Music News & Reviews

Vintage Nelson or vintage Sinatra? Either could be Willie’s Way.

Willie Nelson will be at EKU Center for the Arts this weekend. The show is sold out.
Willie Nelson will be at EKU Center for the Arts this weekend. The show is sold out.

Willie Nelson and Family/Lauren Jenkins

7:30 p.m. April 5 at the EKU Center for the Arts, 1 Hall Dr. in Richmond. Sold out. 859-622-7469. ekucenter.com.

Honestly now, who else could sail back through pop music’s past after a country music career that has yielded 68 studio albums over 57 years and come up with a complete diamond of a record than Willie Nelson?

Admittedly, the almost absurdly prolific Nelson makes albums at such a brisk, frequent and unending pace than even his most devout fans likely have a tough time keeping up with him. But that shouldn’t suggest for an instant that Nelson, at age 85, has run out of keen recording ideas or lost the casual yet alert confidence to turn them into sublime albums.

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Willie Nelson’s latest album, “My Way,” features classics of Frank Sinatra. It won a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

The newest case in point is “My Way.” Released in November, the record gathers 11 vintage songs popularized by Frank Sinatra, an artist some might view as a stylistic opposite of Nelson. But the latter long ago stretched way beyond country music convention by recording such stellar pop standard albums as the hit Booker T. Jones-produced “Stardust” in 1978 and the comparatively overlooked “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” in 1981.

“My Way” leans more to the latter’s overall lightness and subtle jazz accents. Listening to Nelson gently ease into a nugget like “Summer Wind” enforces the naturally conversational tone of his singing and the undeniable accent of gypsy jazz great Django Reinhardt in his guitar soloing.

The album’s easygoing sense of pop grace did not go unnoticed. It earned Wilson his 13th Grammy (this time for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album) in February.

Will music from “My Way” feature prominently in Nelson’s sold out concert at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond this weekend? Probably not. Though stylistically diverse as a recording artist, Nelson sticks to what works for his fans as a concert performer. That will likely translate into a well-oiled setlist boasting vintage favorites (“On the Road Again”), hit covers (“Always on My Mind”) and steadfast concert staples (the traditional show opening “Whiskey River”).

Sinatra had his way. Nelson has his.

The Rickey Wasson Band/New Balance

6 p.m. April 6 at Meadowgreen Appalachian Music Park, 303 Bluegrass Lane in Clay City. 606-663-4087. $15.

For years, the annual winter-to-spring bluegrass concert series at Meadowgreen Music Park (now known as Meadowgreen Appalachian Music Park) began to wind down with a performance by Kentucky Music Hall of Famer J.D. Crowe. But after the Lexington-born banjo great and bandleader went into retirement (which, by the way, he will be coming out of for a series of concerts this summer), the April slot went to the first lieutenant in his long-running New South band, guitarist/vocalist Rickey Wasson.

It was an obvious choice, not just because Wasson was a bandmate of Crowe for over 15 years. He also hails from the neighborhood. Both Meadowgreen Park and Wasson’s studio and music/electronics shop are both located in Clay City.

The Crowe/Wasson connection was reaffirmed late in 2018 with the release of “Hats Off to Haggard,” an all-star tribute record to country music colossus Merle Haggard. The record was actually completed three years ago, but was temporarily shelved after Haggard’s death.

The Southeastern Indiana band The New Balance, which recorded its self-titled debut album at Wasson’s studio, will open.

Meadowgreen Park’s final concert of the 2018-19 season will feature Rick Oldfield and Curnie Lee Wilson on April 13.

A Night with the Neighbors

An unexpectedly active run of spring shows in the Outside the Spotlight series (five performances within a month) continues on April 6 with the return of the Norwegian jazz quartet Friends & Neighbors. While the band – saxophonist/clarinetist André Roligheten, trumpeter Thomas Johansson, pianist Oscar Gronberg, bassist Jon Rune Strom and drummer Tollef Ostvang – largely opts for free improvisation, its music is frequently colored by melodic colors that bring a modest, though temporary, sense of order to its music. Touring behind its new “What’s Next” album, Friends & Neighbors perform Saturday at the Kentucky School, 607 N. Limestone (7 p.m., Free).

The week that was

Boneshaker at the Kentucky for Kentucky Fun Mall: There is a certain irony in the fact that Boneshaker titled its new album “Fake Music.” Well, there’s parody at work, too, given the redacted text that serves as cover art. But when giving a listen to the Chicago trio in performance, you sensed at once how fake the “Fake” element is.

Comprised of saxophonist Mars Williams, drummer Paal Nilssen-Love and bassist Kent Kessler, Boneshaker summoned a sense of jazz interplay and immediacy that was real, present and vital.

While Williams has long demonstrated an instrumental potency that borders on the volcanic, this performance was distinguished by considerable instrumental dynamics. In a single 45 improvisation that formed the foundation of the concert (although it was likely a mash-up of several singular pieces, as is the case on “Fake Music”), the trio took flight with the blues. But the music also remained open enough for the drive of Kessler and Nilssen-Love to fortify Williams’ more daring runs on tenor sax. From there, the sounds continually shifted from slow to brisk, from dense to sparse and from a hearty shout to a bare whisper. At times, that meant the trio broke off into various duet formations highlighted by a quiet exchange between Kessler on bowed bass and Williams on alto sax.

The vocabulary was considerable, as well, whether it was displayed by Nilssen-Love doubling the rhythm on shakers for a Pharoah Sanders-like feel or Williams coloring sections with kalimba, percussive bells and even squeaky toys. That this entire collage returned to earth with a soulful but underscored groove cemented the trio’s broad sense of invention.

French trumpeter Timothee Quost opened with a half-hour improvisation that was better appreciated as a performance piece than a purely musical one. Playing on a novel makeshift stage in the bed of a pickup truck parked on the store floor of the Fun Mall, his performance was largely an abstract fabric of electronic pops and flourishes that seldom called on the trumpet’s natural sound. That, luckily, was placed on display when he joined Boneshaker at the show’s end, trading aggressive stabs with Williams and generally enhancing the trio’s already resourceful musical arsenal.

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