Sight Unsound: Mullins Crows; Southern Culture tries new tidbits

Thursday, May 22
One sure sign of a blues band’s cojones is when they take on “Midnight Rambler.” The Stones knew that track was built for arena shows as soon as they laid it down. It’s too big a strut for its own britches — and to sing it requires a performance that’s as much Jim Morrison as Sir Mick Jagger. But local quartet The Leisure Thieves clearly enjoy challenges and make some great unexpected choices of what they’ll throw themselves into. Once centered around James Brown/Parliament horn man Kush Griffith, the group was raring to go then — but Kush passed on in 2007. Reconfiguring with a recruit they found on Craigslist, these guys now fill the night with guitar-driven renditions of songs that mostly predate the Stones (although “Champagne & Reefer” turned up on the new Scorsese movie). Stevie Ray’s (235 E. Main, 582-9945) brings in The Leisure Thieves on Thursday. Show’s at 9 p.m., with a $5 cover.

Shawn Mullins: Photo by Christy Bush  Ex-Thorn Shawn Mullins opens for Sheryl Crow at Caesars Indiana as part of the casino’s summer series.
Shawn Mullins: Photo by Christy Bush Ex-Thorn Shawn Mullins opens for Sheryl Crow at Caesars Indiana as part of the casino’s summer series.
Saturday, May 24
Shawn Mullins has maintained a balance of folk and rock through much of two decades now. Part of how he survives, and often thrives, is the way he keeps it all in stride. For example, the vagaries of working with record companies: Regarding the possible reunion of “midlist supergroup” The Thorns, he says, “I’m sure there’s a chance. I’ve talked with Matthew (Sweet) some,” but the history to date he sums up as, “We fulfilled the commitment and then went our own ways.”

Mullins is similarly philosophical and resourceful about his upcoming concert schedule. He’s grateful for the chance to open for Sheryl Crow at Caesars Indiana on Saturday ($45 and up, 8 p.m., 361-3100). But noting that “the audience is big enough that I thought a single guy with a guitar might get lost,” he used those short opening gigs as an excuse for assembling a full band for the first time in a while, and he’ll keep it together after his path and Crow’s diverge.

Mullins’ new CD Honeydew has much sympathetic and precise portraiture, along with some emotions that are painful to recall. The final two tracks he calls “self-help songs” for their association to his recent period of grieving for his mother. But he also revived songs written a half-dozen years back when he was answering to a major record label. “Out Of My Head,” a fine and jangly mid-tempo rock opener for the new record, was once submitted as potential theme song to the sitcom “Scrubs.” But Mullins has plenty of marketing sense and fun to go along with wizened depth of songwriter’s sensitivity. So he picked up the song, dusted it off, and found it could fit in a new place just fine. That’s something he’s also done for himself, from time to time.

Sunday, May 25
The man who brought us the show-stopping fried-chicken anthem “Eight Piece Box” is happy to share his opinions on what’s good barbecue. “North Carolina pulled pork, with the vinegar-based sauce,” says Rick Miller of Southern Culture on the Skids, the veteran rockabilly-and-lots-more revivalists coming back to Headliners (1386 Lexington Road, 584-8088) Sunday night ($15, 9 p.m.). His opinion on what Kentucky can contribute to the menu: Woodford Reserve.

Miller has led the group with much of the singing (“I’m trying to get Mary
to be more involved with singing originals … but she’s particular”) and a guitar that takes off from the classic surf sounds, which he just loves. (“Reverb is good on everything! And you can write any rock song for a surf beat — whether it’s a one-three kicker or a four.”) Over the last couple of years, SCOTS was a little less about Miller’s novelty-with-bite songs. He thought that recording a covers album would leave time for family, but in a recent phone discussion, he said that 2007’s Countrypolitan Favorites “took a long time to do. It was tough to make it hang together — songs from the Kinks, the Golliwogs and George Jones.” With two years worth of song “tidbits” to try out, and a loyal and sizable fanbase, Miller’s itching to get SCOTS back in studio and on the road.

Sunday, May 25
You can fill up the evening of Sunday by making the most of one of those events that make you feel damned altruistic throughout the Monday-morning hangover. It’s a “Save the Music” fundraiser, hosted by Mom’s Music. Starting at 4 p.m., 35 bands are filling five stages at City Block (166 W. Jefferson, 589-FUNN), and you can see it all for a measly $5 (with proceeds going to charity). There’ll be contests and an auction, and somewhere amid the noise Mom’s is offering to give an introductory guitar lesson. If you’ve got a musical instrument that could be better utilized, volunteers will be collecting them for distribution to school music programs in the area.

Highlights of the program will include a climactic set by Heaven Hill, plus some tunes from a “Mom’s Music All-Star Band.” The show’s supposed to be all-ages until 10 and then for 18 and over until midnight.

Wednesday, May 28
This month’s Waterfront Wednesday concert is headlined by Back Door Slam, a trio from the Isle of Man. That’s not classic blues terrain, but you wouldn’t know it from the sinewy growls and howls these guys put together. Singer/guitarist Davy Knowles can really get everyone whipped into an update of Cream’s sound at times. He also achieves a mix of urban and rural Brit blues-rock, which means that the acoustic moments aren’t throwaways at all, and there’s tasty bits that recall Mark Knopfler and even Richard Thompson. Starting from the restless bent warble of Adam Jones’ bass, the band’s debut disc Roll Away is certainly the work of bluesmongers who, though young, know what’s needed for a solid soundtrack to roadtripping or tipping back a few. Ben Sollee’s the opener, and country-ish wit Jim White is an odd but welcome choice for the middle of the night’s lineup. Bring your blanket to the Harbor Lawn starting at 5 p.m., the show is free.
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