Music roundup for Feb. 20, 2014

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By Bill Livick, Special to The Gazette
Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Harry Manx at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, Stoughton Opera House, 381 E. Main St., Stoughton. Tickets: $30. Call: 608-877-4400.

Harry Manx has had a fascinating musical education. It began in the late 1960s when as a teenager he worked as a soundman in the blues clubs of Toronto. It grew during his years of busking and playing slide guitar in Europe, reaching a crescendo during a decade-long stay in India.

There, Manx discovered a 20-stringed instrument called the veena—a cousin of the better-known sitar—and began a rigorous tutelage with Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, an Indian master and inventor of the Mohan veena. Bhatt was a disciple of late Indian musical celebrity Ravi Shankar.

Manx learned Eastern scales and eventually ragas, which are deceptively complex, regimented musical patterns that form the basis of Indian composition.

He and his wife left India in 1999 and stayed the next year in Brazil, where Manx rediscovered his love of American blues. With one foot in the blues and another in Indian folk and classical music, Manx hit on the idea of combining the two in the Indo-blues hybrid that has become his style.

“These days it’s almost more important to try to find something unique rather than try to be good at what everyone else is doing,” Manx said in an interview from his home in Canada.

“There’s a lot of good guitar players out there, and in order to carve out your little section, you need to find an angle and an approach that’s unique to you. And I understood that from the beginning.”

Manx said despite being introduced to American audiences in the early 1970s, Indian music is still a novelty to most people. He uses that to his advantage in adapting classic American blues songs to his Eastern approach.

“The thing with Indian music is, I wanted to frame it in kind of a Western mode,” he said. “It’s more approachable for people that way. They can kind of see where it fits in and how it makes sense.

“So to that end, I’ll start out in kind of a blues song and then solo in a raga. For me, that makes it very interesting and challenging. For the audience, it makes it like something they haven’t heard before.”

Richard Thompson at 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, Barrymore Theatre, Madison. Tickets: $35. Call 608-241-8633.

Richard Thompson is widely recognized as one of the world’s great guitar players, whether he’s finger picking an acoustic guitar or pushing the amps on electric.

The British-born Thompson is also a critically acclaimed singer and songwriter who has received lifetime achievement awards for songwriting on both sides of the Atlantic.

He was still a teenager in 1967 when he co-founded the groundbreaking band Fairport Convention, which virtually invented British folk rock. By age 21, Thompson had left the band to pursue a solo career.

Bob Dylan was the first major American folk musician to combine his songs with electric guitars, drums and keyboards. Thompson played a lead role in that shift in Great Britain when he joined Celtic folk music with ’60s-era rock.

“I think that’s an accurate statement, and it’s still the basis of what I do now,” Thompson said. “It hasn’t really changed. I play kind of a hybrid between traditional music and rock music.”

Thompson, 64, has recorded more than 40 albums since leaving Fairport Convention in 1971. He’s never achieved an enormous commercial following, but he is regarded as one of the music industry’s most influential singer-songwriter-guitarists. Rolling Stone magazine named him one of the 20 greatest guitar players of all time.

Thompson said his career began with traditional songs and he still finds inspiration in music of the past.

“I think in terms of fashion, things come and go, and I’m not too thrilled with anything around at the moment. But I do keep exploring backwards all the time. If you go back through eras or decades or even centuries, there’s always great and inspiring music.”

Hannibal Buress at 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 21, Barrymore Theatre, Madison. Tickets: $28. Call: 608-241-8633. (Also at 6 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, Turner Hall, 1040 N. 4th St., Milwaukee. Tickets: $25.50. Call 414-286-3205.)

Hannibal Buress is a comedy writer and performer widely known for having an irresistible comedic presence that lands squarely between “cerebral and swagger,” according to the New York Times.

The 2012 winner of Comedy Central’s best club comic award, he recently signed a deal with the network for a new one-hour special. He’ll also become a series regular on the upcoming show “Broad City” and headline his own comedy tour.

With talents that include video directing, commercial acting and voice acting on the much-anticipated game “Grand Theft Auto V,” Buress also has been lauded for his stage presence and wit.

He is a former staff writer for “Saturday Night Live” and “30 Rock” and is the co-host of Adult Swim’s “The Eric Andre Show.”

His 2010 debut comedy CD, “My Name Is Hannibal,” and his 2012 Comedy Central one-hour special, “Animal Furnace,” were both lavished with praise and included in multiple Top 10 lists.

Although he’s perpetually touring, Buress considers New York City his home. There he hosts a weekly Sunday comedy night at Brooklyn’s Knitting Factory.

Tom Rush at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22, Stoughton Opera House, 381 E. Main St., Stoughton. Tickets: $30. Call: 608-877-4400.

Tom Rush has been performing since the early 1960s and has had a profound affect on the American music scene. He helped shape the folk revival in the early ’60s and the renaissance of the ’80s and ’90s.

Rolling Stone magazine called Rush America’s “song-finder” after the singer released his 1968 album, “The Circle Game.” The album contained songs written by Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Jackson Browne at a time when the three were still unknown by the public.

“I’ve been accused of kicking off the singer-songwriter movement with that album,” Rush said in an interview from his home in Vermont.

“People really took notice that I’d introduced three incredible songwriters” all at once.

“I was just looking for good songs. I was way overdue at delivering a new album, and I needed some songs, and here come these three writers with stuff that I just love.

“And that’s really the way I approached it,” he added. “I’m not really in the business of discovering people. I’m in the business perhaps of finding really good songs.”

Rush began performing in 1961 while studying at Harvard University, where he majored in English literature. Many of his early recordings are versions of Lowland Scots and Appalachian folk songs.

He also was interested in early blues music and performed with many of the best-known country-blues artists of the time. But it was Rush’s love of the new style of art-folk in the mid-’60s for which he is most recognized.

He recalled meeting Mitchell at a folk music club in Detroit. She played him four songs and later sent him a tape of six songs.

“The last one was ‘Circle Game,’ which she said was new and probably terrible,” he recalled. “It ended up being the title song of my album.”

That album, merging Rush’s rich baritone and sensitive-yet-unsentimental delivery, made his reputation. He was crowned the master interpreter of the modern folk-derived art song.

Rush also is known for entertaining audiences with banter between his songs. He talks about where he first heard a song or what he likes about it.

“At the bottom of it all, I’m a storyteller,” he said. “Sometimes they’re stories set to music and sometimes not.”

Rush’s latest studio album, “What I Know,” was released in 2009. The collection includes a few originals and other songs that sometimes surprise. An example is Doby Gray’s classic pop hit “Drift Away,” which in Rush’s hands becomes a very different song.

“It’s a powerful song if you strip it down and take away all the horns and dancing girls and hook machines,” he said. “It’s not just the arrangement that makes it a hit.”

Rush’s voice on the song is amazing for how much it sounds like it did a half-century ago.

“I don’t know how to account for it,” he said, “but my voice has probably actually gotten better over time instead of going the other way, so I’m lucky.”

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