the elder jorma

jorma kaukonen.

jorma kaukonen.

For over a half century, Jorma Kaukonen has mastered the art of acting one’s age.

As a roots music enthusiast in his early 20s, he absorbed the songs and fingerstyle guitar inspirations of the Rev. Gary Davis as the country awakened to a’60s folk boom.

When that generation plugged their music in as the decade progressed, Kaukonen joined in as co-founder of San Francisco’s cornerstone psychedelic band Jefferson Airplane and, eventually, its still-active blues-based offshoot, Hot Tuna.

In recent decades, though, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer refocused on his initial folk and blues influences through more elemental lineups of Hot Tuna, his own expansive solo career and the guitar classes he oversees at his Fur Peace Ranch in Ohio.

Having turned 74 two days before Christmas, Kaukonen is openly embracing his elder musical persona with a new solo record called Ain’t in No Hurry. Due out Feb. 17, the album is a collection of new and old songs cut with new and old friends. But the end result is a musical portrait the guitarist views as being very up-to-the-minute.

“Everything I do tends to be reflected in terms of what is going on, more or less, in my life and where I am at that moment,” said Kaukonen, who will perform for the first 2015 taping of the WoodSong Old Time Radio Hour on Monday. “So for me, this record is the project of a 74 year old guy.”

Ain’t in No Hurry was produced by Larry Campbell, guitarist and collaborator for such greats as Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Emmylou Harris, Levon Helm and many others, as well as a participant on many of Kaukonen’s most recent recordings.

“I’ve worked with Larry on a number of projects – both my solo records and with Hot Tuna as well as some stuff of his, too. Larry is a multi-instrumentalist, but he is also an adept and creative producer. As a producer, he goes inside the artist – in this case, me – and it’s like he’s known you all your artistic life. He doesn’t try to change you. He tries to make you sound like you. It’s like we’ve always been in a band together.”

Ain’t in No Hurry sports several new original songs that poetically hint at mortality (In My Dreams, Seasons in the Field) along with folk-blues staples that have been part of Kaukonen’s performance repertoire for as much as 50 years but are just now finding a place on one of his records (Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out).

The big surprise, though, is a reworking of a vintage Kaukonen tune, Bar Room Crystal Ball, that first appeared on the 1975 Hot Tuna album Yellow Fever. But unlike the heavy electric cast of the original version, the tune now takes on a lighter country air colored by Campbell’s pedel steel playing and Kaukonen’s scholarly fingerpicking. It also enlists help from Kaukonen’s longtime running buddy in Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane, bassist Jack Casady.

“A lot of people listen to our stuff, whether it was with Jefferson Airplane or Hot Tuna, and they tend to interpret things through an interesting filter,” Kaukonen said. “Sometimes they come up with meanings to lyrics I’ve written that just have me going, ‘What planet are these people from?’ And that’s not a criticism. I find, as an artist, if somebody likes your song, it doesn’t matter what they hear. As long as they like it, that’s okay. But Bar Room Crystal Ball was a very personal song done in a very bombastic way on Yellow Fever. As such, it was one song I always wanted to do so you could actually hear all the lyrics.

“You know, at some point, you just can’t avoid the phrase ‘at my age.’ Well, at my age, people ask me, ‘Do you ever think about retiring?’ And I always say, ‘So I can do what? Play the guitar more?’ The thing is I’m so fortunate that I’m still healthy enough to do this kind of stuff. The traveling isn’t fun. The glamour years of air travel are long gone. But whether it’s me and Jack or me with any of my buddies, when we hit the stage and start playing, it’s still as magical as it ever was.”

WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour featuring Jorma Kaukonen and Lowell “Banana” Levinger. 7 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Lyric Theatre, 300 East Third. Tickets: $10 public, $5 students. Call (859) 252-8888.

critic’s pick 256: leonard cohen, ‘live in dublin’

leoanrd cohen live in dublin“The present’s not that pleasant,” sings Leonard Cohen on Darkness, an unassuming and perhaps unintentional centerpiece tune to Live in Dublin. “Just a lot of things to do.”

As poetic and sleekly disturbing as ever, Cohen remains both the king and jester of his domain. A restless troubadour and distinguished elder who turned 79 just a few weeks after this performance was given in 2013, he has completely renewed himself over the past seven years as a concert artist after a prolonged absence from the stage. Live in Dublin is his latest and most vivid snapshot from the road – a three CD, 30 song account of a single Irish concert along with an accompanying DVD of the show.

Initially, one might ask if such a package was even necessary. Cohen issued a double-disc live recording in 2009 (Live in London) and a single disc companion in 2011 (Songs From the Road) that introduced his new performance guise. Live in Dublin replicates much of the repertoire from the earlier albums and utilizes essentially the same band. Even the blue-hued cover art from Live in Dublin seems purposely fashioned after Live in London.

So why the massive and seemingly redundant follow-up? Well, for starters, Live in Dublin augments the set list with songs from Cohen’s 2012 studio record, Old Ideas – arguably, his best set of new songs in three decades. It was from Old Ideas that Darkness came. Also from the record we have the bluesy prayer for repentance Amen (“I’m listening… I’m listening so hard that it hurts”) and the powerfully contemplative lullaby Come Healing that views mankind largely as a pack of universal bystanders (“none of us deserving of the cruelty or the grace”).

Cohen reflected heavily about mortality on Old Ideas. That might make those songs seem removed from such early and outwardly intimate fare as Suzanne, Chelsea Hotel #2 or I’m Your Man, all of which are delivered with sagely subtlety on Live on Dublin. But since Cohen has adopted such a slight, sweeping but richly orchestrated sound from his touring band, boundaries between new and old music are blurred quite handsomely.

A beautiful case-in-point comes during the record’s third disc, which is devoted to the Irish concert’s encore tunes. There, the gentle Old Ideas scolding from God Going Home (“I’d love to speak with Leonard… he’s a lazy bastard living in a suit”) is paired with the vengeful and earthy doomsday rumination First We Take Manhattan (“I’m coming to reward them”).

Of course, romance isn’t fully suppressed amid the turmoil. Cohen brings down the curtain on the three hour Live in Dublin with a cover of Save the Last Dance For Me. But amid the samba-like sway of his band and his own bullfrog whisper of a voice, one senses the song’s inclusion is tongue-in-cheek, a tune to whistle as civilization crumbles.

in performance: ute lemper and the lexington philharmonic orchestra

ute 3

ute lemper during a monday rehearsal with the lexington philharmonic. lexington herald-leader staff photo by rich copley.

The slant of Ute Lemper’s remarkable performance last night with the Lexington Philharmonic at the Opera House was in many ways autobiographical. The first set celebrated the French chansons of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel so often tagged as cabaret songs. This is music the singer undoubtedly absorbed while living in Paris, if not earlier. The second was largely devoted to the Weimar works of Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill to which the German-born Lemper has long been a devoted revivalist.

When the show came down to essentials, though, the chanteuse was singing about two things – love and scoundrels. Given that many of the songs were sung in their native tongues, it was up to Lemper and the orchestra to unlock the music’s inherent sass and drama. To that end, this New Year’s Eve concert was nothing short of transportive.

While Lemper unleashed a wildly versed vocabulary in her singing – coy whispers, scolding bravura and, at times, gorgeous contralto – half the fun was watching her sell this material. A veteran stage actress, Lemper performed much of the program, especially the chansons, with a very natural theatricality – a wave of the arms, a clench of the fist, a flash of the eyes or, in the saucier moments, a discreet swivel of the hips. Too bad there couldn’t have been video screens to enlarge such modest embellishments to the upper decks of the Opera House.

Ah, but what of love and scoundrels? That’s where Lemper’s often astounding blend of tone, temperament and intuition came into play. The Friedrich Hollaender penned/Marlene Dietrich popularized Falling in Love Again (an unplanned addition to the program) and Norbert Schultze’s Lili Marleen were sung almost as lullabies by Lemper with only sparse piano accompaniment. But for the Brecht/Weill staple Surabaya Johnny, the Philharmonic acted as enambler as Lemper unloaded the song’s terse command in English (“Take the damn pipe out of your mouth, you swine”).

The autobiographical nature of the program also meant offering a few tastes of the many styles outside of the chansons and the Weimar that Lemper has regularly reached to throughout her career, including the sublime tango music of Astor Piazzolla (Marie de Buenos Aires) and the singer’s own stage background (the Chicago favorite All That Jazz, which closed the evening). Both displayed impressive stylistic reach on the part of the Philharmonic.

But perhaps the most succinct summit of love and scoundrels came during the popular Die Moritat von Mackie Messer from The Threepenny Opera. With a bowler and a mischievous smile as her only props, Lemper summoned a dance hall feel both foreign and familiar. What a profoundly fun way to get the last word in on 2014.

critic’s pick 256: james farm, ‘city folk’

james-farm-city-folkJames Farm is a part-time jazz collective boasting a swift melodic kick, meaty but understated improvisational prowess and a strong compositional sense that speaks strongly to the band’s often orderly sound.

If all that makes the all-star quartet seem safe, don’t fret. James Farm simply favors music that is less confrontational than the product of many like-minded jazz troupes. That provides the band’s sophomore album, City Folk, with an appealing accessibility – the kind that usually relies on fusion and/or R&B accents. City Folk dismisses both with 10 original compositions (three each by saxophonist Joshua Redman, pianist Aaron Parks and bassist Matt Penman with one by drummer Eric Harland).

Take Harland’s North Star, for example. The rhythm section plays with stately confidence over a melody that is strong enough to carry the tune with natural grace. But it’s also light enough for the bounce of Redman’s tenor sax lead and Penman’s limber bass lines to dance about. When Parks gently wrestles the melody away, Harland remains steadfast. The result is a song with the cohesion of a pop tune and the instrumental muscle of fusion. But the execution and intent is all straight ahead jazz.

With a 20-plus year recording career under his own name to his credit, Redman is the marquee name within the James Farm lineup. To be sure, his glowing tenor tone lights up the soft focus shuffle of City Folk’s title tune and the more percolating East Coast rumble of Mr. E (both are Redman compositions). But if there is a dominate voice, it belongs to Parks. A refreshingly diverse stylist, both as a lead voice and a rhythm player, the pianist is at the heart of City Folks’ easygoing flow.

On Aspirin, he punches out organic funk on Yamaha electric piano under Harland’s unhurried shuffle and Redman’s playful tenor that alternates between restless punctuation and lyrical warmth. Then he lightly colors Jury’s Out with simultaneous lead and melodic phrases to enhance a prevailing sense of cool (both tunes were written by Penman).

Mostly, though, City Folk is an album of feel and mood. Cut exactly a year ago in Brooklyn, one can only assume this music was a reaction of sorts to the dead-of-winter conditions surrounding the sessions. Though released in late October, the music’s resulting temperament is perhaps best appreciated as January takes hold. Listen to the subtle orchestration provided by, of all things, mellotron, during the Parks tune Otherwise and you sense the crafty melodic sweep of James Farm at work. It’s a sign of welcome and warmth, a mix that makes this unassuming jazz treat something of a winter getaway.

uber ute

ute 1

ute lemper.

Ute Lemper committed one small oversight when she agreed to forsake her New York home tonight to perform here with the Lexington Philharmonic.

“Somehow this performance was booked without the consent of my children,” said the internationally acclaimed singer, actress, visual artist and songwriter. “When they found out, they said, ‘You won’t be here for New Year’s Eve?’

“Actually, I used to be able to see the fireworks out my kitchen window, but now it’s all downtown. I thinking I’ll just bring my children with me and we will celebrate in Lexington. I think you should be having some better weather there.”

Times Square, it seems, will just have to make do this year without Lemper, widely recognized as one of the foremost revivalists of Kurt Weill songs and German cabaret music of the pre-war Weimar era. But such accolades merely represent the starting point of a remarkable career as one of the most versed and versatile crossover artists of the past 50 years.

Lemper has eight touring repertoires at her disposal, which run from separate programs devoted to Weill and political poet/playwright Berthold Brecht to shows featuring the tango music of the great Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla, string quartet sets (where she sings everything from Debussy to Billie Holiday) to programs that set the stylistically disparate poetry of Charles Bukowski and Pablo Neruda to music. There are orchestral collaborations, as well, like the one Lemper will perform with the Philharmonic. That program will be split evenly between the French chanson music of Edith Piaf and Jacques Brel and the songs of Weill and Brecht she grew up with in Germany.

“It has been my mission to further the revival of this music,” Lemper said of the latter repertoire. “Artists like Weill were forced to leave Germany after the Weimar era. Much of his music was hid away after World War II until the 1980s, so there was a great responsibility on my part to be a tool for this revival. I love performing this music for my generation and for the world.”

But even Lemper’s wildly diverse performance repertoire doesn’t signal the artistic range her career has explored. Initially a student of dance, she has been celebrated for a variety of stage roles. She has portrayed Sally Bowles in the original Paris production of Cabaret and then played Velma Kelly in Chicago, which took Lemper to London (where she won the Lawrence Oliver Award) and New York.

“I never cared much for the musicals, I must tell you. Performing a show eight times a week got to be almost boring. When you do that for three months in order to get to the bottom of a character, it becomes very difficult and very hard on your voice.”

Then how about a more exclusive and singular engagement, like Roger Waters’ 1990 staging of the Pink Floyd epic The Wall at the site of the Berlin Wall?

“He (Waters) was trying to get performers representing different countries. I was quite visible in Europe then, so I was invited. It was unlike anything I had done, but I was very grateful for the experience and the opportunity to meet all the other wonderful performers (which included Van Morrison, The Band and British actor Albert Finney).

Awaiting Lemper in 2015 is the completion of a new recording of music she wrote based on The Alchemist by Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, a project the singer views as “a collaboration of the soul.”

But there was still jet-setting to do before Lemper brings 2014 to a close in Lexington. In the weeks leading up to tonight’s Philharmonic performance, she performed her program of Neruda love poems in Paris, presented Last Tango in Berlin (a mix of Piazzolla and chanson music) in Geneva and sang her Berlin Cabaret Songs show in London.

“It has been such a long, wonderful journey,” Lemper said of her career. “But as I get older, my hunger for this kind of musical exploration only gets more intense.”

The Lexington Philharmonic with Ute Lemper perform 7:30 p.m. Dec. 31 at the Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short. Tickets: $25-$75. Call (859) 233-4226 or go to

kennedy center honors: the music translates

kennedy ctr honors

the 2014 kennedy center honors recepients. back row: tom hanks, sting, al green. front row: patricia mcbride, lily tomlin.

As always is the case at the annual Kennedy Center Honors, music translates best. Of course, beginning last night’s telecast by paying tribute to Soul Man No. 1 Al Green meant triggering a celebration was all but inevitable.

As with all Honors ceremonies, the performances are tributes with the honorees separated from the action and forced to bask in the glow of admiration from box seats next to President Obama.

Initial performances to Green by Earth, Wind & Fire (Love and Happiness), Jennifer Hudson (Simply Beautiful) and Usher (Let’s Stay Together) were, respectively, groove-centric, dramatically stoic and purely serviceable. But having elders Mavis Staples and Sam (Sam & Dave) Moore turn Take Me to the River into a full gospel-esque tent revival complete with choir was a joy.

The surprise, though, was the evening’s only other exclusively musical segment, a show-closing tribute to Sting. A proven pop songsmith, Sting has taken on an air of celebrity in recent years that has made him increasingly unappealing. Even in an otherwise gushing introductory speech by Meryl Streep, the singer was noted, despite all his commercial success for his “scowling.”

Yet the music, once you got past Lady Gaga’s overblown, self-involved take on If I Ever Lose My Faith in You, was wonderful. Bassist/singer Esperanza Spaulding, accompanied by Herbie Hancock on piano, quickly found the lovely but brittle of delicacy of Fragile while Bruno Mars, the only performer in the segment to dig into the honoree’s early music with The Police, sounded eerily like the young, rock/reggae-fied Sting of the late ‘70s.

But the killer was the Boss. In the evening’s runaway highlight, Bruce Springsteen pulled out a Sting obscurity, a ballad of murder and remorse called I Hung My Head. The chiseled drama Springsteen delivered made the song sound as though the Boss had penned it during his Nebraska days.

In between were segments devoted to three mostly non-musical honorees – a wildly convoluted tribute to Tom Hanks, a celebration of Lily Tomlin that was far simpler (ending with Jane Lynch, Reba McEntire, Jane Fonda and Kate McKinnon all blowing raspberries to the artist) and a lovely dance tribute to ballerina Patricia McBride.

Host Stephen Colbert had little to do except oversee brief opening and closing segments. He also snuck onstage beside David Letterman (the man he will replace as host of The Late Show in 2015) as the latter was set to pay tribute to Hanks. Colbert was dismissed playfully with two words by Letterman. “Not yet.”

critic’s picks 255: gov’t mule, ‘the dark side of the mule,’ and grateful dead, ‘houston, texas 11-18-1972′

govtBrevity has never been in the best interest of jam bands. From the ’60s dawn of the Grateful Dead to the present day adventures of Gov’t Mule, jam-savvy live shows have essentially been lab experiments where grooves are extended, mutated and often restructured with little concern for economy. If it took 10, 20, even 30 minutes to accomplish that within the confines of a single song, so be it. It’s just that the Dead and the Mule usually kept such an exercise from disintegrating into pure indulgence.

Of late, such a philosophy has extended to live albums as well, from lavishly packaged compendiums of entire Dead tours that carry price tags in the hundreds of dollars to more modestly priced three-to-six disc sets of Mule engagements.

So it is refreshing to have new live recordings of varying vintages by both bands that keep the onstage exploration to a single disc.

Admittedly, Gov’t Mule’s Dark Side of the Mule also comes in a massive 3 CD/1 DVD package that presents you literally everything from a Halloween concert in 2008. But the single disc version, which is reviewed here, gets directly to the performance’s point of distinction – specifically, a set where the band musically masqueraded as Pink Floyd.

The title suggests a straight tribute to the 1973 Floydian classic The Dark Side of the Moon. Instead, guitarist Warren Haynes and company go tripping through all of Pink Floyd’s more storied ‘70s albums, from the obscure country-esque psychedelia of Fearless (off of 1971’s Meddle) to warhorse staples like Comfortably Numb (the crescendo tune from 1979’s The Wall).

In between, though, are some stunners that really stretch the Mule’s sound, as on the nine-part Shine on You Crazy Diamond. It augments the band’s quartet makeup with a trio of back-up vocalists, a saxophonist and considerable reliance on keyboardist Danny Louis. But Haynes still has plenty of room to roam, making Dark Side an altogether enlightening Mule escapade.

deadThe Dead’s Houston, Texas 11-18-1972 is a limited edition CD version of an even more limited edition vinyl recording released exclusively for Black Friday sales. Available only through the band’s website, the CD gives a brief second life to what had been an instant collector’s item.

It’s a grand a performance, too, providing you can make it past Donna Jean Godchaux’s pitch-deficient singing. With bassist Phil Lesh propelling the performance as much or more than guitar chieftain Jerry Garcia, the recording strolls through a jovial Bertha, tightens for a dramatic Jack Straw and then explodes during a 25 minute reading of Playing in the Band that becomes an instrumental playground for Garcia.

There you have it – two single discs packed with nearly 80 minutes of music each. That’s a lot of playing in the band for your buck.

joe cocker, 1944-2014


joe cocker.

For the longest time, I thought Cry Me a River was a Joe Cocker song. More than that, I was convinced the tune my dad cherished as an Ella Fitzgerald classic was written to be played as a boozy, barrelhouse rocker with a soul-scabbed voice like Cocker’s out front. Cocker just had that way with songs.

After all, this was the Englishman that turned the Beatles’ With a Little Help From My Friends into a psychedelic soul free-for-all at Woodstock by eschewing pop references in favor of scorched R&B. He also turned the Box Tops hit The Letter into earth rumbling soul carnival at the dawn of the ‘70s. And when Cocker turned sweet, as he did in his most prized radio hit, 1974’s You Are So Beautiful, he sounded like was on the losing end of a prizefight – bloodied, beaten up yet so soulful you could just sob.

Of course, Cocker underscored the coarse texture of his singing with a lifestyle that was equally ragged. By the mid ‘70s, you couldn’t tell if he was entranced onstage by the music he was making or simply inebriated. Unfortunately, rock bottom was played out in public when John Belushi popularized a drunken, buffoonish impersonation of him during the second season of Saturday Night Live. The comic even performed it in front of Cocker when the singer was a guest on the program in 1976. It was beyond painful to watch.

“I got on a downward spiral after You Are So Beautiful,” Cocker told me in an interview ahead of his 2000 Rupp Arena performance with Tina Turner. “I was still making music, but I just had a bad attitude about life. I used to wake up and start drinking beer at 10 in the morning. I lived in a cloud. 

“Kids in Germany and a few other places would still come to see me even when I was stoned out of my mind and forgetting the words to songs. Then it dawned on me. The realization hit that I should give these kids something back. I knew I had to give a good performance. So slowly and surely, I got better.”

That translated into an ‘80s renaissance that included Cocker’s biggest hit (1982’s Up Where We Belong), one of his best albums (1982’s Sheffield Steel) and a renewed reputation internationally as a concert performer that lasted right up until his death yesterday at age 70 from lung cancer. That also meant getting the last laugh as Cocker outlived Belushi by some 33 years.

“It fascinates people just what happened in the ’70s,” Cocker said in our interview. “To be honest, that whole period bemuses myself.”

in performance: adrian belew power trio

adrian belew 2

adrian belew. photo by gary and jill bandfield.

For a guy who was winding up his most extensive North American tour in three years and now was less than 48 hours away from his 65th birthday, Adrian Belew was looking awfully spry last night at the 20th Century Theatre in Cincinnati.

Was that because the Covington native was essentially back in his old stomping grounds for the last night of a two month tour? Perhaps. Was it because the youthful vigor of his Power Trio was rubbing off on the guitarist? Very likely. Could it be that without a new recording to promote (save for the variations of song and sound fragments available on his new Fuse app), Belew was getting a charge out of showcasing a generous portion of his 30+ year recording career within a single stage program? Well, sure.

All of those elements came into play. But the driving force behind the two hour performance was the simple fact that Belew displayed an obvious love of performing. Of course, there were generous displays of his guitarwork, from long improvisational squalls to processed bits of chatter and syncopation. But it was the sense of playfulness, especially when he locked horns with drummer Tobias Ralph (reflected especially keenly during a lengthy Beat Box Guitar) or the giddiness that erupted out of a decades-old big-beat pop piece like The Lone Rhinoceros that gave the performance such an animated feel..

There was an intriguing structure to the show as well. Much of the repertoire was grouped in songs of four or five. The trio was able to get through roughly half of a song before a processed sound resembling a needle being yanked from a vinyl record or screeching brakes signaled it was time to move on. The transitions were actually pretty smooth and resulted in several unexpected mix tape-like medleys, like the mash-up of two 1982 songs with a post punk party feel, The Momur and Big Electric Cat, that opened the performance. Equally arresting were side-by-side snippets from Belew’s extended tenure in King Crimson, 1982’s Neurotica and 1995’s Walking on Air, that shifted from torrents of guitar frenzy to a pool of ambient pop cool.

What Belew didn’t skimp on were wicked instrumentals like b and e that balanced furious but organic trio interplay with jams augmented by looped melodies, mutated pop hooks and general improvisational mischief.

So, yes, youthful drive and an impending birthday filtered through the finality of a tour’s closing night might explain away some of Belew’s onstage cheer. But you also got the impression the guy would likely experience the save level of fun any night he found himself onstage.

big belew nation

adrian belew 1

adrian belew

The ingredients were all there – the impending homecoming of Kentucky-born guitar hero Adrian Belew, a gray Saturday afternoon and a desperate need to place holiday madness on hold for a few hours. It all provided the ideal setting for me to become reacquainted with the sublime music Belew has created over the past 35 years.

To many, the Covington native is best known for the vocabulary of guitar sounds – from twang bar-happy solos to animalistic roars – that have colored his solo recordings (dating back to 1982’s The Lone Rhino) as well as the audacious works cut during a 33 year tenure with prog mainstay King Crimson (beginning with 1981’s Discipline).

Dig deeper, though, and all kinds of treasures reveal themselves, including seminal recordings with three of the pioneering acts Belew played with during the formative days of his career, specifically Frank Zappa (on 1979’s avant pop carnival record Sheik Yerbouti), David Bowie (the magnificent 1978 live set Stage) and Talking Heads (the progressive funk performances captured on the 1981 concert album The Name of This Band is Talking Heads).

But it was during and around King Crimson’s scattered periods of activity that the heart of Belew’s music fully revealed itself. The scorching nature of his guitar work had become a given. His compositions, however, began exhibiting strong echoes of Beatles-esque pop. While such inspiration was never imitative, you heard it powering through songs like Member of the Tribe (the joyous finale to 1992’s Inner Revolution album), I See You (the Lennon-esque power chord party piece off of 1994’s Here) and the Under the Radar (the rich psychedelic meditation from 2005’s Side One).

Belew has also remained very active over the decades as an instrumental composer and performer, stretching the pop inferences of his playing to more unexpected and sometimes abstract plains, as on The Gypsy Zurna (the one man Eastern safari tune from 1986’s Desire Caught by the Tail), Ring Around the Moon (an ambient slice of processed guitar music from 1995’s The Guitar as Orchestra) and b (a groove epic showcasing Belew’s Power Trio from 2009’s live-in-the-studio e).

Finally, there are the delicacies underscoring his gift as a collaborator. From that camp came Holy (one of Belew’s finest all around vocal performances featured on the 1989 Mike Oldfield album Earth Moving), Walking on Air (a gorgeously serene refection from the 1995 King Crimson reawakening record Thrak) and Life in a Nutshell (a powerhouse pop workout with his Cincinnati-based pals in The Bears from 2001’s Car Caught Fire).

The biggest rediscovery though was a bit of a revelation – a revision of The Rail Song, a bittersweet but anthemic remembrance of a lifelong fascination with trains originally featured on 1983’s Twang Bar King. But the version that hit me last weekend was an unadorned version from 1993’s The Acoustic Adrian Belew that stripped the tune down to a stark confessional while enhancing the song’s very natural sense of drama.

That was as much Belew as I could squeeze into a single afternoon. Left untested in this Belew review was Fuse, the new computer app he designed that delivers tunes in an infinite number of variations. That means the guitarist will have an especially keen job condensing a catalog of such masterful music into a single performance this weekend. His Sunday concert at the 20th Century Theatre will conclude a two month tour in his old Cincy stomping grounds with his comparatively newer Power Trio mates, bassist Julie Slick and drummer Tobias Ralph.

Then again, exploring the generous terrain existing between power pop accessibility and groundbreaking instrumental technique, composition and improvisation has always been the driving force behind the music of this Kentucky guitar pioneer.

In essence, that is Belew’s life in a nutshell.

Adrian Belew Power Trio with Saul Zonana perform at 8 p.m. Dec. 21 at the 20th Century Theatre, 3021 Madison Rd. in Cincinnati. $24, $28. Call (513) 731-8000, (800) 745-3000 or got to

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