The journal of a Kentucky culture vulture
Elizabethtown-based baritone Anthony Clark Evans, who was selling cars at the beginning of this year, is on his way to the Patrick G. and Shirley W. Ryan Opera Center at the Lyric Opera of Chicago.
The Ryan Opera Center is the young artist development program at the Lyric Opera, one of the best-known opera companies in the United States. Evans is one of five singers out of more than 400 applicants to be accepted into the program, which begins in April.
Chicago is the latest chapter in the unlikely story of Evans’ music career. He studied voice at Murray State University but then left after he got married and needed to support his household. He went to work selling cars for Swope Toyota of Elizabethtown. Early this year, he decided to take a shot at the Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions and entered the district round in Memphis. He won and kept on winning, becoming one of five national winners at the grand gala concert on the Metropolitan Opera stage in New York.
Since then, he has competed and won in a few other competitions and gave his debut professional recital at the Singletary Center for the Arts last month. Evans is represented by Lexington-based United Artists and Authors Agency.
At the Lyric Opera, Evans and his fellow residents will work with opera professionals in master classes, coaching sessions and work as understudies and ensemble performers in Lyric productions.
This seems to be the month of folky artists giving us big new albums that push their largely acoustic boundaries.
We have Mumford and Sons with Babel, which the band told Q‘s Jian Ghomeshi was partly a fulfillment of their desire to perform as a rock band.
And we have Lexington’s Ben Sollee, who to this point had made his reputation as the folky cello guy — as well as the writer of thoughtful, pointed songs — offering a new album that has several diversions from his regular profile. That starts the second that Half Made Man begins. Whole Lot to Give immediately draws listeners in with a big rock-pop sound anchored by an electrified riff and Sollee offering as focused a singing performance as he ever has. That and the defiant The Healer had me thinking this is going to be Sollee’s rock-anthem hymnal when DIY drew me back into a more familiar mood — high-energy, rootsy music with a defiant message. That feel continues in tunes such as Get Off Your Knees, and then there is the sonic and lyrical loveliness of Roam in the Dark and The Maestro — reminiscent of his Bible Belt – and the album closers The Pursuit of Happiness and Some Lovin’, which feel as familiar from Sollee as Half Made Man’s openers felt like departures.
On this latest effort, Sollee offers a variety of moods and styles without making it sound like a mess. There is a cohesiveness in the songwriting, arranging and musicianship, with guests including My Morning Jacket’s Carl Broemel on a variety of guitars, bassist Alana Rocklin, percussionist Jordon Ellis, violinist Jeremy Kittel and vocalist Abigail Washburn. Even if audiences are still discovering Sollee, clearly his fellow musicians are already big fans.
There is a point in Half Made Man when you might forget Sollee is primary a cellist. Yes, we still hear the soulful sound and admire Sollee’s mastery of it. But now that sound is him, and there is no longer a novelty to it. We focus on the music, which stands on its own.
Half Made Man dwells on lyrics about people in progress, but increasingly, Sollee is becoming a fully formed artist.
About Rich Copley & Copious Notes
Raised by opera-loving parents in a rock ’n’ roll world, Rich Copley has parlayed his broad interests into his career writing about arts and entertainment. Since 1998, he has covered performing arts, film and faith-based popular culture for the Lexington Herald-Leader, the daily newspaper in Lexington, Ky. MORE | E-mail Rich