There are guitarists, and then are folks like Laurence “LJ” Juber. When the acoustical composer and reimaginer plays at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club on Tuesday, September 25, he will bring with him a vast sensibility and knowledge of the instrument like few who play can or do.
Formerly a member of Wings with Paul and Linda McCartney, the guitarist, soundtrack composer, educator, and dramatist continues to enjoy enduring relevance and reverence in musical circles. Juber’s prowess resides largely in his ability to make even multi-century-old compositions seem new again. “My approach to music is it’s not about being in one particular genre; it’s about making music and bringing my sensibility to different kinds of musical styles — whether it’s the Beatles or Hendrix or some great American songbook,” said the two-time Grammy Award winner. “When I say to the audience that I’m going to take you back to the ’50s, it could be the 1550s.”
His newest album, Touchstones, out on September 28, features contemporary reinterpretations of some of the world’s oldest known stringed instrument compositions. The opening piece, for example, is Juber’s rendition of the first folio of lute music ever published, dating back to 1507. From there, the album follows finger-style playing in its progression from the baroque, classical, and romantic periods into modern American playing. “It pushes me into a deeper understanding of music,” Juber said of his selections. “Music is music, whatever era it’s from.”
Juber’s resulting performance experience, with its mix of past and present, is “somewhat transcendent” of time and category, brought down to the one-man band’s often improvisatory rendition in that moment. “My goal with all of this is not to have this kind of reverential kind of historical-artifact approach to it. I make it groove. I’m digging in,” he said. “I give as much groove to a string tune as I would a Chuck Berry tune.” Whatever the era, he tries to bring with it “an entertainer’s sensibility.”
Juber has written hundreds of original tunes himself and has also performed guitar on soundtracks for movies such as Dirty Dancing, Good Will Hunting, and Pocahontas, as well as video games like Diablo III. It would be difficult to dissociate the former McCartney collaborator from the music of the Beatles, in which Juber continues to find gold (Acoustic Guitar magazine named LJ Plays the Beatles one of the best acoustic albums of all time).
“I got a guitar for my 11th birthday in 1963, which really coincided with Beatlemania in England; ‘She Loves You’ came out in August ’63, which was a turning point for them,” he recalled. “The timing of it, for me, was especially cool, just getting a guitar and never putting it down. Fifty-five years later, I’m still picking up Beatles tunes.”
Besides reviving musical classics, Juber’s also revitalizing comedy classics. This year, with his wife and coproducer, Hope Juber, he’s wrapping up work on a Brady Bunch musical for Broadway. Variety spices Juber’s musical life, and it’s what helps keep him thriving. “All the aspects of what I do, whether studio work, composing, arranging, performing — all work together to get filtered through the guitar, just to give me my own voice and my own kind of niche in the world.”
Laurence Juber plays Tuesday, September 25, at 8 p.m. at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.). Call (805) 962-7776 or see sohosb.com.