Kacey Musgraves Comes to Town
Grammy-winner at Pabst Saturday; or there’s bluesy Hozier at the Riverside.
Top Show: Kacey Musgraves at Pabst Theater, Saturday, February 21
A week ago, I suggested that the health of country music can be gauged by taking the pulses and temperatures of its women. Let me add three more examples—Brandy Clark, Angeleena Presley, and Kacey Musgraves—to last week’s mention of Miranda Lambert and Nikki Lane.
Clark, Musgraves, and Presley all have connections to Lambert: Presley is one of her fellow Pistol Annies, while Clark and Musgraves, along with Shane McAnally, wrote “Mama’s Broken Heart” for Lambert’s fourth album, 2011’s For the Record.
That song grabbed one of the two 2014 Grammy nominations Musgraves picked up for Best Country Song; the other was “Merry Go ‘Round,” the single that previewed her major-label introduction, Same Trailer Different Park, which was nominated for Best Country Album.
“Merry” and Same Trailer won, prefacing a few other awards at other ceremonies. Meanwhile, three more singles pushed Same Trailer atop the charts and toward gold sales status. Musgraves has stayed on the road as a headliner and as an opener—for Katy Perry as well as for Willie Nelson and one of her role models, Alison Krauss—since 2013.
This must be satisfying for a woman who began writing songs when she was eight, and it’s definitely satisfying for those of us who would like country & western, a very American music, to stay lively. Musgraves is supplying some of the new blood for that, brandishing her banjo and her boots without shame.
Speaking of boots:
Tuesday, February 17: Mind Over Mirrors at Cactus Club
The Indian pedal harmonium is not the diva a harp can be, but with foot pedals that work as bellows to power the sound, it requires steady and constant human attention. In Mind Over Mirrors, Jamie Fennelly augments the instrument with electronics but has remained a solo musician.
Until, that is, 2015’s The Voice Calling, the fourth MOM album, on which Fennelly almost casually introduces Haley Fohr, a.k.a. Circuit Des Yeux. Fennelly trusts her to find places she can inhabit within the music, and she functions less as a ghost than as another welcome consciousness among the machines.
Friday, February 20: Swami John Reis & the Blind Shake at Shank Hall
A Milwaukeean who gets around—say, one who caught the Exotics on Valentine’s Day—might notice the fondness this lakeside city has for surf music. There is a hipster element involved in that fondness; there is also a genuine ardor for rock ‘n’ roll that isn’t, that cannot be, solemn.
It can be serious fun, however, and boy howdy it certainly is when attacked by Swami John Reis, leader of the magnificently tight punk-rock band Rocket From the Crypt, and the Blind Shake, a Minneapolis trio that is too ferocious to be kitschy. They’ve just put out Modern Surf Classics, a fantabulous platter that has tongue in cheek. Whose cheek is another question.
(As for the openers—Brokeback, a smart instrumental band led by Douglas McCombs of Tortoise; and Whips, an intense Milwaukee band—there is no question: get there in time to check out both.)
Friday, February 20: Dirty Dozen Brass Band at Potawatomi Hotel & Casino
Although Dirty Dozen Brass Band gets touted, and regularly touts itself, as an upholder of the New Orleans brass-band tradition, it puts the vibe first. In other words, if the tradition becomes a barrier to the feeling, the players rightly push the tradition into the background and ignore the purists.
Since the mid-1970s, DDBB has revived an honorable style and has explored the style’s adaptability: R&B, funk, supper-club jazz, and rap have all mixed with the horns, and 2006’s smoldering post-Katrina What’s Going On remake is as potent as the straighter grooves of 2012’s Twenty Dozen. The band cooks, traditionally and not, onstage.
Saturday, February 21: Hozier at Riverside Theater
Andrew Hozier-Byrne apparently thinks calling himself “Hozier” is a good idea. He is from Ireland and he’s 24 years old, which means he’s too young to remember when nobody walked around bearing names like “Bono” or “The Edge,” and too young to remember when Van Morrison was 24 years old.
He does know Bono and Van Morrison exist and incorporates their fluid, dramatic version of white-man soul into the singer-songwriter material on his 2014 full-length debut, Hozier. As a bluesy folkie, he’s walking an indistinct, not invisible, line: if he steps one way, he could find a new perspective on an old style; if he steps the other, he could bloat into a parody much sooner than Van the Man did.