Michael Bard

And Corey Whitehead

The guitar duo of Michael Bard and Corey Whitehead offered an amiable, easy-listening program of largely Iberian-inspired music Thursday to the audience on the lawn of the Mansion at Strathmore. While the barbecue purveyors pursued a brisk business to the right of the stage and sponsors Classical 103.5, U.S. Trust and Independence Air handed out doodads, Bard and Whitehead tailored their performance to the relaxed serenity of a cool evening.

The most interesting and rhythmically exciting musicmaking came in the second half of the program in Turina's "Rafaga," played as a solo by Whitehead; in two pieces by Bonfa that Bard played with considerable intensity; and in a flamboyant Flamenco dance by Baliardo delivered by the duo with compelling energy.

Much of the music of the first half was familiar -- pieces by Albeniz, Granados, Piazzolla and Vivaldi that have endured because of their special personalities. Oddly, however, in this performance they all sounded pretty much alike. Perhaps that was because many of the pieces, originally written for solo guitar, were performed in arrangements that assigned the melody to one instrument and the accompanying arpeggios to the other. The sounds were fuller, the hand stretches less taxing, but musically the results sounded remote and mechanical.

Amplification was well handled and the logistics around the mansion were managed smoothly by a ubiquitous and helpful Strathmore staff.

-- Joan Reinthaler

Patti Austin

Patti Austin has made a very good living in the recording studio as both a jingle singer and a Grammy-nominated pop artist. But she really comes alive onstage, especially in clubs, where is she apt to talk a blue streak -- sometimes wickedly blue -- or display a delightful gift for mimicry.

Which is why her opening set at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis on Thursday night produced nearly as much laughter as applause. Part of the show was akin to a funny menopause monologue, the subject being at the top of Austin's list of personal grievances these days. The singer also indicated that she still has it in for Diana Krall, who triumphed over her at the Grammy Awards not long ago. "Do you see me going to Canada and taking her awards?" Austin asked with mock outrage. James Ingram, her celebrated duet partner, wasn't on the bill, but Austin imitated him with great comic swagger when performing their pop smash, "Baby Come to Me."

Not that everything was played for laughs. In fine voice and backed by an eight-piece ensemble, Austin cast a dreamy spell while performing vintage R&B hits, then saluted Ella Fitzgerald with spirit and finesse via "Mr. Paganini" and "How High the Moon." Another treat found Austin recalling her remarkable childhood encounters with Dinah Washington and Sammy Davis Jr. at the Apollo Theater. Extremely precocious at the time, Austin not only talked Washington into letting her perform onstage the night they met, she also reprimanded the band for accompanying her in the wrong key.

-- Mike Joyce

Asylum Street Spankers

Austin's Asylum Street Spankers drove 15 hours from a gig in the Midwest to play at Iota on Thursday night, but if singer/washboard player Wammo was whacked, it didn't show. He and the six others in the acoustic string band played two sets of raunchy ragtime-meets-rock to the delight of a boisterous crowd that was clearly in the know.

The band began in 1994 on a whim, and as founding member and multi-instrumentalist Christina Marrs once told us, no one turned up with amplification equipment at the first rehearsal, so they did without. That lack of amplification became the band's trademark, along with a penchant for antique numbers such as the swing-era ditty "Everybody Loves My Baby," which opened Thursday's show.

The band's own compositions keep to the old-time sound, but the lyrics are decidedly updated. Wammo, comically garbed in short pants, straw cowboy hat and black cowboy boots, seemed to take particular pleasure in bellowing profane lyrics, such as those in "When Cousins Marry," a song that combines gangsta rap with the tradition of country-western murder ballads.

Fiddler Sick -- his blond mohawk betraying his roots as a punk rocker (most of those in the band come from punk) -- and Marrs on ukulele blended nicely on a couple of numbers. Nevada Newman, originally from this area, distinguished himself on dobro, as Charlie Rose did on banjo. Upright bassist P.B. Shane and drummer Scott Marcus, using a mere snare and cowbell, provided a jazz-influenced backbeat to the proceedings.

No hootenanny would be complete without a singalong, but who would expect the tune to be Black Flag's "TV Party," highlighted by a mid-song medley of classic television theme songs, ranging from "Green Acres" to "The Jetsons" to "Jeopardy!"? To say this band is one of a kind is quite an understatement.

-- Buzz McClain

Asylum Street Spankers, unplugged but still able to provide a jolt at Iota.

Michael Bard and Corey Whitehead played on the lawn at Strathmore.