Music News & Reviews

Walter Tunis: Multifaceted artist Joshua Black Wilkins comes to Willie's

Musician Joshua Black Wilkins performs Friday night at Willie's Locally Known.
Musician Joshua Black Wilkins performs Friday night at Willie's Locally Known.

Joshua Black Wilkins

Opener: Ned Van Go. 8 p.m. Dec. 5 at Willie's Locally Known. 805 N. Broadway. $7. (859) 281-1116. Willieslex.com.

At the onset of Late Night Talks, the opening tune to his fine new Settling the Dust album, Joshua Black Wilkins reflects the deepened desperation of a soul who bears the wear of the 70,000 miles he sings of having traveled. The light country comfort of the quartet instrumentation behind him, especially the lonesome pedal steel guitar of Paul Niehaus, offers some similarly weary comfort. Mostly, though, the stretches of two-lane blacktop Wilkins finds himself on are of a singular nature. They may be designed to facilitate companionship, but they are destined to be traveled alone.

The true life story of this Nashville stylist is even more distinctive. Two decades ago, he wasn't riding tour buses so much as designing them. He built the means of touring transport for the likes of the Dave Matthews Band, Christina Aguilera and 50 Cent. Then his career placed him behind the lens of a camera — in particular, a vintage box camera that replicates tintype images popularized in the late 19th century. In recent years, Wilkins has photographed such contemporaries as Marty Stuart, Justin Townes Earle and Jason Isbell, among others.

It's the kind of work history that makes one wonder how Wilkins ever stumbled upon music. But he has been writing, singing and recording songs with the worn confidence of a Nashville natural for over a decade. The title of his 2004 album, for example, was Hellbent and Brokenhearted. The temperament within much of the music Wilkins has composed since more than lives up to that credo.

Such sentiments also reverberate around the 10 songs that make up Settling the Dust, from the "lose our heads" shuffle of Trouble We've Made to the unapologetically non-poetic heartbreak of Don't Think That I ("I sing till I scream") to the undying outlaw spirit that pervades I Heard Your Whisper ("I heard it all before and I'll hear it all again").

Last weekend, Wilkins let his country roots roam at the popular Nashville music haven The 5 Spot with other Music City renegades on Hag Night, an evening devoted exclusively to Merle Haggard's music. Friday night, though, he comes calling with his own songs for a performance at Willie's Locally Known.

Bobby Osborne and the Rocky Top X-Press/Good Ground with Dean Osborne

7 p.m. Dec. 6 at Meadowgreen Park Music Hall, 303 Bluegrass Lane in Clay City. $15. (606) 663-9008.

It has been a remarkable year for bluegrass music in the region, from last summer's doubleheader of Best of Bluegrass and the Festival of the Bluegrass to the fall visit of progressive string music delegates Chris Thile and Edgar Meyer at the Norton Center for the Arts to the return of the annual autumn-to-spring concert series at Meadowgreen Park Music Hall in Clay City.

The latter is about to take a breather for the rest of December. But Meadowgreen Park will close out its 2014 calendar with a Kentucky favorite: Leslie County native Bobby Osborne, half of the iconic Osborne Brothers duo and, more recently, frontman of his own Rocky Top X-Press band. He has maintained a high profile bluegrass career for over 60 years.

An esteemed high tenor singer and mandolinist, Osborne helped popularize such bluegrass standards as Rocky Top and Kentucky. Saturday's bill will also include Good Ground and longstanding bluegrass banjoist, promoter and educator (as well as Osborne's cousin) Dean Osborne.

Performances will resume at Meadowgreen Park on Jan.3 with Custom Made Bluegrass. For a full schedule of 2015 concerts, go to Kyfriends.com.

Trans-spotting

If you have never experienced the Trans-Siberian Orchestra in concert, especially during one of its annual winter tours, then you are missing out on a true holiday spectacle. For close to two decades, the ensemble has performed holiday-themed productions built around one of its platinum selling albums and a level of staging, lighting, pyrotechnics and pure rock-star regalia that puts bands like Kiss to shame.

TSO returns to Rupp Arena on Thursday with a new stage show built around one of its earliest albums, The Christmas Attic (7:30 p.m.; $31.50-$61.25). For tickets, call (859) 233-3535 or go to Rupparena.com.

Paul O'Neill, founder and, in effect, CEO of TSO, discusses the inspiration for The Christmas Attic, ringing in 2014 at Brandenburg Gate and his hope to someday bring TSO to Broadway in this weekend's Living Sunday section.

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