The music on The Unicorns’ recent CD, Who Will Cut Our Hair When We’re Gone?, is so catchy and so rangy that it’s tempting to play spot-the-reference. But that would be grossly unfair to the Montreal-based group, who’ve managed to ingest all kinds of influencesclassic pop and garage rock, filtered through a decidedly bent sensibilityand emerge with something wonderfully sui generis. (In my cranky opinion, they deliver on all the unfulfilled promise of the Elephant 6 collective.) The bright, playful illustrations that festoon their album artwork don’t indicate just how obsessed they are with mortality: The lead track is called “I Don’t Wanna Die” and the closing tracklisted at number 13is called “Ready to Die.” But in The Unicorns’ absurdist worldview, it all makes sense. Here’s a group of young folks willing to stare so directly into the void, they see past the darkness and find instead psychedelic color schemes, strange ghosts and mythical creatures. Amid their vocal and guitar hooks, The Unicorns have implanted all kinds of textures and instruments: drum machine, toy piano, glockenspiel, penny whistle, melodeon, crazy synthesizer sounds. It adds up to one of the most unusualand resolutely tunefulrecordings of recent memory, and photos of the band in live performance (viewable at www.theunicorns.net) promise an interesting show. The End
I Am the World Trade Center A vocal duo who perform with a sampler, Amy Dykes and Dan Gellar prefer that their audiences work themselves into a lather dancing rather than watch what they’re doing onstage. Though their name is a metaphorical reference to the intersection of autonomy and unity in their relationship (and was not, in fact, inspired by the attacks of 2001), I Am the World Trade Center put on a full-bore dance party. Dykes and Gellar bounce their way through their shows, jumping into the crowd to bust moves if the bump-and-grind factor suits them; Gellar even breakdances. Spontaneous and playful with a constant throb that both pokes fun at and emulates the heady, cosmopolitan sheen of dance music, I Am the World Trade Center’s chilly, digitized sound is also sufficiently experimental to appeal to arthouse sensibilities. Graduate students in textiles and bio-engineering, respectively, Dykes and Gellar often compose while driving between shows and have been known to debut songs written earlier in the day. They also boast a deep repertoire of ’80s dance covers. The End
Kenny & Amanda Smith Band Former Lonesome River Band guitarist Kenny Smith and his sweet-singing wife Amanda have come on strong recently, winning the International Bluegrass Music Association’s Emerging Artist of the Year title last October and releasing a solid second CD, House Down the Block, in January. Built around Amanda’s increasingly impressive, confident lead vocals (her voice has a touch of Rhonda Vincent’s tone and forthrightness) and the fluid lines and burnished tone of Kenny’s guitar work, the album reveals the duo’s keen ear for good contemporary songs by the likes of Blue Highway’s Tim Stafford and the excellent Becky Buller. Nashville-based veteran Steve Huber is a solid yet sophisticated banjo player, and up-and-coming bassist Alan Bartram adds a new dimension with forceful, self-assured vocals. Station Inn
Michael Inge Inge cites Al Green and Stevie Wonder as influences, but his hyper-emotive pleading is more in keeping with current caterwaulers like Justin Timberlake and several American Idol finalists. That said, Inge, who’s been making waves overseas, is a more soulful singer than Timberlake and company. He’s much less likely, for example, to soar into the stratosphere of his vocal range, and his blend of old-school sensibilities and contemporary production values is comfortable and unpretentious. 3rd & Lindsley
Paul V. Griffith
Shafaatullah Khan Virtuosity was expected of Shafaatullah Khan from the beginning, born as he was into a family of Indian maestro musicians who can trace their lineage back eight generations. No one, however, could have expected him to become a virtuoso on the sitar, tabla and subrahar (or “bass sitar”), each of which typically takes even the most gifted of musicians a lifetime to master. In India, Shafaatullah is revered as a link to the sitar and subrahar playing styles of his father, Ustad Imrat Khan, and uncle Ustad Vilayat Khan, as well as for reaching a large Western audience via his role in the cast of Stomp! The Movie. Despite the success of Stomp, musicians of Shafaatullah’s caliber don’t perform here everyday, so fans of Indian music should heed this call to see one of the world’s best. Sri Ganesha Temple
Grant-Lee Phillips Since making his debut with the alt-rock trio Grant Lee Buffalo, Phillips has shown great restlessness from one album to the next. 1994’s Fuzzy, a bombastic, lo-fi effort, begat the more autumnal and Americana-tinged Mighty Joe Moon, which begat the spooky, lyrically obtuse Copperopolis, which begat the big drums and choruses of the group’s 1998 swan song, Jubilee. No wonder, then, that the just released Virginia Creeper seems not only acres apart from the entire Grant Lee Buffalo catalog, but also from Phillips’ own recent, less conspicuous solo LPs. Gone for the moment are his distorted 12-string guitar solos, vaudevillian character studies and well-worn falsetto; instead, Virginia Creeper is a mellow and roomy country-folk record infused with fiddle, ukulele, banjo, parlor piano and the wonderful, light harmonies of Dead Rock West’s Cindy Wasserman. Whether it’s Wasserman’s warming presence or the quick pace of the recording, Phillips has rarely sounded as breezy and unstudied. Mercy Lounge
Constantines Now that the “new rock” movement has exhausted just about every variation on old Gang of Four, Cars and Cure riffs, it’s heartening to hear bands like this one drawing on the tension and percussiveness of arty punk minimalism while still acknowledging that the last 20 years actually happened. The Ontario quintet’s second LP, Shine a Light, feeds off the hoarse grunt and squeak of singer-guitarist Bry Webb, whose exhausted voice gives his mates an excuse to wander into still valleys before zooming back up. Shine a Light can be practically celebratory, as on “Young Lions,” which opens with surging guitar akin to a ramshackle version of Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart.” Constantines can knock listeners down, too, as on the harsh-edged “On to You,” which starts with kicks and coos and ends in rasp and accusation. As Webb breathlessly intones lines like, “I’m learning to survive / On earthworms and houseflies,” Constantines generate a jarring but tuneful vision of desolation. The End
Garrison Starr After a brief and difficult stint in major-label hell, Starr reemerged two years ago with Songs From Take-Off to Landing, a sturdy restatement of purpose and independence. Her latest, Airstreams & Satellites (her first for the songwriter-friendly Vanguard imprint), is in the same moldlow-gloss vocals, layered guitars, pop hooksbut with more detours into introspective territory. (Witness the emotionally threadbare “Inside Out.”) Both of Starr’s recent records represent what she was always about anyway, even as a prodigious teen in Mississippi: a girl with a loud guitar and an artist more rock than roots. It’s too bad that Geffen, who once attempted to repackage Starr as the next Sheryl Crow, couldn’t see it. Their loss is Vanguard’s gain. 3rd & Lindsley; Starr also plays an in-store at Tower Records-West End at 3 p.m.
The Vexers This Philadelphia four-piece’s snotty audacity enlivens their work but doesn’t sacrifice the vulnerability at its turbulent core. Each instrument inhabits an almost adolescent anxiety, belying the fact that every member of The Vexers is in their 30s. Likewise, though they work primarily within the codified, all too familiar bounds of garage-punk, their graceful arrangements suggest submerged finesse. With an understated grasp of dynamics, they build intensity with slight variations of a single instrument while the rest of the band holds back. The sparseness in the playing, however, doesn’t necessarily stem from musical limitations the same way it does for many of their peers. The Vexers actually write backward, layering songs heavily at first and then stripping parts away. The Muse
Officer May Boston’s Officer May are like amateur high-wire walkers: You never know if they’re going to make it to the end of a show. Sounding something like pre-Dave Grohl Nirvana, the punk-metal trio careen and teeter along, often coming perilously close to collapsing in a heap. One of the glorious things about rock trios, however, is that with fewer members, it’s easier to get back on track, and Officer May usually reel in the chaos before guitars and personal property get smashed. The band’s latest disc, Smoking in A Minor, is an aggressive polemic against complacency, baseless authority and the moribund music industry, its burn imagery symbolic of post-apocalyptic cleansing. The Muse
Paul V. Griffith
Bonnie Bramlett For living proof that rock ’n’ roll singing can be sublime, you could start with this woman right here. Since her heyday with Delaney & Bonnie, she’s sung “Piece of My Heart” less forced, more soulful and no less feisty than Joplin did, and “Superstar” with more musicality and emotional credibility than Karen Carpenter. Ms. Bramlett’s Stax-Volt belting and country cooing transcend notions of genre and even race. Not for nothing did George Harrison, Eric Clapton, Greg Allman, Gram Parsons, Jimi Hendrix and James Jamerson all jump to back her upand, in a couple of cases, follow along on the road as sidemen. Smart enough to have avoided killing her voice with never-ending rock screams of love, she has now developed a sly vibrato and often adds nuanced jazz change-ups. “I’m Still the Same,” one recent song says. How cool. B.B. King’s
The Standard At times on their third album, Wire Post to Wire, these indie-rockers from Portland, Ore., come off like guests who stayed too late at a party that even the hosts have abandoned. Stretching muted, obscurely personal songs past the five-minute mark was sort of charming five years ago, when instrumental post-rock flooded the college rock charts. But The White Stripes and The Strokes have since restored electricity and grime to fringe pop, and even The Standard’s addition of vocals and atmospheric psychedelia to their meekly avant-garde mix isn’t as revelatory as it once might have been. Still, Wire Post to Wire is a good record of its type, thanks to more concise songs like “Ghosts for Hire,” with its urgent martial beat pushing lead singer Tim Putnam’s nasal trill. Derivative as they might be, The Standard have the sense to derive from a variety of influences, including cult favorites like Throwing Muses and Talk Talk, and mainstream heroes like R.E.M. and U2. Wire Post to Wire is smart and tasteful, and flexible enough to suggest that the band might one day catch up with their contemporaries. The End
Erykah Badu If Baduizm signaled Badu’s tremendous promise and Live suggested her impressive range, then 2000’s Mama’s Gun announced her arrival. Claiming all of ’70s soul as her heritage, Badu fashioned a mid-tempo soul-funk, enlivened by crafty hooks and aural detail. The follow-up, World Wide Underground, bares the faint whiff of a holding action, another stolen moment in Gun’s luxuriant sonic garden. The collection’s extended grooves build on a series of catchphrases“Push up the fader,” “It won’t let go,” even “Bop ba ba ba ba ba da”providing a conducive soundscape for the singer’s seductive instrument. And if few cuts register as fully realized songs, Badu layers in just enough coloring to vary the flow: Lenny Kravitz invoking “Maggot Brain,” Roy Hargrove sketching a lyrical break, Queen Latifah and Angie Stone channeling The Sequence. Conceived and, in part, recorded on 2003’s Frustrated Artist Tour, Underground’s open-ended song forms lend themselves to the expansive jams of live performance. On her last visit, Badu managed to wrest intimacy from River Stages’ anonymous surroundings. In the more friendly confines of the Ryman, she may well approach transcendence. Ryman Auditorium
Mike Doughty Abandoning his cynicism about making music and having dissolved his groove-steeped band Soul Coughing, Doughty now tours as a one-man acoustic show, performing songs fueled by a newfound drug-free optimism. The tight lyric tango that made his former band’s tunes penetrating has grown into reflective songwriting; forgoing sarcasm, he’s comfortable enough with his songwriting to let his emotions flow freely. Since Soul Coughing broke up in 2000, Doughty has made Skittish, a self-released collection of acoustic material that delves into new territory: his spirituality. He’s also written a book of poetry. Currently, he’s shopping for a label for an album he made last year with Dave Wilson of Semisonic. He’s touring extensively, too, and despite suppressing hopes of a Soul Coughing reunion, weaves a few of the band’s favorites into his sets. While he’s left the intense musical accompaniment behind, Doughty still mesmerizes with lyrics that take punches and music that’s an alternative to the alternative. 12th & Porter
As It Is in Heaven A couple of things tend to stand out where Big Bawl Baby Productions is concerned: consistency and commitment. Arita Trahan’s company usually offers drama with a feminist focus, yet its presentations are artfully pitchedand devoid of any overt political message. This new production of Arlene Hutton’s play about Shaker women in Pleasant Hill, Ky., in the early 1800s promises more of the same and finds further resonance in its timing with Women’s History Month. While the quality of BBB performances may vary, the sincerity of the company’s programming is never in doubt. Neal Ashmun directs a cast of nine, which includes Anne Tonelson and Kellye Bumpus, both seen recently in Birds in Church. The play opens March 12 for a three-weekend run at Religious Science of Nashville. The March 19 performance will be followed by a “talk-back” session moderated by Diane Sasson of Vanderbilt Divinity School. Phone 385-2266 for tickets.
The Barber of Seville As a part of its outreach program, Nashville Opera Association has been presenting this 45-minute abridged version of the famous Rossini work, complete with sets and costumes, throughout area schools. The company also makes the program available to the general public with a series of free performances, March 13 at Barnes & Noble’s Brentwood and Opry Mills locations, and March 20 at the Belcourt Theatre and the Williamson County Public Library in Franklin. For more information, see the Theater Listings on p. 62, or call 832-5242.
Betsy A respected member of the Nashville music community, Beegie Adair is known primarily as a jazz pianist and a skilled session player. This week, she lends her estimable talents to a work-in-progressco-written with playwright/ composer Ron Short of the Kentucky-based Roadside Theaterwhich tells the tale of an orphaned teenager who leaves Ireland, arrives in colonial America and struggles to find identity, peace of mind and a home in the Appalachian Mountains. The play’s music, combining elements of jazz and bluegrass, will be rendered by Adair, Short, singers Connye Florance and Caroline Peyton, and instrumentalists Roger Spencer, Jim White and Andy Reiss. This is the second in a series of workshop presentations, designed to elicit audience feedback and to assist the authors in script development. Admission is free to the 5 p.m. March 14 performance at Nashville Jazz Workshop’s “Jazz Cave,” located at 1312 Adams St. Reservations are not required. For info, contact Roadside Theater at firstname.lastname@example.org or phone (606) 633-0108.
KRISTI HARGROVE/FINER THINGS GALLERY This bright, roomy gallery on Nolensville Road features works by Nashville native Kristi Hargrove from March 13 to May 1. Titled “Mapping Desire,” the show represents the culmination of Hargrove’s explorations in the MFA program at Vermont College of the Union Institute. Though she’s best known for her sometimes fantastical, delicate graphite drawings, this exhibit also includes her photography, sculpture and video artall linked, the artist says, in that they show her “mapping desire by merging woman and animal and exploring the form and fluidity of the body.” From soft, egg-shaped sculptures to intricate, photo-realistic drawings that magnify the body’s terrain, Hargrove’s work is diverse but steadfast in technique and concept. Meet the artist at the opening reception, 6-8 p.m. Saturday, March 13.
Chris Doyle/Trahern Gallery, APSU Brooklyn-based artist Doyle got his graduate training as an architect and has become best known for public art projects that use major architectural structures as elements in the work. For “Leap” in 2000, he took footage of New Yorkers jumping as high as they could and projected it across the facade of 2 Columbus Circle, a well-known and controversial Edward Durrell Stone building whose front consists largely of a marble expanse unbroken by windowsin other words, a surface perhaps better suited for an outdoor movie screen than a building. In “Commutable,” he covered the steps of the Williamsburg Bridge in gold leaf. Doyle is serving as artist-in-residence at Austin Peay State University in Clarksville this month. In a project titled “Search Engine,” he’s working with APSU students to collect video and photographs of the campus’ main library after hours, which will be used in a multimedia installation. This will include video projected onto the side of the library building, turning the building inside-out and flipping content and surface. The installation can be observed in progress 9 a.m.-4 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Saturdays and 1-4 p.m. Sundays, through April 4 in the Trahern Gallery on campus. On Thursday, March 11, at 7 p.m., Doyle will discuss his work in the Trahern Gallery. For info, call (931) 221-7334.
“Elvis, KISS & Madonna: The Life of a Female Music Journalist” This panel discussion features Holly George-Warren, Alanna Nash and Jaan Uhelszki, three of the nation’s most experienced and distinguished music journalists. George-Warren is the former editor-in-chief of Rolling Stone Press and has written or contributed to more than 40 music books. Nash is one of country music’s most esteemed journalists, contributing album reviews to Entertainment Weekly for more than a decade and publishing The Colonel: The Extraordinary Story of Colonel Tom Parker and Elvis Presley, among many other books. Uhelszki was a co-founder of the groundbreaking rock magazine Creem, where she worked alongside Lester Bangs and Dave Marsh; she also pioneered music-news columns on the Internet. All three women are bright and opinionated; they’ll address the male domination of music journalism, among other topics, 3:30 p.m. March 11 at the State Farm Auditorium in MTSU’s Business-Aerospace Building.
“The Harmonica Wizardry of DeFord Bailey” Harmonica player DeFord Bailey (1899-1982) wasn’t just the Grand Ole Opry’s first black star, he was its first major star, period. In 1928, he made about twice as many appearances on the show as anyone else, and that same year, he participated in the first recording session ever held in Nashville. A powerful, influential performer who played not just blues, but all manner of rural tunes, Bailey remained a part of the Opry cast until 1941, when he was fired in a move that remains controversial and shrouded in mystery. Taking place 2:30 p.m. March 14 at the Main Public Library downtown, this program exploring his career will offer lively, knowledgeable panelists as well as performances by members of his family, including a preview of grandson Carlos Bailey’s tribute, “Music City Shoeshine Man.” Call 862-5800 for information.
3rd Annual Birdhouse Thing 2004 The W.O. Smith School offers musical education, instruction and encouragement to children without means to afford lessons or instruments, and its annual “Birdhouse Thing” fundraiser has gained increasing popularity in the last several years. The celebration features hors d’oeuvres, beer and wine, and the centerpiece event of the festivities is an auction of 150 birdhouses designed and/or decorated by visual artists and such music-industry celebrities as Wynonna Judd, keith urban and Brad Paisley. This year’s event takes place 5:30-8 p.m. March 11 at The Mall at Green Hills. For more information, phone 255-8355.
2004 Starvy Awards This annual local event celebrates those artists who demand recognition for courageously plying their trade despite receiving little financial compensation for doing so. This year’s awards ceremony, sponsored as before by Sensored.com, is hosted by stand-up comic Lester Bibbs and will feature performances by Paul Bellos’ improv comedy group Ideaprov, spoken word/performance artist Beyond Dermis, and local bands Luna Halo, De Novo Dahl and Celebrity. Festivities commence 8:30 p.m. March 13 at the Exit/In. For more information, visit www.sensored.com.
Nashville Premieres Spring Film Festival Remember at the Oscars when Sofia Coppola thanked director Wong Kar-wai for influencing her Lost in Translation? Remember in The Dreamers when the three heroes, drunk on sex and movies, decide to re-create the madcap dash through the Louvre from Godard’s Band of Outsiders? If not for the efforts of Nashville Premieres, the grass-roots group that has brought Wong and Godard to the attention of local audiences in recent years, Middle Tennesseans would still be sitting there scratching their heads. The group makes its most ambitious effort yet with a weeklong festival of films that Nashvillians haven’t had the chance to seeand won’t have the chance again anytime soon. It starts Friday at the Belcourt. For more information, see the article on p. 69, and see the individual film descriptions in our Movie Guide on p. 70.
Rush Night Nashville director Zac Adams, whose short “True Love” has appeared several times at local festivals, makes the leap to feature filmmaking with this farcical mix of After Hours and Animal House. After meeting a couple of babes at a frat party, two incognito nerds (J.P. McNeely and Joe Giordano) make an ill-fated munchie run that plunges them into the city’s sordid underbelly, with help from lots of familiar local actors. Adams co-wrote the script with Bob Giordano; their film gets a premiere engagement Friday and Saturday at the Belcourt. For info, see www.rushnightmovie.com.
Astronauts Gone Wild Last seen getting flattened by former astronaut Buzz Aldrinwho apparently didn’t take kindly to taunts like “liar” and “coward”Nashville conspiracy theorist Bart Sibrel is back with another chapter in his ongoing effort to prove the moon landing was a hoax. The follow-up to Sibrel’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon shows the former news cameraman accosting various NASA figures and demanding they swear a sacred oath that the landing wasn’t faked. Surprisingly, some resist. Sibrel hosts a screening Thursday night at the Belcourt; if you plan on punching him, please wear padding.
Spartan In the new movie from David Mamet, a kidnapping plot involving the president’s daughter leads two agents to another crime inside the White House. Val Kilmer and Mamet stock player William H. Macy co-star in the thriller; it opens Friday, along with Agent Cody Banks 2 and Johnny Depp in the Stephen King-derived shocker Secret Window.
Through a Glass Darkly The first film in Ingmar Bergman’s early-1960s trilogy about man’s lonely search for God and spiritual guidance. Harriet Andersson plays a recently institutionalized woman whose mind begins to unravel on a remote island with her coldly watchful father (Gunnar Bjornstrand) and her ineffectual doctor husband (Max von Sydow). The movie screens 7 p.m. Thursday as part of the Lenten film series at the Downtown Presbyterian Church; a meal precedes the movie at 6 p.m.
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