April 2004                       back

Ollabelle : April 27th at The Living Room

The six musicians that make up "Ollabelle" started playing together a few years ago at a Sunday gospel jam at Bar 9C in Alphabet City . As time passed, their playing got tighter and their own sound began to emerge. Guitarist Jim Zhivago thought that they should record a demo and brought the band into the studio he operated with partner Steve Rosenthal. When Rosenthal heard it, he sent it to T-Bone Burnett who flew to NYC five days later to sign the group to DMZ/Columbia records. T-Bone Burnett has produced countless artists but is probably best known as the producer of the "Oh Brother, Where art Thou" soundtrack.

In the past few months, they've opened for Nanci Griffith and The Holmes Brothers and now will be touring with Allison Krause, Ralph Stanley and others in the " Great White Mountain" tour. This group is hot!

They play a wide variety of country, blues, bluegrass and gospel songs written or inspired by the likes of Blind Willie Johnson, Mahalia Jackson, The Carter Family, The Staple Singers and The Rolling Stones, among others, along with some original tunes. Their name was inspired by traditional country singer Olla Belle Reed.

 At this show, they did the slowest, most sultry version of "Down by the Riverside" that I've ever heard. It was beautiful. Actually, I've liked every song that I've heard at all four shows that I've attended. I am very high on this group.

I love when someone tells me that they've gone to a show or bought a CD because of something they've read on this page. At this show I had the added pleasure of meeting Mabelle, someone who had e-mailed me to tell me how useful my page is and to thank me for my efforts. I appreciate the kind words and have no doubt that we will cross paths at more shows this summer

  I arrived early enough to catch the early set. Michael Powers played his fender guitar and sang a bunch of traditional blues tunes. Backed by bass, drums and piano he definitely had the house rockin'. He's an excellent guitarist and great blues singer. I completely enjoyed his set. 

 

John Gorka (Steve Forbert opening) : April 24th at Monmouth University

Back in the 70's, my circle of friends included a guy named Cass Gorka. The group included several guys who could play guitar but Cass was the guru. He played like a delta blues man.  Part Robert Johnson and part Stephen Stills. One night we all went to a party at a friend of a friend's house and found a room full of guitars. Cass picked one up and started to play. The guy who owned the guitars came in and picked up another. They talked for about 30 seconds and then proceeded to play the Rolling Stones  "Beggars Banquet" album from beginning to end sharing vocals and trading leads. Still one of my most memorable musical experiences.

One time Cass said to me "You should hear my little brother, John.  He sounds a little like James Taylor or Gordon Lightfoot".  About a dozen years later, I was listening to Pete Fornatale on the radio and he said "That was John Gorka".  Shortly thereafter, we went to see him at the Bottom Line and had a great time. Between then and now, he's released nine cd's and been called "The preeminent male singer/songwriter of the new folk movement" by the New York Times. We have seen him many times since.

He has a soothing baritone voice and writes songs, both serious and amusing, that observe the human experience from having kids and urban sprawl to broken hearts and growing old.  In "I'm From New Jersey" he sings "I'm from New Jersey, My mom's Italian, I've read those mafia books, We don't belong". Very funny.  Last night he said he played that song for the people who didn't know who he was. "Maybe you're Steve Forbert or Greg Brown fans or maybe you saw the name Gorka and wondered what one looked like". His between song banter is always very funny.

At one point, he switched from guitar to piano and did a beautiful and moving song called "Let Them In" based on a poem given to him by the daughter of a military nurse in the Philippines during WWII.  He discovered the author of the poem long after recording it but I didn't catch the name. He closed with a sing-along cover of Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" and joked that he forgot to tell us about the other sing-alongs. 

This was supposed to be a double bill with Greg Brown, but he cancelled for personal reasons a few days before the show and they got Steve Forbert to replace him. I was a little disappointed because I'd never seen Greg Brown and I had seen Forbert before. He did his best known songs like "Romeo's Tune" and "Going Down to Laurel" and some new songs from his not yet released new album. The surprise of the night was his cover of Alice Cooper's "I'm Eighteen" which was fun. Considering the short notice it was a fair trade.

 

Lucy Kaplansky : April 22nd at Joe's Pub

About 6 or 7 years ago, we went to see singer/songwriter Heather Eatman who was playing the early show at Fez.  (We haven't seen Heather perform in over two years but we still love her and promise to correct that soon.  She's been a regular lately at The Living Room).  After her set, we decided to stay for the late show to hear Lucy Kaplansky who we were vaguely familiar with from hearing her on WFUV.  After one song, Judy leaned over and said "Wow. She's good". We've been hooked ever since. She's a good singer and guitarist and an excellent songwriter but the thing we talked about most was her stage presence. When she's on stage, you can't take your eyes off her.

For this show, she had Duke Levine accompany her on electric guitar. Whenever Lucy says or writes his name, it's always proceeded by "The amazing" or "The Incredible" and with good reason.  His subtle playing complimented her acoustic guitar beautifully and greatly enhanced the performance. For anyone who hadn't already noticed his virtuosity, Lucy let him fly on her cover of the Beatles "I'm Looking Thru You". That alone was worth the price of admission.

She opened this show with a cover of a Townes Van Zandt song followed by two of her old familiar songs. Then she told the story of when she was booked to open for Townes the last time he played the Bottom Line in '96. She was such a big fan and nervous to meet him but when they met he bowed, kissed her hand and said "Will you marry me?".  Townes died not long after that but what a great way to remember him. (Townes wrote "Flying Shoes", one of my favorite songs).

Lucy went on to play some old favorites like "Ten Year Night" and several songs from her new album, plus covers of Bill Morrissey and Buddy and Julie Miller tunes.  Her song "The Land of the Living", from her new album, was inspired by the events of September 11th.  It's a very powerful and personal account of her experience that day. Every time I've heard it I've reacted with tears, goose bumps or both.  I suspect it will still have that effect on me ten years from now.

After the show, we chatted with Steven and Rob, two guys we had met waiting on line before the show.  I asked Rob how he liked the show and he answered that he loved the show and that Lucy had incredible stage presence.  Where have I heard that before?

 

Michael Glabicki (of Rusted Root) : April 14th at Satalla

I hadn't been to hear live music in almost two weeks, and Judy had a meeting with her Afghan Hound Club, so I decided to go on-line and see if there was anything I was interested in seeing. Some of my choices were Spyro Gyra at The Blue Note. The Average White Band at B. B. King's, Latin jazz pianist Omar Sosa at Joe's Pub, Joan Rivers and singer songwriter Amy Correa at Fez, and this show at Satalla.

Acoustic country rocker Patty Griffin was also doing a WFUV member concert at The Cutting Room. This is a show you get invited to for making a pledge during the pledge drive. (My membership comes due with next week's drive). I came up with the plan of going to The Cutting Room to investigate the possibility of getting into the show if there were any no-shows, and if not, walk around the block to Satalla to see Michael Glabicki.

Well, plan "A" didn't work out which you already know from the pictures above but I did run into John Platt from WFUV and had a quick chat. He told me next week's pledge drive will offer tickets to Ollabelle (one of my new favorites) at The Living Room and Bela Fleck with Edgar Meyer at Joe's Pub.

So I walked two blocks to Satalla to see Michael Glabicki. He's the singer, songwriter and guitarist for Rusted Root who is working on a solo album and doing new material and some Rusted Root songs as a solo acoustic act.

Rusted Root has a big sound with lots of percussion and vocals and incorporates funky rhythms and world beats with rock, country, bluegrass and blues influences.

Some of the songs worked really well done solo but some did not. Two new songs that I liked very much were "Mr. Smartypants" and "Bring the Ax Down". (not sure of titles) He's a good guitarist and his voice was stronger than I had anticipated. (with Rusted Root, his voice could be loosely compared to David Byrne)

If he's going to pursue the solo act, he needs to work on his stage presence. He basically would pick one of his six guitars, play a song and repeat with very little communication with the audience. A solo artist in a small venue needs to make better connect with the room.

It was my first time at Satalla and I liked the place. They book a wide variety of world music from Morocco to Ireland and India to Bolivia. I will likely return.  

d

Aztec Two-Step : April 2nd at Outpost in the Burbs (Amy Fairchild opening)

If you've been following my musical adventure, you may have already heard me refer to these guy's affectionately as  "the Everly Brothers on speed". Their ballads can be hauntingly beautiful but they can "rock" at the drop of a hat. Their two-part harmonies and beautiful melodies are what remind me of the Everly's but their guitar work sets them apart.

Neal Shulman plays acoustic lead guitar unlike anyone you've ever seen and sings mostly harmony but also sings lead vocals on the songs he penned. Rex Fowler does most of the writing and lead vocals and is also a good guitarist - if you can stop watching Neal long enough to notice. His finger picking and rhythm playing  meshes perfectly with Neal's playing to create a unique sound that I can't really compare to anybody.  The brilliant guitar work, perfect harmonies and excellent songwriting are why I have seen this duo so many times.

Their self-titled 1972 debut album on Electra Records is one of my all time favorite albums. That album and their live performances pushed them to the edge of big time fame with gigs opening for Harry Chapin and Judy Collins, among others, and significant airtime for their FM hit "On The Road". They have never again approached that level of notoriety but have always maintained a small but devout following that turns out regularly to support them at small venues. I have been a fan since that first album and in 1990 I hired them to play at a picnic in my backyard as a tenth anniversary surprise for Judy. (possibly the coolest thing I've ever done)

This show included many of their old favorites along with a handful of new songs from their upcoming album, tentatively titled "Days of Horses".  At one point Neal said "there is a conception that most rock and rollers are on drugs, and I want to tell you it's true". Then he added " the only thing is that now I have prescriptions for all my drugs". He went on to play a new blues song called "Things Are Better These Days"  about how good life is with Prozac and valium. The audience loved the whole sequence. Very funny. (Their shows are usually filled with amusing banter and stories between songs)

Later Neal turned to Rex and said "What next?" and Rex replied "Judy and Bill are in the house, so I want to do this" and he started to play "Highway Song" - our favorite. It was very sweet and Judy was touched.

The surprise of the night was opening act Amy Fairchild who we enjoyed so much that we bought her CD.  Strong voice, good guitarist and an excellent songwriter. She was introduced to the audience as the only person to have won the John Lennon songwriting competition two years in a row. Her song "Renee" demonstrated why.

After the show we had a great time chatting with Amy, Rex, Neal and fellow WFUV listener Bill King and picked up a DVD of Rex's documentary "200 Cadillacs" based on the many cars Elvis Presley gave away in his lifetime. More on that another time.

 

Richard Shindell w/ Lucy Kaplansky: April 1st Joe's Pub

Richard Shindell strums and finger picks beautiful melodies on guitar while singing lyrics that can be be clever, profound, personal, amusing, thought provoking or all of the above. Often times his songs are stories told from the perspective of the song character.  He will also set up the songs with little story intros which can be very funny.

He started the show with a string of new songs, the first of which was titled "Mavis". He said Mavis was the canary he had bought for his eight year old daughter and that this was her favorite of his new songs. He added that her all time favorite song was reserved for Richard Thompson, which made everyone laugh. Since we were sitting five feet away, Judy quietly asked "Which Richard Thompson song?" and Richard replied "Wall of Death" because it's about a carnival". The whole room roared. For those who don't know, "Wall of Death" uses carnival rides as metaphors for life in one of Richard Thompson's most brilliant songs.

Sitting next to us was a young couple with their five year old son and seven year old daughter. (cool parents!) In conversation, Judy learned that the boy loves Richard Shindell and the girl's favorite is Lucy Kaplansky. After a handful of new songs, Richard announced that he was going to play some old favorites and started in on "Arrowhead" from the Blue Divide album. As soon as he started playing the melody, the five year old, whose name was Jackson (I bet I know who he was named after), shot his fists into the air and yelled "Yes!"  Even Richard couldn't help but laugh. Later, young Jackson yelled out a request for "Stolen Kiss" to which Richard replied "that's a very "grown up" song" and proceeded to play the song much to everyone's delight.

Three quarters into the set, Richard began playing "Are You Happy Now" and Lucy Kaplansky jumped up and sang harmony. She stayed for the next song and also came back for the encore. (Buddy Mondlock's "The Kid", A very nice treat) Also included in Richard's set was Pete Seeger's "Big Muddy", which Richard explained helped lead to the cancellation of "The Smothers Brothers", and a nice mix of Richard's songs, old and new.  The new song "Last Fare of the Day" brought tears to Judy's eyes as did the next song, "Transit", which is her favorite. (his songs often have that effect)

After the show, we chatted with Lucy Kaplansky on the street and got her to show us a picture of Molly, her newly adopted baby. Beautiful! We'll be seeing Lucy perform at Joe's Pub on April 22nd. Looking forward to it.