The Musical Box Walter Tunis on music Sun, 18 Jun 2017 21:55:01 +0000 en-US hourly 1 in performance: U2/onerepublic Sat, 17 Jun 2017 08:24:24 +0000

U2 performing Friday in Louisville at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. From left, The Edge, Larry Mullen Jr., Bono and Adam Clayton. Photo by Adam Creech.

LOUISVILLE – What an astonishing sight it was to witness a pack of renowned artists, performers with an already mammoth profile, dwarfed by their own work.

That occurred, in very literal fashion, last night as the members U2 stood at attention on the stage of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, their silhouetted figures mere miniatures beside the towering image representing the Irish band’s most enduring recording – a Joshua Tree.

The 11 songs making up the 1987 album “The Joshua Tree” served as a centerpiece in every sense of the term for U2’s first Kentucky concert in 16 years and its first Louisville show since 1982. Songs predating the album opened the concert, hits covering a 18 year stretch that followed the record concluded it. But at the two hour show’s thematic and musical core were the muscular, topically driven and still remarkably vital songs from “The Joshua Tree” that cemented U2’s megastardom three decades ago. Was it nostalgic? To a degree. The first three songs on “The Joshua Tree” were its biggest hits – “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” and “With or Without You.” But by the time band got to the second half of the album (“Welcome to Side Two,” singer/frontman Bono proclaimed), the audience was faced with far less recognizable material. Within that segment, though, were some of the evening’s true gems, including a triumphant “One Tree Hill,” a brutally acidic “Exit” (the most fearsome rocker of the night) and a ghostly “Mothers of the Disappeared” performed as a prayer.

The transition of opening songs from 1983’s “War” and 1984’s “The Unforgettable Fire” into the suite that made up “The Joshua Tree” was quite striking, as well. The concert began with a suitably anthemic “Sunday Bloody Sunday” played from a modest sized stage assembled in the middle of the stadium field, the kind of set up most large arena and stadium productions employ as a mid-show diversion. From there, the emancipatory “Bad” revealed the internal workings of a band accustomed to pageantry working in a refreshingly sparse, lean and elemental setting.

As U2’s most powerful affirmation “Pride (in the Name of Love)” poured fourth, the concert utilized a visual element as cinematic as the band’s music with the text of Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech illuminated on a video screen large enough to fill the stadium’s entire end zone. Watching that bleed into the churchy keyboard hum and chiming guitars of “Where the Streets Have No Name” was, frankly, quite chilling.

The encore section turned away from the inner snapshots of America dominating “The Joshua Tree” in favor of more universally human reflection. “Miss Sarajevo” was renamed “Miss Syria” and included the recorded vocal accompaniment of the late Luciano Pavarotti from the original recording with a new visual backdrop – a commissioned film shot at the Zaatari Refugee Camp in Jordan. In the same vein, “Ultraviolet” sounded as affirmative and enchanted as ever but found a new topical life as a dedication to women activists. “Beautiful Day,” however, stayed put as a straightforward pop reflection of a simpler peace.

Now, how much as age altered U2? A little. You didn’t notice it much from guitarist The Edge, bassist Adam Clayton and drummer Larry Mullen Jr. They continued to play with strongly efficient, heavily rhythmic and thoroughly unassuming propulsion. That was especially true of The Edge, who continued to favor patterns of shimmering, stuttering guitar runs over grandstanding solos. Even the times he dug into dirtier turf, as on “Exit” and “Bullet the Blue Sky,” his playing maintained a sense of orchestral order.

You noticed the years slightly more with Bono. He didn’t reach into the vocal stratosphere or display the athletic bravado of past tours. But he was no elder slouch, either, rocking amicably with the looser tumble of “Trip Through Your Wires” while commanding U2’s overall activist involvement with the eternally hopeful “One.”

One of the show’s more curious but wonderfully complimentary nods to age came during “Red Hill Mining Town,” which boasted the band’s patient live recitation on half of the gargantuan video screen with the recorded support of a pokerfaced Salvation Army brass band on the other. The result was a performance of sagely resilience anchored by very earthy soul.

There was another grand, but totally unexpected, special effect that distinguished the concert. Once “Where the Streets Have No Name” settled into its percolating groove, accompanied by the stunning visual of a desert road shown from a behind-the-windshield perspective, a huge jet airliner soared over the stadium, seemingly within spitting distance, on its way to a landing at nearby Louisville International Airport. Guess the skies didn’t have a name last night, either.

The Colorado band OneRepublic opened the evening with an inviting 50 minute set that drew on the vocal charge of Ryan Tedder and the instrumental color of bassist/cellist Brent Kutzie for songs like “Love Runs Out,” “Stop and Stare” and “Counting Stars.” The resulting music was delivered with crisp instrumentation and ample performance vigor. It was also indistinguishable from the work of a dozen other acts that took their cue from the alt-pop aftermath of ‘90s grunge.

in performance: festival of the bluegrass, final day Sun, 11 Jun 2017 20:16:46 +0000

ron thomason of dry branch fire squad.

The Sunday morning gospel show that traditionally closes the Festival of the Bluegrass has always been a happy curiosity. As everything else in the Kentucky Horse Park that served as base camp over the previous three days is being quickly disassembled, the final music is moved under a small tent at the far end of the field, providing an intimate footnote to the rest of the event.

This morning, as has been the case over much of the past decade, the session was presided over by the Dry Branch Fire Squad in what was its 39th appearance in the Festival’s 44 year history. Little about the band has changed, other than its personnel, although vocalist, raconteur and spiritual/social commentator Ron Thomason remains at the helm with longtime banjoist/dobroist Tom Boyd still on board as first lieutenant. Fortunately, Dry Branch’s sound hasn’t shifted much, either. Though its can properly be tagged a gospel group despite frequent forays into secular folk songs, the thrust is on old-time music – specifically, a style based around pre-bluegrass country spirituals.

This morning’s set sounded rustic without seeming outdated, just as the spiritual messages were conveyed with humor and tolerance instead of the insufferable audience pandering that has become a frequent manner of practice for many gospel-minded country and bluegrass ensembles.

As such, tunes like “50 Miles of Elbow Room” and “Hide You in the Blood” reflected a antique immediacy and technical blemish or two that rightly recalled the very formative spiritual string music of the Carter Family and the Monroe Brothers, groups that recorded both songs, respectively, 80 years ago.

Another happy constant was Thomason’s Will Rogers-esque humor, a genuine anti-thesis of gospel fearmongering. Subscribing to a practice of “taking hate out of my heart,” he flashed a wary smile when referencing the current political climate. “The times,” Thomason remarked, “are trying again.”

Once the hour long set wrapped up a few minutes after the noon hour with “Going Up the Mountain,” the Festival was officially over. Back on the grounds, the main performance stage was already gone as buses, vendors and campers filtered out of the Horse Park. But it was comforting to know Thomason and Dry Branch were atop the mountain, dispensing string band solace that was undeterred by the times.


in performance: rhiannon giddens Sun, 11 Jun 2017 05:55:57 +0000

rhiannon giddens.

Just prior to letting loose the a cappella intro that kicked off “Waterboy” last night at the KCD Theater in Louisville, Rhiannon Giddens stretched out her arms, folded her hands in and bowed her head. She looked like she about to inhale a hurricane. The ritual must have worked because she exhaled a gale force vocal lead full of righteous soul, sensuous groove and a tone of astonishing and commanding clarity. Just as it was when she performed it at the Lexington Opera House two years ago, Giddens made “Waterboy” her own – a neat trick considering folk empress Odetta managed the same thing with the tune nearly 50 year earlier.

Giddens did that regularly last night with a band that boasted Americana stylist Dirk Powell and her Carolina Chocolate Drops mate Hubby Jenkins, who, between them, colored in the program on guitar, fiddle, accordion, banjo, bones and more. Over the course of two immensely engaging sets, the team allowed works written or popularized by Patsy Cline, Ethel Waters, the Staple Singers, Aretha Franklin, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and more to receive a glorious makeover. Giddens possessed such a potent and wildly pure voice, that each work, regardless of its genre or background, was instilled with a wholly natural sense of vigor.

You heard it in the Staples’ revivalistic social anthem “Freedom Highway,” the epic Cline country heartbreak hit “She’s Got You” and, perhaps most tellingly, Franklin’s 1967 soul gem “Do Right Woman, Do Right Man,” which Giddens sang with a sense of cool, serene defiance.

But this was a more sobering show than the 2016 Opera House outing, mostly because of its focus on original songs of slavery, history and visions of freedom that made up 2017’s “Freedom Highway” album. Some, like “At the Purchaser’s Option,” prompted by a Civil War-era advertisement for a female slave that included an option for the sale of her child, maintained a iron will resilience that flew in the face of the tune’s immovable oppression. Others, including “We Could Fly,” envisioned an escape to freedom that was beautifully, but sadly, presented as folklore.

Rounding out the concert was the banjo-riddled instrumental “Following the North Star,” a Powell-led medley of Cajun tunes built around “Diamanche Apres-Midi” and a show closing cover of Tharpe’s “Up Above My Head,” which embraced the evening with perhaps the most uplifting message of all: “There’s music in the air.”

in performance: festival of the bluegrass, second day Sat, 10 Jun 2017 05:47:44 +0000

michael cleveland. herald-leader staff photos by rich copley.

Usually when dealing with a roster of artists akin to the lineup of schooled string music stylists that highlighted the Friday lineup at the Festival of the Bluegrass, reaching a consensus as to which act had the strongest showing isn’t easy. In an event like this, there exists is a given symmetry, if not outright predictability, among the performers. Some may vary their styles slightly, but what frequently emerges is a similar mix of lightning pace picking, familial vocal harmonies and homespun sentiment.
Last night was different, though. All the artists taking the stage at the Kentucky Horse Park were engaging and proficient, yet there one undeniable titan among them. His name was Michael Cleveland.

During a late evening set with his band Flamekeeper, the fiddler covered all the requisites concerning technique, tradition and tone. But Cleveland proved to be such a versed player that he regularly expanded on the usual bluegrass diet of speed and flash. During “I Knew Her Yesterday,” an original instrumental from his splendid new “Fiddler’s Dream” album, he threw a curve ball by embracing a slower lyricism chilled with an engaging sense of honky tonk swing. Better still was a deconstruction of “Jerusalem Ridge” (one of several Bill Monroe classics within the set) performed as a spacious, astute but still playful duet with mandolinist Nathan Livers. The playing revived the tune’s inherent Celtic inspiration for a musicality that was remarkably worldly. Later, during an encore exhibition where he was left alone onstage, Cleveland summoned accents that sounded almost Eastern European in nature before landing with grace and vigor alongside Flamekeeper’s more overtly grassy camaraderie. In short, this was one of the great instrumental displays the Festival has seen in recent memory.

russell moore.

The rest of the bill was appealing, though occasionally perfunctory. Headliners Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out have not lost a step with its leader still full of a vocal bravado aged nicely by gospel and high lonesome soul (as on the chain gang requiem “Moundsville Pen”). Similarly, IIIrd Tyme Out alum Steve Dilling and his band Sideline balanced vocal might with jams that embraced the blues as well as Carolina-inclined ballads (the gentle title tune to the 2016 album “Colors and Crossroads”).

jr williams and kati penn of newtown.

Two Kentucky-bred bands held their own on such a lofty bill. Newtown revealed additional maturity in its development of a steadfast ensemble sound with rich and often appealingly dark folk undertones (the transformation of Tyler Childers’ “The Crows and the Jakes” into Aoife O’Donovan-style Americana with help from Kati Penn’s soft focus vocals) while Hammertowne

hammertowne mandolinist chaston carroll,

heavily favored bluegrass tradition, even though some of its material was welcomed from outside sources (including a surprisingly giddy version of Bob Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country”).

But this evening belonged to Cleveland and an instrumental charge fortified by taste, ingenuity and a sterling sense of musical adventure.


in performance: festival of the bluegrass, first day Fri, 09 Jun 2017 05:33:18 +0000

mike hartgrove and sammy shelor of lonesome river band. herald-leader staff photos by rich copley.

“Bluegrass – it’s legal everywhere.”

So read the T-short slogan of a patron roaming the Kentucky Horse Park Campground shortly before dusk on an evening that felt more like mid-autumn than early summer. Askew climate setting aside, the surrounding and especially the sounds all signaled the 44th start to one of Lexington’s most honored musical gatherings, the Festival of the Bluegrass.

As has been the case for many years, the Lonesome River Band headlined the Festival’s first night with a set boasting a musicality both rustic and relaxed. Leader Sammy Shelor again typlified the mix. As an often awarded banjoist, he remains a retiring figure onstage, keep his solos to a lean minimum in favor of piloting a richly rhythmic ensemble. You heard with the percolating accessibility of “Thunder and Lighting” and a crisp, set-opening cover of “Ida Red” (the latter a preview of LRB’s forthcoming “Mayhayley’s House” album). But guitarist Brandon Rickmand and mandolinist Jesse Smathers, who rotated led vocal chores throughout the performance also deftly decelerated LRB’s propulsion at times, as during the sterling weeper “Mary Ann.”

flatt lonesome: siblings kelsi harigill, buddy robertson and charli robertson.

Flatt Lonesome, a youthful, gospel-tooted band with members spread from Alabama to Ohio, preceded LRB with a set that was akin to round at a country music jukebox. Fronted by three siblings – fiddler Charli Robertson, guitarist Buddy Robertson and mandolinist Kelsi Harigill, all of whom traded vocal duties – the band provided a youthful gusto to songs penned and/or popularized by Buddy Miller, Merle Haggard, Jimmy Martin, Merle Haggard and more. The opening “Cold Rain and Snow” set the pace, spotlighting a light instrumental fabric highlighted by dobroist Michael Stockton. The siblings harmonies regularly swooped either in three part symmetry or in beautifully splintered form, as the sisterly vibe fueling the Texas swing stride of “Never Let Me Go.”

ron bowling of custom made bluegrass.

Rounding out the bill was Custom Made Bluegrass, a very capable band of Central and Eastern Kentucky performers with a bright balance of gospel originals, a far-reaching array of bluegrass standards (“In the Pines,” “Molly and Tenbrooks”) and a flair of retro-inclined country material (“Streets of Bakersfield,” “I Ain’t Broke But I’m Badly Bent”) that played nicely to the inviting vocal leads of guitarist Van Ramey and mandolinist Ron Bowling.

A footnote to last night’s program: Dolton Robertson, grandfather to the Flatt Lonesomne siblings, died Wednesday. The band cancelled all of its weekend performance, except for the Festival of the Bluegrass. While it didn’t arrive at the Horse Park until Custom Made Bluegrass was onstage, Flatt Lonesome began its set on time. “It’s been quite a week,” remarked Harigill. Regardless of the loss, an strongly animated family spirit drove the performance.


in performance: tommy emmanuel Sun, 04 Jun 2017 05:28:18 +0000

tommy emmanuel.

Tommy Emmanuel took great pride last night at the Lexington Opera House in explaining his family heritage.

“I come from a long line of mechanics,” he beamed.

That might not come as a surprise to anyone familiar with the kind of industrial strength potency the Aussie native displayed on solo acoustic guitar. For the better part of two primarily instrumental hours, Emmanuel unleashed dizzying but highly proficient melodic runs, stern percussive rolls, blinding speed and an agility in shifting from style to style as readily as one might shift the gears on a bike.

Take the way, for instance, “Blood Brothers,” eased out of its dark, Southern intro into a Spanish flavored melody while slaps on the strings cut through the tune like cracks of thunder. Consider the way a homeland staple like “Waltzing Matilda” was thoroughly Americanized with a generous dose of country whimsy inherited by mentor Chet Atkins. Then there was Emmanuel’s cover of the Mason Williams hit “Classical Gas,” which was hotwired into the aural equivalent of a car chase. It became less an exercise in emotively melodic drama and more of a warp speed dash.

The pace and intensity was purposeful, the guitarist said, stating his upbringing in Aussie pubs taught him to play “loud, fast and hard.” After the first 20 minutes or so, when the full scope and drive of Emmanuel’s astonishing technique was unleashed, it was hard not to wish for at least some kind of reprieve, a tune or two that would allow audience members to at least loosen their seat belts for a moment.

Such a breather was presented in a newly composed original for the guitarist’s daughter, “Rachel’s Lullaby,” and the “Bridge of Spies”- inspired “Eva Waits,” the only new tune from the recent “Live! At the Ryman” album. Both works turned the performance inward to a lighter, more lyrical sensibility. Emmanuel’s technical prowess was just as commanding as the music performed at a breakneck pace, but its emotional impact was understandably more reserved and graceful.

Cap all that off with tunes that had Emmanuel juggling lead and rhythm lines simultaneously (as on “Day Tripper,” which was tucked inside a briskly executed Beatles medley) and a joyous performance attitude that insured no one was having more fun last night than Emmanuel himself and you had an expert evening of cross-continental guitar play.


in performance: roger waters Mon, 29 May 2017 07:12:29 +0000

roger waters.

There is no irony lost in Roger Waters titling his current tour “Us and Them.” Sure, the name was appropriated from perhaps the most poetically elegiac tune he created for Pink Floyd. But the program he staged last night at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville took that theme quite literally with a stream of songs pitting besieged underdogs against the establishment – specifically, the political powers that be – and the division they have injected into everyday social order.

Us and Them? Us against Them was more like it. But, at heart, this was business as usual for Waters. At 73, his view of the world – well, actually, just of the people running it – is crustier than ever. Witness, for instance, the way he resurrected a piece like “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” from Pink Floyd’s forgotten 1977 descent into the social abyss “Animals.” Always one for spectacle, the tune let the trademark Floyd-ian balloon pig sail around the arena with x’s for eyes and a photo of our current President slapped on its side bearing the caption quote, “I won!” Back on the stage, Waters and his nine-member band hammered away at the tune’s dense, unrelenting jam while still more pictures of our commander-in-chief were shown on a massive video screen behind him with the word “charade” stamped over them.

Many cheered, a noticeable number booed. In short, the rock ‘n’ roll arena proved to be as divided as the political one.

More internally designed – and, frankly, more emotively moving – was “The Last Refugee,” the best of several previews offered from Waters’ new “Is This the Life We Really Want?” album (due out on Friday). Shown against a video dominated by images of a refugee living in squalor and an elegant flamenco dancer engaged in the same body movement, the song’s sense of loss and longing became beautifully eloquent. Outside of a still-arresting acoustic delivery of the masterful Pink Floyd eulogy “Wish You Were Here,” “The Last Refugee” was easily the most subdued moment in a performance that cared little for modesty.

In terms of repertoire, Waters drew from two distinct periods – the 1970s, for a slew of very faithful interpretations of Pink Floyd’s most commercially familiar hits, and the present, via the “Is This the Life We Really Want?” music. Nothing from any of Waters’ previous solo works was offered.

The band proved to be immensely capable – a good thing, too, as Waters’ musical role in his own shows seems to be shrinking. Guitarist Jonathan Wilson handled all the vocal duties on the Floyd tunes originally recorded by David Gilmour while Dave Kilminster delivered impressive recreations of Gilmour’s guitar leads and solos. Multi instrumentalist Jon Carin again gets the vote for Waters’ onstage VIP, fortifying keyboard fabrics throughout the new and old material and nicely tackling the volatile lap steel guitar lead on the oldest tune of the night, the still-fearsome 1971 instrumental “One of These Days.” Even the bulk of the bass duties, usually Waters’ instrumental domain, were handled Gus Seyffert.

Music from the benchmark Floyd albums “The Dark Side of the Moon” and “The Wall” kept audience members with a taste for troubled nostalgia happy. But, frankly, the “Is This the Life We Really Want?” tunes were as intriguing as anything else in the show. You would be hard pressed, for example, to find a more quintessential Waters reflection than the new “Déjà Vu,” where the evening’s headliner, in a voice that seemed to wear its weathered tone like a badge of honor, pondered being God in one verse and a drone in the next. Such is the burden of an artist still fashionably in league with uneasy times.


in performance: jim lauderdale Sun, 28 May 2017 07:14:37 +0000

jim lauderdale.

If you weren’t familiar with his reputation as an esteemed Americana journeyman or the astonishing volume and variety of the music he has issued, you might have been surprised at the performance transformation Jim Lauderdale exhibited last night at Willie’s Locally Known.

When the solo acoustic performance began, Lauderdale was an almost meekish song stylist who allowed the show opening “Three Way Conversation” to speak for itself. Sure, his rustic vocal holler provided the 1994 tune with suitable color. But the sense of unforced Nashville tradition within its construction defined the kind of stylistic assurance that sits at the heart of Lauderdale’s music.

Fast forward to the closing encore of “Hole in My Head,” the product of a longstanding partnership with fellow Americana chieftain Buddy Miller where the mood was dramatically looser. There was no band playing behind Lauderdale, but the music’s rockish feel reflected an ensemble feel all the same.

What came between those songs were, amazingly, 34 other works spanning over 25 years that reflected the full artistic and stylistic breadth of Lauderdale’s career. So effortlessly comprehensive was the resulting performance that you hardly noticed it took over 2 ½ hours to complete. During the run, Lauderdale didn’t even as much as change guitars. By the time it concluded, the songsmith looked like he could have run the whole marathon again.

Lauderdale regularly revealed himself as a masterful but plain speaking writer whose tunes were often as robust as his singing. Such an attribute was underscored by “I Love You More,” one of three works offered from the upcoming “London Southern” album. Sung at an almost glacial pace, Lauderdale created a sense of orchestral longing that could have been fashioned in the 1960s.

On the flip side was “Old Time Angels,” a spin on traditional Appalachian murder ballads that allowed the spirits of such storied victims as Pretty Polly, Little Maggie and the like to plot retributions against their assassins. Dark as the premise was, Lauderdale maintained a delivery that was animated to the point of being playful.

The rest of the far-reaching repertoire boasted songs Lauderdale co-wrote with such diverse allies as Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, British counterparts Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe and Nashville pros like Miller and Melba Montgomery.

There was a wealth of material covering recent albums that included the bluegrass inspired Hunter collaboration “Black Roses” and the country leaning “This Changes Everything” that seemed very much part of Lauderdale’s agenda. But there were also audience calls for more vintage country fare Lauderdale cut throughout the ‘90s, including the title tunes to 1991’s “Planet of Love” and 1999’s “Onward Through It All” albums. Neither was planned for the evening’s setlist yet both reflected as much confidence and command as the songs that were.

Also not part of the game plan was a set closing cover of Gregg Allman’s “Midnight Rider,” a late addition to the performance played in honor of the Southern rock forefather whose death was announced earlier in the day. Lauderdale had to reference a lyric sheet at times, but his vocals regularly reached ghostly high notes within the song to make it sound as emotive and worldly as all the far reaching originals he knew by heart.

gregg allman, 1947-2017 Sat, 27 May 2017 21:21:49 +0000

gregg allman.

For all the twisted, jingoistic turns Southern rock took over the past four decades, there is no mistaking the fact the genre began with the Allman Brothers Band. And as the name so aptly inferred, that band began with two voices – the guitar lead of Duane Allman and the singing of younger sibling Gregg Allman.

Listen to the Allmans’ first three albums and you will experience a thrilling hybrid that summoned the blues, Southern R&B, a touch of organic psychedelia, jazz and gospel. Southern rock hadn’t descended into the stars-and-bars waving party parody that would eventually mesh with a highly marketable brand of commercial country music in the 1980s. It was instead a junction where the roots music innovations of the South merged. But all Southern rock – every last note, in fact – came in the wake of what the Allmans designed on 1969’s “The Allman Brothers Band,” 1970’s “Idlewild South” and 1971’s genre defining “The Allman Brothers Band at Fillmore East.”

Then, of course, the Allmans story went South in a whole different way. Duane Allman and bassist Berry Oakley died in separate motorcycle crashes in nearly the same location, leaving only one Allman at the helm. Then stardom hit with all the excesses the ‘70s could muster. Gregg Allman soaked them all up, too. His celebrity status skyrocked even as his indulgences nearly killed him. The Allmans struggled on through breakups and reunions, bad blood and new blood. But by then, the band had largely become a mere protégé, one of many, to a music it had earlier spearheaded.

That’s not to say there weren’t fine recordings in the years to come. Both the band’s “Brothers and Sisters” and Gregg’s solo debut record “Laid Back” (released within months of each other during the second half of 1973) steered the Allman sound away from the guitar innovations Duane had pursued into a more steamlined but still soulful variation while 1979’s “Enlightened Rogues,” 1988’s “Seven Turns” and 2003’s “Hittin’ the Note” encapsulated the merits of three successive versions of the band. None of them, though, matched the seemingly effortless sense of adventure offered on those early Allmans records.

The announcement of Gregg Allman’s death today at age 69, sadly, isn’t surprising. It seems the singer has been cheating death for the better part of his career through a bounty of typical rock ‘n’ roll vices to a bout of Hepatitis C that led to a liver transplant to numerous maladies that interrupted a still active career in recent years.

Allman played Danville and Lexington as recently as last year with a capable revue-style program, but he looked and sounded frail, a walking testament to self-inflicted ravages.

It’s an easy estimation to say that an artist’s early work is oftentimes his or her best. But in Allman’s case, it really was. Soak in any of the recordings he was part of up through the end of 1973 and you will be witness to the voice of a generation and a genre at the peak of its stylistic strength.

“I say prayers of thanks every day,” Gregg told me in an interview prior to the Danville concert. “I’m a very blessed and fortunate person, I really am. I’ve had a beautiful life.”


jim lauderdale hits a new lowe Sat, 27 May 2017 12:59:31 +0000

jim lauderdale.

Perhaps one of the least likely stylistic destinations for a songsmith so celebrated in Americana and country circles as Jim Lauderdale would be British pop. After all, over the past three decades, his songs – many possessing a strong, traditional country air – have been recorded by George Strait, Vince Gill and Kentucky’s own Patty Loveless, among many others. He has also collaborated on full album projects with the likes of bluegrass patriarch Ralph Stanley and Americana chieftain Buddy Miller.

But dig deep into Lauderdale’s very deep satchel of musical influences and you will discover a love for the kind of pop songcraft that began, not surprisingly, with The Beatles and runs through to the comparatively modern British musings of Nick Lowe. The former inspiration more than once fuels tunes from Lauderdale’s upcoming “London Southern” album, but it’s Lowe’s crew – specifically, his producer and several longtime band members – that help realize the album’s broader musical scope.

“Really, a lot of this record is heavily Beatles influenced,” said Lauderdale, who returns to Lexington for a solo concert tonight at Willie’s Locally Known. “That’s especially true of the early Beatles (as evidenced by the hullabaloo spirit of such “London Southern” songs as “No Right Way to Be Wrong”). That was kind of where I was coming from in a lot of ways with this. It was a combination of going back to their roots and going back to my roots. The Beatles were part of my roots since I was, like, six, having seen them on Ed Sullivan first. So a lot of that stuff has been in my system for years. They were so influenced by American music and we were so influenced by them back.”

That explains how the opening tune to “London Southern” better reflects the spirit of vintage George Jones than British pop. By the time “Only So Much Time” cues up, though, the country sound turns more progressive, as if it were an outtake from Bob Dylan’s classic 1969 country-inspired album, “Nashville Skyline.” One of the key elements to this cross-continental sound is the subtle keyboard orchestration of Geraint Watkins, a long time member of Lowe’s band.

“Geraint Watkins is a real master,” Lauderdale said. “That’s all him and Neil (Brockbank, veteran Lowe producer). A lot of that stuff we just had to trust and let it be different from the other records I’ve made. Sometimes it was hard for me to let go and not second guess things. But I’m glad I let them do what they wanted to do and needed to do.”

With several members of Lowe’s band and production team on hand for “London Southern,” one has to wonder why Lowe himself wasn’t part of the party.

“Originally, Nick was going to co-produce the record,” Lauderdale said. “The problem was that he really needed the songs several weeks in advance and I didn’t have them. And I totally understand. The way I make records when I co-produce is so chaotic.  For better or for worse, I have a habit of writing under tremendous pressure. That’s just the way it sometimes turns out. But he’s of the school, logically and understandably, of needing songs in advance to plan things out and to think about doing parts, instead of just working off the cuff.”

Once completed, another query surfaced for “London Southern” – namely, finding the right time to release it. An insanely prolific artist, Lauderdale recorded the album almost three years ago, releasing a total of six other recordings in its wake. Among them were bluegrass projects, a solo acoustic record, a country album, collaborative works with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter and the North Mississippi All-Stars and more. That truckload of music may have delayed the release of “London Southern,” but it never lessened the feeling of artistic camaraderie and exploration Lauderdale experienced working with his British allies.

“I felt like we had a connection,” he said. “I was slightly nervous about working with this new group. I wasn’t nervous that they wouldn’t be able to pull it off. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to pull it off, and if they would like the material. But I think that we had a connection musically because we really shared the influences.”

Jim Lauderdale performs at 9 tonight at Willie’s Locally Known, 286 Southland Dr. Tickets: $17. Call 859-281-1116 or go to