John Cowan Band
7:30 p.m. Feb. 6 at Grand Theatre, 308 St. Clair St., Frankfort. $20, $25, $30. (502) 352-7469. Grandtheatrefrankfort.org, Johncowan.com.
Shuffle through recordings released during the past four decades featuring John Cowan as leader or contributor, and you will discover a voice joyous in its sense of bluegrass and country tradition, and restless in its spirit to continually find a new stylistic vocabulary for such inspiration.
One especially satisfying but perhaps overlooked example comes near the end of the 2009 concert recording 8,745 Feet — Live at Telluride. Cowan transforms and updates Merle Travis' coal-mining anthem Dark as a Dungeon into a kind of jazz lament. Modified lyrically with a verse referencing the South African diamond mines, Cowan wails with the same peerless, almost operatic voice that has distinguished his music since the early days of New Grass Revival in the mid-1970s. His main instrumental accomplice, though, isn't bluegrass instrumentation or even his own rugged bass playing, but the lean, soul-savvy saxophone work of Jeff Coffin, moonlighting from his then-current duties with Béla Fleck and the Flecktones.
The results reveal a pearl of American roots music tradition retooled for a new generation to become another jewel in Cowan's continually expanding repertoire.
Central Kentucky might be a bit removed from Telluride, but it has been a performance home-away-from-home for much of Cowan's career. He cut his artistic teeth in several Louisville rock troupes before performing regularly at our collective doorstep with New Grass Revival, more recently his own stellar band and a few times with rock vets The Doobie Brothers, for whom Cowan has served as bassist and co-vocalist since 2010 (there also was a stint with the band from 1992 to 1995).
Now on the heels of his recent Sixty album, Cowan brings his progressive brand of bluegrass back to the Bluegrass for a performance Friday at the Grand Theatre in Frankfort with a band that features fiddler Andrea Zonn, who has played regionally with Lyle Lovett, James Taylor and, most recently, banjo great Allison Brown; multiinstrumentalist Rory Hoffman; and drummer Billy Thomas, a longtime touring co-hort of Vince Gill.
Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, Wilderness Trail
7 p.m. Feb. 7 at Meadowgreen Park Music Hall, 303 Bluegrass Lane, Clay City. $20. (606) 663-9008.
Performances during the 1960s and '70s alongside J.D. Crowe in the Kentucky Mountain Boys, plus decades of appearances with his own long-running Quicksilver band at the Festival of the Bluegrass, have allowed Doyle Lawson to feel as at home in Central Kentucky as any lifelong Tennessean could hope for.
On Saturday, Lawson brings his latest Quicksilver lineup to Meadowgreen Park Music Hall in Clay City. The performance comes on the heels of Lawson's newest recording, In Session. An album of secular string music from a true gospel bluegrass maverick, In Session sports Quicksilver takes on a variety of traditional works, including Bill Monroe's Evening Prayer Blues, Moe Bandy's Americana and the Ames Brothers' You You You.
Last fall, Lawson took time out from Quicksilver to team again with Crowe and Paul Williams for their second collaborative record, Standing Tall and Tough. All three established their careers as members of Jimmy Martin's famed Sunny Mountain Boys band. Lawson pays an especially strong tribute to his former boss on the album with an update of the Martin/Williams chestnut Little Angel in Heaven.
Wilderness Trail will open performance. For a schedule of remaining concerts this season, go to Kyfriends.com.