Top Shelf

The voice, the Mothership lands and Southwestern delights

by Chris Aaland

For folks who work in the music business, be they touring musicians, radio programmers, concert promoters or journalists, Cameron Crowe’s 2000 film, “Almost Famous,” was as much a historical document as it was a comedy-drama that cemented the careers of Kate Hudson, Zooey Deschanel, Anna Paquin and Jason Lee. Centered around teen-age journalist William Miller’s interaction with the fictional ‘70s rock group Sweetwater, it accurately captured life in the rock & roll circus, complete with the heartache, loneliness and excesses.

Among the things Crowe nailed squarely on the head was the caste system within bands. The lead singer may be the public face of the band, but the lead guitarist is the mysterious driving force.

“Just leave me behind! I’m only the fucking lead singer,” Jeff Bebe famously shouted as Sweetwater’s tour bus pulled out of a desert gas station without him.

Singers seem to play second fiddle to virtuoso instrumentalists. You have to be a bluegrass junkie to rattle off Bill Monroe’s lead singers. Sure, some of them went on to become legends in their own right, but the Father of Bluegrass was quick to point out that they were his Blue Grass Boys. Singers were as replaceable as broken strings. Think of jazz, and horn players Miles, Charlie and Coltrane quickly come to mind. Ella, Billie and Dinah are an afterthought. Was Plant ever as famous as Page? Daltrey as essential as Townshend? Diamond Dave as defining as Eddie?

Maura O’Connell sings at the Community Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m. Fri., Nov. 15.  

Acoustic folk is no different. Maura O’Connell has always considered herself “just a singer,” which is a bit self-deprecating. That’s simply too humble of an opinion to hold. She is as much a virtuoso with her voice as Béla Fleck is with his banjo. During O’Connell’s 30-year career, she’s recorded 13 albums – taking such songs as Richard Thompson’s “Down Where the Drunkards Roll” to new artistic heights – and offered lead vocals and harmonies to records by the likes of Jerry Douglas, Alison Brown, Robert Earl Keen, Mark O’Connor, Dolly Parton and countless others. Her latest album, “Naked with Friends,” is done totally a cappella with only a handful of peers (Douglas, Alison Krauss, Tim O’Brien and Paul Brady among them) joining in on occasion. Nary a string gets strummed.

O’Connell has long been a Four Corners favorite. From her 1990s DSCPA gigs at the old Diamond Circle Theatre to Pagosa Springs festival performances to appearances on KSUT Roots & Rhythms CDs (she’s one of just a handful of performers to appear on more than one volume in the five-disc collection), she’s built an enormous following. Fans will get one last chance to see O’Connell when her farewell tour stops at the Community Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m. Friday. While she’s aged gracefully along with her core audience, the game has changed. Records and CDs aren’t selling. Festivals don’t call aging folksingers anymore. Last week’s Robin & Linda Williams performance at the Concert Hall was sparsely attended, with a vast majority of the crowd aged 65 or older. But for those longing to hear a human voice so beautiful that tears and goosebumps are as natural of a response as cheering and clapping, it’s a can’t-miss moment in time. She won’t be back again.

Who would have ever thought the Mothership would land in La Plata County? It’s happening, though, as George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic play the Sky Ute Casino Resort in Ignacio at 7 p.m. Saturday. With such seminal ’70s funk classics as “Funkentelechy vs. the Placebo Syndrome,” “Chocolate City” and “Up for the Down Stroke” in its discography, P-Funk took the James Brown vibe and ran with it, straight to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. During Clinton’s career, his music crashed into the shores like a tidal wave, far ahead of his R&B peers. He embraced doo-wop, soul, funk, rock and disco at various points of his career, but it never quite sounded like his forefathers’ records. It was something sexier and certainly not of this Earth.

The cowboy poet and humorist Baxter Black compares himself to “a good pair of boots, a faithful cow dog or even the flu” on his website. “Try him out, he’s contagious!” The one-time large animal veterinarian who still ranches in Arizona has built a following like no other cowboy poet around. A favorite of NPR audiences who has sold more than a million books, appeared on the "Tonight Show" and hosted his own weekly radio and television programs, Black’s appearances in the Four Corners are the stuff of legend. He returns to Durango for the fifth time (all of the others sold out quickly), this one at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Community Concert Hall. A VIP package includes a pre-concert reception in the Center of Southwest Studies at 5:30 p.m. Profits directly benefit La Plata Open Space Conservancy and its work to permanently protect undeveloped lands that have significant agricultural, wildlife, scenic, recreational, historical and archeological resources.

Robert Mirabal, a two-time Grammy-winning Native American flutist and composter, brings “Blue Corn: The Journey,” featuring the Jemez Pueblo Dancers, to the Community Concert Hall at 7 p.m. Tuesday. A proponent of world music, the Taos-raised Mirabal fuses indigenous American sounds with the music of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean. His planetary pulse defies classification.

Finally, two East Coast bands – She Keeps Bees (Brooklyn) and Last Good Tooth (Providence, R.I.) – rock the Derailed Pour House Saturday.

If you’re going to get your P-Funk on in Ignacio this Saturday, this week’s Top Shelf list gives you reason to head south early. The Taste of Native Cuisine & Culture Expo 2013, hosted by the Southern Ute Culture & Museum, takes place from 10 a.m. - 3 p.m. Your $20 admission ($10 for children ages 7-15, free for kids 6 & under with a paid adult) includes the following tasty treats:

- Butternut squash & bacon bisque
- Citrus crème fraiche
- Elk, apple & sage meatballs
- Spicy pumpkin puree & candied bacon
- Navajo tea-braised pork belly
- Chimayo red chile & honey glaze
- Oak-smoked bison
- Juniper berry & wild mushroom ragout
- Cranberry & habañero mousse
- Yucca chips & candied bear berries
- Butternut panna cotta
- Pomegranate coulis & almond sage crumble

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