prince, 1958-2016

prince.

prince.

Oh, there were stories surrounding the December 1984 Rupp Arena debut of Prince. He wanted his dressing room painted purple. He wanted his hotel room painted purple. He wanted a bath tub painted purple It didn’t matter if the tales were true or not, although the latter request was granted and became one of the Rupp show’s more outrageous stage props. They all fit the persona so completely of a star that had reached a level of commercial popularity the previous summer with Purple Rain that equaled his far more established critical and artistic reputation.

To many, Prince was the epitome of celebrity. He was a funk-soul renegade, a monster guitarist and a restlessly creative and prolific recording artist. But it was his sheer stage presence, along with an innate ability to embrace and shatter social extremes within pop tradition, that will forever define a career unexpectedly halted yesterday at the age of 57.

To that end, Prince joined a very short list of artists whose cultural impact was profound enough to completely shift the way an audience perceived pop, soul, funk and rock music. There was Little Richard. There was Chuck Berry. There was Miles Davis. There was Sly Stone. And there was Prince.

Listen to his early albums – especially Controversy and 1999 – and you heard the sound of youth gone wild. But the means of expression wasn’t rock ‘n’ roll, it was soul music retold with unharnessed drive, curiosity and sensuality. Critics immediately championed him as much for his instrumental smarts as his remarkable sense of songcraft.

With Purple Rain, Prince’s commercial profile exploded. But by 1986, when he played a surprise show at Louisville’s Freedom Hall, Purple Rain was already in the rearview mirror. Audiences expecting Let’s Go Crazy and Purple Rain’s epic title tune got monstrous jams that were, in essence, psychedelic stepchildren of the innovations the artist had cultivated only two years earlier.

Everything was reshuffled again a year later with Sign O’ The Times (which, along with 1999, stand as Prince’s finest work) for music that blended the spiritual, the social and the sexual in to a parade of multi-generational groove. There was also 1991’s pop-soul scrapbook Diamonds and Pearls, 1999’s triple disc Emancipation that broadened its soul scope into retro and futuristic terrain, 2004’s unexpectedly streamlined Musicology and 2014’s unapologetically forward thinking groovefest Art Official Age.

There were nearly 40 studio albums in all. Some were brilliant, others were comparative throwaways. But they all paled next to what Prince summoned onstage. In the four times I witnessed him in concert, the moments that were truly magical weren’t forged out of the hits but rather instances when the artist celebrated life with music that both defined and defied the times.

There was the Santana-like guitar charge of Computer Blue (from his 1984 Rupp show), the brassy soul intrigue of A Love Bizarre (from the 1986 Louisville concert), a cover of Joan Osborne’s One of Us that became a treatise of faith (from a 1997 Rupp return) and a cover of the Sam and Dave staple Soul Man with sax giant Maceo Parker (at his 2004 performance at Cincinnati’s U.S. Bank Arena).

But as fans were absorbing their power and beauty, Prince was already at the next mile marker working on a new groove. The older songs may have indeed been signs of the times. But for Prince, time never stood still.

in performance: drivin’ n’ cryin’

drivin' n' cryin': warner hodges, tim nielsen, kevn kinney, dave v. johnson.

drivin’ n’ cryin’: warner hodges, tim nielsen, kevn kinney, dave v. Johnson.

“I kissed a lot of rings,” sang Kevn Kinney with polite resignation over a Southern soaked guitar melody so sweetly dense you could practically ring the humidity out of it. “Do I get one, too?”

Judging by the two hours the Georgia songsmith and the rest of Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ threw down last night at the new Willie’s Locally Known location on Southland Drive, the ring is all his. Over 30 years after the quartet roared out of Atlanta, leaning more to alternative and punk aesthetics than to the pervading Southern rock climate of the time, Drivin’ N’ Cryin’ sounded as commanding and fun as ever.

While the sometimes sleepy, sometimes shrill voiced Kinney, bassist Tim Nielsen and drummer Dave V. Johnson (all longstanding DNC members) still play with an obvious vitality, the catalyst for the music was the band’s special guest. Commandeering the lion’s share of the guitar duties last night was Warner Hodges, longtime lieutenant in Jason and the Scorchers, the band that essentially wrote the book on cowpunk before DNC even formed.

The magic Hodges brought the show was considerable. His solos were all full of rock star confidence, yet the broad smiles he flashed after them revealed an artist still with a very honest love of performing. Frankly, though, it was equally fun watching Hodges play rhythm under Kinney’s breaks, adding a chunky precision through the killer riffs on warhorse favorites like Fly Me Courageous, Build a Fire and Scarred But Smarter. But when Kinney switched to acoustic guitar during the second half of the performance, the dynamics within Hodges’ playing bloomed. What resulted was a sometimes boozy rhythmic strut that would do Keith Richards proud and rich, fluid guitar lines that brought Southern stylists like Dickey Betts to mind.

While hardly an outward rock ‘n’ roll showman, Kinney obviously reveled in the band chemistry. While the DNC lineup on hand last night often played with thunderous precision, there were also tunes loose enough for Kinney to honor his influences. The wistful Let’s Go Dancing toughed up enough for the singer to veer off into a snippet of The Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling while With the People oozed in and out of a verse from R.E.M.’s King of Birds.

The whole party ended with Kinney in the middle of the club floor singing Blues on Top of Blues, happily involved with a delightfully ragged guitar solo of his own. Playing from a very different front line, there seemed an almost childlike solace about him. In his own way, one supposes, Kinney got his ring.

in performance: gregg allman

gregg allman.

gregg allman.

The distance between a storied past and a credible, vital present has always made for hard traveling in the world of rock ‘n’ roll. The bigger and more removed the history, the tougher it becomes to have a modern day audience – even if it draws heavily from the generation that championed the artist in question in the first place – to accept any serious revision.

That was the quandary Gregg Allman was in tonight during a sold out performance at the Opera House. With the famed Allman Brothers Band (the groundbreaking Southern blues, boogie and jam brigade he helped front on and off for 45 years) now permanently defunct, the singer has turned to a revue-style ensemble to both honor his past and adjust to a more streamlined here and now. It was a daring mission that yielded only a marginal victory.

First, there was the most inspiring part of the show. At 68, with an epic bout of rock star excess behind him, Allman was in remarkably strong voice. He coated vintage tunes like the ABB’s Black Hearted Woman and his ‘80s solo hit I’m No Angel with an effortlessly bluesy drawl seemingly unblemished by age while serving ballads like Sweet Melissa with a quieter, soulful glow.

Musically, the performance took some getting use to. The ABB classics that opened and closed the show – Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’ and Whipping Post – sounded curiously sanitized. It wasn’t just the more moderate pace the songs were taken at compared to their recorded versions from 1970 and 1969, respectively, or the way the tunes were tempered by a horn section. The inherent urgency within both songs, and in much of the vintage material, was just gone. In its place was a sound altogether sunnier, safer and emptier.

Unfortunately, the tunes played more faithfully to their album blueprints revealed greater creative deficiencies within the band. Dreams strutted along with the same easygoing, jazz-like groove that has long propelled the song over the decades. But as it evolved into a lengthy jam, no one seemed able to breathe any serious definition or distinction into their solos. This was especially true of guitarist Scott Sharrard, who spent much of the evening caught between imitations of Duane Allman (especially in his slide playing) and Dickey Betts, the ABB’s founding guitarists.

Everyone had chops to spare, especially the only holdover from the ABB other than brother Gregg himself, percussionist Marc Quinones. But outside of a lively take of the instrumental Hot ‘Lanta, the only tune where Allman’s organ playing didn’t fade completely into the woodwork, the ensemble found little vigor in the older material and zero invention in any of the newer arrangements. When Allman left the stage midway through the set to let the band jam on its own, the performance collapsed completely into an array of faceless riffs, solos and funk exchanges.

It should be noted, the capacity crowd enjoyed the music thoroughly, seemingly spellbound by the show’s undeniable nostalgic sway. That’s fine, as far as it went. It just seemed a shame that a still capable artist like Allman, an obviously proficient band and a truly remarkable back catalogue couldn’t have found a more knowing, intuitive or original way to make the resulting music sparkle more genuinely for a present day crowd so eager to embrace it.

merle haggard, 1937-2016

merle haggard.

merle haggard.

Here’s my favorite Merle Haggard memory. On a sweaty August evening at the 2003 Kentucky State Fair in Louisville, the veteran country music renegade polled a Cardinal Stadium crowd with this query: “How many ex-convicts do we have with us tonight?”
What was surprising wasn’t just the number of hands that shot up in the crowd, but how enthusiastic – proud, even – the respondents seemed. The Hag, without question, was in his element.

As someone who did his own share of time in the ol’ gray bar hotel, Haggard reveled in his unassuming but rebellious spirit throughout his career. Picking up on Buck Owens’ brand of California country, he all but reinvented country music convention with stories of hard won truths and music that both embraced and subverted honky tonk tradition. It was nothing to hear him sing songs of drinking and loss, yet equally uncommon to hear horns in his band for music that sometimes sounded as much like jazz as it did country.

Haggard was a frequent visitor to Rupp Arena during the ‘80s, usually in the company of fellow traditionalists George Jones and/or Conway Twitty. While he had a library of genre-defining tunes to draw from – Swinging Doors, Workin’ Man Blues and Mama Tried were always personal favorites – the one that always got me in the throat was Kern River. It was a song of death, of a raging current that swept away a loved one with unforgiving swiftness. “It’s a mean piece of water, my friend,” Haggard sang with sadness as stark and stoic as the river in question was wild. Just try finding something like that on country radio today.
Generations of country artists have claimed Haggard as an influence. Yet in an industry he saw as unduly commercialized decades ago – hence the very reactionary slant of his music – few seemed to absorb his narrative or stylistic tenacity. The only one to even approximate his sense of invention was Dwight Yoakam.

It didn’t matter if Haggard sang a forgotten celebratory hit like Daddy Frank (The Guitar Man) or if disciples like Emmylou Harris or Dave Alvin echoed his darker visions in covers of Kern River. Haggard, who died earlier today – his 79th birthday – was an original in a genre starved for true distinction. He spoke to the country poet, the working man (and woman) and, yes, even the ex-con, in us all.

in performance: tim o’brien/ron block

ron block.

ron block.

The prime appeal within a taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour is revealed when the program’s invited guests collaborate. It doesn’t happen often and when it does, the alliances tend to form quickly and briefly during encore segments.

Last night, though, bluegrass stalwarts Tim O’Brien and Ron Block, each promoting new indie solo albums, sat in with each other for a trio of tunes that capitalized on string music’s longstanding love of camaraderie. All three songs came during banjoist/guitarist Block’s segments where O’Brien, a versed multi-instrumentalist, played fiddle. The catalyst for such bonding was Block’s new all-instrumental recording Hogan’s House of Music, a work with roots in pre-bluegrass country instrumentation although it was by no means defined by that.

With guitarist Clay Hess rounding the tunes the two headliners played together as well as those executed by Block on his own, the instrumentation touched on traditional bluegrass but regularly veered into more progressive jazz-like phrasing, as in The Spotted Pony. There, O’Brien filled the fiddle seat that Block’s musical boss, Alison Krauss, occupied on the album. Sporting splendid tone, the trio took the tune at a pace far more relaxed than its more new grass-leaning predecessor Smartville, which Block and Hess played in a duo setting. A lively take of Brushy Fork at John’s Creek (done as a trio piece) and a beautifully lyrical take on Stephen Foster’s Gentle Annie (done as a guitar duet) cemented the graceful and very complete string music vocabulary of Block’s fine new record.

Only the trio encore of the Jimmy Martin staple You Don’t Know My Mind Today stepped out of the serene instrumental atmosphere for a round of traditional bluegrass with Hess on vocals.

O’Brien devoted all five of the songs from his sets, performed with partner Jan Fabricius as vocal accompanist, to music from his first solo album in four years, Pompadour. The resulting performances were streamlined to a stylistic degree when compared to the record’s considerable instrumental reach. But there was a strong emotive shift between the song’s storylines.

I Gotta Move contemplated the aftermath of divorce, Whatever Happened to Me proved a self-effacing view of aging, Pompadour’s title track reflected pure narrative whimsy and the encore of Go Down to the River revisited one of the many Mermaid Avenue works that Billy Bragg and Wilco fashioned around the words of Woody Guthrie.

But the highlight was The Water is Wise, a gorgeous tale of renewal co-penned by Sarah Jarosz that sounded like a traditional folk meditation given the rustic slant of O’Brien’s singing and the devilish, though unassuming richness of his guitar work.

in performance: mountain stage

robbie fulks. photo by andy goodwin.

robbie fulks. photo by andy Goodwin.

After nearly 33 years of broadcast history, the Mountain came to Lexington last night. The longrunning public radio live music radio show Mountain Stage, packed its bags, jumped over the state line from its West Virginia home and set up shop at the Singletary Center for the Arts with a five act bill that played out like a mini festival.

A typical Mountain Stage broadcast runs two hours. Last night’s presentation ran just shy of three with minimal downtime between acts and no intermission. Since host Larry Groce served strictly as an emcee, eschewing interview segments, the program focused almost exclusively on performances with each artist playing five tunes. Sarah Jarosz, the show’s de facto headliner, was allowed six.

Excluding between-set songs by Mountain Stage band singer Julie Adams and pianist Bob Thompson, here was what transpired, in order of appearance.

+ Robbie Fulks: After giving quick acknowledgements his numerous Lexington appearances at Lynagh’s Music Club and The Dame over the past 20 years, the Chicago song stylist juggled tales of despair, humor and delirious points in between, highlighted by the whimsical yet heartwarming Aunt Peg’s New Old Man. Backed by an authoritative band that leaned to traditional country, Fulks topped off his set with vocalwork that has never sounded clearer or more commanding.

+ Over the Rhine: Rounded out to a trio with the addition of guitarist Brad Meinerding, the Ohio husband-and-wife duo of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist offered a typically moving set of moody folk atmospherics. The songs were fine, especially wary narratives like Suitcase, I’d Want You and a delicate makeover of The Band’s It Makes No Difference. But the distinction this time was the group’s spot-on three-part harmonies. While Meinerding was an engaging instrumentalist, he also stands as one of the finer vocal foils to join the Over the Rhine ranks in many years.

+ Steve Forbert: After nearly four decades of making records, Forbert remains the disheveled but definitive folkie. Performing solo, he sang twisted reveries like Compromsied, Drink Red Wine and especially Complications like he was arguing with a friend and welcoming all ensuing conflicts. The resulting music, unrefined as it purposely was, still sounded soulful and solemn.

+ The Black Lillies: The only disappointment of the bunch. The Knoxville band had ample instrumental prowess, especially in the guitar department. But mainstay singers Cruz Contreras and Trisha Gene Brady, together the generally unremarkable Americana/pop tradeoffs within songs like Hard to Please and Desire, never fully caught fire.

+ Sarah Jarosz: The highlight of the night, Jarosz devoted her entire six-song solo set to new music from her forthcoming Undercurrents album (due out in June). After reflecting on her afternoon brunch at The Local Taco (“any day that includes tacos is a good day”), she settled into the often unsettled waters of her new songs. Within works like Early Morning Light and House of Mercy were largely emancipating sagas sung with an unsentimental exactness. Songs like the more vulnerable Everything You Hide and the more distantly endearing Jacqueline weren’t as stormy but reflected just as much emotive grace and detail. A simple, direct and often spellbinding set.

In what has long been a tradition for Mountain Stage, the program concluded with Groce leading everyone through an ensemble finale number – in this case, a cover of Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine. Owing more to the Kentucky Headhunters hit version from the late ‘80s rather than the Bill Monroe original, it was impressive more for Groce’s traffic cop conduction of the nearly 20 players assembled onstage than as actual cohesive performance.

sarah jarosz rides with the currents

sarah jarosz. photo by scott simontacchi.

sarah jarosz. photo by scott simontacchi.

On the second song of her forthcoming album, Sarah Jarosz sings with almost mystical intrigue. That the tune, Green Lights, is wrapped discreetly in reverb and has its delicate folk fabric colored modestly by electric guitar presents a paradox. In terms of storyline, it is remarkably grounded – romantic, but not for an instant sentimental. Yet the music all but leaves the earth to embrace a ghostly ambience that presents a lean but very atmospheric contrast to the rest of the spare acoustic framework to the album, which is aptly titled Undercurrent.

To those that have followed Jarosz’s music through her three previous albums (a remarkable discography considering she is only 24), Undercurrent will seem a logical progression in the ascent of one of the most heralded young songsmiths of the past decade. But for Jarosz, a Texas native who recently graduated with honors from the New England Conservatory of Music and subsequently established a new home base in New York City, Undercurrent is very much an emancipation.

“The headspace for this record was just being here in the city, living here for the first time and having, actually, a lot of solitary time,” said Jarosz, one of the artists performing at Sunday’s live broadcast of Mountain Stage from the Singletary Center for the Arts. “For the first time, I’ve lived by myself here. Really, in a way, this feels like a first album in a sense in that it was the first time I had all my time dedicated to focusing on writing and recording the record, whereas before it was running between classes and kind of fitting it in somehow. I felt more focused on it this time than I think I ever have before.

“This was also the first time that I really thought about the songwriting in a way that was more like a craft, whereas before it was kind of, ‘Okay, whenever the inspiration comes and whenever I have the time to kind of season it.’ This time around, I actually had the time to work at it every day. I feel that comes through on the record. I live on the Upper West Side and spend a lot of time walking around the Central Park reservoir. That really influenced a lot of the imagery on the album.”

Before New England and before New York, there was, for Jarosz, Texas – specifically the Hill Country near the center of the state and the neighboring music metropolis of Austin. She was versed enough on mandolin, clawhammer banjo and guitar to play her first bluegrass festival by age 11 and was signed to the established Americana label Sugar Hill to record her debut album at 16.

“I was talking with (Kentucky born songwriter and instrumentalist) Darrell Scott, who really believes the landscape of where someone grows up ultimately affects the music that they make and shapes them as a musician. I totally believe that in terms of growing up in the Texas Hill Country. It was kind of the rawness of that landscape, of Texas in general. It’s flat but it’s also hilly and I totally think that influenced that kind of music, that acoustic kind of raw music that I was drawn to, especially early on. I lived it every Friday night going to a weekly bluegrass jam. That totally shaped me.

“Last week, I was performing at (the renown Austin music festival) South by Southwest. It’s always good for me to go back to Texas and be reminded about how much I was influenced by that scene down there. It was kind of full circle for me because it was the first time that I performed many of these songs from the new record. It’s good to be reminded how that region is always going to be a part of me and my identity.”

 

Mountain Stage with Sarah Jarosz, The Black Lillies, Steve Forbert, Over the Rhine and Robbie Fulks. 7 p.m. April 3 at the Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose St.

Tickets: $25 advance, $30 day of show. Call 859-257-4929 or go to etix.com.

in performance: old crow medicine show/parker millsap

old crow medicine show. from left: morgan jahnig, critter fuqua, ketch secor,  chance mccoy, cory younts and kevin hayes.

old crow medicine show. from left: morgan jahnig, critter fuqua, ketch secor, chance mccoy, cory younts and kevin hayes.

What a difference a decade-plus makes.

When Old Crow Medicine Show last played Lexington, the band’s breakthrough was still fresh, as was its mix of bawdy string band traditionalism (one that veered more to speakeasy blues than bluegrass) and punkish performance spirit

Last night, at the onset of a two night engagement at the Singletary Center for the Arts, an older Old Crow opened with a vice-ridden escapade, Tell It To Me, cut from the same album (2004’s O.C.M.S.) the band was promoting when it played downtown at The Dame a full 12 years ago. This time, though, the song opened up. It was more tempered, more orchestrated (fleshed out by keyboards, drums and pedal steel guitar – all non-traditional colors but nonetheless welcome reflections of the band’s growth). While a touch of the wildness from the Dame date was absent, the tune’s spirit was never compromised. What followed was a 1 ¾ hour set that greatly expanded on its renegade roots sound without loosing site of it.

Ketch Secor and Critter Fuqua – playing fiddle and banjo, respectively, although both juggled numerous instruments all evening – remained the focal and vocal focus of the group. Secor was the sharp witted frontman, Fuqua the more sparse spoken foil. But the ensemble sound was quickly revealed during Alabama High Test, with members rushing to various platforms on the stage to surround and egg on a particular player. Sometimes what resulted were atomic bluegrass bits like 8 Dogs 8 Banjos and a warp speed barn dance medley of Ol’ Molly Hare, Raise a Ruckus and a spry yarn from the band’s 2015 album Remedy with a title that, sadly, isn’t fit for family print.

There were also more country and Americana flavored detours peppered throughout the set that might have seemed timid to those used to Old Crow’s dance hall beginnings. But songs like Caroline, Sweet Amarillo and especially the Doc Watson tribute Doc’s Days came off as products of a band searching to expand. The resulting sounds often approached the daring early ‘70s music of Poco and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band. But when drummer Cory Younts took a break for some feverish clogging, followed briskly by dizzying runs on mandolin, or when Secor let loose on fiddle, the spirit of its self-proclaimed “hillbilly music” heritage returned to its former, stampeding glory.

The biggest surprises came when Secor, Fuqua, Younts and guitarist Chance McCoy gathered around a single microphone for Stealin’ and the sublime unity anthem I Hear Them All. Also of note was a profoundly faithful reading of Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic with show opener Parker Millsap leading the vocal parade.

Millsap’s 45 minute set was great fun – a mix of rustic acoustic blues and country blues performed with a trio. But it was his singing – a potent wail that often recalled a young Robert Plant – that gave tunes like Hands Up, The Very Last Day (the title tune to his just released third album) and Pining, along with covers of Hesitation Blues and You Gotta Move – a sound that was suitably rootsy in design and potently jagged and boisterous in delivery.

Old Crow Medicine Show and Parker Millsap perform again tonight at the Singletary Center for the Arts. The performance is sold out.

critic’s pick 319: andrew bird, ‘are you serious’

andrew bird are you serious“You may not know me but you feel my stare,” sings Andrew Bird near the onset of Are You Serious, his first album (minus assorted EPs, cover tune projects and instrumental musings) since 2012’s Break It Yourself. It’s an uneasy line in an equally agitated song called Roma Fade that breezes along with an effortless pop sway. Until that line arrives. Then the mood blacks out for a beat or two before resuming. It’s like getting shunted briefly through a tunnel during a summer drive.

The various stylistic guises of Bird don’t always flock together. He is part indie-pop star, part chamber-style vaudevillian (what with the whistling and pizzicato violin bits) and part cerebral instrumentalist. Are You Serious largely opts for Bird No. 1. It’s a far more raucous, loose and downright fun session than anything he has issued in a decade. But there is still that warble of unease – an almost playful paranoia – that bubbles under the surface.

You hear it in spades during Left Handed Kisses, the queasy duet with Fiona Apple (duel is more like it) that is offered as a total rethink on presumptive romantic connections by way of what the latter artist terms a “back handed love song.”

Valleys of the Young, on the other hand, ponders the youth (“you’re going on 64 driving down 65”) of colliding generations with a portrait of pop fancy that rages outside the song’s swirling psychedelic core with squalls of Sonic Youth-level guitar. It’s a tale of love and death with “hearts constantly breaking” and the guitar onslaught finally overtaking and puncturing the pop bliss. For a stylist of Bird’s usually reserved fortitude, the song is an all out rampage.

Slightly less intrusive is The New St. Jude, a more Dylan-esque escapade that bounces about like Graceland-era Paul Simon before settling into the solemnity of latter day Grateful Dead. Compared to the more extreme moments of Are You Serious, the tune is like a Sunday morning mimosa after an especially cagey Saturday night.

Initial reviews remark that Are Your Serious is a reflection and affirmation of Bird’s family life. Maybe so. The acoustic warmth and hope of Chemical Switches suggest as such with its stripped down make up of guitar and whistling. But the tune is essentially the eye in a hurricane of a record, one that doesn’t relent until the album closing Bellevue. There, the music melts into a looping melody spurred on by violin and fortified by a bright, free flowing groove before coming to rest on the words “I think I’ve found someone.”

Then again, concluding this turbulent session in a sea of seeming contentment and quiet with a song that shares its name with a famous New York public hospital suggests this love story comes with a bit of baggage – or at least some artillery to weather the storm with.

as the crow show flies

old crow medicine show. from left chance mccoy, cory younts, ketch secor, morgan jahnig and critter fuqua.

old crow medicine show. from left chance mccoy, cory younts, ketch secor, morgan jahnig and critter fuqua.

In the 18 years since he helped assemble Old Crow Medicine Show, Critter Fuqua has never felt like part of a scene.

He didn’t sense any belonging to a country contingency that had long forsaken the kind of roots-inspired string sounds the Crow crew embraced. But there was also no special kinship to the growing number of string bands that began to emerge in the wake of Old Crow’s breakthrough among a growing Americana fanbase with 2004’s O.C.M.S. album.

So with a 2015 Grammy win to its credit, a pair of concerts (one of which is sold out) that mark the band’s first Lexington performance stop in a over a decade and a generally refreshed perspective on recording and touring, just what camp does multi-instrumentalist Fuqua think Old Crow belongs to?

“I don’t know. We kind of do what we do and let the music do what it does. I never really felt a part of a scene. The funny thing is, I don’t really listen to any of the Americana stuff when I’m off the road. I don’t have my pulse on that scene. It just feels so insular when I’m with Old Crow because I’m just focused on what we’re doing. It’s hard to keep up with everything else because there are so many bands out now. I just keep up with what we’re doing. That’s all I can do.”

Like it or not, though, Fuqua, co-founding Old Crow fiddler Ketch Secor (the two met in the seventh grade) and the rest of the band lineup almost unintentionally became an establishment attraction in 2015 after picking up a Grammy for Best Folk Album – not country album or Americana, but folk – for its most recent recording, Remedy.

“Everybody is always like, ‘Yeah, awards don’t mean that much.’ Then when you get one, you’re like, ‘Yeah, awards are pretty cool.’ I mean, my attitude, really, was that it was great to be nominated. Then when you’re out there, you’re thinking, ‘Well, it was great to be here, and it’s great to be nominated.’ But then you’re kind of like, ‘Well, I’m sitting here. It would be nice to win.’ It’s weird how the whole scene gets you.

“Before, honestly, I never thought about Grammys. Ever. Then when you’re nominated, you’re like, ‘I deserve it.’ It kind of gets into your head. Personally, awards don’t mean that much. But when you’re nominated and you get into that world, you start getting effected by it. It’s strange.”

Remedy also marked a re-emergence for the band. After a grueling touring schedule that had grinded on with few breaks since the success of O.C.M.S., Old Crow went on hiatus in the late summer of 2011. But Fuqua had already bowed out of the band by then to kick a mounting alcohol addiction and to eventually attend college in Kerrville, Tx., where he studied English (“I’m fluent now,” he says).

“I left the band to get sober and didn’t go back because I was going to school. I kind of needed that break. But I think it was a necessary break for the band, too. It just happened.”

In the end, Remedy turned out to be just that – a brawl of an acoustic roots music record that assimilates vintage country, ragtime, Prohibition Era blues and elements of rock ‘n’ roll in spirit more than style. The inspirations still call out to the string music of eras past but with an immediacy that makes it sound like anything but a museum piece.

“The thing with this musical form – which is labeled, I guess, Americana now – is that back in the day, it used to be brand new. It lends itself to whatever is going on around you. It doesn’t have to be about dogs and fiddles and jugs of moonshine, although we sing about that stuff (all are covered vividly on Remedy). But this music really lends itself to collaboration with different sources. I guess people forget that country music can still be creative.”

Old Crow Medicine Show and Parker Milsap perform 8 p.m. March 30 and 31 at the Singletary Center for the Arts, 405 Rose St. The March 31 performance is sold out. Tickets for March 30 are $39.50 and $42. Call 859-257-4929 or go to etix.com.

Next entries » · « Previous entries

Terms of Service | Privacy Policy | About Our Ads | Copyright