Walter Tunis: Singer-songwriter Kim Richey returns to the scene of a sublime 2013 show

Contributing Music WriterApril 3, 2014 

Kim Richey is set to perform at Natasha's on Sunday night.



    Scott Miller at Willie's Locally Known: You had to feel for Scott Miller. His fine acoustic performance last weekend was shifted to an early evening start time to accommodate the late tip-off of the Kentucky-Louisville NCAA tournament game. But that meant the veteran songsmith, who spent all of his professional career in Knoxville before moving to his family farm in Virginia three years ago, had to be onstage as his beloved Tennessee Vols lost a spot in the Elite Eight to Michigan. He eulogized the impending loss with a solemn finale of Tennessee Waltz.

    What a hapless, heartfelt and strangely complementary pairing it was, with Miller earnestly singing the classic country lyrics about losing a sweetheart as his team bowed out for the season.

    The rest of the performance was no less absorbing. More than 18 years after his Lexington debut with the Knoxville quartet The V-Roys, Miller remained a masterful storyteller, one who weaved words with Dylan-esque rhythm and specificity as his narratives became darkly personal. An exquisite example: How Am I Ever Going to Be Me?, a restless folk 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 instead of the rockish templates 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 or adding a lovely bowed bass accent to Is There Room on the Cross for Me?, Davies proved an 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 while serving as the tune's percussive heartbeat.

Kim Richey

8 p.m. April 6 at Natasha's Bistro, 112 Esplanade. $15. (859) 259-2754.

Kim Richey has been playing Lexington clubs since her self-titled 1995 debut album introduced her as a powerfully versed Nashville singer-songwriter.

Since then, the Ohio native has seen her songs and singing championed by all manner of country and Americana contemporaries. All the while, though, Richey's finest music was being issued under her own name.

With initial albums bearing production touches and pop accents designed for country radio airplay, Richey found herself at the helm of an almost subversive career. Her songs were covered by hit makers like Trisha Yearwood yet were featured in then-current TV programs like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She also collaborated with fellow Americana renegades Ryan Adams and Radney Foster.

All this brings us to a sublime performance Richey gave in June at Natasha's. The show came on the heels of Thorn in My Side, a 2013 recording largely devoid of contemporary country sensibility. Released in the wake of a three-year residency in London, Thorn in My Side was more atmospheric and intimate in terms of song structure. It sported a hearty guest list (Yearwood, Jason Isbell, Wilco's Pat Sanscone, My Morning Jacket's Carl Broemel), and the album boasted songs (Come On and the title tune, in particular) that balanced folkish reflection with light country anguish.

Richey returns to Natasha's on Sunday. Dutch singer Stevie Ann will open.

The Felice Brothers, The Rooster's Crow

9 p.m. April 5 at Buster's Billiards & Backroom, 899 Manchester St. $13 in advance, $15 day of show. (859) 368-8871.

The Felice Brothers are nothing if not resourceful.

While the Brooklyn, N.Y.-bred troupe's homey blend of folk, Band-style rock and Zydeco-ish grooves took a decidedly electric turn with 2011's synth-savvy album Celebration, Florida, the initial word on the soon-to- released Favorite Waitress is that it marks a return to the band's rootsy beginnings.

But what occurred between the two records speaks volumes for the Felices' musical ingenuity.

In 2012, faced with multiple setbacks topped by the demise of a well-worn RV used as a makeshift tour bus, the band quickly cut a lo-fi album called God Bless You Amigo. The Felices used the digital-only release to generate funds for a new means of tour transport and a more properly financed studio recording.

Raising visibility further was a series of 2013 shows at which the Felices opened for Mumford and Sons and The Killers. If that wasn't enough, the band's music was featured prominently in a Dell Computers commercial starting in December. That's the Felices singing a sparse, melancholy cover of The Drifters' This Magic Moment in the background.

On Saturday, the Felices cover all the bases, from its Brooklyn beginnings through new Favorite Waitress material, at Buster's.

With lute to boot

Raised on rock 'n' roll in Columbus, Ohio, Paul O'Dette began playing guitar transcriptions of lute music. That led to a fascination with Renaissance and Baroque music, and a multiple Grammy-nominated career as a performer, researcher and educator of the lute.

O'Dette returns to the Singletary Center for the Arts on Thursday. (7:30 p.m. $10-$25. (859) 257-4929.

Indigo country

In stepping further outside her longtime work as half of Indigo Girls, Amy Ray returns to WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour on Monday at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 East Third Street, to showcase an unexpected new project: a country album titled Goodnight Tender. Grammy-nominated Oklahoma songsmith John Fullbright completes the bill. (6:45 p.m. $10, $5 students. Reservations recommended: (859) 252-8888.

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