Before we get too far into the new year, there is some old business to get out of the way. I once again elected to participate in the incredibly subjective process of picking five worthwhile albums for 2007. So, enjoy (or scan down to see some of this week’s notable concerts).
1) Wilco: Sky Blue Sky — Though understated in its overall approach, Wilco’s collective virtuosity frequently surfaces here as the band brilliantly frames its obtuse poetry (about romance, mental illness, spirituality, etc.) with an assortment of folk-flavored pop and funky, elongated grooves. Though not automatically lovable, the subtle beauty of this album will take hold of you after several listens.
2) Peter Rowan & Tony Rice: Quartet — Peter Rowan is the literal link between Bill Monroe and the Grateful Dead. His latest collaboration with celebrated flat-picker (and one-time Louisville resident) Tony Rice will certainly delight fans of either camp. Here the quartet re-invents such Rowan classics as “Midnight Moonlight” and “Walls of Time” as well as Townes Van Zandt’s “To Live is to Fly.”
3) Future Clouds & Radar: Future Clouds & Radar — After a long hiatus and without much fanfare, Robert Harrison finally reappeared this year. Under the moniker Future Clouds & Radar, Harrison has quietly assembled a sprawling double album of gorgeous psychedelic pop. It was said that his best work with Cotton Mather evoked Revolver, so naturally this is his White Album.
4) Levon Helm: Dirt Farmer — Dirt Farmer marks the long-awaited return to form from a former leader of The Band. This nostalgic set boasts family-style harmonies from Helm’s daughter Amy (of Ollabelle fame) and a strong selection of Americana-flavored songs (including Steve Earle’s “The Mountain”). Interestingly, veteran latter-day Dylan-backer Larry Campbell is also featured throughout.
5) Elliott Smith: New Moon — Here, the genius of the late Elliott Smith shines bright one last time. A sparse collection that feels (and is) unfinished, this release truly is a fond farewell to a friend. One of the many stand-outs scattered across these two discs is Smith’s mournful take on Big Star’s “Thirteen.”
Friday, Jan. 4
Kings Highway is not a tribute to Tom Petty, but they do serve up some first-rate bluegrass. They appear this week as part of C.R. Wilson’s Friday night series over at the Shepherdsville County Music Place. The start time is 8 p.m. and tickets are $10 at the door. These shows are always all-ages and family friendly events. For directions and additional info, call (502) 239-8004.
Saturday, Jan. 5
Feeling a little trapped after the holidays? Maybe you should head over to Freedom Hall to hang with Will Oldham’s newest pal, R. Kelly.
Though Kelly is best known these days for his questionable bedroom antics and subsequent, ongoing legal battles, the man is truly an R&B icon. Kelly first hit the scene in the early 1990s as part of the platinum-selling group Public Announcement. But it was his departure from that band that really put Kelly on the map as a performer, producer and songwriter.
He has since emerged to sell a ridiculous quantity of solo albums and has worked alongside such luminaries as Michael Jackson, Jay-Z, Notorious B.I.G. and the Isley Brothers. Kelly’s Louisville performance will also feature opening sets from Keysha Cole and J. Holiday. The all-ages show (ironic, isn’t it?) starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $45-$65. For more information, visit www.ticketmaster.com.
Saturday, Jan. 5
There is another Oldham-related concert this weekend over at Air Devil’s Inn (2802 Taylorsville Road, 454-4443, www.airdevilsinn.com). Local favorites Virgin Flame start things off with their laid-back brand of psychedelic folk music. Then Big Smith, an Arkansas family affair featuring five cousins, should kick things up a notch with their Ozark hillbilly sounds. But the real show-stopper is Brett Eugene Ralph’s Kentucky Chrome Revue, which closes out the night.
Brett Ralph was born in Illinois in the late 1960s but came of age in the River City, making a name for himself here as both a football player and an energetic punk rocker. Later, Ralph would temporarily wander away from Kentucky for an introspective period spent studying creative writing and Tibetan Buddhism.
Though these pursuits obviously mellowed the man, Ralph is still most associated with his roles in the regional punk bands Fading Out, Malignant Growth and Rising Shotgun.
So, it might surprise some folks to learn that Ralph is now at the helm of a country-flavored collective that features members of such well-respected ensembles as Freakwater, Lambchop, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and the Be-Good Tanyas (just to name a few).
Brett Eugene Ralph’s Kentucky Chrome Revue, as Ralph’s “solo” project is now known, came about somewhat inadvertently after Rising Shotgun was put to rest back in 2002. Ralph had begun to explore the narrative style of country music story-songs and decided to book some studio time and pick up a few gigs around town just for fun. By the time the sessions and shows were completed, more than 21 musicians from a variety of backgrounds (mostly “aging punks” and “indie royalty”) had dropped by to lend a hand.
Lyrically, the Kentucky Chrome Revue may offer a honky-tonk reflection on samsara, but it sure sounds like heaven to us. In any event, expect an interesting set and an all-star supporting cast on Saturday night.
Doors open at 8 p.m. for this superb evening of Americana music. Cover is $6. The show is 21 and up.
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