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travels with saintseneca

Saintseneca

saintseneca: clockwise from top left: maryn jones, steve ciolek, jon meador and zac little

Slip on Dark Arc, the newest album by Columbus, Ohio alternative folk-popsters Saintseneca and you are greeted by a sound that takes obvious delight in time travel.

The opening Blood Bath starts like a throwback to the psychedelic acoustic music fashioned at the dawn of the ‘70s by the Incredible String Band – that is until chant-like cheer reminiscent of the Lumineers chimes in. Move on to the splintered pageantry of So Longer and Conor Oberst comes to mind. By the time Dark Arc’s title track takes the album down the home stretch, we hear an Eno-fied version of the Decemberists.

That doesn’t even take into consideration the folky introspection of Neutral Milk Hotel, the ‘90s pop ambience of Mazzy Star and the light narrative abstraction of ‘80s-era Robyn Hitchcock that echo throughout Dark Arc. In fact you could play “Spot the Influence” all day with a record like this.

In the end, though, what Saintseneca chieftain Zac Little has designed is a patchwork of sonic color with mandolin, balalaika, dulcimer and the Eastern stringed instrument known as the baglama as his favored utensils. But Little admitted the sounds on Dark Arc were as much the product of accidental discovery as they were of any purposeful inclination on his part.

“Sometimes when you have a vision for a song, you’re kind of aiming for something,” said Little, who brings Saintseneca to Lexington tonight for the second performance in WUKY’s Phoenix Friday series. “But that sound can be a pretty abstract goal, so in the process of being inspired by something you inevitably end up landing somewhere else. A lot of times that becomes something interesting and exciting about the recording process, to have that little bit of dissonance between where you’re aiming and where you’re landing all the time.”

On the surface the instrumentation surrounding Dark Arc might seem reflective of Little’s upbringing in Noble County, a rural region in Southeast Ohio that runs through Appalachia. But the Saintseneca frontman said no regional trait, favored artist or cherished recording stands as a pivotal inspiration. Music, he said, has been his mission since childhood.

“I think I’ve always had that drive and always had something that subconsciously motivated me to do this. I don’t think there was ever a moment where I was a passive listener of music and then flipped a switch and said, ‘Now I’m going to start taking this seriously.’ I mean, even from the time I was very young, I had the impulse to write songs. But it wasn’t until I was a little older that I actually had instruments and the conduits through which I could express those things and channel that impulse. Then once I started playing in bands, even on a really small level, I always took it really seriously. I don’t think things have really shifted.”

Initial EP recordings were the first order of business after Saintseneca formed. While the personal shifted dramatically after the release of its first album (ironically titled Last), the band exists today as an expansive sounding combo that also includes Maryn Jones, Steve Ciolek and Jon Maedor as it tours behind Dark Arc. The record also marks Saintseneca’s debut on Anti- Records, the label home of Tom Waits, Kate Bush and Neko Case, among other notables.

“We’re out there chugging along, but I think one of the things that becomes important is to take a step back and find a level of fulfillment in every step. You can set some lofty goal. But when we’re selling out some place with 1,000 people packed in, that’s when I’ll really feel that I’ve made it. But that’s also an artificial standard of success. To feel supported and feel like what you’re doing means something to other people is pretty important, too.”

WUKY’s Phoenix Fridays featuring Saintseneca, Small Batch and Englishman begins at 5 p.m. July 25 at Phoenix Park, S.Limestone and W. Main. Admission is free. Call (859) 257-3221 or go to http://wuky.org.

of brothers and broonzy

dave and phil alvin 2

phil alvin and dave alvin.

Phil Alvin remembers well the first time he heard a Big Bill Broonzy record. He was barely in his teens, growing up in the Southern California town of Downey with an infatuation for music that was fervently matched by younger brother Dave.

Once they hit their ‘20s, the siblings fell into a Los Angeles punk and roots music movement that yielded such vanguard acts as X, Los Lobos, Kentucky’s own Dwight Yoakam (who would eventually score a major hit with a cover of Dave’s Long White Cadillac) and the band that gave a platform to the Alvins’ rock ‘n’ roll passion, both as stage performers and as recording artists – The Blasters.

Before any of that though, there was Big Bill.

“I remember there was a reissue album my mother bought for me in a department store,” said Phil, 61. “The cover was great. There was this real sharp looking guy on it. That was my introduction to Big Bill’s songs. I took it home and played for my brother and we both just loved it.”

The multi-stylistic blues of the Southern-bred Broonzy, who penned and copyrighted over 300 songs before his death in 1958, did more than inspire two brothers in search of their own musical voices. It would, roughly a half century later, serve as the sound that reunited them after a lengthy period of estrangement and solo career activity.

On Common Ground: Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy, the brothers refocused on one their foremost inspirations to cut their first full studio album together since 1985.

“The thing is, Big Bill Broonzy never played in just one style,” said Dave, 58. “If we were doing, say, a Lightning Hopkins tribute we would pretty much have to sound like Lightning Hopkins all the way through. But Big Bill could play in ragtime. He would play country blues. He did everything.”

But when asked the chicken-or-the-egg question about which came first, the idea of recording a Broonzy tribute or reuniting with his brother, Dave didn’t hesitate.

“It was the chance of doing something together.”

Perhaps that’s because another circumstance intervened to bring Common Ground to fruition. While on tour in Europe with the present day Blasters (which Dave has largely steered away from over the years, save for a tour in 2003), Phil was hospitalized for an infection caused by an abscessed tooth. The condition caused his heart and vital signs to momentarily stop.

“Everything has changed since then,” Phil said. “You put more value in music. You put more value in everything. It’s hard not to when your mortality flashes before you like that. I wish it was something I could get away from, but I can’t. But I’m out here and staying healthy”

Dave was solemn and succinct in describing the reunion. “It’s just great to be out playing with my brother.”

During their years apart, Dave released a succession of roots-driven solo recordings (1998’s Blackjack David being among the finest) and forged a devout Lexington following though a series of late ’90s performances at the defunct Lynagh’s Music Club with his band, The Guilty Men. The group, now dubbed The Guilty Ones, will back the brothers during a Wednesday concert at The Southgate House Revival in Newport.

The two will resume their separate careers this fall. Phil, in fact, will make his Lexington debut on Labor Day when the Blasters perform at Willie’s Locally Known. But with their professional and personnel bonds now strengthened, neither brother plans on letting too many years slip away before reteaming again.
“I’m not that stupid anymore,” Dave said.

Added Phil: “That’s funny. I think I’m getting more stupid.”

Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin and the Guilty Ones perform at 8 p.m. July 23 at the Southgate House Revival,111 E. Sixth St. in Newport. Tickets: $25, $35. Call (859) 431-2201 or got to www.southgatehouse.com

robot road trip

the fanged robot

The Fanged Robot. From right: Jason Clarkston, Joseph Drury, Robby Cosenza and Jim Earley. Photo by David Stephenson.

It’s nothing for active members of any community music scene to juggle duties in multiple artistic projects. Few, however, have maintained such a balancing act longer in Lexington than Robby Cosenza.

This summer, you can catch him playing bluegrass with Small Batch, roots-driven music with local songsmith Warren Byrom and vintage R&B with the Northside Shieks. And that says nothing of special performance situations like the Led Zeppelin tribute troupe Get the Led Out or one-off guest situations, like last month’s Phoenix Fridays concert, where he played drums behind Louisville-born, Brooklyn-based Americana popster Dawn Landes.

But the project that Cosenza can fully call his own is also the one he performs with the least on local soil. Dubbed The Fanged Robot, the pop-infused band will resurface this weekend not on home turf, but as one of two Lexington acts taking the stage at the Bunbury Music Festival in Cincinnati. The veteran pop ensemble Big Fresh is the other.

“I did so much touring from ’92 to about four years ago that my brain just turned into mush,” Cosenza said. “I didn’t have any sense of community in any of that stuff. That doesn’t seem too important when you’re in your 20s and early 30s. But now, it’s just about the most important thing in the world to me.

“So we don’t travel that much. We’ll do regional stuff – Louisville, Cincinnati, Indy, stuff like that. But we don’t get out much anymore. But this Bunbury show will be a nice thing for us.”

To get a sense of where Cosenza’s music with The Fanged Robot originates, you need to peel the calendar back 13 summers to when the drummer, guitarist and songwriter was on the cusp of national attention with the Lexington trio Pontius Co-Pilot. The band had amassed critical attention, financial backers and a touring schedule that included a fateful performance in New York City – on Sept. 10, 2001.

“Then everything went down. All our investors were a few blocks away from the (World) Trade Center and weren’t giving any money out to anybody, especially an independent band from Kentucky. We had put everything we had in the world into that band. We all lost our places to live, our jobs and basically all our stuff.

“I moved to Louisville, to the Crestwood area, and just hunkered down. I co-ran a lawn and landscape company and didn’t play an instrument for two years. I mean, I didn’t touch anything. I quit playing drums. I quit everything. I eventually started doing four-track stuff which ended up being The Fanged Robot stuff. That threw a little bit of confidence into my own writing and guitar playing. So the project has been around for awhile. It’s just been in the last couple of years that I’ve gotten the first wave of confident, full time musicians (guitarist Joe Drury, drummer Jason Clarkston and bassist

Jimmy Early) that I can play with that understand where I’m at and just have a good time with the music.”

While the folkish Let the Countdown Count Me (from 2012’s fine 10 in 20 compilation of Lexington artists) serves as the most available example of recorded work by The Fanged Robot, a completed but still-unmastered album awaits release. But Cosenza cautioned the recording purposely differs from the band’s stage sound.

“People see the live show and say, ‘You’ve got to send your record to us.’ And they hear it and go, ‘This doesn’t sound like anything we heard at the club. I’m like, ’Well, no. But if I wanted to do that, I’d buy a Rush record because that will sound just like their live show.’

“(Lexington musician and producer) Duane Lundy and I produced the record. We really went through just about every note and really, really fine tuned all the stuff. It’s very synth-heavy. It’s very mood heavy, so you don’t get the Crazy Horse vibe of the live band being in the studio doing their thing. But I didn’t want that. My songs are so basic that I really wanted them to have more of a Jeff Lynne kind of treatment. It’s a very sonic record.”

The Fanged Robot performs at 5:45 p.m. June 11 at the Bunbury Music Festival, which continues through Sunday in downtown Cincinnati. Tickets are $69 per day, $154 for the entire event. For tickets and a full schedule of performance times, go to www.bunburyfestival.com.

a banner year for lee brice

lee brice

lee brice.

What’s better than playing sold-out arenas and stadiums all year on a bill with one of country music’s hottest headliners? In the case of Lee Brice, it would be playing a sold-out festival where he is, in essence, the headliner.

Admittedly, this weekend’s sold out Red, White and Boom festival, as has been the case in years past, is composed of artists of varying degrees of familiarity. All are in the process of establishing or fortifying their careers. Brice sits comfortably in the latter category.

A South Carolina native who has written songs for such Nashville notables as Jason Aldean, Garth Brooks, Tim McGraw, Blake Shelton and Kenny Chesney, he established his own string of hits over the past five years. The newest, I Don’t Dance, is the title song of an album that is still two months away from release.Then there is the little matter of Brice’s current touring situation. Since January, he has been serving as one of two opening acts on a tour with country sensation Luke Bryan (fellow Red, White & Boom performer Cole Swindell is the other). So mark 2014 as a pretty decent year for Brice.

“Things are definitely at their highest point,” Brice, 35, said Tuesday by phone from his home in Nashville. “We’ve been doing this a long time and started from nothing but a van driving all over the country, so it’s nice to be able to tour like Luke. Now, Luke is a good buddy, but Luke is also the biggest thing in country music right now. It’s a privilege to be out there. I mean, all of his fans are rabid, so I’m enjoying this very much.”

When Brice played with Bryan at Rupp Arena in February, his manner of connecting to the audience was as casual as it was confident. Sure, the packed house thrilled to hits like I Drive Your Truck (which, despite the title, is actually a requiem for a friend) and A Woman Like You. But it was the singer’s direct and completely non-pandering treatment of his crowd that distinguished the performance.

“I grew up singing in church and my mama grew up singing in church, so I watched her for a lot of years soloing on Sunday mornings,” Brice said. “She was so spiritual. For her, it was all about communicating the song and communicating that moment. Sometimes, if she needed to not sing and just speak the words, she would, even though she was an amazing singer and still is an amazing singer. I watched that my whole life. She would connect with people on a different level just by getting up there and singing a song.

“I love writing music and I love producing records and I love performing. But one of the most special things is that moment of connection, like trying to look somebody in the eye all the way in the very, very back. I saw Garth Brooks when I was 17 years old. I was way up in the top of the stands and felt like he was talking to me. At that moment was when I knew I wanted to do this. That was what I was trying to follow.”

To that end, I Don’t Dance will serve as the next part of that connection. The album, which Brice produced and wrote much of the material for, is due out Sept. 9. But the title song — which Brice wrote for his and wife Sara Reeveley’s wedding — is burning up country airwaves this summer.

“When I wrote that, I thought, ‘This is the beginning of this record.’ I started from that moment of production in building each track and taking my time. That was the direction I wanted to go for each and every song, to find out how they needed to be made and not have some big theme over the whole record.

I Don’t Dance also connected my personal life with my career. But that song was just the special thing that got this project started. It was the very beginning.”

Lee Brice performs July 5 as part of the two-day Red, White and Boom festival at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. The entire event is sold out.

a coal miner’s daughter heads home

angaleena presley

angaleena presley.

Growing up a true coal miner’s daughter in the Martin County community of Beauty, Angaleena Presley kept her eyes and ears open. Sure, there was music to take in. But what was within that music — the stories and the lyrical means she discovered of communicating them — fascinated her most.

“When I was growing up, I always felt like I was watching rather than being part of things. I was observing everything — from the smallest thing, like watching my mom break beans, to the big things, like my dad getting laid off from the mines,” said Presley, who is part of this weekend’s Red, White and Boom lineup. “Some part of me knew I was a storyteller, and that’s a big part of our culture: oral history.

“Really the only way a lot of our culture has survived has been through oral history. For some reason, I just got picked to be that person from my neck of the woods that was supposed to go out and spread the word, and hopefully empower people through our little stories of struggle and joy and sorrow and happiness. Whatever people could draw from those stories, it was just my job to tell them. I always knew that. And I’ll be telling them probably on every record I make.”

Having moved to Nashville 12 years ago, Presley connected with a publishing company and went in search of a country sound that proved elusive.

“When I first moved to Nashville, I was very green. I was right off the front porch in Kentucky,” said Presley, 37, who attended Eastern Kentucky University and briefly lived in Lexington. “I had no idea how anything worked. The publishing company that I was fortunate enough to find really fostered that. But when it came time to do demos of my songs, we never really found the right sound. Partly out of frustration and partly out of my own artistic battle that was going on in my head, I said, ‘Let’s forget it. I want to figure out what it is on my own.’”

Luckily, one country superstar who caught a listen to Presley’s work and liked what she heard was Miranda Lambert. Lambert invited Presley to join her and Ashley Monroe in a sideline vocal trio called Pistol Annies. Presley always wanted a solo career. But with Pistol Annies’ quick popularity, she developed something aspiring songwriters could only dream of before releasing a debut solo record: a fan base.

“One of the reasons I joined Pistol Annies was to get my own career off the ground,” Presley said. “I was in a town where there was a formula, but the formula didn’t fit what I was doing. I just couldn’t get any traction. Miranda didn’t care about the formula, either. She slipped through the cracks and became successful at doing honest, good music. I feel like now with bands like Pistol Annies and people like Kacey Musgraves and Miranda, I think the tables are finally starting to turn. Now I feel the formula is catching up with me.”

Presley views her debut album — American Middle Class, due out in October — as strongly autobiographical (“It’s the story of my life up to the point where I joined Pistol Annies,” she says). She sidetracked standard practice in the recording industry by co-producing the record with her husband, Jordan Powell. Still, there is plenty of high-profile harmony help on the record: Eastern Kentucky country star Patty Loveless and Emily Saliers, one-half of Indigo Girls (Presley will be touring with the pop-folk duo in August and September).

“Hanging out with Patty was like going to stay with one of my aunts or cousins. She is so much like home to me,” Presley said. “At one point she was making greens, soup beans and corn bread and singing this gospel song to herself in the kitchen as she was cooking. “We just connected in this Kentucky place that I don’t feel like a lot of people understand unless you have been there. And she is a coal miner’s daughter. We’re few and far between, so when we find each other, we just really connect. We know what that life was like and how many stories that go with it.”

Angaleena Presley performs July 5 as part of the two-day Red, White and Boom festival at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.

rolling with the brotherhood

holmes 2

the holmes brothers. from left: popsy dixon, wendell holmes and sherman holmes.

The secret to the longstanding personal and professional bonds that have allowed the Holmes Brothers to make music together for over four decades might be as difficult to discern as the spark that holds a marriage in place.

But spend a few minutes with the trio’s new blues/soul/gospel drenched album Brotherhood and you soon discover just how strong the group’s foundation is and how effortless its upkeep has been.

“Let me tell you, that is the easiest question of all to answer,” said guitarist, pianist, songwriter and vocalist Wendell Holmes. “We love each other. Brotherhood is not a joke when we say that on an album. It’s for real. We’ve been through all kinds of experiences in 40 years, like playing the dives, the juke joints, the gigs that start at 9 and end at 4 in the morning, from making from 20 to 40 dollars a night. That breeds love. We have to look out for one another and care for one another.”

Brotherhood represents the latest chapter in a career that stems back to when Holmes, 70, older sibling and bassist brother Sherman Holmes, 74, and longtime friend, drummer and “brother from another mother” Poppy Dixon, 72, began playing together in 1967. They began performing as the Holmes Brothers in 1979.

Like so much of their past music, the new record is a merry scrapbook of gospel infused, juke-joint style rhythm-and-blues and organic, blues-referenced rock ‘n’ roll. All three members juggle lead vocal duties, from Wendell’s high soul tenor on the churchy album-opening Stayed at the Party, Sherman’s more rustic blues-soul lead on Last Man Standing and Dixon’s jubilant falsetto on the vintage Ike Turner rocker You’ve Got to Lose.

“You don’t stay with people for 40 years, even in a marriage, if you don’t have some compatibility on what you like,” Wendell said. “We like the blues and we like gospel, so we kind of bring all that stuff together.”

“For me, it’s just the honesty in their music,” said Glenn Patscha of the contemporary roots music band Ollabelle, who co-produced Brotherhood and played keyboards on several of the Holmes Brothers’ most recent recordings.

“These guys don’t play tunes they don’t like, they don’t sing things that they don’t believe in. There’s just that honesty along with the obvious soulfulness, and the blend that they have from singing together for so many years. It’s all that, plus their music just feels right. I love everything about them.”

Reception to the music of the Holmes Brothers has remained strongly positive through the years thanks a performance visibility that has seen the trio touring and recording with such notables as Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Willie Nelson, Steve Earle and Kentucky native Joan Osborne, among many others. But it’s the internal bond that continues to bolster the band (which continues to perform as an unaccompanied trio when touring on its own) as well a musical drive that informs and fortifies their family lives that matters most to the Holmes Brothers.

“The exposure goes in cycles if you stay in the business long enough,” Wendell said. “But I tell everybody the most important thing is the three of us working together, loving each other and playing music together because some of my best musical experiences have been right in my own house with my brothers Sherman and Popsy or just sitting down with my wife and my daughters around the piano and singing.

“So it’s not so much about exposure. Exposure is always good. But there has to be something in the belly, you know what I mean? So far, for the three of us, there has always been a fire in the belly, and it’s not fading.”

The Holmes Brothers and Chatham County Line perform at 6:45 p.m. June 30

at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third, for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Admission is $10. For reservations, call (859) 252-8888.

songs of strangers

SimoneFelice1

simone felice.

For his second solo album, Simone Felice adopted Strangers not only as a title, but as a point of reference for the 10 songs it contains.

There is a certain irony in that practice, as one of the many sub-themes that fall under the title banner is identity. For Felice, that’s an important and personal issue. After introducing himself as one of the Catskill Mountain-bred Felice Brothers, he parted amicably to begin a more folk-directed solo project called The Duke and the King. Now, he is two albums into a career that places his own music under his own name.

The new album may be called Strangers and its songs contain concise, roots-infused sagas filled with characters that, in varying degrees, reflect that title. But this year, Felice, the inaugural artist in WUKY-FM’s free Phoenix Friday summer concert series, is becoming less and less a stranger himself.

“I started to think about that word ‘strangers’ and the idea that we can fall madly in love, we can be intertwined with people and then time can just fly by,” Felice said. “You turn your head around and look in the rear view mirror and you wonder where those people have gone. They become strangers, you know? As you look in the mirror, you may even be a stranger to yourself. I really wanted to talk about that.

“Musically, we were lucky because we got to kind of stretch out over the course of a couple months last fall. It was the perfect autumn time up in the Catskill Mountains, where we’re from. All the leaves were changing, friends were around, my brothers came in to sing, as did a lot of my friends (including members of the Lumineers).

“Some of the songs have a lonely feeling to them. I’ve always been a fan of those lonely kinds of songs – you know, songs by Leonard Cohen, Joni Mitchell. But I also enjoy having a posy and making rock ‘n’ roll, too. So we got to do a bit of both and work on the arrangements and the instrumentation as we went along without having to really rush it or do it in a way that wasn’t fitting or serving the song. That was really my mantra for the whole record – to serve the song. If you listen to it closely, the music just leads you in the right direction.”

A novelist and poet as well as songwriter, Felice began making music in his teens as part of punk and noise bands with friends and later with his own songs in the clubs and streets of NewYork. But it was with The Felice Brothers, which sounded initially like a Cajun-esque variant of The Band, that he was introduced to a performance life outside of the Catskills and New York.

“I would never have learned how to be a musician or how to sing if I didn’t begin this journey with my brothers. We all learned how to play together. None of us had any musical training. I learned how to play the drums just because we needed a drummer. So I bought a snare drum and a high hat. We would busk in New York City subways and the streets. That’s how I learned to play music and sing.

“Then going further as a solo artist, I was really able to find my own voice as a singer and producer just by going out there touring and singing in old churches, on the streets, in a theatre or a venue – wherever. To me, it’s been like on the job training. Every night, I’m learning something new about the mystery of what it means to be a singer and a player.”

Simone Felice and Dawn Landes perform at 5 p.m. June 27 at Phoenix Park, Main and S. Limestone for WUKY’s free Phoenix Fridays series. Call (859) 257-3221 or go to http://wuky.org

Return of the Carter girl

carlene carter

carlene carter.

When you grow up a singing member of what is widely viewed as country music’s most prestigious family, a record honoring your roots would seem an inevitable undertaking.

So when Carlene Carter released such a project this spring, a tribute to the heralded Carter Family titled Carter Girl, it was easy to consider the work as an essentially predictable chapter in a lengthy and stylistically far-reaching career.

But as the veteran singer explains, Carter Girl was more a work of destiny than a formulated career move.

“I got started singing Carter Family songs before I ever wrote a song myself,” said Carter, who performs at tonight’s taping of WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. “But it’s really just going back to my roots. Throughout my entire career, whenever I would get to the point where I didn’t know where I should turn musically, I went back to the Carter Family and somehow managed to work with them a little bit. That would always bring me back to who I am.”

The granddaughter of Mother Maybelle Carter, daughter of June Carter Cash and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash, the singer actually got her first view of individual mainstream popularity not with Carter Family songs dating back to the late ’30s but through a series of late ’70s and ’80s albums cut with such Brit rock elite as Graham Parker and the Rumour, Rockpile, Paul Carrack and now-former husband Nick Lowe.

Flash forward to early ’90s and Carter was embraced by Nashville for a trio of more retro-fitting country albums led by 1990′s I Fell in Love and its Grammy-nominated title song. “The thing that Mama instilled in me a lot was to always follow my heart and all of my own intuition into any kind of endeavor, and to never try to fit in. She said to just be myself and that would serve me best. And that’s what I’ve done. Sometimes I’ve been successful, sometimes not. But every single thing that I’ve done has brought to where I am today.”

Carter Girl boasts help from such notables as Don Was (who produced the album), Willie Nelson, Vince Gill, Elizabeth Cook, Kris Kristofferson and, by way of tracks recorded in the late ’80s, members of the then-current Carter Family. But taking on the Carter Family legacy full force also required some self-schooling.

“It was quite a feat to go through about 500 Carter Family songs and still have room for some of my own. So it seems really appropriate that I would do Me and the Wildwood Rose again (Carter first cut it for I Fell in Love) because it means even more to me today than when I wrote it back in ’88, about 10 years after grandma had died.

“This is probably the greatest gift in my entire career, to be able to have this wealth of material that I can draw upon and share with other people. It has inspired me to be a better writer and better singer. They feel easy to me, even when I’m learning them. And I’m learning them every day, I’ve got to tell you. Every so often, I mess up onstage. I’ll start into something and go, ‘Oops, that’s just unacceptable. Mother Maybelle is rolling over in her grave. Let’s get this right here.’”

Carlene Carter and Jason D. Williams perform at 6:45 tonight at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 E. Third St. for the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour. Tickets are $10. For reservations, call (859) 252-8888.

what dawes does

dawes

dawes: taylor goldsmith, tay strathairn, griffin goldsmith and wylie gelber.

The members of Dawes were suitably thrilled when longtime friend Conor Oberst approached them about embarking on a joint tour.

After all, aside from asserting its own modern take on Los Angeles-bred folk, pop and rock with three critically acclaimed albums, the quartet has had ample experience in rubbing music shoulders with rock titans. They backed Jackson Browne at Occupy Wall Street and recorded and performed with Creedence Clearwater Revival founder John Fogerty

But this tour would be different. Dawes would open the shows with an hour long set of its own and then shift gears for what would, in essence, be a second performance as Oberst’s band.

“Definitely, it’s a long night for us, but we like that,” said Dawes bassist Wylie Gelber. “It keeps us nice and tight as a band. As soon as we’re done with our set, we’re just getting started because we have another 2 ½ hours to go after that.”

For Omaha-born songsmith Oberst, the tour represents the latest chapter in a revolving cycle of performance projects that have included the critically acclaimed indie pop collective Bright Eyes, the more punkish Desaparecidos, the all-star Monsters of Folk and the roots driven Mystic Valley Band. The collaborative tour with Dawes is an outgrowth of his new Americana-rich solo record, Upside Down Mountain.

The current tour’s repertoire covers all of those endeavors. That called for the Dawes members – singer/guitarist Taylor Goldsmith, his sibling drummer Griffin Goldsmith, Gelber and keyboardist Tay Strathairn to engage in a considerable amount of woodshedding. In fact, they did more than even Oberst expected.

“We had a kind of misunderstanding at the beginning of prep for the tour,” Gelber said. “Conor sent us a list of 45 or 50 songs. What he meant was, ‘Chose 15 or 20, learn those and we’ll go from there.’ Well, before he could reiterate what he wanted, we just learned all of them.

“So when we met up with Conor in Omaha to rehearse, he was like, ‘Alright, what 15 do you want to start with?’ And we were like, ‘Well, we can really do whatever you want because we learned that entire list.’ But that just meant we could switch everything up from night to night and go back to play a bunch of stuff from his old records as well as the new one.”

The situation differs a bit from when Dawes works on its own. The band’s most recent album, Stories Don’t End, possesses a folk-pop feel that is considerably lighter than Obesrt’s intense, exact and often Dylan-esque narratives. While Taylor Goldsmith is the band’s principal songwriter, he is by no means its dictating voice.

“Taylor always says, ‘I want you guys to play these songs exactly the way you want to. I’m not tied to anything.’ So when I listen to his songs and learn them, I don’t get real attached to a certain feel. Taylor kind of leaves the feel up to me and Griff and our instincts. But there is this great musicality around his songs. It has become super comfortable for us to play them now.”

Of course, having four LA musicians that have bonded personally as well as professionally over the years enhances the inviting pop flair of Dawes’ music.

“After going out with Conor, his whole crew was going, ‘Wow. You guys are actually friends.’ Well, if we weren’t friends, I don’t think we would be going out on tour nearly as much as we do and wouldn’t be enjoying it half as much.

“It kind of goes hand in hand. If we weren’t four guys that didn’t like spending time with each other and playing music with each other, then we would be doing something else with our lives”.

Conor Oberst and Dawes perform at 9 p.m. June 7 at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St. Tickets are $27 advance, $30 day of show. Call (859) 368-8871 or go to www.bustersbb.com.

hello dolly

dolly

dolly parton.

A phone conversation with Dolly Parton is a very finite thing. So with a modest amount of time allotted for our interview, the decision was made to forego pleasantries and jump right into the questioning.

“Fine,” replied Parton, 68. “I’ll jump higher.”

She will, too. For the better part of a five decade career, Parton has made a habit out of leaping past most of her contemporaries. She has topped the Billboard country singles chart more than two dozen times and sent over 40 albums into the Top 10. Cumulative career sales of her records and downloads have been estimated at being in excess of 110 million copies. And that says nothing of her successes in film, stage and entrepreneurship.

As she prepares to hit the road in support of Blue Smoke, her 42nd studio album – a tour that includes a performance tonight in Richmond as part of St. Mark Catholic Church’s ongoing An Evening Among Friends series of benefit concerts – one might suspect the practice of making music has become so second nature to Parton that it is now devoid of spark and surprise. Parton will have none of that.

“Well, when you really love to write and love to sing, you never lose that. It just gets stronger through the years because you realize that is your gift. So you try to develop it and be stronger with it. But it’s always exciting to me.

“It’s like when I write a new song. I get so excited when I feel that certain kind of feeling. There is just something exciting about having something in the world today that wasn’t there yesterday, and it’s something I created, something I put there. I still get excited about the whole process.”

That process covers a lot of ground on Blue Smoke. Parton duets with Willie Nelson and Kenny Rogers, covers songs by Bob Dylan and Bon Jovi but still devotes over half the recording to her own compositions.

One tune, If I Had Wings, reflects the country roots inspirations of Parton’s youth by recalling the folk standard Wayfaring Stranger.

“That’s the music I grew up singing, so it’s kind of embedded in my smoky mountain DNA. I notice I have a tendency to write a lot of that flavor into my songs. I still love those old melodies, those old spirituals and the old mountain ballads.”

With such lasting commercial success also comes the opportunity to give back. Tonight’s Evening Among Friends performance is one of two benefit concerts Parton will give before embarking on a month-long tour of Europe. The other will be for Parton’s Imagination Library and the Robert F. Thomas Foundation as part her longstanding campaign to promote childhood literacy.

“It is my belief that if you are in a position to help, you should. That’s the Christian way I grew up in. I have a giving heart. I’ve been so blessed with so many things in my life, it’s the least I can do. So when I was asked to come to Kentucky and help St. Mark’s school and various charities around there, I said, ‘Well, sure. We’re close.’ And it makes my heart feel good. I like giving back because I’ve received so much.”

Of course, along with Parton the artist and Parton the philanthropist, there is Parton the celebrity – a country charmed creation that serves as the platform with which the singer presents herself to the world. The wigs, the make-up, the… well, physique – they are all a form of fun expression. Parton just hopes that her fans don’t let the image overshadow her accomplishments.

“I think it’s taken every bit of all that to make me who and what I am. I know I look totally artificial but I like to think I’m totally real where it counts. But my looks also come from a very serious place. I’m not a natural beauty. I didn’t have the things I wish I did when I was a girl growing up. The way I dress and everything, it kind of fits my personality.

“I know there are some people who don’t see any more than the boobs and the hair and the personality. But the people that have really followed me and have really cared, they know how seriously I take my work. They also know I don’t take myself so seriously. I have to enjoy this myself, too. This ain’t just for them – it’s for me, also. I have to live in this little person day in and day out and I’m just going to have to present it the way that it is. So I’m comfortable with my image.

“Some people say, ‘You’ve had to overcome your image.’ Well, I don’t know about that. I think it’s kind of walked hand in hand with everything else I do.”

An Evening Among Friends with Dolly Parton will be presented at 8 tonight at the EKU Center for the Arts. Tickets are sold out. Call (859) 623-2989 or go to  www.saintmarkcatholicchurch.com.

 

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