Walter Tunis: Shooter Jennings leads lineup of three big shows at Buster's

Contributing Music WriterJuly 10, 2014 

Shooter Jennings will headline the Summer Slam Music Festival.



    Holmes Brothers, Chatham County Line at the Lyric Theatre: One of the major delights derived from sitting in on a live taping of the WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour comes when the program presents two acts, seemingly removed from each other as well as from the stereotypes that dog their respective genres, performing in peak but unassuming form.

    Such was the case with this bill featuring The Holmes Brothers, a group generically labeled as a blues band despite it obvious reverence for vintage soul, gospel and juke joint rock 'n' roll, and Chatham County Line, a quartet that borrows generously from bluegrass instrumentation that operates largely as a folk group.

    The Holmes Brothers — real-life siblings Wendell (on guitar and keyboards) and Sherman (bass) with longtime pal Popsy Dixon (drums) — remain ageless wonders. All three are in their '70s and revealed a natural affection for groove, soul and harmony. The three shifted vocals on four tunes from their new Brotherhood album, ranging from Sherman's rustic tenor lead on the lean blues excursion Drivin' in the Drivin' Rain to Wendell's playful piano stride on the gospel-esque Stayed at the Party to Popsy's syncopated percussion and low vocal pleading on Soldier of Love.

    But the killer was a classic — a version of Amazing Grace led by judicious vocal whoops from Wendell and an otherworldly falsetto finale from Popsy that translated into serious testifying.

    Chatham County Line, which has issued a decade's worth of progressively minded string band music on the Yep Roc label, found a lot to like within bluegrass tradition without outwardly sounding like a bluegrass band. Singer Dave Wilson and mandolinist John Teer dressed songs from the band's recent Tightrope album — specifically, the lightly driven Should Have Known and the spry jamboree tune Tightrope of Love — with elastic harmonies while Wilson's guitarwork on The Traveler possessed a delicate, autoharp-ish quality.

    But this wasn't a retro minded troupe. Instead, the band de-emphasized bluegrass' fondness of speed and soloing in favor of strong ensemble instrumentation anchored by bassist Greg Readling and story songs, such as the cross-generational war requiem Hawk, that has the narrative detail of a fine folk ensemble.

Summer Slam Music Festival featuring Shooter Jennings

6 p.m. July 12 at Buster's Billiards and Ballroom, 899 Manchester St. $30. (859) 368-8871.

Black Stone Cherry

8 p.m. July 13 at Buster's. $18 advance, $20 day of show.

Leon Russell

9 p.m. July 17 at Buster's. $22 advance, $25 day of show.

Summertime is reaching its zenith at Buster's. The club will host three major shows over six nights, all by returnee guests. Two of the performances fall this weekend.

The fun kicks off Saturday with Shooter Jennings, the country outlaw son of country outlaw legend Waylon Jennings.

The younger Jennings is showcasing his newest country-rock hybrid sound this year on three radically different recordings.

The first, The Other Live, is a concert album companion to Jennings' 2013 studio record, The Other Life. It opens with a remembrance of his father and a reference to the reckless living of Hank Williams in A Hard Lesson to Learn, concludes with the edgy, restless ballad-turned-jam opus The Gunslinger, and in between sports a boozy country version of Bob Dylan's Isis.

The other two are EP recordings reflecting the wide breadth of Jennings' musical influences. The first, Don't Wait Up (for George), is a tribute to the late country traditionalist George Jones that is due out in August. The other, Countach (for Giorgio), veers far outside country confines to honor producer and electronic pop pioneer Giorgio Moroder. It is scheduled for release in November.

Jennings will headline an extended bill of local talent dubbed the Summer Slam Music Festival. Other performers include Switchmen, The Other Brothers, Ben Lacy and Josh Nolan.

Sunday brings back the Southern-fried guitar rock of Kentucky's own Black Stone Cherry. Formed in Edmonton by drummer John Fred Young (son of Kentucky HeadHunters guitarist Richard Young) and vocalist/guitarist Chris Robertson, the band has toured extensively with star acts including Nickelback, Kid Rock, Lynyrd Skynyrd and others while the country-pop duo Florida Georgia Line scored a major hit with a cover of Black Stone Cherry's Stay.

The quartet, rounded out by guitarist Ben Wells and bassist Jon Lawhon, returns to Lexington with a new, guitar-centric album called Magic Mountain. The record, which blends '70s arena rock inspiration with primal metal music crunch, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard's hard-rock albums chart.

The Buster's run winds up Thursday with Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Leon Russell.

The famed pianist and singer has remained a tireless road warrior following a '70s heyday that began in Joe Cocker's Mad Dogs and Englishmen revue. It continued through a string of expert albums of roots, boogie woogie, pop and soul highlighted by 1971's Leon Russell and the Shelter People, 1972's Carney and 1975's Will o' the Wisp.

Despite a remarkable tribute/resurgence engineered by Elton John by way of a hit collaborative album in 2010 called The Union, Russell's concerts have been hit-and-miss affairs. A 2012 Buster's date was great fun with the singer in fine and unusually outgoing performance form. A Cincinnati date with Bob Dylan a few months later, however, sounded completely phoned in.

Russell is touring this summer behind a new album, Life Journey, composed predominantly of covers. Veteran producer Tommy LiPuma dresses several tunes with big band charts (Billy Joel's New York State of Mind) and string arrangements (the 1938 jazz standard The Masquerade Is Over). But Life Journey works best when Russell's scorched vocals are laid bare, as on Mike Reid's Think of Me, where the singer's atypically relaxed piano work mingles with pedal steel guitar luster supplied by Greg Leisz. It's the most vulnerable sounding tune Russell has cut since his classic A Song for You nearly 45 years ago.

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