in performance: dublin guitar quartet

dublin guitar quartet 2

dublin guitar quartet:pat brunnock, michael o’toole, tomas o’durcain,brian bolger.

The breadth of the repertoire running through last night’s performance by the Dublin Guitar Quartet at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville suggested something of a global sprint. The concert touched upon composers from Estonia, Hungary, Cuba and the United States. Curiously, the purely Irish entries by guitarist David Flynn (a DGQ alum) and the instrumental rock troupe The Redneck Manifesto proved to be the least indigenous sounding items in the program.

What this technically dazzling but sometimes stylistically stymied performance wound up emphasizing wasn’t so much a set of geographical references, though. Instead, it better approximated a study in how contemporary classical structures – especially minimalist and post-minimalist designs that explored interlocking, cyclical melodies and the often astonishing harmonies they created – transferred to an acoustic guitar group.

Two fine examples were a pair of abridged Philip Glass string quartets – two movements from Company and another three from the sublime (and, given its absence of mention in the program notes, unplanned) Mishima. Both wonderfully captured the haunting lyrical splendor Glass weaves out of sparse, repetitive melodic variations. The quartet discovered the works’ subtle drama, too – right down to the light counterpoint that seemed to make the music float in mid air.

The Redneck Manifesto’s brief Soundscapes Over Landscapes was less intricate but just as musically involving. The quartet let the tune unravel in sheets of melodic fancy before acoustic power chords and the closing percussive slaps by three of the group’s four players on the bases of their instruments summoned the piece’s rockish but curiously non Irish sounding foundation.

From another world entirely came Steve Reich’s Electric Counterpoint, a three part composition for 12 guitars performed last on solo electric guitar by the DGQ’s Pat Brunnock and a well orchestrated tape of accompanists. As a technical exercise, it was astonishing with Brunnock working in and around a symphony of clipped, stuttering melodies. So deft was his execution that during the first half of the 15 minute piece distinguishing the live music from the recorded accompaniment was almost impossible. That created some icy stagnancy until the criss-crossing melodies finally grew together, as they did in the more organically presented Glass pieces, allowing harmony to win out.

critic’s pick 316: ronnie lane, ‘ooh la la: an island harvest’

ooh la laJust the fact that a major record label even remembers Ronnie Lane stands as a modest triumph. That it scoops together a collection of singles, album tracks, concert recordings and more for an anthology like Ooh La La: An Island Harvest – is, in modern pop terms, a freakish commercial anomaly.

Lane co-founded The Small Faces (of Itchycoo Park fame) in 1965 before the band morphed into simply The Faces (the troupe that cemented the careers of Rod Stewart and Ron Wood) at the dawn of the ‘70s. By 1973, Lane had had enough. He walked away from The Faces, retreated to a farm on the Welsh-English border and re-imagined pop music as a vehicle for carnival style whimsy – a mixture of Dylan-inspired wordplay, traditional folk settings built around acoustic strains of mandolin and strings and a reedy, soulfully imperfect singing voice with a boozy spirit that was undeniably rock ‘n’ roll.

In the early ‘90s, Lane was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and staged two huge all-star benefits on both sides of the Atlantic that not only raised considerable funds for MS research but set the standard for high profile benefit concerts years before Live Aid.

He lived out his final years in Texas and Colorado before succumbing to MS in 1997 at age 51.

Ooh La La (coincidentally, also the name of Lane’s swansong album with The Faces) reverts back to a more innocent time when Lane and his Slim Chance band roamed England with a sort of countryside dancehall sound. The duality of that music is reflected here in two versions of Anniversary – the 1974 original recording that matched Lane’s restless lyrics with a tasteful sweep of strings and a previously unreleased alternate take that borders on pub style honky tonk.

From there, Ooh La La runs from the beautifully orchestated Slim Chance gem The Poacher that seemed to speak directly to Lane’s post-Faces mindset (“I’ve no use for riches and I’ve no use for glory”) to a killer eight-song BBC set from 1974 full of the folkish charm and delightfully rag tag delivery that defined Lane’s best work. The set, as well as the album, ends with Ooh La La’s title track – an ode to youthful naivety that remains a loving postscript for a forgotten rock renegade who spent so much of his career merrily outrunning stardom.

the new sounds of dublin

dublin guitar quartet

dublin guitar quartet: pat brunnock,brian bolger,michael o’toole,tomas o’durcain

Before a single note or an ensemble melody was played, the members of the Dublin Guitar Quartet had established a vision for the music they wanted to play.

Though conservatory trained, the four guitarists – Brian Bolger, Pat Brunnock, Michael O’Toole and Tomas O’Durcain – had little interest in a strictly classical repertoire. Instead they looked to the works of such established modern composers as Philip Glass, Steve Reich and Arvo Part.

“There was a consensus even before the first rehearsal,” said Bolger by phone from his Dublin home. “There was a particular curiosity we had. The question was, ‘What would the music of American composers like Steve Reich and Philip Glass sound like on guitars?’ It hadn’t really been done. Also, ‘How would a guitar quartet that specializes in contemporary music fare?’  So we kind of saw a guitar shaped hole in the contemporary music scene.”

But that fascination led to a deeper challenge – adapting and arranging compositions that were never intended as guitar pieces. Works by Reich, Glass and Part, and other modern classical composers have been adapted for numerous instrumental settings, but never for four guitars.

“I suppose we’re kind of limited in a certain respect in that the music of people (contemporary composers Mark-Anthony) Turnage or (Alfred) Schnittke, music that is very idiomatic and has lots of special techniques, doesn’t really work. It doesn’t make the translation. The music of Philip Glass and Steve Reich and Arvo Part translates the same way that the music of Bach translates to the guitar. It’s really kind of melodic and harmonically oriented, so it works well that way.”

The lengths the Dublin Guitar Quartet travel in a finding a new voice for contemporary music can be found in its arrangement of Eastern European composer Gyorgy Ligeti’s Musica Ricerata, which will be featured in the group’s April 2 performance at the Norton Center for the Arts’ Weisiger Theatre in Danville. The piece was originally written for piano before being reworked for wind and even saxophone quartets. All of the incarnations figure into the version the Dublin Guitar Quartet will perform.

“Ligeti is mostly known for his soundtracks,” Bolger said. “His soundtrack music was used in 2001: A Space Odyssey and The Shining, so people might recognize him from that. But Musica Ricerata is from earlier in his career so there is more explicit melodic content and more traditional things going on. It’s quite a jolly piece as well but still very modern. It kind of sticks out in the set a little bit, but it’s nice to have that variety.”

Did someone say variety? The Danville performance will also include music by Cuban composer/guitarist Leo Brouwer, former quartet member David Flynn (whose Chimurenga is a tribute to famed South African artist/activist Thomas Mapfumo) and the Irish rock troupe The Redneck Manifesto along with works by Part, Reich and Glass. The latter also figures highly in the Dublin Guitar Quartet’s recent recording activities. Its forthcoming album is devoted to guitar arrangements of Glass’ string quartets.

It all represents a marked progression from the music – what little of it there was – Bolger heard at home during his youth.

“Growing up, we only had two records in the house. One was the 1812 Overture – that really famous recording that explained how they made the cannons on the B side. The other was Cabaret. Those were the only two records in the house for a long time. Then I hit my teens and it was Metallica and thrash metal. I kind of found the guitar that way. I also liked a lot of post-rock music such as (Louisville’s) Slint and Tortoise, stuff like that.”

“It’s important for us today to find a common kind of message for any listener and not have an overemphasis on anything. When you overemphasize, you kind of sell yourself short. I like to mix things up and keep them changing so there is something there for everybody.”

Dublin Guitar Quartet performs at 7:30 p.m. April 2 at the Weisiger Theatre of the Norton Center for the Arts, 600 W. Walnut St. in Danville. Call (877) 448-7469, (859) 236-4692 or go to

the band montreal

kevin barnes

of montreal chieftain kevin barnes.

Sometimes the key to unlocking a band’s potential is allowing it to operate fully as a band.

That hasn’t always been the case with veteran indie-pop fave of Montreal. For over 15 years, it has worked as a nom de plume of sorts for Athens, Ga. song stylist Kevin Barnes. Onstage, a company of musicians would journey through myriad pop styles, from party funk to psychedelia to glammed up Brit pop and more. In nearly all other respects, though, of Montreal was a very singular vehicle with Barnes writing and recording nearly all the band’s music on his own.

Now, with a fascination for vintage folk-rock fueling his current songs, Barnes has decided to relinquish some of his command. For his recent Lousy with Sylvianbriar album, he enlisted a new musical team not as a mere foil for live shows but as the basis for a fully functioning band.

“It felt like a new chapter in my career,” Barnes said. “I turned over a lot of people that have been with me for awhile and just moved in this new direction. I’m very excited about it. I think it has breathed new life into the project.”

“The influences this time are mostly from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. I wanted to make a record that was similar to that in a sense, as far as the way we went about recording and how I went about writing and teaching people parts. I liked the idea of getting other

people involved and having it be more communal and collaborative. But I also wanted to work really quickly, as in the course of just a couple of weeks. As a result, we were making all these spontaneous, creative decisions on the fly and just not laboring over it in a way that I have been laboring over the previous records.

“Basically, I just wanted to follow the blueprint of those records that I love – the Bob Dylan records, the Neil Young records, Leonard Cohen records, Grateful Dead records – all the records that were an inspiration for this record.”

Getting into the mindset of that music, however, required some distance – specifically, a pilgrimage to San Francisco, the epicenter of late ‘60s counterculture.

“I really wanted to get out of Athens and be somewhere new, somewhere that was kind of exotic and mysterious,” Barnes said.  “I’ve always been a huge fan of the beat poets and writers and, of course, the hippie scene from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. San Francisco is so interesting and so culturally and ethnically diverse. The architecture is amazing and just the way the city is laid out is really inspiring. I hadn’t spent that much time in San Francisco before, so I didn’t really know exactly what I was going to get out of it. But some sort of voice was calling me there and I just trusted my instincts. I lived for about three weeks in this rented apartment and wandered around and observed people. I read a lot and wrote a lot.”

With the groundwork for Sylvianbriar complete, Barnes was faced with the challenge of allowing his songs to develop with a new of Montreal lineup – vocalist Rebecca Cash, drummer/vocalist Clayton Rychlik, keyboardist Jojo Glidewell, pedal steel guitarist/bassist Bob Parins and guitarist/mandolinist Bennet Lewis – as opposed to by himself in a studio.

“It was difficult at first just because the group of people I had been working with… we were really close. We travelled the world together and had all these ups and downs together. So to basically move on and start a new life without them created a lot of tension and a lot of pain that definitely affected our relationships, which was inevitable. But at the same time, it’s exciting to feel like I’m moving in this new direction and dropping all the baggage of the past to move forward. So it’s kind of a bittersweet situation, I guess.

“For me, it’s all about the present moment and what I hope to accomplish in the future. I don’t really care at all about the things I’ve done in the past. That might seem kind of strange or whatever. But for me, it’s all about not looking back and just thinking, ‘Okay. Now what? Now what can I do?’ So I’m in a good place right now because I’m discarding stuff. Even Sylvianbriar, in a way. I’m just trying to move forward from that into some new area.”

of Montreal and Ortolan perform at 10 p.m. April 1 at Cosmic Charlie’s. 388 Woodland Ave. Tickets are $20. Call (859) 309-9499 or go

in performance: ballister


ballister: paal nilssen-love, fred lonberg-holm and dave rempis. photo by lasse marhaug.

It began in a state of willful chaos and ended with a beat of golden silence. Everything in between played out last night like a heated family conversation by the free jazz trio Ballister at the University of Kentucky’s John Jacob Niles Center for Traditional Music.

A turbulent ebb and flow fortified the 75 minute set’s three untitled improvisations created by saxophonist Dave Rempis, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm and drummer Paal Nilssen-Love. The first started like a clasp of thunder with the three stepping briskly into a fractured, high volume brawl that placed Rempis’ scorched alto lead at its center. Built around all that was the deconstructed chamber backdrop Lonberg-Holm designed by tapping out notes on the neck of the cello with his left hand while his right simultaneously added more sustained rage with a bow. Subsequent solos would formulate a hint of a sustained melody before Lonberg-Holm let the music mutate with assorted pedal effects.

One had to be a traffic cop to monitor all the changes that followed – like Rempis’ switch to baritone sax and an ensuing, elemental, groove executed on brushes by Nilssen-Love that slowly built itself into a furious boil. Whispery sax/drums dialogue, a percussion solo on cymbals played by mallets, two more sax changes (back to alto and then on to tenor) and a full-tilt trio rampage brought the 35 minute improv to a conclusion that was as unsettled as the opening.

The second improv downshifted the set’s drive, but only slightly. Its introduction returned Nilssen-Love to mallet percussion that faded to a quiet rumble even as bowed cello lines percolated under his playing. Rempis’ baritone sax squall later led into another trio skirmish before a clean swipe on the cello strings by Lonberg-Holm brought the improv to a finish that seemed to surprise and delight his bandmates.

An overall quieter chat dominated the final improv of the evening. A rustle of percussion devices that included a half-empty water bottle and an alto sax solo that beautifully opened into a fully functioning wail highlighted the music’s unusually harmonious flow.  Then everything evaporated into a momentary coda of silence that was as breathtaking as all of the fascinating interplay that preceded it.

in performance: scott miller

scott miller

scott miller.

You had to feel for Scott Miller. His fine acoustic performance last night at Willie’s Locally Known was shifted to an early evening start time to accommodate the late tipoff of the Kentucky/ Louisville NCAA game. But that meant the longtime songsmith, who spent all of his professional career in Knoxville before relocating to his Virginia family farm three years ago, had be onstage as his beloved Tennessee Vols were going down for an Elite Eight placement to Michigan. Miller took it all with a wry wit that was often turned inward, that was until he eulogized his team’s impending loss with a solemn finale of Tennessee Waltz. What a hapless, heartfelt and strangely complimentary pairing it was with Miller earnestly singing the classic county lyrics about losing a sweetheart as his team bowed out for the season.

The rest of the performance was no less absorbing. Miller remains, some 18 years after his Lexington debut with the Knoxville quartet The V-Roys a masterful storyteller – one that weaves words with Dylan-esque rhythm and specificity as his narratives become darkly personal. An exquisite example surfaced last night with How Am I Ever Going to Be Me?, a tune that questioned identity, faith and salvation.

Equally sobering and Dylan-drenched was Lo Siento Spanishburg West Virginia, a tale of rural decay that provided a modest whimsical spin on folk tradition (“old times there are Oxycontin”).

Both are relatively recent tunes for Miller that favored folkish outlines over the rockish template used for many of his V-Roys and early solo career songs. It was a setting nicely enhanced during the 90 minute set by bassist/accompanist Bryn Davies, last seen locally as a band member to Peter Rowan and Tony Rice. Whether supplementing the subtle groove to Sin in Indiana, adding a lovely bowed bass accent to Is There Room on the Cross for Me? or providing playful, percussive slaps to Freedom’s a Stranger, Davies proved a resourceful and often elegant orchestrator for Miller’s music.

As has been the case with several crowded weekend shows at Willie’s, there was an abundance of idle audience chatter that signaled a disconnect (or perhaps disrespect) among some patrons. But when the performance hushed for the Civil War remembrance Highland County Boy at encore time, the only crowd noise was the unprompted shuffling of ensemble feet that simulated the march of war-beaten soldiers as well as the tune’s percussive heartbeat.

having a blast

jeff coffin

jeff coffin.

When reviewing their separate careers, one would suppose Jeff Coffin and Miles Osland were destined to be great friends.

Both are learned saxophonists, as well as artists active in fields of education and performance – although they have each has chosen one of those areas as a favored pursuit.

Coffin leads his own jazz fusion band, the Mu’tet, but has gained national notoriety as an alumnus of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones (with which he won three Grammy Awards) and for his current role as sax man with the Dave Matthews Band. Osland is perhaps Lexington’s most visible jazz personality and the leader of several performance groups. His most enduring musical duty, however, has involved overseeing the jazz studies program at the University of Kentucky.

It was in the latter role that Osland reached out to Coffin, a New England born, Texas educated fellow saxophonist who had relocated to Nashville.

“I just called Jeff up out of the blue one day because I wanted him to come up and play and do some clinics,” Osland said. “And he agreed. Jeff is just one of the most humble, gracious cats that I know. He’s always giving of his time when he can. We’ve had him up here two or three times in the past in different capacities. This time, it’s going to be two days just jam-packed full of Jeff Coffin.”

“This time” is this weekend. Coffin will serve as an auxiliary member of the Osland/Dailey Jazztet, the combo Osland co-leads with pianist and UK faculty mate Raleigh Dailey, Friday at Natasha’s. Then on Saturday, Coffin will be the featured guest at UK’s annual Big Band Blast, a triple bill concert at the Singletary Center for the Arts that will bring together the high school level Jazz All Stars of Central Kentucky, the college level University of Kentucky Jazz Ensemble (which Osland directs) and the community based Bluegrass Area Jazz Ambassadors. Coffin will perform two tunes with each group and offer a free jazz clinic in the afternoon that will be open to the public.

“A lot of the stuff we talk about in clinics deals with life lessons more so even than music lessons,” Coffin said. “I wanted to do clinics because I felt like I had some experience that I could bring to students, that I could talk to them about what they need to do to go out there, perform well and be successful at holding a gig, getting a gig and all the different things that are involved with that.

“It’s like, ‘I’m out here doing this. I know what it takes. You’re trying to get out here where I am.’ So I can talk to them about they need to do, and I really lay it on the line. Being able to play your butt off is a given. That’s where you start. It’s all the other stuff that’s going to get you the gig or not get you the gig. Those are the things we talk about. We kind of unwrap the mystery of it all and get in deep.”

The only trick in luring Coffin back to Lexington this weekend was logistics. Osland approached Coffin about helping out with the Big Band Blast over six months ago, but recording plans with the Dave Matthews Band kept a confirmation for the weekend out of reach until late into the winter.

“Ultimately, we didn’t have to face that conflict,” Osland said. “But it was really up in the air for a long time. I had Plan A. I had a Plan B. But everything worked out.”

Jeff Coffin performs at

+ 8 p.m. March 28 with the Osland/Dailey Jazztet at Natasha’s Bistro, 112 Esplanade. $10 public, $5 students. Call (859) 259-2754 or got to

+ 3 p.m. March 29 for a clinic and discussion at the Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall, 405 Rose St. Free and open to the public.

+ 7:30 p.m. March 29 as part of the Big Band Blast at the Singletary Center for the Arts Recital Hall. Free. For more info, go to

burning down the house

ballister 1

ballister: dave rempis, paal nilssen-love, fred lonberg-holm.

At the onset of Smolder, one of the three lengthy improvisations that make up the third Ballister album Mi Casa Es En Fuego, the music begins as three separate entities. Or expressions. Or outbursts.

The saxophone punctuation of Dave Rempis starts with a series of jabs and pops that eventually bounce about with an almost mischievous agitation. Countering that is the cello colors of Fred Lonberg-Holm that sound less like the product of an instrument usually thought of for its chamber-like qualities and more like the scratchy, electric disturbances of guitarist Marc Ribot. Underneath it all is Norwegian drummer Paal Nilssen-Love, whose playing can reflect frenzied immediacy one minute, brutal deconstruction the next and, in select passages, an icy calm. Throughout Smolder, he reveals all three tendencies to create a mood that lets the tune live up to it name while fanning the flames that inspired the album title.

After all the English translation for Mi Casa Es En Fuego is My House is on Fire.

“On a lot of levels, this band, to me, is kind of like a punk rock, no holds barred kind of thing,” said Rempis, who will perform with Ballister for an WRFL-FM sponsored Outside the Spotlight concert at the University of Kentucky’s John Jacob Niles Gallery. “A lot of it is about energy in many ways. Pall is one of the most propulsive drummers I’ve ever worked with. And Fted just has this great kind of noise thing that he can do with an electronic set up on the cello. So in a lot of ways, it’s just coming from that dive-in-head-first type of energy.”

Though thoroughly improvised – and, at times, quite brutish and fractured – the music of Ballister is far from musical anarchy. There is a noticeable ebb and flow to the playing, an obvious jazz sensibility to the way the three musicians interact and, quite often, a rhythmic undertow that continually changes the tone and temperament of the music.

“There is definitely a lot of rhythmic interaction happening all the time. I’ve described it as ‘the feeling of moving forward while the carpet is being pulled out from under you.’ We’re all moving with these rhythms in a very forward kind of way. But they don’t necessarily all lock in together, so it’s kind of like this overlapping type of thing.”

At the heart of Ballister, which issues its vinyl-only Both Ends album this month, is a strong personal and professional bond. Rempis, Lonberg-Holm and Nilssen-Love have all been regular visitors to Lexington over the past decade for Outside the Spotlight shows by numerous bands that bridge a fruitful Chicago free jazz community with several European factions of like-minded improvisers.

Ballister is hardly the prime performance project for any of the three, either. This spring, Rempis will be balancing a string of Ballister dates with concerts alongside Boston pianist Pandelis Karayorgis, festival dates with three other trios that stretch from San Francisco to Finland as well a Quebec run with Audio One, a new ensemble led by Chicago composer/saxophonist Ken Vandermark (who returns to town for his own Outside the Spotlight concert on April 28). On top of all that, Rempis oversees a music label, Aerophonic Records, that is chronicling the music of his many band projects.

“That’s actually been the most rewarding part of the last year for me – starting this record label. It’s taking up a lot of time, for sure, but it’s been incredibly rewarding.                                                                                   

“I feel like the musicians in this music really need to take responsibility for their careers at this point because there are just not too many people out there, whether it be labels or agents, who are promoting this music anymore. We have the capability to do all this. So far for me, it’s been a huge pleasure to put out music that, artistically, I feel really strong about.”

back home again

scott miller 2

scott miller.

For the better part of a decade, Scott Miller was a performance regular in Lexington clubs. An immensely articulate songsmith, he became an ambassador of sorts for two seemingly unconnected musical camps – a thriving Knoxville musical community and a brand of Americana rock that knew a good time when it saw one, especially when it came to the libations that fueled the fun.

Miller returns to Lexington on Friday after a prolonged absence that has seen separations of sorts from both factions. Three years ago, he departed Knoxville – his home since the days of The V Roys, the rock troupe that introduced Miller to Lexington in 1996 – to his family’s Virginia farm in Staunton. A year before that, he became sober.

While both events happened out of necessity, Miller said he is now seeing the benefits of how they are playing out – personally as well as professionally.

“It’s been weird,” Miller said. “I’ve always thought I could do what I do from anywhere. It’s been a little more difficult than I thought, but I’m finding the balance. Not being near Nashville, because so much of my business is there, is tough. But I’m home. I’m where I belong.

Sobriety, not surprisingly, was no less difficult an adjustment. Up through Miller’s first post-V Roys albums, the boozy charm of his music was fairly innocuous. But during some of his final local shows at Lynagh’s Music Club and The Dame, performance sloppiness ran rampant. Even that wouldn’t have been such a big deal had records like 2003’s Upside Downside and 2006’s Citation not been full of such strong, folk-infused songs.

“Number one, that had to happen,” Miller said of giving up drinking. “If I look back on it through all the years, this was inevitable. Two, it’s always one day at a time. Who knows? I could go out tomorrow and blow everything I’ve just built over almost four years. But, man, I sing better. I play better. I’m much more in tune with what I’m doing. Before, I would just get up there and everything I tried to reach this transcendent state to make my art good…well, it really didn’t work. It just made it bad and out of time.

“The first year that I was sober was really tough. It was different being in front of crowds. It wasn’t stage fright. It was just hard to sort of find a groove. Everybody told me, ‘That will come.’ And it did. It did. I’m back in the pocket now. I enjoy the shows. Everything is better. It doesn’t mean everything is perfect.  But at least I’ve got a fighting shot.”

Adding to Miller’s current state of renewal was the 2013 release of what is arguably his best album, 2013’s Big Big World. The project was a collaborative record with Doug Lancio, long time lieutenant in Patty Griffin’s band who currently doubles as John Hiatt’s chief guitarist. Many of the songs on Big Big World were sculpted out of sound structures and melodies Lancio created that Miller later set lyrics to.

“Doug would start in the mornings and just sort of mess around and lay down different grooves and tracks. Then I would come in and listen to those and see if it inspired something to write about or else I would take some half-finished stuff I had and build to suit. I’d go down the hall and start splicing that stuff together and try to make a three-and-a-half minute song out of this 20 minute stuff we had.

“I didn’t really get to live with these songs before we put them out, so we’ve finally got everything down now. There is just something about going out and playing them every night. You start finding their cracks and stuff like that.”

Scott Miller performs at 7:45 p.m. March 28 at Willie’s Locally Known, 805 N. Broadway. Admission is $10. Call (859) 281-1116 or go to

surf’s up (but in kentucky?)

kentucky surf

riding the bluegrass surf: a scene from the billie joe armstrong/norah jones music video for ‘kentucky.’

We’re all for big imaginations here at The Musical Box, but a new music video referencing our home state is summoning some serious head scratching.

The clip comes to us from the odd couple of Billie Joe Armstrong and Norah Jones and their splendid 2013 Everly Brothers tribute record Foreverly. The song being illustrated is Kentucky, a loving salute that has subsequently been covered by scores of vintage country and bluegrass artists.

Make no mistake, we love Foreverly. Aside from possessing remarkably natural artist chemistry (an attribute underscored by the train wreck performance at the Grammy Awards in February when Armstrong was instead paired for a Phil Everly tribute with a wildly out-of-tune Miranda Lambert), the duo’s treatment is subtle, summery and ultra-respectful of the unforced harmony singing that made the Everlys’ music so distinctive.

So what’s the problem? Well, it’s not a big deal, really. It’s just that the video chose to show a young couple (not Armstrong and Jones, by the way) enjoying an afternoon of outdoor fun that includes – we kid you not – surfing. Yes, indeed. Nothing captures the natural majesty of the Bluegrass like slapping on a wetsuit, grabbing a surfboard and catching a wave. Last time I checked, though, Lake Cumberland was pretty much at permanent low tide.

The video reminded me of a poster that hung in my father’s office. My dad was an ad man for General Electric. The poster was of Leonardo da Vinci pondering an electric toothbrush, as though it were one of his myriad inventions. The caption: “Plug it in where, Leonardo?”

Of course, if the video for Kentucky turns a few more folks on to the exquisite Foreverly, than more power to it. Besides that, it’s sort of refreshing for Kentucky to now be battling a stereotype rooted in the West Coast instead of the rural south.

You can check out the video here:

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