DECEMBER 2005                 back

Odetta - December 21st at The Winter Garden Atrium

Odetta has been described by the New York Times as a national treasure. She released her first folk album in 1954 after being discovered and championed by Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte, and has since marched with civil rights leaders, sung for presidents and received numerous lifetime achievement awards along with several Grammy and W.C. Handy Award nominations.

At 75 years old, she needed the help of a cane to reach center stage, but when she began to sing it was obvious that this was not an over-the-hill performer clinging to past glory. Her voice was rich and powerful and her stage presence was commanding.

She performed several tunes from her recent release "Gonna Let It Shine" including This Little Light of Mine, What Month Was Jesus Born In, which she explained was used by slaves to teach their children the months of the year without breaking laws concerning educating slaves, and Leadbelly's Midnight Special. She gave background info on many songs and often encouraged the audience to sing along making this seem as much a classroom as a concert hall (I mean that in a good way).

Despite the fact that I didn't see Odetta perform until she was 75, I'm happy that I still feel I can say I saw her in her prime.

 

  Chocolate Genius w/ MeShell N'Degeocello and Marc Ribot : December 15th at the Housing Works Used Book Cafe

Despite the fact that I spend a good deal of my leisure time listening to, writing about and generally keeping my finger on the pulse of the NYC live music scene, I only very recently became aware of the Used Book Cafe. This is surprising because as soon as I got there I got into a conversation with music lovers Rosalyn and Gil who told me that in the last two years they've seen quite a few shows here including Lyle Lovett, Cassandra Wilson, Tracey Chapman and Fountains Of Wayne to name just a few. I am myself shocked that I was unaware of this phenomenon. We're talking about a venue that holds maybe 100 people!

The Housing Works is a non-profit organization which helps AIDS patients with housing and health care issues. Every ticket, brownie or glass of wine sold goes to this effort. That explains how they manage to get the high profile artists in such a tiny place.

Chocolate Genius recently released a CD called Black Yankee Rock which is a collection of mostly laid back soulful rock tunes. He started his set by announcing he would not be playing songs from the CD and proceeded to play a very up-tempo rockin' set with lots of new material. Backed by Me'Shell N'Degeocello on bass and Marc Ribot on guitar, two A-list musicians in the music world, and an excellent drummer, it was one of the best rock sets I've seen in recent memory. After one song in which Marc Ribot just blew the roof off, there was a moment of silence and I said out loud "That was good!" and the band and audience all had a good laugh. Clapping had not completely expressed how impressed I had been and I was simply compelled to add my two cents more.

I had a brief conversation with him after the show and he remembered talking to me and Judy last year at Merkin Concert Hall. (I know he remembered because I didn't mention Judy, he did) There are several things of which I am almost certain. I will see him perform again, I will run into Rosalyn and Gil again and I will be at The Used Book Cafe again.

 

WFUV Concert : December 14th at The Society For Ethical Culture

  Norah Jones             Martin Sexton                                                               

If, like most people, you're unfamiliar with many of the artists I review on this site, part of the reason is that you don't listen to 90.7 WFUV. (or WFUV.org) It's certainly the only station in the NYC area where you can hear Johnny Cash, Elvis Costello, Ray Charles, The White Stripes, Muddy Waters or The Beatles in the same hour as Aztec Two-Step, Jonatha Brooke, Lucy Kaplansky or any of the artists at this show.   

It's a public radio station (No Commercials!) and a modest yearly membership not only entitles you to benefits like free concerts, my most recent was Rufus Wainwright at The Beacon Theatre, but also makes you part of a community of fellow music lovers.

The show started with the Roches, sisters Maggie, Suzzy and Terre, singing two Christmas carols a cappella. The second song "Waukin in a Winta Wunda Leeand" (with thick Brooklyn accent) was hysterical and was a great way to start the show.

Next up was Richard Julian and his band. Claudia Marshall of 'FUV plays him often and sings his praises each time. He has a CD coming out in early 2006 and this set justified Claudia's enthusiasm. He's a good songwriter with an easy stage presence. He joked that his songs weren't in the Holiday theme, which was certainly true, but they were melodic, had good lyrics and his band was excellent, so a good time was had regardless.

Next up was Philadelphia singer/songwriter Amos Lee, who I was impressed with last summer in Central Park. I was even more impressed at this show. He's a soulful singer, he sometimes reminds me of Bill Withers, and has a great, and I mean GREAT, voice.  A couple sitting next to me, who had gotten the tickets from a friend and didn't know these artists, leaned over to me and asked excitedly who he was.

One of my all time favorites, and that should tell you something, Martin Sexton, was next. His set included Glory Bound, Hallelujah, Diggin Me Diggin You, a John Lennon medley of A Day In The Life and Merry Christmas The War Is Over, The Way I Am, a few Christmas carols, including an Elvis inspired Blue Christmas, and his signature Black Sheep (with a chorus of angels). The couple next to me again asked "What is his Name!". You will simply not find a better or more dynamic vocalist in music not to mention his amazing guitar skills.

And finally The Little Willies, a group of musicians who frequent the Living Room, a downtown music venue, who decided to pool their talents and form a country band.  Inspired by Willie Nelson, thus the name, the band consists of Norah Jones, Richard Julian, Jim Campilongo, Lee Alexander, and Dan Rieser. They covered the likes of Kris Kristofferson, Townes Van Zandt and Willie Nelson along with several originals. The song I Swear I Saw Lou Reed Cow Tipping was even funnier than Winta Wunda Leeand.  It was a really fun set and they also have a CD coming out early next year.

Since it was a WFUV benefit concert almost everyone from the station was at the show. They closed the show with a Christmas carol sung in three keys simultaenously! A fitting conclusion to a fun evening. Afterwards it was nice to have a chance to speak with most of the deejays. I also had a nice chat with my old friend Martin Sexton. You can't have that kind of night when you see Shakira at The Garden.

 

r Sinead O'Conner : Dec 9th at Webster Hall

If you're not a fan of Irish singer/songwriter Sinead O'Conner, chances are that you're familiar with her anyway from her mega hit No One Compares 2 U, or as the controversial artist who, in 1992, tore up a picture of the Pope on Saturday Night Live. That person retired from music forever two years ago, asking to be left alone to lead her life as a mother and normal citizen, only to be reborn as a Rasta-woman with the recent release of Throw Down Your Arms, one of the best Reggae CD's you'll ever hear. Thankfully "Plan A" didn't work out.

Recorded in Jamaica, she was produced and backed by Sly and Robbie, the most highly regarded rhythm section in reggae music. The songs are mostly spiritual in nature, many written by Burning Spear (Winston Rodney) and is not a collection of reggae's most familiar tunes with the possible exception of War made famous by Bob Marley.

After the audience was warmed up by Sly and Robbie's band, Sinead opened her set with a stunning Jah Nuh Dead, backed only by acoustic guitar, followed by Marcus Garvey performed with Sly and Robbie on bass and drums along with two guitars, two horns, two backup singers, keyboard and reggae icon Burning Spear, who wrote both songs, on percussion and backup vocals.

After that exciting start, I settled into a nice comfortable mental state nodding my head to the infectious reggae beats and enjoying the rhythms and harmonies. That would have been enough to leave me content but there was more to come.

Halfway through the set she performed the Lee Perry song Vampire. The original lyrics contain the verse : A true Rasta man no fire no long gun / a true Rasta man no throw home made bomb/ a true Rasta man can not drink be drunk / a true Rasta man does not gamble. The first time she sang the verse she changed Rasta man to Catholic man and the second time sang "A true Christian man does not drop bombs". It was so passionate that it ripped me out of my comfortable state.

Shortly thereafter she said "I'm dedicating this song to all the women" and performed Peter Tosh's Downpressor Man.  It's Lyrics : Downpressor man, where you gonna run to / If you run to the sea, the sea will be boiling / If you run to the rocks, the rocks will be melting / If you make your bed in Hell, I will be there on that day, are a defiant warning to all oppressors, of men and women, that their day of reckoning will come.

I can't say for sure whether the change was in her or in me, but the entire second half of the show seemed passionate and inspirational. She performed all the songs from the CD and several others including the Melodians reggae classic Rivers Of Babylon, which the audience sang with her.

She ended the evening the way she began performing Jah Is My Keeper accompanied by only acoustic guitar. Usually I would think that you should end a show with something upbeat to send everyone out feeling good, but her performance was so beautiful and personal that I  think it was the perfect ending. Feeling inspired trumps feeling good.

I went to this show solo, Judy doesn't do standing venues, and as is often the case, met and had nice conversations with several interesting people including newlywed Jesse, Mexican playwright Malu Huacuja del Toro, who was surprised to hear that I've seen Mexican singer Lila Downs in concert, and a young singer songwriter whose name I'll include here later if she sends me her web site as she promised. (I was the most shy kid in my Grammer school. I don't think any of my schoolmates would recognize me now.)