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Archive for June, 2011

In a world where federal funding for public radio is shrinking, the number of people who support Louisville’s public radio stations (or maybe Ben Sollee) seem to be just the opposite. This past Saturday night hundreds, if not thousands, flocked to Iroquois Amphitheater for the “Rock ‘n‘ Roll Stroll” event that benefited all Louisville public radio.

Kentucky-native Ben Sollee and his band headlined, along with one man band Tennessee-native David Mead were a good enough reason for people to pack in Iroquois Amphitheater on the slightly cool weekend summer night.

Armed with a Gibson 335 guitar, a soft and soothing voice, Mead strummed out his 50‘s style crooner ballad rock to open the night. And although no one song’s performance seemed to trump the other, his melodic tunes were greeted with enough audience ovation to make me second-guess my mundane reaction. I guess when I saw that Gibson I was hoping he was really going to rock it out.


David Mead

Then came Ben Sollee. And I knew that soon, my craving for wanting to see someone really rock-out their set of strings would be fulfilled with Sollee.

Like some other music writers, I have a slight obsession with needing to classify an artists’ sound down to one or two particular musical genres. With an artist like Sollee, it’s a bit of a difficult task to do. From one song to the next – and sometimes within the same song – you get a multitude of sounds, instruments, tempos and vocal styles. Sollee masterfully blends elements of folk, soul, jazz, bluegrass and even some R&B into orchestra-like rhythmic grooves laden with percussion. His voice was soulful, his cello-strumming compelling, and as his onstage demeanor was calm, cool and collected. He was in his zone and nothing but his music seemed to control his emotions.

Ben Sollee and band

Many things during Sollee’s performance drew boisterous audience applause; the start of a song, the end of a song, or lyrical tidbits like “the hills of Kentucky,” which everyone seemed to appreciate.

Now, I admit. I didn’t know every Sollee song by name once it started or ended. As a matter of fact, the only song I actually recognized by name was “Electrified,” the latest off his album Inclusions (see video below). But, it’s not hard to get deeply drawn into his music, even if the song’s name is unknown.

Sollee’s music is unusually abnormal, yet refreshing and modern. You know, the way a mint julep is on a hot Kentucky summer night.

Electrified from Ben Sollee on Vimeo.

Photos by Jason Ashcraft

** This review also published at Louisville.com

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Artwork by Jeral Tidwell

Last summer, country-rock musician Bryan Fox was looking for a way to boost his annual Halloween benefit party called “Fox Bash,” which benefits The Smile Train. Fox, who is also a Dentist by day, wanted to host one of the city’s biggest bands to play it. He then connected himself with Kentucky hip-hoppers, Nappy Roots, through his musician friends in Louisville. Initially, he thought it may be a bit of a long-shot for them to be available on the exact day he had the party scheduled for. But to his surprise, not only were Nappy Roots happy and able to play his Halloween benefit event, but they also started liking Fox’s music that he wrote. After working together to lay tracks down in May for “Countryfied State of Mind”, today they are releasing the song via iTunes, Amazon, and other digital music outlets.

Officially, those collaborating on this project have been Clutch, Big V, and B.Stille from Nappy Roots, along with Louisville musicians Bryan Fox on vocals/guitar, Ryan Murphy on Drums, Kevin McCreery on guitar, and Chip Adams on Bass. 

“This song is just different,” Fox comments. “I am a writer that really generally tries to go for the deep meaningful lyrics a lot of times, but this song is pure fun. I would think its one of the most commercial songs I’ve written for sure though.”

From left: Chip Adams, Slick, B.Stille, Bryan Fox, Ryan Murphy, Kevin McCreery, Clutch

As you probably have already anticipated, “Countryfied State of Mind” is a blend of hip-hop and alt-country rock with a modern chorus that aims to get stuck in your head. Fox leads on both vocals and guitar during the chorus, and then the Nappy Roots guys each crafted their own verses to the song. It has kind of a fun and festive feel to it, much like the way that DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince’s “Summertime” had to it, but with a redneck’ish Kentucky-inspired pop-country flair.

Fox & Nappy Roots are also in collaboration on more music, so “Countryfied State of Mind” isn’t a one-and-done release. 

“We are thinking of doing at least 5 songs together,” Fox states. “Countryfied State of Mind has gotten us all excited to create more music. There is a freshness and an energy to this collaboration that is hard to ignore.”

Speaking on the current release Fox says, “The song speaks for itself. It’s a fun summer song that makes you want to drink a beer and party at the lake. Lets hope a lot of people like to do that!”

Interview with Clutch, B.Stille from Nappy Roots & Bryan Fox on 5-11-11

This review also published at Louisville.com

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Two Kentucky musicians, Louisville’s My Morning Jacket and Edmonton’s Black Stone Cherry both debuted their latest albums on May 31. Now, both these Kentucky rockers are realizing some of their highest Billboard 200 chart successes to date.

MMJ’s Circuital checked in at #5, just above two Nashville country puppets (whew!) and just below Eddie Vedder’s Ukulele Songs.

BSC’s Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea clocked in at #29, just above the Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light (at #32), I might add.

MMJ continues to stay in the limelight in virtually every viewable media and every huge music festival. Since they launched Circuital, they’ve also debuted a Vh1 Storytellers episode, and played on the Jimmy Fallon show. Right now they are gearing up for their Bonnaroo performance, and even managing to pitch in and play a benefit concert for the Tuscaloosa tornado victims. Nice Kentucky boys they are, right?

BSC is currently on tour in Europe. They’re headed back to the U.S. in July, and will make a Friday, August 26th Kentucky State Fair gig in Louisville, as part of the Carnival of Madness Tour. I’m anticipating it will be in Cardinal Stadium again, but more to come on exact location in the fair.

So, if you haven’t bought a copy of Circuital or BTD&TDBS yet, then get out there and get your hands on a copy or logon to iTunes. Let’s see how far we can help export these Kentucky boys.

Here are some videos from each of their latest albums:

Videos and album artwork courtesy of Roadrunner Records for BSC, & ATO Records for MMJ.

** This review also published at Louisville.com

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Exactly 68 years ago today the U.S. Army, along with allied forces, started kicking some serious Nazi ass on the beaches of Normandy, France, thus launching what would become a year-long campaign against the German military.

My Grandfather from my father’s side served as a Tank Sergeant under Gen. George Patton’s 10th Armored Division. He began his tour soon after the French beaches were captured. He took part in the liberation of Paris and was one of the infamous Battered Bastards of Bastogne, surviving the Battle of the Bulge in southern France in December 1944. He then helped spearhead the assault into Germany in March 1945. Yep. He survived all that shit. That’s how us Ashcraft’s are.

Never forget any of our military’s veterans and the sacrifices they’ve made to make and keep our country free.

Photos courtesy of Wikipedia

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After nearly a decade and a half, a My Morning Jacket concert is rapidly becoming that of legend in the world of music.  Yes, that’s right, legend. Virtually every time they claim the stage, they have something up their sleeve that will soon leave their fans’ heads spinning. Last night’s performance at Louisville’s Palace Theater, the official launching of their new album Circuital, did just that. Multiple times over, I might add, and all of it streamed on the internet live on YouTube and Vevo for anyone willing to logon.

They promised the night would be full of surprises, and the first surprise came with the raising of the stage’s curtain and MMJ, not Erykah Badu, appearing in front of an elaborate giant “Circuital” eye from the album’s cover art as the stage backdrop. The audience erupted into a chaotic frenzy as the first note chimed from Bo Koster’s keyboard, and they went right into the opening track from Circuital, “Victory Dance.” Just like on the album, they followed with a majestic version of the title track “Circuital” and all of a sudden it seemed as though a live run through the entire album was in store. But that quickly dissipated once they followed up with Z’s “Off The Record.”

Certainly more cuts from other albums would follow, and that they did with a heartfelt version of “Gideon” and “Mageetah,” a candid performance of “I’m Amazed,” an aw-inspiring version of “Smokin’ From Shootin,” and both versions of “Touch Me I’m Going To Scream.”

Even Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer couldn’t help but make an appearance, declaring MMJ as “the world’s greatest band” and announcing that through an online poll the song fans most wanted to hear was “Steam Engine.” The performance that followed of the song was mesmerizing to say the least.

A host of other guest musicians joined MMJ onstage throughout the night including Wax Fang’s Kevin Ratterman, who aided in percussion on several songs, Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore who joined in on “Wonderful (The Way I Feel),” and of course, Erykah Badu who added some soul to “Wordless Chorus” and “The Day Is Coming.” MMJ also performed two of Badu’s songs, “Twinkle,” and “Tyrone” which was highlighted by Jim James bowing down before Badu while she stroked his hair, and James simultaneously blistering out one wicked guitar solo. The onstage drama was intense and this proved to be the pinnacle of the night.

Over the years MMJ has given some amazing performances and played some of the world’s most storied venues. From Coachella to Bonaroo, Madison Square Garden to Boston Symphony Hall, and Saturday Night Live to David Letterman, MMJ has done it all. And although I’ve not attended one of those performances I can confidently say that last night’s 3+ hour performance at Louisville’s Palace Theater had to be their most legendary yet. In one night they transformed Louisville’s Palace Theater into their own makeshift commune, played virtually every song off their new album “Circuital” and basically every other hit from their previous discography.

They ignited the crowd to the point where nobody ever really sat in their seats and instead spent the entire night dancing wherever they could muster a move, raising the temperature inside the Palace to something that felt like a sauna. After the concert ended, fans were high-fiving, hugging and cheering all the way out the door and onto 4th Street. At that moment I realized what MMJ had done. They hadn’t just released a new album or just given another legendary performance. Nope. They unified our city of Louisville while the world was watching.

* Photos by Jason Ashcraft & Zach Everson
*Videos courtesy of American Express “Unstaged”


Pre-Show with MMJ.

** This review also posted at Louisville.com

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