Critical recording 

Critical recording

Critical recording

Cause for Celebration

The Opry may have vacated Lower Broadway, but the Ernest Tubb Record Shop never did. The shop first opened on Commerce Street in 1947, next to a Hank Williams western-wear boutique, but a couple of years later it moved to Lower Broad and set up its home base between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. Even in the dark days when the Ryman closed its doors and fell into disrepair, leaving the strip to grindhouses and peep shows, the record shop was a safe haven for country music.

The fortunes of Lower Broadway have reversed dramatically in recent years—you tell us whether that’s good or not. But the Ernest Tubb Record Shop has remained a constant. On Saturday, the shop celebrates its 50th year in business with an all-star edition of the famed Midnight Jamboree. Beginning at approximately 9 p.m., Lower Broad will be blocked off from Fourth to Fifth Avenue, and an outdoor stage will host the likes of Bill Anderson, Austin Church, Charlie McCoy, Jack Greene, Cal Smith, Jan Howard, George Hamilton IV, Leona Williams, the Texas Troubadours, and several surprise guests. The event climaxes at midnight with a special performance by Loretta Lynn, whose records have been selling at Ernest Tubb for more than three decades.

The celebration is free and open to the public; if the weather’s bad, the whole shebang moves inside. For more information, call 255-7503.

As an early member of the late-1980s electric poetry movement in New York, John S. Hall recited ironic, scabrous—and frequently hilarious—screeds over the assaultive guitar skronks of his band, King Missile. The group recorded a handful of albums for Atlantic, even scoring a left-field radio hit with a memorable 1992 meditation on the merits of a “Detachable Penis.” But the band was always secondary to Hall’s gift for incisive Bizarro World absurdity—whether he was proclaiming that “Jesus Was Way Cool” or hailing “Martin Scorsese” with threats to rip off the director’s ear and hurl it like a Frisbee.

Now more than 40 of Hall’s choicest musings are on display in Jesus Was Way Cool, a new volume of poetry from Soft Skull Press. Hall will be in Nashville to flog the book this week, but he’s forsaking the usual signing-party snoozefest. In true punk-poetic spirit, Hall is reading from his book not at Davis-Kidd, not at Barnes & Noble, but at Lucy’s Record Shop this Thursday night.

This fits the philosophy of Soft Skull Press, a “deliberately edgy” indie publishing house founded in 1992 by Sander Hicks, a dramatist and Kinko’s employee. Soft Skull’s online manifesto includes goals to “push the boundaries of the senses and the moral order” and to “replace the Bible in all U.S. motels.” Thus far, the press has published 20 books, including poetry by Sonic Youth guitarist Lee Ranaldo and Ruby Falls lead singer Cynthia Nelson and a tour journal of the 1995 Lollapalooza. The Gideons quake.

In Nashville, Hall will be joined by fellow Soft Skull authors Henry Baum (Oscar Caliber Gun) and filmmaker Matt Kohn (Lake Success), both of whom will read from their novels. The show starts at 8 p.m. (JR)

With grunge reduced to a parody of itself, look for Pacific Northwest holdovers who still have something to say to go the troubadour route. Grunge has always had a quieter, more reflective side, perhaps best exemplified by the solo records of Heatmiser’s Elliott Smith and Screaming Trees frontman Mark Lanegan. This same low-key vibe can be heard, to a lesser extent, in Pearl Jam guitarist Stone Gossard’s short-lived side project, Brad.

Jeremy Toback, who begins his first national tour with an appearance Sunday at 3rd & Lindsley, was the bass player in Brad before leaving to pursue a solo career. With his matinee-idol profile, Princeton education, and jazz credentials, he clearly made a savvy move: His just-released full-length solo debut, Perfect Flux Thing (RCA), promises to be around for a while.

Coffeehouse types have been hip to the pleasures of Toback’s music—which features evocative imagery wrapped in autumnal folk-jazz arrangements—for the past couple of years. But with a spot on the Lollapalooza tour this summer, Toback will probably be all over MTV or the pages of Spin during the upcoming months. This inevitable hype notwithstanding, Toback is worth hearing. Perfect Flux Thing at times recalls the music of broken angels Vic Chesnutt and Nick Drake. Besides, next time he’s in town, odds are he’ll be playing Starwood or 328—venues that can’t possibly nourish the subtleties of his music. (BFW)

Summertime is, appropriately enough, music festival time—and we don’t mean Lollapalooza either. Here’s a look at some upcoming local and regional events:

♦ Songwriter Felice Bryant, Roy Clark, and the Osborne Brothers are among the featured guests celebrating the 30th anniversary of the writing of “Rocky Top” at the Rocky Top 30th Birthday Bash this Friday and Saturday in Gatlinburg. UT Coach Phil Fulmer is also scheduled to appear, although we can only hope he won’t sing. For more information, call 1-800-568-4748.

♦ Nashville’s songwriting community will be well represented at the 26th annual Kerrville Folk Festival, to be held May 22-June 8 in Kerr-ville, Texas. The ranks of traveling tunesmiths include Dana Cooper, Eddie & Martha Adcock, John McVey, Bill Miller, Rick Beresford, Kye Fleming, Kate Wallace, Gary Nichols, Tom Kimmel, Michael Lille, and Chip Taylor.

♦ With the publication of Daniel Cooper’s authoritative biography last year and the recent release of a two-disc retrospective, Look What Thoughts Will Do, on Columbia/Legacy, the career of Lefty Frizzell is due a new audience. To celebrate his legacy, the second-annual Lefty Frizzell Tribute Day will bring together fans old and new on June 14 at David Frizzell’s River Rock Country Resort in Cross Plains, Tenn., for nine solid hours of traditional country music. The lineup includes John Anderson, Johnny Paycheck, David Frizzell, and Ken Mellons. For more information, call 654-0222.

♦ Almost a quarter-century after the brutal slaying of Grand Ole Opry performer David “Stringbean” Akeman—who was killed by robbers at his home in 1973—friends and fellow performers will gather at his hometown of Gray Hawk, Ky., for the Stringbean Memorial Bluegrass Festival, to be held June 19-21. On hand will be Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, Mac Wiseman, Jim & Jesse and the Virginia Boys, the amazing local showman Leroy Troy, and dozens of supporting acts. A three-day pass costs $30. For more information, call (606) 287-0600.

♦ Finally, organizers for the Chet Atkins’ Musician Days festival, to be held here June 23-29, are currently seeking a wide variety of artists from all over the world to perform on several outdoor stages during the week-long event. Anyone interested should contact TomKats, Inc., at 256-9596 or visit the Musician Days Web site at http://www.musiciandays.com/.

For Rock ’n’ Roll Invaders, a two-hour TV documentary for the Bravo channel about unsung heroes of rock music, a Canadian production team seeks memories and memorabilia concerning legendary WLAC deejays Hoss Allen, John Richbourg, and Gene Nobles. If you can help, contact production coordinator Rosemary Heather at (416) 359-2918. (JR

Sweet Sounds

Somewhere in the bottom drawer of my entertainment center, sandwiched between decks of playing cards and my Boggle game, is a foot-long piece of pear wood that keeps me humble. Given to me by an old friend and coworker, Joe Hunter, it is the third and last run-in I had with a member of the recorder family. Joe was one of those maddening people who could pick up an instrument and, after a few moments, play with blinding virtuosity.

After months of practice, during which I was only able to manage weak scales and the hymn-tune “Hyfrydol,” I slipped the recorder into its brown plastic sleeve, never to be touched again. I was helped in this determination by the piteous wails of my black cat, Blanche; everyone’s a critic these days, but few are as perceptive as was she. I shall advert to the subject of recorders and wailing in just a few moments, but I do think that even Blanche might have managed a purr at last Friday’s Parthenon performance by the Centennial Recorder Consort.

During the end of the Baroque era, when the recorder was supplanted by the modern transverse flute, these instruments were often referred to as flauti dolci—sweet flutes. I have seldom heard these flutes sound any sweeter than they did in the Parthenon’s ethereal acoustic. Because the decay time in the building is so long, the Centennial folks wisely chose to de-emphasize pieces that were filled with razzle-dazzle virtuosity. Likewise, they slowed the rest of their selections to tempi compatible with the building’s acoustic. This was plainly evident in the concert opener, a stately performance of an intrada by Johann Pezel. Like several numbers on the program, this was originally an element in a suite for brass, but it worked because it’s a very relaxed “entrance” number.

As a group, the pieces by J.S. Bach came off best; they involved the many ranges of the recorder family and allowed the consort to split into smaller groups for some intimate performances. The “Aria” from Cantata No. 46 afforded its two performers some fine, florid playing with crisp trills and a freedom from screechy, overblown notes. The “Invention in A Minor” was marked by excellent interplay between its performers and an ethereal sound that rivaled that of the glass harmonica. The most ravishing number in the set, however, was the “Fuga VII.” More than any other piece in the concert, it took advantage of a peculiar sound phenomenon: When legato notes were played on the bass recorders, they seemed to come from everywhere at once. This velvet background of sound was a perfect foil for the arabesques of counterpoint in the foreground.

The rarely encountered Quintet in F by Johann Pepusch—the arranger and composer for the music of Gay’s Beggar’s Opera—also benefited from a lack of ornamentation. Pepusch is often looked upon as a kind of junior Handel, but this quintet was clearly transitional or even early classical in style. Again, the slow passages, especially the lovely bell-like opening largo, came across best. The sharper phrasing of the allegro and presto sections suffered due to a combination of less-than-ideal performance choice and building acoustic. The concluding presto, no matter its tempo, remained arresting because it sounded so much like an early work of J.C. Bach, Mozart’s greatest musical mentor.

An allegro from the “Canonic Sonata No. 1” by Telemann and a suite from the Water Music by Handel fared the least well. Although the voice leading in the Telemann was especially apt, the CRC’s performance suffered from soggy ornamentation. This same problem also plagued the Handel. The pace lagged so much that trills, grace notes, and staccato passages were rendered limp. Even the slow passages suffered here—the “Lentement,” a particularly caressing siciliano, was reduced to a plodding dirge.

The final item on the program, Robert L. Dorough’s “Eons Ago Blue,” gave the consort its chance to wail. Dorough is a blues and jazz pianist, and the gutsy section that opened this bluesy piece was particularly well done. The CRC managed that lonesome train-whistle sound to a fault, but the rest of the performance lacked that freedom within the bar and the relaxed approach to phrase that mark a really good blues singer and a knowing jazz vocalist.

I know this can be done with recorders—and done well—because it was one of the most remarkable accomplishments of my recorder-playing friend Joe Hunter. He would join his blues recorder to my neighbor Kreis White’s guitar in evenings that would make anyone feel low-down. Blanche never attacked this duo—I told you she was a discerning critic.

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