It’s a rare night when a music fan can see Texas-swing legends Asleep at the Wheel in an intimate venue, but that happened Friday at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room on the third night of Twangfest 17.
And the Wheel found a well primed crowd, taking the stage after a knockout set by singer Eilen Jewell and her fine band, featuring guitarist Jerry Miller.
The seven-member Asleep at the Wheel, founded in 1970 and still led by singer-guitarist Ray Benson, has always been a force onstage, and the latest incarnation continues the tradition. Blasting through 23 songs in nearly 90 minutes, the band crossed genres from Western swing and boogie woogie to blues, rockabilly and country.
If Joe Pug had started out in the ’70s, some mainstream record company or fired-up rock critic surely would have hung a “new Dylan” tag around his neck. Unfair as such a label might be in any era – check back with us in 50 years, or even 25, Joe – his songs are worthy of such hyperbole. And live on a stage is the place to hear them.
Pug headlined the second night of the KDHX-sponsored Twangfest 17 on Thursday, capping a four-act bill that sadly drew only half a house to Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room after a sold-out opening night Wednesday at Plush (Friday and Saturday night at the Duck Room are sold out, too).
Ray Wylie Hubbard performs at Plush on Twangfest 17 opening night. PHOTOS BY BARRY GILBERT
By Barry Gilbert
“I’m gonna share some of my opinions with you tonight,” singer-songwriter Todd Snider warned the Twangfest 17 opening night crowd, “not because I think you should hear them … but because they rhyme.”
The wisecrack, offered with the same stoner drawl and twinkling eye as Snider uses in his songs, also applied to Ray Wylie Hubbard, the Texas troubadour who preceded Snider on the bill Monday night at Plush in midtown St. Louis. But where Snider is laid back and nuanced under a funky hat adorned by a flower, a folk singer at his core, the scruffy Hubbard is an in-your-face chronicler of life in the margins, all snarling rock ‘n’ roll and country blues.
Twangfest’s move to Plush from its traditional opening night venue, Schlafly’s Tap Room, was a success by any measure. The festival, supported by primary sponsor KDHX (881. FM), sold out the room with fans of each artist – the billing order easily could have been reversed – and sing-alongs were happening even when not requested by the artist.
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. • James McCartney sat behind a piano on the cramped stage of the legendary Club Passim last month and introduced the song “Bluebell.”
“It’s about my Mum, it’s about different things,” he said. He then misplayed the opening chords, smiled, apologized, and started again as the half-full room of about 75 people murmured and chuckled in support, seemingly trying to will McCartney to succeed.
It was a telling moment during the late show May 20 (an early show was sold out), because it was one of the few times he revealed just a sliver of himself: the only son of Sir Paul McCartney and Linda Eastman McCartney, out front, solo and vulnerable, in support of “Me,” his first full-length CD.
Singer-songwriter Dave Alvin appeared on the tough, violent TV drama “Justified” and lived to talk about it.
“I consider that a great achievement,” Alvin says with a chuckle.
He guest-starred as himself, fronting a band in a bar. And it didn’t hurt that “Justified” creator Graham Yost is a big Alvin fan who wanted to use Alvin’s music in the show to represent the inner voice of the lead character, U.S. Marshal Raylan Givens (Timothy Olyphant).
Alvin, who plays Off Broadway on Friday, has had four songs featured in the FX series: “Harlan County Line,” which he sang in the barroom scene in Season 2; “Every Night About This Time,” from deep in Alvin’s catalog; “Beautiful City Across the River,” written for the show; and “You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive,” a cover of a Darrell Scott song that closed the recent Season 4 finale.
Belleville-area native and Son Volt frontman Jay Farrar has two releases this spring: the CD “Honky Tonk” and the memoir “Falling Cars and Junkyard Dogs,” an episodic account of his life and times … so far.
The book’s short, almost songlike organization lets readers connect a lot of the dots. Farrar talked about the book shortly before taking Son Volt out on its “Honky Tonk” tour.
‘There’s a world of wisdom inside a fiddle tune,” Jay Farrar writes on the smart and evocative new Son Volt album “Honky Tonk,” a work that embraces the band’s early sound as well as that of classic country music.
Farrar hasn’t explored the fiddle and steel guitar vibe so extensively since “Windfall,” the first track on the first Son Volt album, “Trace,” in 1995. It’s a sound that was reinforced for Farrar over the past few years as he sat in with his brother Dade and new Son Volt player Gary Hunt in their St. Louis band Colonel Ford.
Farrar, a Metro East native and co-leader of the groundbreaking alt-country band Uncle Tupelo in the early ’90s, calls the fiddle a “transcendent instrument.”
“I wanted to explore the twin-fiddle sound, which is really something that speaks to me, and which I got to witness first-hand playing around town with Colonel Ford,” Farrar says. “It’s a powerful sound; it draws you in. There’s a natural chorus effect on the fiddle. The pitch is just a little bit off, and it’s an intriguing sound.”
In 1954, a young surfer-musician walked up to guitar maker Leo Fender and said, “Hello, my name is Dick Dale, I got no money, can you help me out?”
Simple question, and one that Fender answered by allowing Dale to play one of the first Fender Stratocasters.
“I picked it up and I held it upside-down and backwards and I was playing it, and Leo fell off the chair laughing,” Dale says. “He says, ‘How come you’re playing it that way?’ And I say, ‘When I got my first ukulele, I held it that way because I was strumming with my left hand, and the book didn’t say, ‘Turn it the other way, stupid,’ and it’s been that way ever since.”
That encounter began an association that arguably led to hard rock, heavy metal and amps turned up to 11. Dale pushed Fender to create the amplifier electronics and heavy-duty speakers that would let Dale play louder and louder, chasing the swing-era sound of Gene Krupa’s drums that Dale wanted to hear coming from his guitar. There’s a reason why one of Dale’s compilation albums is titled “Better Shred Than Dead.”
The Eagles guitarist posted a Facebook photo last week that was picked up by multiple music blogs, showing an impressive group of musicians with him in the studio (above from left): blues man Keb Mo’, bassist/producer Don Was, Mick Jagger, Jeff Beck bassist Tal Wilkenfeld, keyboardist Mike Finnegan, Walsh and his brother-in-law Ringo Starr, and another pretty fair drummer, Jim Keltner.
Walsh posted a second photo of himself with R&B icon Bill Withers.
In the post, Walsh said only: “Cooking up something here at Capitol Records. I think you’ll like it.” Wilkenfeld posted: “Thursdays in the office are usually pretty mellow. Like today … when I wrote a song with Bill Withers, Mick Jagger, Keb Mo’ & Joe Walsh. LOL.”
Rockers took over the stage for the third night of Twangfest 16 at Blueberry Hill’s Duck Room on Friday, and they were greeted by a sellout crowd, the largest in recent memory.
As the hour crept past midnight, the audience remained strong, active and loud for Ha Ha Tonka. And the Ozark band once again delivered a smashing set of music that mixes an indie rock vibe, Midwestern sincerity and Southern mysticism that no other band can match.
Ha Ha Tonka had to be on its game, because it followed co-headliner Langhorne Slim (the two acts are touring together), who brings boyish charm and energetic angst to a deepening catalog of rich music.
Opening was Kasey Anderson and the Honkies from Portland, Ore., a straight-ahead, four-man group of three-chord rockers fronted by Anderson, who connected to the crowd right away. His St. Louis references were delivered with self-aware irony: He knew he was pandering, so did the crowd, and both parties enjoyed it.