It seems almost unfathomable, but Johnette Napolitano has been a musical fixture for over three decades, with her pummeling bass style, distinctive and alluring dusky vocal rasp and an almost Zelig-like knack for aligning herself with some of Rock’s more prominent personalities.
Napolitano started her first band, Dream 6, with former Sparks guitarist James Mankey in 1982; when they inked an I.R.S. contract four years later, friend/labelmate Michael Stipe advised a name change, offering Concrete Blonde as a fitting evocation of their bedrock-solid sound and sensitive lyrical perspective. The band had several college and commercial successes — like “God is a Bullet” from 1989’s Free, “Joey” from 1990’s Bloodletting — and enjoyed a high profile from prominent TV and film placements.
Concrete Blonde weathered plenty of internal and external storms over the years; after a couple of breaks, they remain sporadically active to this day.
In the mid-’90s, Napolitano teamed with former Wall of Voodoo guitarist Marc Moreland to form Pretty & Twisted, a project that found her co-writing with Paul Westerberg and putting music to never-used lyrics by Janis Joplin. She also collaborated with singer/songwriter Holly Beth Vincent (of Holly & the Italians) on a project called Vowel Movement and contributed vocals to The Heads’ album and tour.
Napolitano has also collaborated with multi-instrumentalist Danny Lohner (Nine Inch Nails/A Perfect Circle/Black Light Burns) on film music, including the soundtracks of Dead Silence and Underworld, and worked behind the board as a producer.
If that wasn’t enough, Napolitano does gallery artwork with reclaimed/recycled materials and cares for rescued horses — lovely downtime pursuits for one of Rock’s true badass talents.
Napolitano’s lone solo album, 2007’s Scarred, was another excellent addition to her catalog, but it should have been her sophomore solo release; her intended debut, 1998’s Sound of a Woman, was shelved in Island Records’ late ’90s reorganization and remains unreleased (although it’s been leaked online).
Napolitano’s Newport, Ky., show will include acoustic songs from throughout her career (plus new and unreleased material and maybe a cover or two) and readings from her book, Rough Mix. Napolitano is using her acoustic touring to prep a forthcoming acoustic album.
JOHNETTE NAPOLITANO performs Thursday at Southgate House Revival's Sanctuary room. Tickets/more info here .