Music News & Reviews

New album shows off The Swells' stylistic extremes

The Swells include Chris Sullivan, left, and multi-instrumentalist Warren Byrom.
The Swells include Chris Sullivan, left, and multi-instrumentalist Warren Byrom.

The Swells

9 p.m. Jan. 21 at The Green Lantern, 497 W. Third St. $5. (859) 252-9539.

For years, The Swells has been that link in the Lexington music scene to another time and place. The band approaches blues, jazz and swing as if it sailed out of another century.

Ditto for its phrasing and playing. A clarinet break or a piano roll in its hands can linger luxuriously for what seems like an entire evening. The way brushes slide across drums creates moods bursting with summer humidity. But the band also can summon a party in an instant, especially when it packs on the brass and quickens the tempo.

One of The Swells' more memorable outings — and there have been a lot of them over the years — came in 2008, when it played before — then collaborated with — The Hot Club of Cowtown on the closing night of the original Dame on West Main Street.

Now, as they say, you can take The Swells home with you. The band has issued an immensely inviting new album, called Public Domain, that covers music by blues giant Mississippi John Hurt, jazz giant Erroll Garner, country giant Marty Robbins, traditional pop giant Irving Berlin and a lot more.

Recorded from 2006 to 2008, the album also shows off the band's stylistic extremes, complete with the vibe that makes a Swells show so cool. The opening Closer Walk is all Crescent City soul, with accents of clarinet, trumpet and piano that stroll about loosely in the manner of a passing New Orleans funeral. Robbins' Five Brothers is all cowpoke drama, a country yarn with Rawhide-like harmonies that follow a bloody lyrical trail. A personal favorite is a lullaby-like reading of the classic pop instrumental Sleepwalk, performed on musical saw by Chris Sullivan.

The Swells — Sullivan, multi -instrumentalists Warren Byrom and Andy Mason, bassist Scott Wilmoth and drummer David White — celebrate the music of Public Domain with a CD-release show at The Green Lantern on Friday night.

Tyme honored

It's been another fab year for Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out. In October, singer/guitarist Moore took home honors for the third time as vocalist of the year at the annual International Bluegrass Music Association Awards. The honors arrived as the band's self-titled 2009 album — so named because it asserts Moore's prominence in the group after the departure of bassist/co-founder Ray Deaton — continued to amass favorable reviews for its mix of string-band tradition with hints of vintage country and occasionally poppish accessibility.

On Saturday, Moore and company return to the region for their annual winter appearance at Meadowgreen Park Music Hall in Clay City. (3 and 7 p.m.; $15 for each show). Call (606) 663-9008 for additional info.

Louisville twosome

Two shows in Louisville this weekend merit mention for those in the mood for a winter road trip. The lineup:

■ Friday night brings the return of Drivin N Cryin, the resilient 1980s Atlanta band that meshed sturdy guitar-rock drive with lyrics full of country restlessness. Singer Kevn Kinney remains in the Drivin driver's seat. The band also has its first full album in 12 years, Whatever Happened to the Great American Bubble Factory?, to showcase. Drivin N Cryin will perform at Headliners Music Hall. (9 p.m., $15). (502) 584-8088.

■ The ever-popular new-fashioned virtuoso string band known as the Punch Brothers also is back in the region. Mandolinist Chris Thile, guitarist Chris Eldridge, banjoist Noam Pikelny, fiddler Gabe Witcher and bassist Paul Kowert will bring the music of their recent Antifogmatic album to life at one of the coolest indoor venues in the state on Saturday, the Kentucky Center for the Arts' Bomhard Theatre (8 p.m., $22.50-$27.50). Call 1-800-775-7777.