Saturday · Sawyer Point (Cincy Blues Fest)
If we're known by the company we keep, Walter Trout should be one well-known Blues guitar-slinging so-and-so. For the first half of his 35-plus year career, he was a touring sideman for the likes of Big Mama Thornton, Joe Tex and John Lee Hooker and then joined Canned Heat and John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, acquiring the Blues mojo that gave him the chops and courage to go solo in 1989. Over the past 18 years, Trout has released nearly as many albums, including a handful of fan-club releases, compilations, live albums and 2006's star-studded Full Circle.
His cache has only recently risen in America; the bulk of his catalog has been available exclusively in Europe, where the New Jersey native/California resident has played to enormous audiences and achieved great fame (a ballad from his second album topped the Dutch charts and kept Madonna out of the No. 1 spot).
After signing with Ruf Records in the late '90s to distribute his work in America, Trout has relentlessly criss-crossed the country like a Blues commando. Clearly his experiences have grounded him in every stylistic subset of the genre, his expertise astonishingly apparent on Full Circle.
"The readers of Blueswax, the biggest international Blues publication, voted it album of the year for 2006 and it was on the Billboard Blues Chart for 15 weeks," Trout says from his California home. "It really did good for me and increased my profile here in the States."
Full Circle's stellar lineup includes guest appearances by Trout's former employer John Mayall, the legendary Guitar Shorty and Coco Montoya, relative newcomers Joe Bonamassa and Eric Sardinas, Jeff Healy and Bernard Allison (son of Blues icon Luther Allison), among many others. Trout envisioned the album — essentially spontaneously written and performed studio Blues jams achieved primarily on first takes, without overdubs — a couple of years ago when the frenzied reaction to an onstage jam got him thinking about translating that same live atmosphere in the studio.
"What we have on my amp is a list of songs that we know, maybe 40 or 50 songs in our repertoire, and I try to read the crowd," Trout says. "I look at the list when I'm playing a solo and figure what song would work good next. We never go on with a set list, we just play it by ear."
See cincyblues.org for more info on the Cincy Blues Fest. (Brian Baker)
Rasputina with My Brightest Diamond
Sunday · Southgate House
Beyond civil liberty and dignity, the greatest deficit the U.S. faces could be a dearth of "spiritual nourishment," according to cello mistress extraordinaire Melora Creager, lead singer and founding member of Brooklyn based cello-rock band Rasputina. Their latest effort (and sixth CD), Oh Perilous World, gathers momentum from tenebrous historical tidbits coupled with modern-day news writing. A dynamo at weaving and word smithing graceful lyrics while banging out Baroque-driven haiku Pop albums, Creager has a knack for bringing the obscure past to its knees with delicately culled songs.
This time around, breaking with precedents of Victorian angst on 1996's Thanks for the Ether and 1998's How We Quit the Forest, Creager found herself melding current issues, such as those of climate change, hegemony and delicious autocracy within the arena of fractured historical possibility and through the lens of moth-eaten Broadway musicals.
The warmth of Rasputina's quizzical cellos arrangements still persists; yet the subjects on Oh Perilous World are live and interesting. The record rests on the fictional narrative of Thursday Christian, son of author Fletcher Christian, and his rebellious row against Queen Mary Todd-Lincoln (a conglomerate of George W. Bush and Creager) and her Floridian Blimp Army, but floating in a sea of factoids. Instead of crediting the Library of Congress in the liner notes of this album, such as was the case with 2004's Frustration Plantation, sources appear from CNN.
"What I've liked about history is that it helps me understand things now," Creager says.
She discovered while writing Oh Perilous World that the news can be a corollary of fiction: false, shallow and manipulative. "Choose Me For a Champion," which is a partial translation from a speech by Osama bin Laden, is evangelical and reeks of Billy Graham-isms, reminding us that good and evil are merely a matter of perspective. In "1816, A Year Without a Summer," Creager wails and sobs over the perils of climate change, her vocals mimicking the cry Regina Spektor might make if consumed by Fiona Apple, highlighting the archaic climate conspiracies that mirror our own. (Ryan McLendon)
Ted Leo & the Pharmacists with The Hold Steady, Birds of Avalon, Matt & Kim, Angels of Meth, The Seedy Seeds and more
Sunday · Madison Theater
There's nothing particularly revolutionary or earth-shattering about the things that Ted Leo creates with a melody, a hook and a lyric. He has clearly flown his musical colors — '60s Pop, '70s New Wave, '80s Punk and Indie Rock — throughout his diverse band experiences, including stints with Hardcore melodicists Citizen's Arrest and Pop/Punk fistpumpers Chisel. After his experimental debut solo album in 1999, Leo cemented his first post-band project as a real unit which he dubbed the Pharmacists, making it official with the Treble in Trouble EP in 2000. The visceral appeal of Leo's work over the past six years with his Indie Power Pop trio (although the numbers have fluctuated) lies in several key areas: the stripped-down simplicity of his total approach, the way he successfully melds his numerous influences into his singularly unique sonic fingerprint and the frenetic passion he injects into every note and every syllable.
After the much lauded and heavily toured Hearts of Oak in 2003, Leo might have been tempted to dial back the energy a notch or two just to save his voice and creative psyche from the wear and tear. On the contrary, 2004's Shake the Sheets was filled with swaggering Punk verve, spirited Folk/Punk and a skittering New Wave pulse (not to mention a more sociopolitical perspective), a sound reinforced by the iTunes exclusive EP Sharkbite Sessions the following year.
Last year, Leo departed from longtime label Lookout! and signed with venerable Chicago indie Touch & Go, which led to his most recent outing with the Pharmacists, Living with the Living. Here he touches on all of his previous influences while expounding on his jittery New Wave and Pop aspects along with a newfound respect for Funk and R&B. The result is one of Leo's most ambitious and eclectic albums to date.
Leo and his cohorts co-headline the Sonic Muse Festival Sunday. For more on the event, check myspace.com/sonicmusefest. (BB)