Random acts

Of note

Asheville-based singer/songwriter Ginny Wilder is currently working on a new album. Lessons in Life and Love is the third studio effort for Wilder, and her first collaboration with producer Fran McKendree. For more information, visit www.ginnywilder.com.

Local punk group Junior Varsity is looking for a new drummer (longtime member Matt Ring has left the group to concentrate on his other projects, Evilive and Holiday Rd.). For more information, visit www.juniorvarsity.net.

Front-row reviews

Who: David Via and Corn Tornado

Where: Town Pump

When: Thursday, May 23

Individually, Dave Via and the members of Corn Tornado are highly skilled players. Their picking is smooth and clear, their timing absolutely dead-on. You can hear it in their frequent solos, as they each take their section and run with it as far as it will go. Combined, you might think they’d be an unstoppable musical force.

Under different circumstances, perhaps. But this show made it clear there was a limit to this Tornado’s power. After a recently ended five-month hiatus, they seemed more a slowly gathering thunderstorm than a true twister.

Most songs were firmly rooted in either western country’s twang or bluegrass’ fast-paced improvisation, with strong elements of Celtic music, blues and swing also popping up from time to time. And many songs seemed like reworkings of older tunes, with phrases obviously borrowed from classics like “The Devil went Down to Georgia” and “Cluck Old Hen.” During the instrumentals, it became difficult to determine whether the songs were unusual variations of standards, or simply new songs alluding to old ones.

Either way, there were some great solos heard from all. Perhaps Via himself summed the evening up best, joking that the band was “pretty much messing around” that night. For all their collective history , the group may still be feeling out their roles now that they’re back together. Hopefully, they will soon reclaim the gale-force power of their name.

Who: Cecil Bothwell w/Brianna Lane

Where: The Grey Eagle

When: Friday, May 24

I’ll be honest: I expected Cecil Bothwell to bore the hell out of me. From personal experience, I know he can be an entertaining guy, but I still expected an evening of somewhat cynical, environmentally and politically active musical preaching — which, for entertainment purposes, is rarely something for which you bring your glowsticks, hula-hoops and encore-requesting disposable lighter.

Thankfully, I had Bothwell all wrong. For the opening act, he presented Brianna Lane, a local singer/songwriter and recent Warren Wilson graduate — a good choice, as her performance would add an interesting contrast to Bothwell’s own. Where Bothwell is confident and world-weary, Lane’s on-stage demeanor is hesitant, almost shy. She sounds like someone who’s recently, reluctantly, made the transition from the sweetly innocent tones of youth to the weightier sounds of adulthood. Her guitar playing was technically uneven, as if she were trying for some complicated sounds that fell short in performance. At times, the strange tunings and occasionally tinny sound bordered on distracting; mostly it just sounded odd.

But back to Bothwell: The main reason I dreaded his performance as a dragging, painful affair was its title, Disturbing the War. I had visions of endless musical appeals to show-goers to feel bad about our government, our culture and our world in general. Even wrapped in the best performance, such material would, I was sure, lead to a real bummer of an evening. Not so.

Above everything, Bothwell knows how to entertain. Sure, there were songs about social injustice, the ravages of war and the ruin of the environment — absent, however, was the air of hopelessness I’d expected. Had Bothwell taken away the theme, this show would have been a classic, acoustic singer/songwriter performance — and one worthy of interest in its own right. (At the beginning of his second set, he was joined on stage by backing guitarist/vocalist Julie Esch, who added a nice bit of harmony to the acoustic arrangement of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” as well as a few other songs.)

Many of Bothwell’s originals were barbed with the same wit and humor found in his syndicated column, “Duck Soup.”

Even in songs inherently dark in content or particularly heavy on meaning, Bothwell’s skilled guitar playing and clear vocals were entertaining enough to carry the crowd through. But because he doesn’t have the most subtle singing skills, Bothwell was most memorable delivering songs with a clear emphasis on lyrics (this was especially true of his John Prine covers).

Yes, there was a message (or two): Big Business lies, and you can’t always count on the government to look out for your best interests. But there was also fun. I left the show feeling sated, fully entertained and filled with a variety of intellectual points to mull over — likely the exact mood Bothwell had intended to impart. Next time, I’m bringing my lighter.

Top threes

More anagrammed band names:

Donor Didn’t Avoid Caravan (David Via and Corn Tornado)

She Won’t Rumble (The Low Numbers)

Dumb Auditor Crusade (Reductio Ad Absurdum)


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