back                                                                APRIL 2010

Janis Ian: April 21st @ Music on Main Street

In an amusing surprise start to her show, New Jersey native Janis sang an amended version of John Gorka's "I'm from New Jersey", and so began the emotional roller coaster that is a Janis Ian show. As much a story teller as song writer, most songs were set up with a related story which had the effect of adding additional poignancy to the already insightful songs.

Over the course of the evening the audience was riveted, and sometimes moved to tears, with the stories of racism and personal loss and then charmed and amused by her self deprecating humor, often making fun of her own ego with comments like "I love that about myself". I'm not sure if the stories were interspersed between the songs, or vice versa, but whether playing her best known hits like Society's Child, At Seventeen and Jesse or lesser known blues and folk tunes, her fine guitar playing, which sounded particularly beautiful in this venue, and her voice which seems as good as ever, captivated the audience every step of the way. As near as I could tell, a good time was had by all. (At Seventeen)



Lila Downs: April 17th @ The City Winery

I've written about Lila Downs (pronounced Lee-la) a number of times before so if you're a regular here, you already know she's one of my favorites. For the uninitiated, her mother is a Mixtec Indian from Mexico and her father a Scottish American from Minnesota, and her music incorporates elements of both cultures. 

Her set featured quite a few songs from her recent "Best Of" release, which essentially is a career retrospective, and included La Cumbia del Mole, Naila, Arenita Azul, and Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps among others. She sang almost exclusively in Spanish, with Minimum Wage one exception that comes to mind, and as she's inclined to do, she picked up an acoustic guitar at one point and her drum at another. (Arenita Azul)

I love her fusion of traditional folkloric Mexican music with contemporary sounds of rock, blues, jazz, reggae and sometimes even hip-hop, and her vocal range is a rarity. Her band is great, her voice is impressively versatile, her dancing is best described as traditional sexy, her originals and covers are beautifully eclectic and she's beautiful herself. Other than that, I can't really explain why I see her every chance I get.   (Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps)



Freelance Whales: April 17th @ Vintage Vinyl in Fords NJ

Freelance Whales are the next in a line of quirky indie rock bands who use odd instrumentation (glockenspiel, harmonium, banjo...) and some involved vocal arrangements to create songs which are both haunting and catchy, which is a good formula for commercial appeal.

The vocal arrangements were impressive but they need to work on the execution, as the reality, although not bad,  didn't quite reach the intent. Several reviews I read complained about their lyrics being juvenile. I didn't pay any attention to the lyrics but assuming all those reviewers can't be wrong, all I can say is that their target audience, young indie/pop fans, likely won't care. And they're young and could improve. (Generator 1st Floor) 

This was part of the "Record Store Day" in-store performance which featured a string of un-signed artists after Freelance Whales and Peter Bradley Adams. Missed his set but my friend Pat shot this: (Peter Bradley Adams)

I caught the first couple of un-signed acts and really liked The Reveling, who reminded me of Billy Bragg and reminded my friend of Billy Joe from Green Day. Judge for yourself: (The Reveling)



Marshall Crenshaw: April 14th @ Music On Main Street

Word is spreading about our little "Music On Main Street" series in Woodbridge. Being brand new and on Wednesdays were certainly challenges but considering last weeks Raul Malo sell out, this show which sold close to 200 and the next two shows selling at a similar pace, it would seem that awareness is on the rise.

This show featured Marshall seated and playing his electric guitar while stomping on a piece of plywood and performing his classic best known tunes like Someday Someway, Whenever You're on My Mind, Mary Anne, Cynical Girl, Fantastic Planet of Love and You're My Favorite Waste of Time along with some recent material from last years Jaggedland and some covers like Burt Bacharach's This Guy's In Love. (Fantastic Planet of Love)

This show was recorded by TV-35, the Woodbridge Township cable access channel and will be available for viewing on their web site in the upcoming weeks. I'll keep you posted.  



Jeffrey Gaines: April 8th @ Joe's Pub

This show was reasonably well attended but not nearly sold out which I can only attribute to the fact that his work has never really received the attention it deserved, despite his flirtation with fame when his cover of Peter Gabriel's In Your Eyes became a commercial success about ten years ago, and the fact that he often has long periods of time between releases of new material. His most recent release of new material is 2003's Into The Sun.

Still, as far as I'm concerned he's one of the finest songwriters around and has one of the best voices in popular music, so I take advantage of seeing him perform live as often as possible. I describe him as an acoustic Lenny Kravitz to the uninitiated because of the rock-like energy that underlies many of his lyrical songs.

With no new material, the set was essentially a career retrospective including Hero In Me (his first minor hit), Safety In Self, I Don't Think So, I Know a Man, Come Out Tonight, Always Be and a funky, audience clapping version of Choices, among others. He did one new cover song but when I woke up the next day I forgot what it was. (I don't take notes, it interferes with the experience. Sometimes that leaves a hole in my info which is a trade I'll make every time) (I Don't Think So)

I asked Jeffrey if he's writing and he answered that he is but he doesn't feel compelled to release everything he does. I can live with that if he can, but if he wants to play in front of SRO crowds again he might want to reconsider.



Kenny White: April 8th @ Joe's Pub

I think I'll be adding Kenny White to the roster that includes Daniel Lanois, Joe Henry and T-Bone Burnett. Those are people who are best known for producing some of the most successful and highly regarded artists around, and who also regularly release their own amazing material which goes essentially unnoticed among the general population.

I've been vaguely aware of Kenny White for quite some time because of his work with Peter Wolf, Shawn Colvin and Marc Cohn, to name a few; but I only became familiar with his own material last year when his brother came to one of my "Music On Main Street" shows in Woodbridge and subsequently sent me a CD and DVD. I've been wanting to see him ever since. His music is an eclectic mix of jazz, folk and rock, often moody and with great lyrics that can be cleverly amusing, provocative and/or insightful. Comparisons to Bob Dylan and Randy Newman are not uncommon.

This show featured mostly songs from his new impressive release, Comfort In The Static, including the amusing You Gotta Sing High which lampoons his own lack of commercial success, the haunting soulful ballad In Magnolias, which was just one of the shows many highlights, a jazzy swing tune called She's Coming On Saturday and a catchy country tune Who's Gonna Be The One. Did I say eclectic? (You Gotta Sing High)

He did sprinkle in a handful of older tunes including 5 Girls, In My Recurring Dream and the biting but hysterically funny Pat Robertson. I'm sure Pat Robertson doesn't think it's funny, and Kenny added that one reason he loves New York is that you can get applause for something so mean spirited, but I found it to be brutally honest and everything in the song needed to be said. (Pat Robertson)

I knew it was going to be a great show as soon as I realized that the band included Shawn Pelton on drums and the great Duke Levine (Lucy Kaplansky always introduces him as the "Great Duke Levine", for good reason) on electric guitar. A call and response dual between Kenny's piano and Duke's guitar was another highlight of the show with the crowd erupting with pleasure at it's conclusion.

Kenny's been opening for Judy Collins in support of the new CD so I suspect that maybe he's finally going to get some attention for his own work. (In Magnolias)



Raul Malo: April 7th @ Music On Main Street (Woodbridge, NJ)

My story for this show starts awhile ago, as I do the booking for this series, and the day I found out that Raul had accepted our offer, besides considering doing a cartwheel in the snow, I knew that no matter what else happened with the series I had Raul Malo coming to Woodbridge and, for me, that's as good as it gets.

Playing his nylon string acoustic guitar and accompanied by Michael Guerra on accordion, concertina and some backup vocals, Raul flowed through a mix of material from his recent release (Hello Again, Moonlight Kiss, One More Angel...), classic Raul material (All You Ever Do is Bring Me Down, Dance The Night Away...), country and Spanish standards (Welcome To My World, Siboney...), Mavericks songs (From Hell To Paradise...), covered Rodney Crowells Till I Gain Control and did a Spanish tune, Sombras Nada Mas, from a forthcoming CD of his favorite Spanish songs. (One More Angel)

The set started somewhat soft and beautifully, then gradually worked itself into a frenzy reaching it's peak with a version of All You Ever Do Is Bring Me Down, that had the house jumpin' when Guerra took off on his accordion solo.  Somewhere around that same time Raul sang his version of the Cuban classic Siboney so clearly and with such a pure voice that it seemed even the cars in the street stopped to listen. I had a moment! (Siboney - from another show)

Performing from an altar did curtail some of his antics as Raul commented that there's been a little less banter than usual because he's not good at filtering himself and he's trying to keep us all from going to hell! I had sent our mayor, John McCormac, a review of a recent show where Raul and Michael stopped for a shot of tequila during the show. Before the show the mayor met Raul and offered to personally deliver the shots to the stage if they planned on doing that again but I think the tequila was another casualty of playing on an altar.

During sound check, Raul sang Springsteen's Jersey Girl, singing the first part as Raul and the second part as Bruce. Being at sound check is one of the fringe benefits of being involved with the series. After the show my friend Tim said "I know I've said this a few times before, but how are you going to top that?". The next day my Dad said it was the best concert he ever saw. That was my favorite moment. (Welcome to My World)