City Stages 2004

Blockbuster Stage

Friday, June 186:30 p.m. Ray Lamontagne7:50 p.m. Los Lonely Boys

9:15 p.m. Keb’ Mo’

11 p.m. The Robert Cray Band

Saturday, June 19

1:45 p.m. June Star

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Shelby Lynne (click for larger version)

 

 

2:40 p.m. Clare Burson

3:45 p.m. D.B. Harris

 

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4:50 p.m. Chris Knight

6 p.m. Steve Forbert

7:25 p.m. Drive-By Truckers

8:50 p.m. Lynyrd Skynyrd

Sunday, June 20

1 p.m. The Scott Ivey Band

2 p.m. Adam Hood

3:05 p.m. Meteorite

4:20 p.m. Tony Joe White

5:45 p.m. Dave Alvin & The Guilty Men

7:10 p.m. Shelby Lynne

8:40 p.m. Loretta Lynn

(Artists are listed alphabetically by first name.)

Adam Hood

Currently based in Auburn, Hood sounds a lot like Steve Earle searching for long-lost James Taylor and Joni Mitchell roots. —Ed Reynolds (Sunday, June 20, 2 p.m. to 2:45 p.m.)

Clare Burson

Clare Burson’s voice has a particular lucidity—a Southern ease. Though most of the tracks on her 2003 full-length debut album, The In-Between, are forgettable, Burson has her moments. The subtle, girlish vocals that dominate most of the album turn unexpectedly sultry with “Don’t You Do Me,” a song with a sedated yet seductive sound (Old World-inspired accordion, and mandolin riffs) and vocals that are reminiscent of—dare I say—Fiona Apple? Burson’s overall style is no doubt influenced by her ear for bluegrass and Irish-inspired music, which she learned from playing violin for more than 18 years. But it wasn’t until her college years that she taught herself to play guitar and write songs—most of which are lyrically sweet and innocuous.

The In-Between is just what one would expect in a first effort from a 28-year-old singer/songwriter steeped in her Tennessee roots—plainspoken love songs, earnest musings about long dusty roads to Memphis, and a crew of acclaimed Nashville musicians to beef up her songs with bass, drums, lap steel, organ, and accordion. —Danielle McClure (Saturday, June 19, 2:40 p.m. to 3:25 p.m.; and also at City Stages Unplugged: Friday, June 18, 11:55 a.m. to 12:20 p.m.)

D.B. Harris

Now based in Austin, Texas, this Birmingham native’s band features cry-in-your-beer country music, Tejano, rockabilly, and some material that wouldn’t sound strange coming from Joe Ely. Definitely worth checking out. —Bart Grooms (Saturday, June 19, 1:10 p.m. to 2:10 p.m.; and also at the Blockbuster Stage: Saturday, June 19, 3:45 p.m. to 4:30 p.m.)

Dave Alvin & the Guilty Men

Any hack will tell you that Dave Alvin grew up under the buzz of the high-tension wires strung across rural California. Big deal. There’s plenty of old folks living under high-tension wires strung across suburban America, and you don’t see them churning out terse, bluesy tunes. Alvin’s spent more than 20 years as a critic’s darling, and that might help explain why his best album remains a live effort that frees him from his studio indulgences. He seems to understand better than his supporters that his music only truly matters when he’s playing with his longstanding touring band. A live set from Alvin can even make his crappy old college-rock tunes (anybody remember The Blasters or X?) sound fresh, immediate, and really, really important. —J.R. Taylor (Sunday, June 20, 5:45 p.m. to 6:45 p.m.)

Drive-By Truckers

Sure, they’ve cornered the market on Southern Rock, but how hard was that when the competition was Nashville Pussy? Last year’s Decoration Day has now lead to a solo album, Killers & Stars, from band leader Patterson Hood, and both projects suggest that the Drive-By Truckers are, in fact, doomed to be constantly undervalued in the musical marketplace. They might as well reject the rock world that will only marginalize them and begin their rightful stance as displaced folkies simply trying to make sense of their surroundings. Lesser albums such as Warren Zevon’s The Wind and Neil Young’s Greendale will get more unabashed hype, but that’s okay. England Dan & John Ford Coley outsold Dirk Hamilton, too. —J.R. Taylor (Saturday, June 19, 7:25 p.m. to 8:25 p.m.)

June Star

These guys like to crank up the alt-country rock, beer-joint shit-kicker style, but they truly shine when easing into country ballads that feature pedal steel, harmonica, and mandolin. Andrew Grimm has a melancholy voice that is both gruff and twangy, and his songs fall somewhere between Gram Parsons and early R.E.M., but they are definitely rougher around the edges (a good thing in this case). Although June Star often recall late-model Byrds, Neil Young’s all-but-forgotten outfit The Stray Gators, or even Poco, it’s difficult to say if this versatile band is better suited to “Austin City Limits” or “A Prairie Home Companion.” —David Pelfrey (Saturday, June 19, 1:45 p.m. to 2:20 p.m.)

Keb’ Mo’

Keb’ Mo’ (that’s Swahili for Kevin Moore . . .) has a new album called Keep It Simple. The CD’s cover pictures the artist in Depression-era costume, seated in what looks like an old shack somewhere along the Mississippi Delta. On the title track, our back-to-basics bluesman sings, “I just wanna go somewhere and use my hands and keep it simple, real simple.”

Well, actions speak louder than lyrics, and here’s how Mr. “Mo’” keeps it simple: keyboards, violin, dobro, several guitars, synthesizers, a few back-up singers, six contributing artists from as many labels, four different recording studios, five engineers, and one assistant engineer.

There’s nothing wrong with taking full-blown, obsessively detailed advantage of today’s recording resources, unless you are posing as an authentic Delta blues artist cranking out some gritty, raw masterpieces for Fat Possum Records. Keb’ Mo’, by way of contrast, is making slick, blues-lite music that Disney might commission for its next big animated feature, assuming NPR doesn’t get to him first. Honestly, it makes Eric Clapton look like Howlin’ Wolf. This is music for fans of Randy Newman, Phil Collins, Bette Midler, Billy Joel, and sundry other middle-of-the-road, over-the-hill performers who, by the way, do indeed find gainful employment with Disney from time to time. “But wait,” Keb’ Mo’ fans and enablers reply, “He’s won two Grammy Awards.” To which one can only say, “Precisely.” —David Pelfrey (Friday, June 18, 9:15 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.)

Loretta Lynn

There’s not a single Trent Reznor song to be found on Van Lear Rose. In fact, 70-year-old Lynn has wisely dodged Johnny Cash’s mistakes and has utilized an influential young connection—that being highly-touted producer Jack White of the White Stripes—to record her first album comprised solely of originals. (At least, as far as I can tell from my collection of Lynn 8-track tapes. Is there anything more irritating than rock critics who suddenly become experts on country music once there’s a hipster angle?)

Anyway, Van Lear Rose snuffs out a thousand snide comments by being a truly great album. It doesn’t even sound like White had to step in to save the compositions. He’s still certainly responsible for several amazing moments where Lynn’s country stance succumbs to a British blues influence. A striking range of emotions is clearly the Lynn legacy, though. Now, there’s still the small matter of finding out how much daring new material will be sacrificed in favor of crowd-pleasing classics. Actually, who cares? (See interview, this issue.) —J.R. Taylor (Sunday, June 20, 8:40 p.m. to 9:55 p.m.)

Los Lonely Boys

Not since Mick Ronson co-produced the band Los Illegals has . . . oh, wait, nobody bought that Los Illegals album. Come to think of it, that whole thing was a crappy generic-rock effort distinguished only by some Spanish vocals. In sharp contrast, the self-titled debut of Los Lonely Boys features only a couple of crappy power ballads. The rest of the album—co-produced by Keb’ Mo’—is perfectly swell blues-rock. Never mind that the slick production makes the band sound more like Carlos Santana than Doug Sahm. Their shallow attempt at mining rhythm ‘n’ blues still allows the band to stumble upon plenty of greatness. Maybe they’ll even become successful enough to finally bury the Tejano genre. —J.R. Taylor (Friday, June 18, 7:50 p.m. to 8:50 p.m.; and also at City Stages Unplugged: Friday, June 18, 1:15 p.m. to 1:40 p.m.)

Lynyrd Skynyrd

Lynyrd Skynyrd have always been way over the top, whether it’s the barrage of three guitars when two would do or the incessant, countless guitar solos that made each weary version of “Free Bird” seemingly never end. The band transformed the Confederate flag into a worshipped icon while making the term “redneck” a proud label for men sporting mullets and women wrapped in halter tops. (Appropriately, the original Skynyrd boys were dropouts from—you guessed it—Robert E. Lee High School in Jacksonville, Florida.) Lynyrd Skynyrd simply refuses to go away. They’re back with their first studio album in three years, and, quite frankly, it’s the same tired Southern boogie-woogie they’ve recycled for years. It’s no surprise that they named it Vicious Cycle.

When original singer Ronnie Van Zant, who was fondly remembered by his wife in a VH-1 special as “just a redneck who loved to fight,” died in a 1977 plane crash, many thought that “Free Bird” had finally been grounded. Instead, the song became a request literally screamed at every concert, regardless of which band was performing. The only bright spot in the ongoing saga is the return of Blackfoot guitarist Rickey Medlocke to the Skynyrd fold. Medlocke played drums in the band in 1971, left for a year, and then returned briefly when the band featured a two-drummer lineup. The next time around, Medlocke returned as the third guitarist.

Guitarist Gary Rossington and keyboardist Billy Powell are the only other original members. Johnny Van Zant, who was 13 when Skynyrd first hit the big time, replaced his late brother as lead vocalist. He was recently interviewed by comedic hipster Dennis Miller, who asked Van Zant if he realized the band had a monster hit in the works when he recorded the vocals for “Free Bird.” Van Zant simply smiled and politely told Miller that it was his late brother Ronnie who had originally sung the song. Lucky for Miller that Ronnie’s dead, because he would have kicked Miller’s ass all over the television studio. (See interview, this issue.) —Ed Reynolds (Saturday, June 19, 8:50 p.m. to 10:35 p.m.)

The Robert Cray Band

Although guitarist/vocalist Cray inevitably gets called a bluesman, he’s never stayed in the blues mainstream. With a smooth vocal style that owes more to soul and gospel than any blues singer you can name, Cray and his longtime mates (keyboardist Jim Pugh, bassist Karl Sevareid, drummer Kevin Hayes) continue to work at evolving a blues-influenced mainstream R&B/rock hybrid. Cray and Co. may not always hit the heights of early successes like the breakthrough Strong Persuader album (1986), but at their best, they make terrific, moving music indeed. Cray’s songs have been covered by artists as diverse as Albert King, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Del McCoury, and Tony Bennett, and Mick Jagger has been heard to kvetch admiringly about Cray’s vocals, instrumental talents, and the fact that he’s good looking as well. “It’s not fair,” whined the Stone. See for yourself. (See interview, this issue.) —Bart Grooms (Friday, June 18, 11 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.)

Shelby Lynne

2000′s I Am Shelby Lynne was a brilliant pop album that defied years of record company oppression. The record’s surprising success put the country songstress in an ideal position to dictate her next big move, which turned out to be the moronic sellout of 2001′s Love, Shelby. That joke just gets funnier every time it’s told. Anyway, Lynne tried rebounding with last year’s Identity Crisis, and it was a nice step away from the gloss toward minimalism. Interestingly enough, it’s even as much a step away from I Am Shelby Lynne as it is from her previous disaster. The only problem is that Lynne’s true love seems to be slick balladry. She remains a fine songwriter, but that haphazard career still makes her the kind of musician who makes illegal downloading seem totally understandable. (See interview, this issue.) —J.R. Taylor (Sunday, June 20, 7:10 p.m. to 8:10 p.m.)

Steve Forbert

See interview, this issue. (Saturday, June 19, 6 p.m. to 7 p.m.)

Tony Joe White

Tina Turner opened the door for his European comeback in the early ’90s, but Tony Joe White is mostly forgotten in the places he defines. Even the most suburban Southerner can relate to White’s “Homemade Ice Cream” and “Rainy Night In Georgia,” although his “Polk Salad Annie” remains a novelty on the level of Jerry Reed’s “Amos Moses.” On the other hand, Tom Jones and Elvis Presley both found “Polk Salad Annie” worth covering. There was a time when White was positioned as a similar chest-hair-sporting stud during his short heyday as the Swamp Fox. He even attempted a perfectly legitimate bid for disco stardom back in ’76. Today, however, White’s very reliable as a funky bluesman with an offhand manner toward his fine guitar work. Fans on other continents already know all this, but here’s a rare chance for his countryfolk to catch up with the legend. (See interview, this issue.) —J.R. Taylor (Sunday, June 20, 4:20 p.m. to 5:20 p.m.) &

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