- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 5, 2005

By now, we’ve all had enough of red and green, silver and gold. As for white, as in snow, no thank you. Fortunately, the color for January is blue: bluegrass, zydeco blues and jazzy blues.

Ricky Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder will play the Birchmere tomorrow and Saturday. The bluegrass legend has been cultivating his musical roots since the tender age of 10 as a singer and mandolin player performing with country and bluegrass legends such as Bill Monroe and the Stanley Brothers. By his teens, he had mainstreamed into country music as a sideman for Emmylou Harris.

In 1981, Mr. Skaggs released “Waitin’ For The Sun To Shine,” which went to the top of the country charts. At 31, an age when today’s superstarlets are tomorrow’s C-list reality-show jokes, Mr. Skaggs was named entertainer of the year at the 1985 Country Music Awards.

Country and gospel music have captured his attention, but his heart belongs to the bluegrass tradition. His recent releases on his Skaggs Family Records label — which include six Grammy nominees and four winners — are largely credited with the current bluegrass revival.

The Skaggs Family released its first Christmas album, recorded live at the Charleston Music Hall, in time for the 2004 holiday season. While it may be a little late, don’t be surprised to hear one or two seasonal gems from the recording during the Birchmere set, along with hits such as “A Simple Life.”

The all-star lineup of Kentucky Thunder includes Andy Leftwich (fiddle), Paul Brewster (tenor vocals, rhythm guitar), Mark Fain (bass), Jim Mills (banjo), Cody Kilby (lead guitar) and Darrin Vincent (baritone vocals, rhythm guitar).

• • •

One of zydeco’s rising stars, Geno Delafose, playing tonight at the Birchmere, has succeeded largely by staying true to the genre’s traditions. Rather than modernizing by selling out zydeco’s French Creole and Cajun roots, Mr. Delafose writes, records and performs in French, just like his father, the legendary John Delafose.

He does, however, invigorate the music with forward-thinking sensibility.

“We have that old-country feel, that soft swing,” he once told an interviewer, “and then we have that loud, bluesy, get-down thing going on, too. We try to mix it up, give everybody something they can dance to.”

Mr. Delafose began playing in his father’s band when he was 7 years old. After starting on the washboard (or “frottoir” in French), he moved briefly to the drums and then took up the accordion when his father fell ill. Today, he’s widely regarded as a master of the Cajun, piano and triple-row accordions.

When Mr. Delafose decided to front his own band in 1993, he was quickly signed to Rounder Records, where he released his debut, “French Rockin’ Boogie,” which took its name from his newly minted band.

The group released two more discs on Rounder, including “La Chanson Perdue,” which Living Blues magazine called “one of the most remarkable releases in the new era of zydeco.”

The group then went on a five-year hiatus, returning in 2003 with a new label (Times Square); a new CD (“Everybody’s Dancin’”); and a new lineup, featuring John “Popp” Esprite on bass, Wilfred “Caveman” Pierre on frottoir, Lee Tedrow on guitar and Jude “Curley” Taylor Jr. on drums.

Mr. Delafose and his French Rockin’ Boogie are known for keeping folks on their feet. So while there may not be much room for swinging tonight, the house is sure to be rockin’ with a lick of real Louisiana zydeco. Don’t miss it.

• • •

Blues master Mose Allison takes up residence at Blues Alley beginning tonight, continuing through Sunday.

Mr. Allison has made a career out of fusing blues and jazz with his piano-driven songs and seductively rich vocals. Early in his career, his innovative songwriting skills made him an unlikely muse among the British rock elite, including Pete Townshend, Eric Clapton and Elvis Costello. Van Morrison even recorded a tribute album, “Tell Me Something: The Songs of Mose Allison,” for Verve Records.

His refusal to side with “just blues” or “just jazz” has made him a bit of a challenge for audiences used to having their artists prepackaged in nice little boxes.

“There’s a lot of places I don’t work because they’re confused about what I do,” he once said in an interview in Goldmine magazine.

With more than 50 albums and numerous compilations, soundtracks and sets to his credit, the 77-year-old Mr. Allison is as prolific as he is talented, even if he doesn’t come with a genre bow. His current tour celebrates the rerelease of his 1969 Atlantic recording “Hello There Universe.”

The Blues Alley show will feature Mr. Allison’s trio. Sets will run nightly at 8 and 10 p.m.

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