Saturday, October 22, 2011


Oh, it sounded so good in the right-up, and I was looking forward to it.  Plus, it's for charity, so you want to like it, but sadly that doesn't usually work out.  What we have here is a T-Bone Burnett traveling circus.  Burnett and lots of his musical pals, most of whom he produced, hit the road for a short tour of very nice theaters, to raise money for music and arts education.  The confusing name for the roadshow came from the always-verbose Elvis Costello, Burnett's old partner in The Coward Brothers, who leads us off with a track from his latest, Burnett-overseen disc, called Jimmy Standing In the Rain.  It's not a bad one, and the next number really had me going, from Gregg Allman.  Yes, it's his chestnut Midnight Rider, still a gem.  Neko Case did fine, but then my interest started to flag.

I wouldn't blame The Punch Brothers on their own, but things were starting to get pretty precious as the artsy-rootsy crowd was taking over.  Yim Yames, that name thing is getting really old.  Karen Elson and The Secret Sisters, i can barely remember.  And I wish I couldn't remember John Mellencamp.  I don't know why Burnett has an appreciation for him, but he's now produced his last two albums, and they are tepid and grouchy affairs.

I'm sure the whole theater went into bliss when the living icon Ralph Stanley took the stage to warble.  But the problem with living icons is that they are better appreciated visually, as they are inevitably ancient.  Stanley's rusty pipes are no relief for us, having now patiently waited a half-hour for some excitement at home.  Jeff Bridges, you were not it.  Like living icons, movie stars singing are only impressive in front of you, where we can gawk and take cell phone photos.  Serious vocal flaws emerge when all you have is the audio.

So it's left to the final cut here to provide some spark, and you bet Elton John and Leon Russell deliver.  Aided by horns, singers and a crack band of Burnett-approved sidemen, the duo show us that their recent album did indeed have some great life in it, with a funky and fun Monkey Suit.  I get that this was a charity gig, and a revue, and not a regular concert, but there were way too many acts on board, most of them in the earnest camp.  I guess they all had to be included, instead of giving us two or three Elvis or Elton/Leon cuts, and hey T-Bone, it's your show, but what was probably really neat live is not much of a disc to take home.

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