Monday morning notebook

Jun 3, 2012

Hundreds of people gathered in Deep Gap, N.C., Sunday to say goodbye to Doc Watson, one of the true giants of American music who died May 29 at the age of 89. 

The best way to honor the kindly gentleman, who lost his sight as a baby, is to have a musician explain the impact that he had on generations of players.

WNKU’s Pam Temple, who plays with husband Spencer Funk in Wild Carrot, wrote this gracious tribute.

“It’s difficult to convey what Doc Watson meant to American roots music. He was a colossus; a multi-instrumentalist, beautiful singer, a treasure trove of traditional songs and an influence whose reach is immeasurable.

“His innovative flat-picking style – picking out fiddle tune melodies on acoustic guitar – expanded the role of the guitar in bluegrass music, and inspired great early bluegrass players from the late Clarence White and Tony Rice to countless hot pickers today.

“He was also able to ride the wave of renewed interested in folk music of the early ’60s into the early ’70s and, as a result, was in a position to heavily influence young folk artists of the time by making traditional music accessible. At the same time, he opened up a style of playing and of vocal delivery of traditional music that enlightened songwriters of the time.

“He was and will remain an American treasure.  Our hearts ‘break as you take Your Long Journey.’  So long, Doc.”

Shows, shows and more shows

The summer concert season storms into the Tristate this week and the forecast is awesome (!) for the next three months. There is at least one strong show each week   from now until Labor Day, but the next five days are just silly.

  • Tuesday: Radiohead, which has been hogging headlines since it announced its first major tour in years, plays Riverbend.
  • Wednesday: This will be a tough choice for some folks. The Red Hot Chili Peppers, who were recently inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, will set up shop at U.S. Bank Arena. Meanwhile, Dawes, nominated for an Americana award as emerging artist, and Sara Watkins, the former Nickel Creek fiddle player whose new “Sun Midnight Sun” solo album will certainly be on this year’s top 10 lists,  team up a few blocks away at the Taft Theatre. Watkins will visit Elaine Diehl in the WNKU studio during the noon hour Wednesday.
  • Thursday: The Avett Brothers, whose 2009 album “I and Love and You” moved them from cult favorite to mainstream success, play the Fraze Pavilion in Dayton. Seth Avett told Rolling Stone earlier this year that the band was “right at the finish line” on their new album with producer Rick Rubin, so expect to hear some new songs.
  • Friday: Relax, you deserve a quiet night at home.
  • Saturday: Natalie Merchant joins the Cincinnati Pops for an evening that’s being billed as a career retrospective, which should include at least a taste of her time with 10,000 Maniacs and the solo “Tigerlily” era.

Albums, albums and more albums

If you think the concert calendar is almost overwhelming, visit the local record stores for these new releases.

  • Americana, Neil Young and Crazy Horse. If you wondered what the fuss was about when America’s favorite grumpy old man announced he and his friends were going to record songs such as “Oh Susannah,” “Clementine,” “Travel On” and “This Land Is Your Land,” you underestimate the contrarian. Be prepared to be delighted.
  • Kin, Rodney Crowell and Mary Karr. Crowell took a break from recording after 2008’s “Sex and Gasoline” to write last year’s memoir, “Chinaberry Sidewalks.” That experience put him in touch with fellow Texan Karr, the author of  three memoirs, who Crowell says has “ridden a bike in a mosquito truck’s fog.” For “Kin,” they wrote 10 songs and invited friends Emmylou Harris, Lucinda Williams and Kris  Kristofferson and others to join them. This is WNKU’s Album of the Month for June.
  • Big Station, Alejandro Escovedo. There’s little that is as exciting as a dozen new tunes from Austin’s favorite son, who again teamed with Chuck Prophet to write eight of them. More good news: Escovedo and the Sensitive Boys  are playing a handful of dates on the East Coast before heading to Europe through the middle of July. Here’s hoping he comes to town upon his return.
  • All Fall Down, Shawn Colvin. Producer Buddy Miller works his studio magic with Colvin, whom he toured with as Three Girls (with Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin) and their Buddy. This is the Grammy winning singer’s first new album since 2006’s “These Four Walls."

Four cheers for Isbell

Local fans who were shocked (shocked!) when Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit’s “Here We Rest” didn’t dent WNKU’s Top 89 albums of 2011 were vindicated when the band led the pack in last week’s Americana Music Awards with four nominations.

The former Drive-By Trucker and his troupe of Alabama boys scored bids for best album, song (“Alabama Pines”), artist and duo or group. Gillian Welch was next with three for “The Harrow and the Harvest” (No. 7 on the Top 89) and Steve Earle’s “I’ll Never Get Out of This World Alive” (No. 17)  received two.

Bonnie Raitt, whose first album in seven years (“Slipstream”) proves she isn’t ready to step aside just yet, will be presented with the lifetime achievement award during the ceremony Sept. 12 at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, which is part of the four-day Americana Music Festival.

Album of the week

Before Sonny Landreth plays the 20th Century June 14, give a listen to “Elemental Journey,” the Cajun guitar wizard’s new instrumental album that features duets with peers Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson.

If the idea of 11 songs built around a guitar (including a delightful cameo by steel drum master Robert Greenidge on “Forgotten Story”) might not appeal to you, trust Landreth, who shows that the right note is worth – if not a thousand – any number of words.  Or, to put it another way, he has eliminated a distraction to present the  images he saw when writing the songs. 

“(Instrumentals) come from a more abstract place,” Landreth said in a recent interview. “I think you’re dealing more directly on an emotional level.”

But don’t be frightened by the word “abstract.” This isn’t 50 minutes of interminable guitar noodling; each tune is distinctly different. Give credit to Dave Ranson on bass and drummer Brian Brignac, who are touring with Landreth, plus Steve Conn on keyboards, drummers Doug Belote and Mike Burch, and six players from the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra of Lafayette, La.

Best seats in the house

Free front-row tickets for the John Hiatt-Steve Earle double bill Aug. 23 at the Taft Theatre? Are you kidding me? What do you have to do? 

Unless you’re a personal friend of the stars, your best bet is to visit and make a contribution to the station for the chance to win. The fine print says that you don’t even have to contribute, but that’s not fair, so help the good folks who run this place balance the books by the end of the fiscal year June 30.

E-mail Bill Thompson