Telling stories with Leo Kottke and Los Lobos

An opinionated take on the week in live music, Nov. 28 – Dec.4

Gig of the Week

Leo Kottke, w/David Hidalgo and Louie Perez (State Theatre, Saturday, Nov. 29, 8 p.m., $32.50-$44.50)

Kottke is the finest 12-string guitarist since Leadbelly, which, depending upon your loyalty to Blind Willie McTell, makes him the second- or third-best of all time. Actually, Kottke has blended McTell’s finger-picking dexterity with Leadbelly’s groundbreaking mélange of folk, blues, and pop-rock. He doesn’t sing as well as either one, so wisely lets his guitar carry almost all of the musical conversation. Between songs, however, he can be riotously funny – albeit terse, wry, and deadpan dry – without trying half as hard as, say, Arlo Guthrie.

All by his lonesome, Kottke can sound like a string quartet, with phrases that scamper while other notes linger and resonate, and still others tow the bass line. There is a chromatic luminescence that’s spun out of his fingers on the dozen strings; it’s the musical equivalent of rainbows in the mist over the lawns after a summer evening thunderstorm. Although born in Georgia, he’s spent most of his 63 years identified with Minnesota, and these decades-old Thanksgiving weekend concerts are a local homecoming tradition. The august Ordway, where actual string quartets perform, was the ideal venue, but there’s no sense in nit-picking when the featured picker still faithfully comes to play.

Plus, the opening act is a delightful bonus. David Hidalgo has always been the heart and soul of Los Lobos, one of the most creative, prolific and distinctively American bands of the past 20 years. He’ll be with his bandmate Louie Perez (Cougar Estrada and Hildalgo’s son Vincent will provide the rhythm section), previewing the duo’s forthcoming disc, “Early Songs,” telling stories about the genesis of their unique sound, which irrigates the roots of almost every style that straddles the Mexican border. We can also hope for a concert reprise of “Banks of Marble,” the Lobos/Kottke collabo from the latter’s 2004 disc, “Try and Stop Me.”

Here is Leo’s rendition of the Byrds’ song, “Eight Miles High” from last February:

And here’s a wonderful down-home gig in Liberty Lake, Wash.:

Dusty But Unbowed

Shelby Lynne (O’Shaughnessy Auditorium, Saturday, Nov. 29, 8 p.m., $30)

Regardless of whether you were a fan of straight country, rock or singer-songwriter idiosyncrasy, everyone agreed that Shelby Lynne had made one great record – “I Am Shelby Lynne,” eight years ago – and failed miserably on innumerable other outings to graft the visceral with the glitz in a manner that captured the beguiling allure of her haunted soul. Well, this year Lynne cut a second signature disc, on a suggestion from none other than that walking wax museum Barry Manilow. It’s a tribute to the music of Dusty Springfield, entitled “Just a Little Lovin’,” and Lynne clearly derived some kindred spirituality from Springfield, whose big voice wasn’t always able to mesh with the big, star-crossed artistic ambitions she and others had for her career.

For the most part, Lynne’s treatments are more scarred and intimate than Springfield’s renditions. She enlisted a glitzy producer, Phil Ramone, and worked with a small combo for a decidedly non-glitzy label, Lost Highway. The shiny pop Springfield brought to “I Only Want to Be With You,” for example, becomes torch-inflected folk-jazz with Lynne. The teenaged girl who raised her sisters when her alcoholic father shot her mother, and then himself, in the family driveway turned 40 last month. On “Just A Little Lovin'” she once again is plunging into the material as if she’s in it for the long haul.

Here’s Shelby Lynne in the studio singing “I Only Want To Be With You”:

Old Friends and Bad Pennies

Trailer Trash’s Trashy Little X-Mas (Lee’s Lounge and Liquor Bar, Saturday, Nov. 29, and then the next four Saturdays until Christmas, 9 p.m., $15)

Linda Eder: Home for Christmas (The State Theatre, Thursday, Dec. 4, 7:30 p.m., $42-$52)

The Blenders Holiday Soul Tour 2008 (Pantages Theatre, Thursday, Dec. 4 through Sunday Dec. 7, 8 p.m. Thurs.-Sat, 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, $35)

Second to commercialism among Christmas season aggravations is the false piety: If people really were infused with “the true meaning of Christmas,” they’d practice it all year long, rather than wringing their hands about church-state separation and scolding people about “the true meaning of Christmas.” That’s why the irreverent bonhomie of Trailer Trash’s holiday shows are so valuable in keeping forth the inclusive notions of goodwill and community, in a joint that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to get a beer. And I confess to being enough of a sappy traditionalist around the holidays (we play Andy Williams on vinyl LPs) to even enjoy cautious, pre-fab stylists like Linda Eder belting out the carols. But I draw the line at The Blenders, who have the nerve to put the word “Soul” in their holiday act. The Fargo warblers are the Wonder Bread of a cappella groups, less soulful than The Nylons (Canadians!), let alone The Persuasions, or, god forbid, one of the many a cappella gospel choirs.

Last But Not Least

Ernestine Anderson (Dakota Jazz Club + Restaurant, Sunday, Nov. 30 and Monday Dec. 1, $28 at 7 p.m., $20 at 9:30 p.m.)

Speaking of predictable yet pleasurable vocalists, Anderson, who turned 80 three weeks ago, has always managed to meld the emotional immediacy of the blues with sophistication of jazz, creating a durable sort of r&b akin to past Dakota favorites Carmen McRae and Marlena Shaw.

 And finally, for Christmas traditionalists, here’s Linda Eder’s version of “Silent Night” backing a variety of holiday imagery:

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