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Missy Raines bringing bluegrass and more to Leo & Leona's

Missy Raines — who’s coming to Leo and Leona’s Tavern and Dancehall on Nov.11 with her acoustic ensemble, The New Hip — is true bluegrass royalty. Seven times the International Bluegrass Music Association has named her Bass Player of the Year.

However, as the name of her band suggests, Raines has been branching out. An excellent singer with a voice that’s been described as smoky and seductive, she leads a band that ventures new territory, such as jazz, folk, country and pop.

Coming to Leo and Leona’s along with Raines will be the rest of her trio — George Jackson on fiddle and bass and Ben Garnett on guitar.

Raines grew up in the tiny unincorporated town of Short Gap, West Virginia, and, despite an impeccable bluegrass background, she confesses to having eclectic tastes. In a statement that might surprise bluegrass purists, Raines said that her musical appetite has expanded after exposure to other bluegrass musicians.

“For a long time all I did was bluegrass, but through that music I found doors to jazz and pop,” Raines said. “I’ve learned to appreciate lots of different kinds of music and I love the challenge of combining influences, which is what some of my biggest heroes — people like Bill Monroe — actually did.”

Best known for her duo projects with the Claire Lynch Band and with two-time IBMA Guitarist of the Year Jim Hurst, Raines has worked (and still does) as a “sideman,” touring with other great bluegrass performers. “That’s really enjoyable because you don’t have to think about other things — you just get in a van and go and that’s great,” Raines said.

For a long time, however, Raines pondered going out on her own as a bandleader.

“I wanted to push myself and see what I could do,” Raines said. “I wanted to sing, but I knew I wasn’t a bluegrass-type of singer. I just knew that I wanted to create some music and maybe write some.”

Her first album — “Inside Out” — drew comparisons to the Cowboy Junkies and David Grisman, while at the same time stretching the boundaries of roots music. The Charleston Gazette described Raines’ vocals as “Amy Winehouse meets Roseanne Cash”.

While The New Hip fit into the brand of music that’s currently called “newgrass,” Raines hasn’t lost her affection for the sounds that purists love.

“I still love traditional bluegrass,” Raines said. “It hits me like nothing else. When I hear that straight-ahead traditional stuff it just sets me on fire. Everything about it is perfect!”

On the other hand, Raines said she believes there’s plenty of room for other types of music.

“If you’re going to narrow bluegrass down to just the older stuff,” Raines said, “then you could make the argument there hasn’t been any real bluegrass since 1946 when Monroe and Scruggs were recording — that doesn’t make any sense!

“I see no reason why we have to label everything anyway,” she continued. “When record stores had to create bins and labels, I think it hurt us more than we realized.”

The band Raines is bringing to Leo and Leona’s has had different configurations over the years. “This is the first year we’re touring as a trio,” she said. “The music is driven by me, but it’s a collaborative setting so if guys bring in material and if it fits the band we use it.”

Currently, Raines is putting the finishing touches on a new album due out early in 2018. The producer is Grammy-winning banjo player Alison Brown, a friend of Raines and someone she’s toured with frequently.

According to Raines, the album will feature collaborations with other prominent musicians. “It won’t be as ‘band-centric’ as our other albums—we’ll have a couple covers and the rest will be originals,” Raines said.

Movie review: “Express” a scenic, bumpy ride

The new version of “Murder on the Orient Express” is a film about a mustache. This culprit boasts the fiendish ability to steal focus from whatever and whomever it’s up against, every time director and star Kenneth Branagh confronts a suspect as Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. A horizontal wonder, with wavy upturned curls like feathers from the helmet of winged Mercury, the mustache in its totality resembles a miniature train aswirl in locomotive smoke. No mystery could possibly live up to it.

Branagh’s version, working from a script by Michael Green (“Blade Runner 2049”), chugs out of the station with several things working against it, one being the swank, wit and panache of director Sidney Lumet’s 1974 film. (If you haven’t seen either the ’74 or the new version of “Orient Express” among the many film and TV Poirot adaptations, try that one.) Also — and this is big — there’s an inherent difficulty in remaking any whodunit, as Branagh learned with his go at “Sleuth.” With whodunits or twist-dependent thrillers, you may give a new version a shot for comparison’s sake, as millions do when a best-selling mystery novel hits the screen. But midway through a middling film adaptation, like this one, you realize it’s the same old clue-delivery mechanism, in a darker mood but also a less lively one.

Eager to establish his Poirot as a man of action as well as intellect, Branagh’s film begins with a Jerusalem 1934 prologue of some promise. For better or worse, mostly worse, there’s a ton of digital trickery and computer-generated effects work, with vistas and avalanches and the train stranded on a treacherous mountain trestle that wouldn’t be out of place in “The Lord of the Rings” or “The Polar Express.” Branagh shot on location in Malta and New Zealand, but the movie looks like digital never-never land.

Poirot is one of many luxe travelers on a suspiciously crowded train from Istanbul to Calais. Michelle Pfeiffer’s the husband-hunting widow. Johnny Depp is Ratchett, the shifty art dealer with the gangster air. Daisy Ridley and Leslie Odom Jr. are secret lovers, a governess and a doctor. Josh Gad and Derek Jacobi trade finely calibrated sneers as Ratchett’s put-upon associates. Judi Dench is the Russian princess.

Thirty minutes in, one of the passengers turns up with multiple fatal stab wounds. Christie’s story, published in 1934, two years after Graham Greene found his first popular success with “Stamboul Train,” uses the infamous Lindbergh baby kidnapping as narrative inspiration; as the stalled train awaits rescue, Poirot interrogates the suspects one by one.

Some of screenwriter Green’s revisions are intriguing correctives to the blithely colonialist vibe of Christie’s novel. The interracial couple played by Ridley and Odom Jr. heightens the air of prejudice and caste systems at work. Penelope Cruz, in a minor role, plays a Spanish missionary, her dour character replacing the Swedish missionary Ingrid Bergman played (hilariously) in the ’74 film. Branagh’s Poirot is a tortured man on the inside: Allusions to a lost love abound, and as he homes in on the solution to the crime, his moral crisis practically tears the mustache right off his rails.

Why isn’t it more engaging? Partly, I think, it’s a matter of Branagh not being a very interesting director. He’s made good films (“Henry V,” “Cinderella”) and he was right to shoot “Orient Express” on 65 millimeter film, working with a resourceful cinematographer, Haris Zambarloukos. But Branagh’s camera sense is all over the place, restless in distracting ways. There’s a long, back-and-forth tracking shot (the kind of thing I’m usually crazy about) as Poirot boards the train in Istanbul that looks like a wobbly run-through for the real thing. Whole conversations are shot from overhead angles without sufficient visual reason. And while certainly solid (his Belgian accent is more … liquid), Branagh’s performance doesn’t stake out distinctive enough territory to compete with Albert Finney’s Poirot from the ’74 movie, or with David Suchet on British television.

So it’s OK, but only just. I’d be interested to hear how it plays for those unfamiliar with the plot. I’m guessing 20th Century Fox is interested as well.

Randy Erickson: Nashville star on the rise Jessica Rose shoots through town

I swear, I get to meet the coolest people. This week I encountered a memorable young woman named Jessica Rose, a Nashville-based singer who grew up in New York (Staten Island) of all places — and she sure seems to be going places.

I met her for a cup of coffee Tuesday morning at The Root Note after finding out the afternoon before she was rolling through town on a whirlwind tour of Wisconsin, visiting radio stations and playing shows in four cities in four days. La Crosse was her first stop on the tour, and she had gotten up early to go to Sparta for a visit with Ben and Arnie from COW 97.

FUN FACT: COW 97 was nominated for two Country Music Association awards this year: station of the year and personality of the year (Ben and Arnie got the nod on that), both nominations in the small-market category. Way to go, guys!

Jessica Rose took quite a winding road to get here, and I’m not just talking about her travel route, which went through a lot of corn country in Iowa and Minnesota. She grew up listening to all kinds of music, including a lot of Jimmy Buffett’s “beach rock country,” somehow managed not to get a New Yawk accent and started performing professionally at age 17.

She was the first performer at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville restaurant in Atlantic City, N.J., singing at the grand opening, where she said Buffett’s manager told her she needed to go to Nashville. She didn’t drop everything and go there, but four years ago she did, finishing up her college studies at Nashville’s Belmont University, known for its professional music program.

Before she moved to Nashville, though, she had a fun brush with the big time through “American Idol.” Jessica was performing at a packed club in Staten Island one night. She had been fed a story about the film crew being on hand so she’d be surprised when “Idol” judge Randy Jackson came in to watch her perform.

It turned out Jackson was there to tell her she’d been chosen for an expedited audition process, going directly to singing in front of the judges, which also included Nicki Minaj, Mariah Carey and Keith Urban. The audition didn’t go well. She couldn’t use the go-to songs she had picked, so she got a little flustered in performing one of her original songs, hitting some bum chords on guitar halfway through the song.

But that audition was a big turning point for her, even though it didn’t result in a trip to Hollywood. “That experience made me realize that I wanted to do this for a living,” she said. “I didn’t realize how badly I wanted this.”

She does want it bad. Here she is bombing around Wisconsin, where the temps were 40 degrees colder than the balmy 80 she left behind in Nashville, working on getting her new single played on country radio stations one at a time. “This is the old-school way of making it,” she said. “It’s a lot harder to do it this way instead of going viral on the Internet.”

No kidding.

Now, I’m usually not up for going out on the town on a Tuesday night, especially after a long day that ended with me covering a couple La Crosse County Board committee meetings, the last of which didn’t end until 8:30 p.m. But after talking with Jessica Rose and listening to her two EPs, I figured a little Tuesday night music was a good idea.

She’d been booked at Who’s on Third, a bar I’ve never been in and one not known for having music. I could actually see it being a fun place for music — it’s actually got a decent dance floor (if you move the foosball table).

I figured there wouldn’t be much of a crowd, being a last-minute, little publicized show on a Tuesday night, and I was right. No more than a dozen people were there, and I suspect most of them had lucked into being there.

Even with the sparse crowd, Jessica Rose performed like she had a packed house full of longtime fans. And that was a little weird, actually, calling for chorus singalongs when there were nowhere near the numbers for us to overcome our Midwestern shyness and actually sing. She probably could have skipped the “holler and swaller” team-drink routine, too.

When she was singing, though … wow! Great power, range and expressiveness, and the part of her set I saw was full of an astonishing range of familiar songs she made her own. She covered songs by Tom Petty, Bob Seger, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Luke Bryan, Zac Brown Band, The Beatles and Melissa Etheridge, the latter of which she introduced with a fun story about meeting Etheridge at the Grammy Awards.

While I was there she only played one song of her own, “Look for Me,” which is her new single. It’s a really good song, and it’s funny because it almost seemed like she had to be coaxed into playing it. She has plenty of strong original material, but she’s smart about working in tasty cover songs when she’s playing a long night of music.

I sure hope Jessica Rose has some luck getting her song(s) on the radio and can come back to La Crosse again and get a big crowd appreciating her artistry. Maybe she could even come back for the inaugural Country Boom music fest, if it happens as planned next summer.

Rock on …

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