Music News & Reviews

Walter Tunis: Pre-Christmas presence on Lexington's musical stages

Nashville-based siblings Erin and Willie Breeding, aka The Breedings, are from Lexington.
Nashville-based siblings Erin and Willie Breeding, aka The Breedings, are from Lexington. Courtesy of The Breedings

The Bartley Brothers, Stone Cold Grass

8 p.m. Dec. 21 at Willie's Locally Known, 805 N. Broadway. (859) 281-1116. $10.

The Hollow Bodies

11 a.m. Dec. 22 at Willie's Locally Known.

The Breedings

7 p.m. Dec. 22 at Willie's Locally Known. $10.

The home stretch of seasonal madness is at hand. Most regional venues will slow down in terms of performance activities next week, but live music abounds during the final weekend before Christmas.

Willie's Locally Known offers three roots-driven events.

Saturday belongs to bluegrass with a visit by the Georgetown-based Bartley Brothers. True to its name, the quintet began as the duo of brothers Rick and Shayne Bartley.

Rick is versed in the tradition of claw-hammer banjo and rhythm guitar but also developed a fondness for songwriting. The latter led to I'm a Hobo, a featured track on Lefty's Old Guitar, the final studio album by J.D. Crowe and the New South.

Shayne has clocked stage time with such bluegrass notables as Don Rigsby, Dave Evans, Charlie Sizemore and The Lost and Found.

The full Bartley Brothers quintet band currently records for the Rural Rhythm label.

Sunday morning brings us the latest entry in the ongoing brunch series at Willie's. Taking the stage will be a quartet of bluegrass/folk youths known collectively as The Hollow Bodies. The group features fiddler-guitarists Blakeley Burger and Lucy Becker along with guitarist-mandolinist Riley Logan and cellist Chris Cupp. There is no cover charge for this brunch performance.

Finally, there is the Sunday evening return of The Breedings. The sibling duo of Willie and Erin Breeding has been taking its stark folk-country songs throughout the Midwest and along the West Coast in recent years. Performing as a group since 2009 (although Willie worked extensively as a solo artist before that), the Lexington-bred, Nashville-based Breedings gave in to their classic country leanings on their new indie album, Fayette, produced by local music mainstay Duane Lundy.

Christmas with the Dead

No holiday celebration is complete without a dose of the Grateful Dead. Filling that niche Friday will be Stu Allen and Mars Hotel, which performs at Cosmic Charlie's, 388 Woodland Avenue.

Allen is a guitarist who toured for seven years with a Grateful Dead tribute troupe led by Jerry Garcia Band veteran Melvin Seals. Allen's band, Mars Hotel, takes its name from one of the Dead's finest '70s recordings, 1974's Grateful Dead From the Mars Hotel. (10 p.m. $10. (859) 309-9499.

Concert for Kevin Johnson

In keeping with the true spirit of the season, there will be a summit of local musicians Saturday at Natasha's Bistro, 112 Esplanade, for a concert in honor of Kevin Johnson, the veteran sound engineer for WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour who died in October. The ensemble, organized by bassist A.J. Daugherty, will consist of members from the Johnson Brothers Band (Jim Gleason), Ozone (John Knight), the Patrick McNeese Band (Maggie Lander and Tom Martin) and Autumn Ridge (Jason Sills). They will be performing songs by John Mayer, the Eagles and Curtis Mayfield, among others, along with a selection of holiday material.

Proceeds from the performance will be donated to the Kevin Johnson Memorial Fund. (8 p.m. $5. For tickets and reservations, call (859) 259-2754.


Lexington Brass Band with Wycliffe Gordon, Zach Brock and the Raleigh Dailey Trio at Calvary Baptist Church: At this point in the holiday season, a song like Winter Wonderland offers little by way of invention or spontaneity. Yet on a cold, iron-gray Sunday afternoon, the Lexington Brass Band, under the direction of Ronald Holz, found all kinds of ways to revitalize the tune. With the ensemble operating with the fluid efficiency and unity of a jazz orchestra and guests Wycliffe Gordon, Zach Brock and the Raleigh Dailey Trio keeping the groove, the song was given a fresh makeover. The resulting music, the only instance in this holiday concert when the entire company of musicians played together, made for a distinctive and highly appealing serving of cool yule.

The remainder of the 80-minute performance at Calvary Baptist Church broke the players into subgroups.

A Stephen Bulla arrangement of Angels We Have Heard on High, retitled in the program as simply Angels on High, let the Lexington Brass Band's subtle orchestration serve as support for New York-turned- Lexington trombonist Gordon, who blended processionallike elegance and precision with a bit of boppish fancy. Later, Gordon played alongside the LBB's five-member trombone section and a pair of percussionists for a version of Jingle Bells rich in playful growls and assorted sass that emphasized the more animated sides of the soloist's performance profile.

Violinist Brock, a Lexington native now working out of Brooklyn, N.Y., teamed with the LBB to play O Holy Night with scholarly clarity and agility. But it was on Harold Burgmayer's arrangement of John Jacob Niles' I Wonder as I Wander that the more dramatic colors of his playing and the LBB's stately orchestration best complemented each other.

The LBB sat out two abbreviated sections in which Gordon, Brock and the Dailey trio played as a quintet. Again, the range and dynamics were considerable. The extremes ran from the performance's only nonholiday entry — a quiet but powerfully emotive version of Billy Strayhorn's Lotus Blossom that highlighted the buoyant tone of each soloist, especially Brock — and an untitled blues jam in which Gordon loosened up on makeshift vocals and cartoonlike solo bursts full of equally fun, vocal-esque expression.