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Richard Leo Johnson

Folks who read this column with any degree of regularity will recognize Johnson’s name, as I enthusiastically recommend his shows whenever he appears in this, his adopted hometown.

However, there may be many out there who have yet to make it their business to catch this supremely gifted and inventive artist, and to those of you, I say, what are you waiting for?

Richard’s phenomenal technical prowess – on both the acoustic and electric guitar – borders on legendary, and critics worldwide have marveled at not only his idiosyncratic tuning methods, but the inspired and unpredictable phrasing and emotion that are at the forefront of his compositions.

Johnson’s unique approach to the guitar is often lumped into the broad “jazz” rubric (in fact, his first two albums appeared on the storied Blue Note imprint), but this in itself is a rather limiting description of what he does. His music – occasionally haunting, always mesmerizing – encompasses the attack, distortion and force of progressive (read: acid) rock, the studied and refined diction of classical guitar, and the heady contrapuntal grooves of world music.

Which is to say that he is his own man.

This intimate set is being billed in a manner that pushes the “solo” aspect of his work, and that’s because, in a way, it could be seen as a bit of a send-off to his previous skin.

October sees the release of Johnson’s next album, the first with his current backing group – an avant-garde chamber music combo collectively known as The Richard Leo Johnson Trio. That record showcases a different side of the guitarist’s art, and steers noticeably away from his more solitary pieces. Pieces which made up the lion’s share of his first two Blue Note CDs.

This gig is meant to serve as a retrospective of material from both those discs, 1998’s Fingertip Ship and 2000’s Language. And one gets the sense that Johnson can’t help but bid farewell in some small way to the works which made his reputation – and yet simultaneously cast his talent in stone for many listeners of limited vision.

Those familiar with the fretboard magic of Leo Kottke, Adrian Legg, Robert Fripp, Eric Johnson and Lyle Workman will find much to like about Richard’s chops.

Those who know little about any of the players I’ve just named should not feel intimidated into staying home. For a paltry $5 cover, you too can have your mind completely blown by the man Playboy Magazine touted as "the most innovative guitarist since Jimi Hendrix."

No prior knowledge required. Fri., 8 pm, The Sentient Bean.


Rollin' In The Hay

All the way from Birmingham, Alabama comes this powerhouse newgrass unit.

Well, to be more exact, they term what they do “renegade bluegrass,” and basically, that means they apply bluegrass instrumentation and sensibilities to a wide range of influences from Southern rock to country and beyond.

Well-known for their ace musicianship and keen ear for detail, this trio has credibility to spare.

Mandolinist and guitarist Barry Waldrep started playing on the bluegrass festival circuit when he was only 6, and by the age of 14, had already jammed onstage with Bill Monroe. in the late 1980s, he joined the famed Telluride.

Guitarist Rick Carter was a founding member of Telluride, and has enjoyed solo success as well. He’s opened for Bob Dylan, among others.

Bassist Stan Foster has served time in many well-respected Alabama groups, and is known for his deep harmony vocals.

For quite some time now, Rollin’ In The Hay has been hitting this laid-back seafood restaurant on their way to more high-profile gigs in larger markets, and they’ve become something of a sensation out there on the island.

This is one of the coolest places to catch a live band anywhere around, so if you’re planning on checking out this show, get their early for a good seat, as it’s likely to fill up fast. Wed., 8 pm, The Oyster Bar (Wilmington Island).

Sapphire Bullets of Pure Love

Here’s a great opportunity to catch one of Savannah’s best live bands and check out a new nightclub in the process.

This will be the grand opening of 912, a new live music venue located in the cavernous space above Broughton Street restaurant Il Pasticcio that was previously home to the dance club Aprés.

According to the new owners, in lieu of the disco scene the room was previously known for, they are planning to present a wide variety of both regional and national touring artists in the upcoming months, and to that end are renovating the room for improved sight lines and live band acoustics.

They’ve added a raised stage and an in-house PA, and are looking to show off all their work with this free concert.

The Sapphire Bullets are one of the most popular cover bands in the area, and regularly perform for private functions year round. However, the sheer size of the group (over a dozen members including a full horn section) prevents them from playing most local nightclubs.

The group draws on a wide variety of influences and an exhaustive setlist of great rock and soul nuggets. They are equally adept at Motown and Stax style groove music (think The Funk Brothers, The Mar-Keys or Al Green’s Hi albums), as well as more modern fare such as the rootsy R & B of John Hiatt or Joe Cocker.

Made up of seasoned regional players from all walks of life (from music professors to carpenters), The Bullets are a blast to watch, because you can tell they relish every chance they have to play such great, feel-good music.

You must be 21 and up to get in, but admission is free, along with champagne and hors d’oeurves. Sat., 9 pm, 912 (formerly known as Aprés - above Il Pasticcio).

The Peelers

Some locals may remember this band fondly from their appearance at last February’s Irish Festival.

The self-proclaimed “rumbustious folk-rock-punk revival act” from KirkHill Glengarry county, Canada plays a high-octane mixture of traditional Celtic and manic rock music.

With a nationalistic fervor that’s part and parcel of Irish music, and a juggernaut-like approach to stage craft that keeps audiences on their feet from the first note, they boast conviction in spades.

According to those who’ve witnessed their infrequent local shows, the group is hard to beat for sheer verve.

For an indication of just how much Savannah loves The Peelers, Shelley Lowther, the pub’s owner, says that when they play her place, O’Connell’s business rivals St. Patrick’s Day itself.

The Peelers seem to revel in the same anarchic and loutish spirit of The Pogues (a seminal Irish group that virtually wrote the book on how this style of music should, look, feel and sound) without lapsing into parody or mimicry.

However, in case you still had any lingering doubts about exactly where this band was coming from, their frontman tells me they’re “like hearing your favorite drink.” Sat., O’Connell’s Irish Pub.

The Prescription Trio

I’ll make this one short and sweet: If you dig see master improvising musicians play at the top of their game, you won’t want to miss this gig.

Between Grammy-winning bassist Rob Wasserman, drummer Mike Clark and organist Robert Walter, the members of this supergroup have played and recorded with Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, Lou Reed, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello, Aaron Neville, Branford Marsalis, Herbie Hancock, Karl Denson, and Fred Wesley.

When it comes to fierce, groove-oriented jamming and flights of musical whimsy, this is one of the most promising lineups in years. The possibilities are almost endless... Wed., August 25th, 9 pm, The Music Farm (Charleston). Advance Tickets on sale at www.etix.com.

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Jim Reed

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