Music News & Reviews

Public radio's 'Acoustic Cafe' brings its tour to Natasha's

Carrie Rodriguez will be featured on Acoustic Cafe at Natasha's.
Carrie Rodriguez will be featured on Acoustic Cafe at Natasha's.

An 'Acoustic Café' Evening featuring Carrie Rodriguez, Erin McKeown and Kelly Joe Phelps

8 p.m. Jan. 28 at Natasha's Bistro & Bar, 112 Esplanade. $15 in advance, $19 day of show. (859) 259-2754.

For three years, Acoustic Café, a nationally syndicated public radio performance program originating in Ann Arbor, Mich., has given its name to a wintertime tour spotlighting the kinds of instrumentally rich songwriting artists who are staples of its on-air programming.

On Saturday, this year's tour lands at Natasha's Bistro & Bar. The Acoustic Café in an actual café — what a concept.

Returning from the two previous Acoustic Café tours are Carrie Rodriguez and Erin McKeown, both of whom have forged devout fan bases in Central Kentucky through regular concert visits.

Rodriguez began building her local following nearly a decade ago with a performance at the long-gone High on Rose with famed songwriter Chip Taylor. Since then, her playing has been featured alongside greats John Prine and Alejandro Escovedo.

Her own songwriting blossomed on her 2007 album She Ain't Me, but Rodriguez's two most recent albums have been cover-song projects: the Americana-based solo venture Love and Circumstance and a more country-directed 2010 duets set with Romantica's Ben Kyle, We Still Love Our Country.

McKeown has played just about every available local venue during the past six years, including Christ the King Oktoberfest, WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour and a celebrated opening set for Ani DiFranco at Buster's Billiards & Backroom. All of these performances have sported a vast stylistic reach, from vintage-flavored swing-jazz works, showcased in wonderful detail on her 2006 album Sing You Sinners, to immensely animated original songs informed by her boundlessly energetic stage persona, served up with considerable vigor on 2009's Hundreds of Lions.

Washington state guitarist Kelly Joe Phelps, who completes the lineup, used a roots-driven, lap-style guitar sound on his early records, even though he initially was inspired by jazz. An expert songwriter, Phelps issued a strong set of guitar instrumentals on his 2009 album, Western Bell.

Aside from his own work, he has collaborated with the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Jay Farrar and Tim O'Brien.

Ryan Adams and Jason Isbell

■ 8 p.m. Jan. 28 at the Taft Theatre, 317 Fifth St., Cincinnati. $40. (513) 232-6220. Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or

■ 7:30 p.m. Jan. 30 at Louisville Palace, 625 S. Fourth St., Louisville. $40. (502) 583-4555. Ticketmaster.

About this time in 1996, you could find Ryan Adams playing in Lexington every few months at the now-defunct Lynagh's Music Club with Whiskeytown, his band of boozy alt-country misfits. But that was before Adams became a celebrated solo act, then a tempestuous rock renegade and then a wildly prolific recording artist, issuing as many as three albums a year.

The 2011 model Adams is a comparatively settled songwriter. After years of fine Americana tours and recordings with his band The Cardinals, he has released one of his most beautifully subdued recordings, Ashes & Fire. To promote the album, he is ditching the band setting to tour as an unaccompanied acoustic performer. Sadly, the tour won't bring him back to Lexington. But it will land him in Cincinnati and Louisville.

If an hourlong online performance at New York's Ed Sullivan Theatre after a taping of The Late Show With David Letterman is an indication, Adams' solo acoustic show is a mixture of fine tunes from Ashes & Fire, some striking cover tunes (among them, a blazing version of Bob Mould's Black Sheets of Rain) and some unexpectedly animated storytelling.

Get to these shows on time if you're going. Jason Isbell, the great Southern songsmith, is taking a break from his band, the 400 Unit, and following Adams' unplugged path as the opening act.