Music roundup for Feb. 6, 2014

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By Bill Livick, Special to The Gazette
Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Corky Siegel's Chamber Blues at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, Stoughton Opera House, 381 E. Main St., Stoughton. Tickets: $17.50-$35.00. Call 608-877-4400.

Chicago blues icon Corky Siegel brings his innovative chamber blues ensemble to the Stoughton Opera House on Saturday. The late Studs Terkel described Siegel's Chamber Blues as “a joyous marriage of classical music and the blues.”

For Siegel, combining blues and classical music is not experimental—it's natural. He's been doing just that, on occasion, since the Siegel-Schwall Band first jammed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 1968.

The idea of a blues-classical blend initially was suggested by Seiji Ozawa, a former Chicago Symphony conductor. Siegel, his band and the symphony joined forces on “Three Pieces for Blues Band and Symphony Orchestra” by William Russo.

In 1973, the Siegel-Schwall Band and Ozawa released a recording of the piece performed with the San Francisco Symphony. In 1975, Siegel and Ozawa, with the San Francisco Symphony, performed another Russo work, “Street Music: A Blues Concerto,” and released the recording in 1979.

Inspired by his collaboration with Ozawa, Siegel formed Chamber Blues in 1988. The group's music combines elements of classical, blues and jazz. Chamber Blues has toured internationally and released albums in 1994, 1998 and 2005.

Jason Isbell at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, Barrymore Theatre, 2090 Atwood Ave., Madison. Tickets: $20. Call 608-241-8633.

Last March, singer-songwriter Jason Isbell released “Southeastern,” his fourth album since leaving the Drive-By Truckers in 2007. With each album, Isbell, 35, seems to grow more confident in his craft and draws a larger following.

Isbell's new album is filled with insight, emotion and irresistible melodies. The album made several “best-of” lists for 2013. National Public Radio's music critic, Ken Tucker, named “Southeastern” his favorite album of the year.

“No music moved me more, did more to make me think about life a bit differently, than Jason Isbell's continually revelatory album 'Southeastern,'” Tucker wrote. “It cohered as a statement about love, regret, loneliness and joy, and also about what it's like to make vernacular music concerning these themes. It was self-conscious without being self-absorbed.”

Isbell is backed on several songs by his wife, Amanda Shires, and by Kim Richey. He is an outstanding singer and accomplished guitarist, but the detail and depth of his songwriting might be his greatest strength.

On “Southeastern,” his songs deal with such difficult matters as child sexual abuse, an alcoholic slowly dying of cancer, and the travails of living and traveling alone. But there are lighter moments, including a song Isbell wrote about touring and partying in Australia with fellow troubadour Justin Townes Earl.

Isbell left the Drive-By Truckers partly to break free from the intense partying that often comes with being part of a successful rock band.

He wasn't able to achieve sobriety until his relationship with Shires was on the line. His newest songs display a sense of purpose and clarity from that personal growth.

Mason Jennings at 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, Turner Hall Ballroom, 1040 N. 4th St, Milwaukee. Tickets: $20. Call 414-286-3205. (Also at 9 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 8, Majestic Theatre, 115 King St., Madison. Tickets: $20. Call 608-255-0901.)

A clear line connects Mason Jennings' songs to the folk tradition found in the music of Woody Guthrie and early work of Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan.

It's not that Jennings has copied their styles, but he writes, sings and arranges his music simply and honestly.

He said the key is staying true to his inspiration and keeping his eye on the long haul.

“I hope to make a ton of records over my lifetime,” Jennings said in an interview. “Sometimes I feel that people don't think you're a good musician if you're not polished and on the radio, and that makes me sad because I believe that a lot of people I admire—like Johnny Cash, John Lennon and Bob Dylan—probably wouldn't get a record deal today because they sang from their hearts and not to get famous or anything like that.”

The Minnesota-based musician has diversified his sound over the years, from rustic, sparse folk to the upbeat acoustic pop on his latest album, “Always Been.”

Ernie Hendrickson at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 7, Cafe Carpe, 18 S. Water St., Fort Atkinson. Tickets: $8. Call 920-563-9391.

Raised in Cuba City and now living in Chicago, Ernie Hendrickson grew up on a steady diet of Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Neil Young, Cat Stevens and Jerry Garcia. Those early heroes opened the floodgates to the well of American roots music from which he draws inspiration.

In 2007, he self-produced and released an acclaimed solo record, “Down the Road,” which pushed him onto the Midwest's radar as an emerging singer-songwriter.

Hendrickson released his second record, “Walking with Angels,” in 2009. It was sparked by a chance meeting with producer/guitarist Bo Ramsey in Iowa City in 2008.

At Ramsey's urging, Hendrickson sang and played nearly all of the songs with a live band. The record stands as a testament to Hendrickson's powers as a songwriter.

In October, Hendrickson released his third album of pure Americana, “One for the Dreamers.”

The album was made in a rural recording studio outside Nashville. The title track “is a song for everyone fighting to stay committed to living the life they've always envisioned for themselves,” Hendrickson said.

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