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Asleep At The Wheel @ Boulder Theater | 7/24

Can a wheel reinvent itself while it’s still rolling?

Sounds like an impossible task -- but you never want to say “impossible” to Asleep at the Wheel, the famed western-swing, boogie, and roots-music outfit that’s, amazingly, still on the upswing. That’s saying something, too, considering the group’s been around for nearly 40 years, turning out an incredible 25+ albums while playing an unrelenting schedule of one-nighters that would make a vaudevillian dizzy.

“In terms of how many people we played for, what we accomplished, and how much money we made – well, we didn’t make any money – this year was absolutely our best year ever,” says Wheel founder and front man Ray Benson with a chuckle.

And even as the Wheel rolled on, the reinvention had begun. You could see and hear it in their live shows, where new vocalist Elizabeth McQueen invited comparison with the classic female vocalists of the band’s earlier era, and fiddler-singer Jason Roberts gave the band a second male lead voice to complement Benson’s immediately identifiable baritone.

These days, the reinvented Wheel is also rolling down a couple of new avenues. One involves to the critically acclaimed musical play, A Ride With Bob, which stars Benson as himself -- encountering the ghost of Bob Wills on a tour bus – Roberts as the young Wills, and McQueen as Minnie Pearl and other famed entertainment figures, with the rest of the band members featured as well. Originally designed as a one-off celebration of Wills’ 100th birthday in ’05, A Ride With Bob quickly took on a life of its own and, notes Benson, “it’s absolutely a part of what we do now.” Another success has been the adaptation of the Wheel’s repertoire for pops symphony. Performances with Dallas, Austin, Fort Worth & Amarillo symphonies have drawn record crowds.

The Wheel’s new look is also spotlighted in several new discs – the first called, appropriately enough, Reinventing the Wheel. The 12-cut celebration of American – particularly Southwestern – music features guest appearances by gospel’s Blind Boys of Alabama (with a splendid reworking of the old Wills tune “The Devil Ain’t Lazy”) and banjoist Rolf Sieker, along with lead vocals by McQueen and Roberts as well as Benson, whose voice has been synonymous with Asleep at the Wheel for decades.

The second is 2009’s Willie and the Wheel; a collaboration with Willie Nelson that was originally envisioned by famed producer Jerry Wexler in the 1970s. Unfortunately before they had a chance to cut it, Nelson had left Atlantic Records. But over the ensuing decades Wexler kept the idea alive and even gave Ray his entire collection of western swing vinyl that included his notes on song choices and treatments. In late 2007 the idea was revived and Jerry and Ray reconnected by phone. Always the producer with a vision, Jerry was involved in every way. He insisted that some of the tracks should include horns as well as a return to traditional fiddles and lap steel guitar associated with western swing. As the sessions concluded and Willie finished his vocals the tracks were sent to Jerry. “To my delight and relief,” says Ray, “he loved them.” In fact, Wexler heard most of the finished tracks prior to his passing in August 2008. "Jerry wanted us to do this album and I'm glad we got to do it for him, “says Willie Nelson. “And that he heard it before he passed on."

The success of the Willie and the Wheel album release was quickly followed up by a tour and even a taping of the 35th anniversary of Austin City Limits for PBS (for broadcast in Fall of 2009), a fitting double-bill as Willie had taped the pilot and Asleep at the Wheel appeared in the very first regular episode of the legendary live music television program.

And now in contemplating the 40th anniversary of Asleep at the Wheel in 2010, Ray remains focused on the original concept. “I carried the load for many, many years, but I’ve always just wanted to have a band, as opposed to Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel,” Benson explains. “That’s what we had in the ‘70s – a band, a revue kind of deal, which was the whole concept. But trying to replace a Chris O’Connell was very difficult. And then Elizabeth walks up, and boom – here’s my girl singer. And then I kept pushing Jason, both through the play and through the band, saying, `Man, you’ve got talent. You can sing. You’ve got the golden ear – just apply it to your singing and songwriting.’”


Roberts, who’s been the Wheel’s full-time fiddler since early ’96, welcomed the opportunity to be a part of the revamped, revue-style Wheel. “I think everybody got a chance to put their two cents in, and bring to the table what they had, ” he adds. “God bless Ray Benson for allowing us to do that..”

Adds McQueen, “One of the things about Asleep at the Wheel is that they always have great musicians. That’s what they’re known for. So for them to ask me to join and then to keep me in the band, and to let me step out a little more and stand in the shoes of Chris O’Connell and Maryann Price, who were amazing singers – that’s an incredible honor. It’s above and beyond my greatest expectations.”

So, whether your next encounter with Asleep at the Wheel is at a dance or concert, or backing up Willie Nelson via the new disc, or at a live production of A Ride with Bob, you’ll be witnessing something very special -- a band that’s not only been entertaining audiences with its own genre-busting music for four decades, but also a group that’s never been afraid to try something new -- including a reinvention, inspired by the past, that rolls joyously toward a long and shining future.

More Info / Buy Tickets

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Date/Time: July 24, 2011, 8:00 pm

Audience: All Ages

Seating: All Seated Reserved/GA

Ticket Availability: Yes

General Admission: $32.00

Reserved Tickets: $37.50

Gold Circle: $48.50

Crash Test Dummies @ the Boulder Theatre

There is no mistaking Brad Roberts’ voice. He may look like an average guy, now in his mid-40s, but then he opens his mouth and his majestic baritone voice immediately conjures fond memories of such Crash Test Dummies hits at “Mmm, Mmm, Mmm, Mmm” and “Superman.” Perhaps best remembered for the acerbic folk rock sound of 1991’s The Ghosts That Haunt Me and 1993’s God Shuffled His Feet, there have nonetheless been enough hits for the band over the years to merit a couple of greatest hits packages. Through it all, the band with Roberts at the helm has touched on funk and soul, folk, electronic music and even Christmas tunes. Yet it is Roberts’ voice and offbeat lyrical sensibility that have been this beloved band’s calling cards since their founding twenty years ago.

Due for release on May 11, Oooh La La (Deep Fried) is again something of a different animal for the Crash Test Dummies. This time Roberts collaborates with producer/engineer Stewart Lerman, whose many credits include such divergent talents as Antony and the Johnsons and The Roches, as well as filmmakers like Wes Anderson and Martin Scorcese. While longtime CTD member Ellen Reid added back-up vocals and a lead on the closing acoustic ballad “Put a Face,” this album is fundamentally the work of these two creative men.

“I met Stewart and he wanted to just write music for the sake of writing music,” Roberts explains, breaking a five-year writing hiatus to work with Lerman. “I think the music is better than it could have ever been because we were writing it for ourselves – we weren’t aiming at a demographic anyhow – but this couldn’t be a clearer case of us being little boys.” “Little boys” is actually an appropriate term to explain how this album came together—Roberts and Lerman became infatuated with ‘70s-era musical toys, particularly one called the Optigan, and used them to compose much of the music for Oooh La La. Manufactured by Mattel, the Optigan (an acronym for optical organ) looks like a small electric organ but it projects the sound of other instruments using celluloid discs. Somewhat like an accordion, there are buttons on the left side that trigger chords and piano keys on the right that trigger single notes. The discs, with names like “Nashville,” “Swing It!” and “Guitar Boogie,” rotate to produce different arrays of sounds. The process is eerily similar to the digital sampling that is so common today, but the antiquated analog system produces quite a different effect.

“Because we wrote using these discs, we were inspired to do things that we wouldn’t have done,” Roberts points out. “I don’t write big band style, but all of a sudden I had this big band [on disc], so I’m writing in a genre that I normally wouldn’t be writing in. I can’t say enough about how great it is to write on these toys.”

With a little help from a few friends, the guys laid down a collection of beautifully crafted instrumental parts on top of the original toy tracks to create a fully realized production. Listening to the completed tracks you probably wouldn’t even realize that these tunes were started on toy instruments, but those unusual origins are still lurking. It won’t only be longtime CTD fans who will get a kick out of such sonic touches as the `50s doo-wop feel of “Paralyzed” (inspired by another toy called the Omnichord), the manic country feel of “What I’m Famous For” and the big band swing of “Now You See Her.”

Even aside from the toys, there is a distinctly different vibe afoot with this record. “Songbird” opens the album with a somewhat haunting but still undeniably beautiful acoustic melody and uplifting arrangement. Then there’s the third song “And It’s Beautiful,” which is a full-blown love song. “Happy songs are hard to write, especially love songs,” Roberts says. “This is territory I couldn’t have touched as a younger man without making myself sick.”

Yet this is still the unique (some might say warped) perspective of Brad Roberts and the Crash Test Dummies, nowhere more in evidence that with a few of the darker songs on this disk. “You Said You’d Meet Me (In California)” can’t help but make you think of a carnival side show. The Tin Pan Alley-inspired “Not Today Baby” is actually a Frank Sinatra reference. Legend has it that one day Sinatra walked into a studio full of engineers, staff and musicians at the ready, turned around and walked right out with a simple, insouciant “Not today, baby.” The reference was irresistible to Roberts and Lerman, as they recorded their tracks in Frank’s hometown of Hoboken.

Roberts has come a long way from 2004’s dark Songs of the Unforgiven, as a listener will pretty easily hear in “Now You See Her,” a song that Roberts proudly calls “Light and cheeky.” A happily married man who blogs at www.crashtestdummies.com about, among other things, the wonders of his wife, Roberts just seems happier and more balanced than he has been in the past. The image of a happy artist may be antithetical to the “great art demands suffering” mentality, but in the case of Brad Roberts it’s a welcome change of pace that has left him invigorated. Roberts has been so revitalized by the making of the new record that the band will tour this summer for the first time since 2004. Crash Test Dummies will perform as an acoustic trio with Ellen and Brad singing and old friend and tour partner Stuart Cameron playing acoustic guitar, much in the spirit of album closer “Put a Face.” Rather than try to recreate music that was created with some rather cranky toy instruments never meant for the rigors of a tour, Roberts has opted to present these songs in a straightforward, stripped-down manner. It’s a curveball, but the test of a great song is its ability to work in different formats, and these songs, along with classic CTD hits, undoubtedly pass this test.

“I think that when you are dealing with popular music, unless you have a strong melody, sympathetic chords, and a good set of lyrics you ain’t got nothing,” Roberts points out. Foreshadowing the highly entertaining shows for which he is so well known, Roberts adds “I want to have a little room to digress into an anecdote while Stuart strums the guitar, if that’s what I feel like doing.”

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97.3 KBCO Presents
CRASH TEST DUMMIES | June 13th
The Boulder Theater |  Boulder, Colorado
www.bouldetheater.com | ON SALE NOW

Justin Roberts @ Boulder Theater

Justin Rogers- for the Grateful Web

Justin Roberts is truly one of the "all-stars" of the indie family music scene. He logs thousands of miles on the road each year, leading some to call him the hardest working man in children's show business. With national awards and recognition and a devoted fan base, Justin and his wonderfully named bandmates "The Not Ready for Naptime Players" dish out unexpectedly intelligent and whimsically rocking music for kids and their parents.

Justin's latest CD, Pop Fly, is filled with 11 high- energy pop hits spanning topics from a dandelion watching ballplayer to a girl's unusual hairstyle in which funky characters of all shapes and sizes take up residence. There are images of permission slips, first days, and grandmother's home cooking. Gently plucked piano strings, vintage synthesizers, tender trombones, pounding drums, and giant electric guitars emerge on this journey through the pop flys and pratfalls of childhood. It's yet another Justin Roberts home run filled with witty lyrics, sing-along choruses and touching insights. It continues a hot streak that started in the early 90s.

Over the years, Justin has put out an impressive string of award winning, critically acclaimed CDs. He has performed in front of millions of people on The Today Show and his song "Get Me Some Glasses" was featured on the World Series broadcast during a feature about ballplayers who wear glasses. He's garnered kudos and raves from national media including The New York Times, Newsweek, People Magazine, Entertainment Weekly, and The Chicago Tribune.

JUSTIN ROBERTS AND THE NOT READY FOR NAPTIME PLAYERS
Saturday, March 14

Boulder Theater
2032 14th Street
Boulder, CO 80302
303.786.7030
www.bouldertheater.com