Music roundup for Aug. 22, 2013

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Bill Livick, Special to the Gazette
Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Dar Williams at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 22, Turner Hall Ballroom, 1040 N. Fourth St., Milwaukee. Tickets: $25. Call 414-286-3663.

Dar Williams has been on the folk-pop scene for two decades and has become a bona fide star in the acoustic singer-songwriter world. She tours regularly and has released at least 16 albums.

Williams is a dynamic performer and gifted songwriter. She sings about everything from social history to heartache to parenting, and also about her experiences with depression and psychotherapy. Her lyrics are not propaganda or a rallying cry; they are songs that wrestle with human morality, emotion and politics.

But Williams, 46, has gained notoriety for her social views, which she freely incorporates in her music and life. She often performs benefit shows for progressive causes.

Williams grew up in a liberal family in New York State and began playing guitar and writing songs around age 10. After graduating from college, she moved to Boston to pursue a music career. She was part of the “new song movement” that emerged from Massachusetts in the 1990s and was just a few years behind such artists as Shawn Colvin and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

Williams' big break came around 1995, when Joan Baez recorded one of her songs and took Williams under her wing.

Since then, Williams has enjoyed growing success for her insightful songs and warm stage presence.

The English Beat at 8 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 25, Majestic Theatre, 115 King St. Madison. Tickets: $20. Call 608-255-0901.

Dave Wakeling helped found The English Beat in Birmingham, England, in 1978 and leads the ska band on vocals and guitar. The other original members are no longer with the band, but Wakeling has surrounded himself with tight group dedicated to fusing ska, soul, reggae and punk rock in a high-energy mix.

The band gained celebrity, particularly in England, in the early '80s with a string of hits from three albums. Such songs as “Mirror in the Bathroom,” “Can't Get Used to Losing You” and “Hands off She's Mine” also won the group a following in North America and Australia.

The English Beat toured the U.S. with the Pretenders and Talking Heads in 1980 in support of its second album, “Wha'ppen?”

By the time the group's third album was released, it was touring with such stars as David Bowie, The Clash, The Police and R.E.M.

When the band broke up in 1983, Wakeling and musician Ranking Roger formed General Public and released a couple of hit singles. Wakeling eventually moved to the U.S., where he has fronted The English Beat for the past decade.

Diana Ross at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, The Riverside Theater, 116 W. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee. Tickets: $45.50-$125. Call 414-286-3663.

Diana Ross rose to fame as the lead singer of the Motown group The Supremes in the 1960s. After she left the group in 1970, she established herself as a star of records, stage, TV and films—and one of the top entertainers of her generation.

Ross' second single after leaving The Supremes, “Ain't No Mountain High Enough,” was a No. 1 hit on both the R&B and pop charts. The next year she starred in her first film, as Billie Holiday in “Lady Sings the Blues,” which earned her an Oscar nomination.

She went on to record a string of hits in the 1970s, but her role in Motown's production of “The Wiz” bombed badly, as did the film itself.

That pattern of huge hits preceding disappointments recurred throughout much of Ross' career. She left Motown in 1981 and signed with RCA Records, working with Marvin Gaye, Lionel Ritchie and Michael Jackson in the 1980s.

Her public image was tarnished by two incidents in 1983. The first was her onstage display of temper at ex-Supreme Mary Wilson during the taping of a Motown special. The second incident came when Ross argued that two concerts she performed in Central Park didn't generate sufficient profits to provide her promised $250,000 donation toward a new playground in New York City.

In early 1989, Ross returned to Motown, where she became a corporate officer and part owner. She continued to sell loads of concert tickets but never again achieved the No. 1 spot on the music charts.

Blues Traveler at 8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, Majestic Theatre, 115 King St., Madison. Tickets: $25. Call 608-255-0901.

Blues Traveler formed in 1987 and emerged in the early '90s as part of a new vanguard of jam bands in the tradition of the Grateful Dead and Allman Brothers. The band's early reputation was built on relentless touring, long jams and the explosive harmonic playing of frontman John Popper.

The group began making its name on the New York City club circuit after famed concert promoter Bill Graham agreed to manage it.

In 1992, Popper founded the H.O.R.D.E. festival to bring together like-minded jam bands for outdoor shows. The festival became hugely popular and attracted performers such as Beck and Neil Young.

In 1995, Blues Traveler had its first mainstream radio hit with the single “Run Around,” which earned the band a Grammy Award.

In the summer of 1999, Popper had to undergo an emergency angioplasty. He survived, but bassist Bobby Sheehan died of an accidental drug overdose that August.

The band's  latest album, “Suzie Cracks the Whip,” was done in 2012.

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