Li”l Abner, and singers who you can believe in

Jan 8, 2008 at 6:17 pm

Thursday, Jan. 10
It’s easy to get lost in the hyperactive swell of Indianapolis’ Abner Trio. The tempos shift, the guitars play anything but a melody, and the bass barely holds it all together while vocals are shouted atop the musical cacophony.

To the uninitiated, Abner seems uncalculated, cold and unlistenable. To the band, it’s merely what happens all in the head of lead singer Clinton Hughey.

“We didn’t think about a lot of the songs, we just did them for fun,” drummer Karl Hofstetter says. “Clinton wrote these sort of spastic songs, because that’s how he is.”

But the spastic jerks and twitches that lie within a typical (if there is such a thing) Abner Trio song are enough to make any music fan come alive. With influences ranging from metal to jazz to indie rock and all points in between, Abner Trio commands repeated listening and intense thought not only from their audiences, but the band itself.

“ makes us have to think, and keeps us interested,” Hughey says.
Such complicated and, at times, inaccessible music does have its detractors, but bassist Daniel Paquette says the group takes that in stride. “We still play tight, but people think we can’t write songs. We collect bad reviews.”

Judge for yourself when Abner Trio plays Thursday at the 930 Listening Room (930 Mary St., 821-3373, Lucky Pineapple and Virgin Flame round out the bill. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. Cover is $5.

Friday, Jan. 11
There’s rock ’n’ roll, and then there’s Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers. Swampy, bluesy and boozy, this Nashville group has been blazing a trail of roadhouse rock-meets-hillbilly country, blues and rockabilly for 10 years, with no sign of letting up.

But there’s more that shakes than just Jack Daniels-fueled excess. There’s also the frontman. Col. J.D. Wilkes is quickly becoming one of the more renowned singers in rock. No Jagger-meets-Iggy clone, Wilkes is part bandleader, part carnival barker, and one sight to behold live.

So when Th’ Legendary Shack Shakers return to Louisville Friday at Headliners Music Hall (1386 Lexington Road, 584-8088,, expect a raucous performance where the line between audience and performer blur. Also expect sweat. Lots of sweat.

Saturday, Jan. 12
To purists, country music should represent a time and place, an old pickup truck and hot summer nights, and maybe Bo and Luke evading Roscoe on “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

Ronnie Milsap is not that kind of country singer. Instead, he sings with soul.

“It’s all about being believable. How many records do I hear, and I just don’t believe the singer?” Milsap says. “A singer can sing anything, but the audience has to believe what he is saying.”

If longevity is a sign of the audience believing what Milsap has to say, he’s on the right track. For more than 30 years and through nearly 40 No. 1 singles, Milsap has stood at the intersection of Ray Charles and Ray Price, playing a sophisticated blend of country music that has won him fans around the world. It’s down-home with uptown thrown in. Some see Milsap as a harbinger of the slick commercial direction that country followed, but he says he’s just being true to the music and the audiences.

“The audience is the boss, and if you don’t get that electricity from the audience to the performer, then you’re dead,” he says.

For his upcoming show with the Louisville Orchestra at the Palace Theatre (625 S. Fourth St., 583-4555,, Milsap will fall back not on his C&W roots, nor on his R&B leanings, but the classical training he received as a child. He describes it as a change of pace from his usual show and a chance to flex other muscles onstage.

“This is a chance to show off what we do with a symphony,” he says, “so it’s a totally different set list than you get with a normal show.” Show at 8 p.m., tickets are $22-$67.

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