People still come out just to hear the music, too. That’s a blessing, you know? What else am I going to do but play the piano and sing?”

McLagan’s performances Monday for the WoodSongs Old-Time Hour and Tuesday at Parlay Social will be his first Lexington performances promoting his own music. He will be accompanied both evenings by bassist Jon Notarthomas, a member of the keyboardist’s long running Bump Band, now based in Austin. But McLagan has played twice at Rupp Arena with two acts that have helped define his career – The Rolling Stones in December 1981 and Rod Stewart in October 1993.

The former performance was particularly telling as it paired McLagan with longtime Stones mentor and pianist Ian Stewart. The two shared similar tastes and inspirations. Stewart was a devotee of roots-driven piano music and boogie woogie. McLagan was fascinated by Muddy Waters blues records that featured pianist Otis Spann.

“Stu was a wonderful man,” McLagan said. “He had no ego at all. He wasn’t a showboater. I learned a lot from Stu just from watching him and listening to him.

“He would say to me sometimes, ‘I don’t understand what you’re doing. Your playing – it’s sounds right, but you do it strange.’ I said it was because I had no training. I had to fumble and figure it out for myself. Some things I do wrong, but I’ve got to get to the notes.”

The Stones figured heavily in McLagan’s performance education, as well – that, along with more informal serenading from within his family.

“It’s funny, my grandmother played the concertina. She was a fantastic player. She wasn’t a professional. She just happened to be brilliant. I think if there is any music to hit me from anywhere, that’s where it came from.

“But when I first started out, you just wanted to be inside of the music you heard. So when I saw the Stones play a little club in the West of London, I thought, ‘Okay, it’s possible.’ That encouraged a lot of young musicians in London to hear the Stones live, because they were a blues cover band back then. We thought, ‘Yeah, we love that music. Why can’t we do that?’”

The Stewart performance came on the heels of the singer’s 1993’s Unplugged… and Seated album. But his connection with McLagan goes back to the boozy rock and soul records the two cut with guitarist Ron Wood, bassist Ronnie Lane and drummer Kenny Jones in the early ‘70s as The Faces (the band began in 1965 as the more pop-directed Small Faces with McLagan, Lane, Jones and soon-to-be Humble Pie chieftain Steve Marriott).

“Rod’s voice was just a delight to play under. But I worked as hard as I ever did with The Faces. My fingers would be battered, my nails would be broken. I would get these big blisters. The music brought a lot out of me. It was pretty physical.

“We’re talking about getting together again next year. Rod is real interested. Ronnie (Wood), Kenney and I are interested. It’s looking real positive (Ronnie Lane died from multiple sclerosis in 1997).”

“It’s ridiculous to think that 50-some years on I’m still doing this. I mean, I’ve never had a job. I’ve never had to go to work. I always had to go to fun.”

Ian McLagan and Jon Notarthomas perform Oct. 27 at the Lyric Theatre, 300 E. Third for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour with Janiva Magness (6:45 p.m., $20) and 8 p.m. Oct. 28 at Parlay Social, 249 W. Short with Willie Eames (8 p.m.; $15, $20). Call (859) 252-8888 for the WoodSongs taping and (859) 244-1932 for the Parlay Social performance.

empty head space

Leo Color 2

the man behind the guitar: leo kottke.

The voice on the telephone belongs unmistakably to Leo Kottke. It’s a slow moving baritone that sounds alternately cautious, content and sleepy. None of those, of course, are the case. In conversation, he is open and alert, especially when it comes to explaining the often non-musical practices that have helped make him one of the most celebrated non-classical guitarists of the past 45 years.

But speaking from a hotel room in Cleveland, Kottke is greeting this Friday afternoon with unassuming hesitation.

How are you, Leo?

“Oh,” he offers as a groggy reply, followed by a lengthy pause. “About the same. There are these big power lines leading to some transformer station outside my window. It’s a glorious day.”
Droll? Dismissive? Perhaps. But if you have experienced Kottke in concert, such a remark would be almost expected. Mentored by the great folk-blues guitar stylist John Fahey, Kottke’s extraordinary fingerpicking on 6 and 12 string guitar is equal parts technique (with inspirations of folk, jazz, blues and even a fractured pop melody or two fighting for equal time) and instinct. But his performances have always been peppered with wryly hysterical stories that might seem like concert non sequiturs to some. Kottke admits that while his stories and musicianship are separate skills, both have always fed off each other onstage.

“The talking is independent of the music,” he said. “But without it, I don’t know what to play next. That’s why I open my mouth. I couldn’t look up for three years when I started playing. I used to get halfway through a set and realize that everything I wanted to play I had already played. But if I talked to the crowd, that doesn’t happen. There seems to be some way that talking to them organizes the set for me so that it follows a curve.

“The same thing applies to the guitar itself. Some nights I will have subjects that are familiar to me that will come up. But if I have an empty head, which is the requirement, they take turns, go places and develop in ways I do not expect. The nights that your head just won’t go blank are the nights that are difficult. You can get away with them and even have a good time, but there is a little bit of me that hangs around to drive the bus or something. But what is right is when you’re not there.”

Kottke added that having an “empty head” to trigger musical invention and possibility can never be planned for a performance.

“I suppose if performing sucked, I wouldn’t tell you. But it doesn’t suck. I don’t know why, but there’s more to it the longer you do it. It never, ever gets old.

“Emma Thompson did an interview to promote some movie she was in where she said artists are fundamentally inconsolable. That’s why they keep doing it. I’ve heard jazz guys say they play jazz because they didn’t want to play the same thing every night. Well, I’ve been trying to play the same thing every night for decades but it’s never happened. Every night is unlike every other night. I think that’s one of the reasons you keep going back.”

Helping enforce the notion that his music will never be overcome by sameness are plans for two new recording projects. That should result in the guitarist’s first albums in nearly a decade. The first continues an ongoing collaboration with Phish bassist Mike Gordon (the two have released two previous records), the other will be a trio session with violinist David Balakrishnan and cellist Mark Summer from the Turtle Island Quartet

“It’s always a surprise if somebody calls up and wants to pay you to come and play. But it suits who I have been as far back as my memory will go to be doing this. I can’t imagine anything that would fit better. And I will keep doing it until I can’t.”

Leo Kottke performs at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 28 at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third. Tickets are $36.50. Call (859) 280-2218.

starship trooper

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mickey thomas.

You would need to be a navigational scholar to successfully chart the various flight patterns Starship has followed through the years. But the real trick comes in understanding how the veteran rock and pop unit known for mid ‘80s hits like We Built This City, Sara and Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now (but with flight logs dating back decades) could have stayed strategically grounded for so long.

Admittedly, the band – still fronted by the towering pop/soul tenor of Mickey Thomas – has never given up touring. But there had been no new Starship recordings for nearly 25 years (since 1989’s Love Among the Cannibals, to be exact) until an album called Loveless Fascination surfaced in late 2013.

“I guess I started to wonder if there would be another Starship album, as well,” explained Thomas. “I started a few projects over the years, but nothing really panned out. I was never totally happy with them. Then the more time went by, the greater the expectation. I thought, ‘How am I ever going to do a Starship album that’s going to live up to what people are expecting?’ But then I just thought, ‘The heck with that.’ I hooked up with my friend Jeff Pilson (an alumnus of Foreigner and Dokken, who wrote eight of Loveless Fascination’s 10 songs) and went in the studio. I really wanted the album to have more of a ‘70s feel to it musically and vibe-wise than, say, an ‘80s or ‘90s feel.”

That meant revisiting Thomas’s very entrance to the band in 1979. At the time, it was known as Jefferson Starship, a ‘70s update of the psychedelic ‘60s troupe Jefferson Airplane that included many of the same members. Thomas, a Georgia native that scored a chart-topping hit Fooled Around and Fell in Love with the Elvin Bishop Group in 1976, was recruited after the departures of principal Jefferson Starship vocalists Grace Slick and Marty Balin. Thomas’ recorded debut with the band was released 35 years ago this fall as Freedom at Point Zero. Its lead single Jane became an immediate hit and established a harder arena rock sound than what was featured on more pop-oriented Jefferson Starship records like Red Octopus, Spitfire and Earth.

“It took me awhile to take the plunge and join Jefferson Starship,” Thomas said. “I had just left Elvin Bishop and was getting ready to pursue a solo career when I got a call from Jefferson Starship. I thought that was kind of odd because my musical background was so different than what my impression of Jefferson Starship music was like. But once I got to meet the guys and hang out, I realized they wanted to reinvent the band with a much harder edge. So we started jamming and I started applying my sort of gospel/R&B vocals on top of the harder rock that the band was all about. Then we came out of the gate with Jane, which set the tone pretty much for the new Jefferson Starship.

“But at the concerts, the fans were still like, ‘Where’s Grace? Where’s Marty? So it took us awhile. Actually, just about the time that I think we were getting people to accepting Jefferson Starship without Grace Slick in it, she came back and rejoined the band.”

Jefferson Airplane/Starship co-founder Paul Kantner left in 1984, taking the rights to the band’s name with him. Hence, the official change to Starship. But another makeover arrived with 1985’s Knee Deep in the Hoopla – namely, a consciously commercial pop sound designed for the times.

“By the time 1985 rolled around, we needed to again reinvent the band,” Thomas said. “We wanted to try a new way of producing and making records with a lot of songs that were really different stylistically. We knew if we achieved what we wanted to achieve, we were going get a lot of backlash because the idea was to have a real strong radio presence. Hit singles were what we were purposely trying to create with Knee Deep in the Hoopla. And it worked. But then came the whole thing about selling out and ‘Whatever happened to the idealism of the Jefferson Airplane?’

“Our whole idea was just to take the band in a fresh new direction. We didn’t look at it as selling out or copping out. It was just a fun experience.”

Starship featuring Mickey Thomas performs at 8:30 tonight at the Norton Center for the Arts, Newlin Hall at Centre College, 600 West Walnut in Danville. Tickets are $35, $46. Call (877) 448-7469 or (859) 236-4692 or go to www.nortoncenter.com.

the dobro adventures of rob ickes

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rob ickes.

As one of the most celebrated bluegrass instrumentalists on the planet, Rob Ickes has spent 2014 cultivating three recordings that reflect not only his skills on the wiry, wily resonator guitar known as the dobro but a set of musical environments that define his musical past, present and, in many ways, future.

The first surfaced in January with The Game, the newest album by the progressively minded bluegrass band Blue Highway. Though a native of San Francisco, Ickes hooked up in Nashville with the band 20 years ago. That largely introduced him as a talent that would go on to win the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Dobro Player of the Year an unprecedented 15 times.

The second, Three Bells, came last month. It is a recorded summit with two dobro pioneers that helped forge a stylistic path for Ickes – former Lexingtonian Jerry Douglas and the late Mike Auldridge. The record boasts no rhythm section or musical accomplices of any kind. It instead has three dobro pals merrily conversing. Auldridge succumbed to prostate cancer a matter of weeks after recording sessions concluded.

The third, which brings Ickes back to Lexington for a return visit to the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour on Monday, has the dobro artist teaming with a young and largely unknown country vocalist and guitarist named Trey Hensley. Their collaboration came about almost by accident, when Hensley was enlisted to help Blue Highway on The Game.

“Trey is a young guy but an old soul,” Ickes said. “You hear that in his voice. There is just something there that sounds really deep to me. He’s soaked up a lot of different influences, but he’s got his own thing going. And he’s one of the best guitar players anywhere. So to me, he’s this surprise that I’ve been excited to share with people. Plus, we have a good time together.”

The duo’s debut album, Before the Sun Goes Down, is due out in January. Its sound is casual and rich with Ickes’ mischievous slide playing and Hensley’s commanding country tenor creating distinctive but homespun harmony. Among the highlights is a roots-country reading of the Stevie Ray Vaughan hit Pride and Joy.

“When Trey plays blues, it’s really authentic sounding to me. It doesn’t sound like a bluegrass guy playing some blues licks. When we do Pride and Joy live with a band, I play lap steel and he plays electric guitar. But on the record, I thought it would be fun just to do an acoustic version and give people a different take on this great song.”

Working with a young artist like Hensley also offers a role reversal from the Three Bells sessions, where Ickes and Douglas were essentially younger protégés of Auldridge.

“The dobro is still kind of an obscure instrument, but Mike gave it this nobility,” Ickes said. “He was a real humble guy but had a pretty big vision for what he wanted to do with the instrument. Mike was all about music his whole life. What a treat to for me to get to record with him and hear our dobros together. But my hat goes off to Jerry for getting the record together because he is such a busy guy. It was just neat that he would make this such a priority because we were in a kind of now-or-never situation.

“Mike knew this was going to be his last session. He told us several times that he was just honored it was going to be with us and that it was going to be a dobro project. He had so much fun on it.”

 Rob Ickes and Trey Hensley perform with Emi Sunshine and Presley Barker perform at 6:45 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Lyric Theatre, 300 East Third, for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Tickets are $20. Call (859) 252-8888

braving the elements

BenSollee_PressPhoto6_PhotobyAnnEvans

ben sollee. photo by ann evans.

When last we left Ben Sollee, the Lexington cello stylist turned national (and now international) pop-folk journeyman was winning an argument with Mother Nature.

The setting was Phoenix Park, where Sollee, Coralee and the Townies and Josh Nolan held court for the August installment of WUKY-FM’s inaugural Phoenix Friday concert series. Nolan managed to squeeze in his set before the heavens erupted with what was arguably the summer’s most unrelenting thunderstorm.

“When the rain came, everybody went into the various corners,” recounted Sollee, who returns to the region on Thursday for a performance at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond. “Some people went ahead and left. Some people stayed on. Probably about 30 or 40 of us collected under the canopy of Park Place Apartments. Eventually they called the police, who told us to move along. So we jammed into the elevator lobby.”

Calling the lobby Sollee refers to compact is, at best, generous. Still, with a weatherbeaten crowd that had dwindled from the hundreds to a handful of devotees that included two major VIPs, Sollee adapted to the setting and carried on.

“I grabbed the cello and started playing tunes. It was like, ‘Alright, folks. Elevator concert! Who wants to hear what?’ So as I played my songs, the elevator would come down and the doors would open like in some type of Wes Anderson movie and the people inside would look shocked. Then others started getting the idea to climb up the stairs and get in the elevator and then come down to watch the concert from the elevator.

“It was a really special experience. Probably what made it extra special was my parents, Bob and Myra Sollee, were also huddled around that space. They’re musicians – not professional, but wonderful musicians that raised me on a lot of good music. It’s a rare occasion when we get to sing or jam in any type of public setting. So my mom sang with me and my dad kind of drummed on things. It was really fun.”

The August show continued a fruitful year for Sollee. In September, he undertook his first headlining tour of Europe (he played there previously in collaborative settings with banjo star Abigail Washburn and bluesman Otis Taylor). Last week, he was literally left hanging in North Carolina by the Charlotte Ballet (“They had me in a little platform cage suspended above the stage that moved around during different parts of the show. It was pretty crazy.”). Then, on the heels of the EKU performance, Sollee will perform for two evenings with the Louisville Orchestra and Nashville fiddler Jeremy Kittell on a composition by the latter aptly titled Big Fiddle.

But what of Sollee’s own music? While collaborations and activism continue to drive his career, the always prolific Sollee has not released a new studio album since 2012’s Half-Made Man. That doesn’t mean, though, that the cellist hasn’t been stockpiling a few songs.

“I’ve had music recorded for a long time, but I haven’t put anything out because management and so on are going, ‘Well, we should just get a record label.’ So we keep searching and searching. But I’ve gotten kind of tired of waiting, so I told everybody, ‘Hey I’m going to put out two EPs (a two volume set called Steeples) this fall. Hope you’re all okay with that.’

“You know, I’ve always been the kid who has been into everything. When I was a student at SCAPA (School for Creative and Performing Arts) Lafayette, I was in the orchestra, was in all the musical theatre that I could get into, was briefly on the cheerleading squad, was involved in student government… all of that. I got into everything. What I liked about that was it really taught me how all artistic disciplines kind of inform each other. That’s what I really get excited about.

“Could I have imagined it would all lead to this broad spectrum of projects I’m involved with today? Totally. But picturing how it all shook out on the path to get there? Unimaginable.”

Ben Sollee performs at 7:30 p.m. Oct. 16 at EKU Center for the Arts, 1 Hall Drive in Richmond. Tickets are $20. Call (859) 622-7469 or go to http://ekucenter.com.

the new lord fauntleroy

alejandro-2

alejandro escovedo, moonlighting as a fauntleroy.

The Fauntleroys may reflect the design, feel and sound of a strictly extracurricular rock ‘n’ roll activity. But get them in the same city, in the same basement studio and, eventually, the same performance stage and you have making of a champion band.

“Everyone has their own careers and bands that they’re involved in and music that they’re doing,” said veteran Texas songsmith Alejandro Escovedo, who along with three longtime pals – New York guitarist Ivan Julian, self-described Chicago “raconteur” Nicholas Tremulis and celebrated drummer Linda Pitmon – make up The Fauntleroys. “But when we’re together, we really do have the feel of a band. There is just something about it. It’s easy for us to play together having known the music that we’ve known for so many years. We all have the same aesthetic somewhat.”

The four came together in New York with the idea of writing and recording songs with the kind of post-punk pop energy that resounded around the city during the late ‘70s. While Escovedo’s punk fascination initially began on the West Coast with the San Francisco rock troupe The Nuns, he became acquainted with Julian while living in New York in 1978. Already a pop survivor from his ‘60s tenure with The Foundations, Julian had become a member of The Voidoids band led by punk entrepreneur and Lexington native Richard Hell. But the catalyst for The Fauntleroys was Tremulis, whose Chicago bands have meshed multiple accents of rock, soul and pop.

“We’ve talked a long time about doing this but we never really had any time,” Escovedo said of the formation of The Fauntleroys. “So Nick kind of pulled us all together and set up a period where we all were free.”

The New York meeting ground for the four members was a Lower East Side coffee shop called The Pink Pony and, more specifically, the recording studio located beneath it. The members would write lyrics in The Pink Pony then quickly adjourn downstairs to record what they came up with. What resulted was a six song, 23 minute EP disc aptly titled Below the Pink Pony.

“ We would go downstairs to work on a track and then Nick and I would go upstairs and write the lyrics out then go back down and sing them and get everyone to do things. It was a really great experience and a lot of fun. I love working with fresh ideas like that and taking chances. It was really cool.”

Escovedo (who plays bass as a Fauntleroy), Tremulus and Julian each sing lead on two songs. Pitmon, last seen in Lexington with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey and husband Steve Wynn in The Baseball Project, added back-up harmonies to each song.

“Linda is amazing, man,” Escovedo said. “What a great drummer and what a great spirit to have in the studio. She’s very, very involved in the moment… just a great musician to play with.

“I think what we came up with is a very New York sounding record. That’s largely due to Ivan’s guitar work and the way he writes. It’s a style that I’ve always loved. I’ve always felt like a part of the New York scene. I guess I really was a part of it because The Nuns were so close to all of the New York bands. We were really more New York than California.”

The Fauntleroys’ fall tour will be brief and brisk – 10 cities in 11 days. After that the members will resume work on their separate careers. But Escovedo said the prospect of returning to The Fauntleroys down the road is favorable.

“There is no reason not to come back to this and make a record that involves more songs with more of an album-like feel and more touring. I’m hoping so, anyway. I mean, it’s just a great band.”

The Fauntleroys perform at 8 p.m. Oct. 5 at Willie’s Locally Known, 805 N. Broadway. Tickets are $20. Call (859) 281-1116 or go to www.willieslex.com.

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