July 10, 2012
Given enough time and aged agave squeezings, the case could probably be made that somehow even Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga are part of the quite expansive New Orleans musical family tree. It’s no reach at all, however, to include a few of the legendary acts taking the stage at Deer Valley’s Snow Park Amphitheater over the next several days.
What with the Park City Performing Arts Foundation and its St. Regis Big Stars Bright Nights Series bringing such renowned Crescent City-influenced artists as Aaron Neville and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band to town this Friday and Lucinda Williams next Monday, our local musical culture will be flat-out drippin’ with the flavor of the Big Easy.
Not that the almost operatically sweet falsetto vocals of Aaron Neville or the artfully crafted poetic musings of Lucinda Williams should ever be put into a box and labeled, but it’s fairly obvious to discerning listeners that New Orleans and its gumbo of musical influences played a role in the musical evolution of each.
Both Neville and Williams, however, have demonstrated a healthy inclination over the years to stray from whatever assigned box into which the music industry has attempted to deposit them. Aaron and Lu, like true artists everywhere, have always remained in a state of becoming, open to whatever vision next speaks to their muse.
Neville, for instance, recently announced a new deal with the iconic jazz label Blue Note Records and the impending release in the fall of an album of street-corner Doo-Wop material produced by Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards and new label President Don Was. And that’s on the heels of his 2010 gospel recording, "I Know I’ve Been Changed." What box?
A member of the celebrated Neville Brothers, "New Orleans First Family of Funk," Aaron’s distinctive vocals, from "Tell It Like It Is" to "Yellow Moon," have, for going on fifty years, redefined southern soul. And nowhere is his brilliance more apparent than during his solo shows like the one on tap at Deer Valley Friday.
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Opening Friday evening for Neville is that New Orleans frenzied-funk outfit, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. DDBB, with its history of inviting the audience onstage, is all about dancing "N’awlins" style and will certainly have the crowd well prepped for when Aaron brings his shtick onboard.
And that brings us to Monday night’s show at Deer Valley that features Lucinda Williams, an artist whose Utah concerts over the past 20 years I’ve refused to miss. Let’s see, just what is it about Lu that totally turns my crank? Actually, to me anyway, it’s not unlike when Dylan comes to town. Why would you possibly let such an opportunity slip by? Lu is a songwriter’s songwriter.
My infatuation may have taken root back when I happened to catch an early Austin City Limits show on PBS that showcased a half-dozen or so singer-songwriters of the female persuasion sitting in a semicircle while taking turns picking acoustic guitars and singing original material.
This was back before her "Car Wheels on a Gravel Road" album caught the attention of those running what would later come to be called the "Americana" radio format back when she was known primarily for writing the Mary Chapin Carpenter hit "Passionate Kisses."
This was also back before smiling became part of her act. Then there was her body language, which gave the impression that she’d much rather be pumpin’ gas in Lafayette than swappin’ songs anywhere with this bunch. You might say she was a serious sort. I began acquiring her music.
Her first album on Smithsonian/Folkways featured covers of Robert Johnson, Hank Williams, Billie Holiday, Roy Acuff and Mississippi John Hurt. I became instantly smitten. Her second release included "Lafayette," which she still sings. "Passionate Kisses," "Crescent City," and "Changed the Locks," one of my all-time favorites, followed on the next album.
Somewhere in there, probably around "Car Wheels," when we began to refer to her as "Lu," "smitten" morphed into "obsession." Before you knew it, the "Essence" and "World Without Tears" CDs showed up and then "West" and "Little Honey" and last year, "Blessed." And, for a long stretch, she played Utah almost annually.
And now she’s set to wax poetic at Deer Valley Monday night. That’s only a few days away. It’s surreal, almost overwhelming! What’s an obsessed smitten sort to do? Besides play her CDs over and over, that is. You can sense a shimmering vibe among the clan. Lu is working her way toward Utah. Wait’ll she gets a load of us.
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and has been an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for more than 40 years.