critic’s pick 340: robert plant, ‘lullaby… and the ceaseless roar’

Robert-Plant-lullaby-and-The-Ceaseless-Roar_638One hardcore Led Zeppelin pal confessed to me after Robert Plant’s continued and steadfast refusal to follow the band’s 2007 London reunion with a full tour that the singer was “dead to me now.”

Undoubtedly many Zep-a-holics share similar sentiments. But if there was ever a nail in the reunion’s coffin, Plant’s fascinating new solo album, lullaby and… The Ceaseless Roar, is it. The work is a lush psychedelic-world music mash-up of an album. Curiously, it also reflects upon almost every musical step Plant has taken up to this point, including several with the mighty Zep. But the fabric of lullaby is so thrilling and new that no one is going to mistake it even remotely for a retro ride.

Though comprised mostly of new songs Plant penned with his two year old Sensational Shape Shifters band, lullaby begins with a parting shot to the Americana, folk and blues inspirations that dominated his 2007 multi-platinum Raising Sand with Alison Krauss and his Band of Joy followup in 2010. But the album-opening treatment of the bluegrass/country classic Little Maggie is tossed to another country altogether.

Percolating banjo from Liam “Skin” Tyson, a returnee from Plant’s 2005 Strange Sensation band, meets the brittle but wildly emotive playing on the single string African fiddle known as the ritti by a Gambian griot by the name of Juldeh Camara. Then the banjo runs seamlessly turn into electric beats, the light percussive shuffle of Dave Smith begins to flirt with loops and the melody that was once distinctly American becomes a jig on a dance floor located somewhere between Ireland and Mali.

And what of Plant, you ask? He sings with a meditative whisper throughout, as if engaging with spirits worldly and otherwordly. His multi-tracked moans effectively become an ultra-spooky, Zep-friendly chieftain in a global séance. I was so taken with Little Maggie that I must have listened to it five times before giving the rest of lullaby a chance. That’s when the Shape Shifters’ own material takes over and the album’s true riches are revealed.

Pocketful of Golden initially suggests some of the trippier moments from Zep’s Houses of the Holy before blooming into a blissful Eastern sweep while Somebody There brings Plant’s musical past beautifully into the Shape Shifters expansive pop present.

Not all of the global inspirations are African and Eastern, however. House of Love moves along with a rippling guitar drone that could pass for the work of King Crimson founder Robert Fripp while the techno/worldbeat boom that gooses Plant’s singing during Turn It Up brings the recent recordings of Peter Gabriel to mind.

It all makes lullaby an ultra-cool global party album that reaches across cultures and generations alike.

in performance: jason aldean/florida georgia line/tyler farr

jason-aldean2

jason aldean.

Jason Aldean did everything he could to play the role of tough guy last night at Rupp Arena. In fact, during a miniscule pause that let the singer catch his breath after a show-opening one-two punch of Hicktown and My Kinda Party, the Georgia singer seemed to adopt the gruffest speaking voice he could muster and warned the sellout crowd of 18,500 it “better start drinking.”

Sorry, Jason – no sale. The hitmaker possessed way too much unadorned congeniality – in other words, stage appeal – to come across as a bruiser. That held true for Aldean’s singing, too. Despite the heavily contemporary sway of the concert’s presentation, and of his music overall, he revealed a very natural sense of vocal phrasing. That proved especially flattering for songs like The Truth, where Aldean summoned a mountain tenor reminiscent of Dwight Yoakam. Ditto for more electric jaunts such as Amarillo Sky and Fly Over States, where the conversational turns in his singing turned delicately desperate.

Perhaps Aldean felt inclined to obligingly man up to the music given everything that led up to his set. The evening opened with ultra modern sets by Florida Georgia Line and Tyler Farr, acts that teamed for a sellout show of their own a year ago at Whitaker Bank Ballpark.

Containing Florida Georgia Line to a 45 minute meant singers Tyler Hubbard and Brian Kelley had to streamline their performance a bit. But such economy suited FGL well. Without the extraneous small talk and posturing, the duo plowed through hip hop-flavored hits like It’z Just What We Do, This is How We Roll and the show-closing career-making hit Cruise.

Of course, one can argue till sunup about the FGL’s reliance on drum loops, pseudo-rapping and last night’s distracting practice of timing nearly all of the nine songs performed to music videos that played out on a huge screen behind the band. Personally, the whole design seemed a bit fraudulent to be called country music. Then again, there was no way to discount the youthful drive Hubbard and Kelley conjured and how readily the crowd took to it.

Farr went for the looped grooves, too. And the tough guy image. And the party posse feel. But he came off as a fairly uninvolving singer with a perhaps understandable stylistic identity crisis. Hits like Whiskey in My Water and A Guy Walks into a Bar, and to a lesser extent, the oddly solemn Redneck Crazy, played well to the audience. Overall, though, there was little to distinguish Farr from a dozen other country-pop stylists on the airwaves.

The build-up to Aldean’s set was also peppered by an onstage DJ who spinned short-attention-span snippets of classics by such country greats as AC/DC, Journey and Def Leppard. No wonder the star of the show felt he had to play rock star for a bit, even when hammering out the electric verses to his hero worship hit Johnny Cash.

Oh, yes. Did we mention the six – count ‘em, six – tiers of lights that served as a backdrop during Aldean’s set? All that mammoth artillery couldn’t help but make the singer seem miniaturized for much of the night. That tended to dwarf innocent hits like Big Green Tractor, too. It had to have been hard appearing country humble when your stage resembled a summer home for Kiss.

in performance: marcus roberts trio

marcus robert review pic

marcus roberts.

Anyone hoping for a serious test drive of the Lexington Opera House’s prized Steinway Grand following its $50,000-plus restoration got a very serious wish answered near the conclusion of last night’s performance by the Marcus Roberts Trio.

During the closing moments of It’s Only a Paper Moon, pianist Roberts briefly decommissioned his two very capable bandmates – bassist Rodney Jackson and drummer Herlin Riley – and took the reins for a piano solo that served as a sort of multiple chorus. It began as a sort of barrelhouse brawl, a sunny blast of ragtime that purposely stuttered and morphed into sleek stride playing before veering into the blues. The excursion was perhaps two minutes long and served as Roberts’ only unaccompanied playing of the night. Still, it was an instance splendid enough to make you think the Opera House got its money’s worth out of Roberts as well as the restoration.

The rest of the evening was equally remarkable with an assured repertoire highlighted by compositions from Thelonious Monk, George Gershwin, Ahmad Jamal, Roberts’ (and Riley’s) one time employer, Wynton Marsalis, and Roberts himself. But it was the trio’s playful interplay and scholarly stylistic reach, along with a performance confidence that regularly allowed the three players to take all kinds of chances, that drove the two hour concert.

Blind since childhood, Roberts possesses an expansive stylistic vocabulary but chose to reveal his strengths gradually at the Opera House. For his show opening take on Monk’s Ba-lue Bolivar Ba-lues-Are, his playing was surprisingly subtle with most of the modal high jinx being left to Jackson and Riley. But the distinctly Southern slant of his playing didn’t need flash. Its quiet examination of harmony was seemingly a warm up for the revision of Gershwin’s The Man I Love that followed. The tune’s inherent torchiness was replaced by brisk ensemble swing and a tempo that approximated a car chase.

Roberts and company regularly toyed with tempos throughout the evening. Much of such thrillseeking was instigated by Riley, who fattened up Monk’s Blues Five Spot with a clever, syncopated groove that possessed a country roots quality. Similarly, he supplied Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So with an Afro-Cuban shuffle that opened out into regal trio swing.

Jackson was perhaps the craftiest player of the three. He introduced entire melodies of songs (Billy Boy and Marsalis’ Down Home with Homey, in particular) on acoustic bass while supplying a trio of engaging solos around Roberts’ jubilant playing on Gershwin’s They Can’t Take That Away From Me.

The ultimate charm of Roberts’ playing revolved around its continual sense of surprise. For the Ellington-esque original The Arrival (the first song from the pianist’s 1988 debut album The Truth is Spoken Here), rolling left hand patterns formed fleeting but animated harmonies with Jackson’s bass support while the piano leads during East of the Sun (West of the Moon), all relaxed and light on the surface, revealed streaks of gorgeous mischievousness.

Capping it all off was an arrangement of Cherokee that tossed about intriguing dialogues between bass and drums with colorful piano rolls and arpeggios. But in an instance of pure cunning, Roberts let the melody conclude the song in a burst of percussive thunder. Much like the rest of the performance, the outburst was dramatic in design and execution but purely playful in intent.

trombone shorty standing tall

Trombone_Shorty_Pic

trow andrews, aka trombone shorty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

speaking trio with marcus roberts

Marcus Roberts

marcus roberts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

jason aldean through the years

jason aldean

jason aldean.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

in performance: the black keys/cage the elephant

black keys

the black keys: patrick carney and dan auerbach. photo by danny clinch.

In many ways, The Black Keys performance last night at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville was an anti-arena rock show.

No, it wasn’t an evening of revolt. It’s just that group mainstays Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney largely ignored the big league rock trick bag for much of the musically combustible 90 minute performance.

Okay, maybe there were a few trappings, like the 16 or so video screens that bobbed above the stage broadcasting live digitized mutations of the show below. It was as if there was a Super 8 movie of the concert being shown as a backdrop to the real thing.

Outside of that, there were no real production gimmicks, no musical baggage (although the duo was capably augmented by bassist Richard Swift and keyboardist/guitarist John Wood) and little of the standard rock ‘n’ roll self-promotion (the Keys dipped into its hit 2014 album Turn Blue only four times).

Don’t discern from all this that the show was at all uninvolving. Yes, Auerbach and Carney don’t act like rock stars onstage. A casual step onto a stage monitor by Auerbach was as physically dramatic as the performance got. But what the Keys did was simply play tunes – concise, rock solid, fuzzed out, blues-centric songs overflowing with sumptuous hooks and riffs – with confident, unimposing immediacy.

The Clash-style rhythms of the show-opening Dead and Gone typlified the approach. It was vocally leaner than the choral-charged studio version on 2011’s El Camino album. But that simply allowed Auerbach to fill up the space more on guitar, striking a keen balance between the tune’s R&B foundation and the band’s thick, ragged live sound.

Gotta Get Away, on the other hand, remained every bit the party piece it started as on Turn Blue, right down to the hyena-like cackle Auerbach summoned on lap steel guitar.

Strange Times (from 2008’s Attack and Release) seemed to pare the Keys already contained sound down even further into fat, chunky chords that emphasized Carney’s steadfast playing. But the way the tune’s chorus opened out into Beatles-like psychedelia underscored the little surprises the band employed just when you thought you had its sound agenda pegged.

There was also no denying the fun that ignited when the music surrendered completely to its pop urges, as on Tighten Up, Fever and the set-closing Lonely Boy. But when Auerbach and Carney dug deep into the darker boogiefest of Your Touch, which was inserted into the hit parade just before Lonely Boy, you saw the same, primal band connection that sparked club shows the Keys played in the region a decade ago as an unaccompanied duo. The room was certainly bigger last night. But the sound at work was as massive and unadorned as ever.

Bowling Green’s Cage the Elephant gave the impression it was born to play arenas during a 40 minute opening set with lead singer Matthew Shultz providing much of the fireworks.

Whether hurling himself around the stage during Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked or adding a furious soul falsetto to the one of the year’s great pop sleeper tunes Spiderhead, Shultz helmed the Kentucky band’s tireless performance drive and increasingly scholarly sense of pop smarts.

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critic’s pick 339: billy childs: ‘map to the treasure: reimagining laura nyro’

map to the treasureWith the possible exception of Carole King, there was no more poetic or impassioned piano-based songstress during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s than Laura Nyro. A child of The Bronx, her songs were vivid reflections of her inner self, her New York surroundings and less definable plains of social and spiritual awakening. While pop acts of decades past (The Fifth Dimension, Three Dog Night) had hits with her tunes, Nyro herself enjoyed little by way of commercial visibility. Today, 17 years after her death, her extraordinary recordings – especially career defining works like 1968’s Eli and the Thirteenth Confession and 1969’s New York Tendaberry – are ripe for rediscovery.

Enter Los Angeles pianist and arranger Billy Childs, along with an A-list of female vocal stylists to resurrect one of the most underappreciated songbooks in pop history.

Childs’ approach to Map to the Treasure: Reimagining Laura Nyro is not subtle. The album sports a mix of orchestral and jazz inspired arrangements that recall the darker, less ornamental music of Steely Dan. Of the 10 guest vocalists spotlighted, six are paired with celebrated male instrumentalists. The honored soprano Renee Fleming, for example, is matched with genre-hoping cellist Yo-Yo Ma for a wistful, wintry New York Tendaberry. Here, strings and Childs’ piano leads weave in and around the singing like gusts of wind before surrendering to luscious orchestration.

More unexpected is the pairing of blues-soul belter Susan Tedeschi with jazz saxophonist Steve Wilson. Both mingle with broader orchestral strokes on Gibsom Tree, creating a nocturnal, noir-like feel, especially during a pensive jazz interlude Child places in the middle of the arrangement. Tedeschi, though, has seldom sounded more elegant and commanding.

A few of the divas do just fine without a guy backing them up. Veteran R&B songstress Lisa Fischer (of Rolling Stones and 20 Feet from Stardom fame) sounds enchanting against hushed orchestration during Map to the Treasure’s torchy title tune. Equally compelling is contemporary R&B star Ledesi who helps Childs rekindle the joy, groove and pure pop innocence of Stoned Soul Picnic.

But the show stealer is the album-closing And When I Die, which pairs Alison Krauss with her longtime Union Station mate (and former Lexingtonian) Jerry Douglas. Possibly the best known of Nyro’s songs (it was a major 1969 hit for Blood, Sweat & Tears), And When I Die lets Childs’ arrangement of piano and strings enhance the eerie chill of Krauss’ whispery vocals. Douglas’ wiry dobro solo then adds rustic, earthy candor.

What results is not just a stately requiem for the uneasy soul Krauss sings of who yearns to leave this world “naturally.” It is also a gorgeous revitalization of the lyrical and musical brilliance that surrounded Nyro’s sublime music.

in performance: lyle lovett and his large band

lyle lovett 2

lyle lovett.

Who else but Lyle Lovett could open a concert by singing with pokerfaced candor the following lyric: “Sometimes it’s hard to be a woman.”

The words, of course, belong to the classic Tammy Wynette hit Stand By Your Man, which the famed Texas songsmith used to initiate an immensely satisfying 2 ½ performance with his Large Band last night at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond.

Sure, given the sardonic twists that often surfaced in his own songs, the deployment of such a recognized cover tune as a show opener might have seemed like a joke. But it worked to categorize and define all the industrious music that followed in the program.

For starters, there was the tune’s allegiance to traditional country – a genre the performance would return to frequently, albeit in more Lone Star leaning terms with songs like Cowboy Man, Give Back My Heart and Long Tall Texan. The heightened liveliness of all three songs was indicative of the show’s expansive country reach.

Then came the variation of Billy Sherrill’s epic original arrangement to Stand By Your Man, which was filtered through the stylistic clearinghouse sound of Lovett’s 13-member Large Band. As the evening progressed, the huge ensemble – fortified by a four-man horn section, two subtle but industrious guitarists (three if you count pedal steel ace Buck Reid) and the return after a four year hiatus of vocalist and onstage foil Francine Reed – would morph into a soul-jazz orchestra that shifted from the cocktail cool of I Know You Know to the two-stepping swing of That’s Right (You’re Not from Texas).

Finally, there was the simple fact that no singer, male or female, can convincingly pull off Stand By Your Man without serious vocal chops. To that end, Lovett might seem an unlikely candidate, especially given the quiet but vividly dark detail he gave to a series of devastating ballads – specifically, God Will, Nobody Knows Me, L.A. County and North Dakota, all of which were performed in succession half way through the concert. But on the Wynette cover, Lovett let loose with a bold, rich and immaculate voice that sounded as big as Texas itself.

stringdusting at terrapin hill

infamous stringdusters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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