Walter Tunis: Country singer Lee Ann Womack takes slightly different approach for upcoming album

Contributing Music WriterJuly 2, 2014 

Lee Ann Womack will perform Monday at a taping of Woodsongs Old-Time Radio Hour.

SCARPATI

  • THE WEEK THAT WAS

    Gordon Lightfoot at UK's Singletary Center for the Arts: "Everything we're going to play tonight was written in the 20th century," Gordon Lightfoot remarked near the onset of his first Lexington performance in four years.

    For the numerous elders in the audience, those were words of comfort. For nearly 50 years, Lightfoot's catalog of pop-folk songs, which shifted during the show from overtly sentimental ballads to tunes with vastly darker narrative undertows, has been rightly revered. As such, a promise from the singer to feature a repertoire from the last part of the past century seemed an enticing proposition even though the concert also proved certain elements from the past simply can't be recaptured.

    While Lightfoot's songs have aged beautifully, his voice hasn't. His vocals have been getting thinner and reedier during the past decade. Here, Lightfoot lost considerable definition, especially in his upper register, which made songs such Carefree Highway and Cotton Jenny an obvious struggle.

    But as a friend correctly summarized after the show, "He worked with what he had." To that end, there were several songs that actually took on a sagelike maturity within Lightfoot's limited vocal reach. One, quite ironically, was 1972's Don Quixote, in which Lightfoot, 75, inhabited the soul of Cervantes with a self-empowered drive that "shouts across the ocean to the shore till he can shout no more."

    Another example was Restless, one of several tunes pulled from 1993's album Waiting for You. It came across as a sleekly gray and decidedly autumnal meditation orchestrated by the light-as-air keyboard support of Michael Heffernan.

    The hits were proudly welcomed, too. The sea chanty epic The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald was acknowledged by Lightfoot as a "responsibility" to play (a nod to the 29 lives that were lost in the wreck in 1975), while the breakthrough ballad If You Could Read My Mind still has a quiet but devastating sadness that earned the singer a standing ovation.

    Despite the vocal liability, Lightfoot showed no signs of any impending retirement. In fact, the final line of the evening's closing song, the title tune from Waiting for You, suggested an audience rapport triggered by a still adventuresome spirit: "Waiting for you to say 'let us begin.'"

The sold-out Red, White and Boom fest at Whitaker Bank Ballpark is the holiday weekend's most visible concert event, but the sounds of the summer will spill over into much of the week ahead. Here are three of the highlights heading our way.

■ A late addition to the summer schedule of WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour is veteran country singer Lee Ann Womack, who will be giving Lexington a preview of a new and somewhat different album at the program's weekly taping Monday at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 East Third Street.

A Texas native with a taste for traditionalism, she teamed with new-generation country celeb Kacey Musgraves for a collaborative tribute honoring hit maker Alan Jackson at last month's CMT Music Awards in Nashville), Womack will release her first recording for the Americana/bluegrass label Sugar Hill on Sept. 23. Titled The Way I'm Livin', the record features songs by Neil Young, Buddy Miller, Mindy Smith, Hays Carll, Bruce Robison, the late country legend Roger Miller and Kentucky native Chris Knight. The Adam Wright-penned title tune was released as a single in May.

The Way I'm Livin' will be Womack's first new album in six years, and Monday's WoodSongs visits will be her first Lexington appearance since 2008. (6:45 p.m. $20. For reservations, call (859) 252-8888).

■ By now, what can possibly be viewed as new about the Dave Matthews Band?

Every summer, the veteran jam band visits Riverbend Music Center in Cincinnati, tears into a hefty catalog of groove tunes and makes what is often a sold-out crowd delirious for upwards of three hours.

Well, the DMB's return Wednesday comes with two new twists. The first is the idea of allowing Matthews and company to serve as their own opening act. Shows this summer feature acoustic sets that offer leaner arrangements of fan-favorites such as Crush, Typical Situation and, at times, even the breakthrough hit Ants Marching. The full force of the band's electric music fuels the rest of the show.

The second new thing about the DMB this summer actually is close to 20 years old. Last month marked the reissue of the band's debut album, Remember Two Things, originally released in November 1993, and its first-ever appearance on vinyl. The new edition comes with two bonus recordings of Pay for What You Get and Typical Situation.

(7 p.m. $37-$71.50. Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or Ticketmaster.com).

■ Some acts just know how to make a big entrance. Take the A.J. Ghent Band, for instance. It made its Lexington debut in December at Rupp Arena as opener for a Saturday show by the Zac Brown Band. That's a pretty far cry from the Pentecostal church services that served as some of the first performance settings for lap steel guitarist Ghent.

Using a lap steel of his own design that grafts the instrument onto the body of a conventional electric guitar, Ghent has forged a sound built around "sacred steel" music but open enough to touch on elements of funk and soul. What Robert Randolph has done for the pedal steel guitar, Ghent is doing for the lap steel.

On Thursday, Ghent and his novel music will get a show of their own at Natasha's Bistro, 112 Esplanade. (8 p.m. $10. For reservations, call (859) 259-2754 or go to Beetnik.com.)

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