hal ketchum: country dreamer

hal ketchum. photo by john lacker.

Songs aren’t always finite things to Hal Ketchum. A major presence on country radio during the 1990s through hits like “Small Town Saturday Night,” “Hearts Are Gonna Roll” and “Mama Knows the Highway,” he says his compositions don’t always come from real world inspirations – or even the real world, for that matter.

“Sometimes, I dream these things,” said Ketchum, who performs Thursday at Willie’s Locally Known. “They literally just come in a dream form, but it’s been really, really fantastic to explore the options. At the same time, there is no such thing as a song that’s finished. They can take a while to write but the more you play them, the more you’ve just got to let them go.”

Today, Ketchum operates outside of country music convention as an indie artist whose music gains as much admiration from Americana audiences as the Nashville mainstream. Similarly, his itinerary isn’t of full band concerts. The bulk of his touring schedule, including his Lexington performance, leans to stripped down duo presentations with longtime guitarist Kenny Grimes

“I used to travel with a full band and it just wasn’t very cost effective. So it’s really nice to do this with Kenny. He’s my best friend. We’ve been doing this for 35 years. Working with him has just been fantastic.”

Ketchum does have a new album to showcase titled “I’m the Troubadour.” But the big news isn’t so much that the record is his first full studio work since 2008 or his first release after a 17 year alliance with Curb Records. No, the headline here is that there is new music from Ketchum at all.

Following the release of 2008’s “Father Time” album, Ketchum was diagnosed with acute transverse myelitis, a spinal cord inflammation that brought paralysis and a near end to any kind of career.

“I was paralyzed from the neck down,” he said. “I was blind. So I moved to New Mexico, to Santa Fe. I rented a little adobe casita and just had to really work everything out. I had no feeling in my arms, so I had to learn to play guitar again. It was pretty tough for awhile.

“But I’m like the Black Knight,” he said, alluding to the character in “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” whose loses both legs and arms in a battle but refuses to concede defeat. “It was only a flesh wound.”

Today, Ketchum resides again in the Hill Country of Texas. A native of Greenwich, New York, he moved to the Austin region in the early ‘80s before his escalating career took him to Nashville the following decade.

“I grew up in upstate New York, so I’m a Yankee by birth but a Texan by choice,” Ketchum said. “Today, I live in paradise. This place we bought – five acres on a hill in Comal County… I mean, the sunrises and the sunsets here are all just absolutely magical. I feel really happy.”

Musical lifetimes spent in Texas and Tennessee might suggest Ketchum’s prime musical inspirations hailed from the world of country music. He is quick to point out otherwise.

“I have three musical heroes – Van Morrison, Van Morrison and Van Morrison. He’s truly the most creative man I’ve ever met.

“I got to do a show with him. We were playing Dublin one time in a pub and it was absolutely incredible. When I was soundchecking, I was playing ‘I Miss My Mary’ (an original composition from Ketchum’s 1991 album “Past the Point of Rescue”) and he just stood there and listened. He’s a very engaging guy. He said, ‘Did you write that song?’ I said, ‘Yes sir, I did.’ We got along so well. It was fascinating. He’s absolutely my hero.”

Though he is proud of his hitmaking career, Ketchum said he feels little kinship to the country music emanating from Nashville today.

“I think it’s pretty much a wasteland. It’s just a bunch of tailwagging. I sound like a crotchety old man, I know, but I’m not impressed with it at all.

“But I still feel very creative and very much alive with what I’m doing. I just celebrated 25 years of being a member of the Grand Ole Opry, so I’m just very blessed to be doing what I do for a living. It’s all good, man.”

Hal Ketchum performs at 8:30 p.m. Feb. 23 at Willie’s Locally Known, 286 Southland Drive. Tickets: $30. Call 859-281-1116 or go to willieslocallyknown.com.

in performance: ben vereen

ben vereen.

In referencing a career retrospective video that prefaced his “Steppin’ Out” performance last night at the Norton Center for the Arts in Danville, Ben Vereen seemed almost apologetic. The opening turned back the years to when the singer/dancer/actor’s younger self was deftly moving and grooving in Broadway musicals, cabaret outings and even television programs.

“All that dancing and carrying on you saw there… there will be none of that tonight,” Vereen said later in the evening. Turned out that wasn’t much of an issue.

At age 70 and with back surgery just a few months behind him, Vereen had earned the right hold off on the hoofing. But that hardly meant the veteran performer settled for a subtle evening. Backed by a jazz trio, Vereen offered songs and stories as “gratitude” for audience support during his 50-plus year career in a performance that ran tirelessly for two hours without an intermission.

This newest version of “Steppin’ Out” is essentially a large scale cabaret show with equal measures of song and talk. But there were curious differences in the program and typical cabaret sets. Opening with “Magic to Do,” a signature tune from “Pippin,” which earned Vereen the second of his two Tony Awards, the set was surprisingly loose in design. But the rest of the show wasn’t entirely the kind of overview the opening video suggested. There were obvious nods to his Broadway tenure, from a medley of tunes featured in “Hair and “Jesus Christ Superstar” to an efficiently moving “Defying Gravity” from “Wicked,” which Vereen served in a decade ago. But some of the music and a lot of the talk strayed from his own career to broader streams of inspirations. Just one quick tale from his work with Bob Fosse? That seemed a bit of a crime, but Vereen seemed to connect with the crowd through stories of personal and professional survival. Guess we can add the title of motivational speaker to his extensive list of occupations.

The show highlight was entirely unexpected – a duet of “Misty” with drummer Marc DiCianni adding lone accompaniment mostly through hand percussion. In was a moment of reflective, reserved beauty in a show that displayed its emotions as openly and brightly as a Broadway marquee.

critic’s pick: chuck prophet, ‘bobby fuller died for your sins’

Chuck Prophet states what pretty much every pop fan has been thinking near the half way point of “Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins.” The song in question states its proclamation succinctly in its title, “Bad Year for Rock and Roll.” It begins by with a quick send off to David Bowie and works outward from there. But Prophet isn’t out to eulogize, at least not in any overt way. Musically, the tune is all celebratory and joyous, starting with a sunny guitar lick that would have been right at home on Bob Dylan’s “Nashville Skyline” before blooming into a melodic stride of pure pop confection.

That kind of dichotomy runs throughout “Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins.” Loss is outlined with rock ‘n’ roll applied as a means of salvation. The title tune references the champion pop star who died mysteriously at age 23 in 1966. The music bounces along with a charge that purposely recalls Fuller’s best known hit, “I Fought the Law,” but there is no mistaking the turbulence underneath. “They say someone’s gonna have to pay for the price of love,” sings Prophet, even as the music’s anthemic feel roars along, creating a mood that is nostalgic, but darkly so.

Part of the song’s charm – and the album’s, for that matter – is Prophet’s ability to humanize mythic figures. Such is the unassuming impetus behind “Jesus Was A Social Drinker,” an altogether respectful parable (although some won’t see it that way). “Jesus wasn’t Irish, just imagine if he was,” sings Prophet with sly, Tom Petty-like reserve over a leisurely, rolling groove. “He might have written poetry and verse and enjoyed a pint of Guinness every day for lunch.” Reflecting a more manufactured myth is “If I Was Connie Britton,” a saga where the popular TV actress symbolizes a glamour-filled Nirvana (“If I was Connie Britton, I’d be forgiven for my sins. I’d never read a tabloid once. I’d wear turquoise to the gym”).

Sadly, rock ‘n’ roll can’t reclaim everyone. “Bobby Fuller Died For You Sins” ends with perhaps the angriest song Prophet has committed to a recording. On “Alex Nieto,” he outlines the 2014 police shooting of an unarmed security officer on Prophet’s home turf of San Francisco. “Alex Nieto was a pacifist,” Prophet hollers like a turbo charged mantra over truly wicked guitar riffs, giving rise to a protest song of epic emotive scope.

It’s an unsettling coda to an album that enforces Prophet’s effortless feel for pop music’s power, fun and grace. Unfortunately, folks like Bobby Fuller and Alex Nieto inhabited a world that was never as forgiving the rock ‘n’ roll that seeks to offer solace.

in performance: justin hayward

justin hayward.

Pockets of patrons within the audience at the Lexington Opera House last night let out a chorus of groans when Justin Hayward remarked how his favored decade within a 50 plus year tenure as a member of the Moody Blues was the 1980s. His reasoning? Simple. “That’s the period I can remember.”

Truth to tell, the storied repertoire of his fabled band – “The Moodys,” as he tagged his mates – made up only half of this engaging 90 minute performance. As this was a performance billed under his name, Hayward, 70, balanced ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s tunes from the past with comparatively newer material cut as a solo artist. In doing so, the performance featured not a band but a pair of accompanists – guitarist Michael Dawes (who also opened the evening with a set of layered, percussive instrumentals that recalled Michael Hedges) and keyboardist/harmony singer Julie Ragins.

Such a configuration understandably gave the program a lightness that both suited Hayward’s voice – still clear in tone but a touch thinner with age – and the material itself, which leaned heavily on ballads. Among the more arresting solo entries fitting this bill was 2013’s “The Western Sky,” a song that recalled the more modestly sentimental flair of the Moody Blues’ early ‘80s music. But the show stealer was 1978’s “Forever Autumn,” a tune paired down from its orchestral blueprint version on Jeff Wayne’s “War of the Worlds” adaptation into a bittersweet folk-pop reverie.

Initially, the Moody Blues songs sounded a touch safe. “Tuesday Afternoon” and “Lovely to See You,” both dispensed with early in the show, were presented in swift, truncated versions. But in the biggest back catalog surprise of the evening, “Watching and Waiting” (the finale tune to what arguably remains the band’s finest album, 1969’s “To Our Children’s Children’s Children”), the dark melancholy of the Moodys beautifully emerged.

Hayward’s signature tune, 1967’s “Nights in White Satin,” closed the set. If there was a career hit one might suspect would be given perfunctory treatment simply by the fact the song has been performed so often, this would be it. But Hayward fully invested himself in this lean trio arrangement. With Dawes recreating Ray Thomas’ familiar flute solo on steel string guitar, Hayward’s voice sounded strong and assured, making the work sound not just valid and emotive, but unexpectedly youthful.

 

a solo shade of moody blue

justin hayward.

Ever since the strains of “Nights in White Satin” defined the progressive sound of late night radio a half century ago, the pop world has known the name Justin Hayward. More generally, they knew he helped establish The Moody Blues. But it was Hayward’s voice, guitar and pen that summoned many of the group’s other established works, including, “Tuesday Afternoon,” “Lovely to See You,” “The Story in Your Eyes” and many others.

But here’s a fact even some of the Moodys’ most ardent fans don’t know. For 40 of Hayward’s 50 years with the group, he has also maintained a solo career, focusing on tunes that are lighter in tone and more personal in narrative.

“In the early days, I did hold some songs back that I didn’t think were kind of appropriate or a decent fit for the Moodys,” said Hayward, who makes his first Lexington appearance since 1994 on Tuesday at the Opera House. “It’s okay being personal, but sometimes it’s good to be… well, not deliberately obscure, but working in a place where you try and make a song more about a general emotion instead of a specific one. There are a couple of things on this tour that I probably held back from recording with the Moodys because they were a bit too me-me-me and not us-us-us.”

That’s not to say Hayward tucks the familiar Moody Blues tunes in a closet when he tours on his own. In fact, the repertoire this winter is being split between his vintage hits and solo career songs, many of which have been compiled on a new Hayward anthology recording called “All the Way.”

“It was a bit daunting, to be quite honest,” Hayward said of his solo career’s launch with the 1977 album “Songwriter.” “The people I met during that time were very precious to me. The musicians I worked with are still my friends today. It was kind of scary, but there was so much good will that I found. I didn’t find the world saying, ‘When are the Moodys going to get back together?’ I found a world that was welcoming to me and people that said, ‘I’ve just always liked your songs.’ It was as simple as that.”

The mix of Moody Blues and solo material at Tuesday’s show will play out not in a band setting, but in a trio configuration that will team Hayward with British guitarist Mike Dawes (who will also open the concert) and keyboardist/vocalist Julie Ragins.

“With this band, you can hear every nuance of the sound. I get a chance to bring my acoustic guitars, the ones that were used the records. It’s a little bit more like the original recordings, in some ways – particularly the early recordings where (producer) Tony Clarke and (engineer) Derek Varnals would put the acoustic guitar much further forward and the drums further back in the mix. The acoustic guitar and the mellotron often led the Moodys’ early recordings. It’s a little bit more like that.

“I mean, I’m very lucky to still have the Moodys. I love every moment of it. But this tour, without that volume, is like being in my music room, like being with friends. That’s how these songs were written, including the parts that I put on all my original demos. It’s how they originally sounded. It’s how the songs were born.”

So what drives Hayward in 2017? He turned 70 in October and still maintains a hearty touring schedule of solo dates and Moody Blues shows. What keeps his performance attitude so full of vigor?

“Well, that’s the question, isn’t it? There are some things I don’t have to deal with that others might. I don’t have to deal with celebrity. I don’t have to deal with paparazzi or that kind of stuff. I’m spared that. I can be just the guy walking down the street. But these songs, a lot of them mean something in peoples’ lives just as songs of other artists do in mine. And, really, what else would I do?

“My daughter tells me, ‘Look, you have a lovely house. You love reading books, why don’t we go there and just read books for the rest of our lives?’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, that’s a nice idea. And? What about this other thing I have to do?”

Justin Hayward withMike Dawes perform at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 14 at the Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short. Tickets: $55.50, $65.50. Call 800-745-3000, 859-233-3535 or go ticketmaster.com.

grammy post mortem 2017

Sturgill Simpson performing at last night’s Grammy Awards ceremony. Getty Images/Kevin Winter.

Mash ups, train wrecks, tributes and triumphs – all of these and more make up The Musical Box’s annual Grammy post-mortem. We focused exclusively on the performers this year, as they, for better or worse, were infinitely more interesting than the winners.

+ Adele: A solemn, straightforward reading of “Hello.” Nicely compensates for the down-in-flames delivery of “All I Ask” from last year’s Grammys.

+ James Corden: “I’m in over my head.” His own introductory words as host. Agreed.

+ The Weeknd and Daft Punk: Introduced by Paris Jackson as “cosmic.” “Robotic” was more like it, although The Weeknd has the vocal pipes to wail above such formulaic pop.

+ Keith Urban and Carrie Underwood: Synth pop version of “The Fighter” that masqueraded as country music. A duet marriage made in a corporate board room.

+ Ed Sheeran: “Shape of You” offered an intriguing mix of loops and live performance, but the song itself was anemic.

+ Kelsea Ballerini and Lukas Graham: Squeaky clean pop duet mash-up of “7 Years” and “Peter Pan.” Oddly and innocently appealing.

+ Beyonce: Trippy, indulgent but quite empowering medley of “Love Drought” and “Sandcastles.” A head scratching pop aria of sorts, introduced, no less, by her mom.

+ Bruno Mars: Ultra confident, exuberant, focused old school pop soul delivery of “That’s What I Like.”

+ Katy Perry: Debut of a new song, “Chained to the Rhythm.” So this is what’s it like to be inside your house when a tornado hits. Zero relevance to the ceremony at hand.

+ William Bell and Gary Clark, Jr.: A no-frills version of Bell’s blues classic “Born Under a Bad Sign.” A master class on soul essentials. Coolest two minutes of the night.

+ Meran Morris and Alicia Keys: Two perfectly capable but mismatched singers trying way too hard to shove soul solace into “Once.” Their wardrobe, by the way, was hideous.

+ Adele again: Even with the false start, an undeniably honest and moving tribute to George Michael through a turbulent, orchestral version of “Fast Love.”

+ Metallica and Lady Gaga: Well, at least “Moth Into Flame” lit a fire under an otherwise orderly evening and watching Gaga crowd surf was a hoot. Mostly, though, the Grammys just look silly the more they try to act dangerous.

+ Sturgill Simpson: Here’s your Grammy moment. Introduced by fellow Kentuckian Dwight Yoakam and bolstered by a choir and the Dap Kings horn section (making this a tribute to the late Sharon Jones, as well), Bluegrass born Simpson turned “All Around You” into a world class soul confessional.

+ A Tribe Called Quest: The message of cultural exclusion was loud and clear. Similarly, it was heartening to witness Quest’s resilient sense of purpose. Still, there was no denying how ragged and tentative the group sounded.

+ Morris Day and the Time: Yeah, Bruno Mars and the rest killed it. But the ballyhooed Prince tribute was ruled by the ageless move and groove “Purple Rain” contemporaries Day and Jerome pumped into Time hits “Jungle Love” and “The Bird.”

+ Chance the Rapper: Hip hop went to Church with help from Kelly Price and Kirk Franklin as Chance heartily sermonized through “How Great” and “All We Got.”

+ John Legend and Cynthia Erivo: An appropriately sparse duet reading of “God Only Knows,” which bookended the memoriam tribute.

critic’s pick: ralph towner, ‘my foolish heart’

There is a certain selflessness to the fact that Ralph Towner titled his first solo acoustic guitar album in 11 years “My Foolish Heart.” Of the recording’s 13 compositions, it is the only one he didn’t pen. But the tune’s history is rich, pervading every crevice of the stately beauty that defines this astonishing project as well as reinforcing an essential blueprint Towner has followed during his 44 year tenure with the European ECM label.

Composed by Victor Young and Ned Washington, “My Foolish Heart” is a proven jazz standard. Among the many pioneers to reshape it as a work of their own is piano great Bill Evans, whose vanguard trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian supplanted the work with a contemplative grace in 1961. Towner, who has regularly doubled as a pianist through the decades, has long admired Evans’ cunning and grace, enforcing a lyricism that has been a constant within his solo and ensemble projects, as well as his ongoing work with the long running band Oregon, without sounding imitative.

Towner’s take on “My Foolish Heart” is, frankly, just as evocative as Evans’ immortal rendering. Set to solo guitar, the precision and patience that sweep through the playing are more classically rooted. Yet the melodic warmth is always embraced. That same approach runs throughout the rest of the album, striking a balance of classical and jazz (evident especially during the 12 string guitar patterns of “Clarion Guitar,” which harken back to earlier ECM days) but still possessing the same myriad emotive casts – from playful to bittersweet to slightly ominous – that have long distinguished Towner’s playing.

On “Dolomiti Dance,” an Italian accented dance melody (Towner is a Washington native but has long resided in Rome) is repeated with modest variation to affirm a melody in sunny motion. “Blue as in Bley,” a requiem for pianist Paul Bley who died a month before the album’s recording session last winter in Switzerland, flips the premise for a darker and slightly more dissonant presentation that still adheres to the album’s light, exact and emotive cast.

The album ends by revisiting a 2003 Towner tune that led off Oregon’s “Beyond Words” album. Aptly titled “Rewind,” the original version was propelled largely by bass and reeds with guitar as a primarily rhythmic device until it was allowed to set sail at the halfway point. The version that closes “My Foolish Heart” is taken at a slightly slower pace. But without the additional instrumentation, the newer version sounds, if anything, more complete. It indulges in patient, unforced lyricism, allowing the performance, as is the case with all the music on “My Foolish Heart,” to beautifully reflect the tone and technique of a true guitar sage at the height of his understated power.

webb wilder rocks on

webb wilder.

Leave it to Webb Wilder to perfect the art of singing in the shower – or, at least, realizing when such an activity can be best optimized on a record.

At the close of his “Missississpi Moderne” album, Wilder’s newest sampler of typically varied roots rock delicacies, the veteran Nashville-by-way-of-Hattiesburg songster includes a version of the blues chestnut “Stones in My Passway” that was recorded in purposely primitive conditions – specifically, on a hand held recorder in the shower. Wilder never intended it for professional or public release, but the ultra lo-fi result proved a fitting way to open and close the album.

“It was pretty silly,” Wilder said of his “Stones” realization. “I will go to my grave reserving the right to be silly.

“Look, I am from Mississippi and if I grow up in an Afro-Celtic culture, I like to think I can do that sort of thing with as much soul as the next guy. But that was never meant to be released. It was kind of a ‘Ha ha, listen to this’ deal. I made that thing up in the shower in the mid 90s. I call it ‘hand held’ because I recorded it on a hand held cassette recorder. We wound up putting it on the multi-track. Tom Comet, our bass player, had the idea of putting just a little snippet of it at the beginning, so the album is bookended by it.”

Mixing rootsy drive and authority with a discreet level of giddiness has pretty much been the modus operandi for Wilder over the last three decades. Wilder the musician actually grew out of Wilder the hip ‘50s private eye character created for an indie short film. But ever since the release of his debut album, 1986’s “It Came From Nashville,” Wilder’s askew but devout roots music – which regularly incorporates rock, rockabilly, country, surf, swing, blues, soul and more – has remained vibrant.

“For a lot of us, music is our core,” Wilder said. “It’s our spirituality. To be a musician is a lifelong pursuit. Ahead of everything else in life, it’s a pretty nutty thing to do. So the only people who really do it are people who are unable to not do it. It’s like a calling. So I was born into music apparently.

“I was in the fourth grade when the Beatles spearheaded the British invasion. I think for a lot of us, it just meant the world. It meant, ‘This is the new world. This is how it is.’ The Beatles were in a category by themselves. On one album, they would have a Broadway show tune, a Chuck Berry song and something they wrote.

“By the time I started making records, that’s not what record companies wanted you to do. They wanted you to have a sound and that was what you were. Well, I’m sorry. I like rhythm and blues. I like country. I like blues. I like rock ‘n’ roll. I like British rock ‘n’ roll. I like American rock ‘n’ roll. I like rockabilly. I like cowboy songs. But I also can’t be a play-it-just-like-the-record duplicator of any of it, so all of it does come though my filter. Hopefully the ‘me’ element does unify it. The challenge comes from focusing the eclecticism.

Outside of a few brushes with major label exposure (as on the 1989 Island Records release “Hybrid Vigor,” whose title still nicely sums up the cross-genre joy of his music), Wilder has essentially been an indie artist, touring clubs and theatres with workmanlike regularity while maintaining a celebratory mood that has not dissipated through the years.

“I don’t know what it is that fuels my particular approach to performing, but I think my default setting is that of a performer as much as a writer or recording artist. Live is sort of my element so I like a level of spontaneity to be there.

“I get stage nerves and I have nervous energy, so, yeah, there’s some kind of it’s-really-who-you-are thing going on there. You really mean it and you’re pretty serious about it even if you’re being humorous or whatever. When it clicks, you’re lost in it and it’s more a feeling than thinking thing and you’re surfing six inches off the ground. Hopefully when you’re not, you’re up for the task enough to where no one notices.”

Webb Wilder and the Beatnecks perform at 9 p.m. Feb. 10 at Willie’s Locally Known, 286 Southland Dr. Admission: $10. Call 859-281-1116 or go to willieslocallyknown.com.

hector del curto: torchbearer of tango

hector del curto.

The chance to play with an artistic idol brought Hector del Curto to a crossroads early in his career.

The opportunity involved a performance with Astor Piazzolla, an artist who was far more than an inspiration for the young Argentine instrumentalist. Piazzolla was also the new generation pioneer in both the tango sounds that captivated de Curto’s homeland during his youth and the instrument that helped provide the music with its voice, the bandoneon.

The trouble was Piazzolla was considered a musical heretic by many Argentine traditionalists, including del Curto’s father, who viewed the composer’s modernization of tango, the aptly dubbed “nuevo tango,” as artistic blasphemy for its inclusion of jazz and classical accents.

So in essence, playing with his hero in 1989 (three years before Piazzolla’s death) meant del Curto had to distance himself from an established artistic practice of his culture and his family.

“At the time, with my father being a traditionalist, Piazzolla was simply not allowed,” said del Curto, who will perform two Piazzolla works on Friday with the Lexington Philharmonic. “Like many other people in Argentina, he did not accept the music of Astor Piazzolla. So when I performed with him, there were many mixed feelings.

“People talked about him, saying Piazzolla destroyed tango. But then I saw him onstage and how he put his personality into his music. Not only was his music very sophisticated and very developed. What made Piazzolla was his personality. That was something huge. You heard his life. That marked me for how I should proceed into the music. It’s not about trying to sound like this person or trying to write like that person. It’s about how you combine all the elements that you learn and the experience that you have with your own personality and how you convey that.”

For del Curto, a fascination with Piazzolla began in his teens while performing traditional tango music in the orchestra of Osvaldo Pugilese. Taken by a performance by Piazzolla’s Sexteto Nuevo Tango, he formed a quartet named after a Piazzolla piece that seemed that sum up the temperament of his new idol and the dramatic musical variations he was designing – Revolucionario.

“Tango was my language, but Piazzolla added his knowledge of jazz and classical. At that age, I was still developing my technique, so there were technical challenges built into his music, as well.”

For the sparse but potently emotive “Oblivion,” one of the Piazzolla works del Curto will play with the Philharmonic, the challenges are established and then pursued on the bandoneon, the concertina-like instrument that has long defined tango.

“The challenge is every time that you play a slow piece, where there are very few notes, that’s when you have to show your personality and your understanding of the music. If you have a lot of notes, you can show your virtuosity but not so much in a slow piece.

“The bandoneon is the main instrument on the piece. It’s not a percussive instrument. You can hold the notes and create different colors. That’s one of the main attractions of a piece like that – all this space that happens between one note and the other to create different emotions. An artist like Astor Piazzolla was able to simplify the music to where only the most important notes made up the piece, but those notes create many colors and many emotions. Nothing is wasted in the notes. Each note is very important and each note can be made beautiful. There are so many possibilities in a piece like this.”

Tonight’s Philharmonic concert won’t be the first time del Curto has performed in Central Kentucky. In 2014, he played Danville as a member of the Pablo Ziegler Quartet. Ziegler was Piazzolla’s pianist during the last decade of the latter’s performance career. Zigeler’s ongoing alliance with del Curto is now in its 26th year, even though the bandoneon artist performs regularly with his own group and released his second album as a bandleader, “Eternal Piazzolla,” in 2013.

“For my instrument, it’s very important to participate in all these different projects. Sometimes, people can be reluctant to include the bandoneon in different kinds of music. But the instrument can blend so well. It has such a unique voice.”

Lexington Philharmonic with Hector del Curto perform at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 10 at the, Singletary Center for the Arts 405 Rose St. Tickets: $25-$75. Call 859-233-4226 or go to lexphil.org

the price sisters catch a break

leanna and lauren price. photo by amy richmond.

It wasn’t an expected way to spend spring break.

With a sizeable quotient of collegiate America setting their sights on sunny Florida, Lauren and Leanna Price had in mind a destination that wasn’t so far down the interstate, although the sense of adventure their journey promised was considerable. The twin siblings, now established professionally as The Price Sisters, devoted their week off to cutting a self-titled seven song EP in Nashville with some of bluegrass music’s most respected names.

“We went down to Nashville for the week, recorded it and released it at the end of August in 2016, which was when we started our senior year of school,” mandolinist/vocalist Lauren said. “Since then, we’ve been thinking about the next album, actually – a full length album that we are ready to record at some point this spring.”

The EP makes for an astonishing listen because its traditional slant, especially evident in the beautifully antique vocal harmonies, suggests an almost sage-like confidence one might not anticipate from a pair of 22 year old college seniors. You hear echoes of the Carter Family within the chestnut “What Does the Deep Sea Say” (the duo has often acknowledged its fondness for Doc Watson’s popular version of the tune), although the singing is just as authentic and authoritative during Marshal Warwick’s waltz-flavored “It’s Happening Again,” the EP’s lone contemporary entry.

“We really started singing – trying to sing harmony, anyway – when we were about 10 or 11,” said fiddler/vocalist Leanna. “Our parents always sang together and knew how to harmonize with each other. A love of music ran through our family from both sides. We could be part of it if dad was singing lead or our mom was singing harmony. Over time, that sound just came to us because it was what we were used to hearing.”

Though the Ohio born sisters’ fascination for bluegrass was a proud product of family environment, what has helped nurture the music they have created on their own was a transfer from Davis & Elkins College in Elkins, West Va. to the Kentucky Center for Traditional Music at Morehead State University.

“We were playing a festival in Rosine, Ky. (birthplace of bluegrass patriarch Bill Monroe),” Lauren said. “At the time we were students at Davis & Elkins College but ended up stopping in Morehead at the Music Center to practice with a guy who was going to play banjo with us. He turned out to be a student in the program.

“Up to that point, we never really had that feeling you get whenever you visit a school and just know it’s right. But when we walked into the Center, something was really different.”

Part of the school’s spark came from Center director Raymond McLain’s history as part of a long prestigious family ensemble (The McLain Family Band) and his recognition of similar artistic kinship with the Price Sisters.

“We have always loved to sing with each other,” Leanna said, “and everyone at the Center appreciates that. Raymond comes from a family of music so he knows what that’s like. He is totally supportive. He understands we’ve always been together musically and that singing together is really what we like to do the most.”

The Price Sisters’ EP, the duo’s first release for the acclaimed bluegrass label Rebel Records, also sports guest appearances by Ronnie McCoury and Alan Bartram (of The Del McCoury Band and The Travelin’ McCourys), bassist Mike Bub (a McCoury Band alum), Charlie Cushman (The Dukes of Leicester) and Mike Benson (formerly of Special Consensus).

“These are some of the musicians we have looked up to and admired,” Lauren said. “I’ve been listening to Ronnie McCoury’s playing since I was little. But they were so nice to us and so helpful. It was such a treat to hear some of my favorite musicians in the booth next to us recording and then having that come out on our record. It was very cool.”

But will the experience of cutting the Price Sisters’ first full length album prove to be equally cool?

“It’s one of those bittersweet moments in a lot of ways with graduation coming up and things like that,” Lauren said. “But it will also be something really new. It’s a big step, but we’re looking forward to it. I think everything is going to turn out great.”

The Price Sisters perform for Red Barn Radio at ArtsPlace Performance Hall, 161 North Mill at 8 p.m. Feb. 8. Tickets: $8. For more info, go to redbarnradio.com.

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