Archive for the ‘Review’ Category
Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers, at the Fifth Annual Mountain Song Festival in Brevard, N.C.; September 2010. Courtesy of www.steepcanyon.com
Playing for two hours and receiving three standing ovations, well-known comedian and banjo player extraordinaire Steve Martin was more than a huge hit Tuesday night. He wowed a packed-out crowd at The Tennessee Theatre, performing all of his own music and showcasing the remarkable talents of the Steep Canyon Rangers.
“I know this is strange,” he told the crowd. He compared his banjo tour to waking up and discovering that Jerry Seinfeld had just embarked on a bassoon tour. “That’s a must-see,” he chided.
Martin played tunes from both of his albums (“Rare Bird Alert,” a joint effort with the Rangers, and “The Crow”), including “Daddy Played the Banjo,” “Go Away, Stop, Turn Around, Come Back,” “The Crow,” “Rare Bird Alert,” “Yellow-Backed Fly” and “Jubilation Day.” He switched out playing four different banjos and left the stage briefly to allow the Rangers to spill out all of their brilliancy.
This seasoned entertainer and Grammy winner kept the audience engaged the entire two hours, drifting back and forth between the humor he is known for and the bigger-than-life talent on the banjo some are only discovering. He has been playing the instrument since the age of 16. Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs were early influencers.
The repertoire on Tuesday night was a mix of bone-tickling fun with the offering of “Atheists Don’t Have No Songs” and one number about Martin’s own dog, Wally, called “Wally on the Run.” One song Martin wrote from the viewpoint of Paul Revere’s horse, entitled “Me and Paul Revere,” will be performed by Martin at the Fourth of July celebration in Washington, D.C. He gave Knoxvillians a taste on Tuesday night.
The Steep Canyon Rangers received their most rousing applause for the a cappella rendition of “I Can’t Sit Down.” At one point in the performance Martin told the audience, “I am doing two of my favorite things — stand-up comedy and charging people for music.”
Those there to see if Martin still had it comedically weren’t disappointed. Those who were there to see if this comedian could really tease the banjo strings shook their heads in amazement. In the encore, Martin and the Rangers played a couple of teasers before bringing down the house with their magical take on “Orange Blossom Special.” And the audience refused to leave without hearing Martin’s best “King Tut,” bluegrass style.
He left everyone wanting more.
— Melanie Tucker, The Daily Times
It’s easy to please a crowd full of fans, and there were certainly plenty of those in attendance on Saturday night at the Civic Coliseum in downtown Knoxville.
It’s a lot harder, however, to win over skeptics — but country star Miranda Lambert succeeded admirably.
Full disclosure — I am not a fan of mainstream country music. I find much of it derivative at best and just about as far from traditional notions of country as you can get at worst. Studio albums coming out of Nashville these days sound like what they cost to make — a million bucks, and for that amount of money, a pack of howling dogs can be made to sound like a choir of the heavenly host through studio trickery.
A live performance, however, is hard to fake, and on stage is where performers propped up by good producers often fall short. Miranda Lambert is not one of those performers.
I’m familiar with her because my job requires me to keep up with popular music, even though the bulk of it is not something I would purchase or listen to on the radio. Miranda, however, intrigued me with her selection of a track by one of the best underground songwriters out there, Fred Eaglesmith, for her most recent album — “Revolution,” released in 2009. The song, “Time to Get a Gun,” gets a countrified makeover in Lambert’s rendition, but she maintains the heart of Eaglesmith’s narrative of a desperate man facing desperate times.
In fact, of all the songwriters penning tracks for Nashville stars, Miranda gets props for her selections — John Prine (”That’s the Way the World Goes ‘Round”), Steve Earle (”Hillbilly Highway,” which she delivered with all the sass of a wildcat locked in a phone booth on Saturday night) and Julie Miller (”Somewhere Trouble Don’t Go”) among others. What I respect even more, however, is that Lambert’s originals hold their own with those fine choices.
Needless to say, however, those who paid upwards of $40 apiece for tickets to her show would have no doubt cheered themselves hoarse if Lambert had sang obscure selections from the They Might Be Giants catalog. But that’s OK, because that enthusiasm and adoration makes a concert like Lambert’s all the better.
Here’s the thing for which I have to give grudging respect to mainstream Nashville artists — they know how to put on a show. They tailor every performance to the specific crowd (across the video screen behind her band, snapshots of various University of Tennessee and Knoxville signage flashed during her performance of “Famous in a Small Town”) and go out of their way to engage those in attendance. Saturday night, Lambert worked her ass off — grasping outstretched hands down front, taking care to sing directly to the nosebleed sections on either side of the stage and playing her redneck girl with downhome appeal and a side of sexy to the hilt.
And the thing is, Lambert’s performance seems genuine — that she really is a small-town Southern girl who’s probably notched more than a few deer kills, scared more than a few ex-boyfriends with her wild-girl temper and danced on more than a few bar counters in her day. Clad in a sleeveless leather hoody and a short skirt, she was sexy without being a tramp, wild without being a party girl and entertaining as hell without being a diva. If it had been any other country artist on stage, Lambert could have passed for one of the girls in the audience, whooping and hollering and having a big time with the best of them.
And that’s what sells records. Sure, she played the hits and made more than a few covers her own — the aforementioned “Hillbilly Highway,” Rick Derringer’s “Rock and Roll Hoochie Coo,” Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock and Roll.” She preened and strutted, chatted with the crowd, gave her band members a chance to shine and even brought up hometown girl Ashley Monroe for a couple of songs. For the final song of the night, she brought out opening acts Justin Moore and Josh Kelley for a searing rendition of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Travelin’ Band,” and she even made reference to her high-profile engagement to fellow country star Blake Shelton.
In short, she owned the stage. Her voice is a work of art, her act is pure entertainment and her songs strike a chord in those who don’t just listen to country music but live it every day — small-town lives, struggles of the heart, big-time hopes and dreams. In a Southern city like Knoxville, it was as powerful as a Sunday morning sermon from the pulpit, and by the time the audience filed out into a rainy Saturday night, their souls seemed satiated.
And that’s all we can ask of the stars who provide a soundtrack to our lives — a hell of a good time that leaves us feeling a little bit better because somebody who seems like our sister or our girlfriend is telling our story up there beneath the stage lights. Lambert did all of that and impressed on this writer, at least, that there’s still hope for the kind of music coming out Nashville these days.