Random acts

Of note

Jamehlo goes Collapseable: Asheville-based jam-metal band Les Jamehlo is currently working on its new CD at Collapseable Studios. The group expects to release the currently unnamed album in late August. For more information, visit www.lesjamehlo.com.

Holiday Rd. gets Warped: Local punk trio Holiday Rd. was recently chosen as one of four North Carolina-based bands to perform on the Charlotte stop of the national Vans Warped Tour this August. For more information, visit www.holidayrd.com.

Front-row reviews

Who: Blue Collar Groove

Where: Westville Pub

When: Thursday, June 13

It was a complete and utter failure. I had this plan, you see, to seek out a guaranteed musical fiasco, and according to my source, I’d hit paydirt. All I had to do was show up, pen and paper in hand, watch the calamity unfold, and document it for posterity.

But, as fate would have it, my source was misguided. I’m not an evil person by nature, but in recent weeks I’ve handed out more than my fair share of favorable reviews. I want to keep the local musical world on its toes, lest they get a bit lackadaisical in their pursuits. It was my goal to get back to the business of crushing egos, berating bad performers, and otherwise ruining local musicians’ Wednesdays. Alas, it was not to be. The Westville Pub had booked a winner.

Blue Collar Groove wasn’t pushing any envelopes, but neither did they promise something they couldn’t deliver. Their sound was firmly based around blues, jazz and early Latin rock ‘n’ roll. No jaws dropped, but the band never failed to get its point across, either. Even worse, for my purposes at least, was that each song had a great amount of well-placed creative energy right where it needed to be. Everything they played, from Santana-esque guitar lines to wild bongo rhythms, had a definite kick.

So, let it be known that the five members of Blue Collar Groove beat me at my own game. The managed to get a good review when I was dead-set on giving a bad one. That pretty much speaks for itself.

Local vocals

“The biggest misconceptions about classical music that people have are four — they won’t like it, they won’t understand it, they can’t afford it, and you have to get dressed up.”

All of those notions, according to Asheville Symphony Orchestra Conductor and Musical Director Dr. Robert Hart Baker, are wrong.

“People who like classical music are not snobs, but they are seeking an experience that you simply can’t have at home,” he continues.

Baker knows what he’s talking about. He’s been performing classical music professionally his whole adult life, making his debut as a conductor at age 17 — about the time most would-be musicians are learning their first three-chord songs.

Baker’s pursuits have landed him in the hotbeds of classical music, in places with names like The Kennedy Center and Carnegie Hall. He’s played in Salzburg, St. Petersburg, and Zurich. But he says some of the most satisfying moments of his career happened right here in Asheville.

“I would have to say it was my ‘comeback’ performances in February of 2001 with the Asheville Symphony [Prokofiev’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’] and the York Symphony [Strauss’ ‘Death & Transfiguration’]. I had nearly died the previous April from an attack of pancreatitis,” he explains, “and after months in the hospital and in rehab, I had a second chance at life with my orchestras. The musicians were so eager to play and responsive, and I was so happy to see them and be back on the podium. For me, it was a magical time.”

If anyone can argue that classical music holds something for everyone, it’s Dr. Baker. But what about other genres? Does someone with such a “deep” understanding of music still like to get down?

“I enjoy many forms of music outside the classical field,” he says. “I started music as a rock ‘n’ roll rhythm guitarist in the ’60s — thanks to the Beatles — like many youngsters, and my wife is an accomplished jazz singer and flutist in addition to her classical duties with the symphony in the flute section. We appreciate Miles Davis, James Brown, Patsy Cline, Frank Sinatra, Tom Jones and Paul McCartney every bit as much as Schubert.

“Great popular music composers and performers transcend their medium,” Baker concludes, “and reach us at our core.”

Top threes

Xpress Managing Editor Marsha Barber’s top-three CDs currently in heavy rotation:

• Steve Earle, El Corazon

• Norah Jones, Come Away With Me

• Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks

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