Nashville Chamber Orchestra continues to perform unconventional classical music in atypical venues. Building on that approach, the ensemble teams up with the cream of Nashville’s roots/acoustic music community during its American Song Festival, a two-week extravaganza featuring traditional vocal recitals and more far-ranging musical explorations. The Acoustic Café Series, a three-night event featuring nine notable singer-songwriters, opens at the Belcourt Thursday with performances by Kathy Chiavola, Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott. The NCO will also debut new arrangements by ensemble members Conni Ellisor, Don Hart and Kris Wilkinson. On Friday, the series continues with Guy Clark, Jim Lauderdale and Peter Rowan, three distinctly different singer-songwriters. Rowan is the most wide-ranging stylist of the group, rambling from impeccable bluegrass to reggae and beyond, while Clark offers homespun tales whose melodic simplicity is sturdy enough to bear considerable emotional complexity. Lauderdale may seize the opportunity to blend country ballads with uptown strings in an echo of the countrypolitan sounds of his hero, George Jones. Saturday’s bill features three more diverse performers: Nanci Griffith, Marcus Hummon and Bill Miller, each of whom will lend their own wrinkle to the Nashville Chamber Orchestra’s meeting of high culture and the vernacular. Music starts at 8 p.m. each night.
This week’s picks by Todd Anderson, Martin Brady, Chris Davis, Jonathan Flax, Paul Griffith, Heather Johnson, MiChelle Jones, Bill Levine, Jonathan Marx, Steve Morley, Noel Murray, Jim Ridley, Joshua H. Rothkopf, Jack Silverman, Jon Weisberger, Angela Wibking and Ron Wynn.
Annie Lennox In 1992, Lennox distanced herself from the stiff andro-wave of The Eurythmics with her first solo album, Diva. The record complicated her threatening eroticism with a sensual vulnerability that suddenly rendered her as a sympathetic character, even as she still claimed to be “viciously unkind.” Subsequent efforts have been less imaginative, but Lennox, who has a new album due in June, remains a first-rate vocalist and galvanizing presence. She performs at the Ryman Auditorium.
Camper Van Beethoven This imaginative, ironic post-punk band languished after their five minutes of late-’80s MTV fame and the departure of singer David Lowery, who left to form the not so ironic Cracker. The hiatus ended with last year’s release of Tusk, a full-length cover of Fleetwood Mac’s bombastic waste of resources from 1979. With the original tracks recorded over 15 years ago as an attempt to kill time during a snowed-in weekend, Camper’s finally finished versions are stripped-down and charming. They perform at 12th & Porter.
Clarence Dobbins & Friends play for Progress A diverse lot of musicians perform at this benefit for Progress Inc., a nonprofit agency that has provided residential support and employment and community participation opportunities for developmentally disabled adults since 1973. The leader of a versatile R&B-based unit, Dobbins supplies the glue for this bill of local country, contemporary Christian and crossover favorites, including Gary Chapman, T. Graham Brown and Wynonna.
Pearl Jam Some fans will always long for another Ten, but Pearl Jam’s new album, Riot Act, has its moments. The band finally may be comfortable in their skins, having found a way to balance their success with their desire to be anti-rock stars. In any case, Pearl Jam live are a safe bet, at times soulful, at others raw and punky. They record every show, so if you can’t make it out to AmSouth Amphitheatre, you can always order a bootleg from the group’s Web site. If you are going, get there on time:The galvanizing trio Sleater-Kinney open the show (see below).
sleater-kinney In a perfect world, this justly lauded trio from the Pacific Northwest would be playing arenasoh wait, they are playing arenas, thanks to their opening slot on the current Pearl Jam tour. For some folks, S-K’s appearance on the bill is the only reason to drive all the way out to AmSouth Amphitheatre. Here’s hoping the group, still touring on last year’s One Beat album, find a receptive audience for their passionate music, which mixes the personal and the political with rare aplomb.
Chris Whitley/Johnny Society Restless troubadour Whitley returns to Nashville promoting his new album, Hotel Vast Horizon, which rests on a foundation of intermittently tuneful acoustic instrumentation in a full-band setting. The record is at once warm and creepy, and another interesting direction from an artist who has dabbled in alt-country, grunge, trip-hop and jazz. Opening for Whitley at 3rd & Lindsley will be the NYC roots-pop combo Johnny Society, whose Life Behind the 21st Century Wall draws from the anything-can-happen spirit and radio-friendly polish of ’70s rock. Like Whitley, Johnny Society are sometimes too crowded with ideas and influences to make a direct impact, but also like Whitley, they’re capable of pulling a stunning song out of the soup.
Mile 8 In the jam band universe, there are two subsets: groups with roots in bluegrass and country-rock, and those more informed by jazz and funk. Mile 8 belong to the latter school, incorporating horn-driven workouts and post-Meters Crescent City grooves. Their more song-oriented material is at times reminiscent of those stalwarts of the jam scene’s first wave, The Radiators. They play 12th & Porter Friday, and they’re also part of Vanderbilt’s Rites of Spring show on Saturday.
1964: The Tribute/Jim Cole This quartet’s attention to detail makes them as uncanny a Beatles impersonation as you’re likely to see. They sound equally convincing, focusing on songs from the Liverpudlians’ touring years, 1964-66. Opener Jim Cole has to labor to avoid impersonating James Taylor, whose reedy, laid-back vocals he evokes, but he also demonstrates a broader palette of influences. This show at Lipscomb University’s Collins Alumni Auditorium is a benefit for land mine victims.
Los Lobos This East L.A. band’s gradual decline from the near-mainstream success they enjoyed in the early ’90s has no correlation to their level of integrity, musical or otherwise. The elements that made the group great thenconcise songs rooted in American and Mexican traditions, a spirit of exploration, and superb, unpretentious musicianshipare equally evident in 2003, their 30th year together. A downpour truncated their scorching set at Uptown Mix last year, but they returnagain, free of chargeas the headliners for the Earth Day festival at Centennial Park (see below).
Earth Day Festival This event’s focus on environmental activism shouldn’t be neglected, but it’s also an opportunity to see some eclectic performers on the Kids’ Stage, courtesy of the Global Education Center. The spotlight ranges from traditional Native American music and dance by Gary Cady to the Kala Nivedanam School of South Indian Classical Dance and other groups representing African, Irish, Ukrainian and Hawaiian cultures. Meanwhile, on the main stage, jazz group Hakim Rahsul & Company, Victor Mecyssne (see below), stomp-rockers Bonepony and nonpareil singer-songwriter Patty Griffin will share billing. The event gets under way at 12:15 p.m. in Centennial Park.
Victor Mecyssne After several years of caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s, Mecyssne is turning toward an ethic of simplicity. If only five years ago he could be seen as a wry, locally flavored brother of Randy Newman and Lyle Lovett, Mecyssne now aims for lyric directness and melodic clarity. As much as he seeks to abandon “Cadillac chords” and his occasional character sketches of urban flotsam and jetsam, he will allow “jazzbos” Jim Hoke (on several woodwinds) and Dave Pomeroy (on bass) to spice up his folk-based tunes at the Earth Day festivities.
Shashank A stunning prodigy from the state of Chennai in southern India, Shashank mastered the bamboo flute not through lessons with masters, but by ignoring the instrument altogether and training under vocal instructors from the age of 9 monthsbefore he’d even learned to speak. When he took up his father’s flute five years later, he played with spontaneous knowledge of the instrument. Now 24, Shashank is an acknowledged virtuoso on the flute, his iconoclastic phrasing garnering worldwide acclaim and the chance to collaborate with artists such as minimalist composer Terry Riley. Shashank performs with two percussionists, a violinist and a tamboura player, 6 p.m. at Sri Ganesha Temple and Hindu Cultural Center. For information, call 356-7207. C.D.
Neilson Hubbard Following up the beautifully disconsolate pop of Why Men Fail, Mississippi native Hubbard returns with a new album, Sing Into Me, that explores a broad set of spiritual and personal concerns. Newly relocated to East Nashville, he performs songs from the record at 12th & Porter with guests Need to Breathe. J.R.
David Peterson & 1946 With talented Kentuckians Shayne Bartley (mandolin) and Elmer Burchett Jr. (banjo) joining bassist Preston Rumbaugh and fiddler Matt Arnold, these traditionalists join the select list of bluegrass groups who have toured with major country actsin this case Brooks & Dunn. Peterson and company preview material from a forthcoming album at the Station Inn.
Chuck Yamek Yamek’s credits date back to the early ’80s, when he was a prolific West Coast session player. His adaptability as a guitarist has served him wellhe’s done blues, jazz, classical, pop and rock dates, and toured with artists ranging from Eric Clapton to Natalie Cole. Yamek performs tunes from his new CD, 1 p.m. at Jazz.
Petty Larceny: A Tribute to Tom Petty Though tribute bands often lean toward subjects known for their drama or bombastKISS, AC/DC, The Doorshere’s one trusting solely in the durable songbook of Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. Former members of Catawompus and other local bands join forces to cover tunes from Petty’s entire career, using original recordings as models, but also incorporating the feel and flow of The Heartbreakers’ live shows. They play at the Slow Bar.
American Plague Given the complexity with which many young bands infuse their music, the American Plague are a breath of fresh air. The Knoxville trio play rock ’n’ roll that doesn’t sound like a throwback to some mythical “garage” era and punk rock that doesn’t whine. Something like an instrumentally competent Misfits, the Plague will shake The Muse when they play with Cutter and Fateful Departed.
Warren Zanes/Joseph Arthur Depending on how you look at it, in the mid-1980s, the torrid garage-bound sound of Boston’s Del Fuegos was either 17 years behind or ahead of the times. Back then, guitarist Warren Zanes was a brash teenage foil for his older brother Dan. In the years since, Dan has become the anti-Raffi of children’s music, while Warren earned a handful of degrees and a doctorate. He made a solo album, Memory Girls, slated for release on the Dust Brothers’ label before corporate hassles sidelined it. Recorded in Nashville, the album has finally found a home at local imprint Dualtone, and Zanes celebrates its release with a radio broadcast at 3rd & Lindsley. Do not miss opening act Joseph Arthur, whose 2002 album Redemption’s Son offers rock songs that drone prettily on first listen but expand in memory like individual movie soundtracks.
Soul Food Sundays A nationally known gospel disc jockey and former radio program director who still has a weekly broadcast on WFSK-88.1 FM, Gwen Dingle has begun hosting a series of gospel events every third Sunday at the Gibson Bluegrass Showcase in Opry Mills. The latest features Roger Ryan & The Greater Grace Temple Choir, a powerhouse ensemble on the contemporary gospel circuit, as well as Epiphany and Christian Howard. Things get under way at 12:30 p.m.
Rev. Horton Heat/Unknown Hinson Heat’s twisted trio have played a bastard mix of rockabilly, country swing and surf for almost 15 years, and they just keep getting better. The Rev is touring with The Unknown Hinson, a C&W troubadour who’s relatively, well, unknown on this side of the Mississippi. His new EP, Rock ’n’ Roll Is Straight From Hell, is equal parts demented imagination and rhinestone-studded country music. The two acts play the Exit/In.
My Morning Jacket These country-rock noisemakers from Kentucky often have been compared to Neil Young because of bandleader Jim James’ vocal whine and his tendency to launch into spacey, distorted guitar solos. My Morning Jacket also evoke Red House Painters in their melancholy cast, and Beechwood Sparks in their casual psychedelia. They’re a very good young band, still finding their voice after two acclaimed LPs. And they’re reportedly very exciting live, which makes their gig at the Exit/In one to catch; Burning Brides (see below) and Detachment Kit open.
Burning Brides Led by manic singer-guitarist Dimitri Coats, this Philly power trio came on hard and heavy as hell on their 2001 indie release Fall of the Plastic Empire, a welter of Sabbath-style riffage at tempos ranging from sludgy to supersonic. The garage-a-trois’ album has just been reissued on V2, and the buzz is deafening. Or maybe that’s just the feedback. See ’em open for My Morning Jacket at Exit/In.
That One Guy One-man bass and drum prodigy Mike Silverman must get tired of looking at his audience’s open mouths. That’s the usual response Silverman elicits when he mounts his “Magic Pipe”a cross between an amateur plumbing job and the miscellaneous parts box at a used music store. Exactly how he does it no one seems to know, but That One Guywho plays at 12th & Porterkicks up a ruckus on his “instrument” that a six-piece band would have a hard time replicating.
Drums & Tuba This occasionally raucous and often genre-bending NYC trio’s instrumentals draw equally upon acid jazz, indie rock, Afro-Cuban music and funk. On their latest LP, Mostly Ape, they continue in a fusion vein, albeit with an increasing tendency to get (intentionally) sloppy. Drums & Tuba play the new Village Vibe Concert Series at Jackson’s in Hillsboro Village, along with the jazz-inflected The Great Twitch.
An Evening of American Song In a busy week for the Nashville Chamber Orchestra (see pick of the week, above), the ensemble continues its American Song Festival with this evening featuring members of the Blair School of Music and Belmont School of Music faculties surveying the work of Leonard Bernstein, Charles Ives, Samuel Barber and other American composers. Featured singers include soprano Amy Jarman, baritone Jonathan Retzlaff and other names familiar to local fans of opera and vocal music. The free concert is 8 p.m. April 21 at the Belmont Mansion.
Stevie Steve James’ latest documentary has an air of terrible inexorability about it; the film follows a bitter, mentally arrested young man living in downstate Illinois who repeats the same mistakes learned from a childhood of sexual abuse. Even more provocatively, James implicates himself in the trajectoryhe abandoned his subject as a boy after serving as his state-appointed Big Brotherand his own guilt becomes the subject of the film. To purists, this will seem like crossing the line, but taken as a confessional essay, it becomes a brave statement on the failure of both the individual and society to assist its neediest. The movie opens Friday at Green Hills; see the review on p. 64.
Russian Ark A virtually unprecedented cinematic feat, Aleksandr Sokurov’s feature escorts a time traveler through the Russian State Hermitage Museumand three centuries of Russian historyin a single unbroken 96-minute Steadicam shot. Eat your heart out, Brian De Palma! Several people have called to ask when this would be opening; it starts Friday at the Belcourt.
The Journey Nine years ago, first-time filmmaker Eric Saberston set out with two friends and a dog named Jack in a 1971 VW microbus, hoping to follow the Dead and record wisdom from encounters along the way. Five hundred hours of footage laterincluding interviews with everyone from the Indigo Girls and Home Depot founder Bernie Marcus to Henry WinklerSaberston had the makings of this feel-good documentary, which has wound its way around the country as a grass-roots phenomenon. The doc makes its Nashville debut Friday at Vanderbilt’s Sarratt Cinema; for more information, check out www.thejourneyfilm.com.
The Weight of Water As its last offering of the season, the Watkins Film School hosts the first local screening of Kathryn Bigelow’s ambitious thriller, which intercuts the parallel stories of a 19th century double ax-murder and a contemporary yacht voyage fraught with erotic unease. The fine cast includes Sean Penn, Sarah Polley, Catherine McCormack and the late Katrin Cartlidge; the movie shows on projected DVD, 7 p.m. Friday, free and open to the public. Don’t bring children.
Malibu’s Most Wanted Jamie Kennedy plays a dorky, privileged white rapper whose lack of cred makes Vanilla Ice look like Bushwick Bill; Taye Diggs and Anthony Anderson are the authentic African Americans hired to “scare the black out of him.” Don’t be hatin’ this comedy when it opens Friday, along with Chow Yun-Fat as the Bulletproof Monk and the movie version of Louis Sachar’s popular children’s novel Holes, starring Jon Voight and Sigourney Weaver.
Chiller Cinema Nashville’s cable-access horrorpalooza gets a new early-morning home, 1 a.m. Fridays on UPN affiliate Channel 30. The half-hour show sports new theme music from The Exotic Ones, featuring members of The Reverbians and The Secret Commonwealth, but host Dr. Gangrene is still the ghoul that rules. Watch for tributes to Nashville horror hosts Russ “Sir Cecil Creap” McCown and Ken “Dr. Lucifer” Bramming.
Swan Lake excerpts/Beauty and the Beast For three years, the Mid-South Ballet/Jazz Theater has been bringing dance to the residents of Williamson County and other outlying areas. Under the guidance of artistic director Janie Skelton, the working troupe of nine features performers from far-flung locales like Puerto Rico and Russia, and operates out of a resident theater in College Grove. For one performance only, the company will bring this mixed program of Tchaikovsky and Disney movie music to Franklin’s Boiler Room Theatre, April 22 at 7 p.m. For tickets, call 790-3048 or 794-7744.
42nd Street The timeless tale of the young, starry-eyed Broadway wannabe who gets her big break is known and loved by all. So are this tap-dance-heavy musical’s great songs, such as “Lullaby of Broadway,” “I Only Have Eyes for You” and the incredibly infectious title tune. The producing organization for this huge-cast extravaganza is Dodger Theatricals, a 25-year-old Manhattan-based production company that has been instrumental in forging new labor agreements with Actors Equity Association, thus ensuring that union-caliber talent plays the key role in mounting what might be otherwise prohibitive, high-overhead touring shows such as this. If this one’s as good as its advance press, Nashville audiences will be highly entertained. 42nd Street takes over TPAC’s Jackson Hall, April 22-27, for eight performances.
Brighton Beach Memoirs After a successful run earlier this year, Big Bawl Baby Productions has moved its staging of Neil Simon’s memoir of his Brooklyn youth to the Gordon Jewish Community Center, where it will play an 8 p.m. performance on April 19 and a 2:30 p.m. matinee on April 20. The solid cast remains intact, featuring Arita Trahan, Philip Piarrot, Lon Gary (who directs) and teenager Taylor Hyatt as Simon’s alter-ego, Eugene Jerome. For ticket information, call 356-7170.
New Southern Theater Festival Known as NeST, this annual offering sponsored by the respected Mockingbird Theatre has expanded its focus. The heart of NeST remains the staged readings of new Southern-themed scripts; this year’s finalists are Angel by David Davis, Laying Felt by David Blakely and The Class of 1950 by David Brendan Hopes, all three of which will be performed by professional casts April 21-26 at Montgomery Bell Academy’s Paschall Theatre. In addition, on April 22, NeST will feature a special reading of Palisades, a new play by noted Nashville actor/writer Jeremy Childs. The festival kicks off April 21 with a presentation of the first-ever Young Professionals Company Showcase, with the spotlight on an original piece staged by Mockingbird interns. There will also be a workshop for hopeful playwrights, conducted by Austin Peay State University’s Malcolm Glass on April 26. Finally, NeST culminates April 30-May 3 at TPAC’s Johnson Theater, with the joint Mockingbird/People’s Branch Theatre production of Alan Lightman’s Einstein’s Dream, adapted for the stage by Mockingbird artistic director David Alford. For info, or to secure a $25 All-Festival Pass, phone 242-6704.
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