Music News & Reviews

His sound helped define the ’80s; now he’s sailing into Lexington

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Christopher Cross

7 p.m. March 17 at Manchester Music Hall, 899 Manchester St. $25-$65. 859-537-7321. manchestermusichall.com, christophercross.com.

Christopher Cross knew how to make an entrance.

In February 1980, with little-to-no name audience recognition to rely on, the San Antonio songsmith conquered pop radio with a song called “Ride Like the Wind.” It was a sleek but restless tune about an outlaw on the run to Mexico with all kinds of major label clout to back it up. Warner Bros. Records released it, Michael Omartian (whose client list has included Cher, Rod Stewart and Donna Summer) produced it and Michael McDonald (a major celebrity at the time thanks to his work with the newly reinvented Doobie Brothers) sang on it. How could it lose?

Well, it didn’t. “Ride Like the Wind” did just that up the pop charts, but was kept out of the No. 1 spot by Blondie’s “Call Me.” Undeterred, Cross’ follow-up single, the vastly calmer pop reverie “Sailing,” became an even bigger smash, reaching No. 1 that August.

Those two songs, along with the self-titled debut album that contained them, made Cross a star. In 1981, those recordings earned Grammy Awards for Album, Song and Record of the Year. Cross also won for Best New Artist.

What do you do when you’ve conquered the Grammys? You look to the Oscars.

Cross and an all-star team of co-composers (Burt Bacharach, Carole Bayer Sager and Peter Allen) came up with “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” for the 1981 Dudley Moore/Liza Minnelli comedy “Arthur.” It hit No. 1 a year after “Sailing” and scored an Oscar for Best Original Song in 1982.

Another 14 albums followed in the ensuing decades, the most recent being 2017’s “Take Me As I Am.” While none of them reignited the kind of sensational notice Cross received in the early ‘80s, they uphold the career of a pop artist who, at age 67, remains an active visible performer.

On Sunday, Cross saddles up to the wind again and heads to Lexington for a performance at Manchester Music Hall.

Blackberry Smoke/Ida Mae

7:30 p.m. March 15 at the Lexington Opera House, 401 W. Short. Sold out. lexingtonoperahouse.com, blackberrysmoke.com

Blackberry Smoke’s two night engagement at the Opera House comes to a close on March 15. The visit is kicking off a brief tour where the Atlanta band peels back the electric veneer that coats its arsenal of blues, rock and soul inspired songs peel for music with a more relaxed, acoustic cast.

The tour is modeled after “The Southern Ground Sessions,” a six-song EP recording that defuses five tunes from Blackberry Smoke’s 2018 album “Find a Light” along with a cover of Tom Petty’s 1982 synth-heavy hit “You Got Lucky.”

“I bet Tom Petty wrote that song on his acoustic guitar in A minor,” said Blackberry Smoke lead vocalist and guitarist Charlie Starr. “You listen to the lyrical content and it’s a really poignant song. Well, actually, it’s kind of mean spirited, but all that was covered up by that ’80s production sound. That’s fantastic. I mean, I love it. That was his sound at that moment, but I could definitely picture Tom Petty sitting with an acoustic guitar singing that song.”

Irish Creedence?

Looking to Americanize the most Irish of holidays? Then head to Cosmic Charlie’s, 105 W. Loudon, on March 17 where Celtic music will be replaced by an extensive roster of Central Kentucky artists taking on the rock ‘n’ roll of Creedence Clearwater Revival starting at 3 p.m.

Scheduled to perform are Laid Back Country Picker, Joslyn Hampton and Marty Charters (Joslyn and the Sweet Compression), Gregg Erwin (Magnolia Boulevard), Teresa and David Prince (Luna and the Mountain Jets), Rachel Crowe, Josh Mitcham (Jericho Woods), Jory Bowling (Blind Corn Liquor Pickers), Tyler Smith, Kevin Holm-Hudson, and many others.

Admission is $12 is advance, $15 day of show at cosmic-charlies.com.

The week that was

+ Ross Whittaker at Tee Dee’s Bluegrass Progressive Club: Approximating the jazz tone and temperament of John Scofield is no easy task. One of the most versed and recognizable jazz guitarists of the past four decades, his electric playing cruises effortlessly through bop, blues, funk and fusion but isn’t afraid to dig into dark corners during the ride. That’s why underneath all the lyrical candor in Scofield’s music sits a restlessness that toys with tempo and phrasing to create a sense of woozy fascination, Then again, when a tune calls for it, his playing can shoot like a torpedo through the mightiest senses of swing and groove.

Lexington guitarist Ross Whitaker took it upon himself to explore and interpret a sizable chunk of Scofield’s catalog – 32 years’ worth, to be exact – for an Origins Jazz Series concert last weekend. The results offered a musical overview that was as complimentary to Scofield’s stylistic breadth as it was comprehensive.

To his credit, Whitaker didn’t rush the music or force its intent. Scofield has never been intrigued with flash or speed. As such Whitaker, took his time in offering a faithful take on Scofield’s high, wiry tone. It unfolded with modestly aggressive but abundantly playful clarity on “I’ll Take Les,” coalesced for the more outwardly boppish “Eisenhower” and eased for the gentler, bossa nova-flavored “Keep Me in Mind.”

Working with tenor saxophonist Doug Drewek and trumpeter/cornetist Sam Flowers helped color the more expansive extremes of the concert, from the hushed phrasing of “Still Warm” (a tune that reached back to a 1986 Scofield album of the same name) to the blues/soul lullaby “Uncle Southern” (the performance’s newest entry, coming from Scofield’s 2018 recording “Combo 66”).

Then there were times Whitaker’s patiently paced musicianship openly embraced groove. On “Hottentot,” one of Scofield’s numerous collaborations with the avant funk trio Medeski Martin & Wood, the bounce in his playing turned more jagged as the ensemble sound became more rhythmic. Since horns didn’t figure into Scofield’s original version, it was both refreshing and inventive to hear them play off the composition’s central guitar hooks so readily. The jovial sound that resulted sounded less like Medeski Martin & Wood and more like James Brown.

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