Music News & Reviews

Walter Tunis: Disparate EKU Center holiday shows swing and swoon

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, clockwise from lower left: Joshua Levy, Dirk Shumaker, Kurt Sodegren, Andy Rowley, Karl Hunter, Glen "The Kid" Marhevka and Scotty Morris
Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, clockwise from lower left: Joshua Levy, Dirk Shumaker, Kurt Sodegren, Andy Rowley, Karl Hunter, Glen "The Kid" Marhevka and Scotty Morris

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy

7:30 p.m. Dec. 12 at EKU Center for the Arts, 1 Hall Dr., Richmond. $29.50-$45. (859) 622-7469. Ekucenter.com.

Straight No Chaser

7:30 p.m. Dec. 17 at EKU Center for the Arts. $31.50-$59.

With holiday celebrations at their zenith, the EKU Center for the Arts is offering performances by two stylistically disparate ensembles that have been putting new spins on Yuletide tunes for much of their careers.

Friday night brings the West Coast swing troupe Big Bad Voodoo Daddy back to the region. Formed in Ventura, Calif., 25 years ago, the band quickly surged to the forefront of a sharp-dressed swing revival that spread across the country during the mid-1990s. While songs such as You & Me and the Bottle Makes 3 Tonight and Go Daddy-O became cornerstone tunes of the era, BBVD wound up outlasting the swing fad. It has released strong albums of original music (2012's Rattle Them Bones), studious tributes to swing era giants (the 2009 Cab Calloway tribute How Big Can You Get?) and three Christmas recordings spanning a 16-year period.

The newest seasonal set, 2013's It Feels Like Christmas Time, offers animated arrangements of holiday staples by BBVD pianist/orchestrator Joshua Levy and one lone original (the album's title tune) penned by vocalist and frontman Scotty Morris.

The album's many treats include a soul-slanted twist on Run Rudolph Run, which channels Otis Redding more than the song's originator, Chuck Berry, and a rumba-style revision of Winter Wonderland led by Morris' conversational singing and the celebratory party flair of the BBVD horn section that serves as a kind of sonic conga line.

The band was to have performed its holiday program in Lexington at the Lyric Theatre in November 2013 but had to reschedule to last May. That meant we still got a fine BBVD performance, one that ran from the jazz sass of The Jitters to the Crescent City spice of Zig Zaggity Woop Woop to the punch drunk swing of So Long Farewell Goodbye. The only drawback was the late spring date was hardly conducive for Christmas music.

"When we first started out, we did a kind of EP (Whatchu' Want for Christmas) that had a few Christmas songs on it," BBVD trumpeter and cornetist Glen "The Kid" Marhevka said prior to the Lyric show. "Then we have two full-length Christmas albums (including 2004's Everything You Want for Christmas). It was nice to do the one that came out last year because we were able to add repertoire to the show. We usually go out with a Christmas show each year, so it was nice to add some variety — you know, take some tunes out and add some new stuff. It's been pretty fun."

Though not billed specifically as a holiday concert, EKU's Wednesday performance by the a cappella troupe Straight No Chaser has a wealth of holiday recordings to draw from if it chooses. The group's contract with Atlantic Records, in fact, is largely the product of a 1998 YouTube video recording of The 12 Days of Christmas. It wasn't until 2010 that the group, born in Bloomington, Ind., issued a nonholiday themed recording (With a Twist).

But then there is really no stylistic limit to the cover material Straight No Chaser will take on armed only with the power of their voices. At a Delaware show last May, the group sang songs by The Police, Adele, Pharrell Williams, Jason Mraz, Daft Punk, Prince, Lionel Richie and Ray Charles.

Working overtime

They call themselves Hard Working Americans. At least that's the best name Todd Snider, Dave Schools, Neal Casal, Chad Staehly, Duane Trucks and Jesse Aycock could come up with when they set their own careers aside and dug into a handful of Americana-and-more cover tunes as a band. The collective emerged with a self-titled album in January that gave a folkish garage rock makeover to tunes by Randy Newman, BR549, Gillian Welch and others. That was followed by a brief run of concert dates to support the record.

Then in late October came a combination documentary DVD and live album titled The First Waltz, a knowing nod and a wink to The Band's The Last Waltz, with another smattering of shows that will include a Sunday stop at Headliner's Music Hall, 1386 Lexington Road, Louisville (8 p.m., $25). For ticket info, call (502) 584-8088 or go to Headlinerslouisville.com.

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