Music News & Reviews

Derby week is about more than horses: Great music is at the gate.

Valerie June will be in Louisville over Derby week at Headliners Music Hall.
Valerie June will be in Louisville over Derby week at Headliners Music Hall.

A roots-driven soul ambassador, a modern disciple of vintage British glam rock and the return of the “Word Up” funksters. They are just part of the musical guest list heading to Louisville next week.

You know – the week Louisville also hosts a cordial little horse race you may have read about. Should you be planning a trip during the days Louisville will truly live up to its billing as Derby City, then we have some live music picks for you. Specifically, here are five diverse performances guaranteed to compliment your Kentucky Derby fun.

Valerie June/Parker Gispert

8 p.m. April 29 at Headliners Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Rd. $25. 502-584-8088.

After establishing herself as an indie artist in Memphis (and gaining the attention of MTV’s online series “$5 Cover” in the process), the eclectic roots music of Valerie June has led to collaborations with Old Crow Medicine Show fiddler Ketch Secor (who produced her 2010 bluegrass informed EP “Valerie June and the Tennessee Express”) and Black Keys frontman Dan Auerbach (who co-produced her 2013 album “Pushin’ Against a Stone”). The modern day June operates from some very old world inspirations like Appalachian-tinged folk and retro-flavored soul. That said, her new cover of the Jimi Hendrix staple “Little Wing” sounds positively cosmic with near-ambient soundscapes.

Cameo/DJ Dwight Johnson

9 p.m. April 30 for Waterfront Jam at Waterfront Park, 401 River Rd.. Free with Pegasus Pin. Part of Kentucky Derby Festival.

Over three decades have passed since Cameo covered every corner of the dance floor with “Word Up,” one of the most clever and rhythmically inventive funk hits of all time. It remains the high water mark in a career that stems back to the band’s New York beginnings. Many members have passed through the Cameo ranks through the years, but vocalist Larry Blackmon and his trademark hi-top fade hairstyle remain at the helm. The band hasn’t released a new album since 2000. But this spring, Blackmon offered us “El Passo,” the first new Cameo single in 19 years.

Atlanta grunge-rock band Black Lips will be in Louisville over Derby Week with a new album. Daniel Boczarski

Black Lips/Wooing/Voodoo Economics

9 p.m. May 2 at Headliners Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Rd. $15, $18. 502-584-8088.

Amazingly, Atlanta garage rock champions Black Lips have been at it for two decades. It has made numerous friends in Central Kentucky along the way, whether through years-old gigs at Buster’s or more recent stops at Cosmic Charlie’s (the band was one of the first national acts to play the club’s new Loudon Ave. location). Black Lips got some high profile help on its newest album, “Satan’s Graffiti Or God’s Art?” It was produced by Sean Ono Lennon, who, in turn, enlisted help from mother Yoko Ono. Her assorted shrieks color the chaos on one of the album’s standout tracks, “Occidental Front.”

The Struts will be part of the Kentucky Derby Festival concert. Anna Lee

The Struts/Mo Lowda and the Humble

8 p.m May 2 for Waterfront Jam at Waterfront Park, 401 River Rd.. Free with Pegasus Pin. Part of Kentucky Derby Festival.

Anyone who caught the Foo Fighters at Rupp Arena in 2018 got a taste of The Struts, a vibrant throwback to early ‘70s British glam rock. A highlight of that performance, in fact, came when the Struts’ tireless lead singer Luke Spiller joined the Foos set for a combustible version of the David Bowie/Queen favorite “Under Pressure.” That prompted this comment in my review of Spiller and the Struts that evening. “Imagine the forgotten band Slade had Freddie Mercury been hired as singer. That was the vibe.”

Rainbow Kitten Surprise

8 p.m. May 3 at Iroquois Amphitheater, 1080 Amphitheater Rd. $33.50. 502-368-5865.

A Derby Eve outing in the great outdoors sounds like a great idea on paper. Then again, so did a two-night run at Iroquois Amphitheater by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit last weekend until a double feature of rain and cold crashed the party. We’ll hope Mother Nature will take a better liking to Rainbow Kitten Surprise, the indie North Carolina band who released its major label debut album, “How To: Friend, Love, Freefall,” a year ago this week. Led by the half-rapping vocals and wordplay of Sam Melo, Rainbow Kitten Surprise blends elements of rock, rap, R&B and jazz wrapped up in a melodic pop package.