Matt Sorrell's Posts
|I'm a volunteer KDHX music writer and music lover in St. Louis.|
Concert review: Dale Watson and the Lone Stars raise honky tonk spirits at Off Broadway, Thursday, June 14
There was a time when country music was the music of the common folks, telling their stories of broken hearts, hard times and redemption.
The instrumentation was sparse, the level of musicianship high. It was played in small clubs and smoky honky-tonks for people to drink and dance to, the soundtrack of their lives and times, both good and bad.
The genre has mutated and morphed over the years, and today the term “country music” seems to get slapped on any act that affects a twang and sings about trucks and silos and swimming holes and such.
Fortunately, there are musicians like Dale Watson around who take a hard line about what country is and most definitely is not, and have no problem putting their music where their mouth is. Watson and his band the Lone Stars did just that at Off Broadway on Thursday night, putting on an extended performance, sans opening act, that could serve as a primer to all pop-country posers on how a real country band puts on a show.
Watson took the stage looking every inch the dapper country music star, from his silver pompadour to his leather-cuffed black duster. From the moment he strapped on his custom Tompkins guitar, Watson had the crowd’s full attention. Without fanfare he started the show with “Down Down Down Down Down,” from the “Sun Sessions” record he made last year with the Texas Two (actually Lone Stars drummer Mike Bernal and bassist Chris Crepps). Watson and the Lone Stars also previewed several new songs from the band’s upcoming release, which Watson described as a “drinking record.”
Not long into the set, Watson declared the show an all-request event, and began serving up fan favorites like “Hair of the Dog” and “Dragonfly” called out by the crowd, along with a couple of “mandatory Merle” songs, “Mama Tried” and “Silver Wings.”
Watson’s tales of Saturday night debauchery and Sunday morning penance, peopled with waitresses and truckers, lovers and liars, came alive through his mellifluous baritone, which just seemed to gain more gravitas with every shot of tequila audience members sent his way.
One element that keeps much of Watson’s music rooted in country instead of veering into rockabilly territory is the pedal steel of Don Pawlak, and his talents were on display in spades. He provided everything from plaintive wails to rapid-fire runs and lent an almost orchestral depth to the groove put down by the tight rhythm section.
The band took a brief break at one point in the show, and instead of retreating backstage, Watson spent the time shaking hands and posing for photos. Truth be told, his legendary connection with his fans was on display all night. Audience members frequently wandered, and in some cases lurched, up to the stage during the evening to make requests or just say “hey,” and Watson bantered with all of them like old friends.
After two full sets and a spirited encore that included an improvised song about Watson’s youngest daughter’s impending move to St. Louis and another Haggard fave, “Think I’ll Just Stay Here And Drink,” Watson finally took off his guitar and leaned it against his amp for the last time that night.
As the lights came up and I shuffled out into the night, he was still talking at the edge of the stage with his fans. Take that, Rascal Flatts.
Ray Wylie Hubbard‘s latest record, “The Grifter’s Hymnal,” has been in constant rotation in my truck for the past week. Living with it as I did, many questions arose, and I was lucky enough to be able to run them by the esteemed Mr. Hubbard recently via phone from his front porch in Texas.
Matt Sorrell: In the song “New Year’s Eve at the Gates of Hell,” you say you pawned a 1959 Gibson ES-335. True?
Ray Wylie Hubbard: No, you can’t believe everything on that record! Actually, it was a ’56 Stratocaster, but it just didn’t rhyme. That was really kind of a metaphor for all of the guitars I’ve lost. I tell my wife I don’t want a Porsche or a younger girlfriend. I want all of these guitars I used to have.
Is the whole story relayed in “Mother Blues” autobiographical?
Pretty much all of it is true. My wife Judy was the door girl and checked IDs at Mother Blues when she was 16. I didn’t really know her at the time — I used to come in the back door. It was a great, funky little club in Dallas. Like I say in the song, Lightnin’ Hopkins played there, and Freddie King and Mance Lipscomb. After the club would close there’d be poker games upstairs and the girls from the strip clubs would come over and it was a party till dawn. I did meet an old girl there and we went around together, and she ended up going to Hollywood, and I met Judy again 23 years ago and we had our son Lucas. He plays guitar and he’s got that gold top Les Paul.
Is that the guitar Lucas plays on the record?
Yeah, that’s him on “Coricidin Bottle,” “Red Badge of Courage” and “Mother Blues.”
A lot of the record seems to be about you looking back and going over some of your decisions, good and bad. How do you feel about Lucas starting to play and go out on the road?
Well, I’m very grateful to share the stage with him. He says, “I play the music for free, but you gotta pay me to ride in the van with you and a bunch of old guys.” He’s in school now, doing really well, and I’m proud of him. I’m not pressuring him or anything. It’s still just fun for him. I’m just letting him see what happens. Like I say in the song ["Mother Blues"], I don’t know if he’s gonna hang his life on a guitar or not. I’m very proud of him.
Is he playing with you when you come to St. Louis?
No, he’s got finals. It’s just gonna be me and [drummer/percussionist] Rick Richards. That’s what I’ve been doing lately. It’s just the two of us. Lucas will be traveling with me this summer, and Rick will be going out with Joe Walsh on some summer dates, so I’m gonna lose my sense of time.
The songs on this record lend themselves to all sorts of arrangements. A duo would work really well I imagine.
I’m kind of at that age where I get the gig and then get the band. All of the songs were pretty much written with an acoustic guitar, and then we got in the studio and just kinda saw what happened with them.
Don’t let the oversize Texas flag hanging behind the stage or the unfortunate Toby Keith collaboration fool you. Willie Nelson is not simply a country artist.
One only had to look at the crowd that packed the Pageant last night (tax day, ironically) to hear him and his Family play to know the truth of this statement. From bankers to bikers, transexuals to tweens, Nelson’s appeal crosses, and erases, all lines of social demarcation, and his followers were out in force last night to see and hear him do his thing.
Anyone who might still have doubted Nelson’s transcendence of the “country” label after surveying the audience last night was undoubtedly convinced after he picked up his trusty guitar, Trigger, and played the first notes of the obligatory opening song “Whiskey River,” strumming with an off-kilter sense of time that took the straight-ahead rollicking tune into territory that was more be-bop than honky tonk.
Backed by a bare-bones band that included just a bassist, harmonica player, drummer and his sister Bobbie on piano, Nelson made the rounds of his huge catalog, from the outlaw country odes “Me and Paul” and “Mommas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up To Be Cowboys,” to sparkling gems of pop song-craft like “Blue Eyes Crying In The Rain” and “Crazy.” Nelson also took several songs from other artists, like Billy Joe Shaver, Kris Kristofferson and Hank Williams and made them his own. His delicate version of Ray Charles’ “Georgia On My Mind” was a particular highlight.
Willie Nelson is one of those artists who never plays a song the same way twice, and he took obvious pleasure in mixing up time signatures and phrasing, improvising his way though his songs while keeping just enough of the melody intact to remind the audience where he was coming from. Being the guy keeping time for Nelson has to be one of the toughest jobs in music, and the fact that Paul English only used a snare drum to take care of business was mind-boggling. Equally amazing was the sound that Nelson got out of Trigger, a beat-to-hell Martin N-20 classical guitar that by rights should have no business making those dulcet tones.
With his huge recorded output and proclivity for experimenting in musical genres from jazz to hip hop to reggae, though, it was a bit disappointing that the set list didn’t include some of Willie’s more esoteric offerings. The only time he really strayed from the hits was for a spare rendition of “I Never Cared For You,” from his vastly underrated late ’90s record “Teatro.”
At 78 years old (he turns 79 on April 30) with 50-plus years in the business and umpteen records under his belt, I doubt anyone would fault Willie for sticking close to the recorded versions of his songs, throwing some souvenir bandanas to the crowd and calling it a day. The fact that he continues to perform with such creativity and abandon elevates him above most of his peers, and definitely the majority of musicians out there. Just call him “artist.”
Opening act the Pernikoff Brothers played a short but tight set that featured a mighty drum sound and soaring vocal harmonies that made them sound much bigger than a trio. It can’t be easy to open for someone who’s achieved “living legend” status, but they handled the job with major aplomb.
Concert review: Chuck Prophet and the Mission Express (with the Jans Project) flex their rock muscles at Off Broadway, Thursday, March 22
Prophet was in town supporting his latest record, “Temple Beautiful,” a rocking paean to his beloved San Francisco, but the show began with a short tour through his back catalog, including “Storm Across the Sea” from “No Other Love” and “Balinese Dancer.” Prophet and company did a brief, and seemingly irony-free, instrumental homage to the late Whitney Houston, playing a fuzzy snippet of “I Will Always Love You” before hitting the first “Temple Beautiful” tune, “Castro Halloween.”
Despite the very specific subject matter of “Temple Beautiful,” it’s not necessary to have knowledge of the Bay Area to appreciate the new songs. This is in part due to Prophet’s songwriting prowess, but also because of the muscular musical chops wielded by the Mission Express. And what was already strong work on record truly caught fire live. Over the rest of the set, Prophet and band hit some of the highlights of the new release, including “The Left Hand and the Right Hand,” “White Night, Big City,” dedicated to slain San Francisco politician Harvey Milk, and “Willie Mays Is Up At Bat.”
The Mission Express proved time and again last night that they’re as good as any band currently traveling the interstate by van. Prophet’s wife and collaborator Stephanie Finch came out from behind her keyboard to take the mic for the rollicking duet “Little Girl, Little Boy,” and later strapped on a guitar for “Tina Goodbye” from her solo record “Cry Tomorrow.” Finch’s voice, though sometimes lost a bit in the mix, proved a sweet complement to Prophet’s rough-edged vocal style over the course of the set. Guitarist James DePrato was a revelation, adding tasty, stinging slide licks and single-note counterpoints to Prophet’s signature Telecaster runs, while bassist Kevin White conjured up a monstrously toneful low-end from his Fender P-Bass and vintage Kustom amp.
Throughout the set, Prophet wasn’t afraid to let himself and the band off the leash to careen through the songs, and this resulted in some blazing rock ‘n’ roll abandon, especially the extended and incendiary versions of “Automatic Blues” and “You Did” from the “Age of Miracles” record, and a thematically odd, though eminently satisfying, cover of the Chantays’ surf instrumental classic “Pipeline,” which rounded out the encore.
In a recent email interview, I semi-kiddingly asked Prophet why he wasn’t a household name yet. Everyone at Off Broadway last night left the show asking that same question for real.
Opening act the Jans Project played a really nice, tight set of rock/pop, or pop/rock depending on your perspective, with echoes of late ’80s/early ’90s college radio darlings like Del Fuegos and R.E.M.
Chuck Prophet‘s 10th full-length solo record, “Temple Beautiful,” is a spare, rocking homage to his adopted home of San Francisco, both the town and its denizens. Prophet is currently on the road with his band, the Mission Express, and he’ll be performing at Off Broadway this Thursday night, March 22, for a KDHX-welcomed show.
I caught up with him recently via email to see if we could get a little bit of insight into the new work, as well as discover just why he’s not a household name — yet.
Matt Sorrell: What led you to devote an entire album, “Temple Beautiful,” to San Francisco? And why was it important to make it at this stage of your career?
Chuck Prophet: San Francisco. That first hit, it really does a whammy to you. And if you’re like me, you can find yourself chasing the San Francisco dragon for the rest of your life. Tapping into that feeling or whatever, made writing the songs fun.
Sonically, where does “Temple Beautiful” fit in your canon? Is it a stripped-down throwback to earlier sounds, or the next step in your sonic evolution?
Yeah, it’s stripped down I guess. The songs just seemed to stand up for themselves without having to add too much. The record isn’t quite as layered as other records I’ve made. Just a couple guitars and drums pounding away. The songs didn’t seem to have any more needs than that. Even the cover is simply black and white. I don’t know if I’ve evolved per se. Devolved maybe.
I remember seeing the Flamin’ Groovies. I saw them when I was like 15 at the Temple Beautiful. What I didn’t know at the time was that they were just taking all this timeless rock and roll, all the forgotten ugly irredeemable stuff, and adding Beatles harmonies and turning it sideways and making it their own. They embraced all this music that had been cast aside at the time. Pretty cool.
You co-produced “Temple Beautiful” with Brad Jones, who you worked with on “Soap and Water.” Why did you decide to bring him onboard again, and what did he bring to the finished record?
We compliment each other. While I run hot and cold, Brad is a very no-nonsense, Midwestern guy — not really one for emotional outbursts. He also has a deep well of knowledge, really deep. He gets it, knows the secret language of rock and roll and speaks it fluently. So, I feel safe with Brad on the other side of the glass.
Why was it important for you to record your previous album “Let Freedom Ring,” which deals so much with the state of America, in Mexico City?
Mexico is 1,000 feet above Denver. I thought it would be a great vantage point to look backwards through the looking glass at my own country. We got there just as the black plague broke out in the form of the swine flu, and we came home to Michael Jackson’s death. It was an adventure. I’ve had a few addictions in my past, but music and my addiction to the adventure of it all is probably the healthiest of them all.
The appellation “legend” tends to be more of a marketing term than a description of an artist’s importance. Often, it serves only to mark someone who’s been lucky enough to get old without succumbing to too many vices and pitfalls along the way, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the scope of their contribution to their art form.
No one, however, deserves the title of “legend” more than Guy Clark, a progenitor of multiple splinter factions of Americana music and a songwriter without peer, and last night at the Old Rock House, he proved this in spades to the sold-out crowd.
Accompanied by longtime collaborator Verlon Thompson, Clark hobbled onto the stage while John Lennon’s “Imagine” played over the PA. He leaned heavily on a cane — the result of being recently, as he put it, “laid up with bad legs” — sank slowly into his seat and gingerly took his guitar from its stand.
“We’ve come here to sing you some songs,” Clark said. “Some of which we know.”
The duo had no set list. Instead, the selection of songs were decided upon on the spot with a little bit of discussion and the help of a few audience requests.
The evening started with “Cape,” possibly the finest ode to the importance of keeping your inner-child alive into adulthood ever penned, then moved on to fan favorites “L.A. Freeway” and “Homegrown Tomatoes.” But the set wasn’t just a rote run through of greatest hits. Clark announced early on that he’d be trying out some new material, and these new gems, like “My Favorite Picture of You” — another musical tribute to one of Clark’s frequent inspirations, his wife Susanna — and “I’ll Show Me” were proof positive that while Clark may physically be a bit worse for wear, his skill at laying the heart of the matter bare and distilling the truth from it hasn’t been blunted a bit.
What transpired at Hickory and 7th last night wasn’t so much a “show” as a version of one of Clark’s famous kitchen-table guitar pulls. There were flubbed lyrics, missed cues and more than a few sour notes.
“Y’all should get your money back,” Clark said, chuckling, after one misstep.
Imagine being in a traveling band and staring down the prospect of trying to play a rock show in a town on the night said burg’s baseball team is playing in Game 7 of the World’s Series, at home, no less.
Lesser bands would’ve gotten their manager to reschedule, or just resigned themselves to a shit show and gone through the paces so they could get back on the bus and put that town behind them but quick. But Drive By Truckers hunkered down, got a lay of the land, adjusted their sights a bit and then opened up with both barrels.
The band pushed back its set to 10:30 p.m., a likely time for Game 7 to end, giving a full hour after Those Darlins’ set for fans to watch the game on several TVs and a giant movie screen hanging over the stage before DBTs took the stage. Luckily for them, there wasn’t a repeat of Game 6 extra-innings shenanigans, the Cards won right on time and the rock commenced in a timely fashion.
The DBTs’ setlist was a bit of a puzzle. The band was a full seven songs in before they played a track from their latest record, “Go-Go Boots” — the desperate, atmospheric “Used To Be A Cop.” Earlier this week it was announced that singer/guitarist Patterson Hood’s great uncle, George A. Johnson, who figured prominently in several DBTs songs, like “Sands of Iwo Jima,” passed away, yet there was nary a mention of this from onstage, and none of those songs were played. (Though Patterson did perform “Sands,” live in the KDHX studios, earlier on Friday.)
But everyone grieves differently. Maybe it was too soon to play those tunes live again, and when you have a back catalog of work that rivals Ryan Adams for sheer heft, you have to make some cuts. And while I might question their song choices, I can’t fault the execution.
The band got progressively louder and looser as the night progressed, and they focused more on their heavier songs, stomping rockers like “Lookout Mountain,” “Where the Devil Don’t Stay,” “Uncle Frank” and “Sinkhole,” than on some of the rambling, Southern gothic story-songs they do oh so well. Hood’s partner in crime, singer/guitarist Mike Cooley, was on fire both vocally and instrumentally. His careening version of “Shut Up and Get on the Plane” from the “Southern Rock Opera” album during the encore was a real highlight.
Concert review: Alison Krauss and Union Station stage impressive comeback at the Fox Theatre, Thursday, September 22
After a bit of a hiatus due to her Grammy-winning collaboration with Robert Plant, Alison Krauss is back with Union Station.
The band is touring to support its first record of new material in more than six years, “Paper Airplane,” and they proved to the audience at the Fox Theater last night that they haven’t lost a step during the break.
The band took the stage with no fanfare and kicked off the show with the first two tracks from their latest record, the title cut and “Dust Bowl Children,” featuring multi-instrumentalist Dan Tyminski on vocals. They then slid into the instrumental “Who’s Your Uncle” from band member (and dobro master) Jerry Douglas’ solo record “The Best Kept Secret,” before Krauss took a breather and spun a tale of watching late-night commercials for cosmetic neck lifts and the Genie Bra on the way to the gig. Krauss has always had an easy-going charm, and she immediately connected with the audience. From then on, she commanded the crowd’s full attention.
The show wasn’t merely a marketing event for the latest record. Krauss and company, periodically augmented by a percussionist and pianist, laid down a solid set of songs documenting the band’s history, from 1989′s “Two Highways” through their latest release, with several stops at 2001′s “New Favorite” and, of course, the “O’ Brother Where Art Thou” soundtrack, along the way.
With so much musical firepower at their disposal, the band was surprisingly restrained. Except for a couple of extended solo dobro improvs by Douglas that marked the halfway point of the performance, there were no rollicking jams or careening solos.