Music News & Reviews

Walter Tunis: Kenny Vaughan makes Willie's the place to be

Kenny Vaughan is quickly making Willie's Locally Known his Lexington performance home.
Kenny Vaughan is quickly making Willie's Locally Known his Lexington performance home. Courtesy of Sugar Hill Records

Kenny Vaughan, Sam Lewis

8 p.m. Nov.30 at Willie's Locally Known, 805 N. Broadway. $10. (859) 281-1116.

How fortunate it is for us that Lexington is becoming something of a second performance home for Kenny Vaughan. Friday marks the esteemed Nashville guitarist's third outing since June at Willie's Locally Known.

His instrumental voice was forged from a wide spectrum of musical styles that included the jazz he absorbed from his father's record collection, the live shows he experienced in his youth by such disparate artists as Buck Owens and Captain Beefheart, early studies with vanguard guitarist Bill Frisell, and extended performance tenures with Lucinda Williams and, for the past 12 years, Marty Stuart. But above all, Vaughan is a musical scholar in the ways of traditional country and honky-tonk.

Credit much of that to the 25 years Vaughan has spent in Nashville (he is an Oklahoma native who grew up in Colorado). There he has collaborated with the likes of Kentucky Music Hall of Fame member Patty Loveless, Rodney Crowell and two artists he would eventually perform alongside at Lexington gigs, Kim Richey and Allison Moorer.

But the Music City alliance has proved just as beneficial to downtown Nashville as to Vaughan. During the early '90s, he set up, along with fellow country-roots revisionist Greg Garing, a performance residency at the famed Tootsie's that helped revitalize a then-dilapidated Lower Broadway district along the city's main drag.

Toward the end of the decade came well-documented tours with Williams behind her landmark 1998 album Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. By 2001, Vaughan became part of Stuart's retro-inclined Fabulous Superlatives band, where he remains today.

As his 2011 debut album V outlines, however, the guitarist is still the consummate stylist. Country, in all its traditional shades, remains his trade. But the music on V also touches on blues, noir-flavored jazz, rockabilly, swing and more. Of course, with Stuart and his fellow Superlatives as the primary band on the album, a sense of honky-tonk tradition is always close at hand.

For proof, witness the boppish, Owens-style groove of Country Music's Got a Hold on Me, the studied Western strut and twang of Minuit sur la Plage, the after-hours country-surf soul of Mysterium and the rocking gospel romp of Don't Leave Home Without Jesus.

Imagine what late fall fun will ignite when Vaughan saddles all of that up next to such concert favorites as his highly electric treatment of Ghost Riders in the Sky. That should more than make Willie's the place to be Friday night.

Nashville Moon

A very different kind of Nashville sound heads to Cosmic Charlie's, 388 Woodland Avenue, on Monday. Holding court will be the jam-band groove merchants of Moon Taxi, which made inaugural appearances at the Bonnaroo and Lollapalooza festivals earlier this year. The band is still touring behind the guitar-dominated funk songs of its recent album Cabaret. (9 p.m. $12 in advance, $15 day of show. (859) 309-9499.

The Out of Towners

We also have two very cool road-trip shows to recommend

■ Friday and Saturday, saxophone great Branford Marsalis returns to the region, but in a different musical guise. He will be the featured soloist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in a program that features works by Prokofiev, Barber and avant-garde Dutch composer Jacob ter Veldhuis. The performances will be at Cincinnati Music Hall, 1241 Elm Street. (8 p.m. $10-$105. (513) 381-3300. Classical music is hardly new to Marsalis. Among his finest recordings is Creation, a 2001 collaboration with the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. (Marsalis will perform with his regular jazz quartet on Feb.26 at the EKU Center for the Arts in Richmond).

■ Then on Tuesday at KFC Yum Center in Louisville, we have the Kentucky return of the Dave Matthews Band. Another regional evening with these jam-band vets may not seem like news. But get a load of who will be opening: reggae giant Jimmy Cliff.

A 2010 inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Jamaica-born Cliff released one of the strongest recordings of his 45-plus-year career last summer. Titled Rebirth, the album was produced by Rancid guitarist Tim Armstrong. It features Cliff, 64, singing with the volcanic joy, drive and spiritual urgency of a young gospel star.

Sure, the DMB will be the evening's star attraction and the strength of tunes from its recent album Away From the World will all but guarantee a great show. But Cliff's performances in the region are rare treats indeed. If you go, go early. (7 p.m. $56, $71. Ticketmaster, 1-800-745-3000 or