Jun 222011

Thursday, June 30

Warren Byrom
Al’s Bar; 601 N. Limestone. 7 P.M.

Byrom plays selections from his recent release, The Fabled Canelands. See the accompanying review.

JJ Grey & Mofro
Buster’s, 899 Manchester St. 8:39 P.M.

Out of the north Florida swamps rises Mr. Grey, his harp, and a motley squad of southern-rock virtuosi.

See what I was trying to do with that sentence? Grey hails from north Florida, which has swamps, and which is also the name of a sub-genre of blues and rock and a useful descriptor of Grey’s music. He plays harp, which seems important, and he plays with a rotating collective of guys who all kick ass at playing southern rock, which is closely related to swamp music, and also helps describe the music that Grey plays. It’s all cliché, sure, but the sentence at least functions.

But are you, reader, any closer to making the decision to attend, or not attend, the show? Is the information the sentence communicates even useful for making such a decision? Creedence played swamp rock, and they’re from the San Francisco suburbs; when John Fogerty growled, “born on a bayou ow ow uh,” did we not believe him? Band provenance is no reliable guide.

But what about genre? “Swamp music.” “Southern rock.” But there’s swampiness in all sorts of music, from New York jazz to Stax soul to Chicago blues to Texas metal. And southern rock? JJ Grey sounds nothing like .38 Special, yet they’re in the same record bin. Labels are as often misleading as they are helpful. By way of proof, here’s a thought experiment: name the genre of Genesis’s “No Reply at All.” I’ll wait.

Grey plays a harmonica. He also sings, but that wasn’t in the sentence because you expect with a “such-and-such and the somebodies” type of band name: Huey Lewis and the News. Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention. Toots and the Maytals. Now, if it was “The JJ Grey Band,” you’d want clarification, because with “the such-and-such band” structure the named guy isn’t necessarily the vocalist. Charlie Daniels Band, yes, but not The J. Geils Band. Marshall Tucker isn’t even in The Marshall Tucker Band. I digress. Does it matter that Grey plays harmonica? It’s sort of a non-standard rock instrument, but it’s a mainstay of blues, so it’s not like Grey’s going out there with a theremin, and you’d read that and think, “dude plays a theremin? I might actually wanna see that.” I suppose if you’re one of the very few that have strong feelings, one way or the other, about the instrument, you’d either seek it out or aim to avoid it, but what about the rest of us? Eh.

“Virtuosi.” In the italicized sentence I use this term carelessly, as it is more meaningful to confine it to the absolute best of the best, not to extend it to the merely excellent. But in casual usage “virtuoso” is a broad term, and anyway the point is clear: these are not novice instrumentalists, Mofro, but gifted, accomplished players.

So? The only people who go to shows for the musicianship are other musicians. (Classical music and jazz—to an extent—are the exceptions here). The great mass of us don’t care much; three sloppy chords and a noisy drummer sells more records than intricate fretwork and nuanced polyrhythms. So does virtuosity matter to you, and the decision you’re trying to make?

And “motley” implies a sort of transience, with connotations of debauchery, which goes along with the hellraisin’ southern thing established by Skynyrd and Molly Hatchet, and “squad” rather than “crew” just to mix up the idiom a bit. It’s a good time, pounding some brews in the front porch with the stereo speakers set up on the windowsills, and, you know, raisin’ hell, but that doesn’t have anything to do with JJ Grey & Mofro’s music. It’s not really even hellraisin’ music in that way; it’s got more of that slow, contemplative Lowell George feel a lot of the time. Now, where does that leave you, and your decision?

Friday, July 1

Charles Walker Band
Cheapside; 131 Cheapside. 9 P.M.

Most people only know Milwaukee for Laverne and Shirley and inexpensive beer, and that’s fair, because quick! Of what U.S. state is Milwaukee the capital?

Ha. Not only could you not remember if Milwaukee is in fact a state capital, but it even took you a couple of seconds to recall in what state Milwaukee resides. Admit it: the word “Minnesota” popped into your head. So what’s the capital of Minnesota? No, I have no idea either.

So: Laverne and Shirley, cheap brew, and now the best Milwaukee export yet, the Charles Walker Band, who play fine, tight electric blues, a little bit mean, a little bit nice, and a whole lot funky. This is a two-night stand on their long southeastern run; see ‘em Saturday if you miss ‘em Friday.

Tuesday, July 5

Jesse Snyder and Maggie Lander
Natasha’s; 112 Esplanade. 9 P.M.

Lexington-area fiddle prodigy Maggie Lander teams with Nashville’s Jesse Snyder for an evening of all things picked, plucked, strummed, and bowed. Well, not all things: you can pick noses, but that’s gross, and unlikely to feature in the show; you can pluck chickens, which is also gross in its way; you can strum your pain with his fingers, which might be gross, depending on whose fingers; and you can bow down before the one you serve, which is maybe more scary than gross. Now, before you shooting off angry emails about how the sort of bowing Ms. Lander will be doing is pronounced as rhymes with “Theodor Adorno,” not “Curacao,” and has an entirely different meaning, you should know that this pair of homographs actually derive from the same Old Icelandic root word, “bjork,” which translates loosely as “you’re going to get what you deserve.”

In fact, I have it on good authority that Maggie Lander can and has plucked chickens, but mostly she’s known for her work in the “Woodsongs” house band. On this night she’ll be working out some of her own compositions, which may well turn up later on the EP, Miss Me Moon, she’s looking to record in the next few weeks (search her name on kickstarter.com). The remainder of the evening’s selections will draw from Jesse Snyder’s growing folk repertoire, and from a range of popular tunes and traditional arrangements.

—Buck Edwards

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