Music News & Reviews

Walter Tunis: Big weekend at the Lyric starts with bassist Nik West

Nik West will perform Nov. 13 at the Lyric Theatre in Lexington.
Nik West will perform Nov. 13 at the Lyric Theatre in Lexington.

Nik West

7:30 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Lyric Theatre and Cultural Arts Center, 300 East Third. (859) 280-2218. lexingtonlyric.com $18.50-$28.50.

Judging by the accolades she has been stockpiling lately, quite 0a few noteworthy eyes and ears having been looking to Nik West as one today's preeminent voices on electric bass guitar.

In town tonight for a performance at the Lyric Theatre, West has received critical praise from Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, Eurythmics' Dave Stewart, John Mayer and a pair of rock-soul-funk maestros whose grooves have obviously inspired her work: Prince and Lenny Kravitz.

A member of a musically inclined family in Phoenix and versed in mathematics (she is tagged on her website as "not your typical calculus geek"), West got early playing experience in church and developed ideas of groove and technique by playing rhythm guitar in her teens. But it was after a serious listen to the Michael Jackson hit You Wanna Be Startin' Somethin' that West placed her focus on the electric bass: specifically, the way it could establish groove and orchestrate full scale rock and soul music. The bass also led her to another means of musical expression. Her debut album, Just in the Nik of Time, revealed her as a confident and commanding vocalist.

That's when the attention started to pour in. Stewart was among the first to take notice and enlist West as a musical collaborator. But perhaps the biggest praise came from other bass guitarists specializing in multi-genre groove music. They included Funkadelic-bred Bootsy Collins, Red Hot Chili Peppers mainstay Flea and jazz-pop journeyman Marcus Miller.

But West's music does the most serious talking. Her recent six-song EP disc Say Somethin' shifts from the Prince-directed funk of Cotton Candy Pt. 1 to the rockish drive of the record's title tune (which brings Kravitz to mind) to jams like the brief instrumental reprise of My Relationship that highlights the deep pocket proficiency of her bass work. Topping them all is a pop-funk reading of I'm Shakin', a vintage tune by the 1950s/early'60s rhythm and blues songster Rudy Toombs.

Tonight, West will serve as headliner for a very full concert bill at the Lyric. The performance will be opened by cross-generational Lexington faves Tee Dee Young and DeBraun Thomas.

Keen return

It will certainly be a full weekend at the Lyric with Nik West playing tonight and The Robert Cray Band performing on Saturday (see story at LexGo.com and in Saturday's Herald-Leader). The fun continues next week with something altogether different — a bluegrass-based concert by vanguard Texas song stylist Robert Earl Keen on Thursday (7 p.m., $44.50).

Initially scheduled for the Lyric in July, the performance will refashion Keen's music to the acoustic, bluegrass framework of his recent Happy Prisoner album. The record offers Keen's takes on vintage tunes like Flatt & Scruggs' Hot Corn, Cold Corn as well as comparatively modern fare that includes the Del McCoury via Richard Thompson hit 1952 Vincent Black Lightning and will augment his longrunning road band with mandolinist Kym Warner (from the Austin-based bluegrass/Americana troupe The Greencards) and fiddle player Brian Beken. The string band sound has also been adopted onstage this year for several of Keen's best known original songs, including The Five Pound Bass, Corpus Christi Bay and I'm Comin' Home.

"I got to a point where I wasn't sure if my own songs were relevant or making a difference anymore," Keen said in a phone interview prior to the originally scheduled Lyric date during the summer. "So I did this project. Now I have a whole new perspective on my own thoughts, my own playing and how we present our show. It's been a completely rejuvenating adventure." (See the original story at LexGo.com.)

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