Music roundup for Nov. 14-20, 2013

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By Bill Livick, Special to The Gazette
Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Brad Paisley at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, BMO Harris Bank Center, 300 Elm St., Rockford, Ill. Tickets: $36.75-$57.75. Call Ticketmaster at 1-800-745-3000.

Brad Paisley is one of country music's biggest stars. The singer-songwriter writes songs laced with humor and pop-culture references, and he also has been known to tackle controversial issues in his songs.

Paisley released his first album, “Who Needs Pictures,” in 1999. Since then, he has recorded nine studio albums and a Christmas compilation, with all of his albums certified gold or higher. He also has scored 32 Top 10 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, 18 of which have reached No. 1.

He was the Country Music Association's male vocalist of the year in 2008 and entertainer of the year in 2010.

Paisley is an unusual star who avoids the trappings of celebrity. He travels either on his own jet or on his tour bus. When he does the latter, he shelters himself on the bus entirely. He doesn't drink alcohol, party or stay in hotel rooms.

His trademark white hat has to be perfect, and because he gives one hat away at each performance, he has to keep plenty in stock. (He has a contract with Stetson to keep him supplied.)

Paisley made headlines earlier this year when he released a duet with rapper LL Cool Jay. “Accidental Racist,” a country-rap ballad in which a black Starbucks barista and a white guy in Confederate flag T-shirt work out their racial animosities, was greeted as a curiosity but ultimately was a commercial flop.

Paisley released his ninth studio album, “Wheelhouse,” in April. It's one of the year's most fascinating records—a grab bag that takes in unlikely genre mash-ups, dabbles in hip-hop-style production and features an unusual lineup of guest stars. The album's provocations include not just “Accidental Racist” but also “Those Crazy Christians,” a gospel song that makes room for atheists and admits that there's something a bit nutty about devout belief.

In the album's ambitious centerpiece, “Southern Comfort Zone,” Paisley turns the tradition of the Dixie home song on its head, endorsing globetrotting cosmopolitanism with a reworked melody scored for a full gospel choir.

The Travelin' McCourys at 8:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, Majestic Theatre, 115 King St., Madison. Horseshoes & Hand Grenades also perform. Tickets: $20. Call 608-255-0901.

The Travelin' McCourys, led by the sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury, are sure to light up the Majestic Theatre with their brand of high-energy bluegrass.

Ronnie McCoury on mandolin and Rob McCoury on banjo continue their father's lifelong dedication to the power of bluegrass music. Rounding out the band are fiddler Jason Carter and bassist Alan Bartram.

The ensemble has a devoted following of bluegrass faithful, but it also combines its sound with others to make something fresh and rejuvenating. Few bands have the same credentials for playing traditional and progressive music.

The Travelin' McCourys recently played with the Allman Brothers and then brought the house down at the annual Warren Haynes Christmas Jam, an invitation-only Southern rock homecoming. Their jam with the Lee Boys was hailed by many as the highlight of the evening and sent new fans online to watch a supercharged combination of R&B and bluegrass.

The McCourys' roots are deep in bluegrass, and the band has paid its dues with 20 years on the bluegrass road. Other groups and fans hear this immediately in the tight rhythm, soulful material and the confidence in taking bluegrass into uncharted waters.

The Ritz Chamber Players with Robert Sims at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 16, Edgerton Performing Arts Center, 200 Elm High Drive, Edgerton. Tickets: $20-$25. Call 608-561-6093.

The Ritz Chamber Players bring fresh energy to classical music and include some of the world's preeminent musicians spanning the African Diaspora. Members perform with such prestigious organizations as the New York Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Chicago Symphony and London Symphony.

Founded in 2002 by clarinetist and artistic director Terrance Patterson, the Ritz Chamber Players present exceptional artistry onstage with inspiring educational programs in schools and communities throughout the United States.

On its website, the group's mission statement says its goal is “to foster the appreciation of chamber music through performances and educational outreach featuring preeminent African-American musicians and composers, with an emphasis on building audiences and arts inclusion that reflects our diverse society.”

The ensemble also stands out in its dedication to showcasing the works of African-American composers.

Its successful debut concert at Carnegie Hall was attended by a standing-room-only crowd, with critics proclaiming the group's performance “extraordinary” and “vital and fresh.”

Guest soloist Robert Sims has been hailed by critics for his rich tone, energetic performances and moving interpretations of African-American spirituals. He has appeared with many orchestras in the United States and toured Japan with the Pacific Music Festival Orchestra.

Branson on the Road at 3 and 7 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 20, Stoughton Opera House, 381 E. Main St., Stoughton. Tickets: $20-$40. Call 608-877-4400.

Co-hosts Debbie Horton (guitar, vocals), Donnie Wright (fiddle, mandolin, guitar, bass, banjo and vocals) and Brian Capps (upright bass, vocals) will lead a cast of musicians from Branson, Mo., in an entertaining show of popular country music.

Branson on the Road is in the same tradition as the traveling road shows during the glory days of the Grand Ole Opry and Louisiana Hayride.

Horton holds the distinction of being the only woman to have played lead guitar for the late Johnny Cash. She hosted her own show at the old Boxcar Willie Theater in Branson and has performed on the Louisiana Hayride and the Ernest Tubb Midnight Jamboree in Nashville. She is a former radio deejay and emcee for many country artists, along with being an accomplished songwriter.

Wright is an expert musician and arranger who has been part of the Branson music scene for more than 40 years. He is versatile on many instruments and provides comic relief on the show. Among his long list of credits are performances at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, the Presleys' show in Branson and a long-standing run at the Golden Nugget in Las Vegas.

Capps is a master upright bass player and sings songs reminiscent of Marty Robbins and Hank Williams. His latest recording reached the Top 10 on the Americana charts. Capps has been an integral part of Branson on the Road from its beginning, and his extraordinary playing, smooth vocals and hard-driving beat are a big part of the fun.

His music blends traditional country and early rock 'n' roll into a stew that is pure rockabilly.

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