January 2008            back

Raul Midon, Hoots and Hellmouth, Matt Dusk & William Joseph: January 14th at Highline Ballroom

The concert promoters convention was in town this week so there were a number of shows with multiple billings to be enjoyed. This show was a chance to see one of my favorites, Raul Midon.  Sharing the bill with three other acts from three completely different musical universes, it seemed a good way to finish off my three day musical binge.

The show opened with classically trained pianist William Joseph, who performed original material and covers of classic rock tunes backed by bass, drums and violin. My reaction to his first two numbers was to think that I would expect to hear music like this in the finest elevators - somewhere between Yanni and John Tesh.  But, his third selection was a cover of Led Zeppelin's Kashmir, which really excited me and, judging from the audience's reaction, really rocked the house. Both he and his violinist attacked the piece with real passion and left me very impressed. At the end of his set, he did another very energetic piece which included staccato bursts on the piano, finishing the set in exciting fashion. In the end, I'd have to say that when he was good, he was very good.

Next up were Hoots and Hellmouth, Philadelphia hillbillies who take Gospel, blues, country, bluegrass and "old time" mountain music and blend it with three part harmonies and an energy you might associate with punk rock. I liked this set quite a bit.

Matt Dusk is a young Canadian crooner who will no doubt be compared to Michael Buble. I had very mixed reactions to him as well. At his best, he summoned the ghosts of Frank Sinatra and Bobby Darin. His versions of the old standard The Way You Look Tonight and Two Shots Of Happy, One Shot Of Sad, which Bono wrote for Frank Sinatra, were both right on the mark and very enjoyable. In his weaker moments thoughts of Bill Murray danced in my head.  His Besame Mucho was the most un-Latin version I've heard and My Way, written by fellow Canadian Paul Anka, should always be avoided until you're ready to be compared to Frank Sinatra.

The final set was my old friend Raul Midon who I've written about many times on these pages and which should be an indication of how highly I regard this artist.  He did selections from his two CD's in usual mind-blowing fashion and continues to bring more and more of his personality to the stage.

He told the story of how he was invited to play some gigs in Monaco at a time when he was in the studio and normally would not play any gigs. He was going to say "No" until his manager told him the ridiculous amount of money they were offering. Someone in the audience yelled out "How much did they offer"? Raul laughed and said "only in New York would anyone ask that question". He added "In Japan they wouldn't even think of asking that question". Then he told us the amount and played Save My Life which was the song that had instigated the story.

Later, some people upstairs were getting out of hand with loud talking, laughing and generally ignoring the show. When some other audience members shushed the rowdy bunch, Raul leaned into the mic and said "Thank you". He went on to say "People who come up here and do this are called artists because we dedicate our lives to this, and when we're up here this is OUR show". The audience roared their approval and the peanut gallery actually quieted down.

Most binges leave a person with a headache, soreness, exhaustion or some sort of physical or emotional suffering, but a musical binge just leaves you with a sense of satisfaction.  I highly recommend it.

 

Simone & Ryan Shaw: January 13th At Joe's Pub

It's safe to say that not a day goes by where I don't have a conversation with someone about music. I'm always asking people where they're from and what do they listen to, and people who know me are always asking me what I've seen lately or what's next on my concert schedule. All these conversations leave me with a good sense of the level of "awareness" that exists in the general population about any given artist.

For the past few weeks, as I told people that I would be seeing Nina Simone's daughter, who goes by the stage name of simply "Simone", it was very interesting to see how evenly divided were the people whose eyes bugged out as they exclaimed "Nina Simone is my favorite singer", compared to how many people never heard of her or knew she was a jazz singer but were not familiar with any of her music. (hear Nina Simone)

Nina was actually a singer, pianist, composer and arranger, not to mention social activist, who was as comfortable with blues, folk, pop and soul as she was with jazz, and in fact, preferred not to be descried as a jazz artist. Daughter Simone is an accomplished singer who's appeared on Broadway in Aida and Les Miz and will be honoring her mother's legacy by releasing a CD of her mother's music and touring with an 18 piece band.

For the intimate Joe's Pub, she used an 8 piece band - 4 horns, guitar, bass, drums and piano - but I didn't mind one bit. Her powerful voice is not as smokey as her mothers, but she proved herself a legitimate jazz and blues vocalist doing impressive versions of familiar songs like Black Is The Color Of My True Love's Hair, I Don't Want Him You Can Have Him and what could be Nina's best known song Feeling Good. (Feeling Good)

The music knocked me out and her stage presence was very entertaining with stories like how when she was a kid, she thought The Beatles did a poor job of covering her mothers song Here Comes The Sun. I look forward to the opportunity to see her with the full band and will certainly be picking up the CD in April.

Ryan Shaw is a young retro soul singer from Georgia with a great gospel tinged soulful voice and a recent Grammy nomination. His original material sounds like the classic soul of artists like Jackie Wilson, James Brown and Sam Cooke and his sets usually include some soul classics.

He opened this set with a cover of Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come and the set also included a beautiful cover of The Beatles Let It Be, which he described as prayer-like. His original material included his best known tune Nobody, as well as a new song called Choose It, which was so catchy and commercially viable that there is no good reason for it not to become a big hit.

This was a beautifully matched double bill with each artist dazzling the audience in their own way. I will certainly be seeing both of them in the future.

 

The 'Royal Albert Hall' Project: January 12th at The Winter Garden Atrium (pictured: Jesse Harris, Freeman, Brandon Ross)

This free concert opened the 2008 New York Guitar Festival with a re-creation of Dylan's 'Royal Albert Hall' bootleg album from the famous 1966 concert. It's famous for the moment when a heckler, angry that Dylan had gone "electric", taunted him with shouts of "Judas" to which Dylan responded "I don't believe you, you're a liar" and then urged his band to "play louder". It's an iconic moment in the history of rock and roll. An interesting historic footnote is that the bootleg was actually recorded a week before the Royal Albert Hall show, which we know because the "play louder" incident happened a week earlier in Manchester. Apparently, the bootleggers mixed up the tapes. 

The premise of this annual show is that an important album will be re-created with a collection of artists each offering an interpretation of a song from the album in the order they appear. A show like this can often be very uneven, but this time I was very impressed and musically satisfied with almost every performance.

A few of the many highlights were Kelly Joe Phelps finger picking version of Mr. Tambourine Man, Chocolate Genius' version of Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat, which really rocked with outstanding guitar work from Marc Ribot, and Brooklyn band Oakley Hall who opened the show with great vocal arrangements on She Belongs To Me

Also impressive were Toshi Reagon and Big Lovely whose version of Like A Rolling Stone began slow and acoustic before Toshi chimed in "I can't play the whole song like that" just as the band broke into a rousing rock version of the tune.

The most imaginative interpretation of the night was Richard Julian and Jim Capilongo, probably best known for their work with Norah Jones, who took the driving beat out of Ballad Of The Thin Man making the angst of the lyrics seem even more potent. A version of Just Like a Woman by The Last Town Chorus featured a lap steel was also very creative and satisfying.

Other enjoyable numbers were Natalie Zukerman, of the classical  Zukerman family, who played acoustic guitar and sang Fourth Time Around, Jim Lauderdale and John Levanthal's Tell Me, Mama, Harry Manx and Kevin Breit's impressive guitar work on Baby, Let Me Follow You Down and Lenny Kaye of Patti Smith fame who performed One Too Many Mornings with a female artist whose name I missed but I'll try to track down. My clues are that she was tall and beautiful and has worked with Sufjian Stevens.

Freeman, a recently signed Welch singer who host John Schafer compared to Jeff Buckley, did a compelling Desolation Row with help from guitarist Brandon Ross.

The balance of the show included Jesse Harris of Norah Jones fame with Just Like Tom Thumb Blues, Stevie Jackson's Visions Of Johanna, Jason Isbell's It's All Over Now Baby Blue and Laura Cantrell's I Don't Believe You. All had something to offer, each in their own way, but none reached me as effectively as the previously mentioned numbers.

The final jam of Knocking On Heaven's Door was also fun, although quite sloppy, as is often the case with such jams. For more info on upcoming performances for the festival, some free and some not, go to www.newyorkguitarfestival.org  Some of the shows are also listed on my upcoming shows page. 

 

Natalie Merchant: January 6th at Hiro Ballroom

This multi-talented artist has a voice so unique that no matter what song she sings, or who she sings it with, you instantly know it's Natalie Merchant. That's a great gift in a world where the music industry keeps us supplied with a constant flow of cookie cutter singer songwriter clones.

She had her first taste of success in the 80's as front person for the pop rock band 10,000 Maniacs  who had a string of hits including Like The Weather and These Are Days (I saw them open for R.E.M. at Rutgers back in those days). She went solo in the mid-90's and enjoyed even greater success with multi-million selling albums Tiger Lily and Ophelia and an even longer list of hits including Carnival, Build a Levee and Wonder to name a few. (Wonder video)

Several years ago, despite huge financial incentives, she let her contract with Elektra expire and formed her own label in order to pursue whatever music seemed relevant to her at the moment rather than chasing hits. Her first release, The House Carpenter's Daughter, was a collection of mostly traditional folk songs and she's since been writing original material and setting other people's words to music, including Robert Frost, Shakespeare's Sonnet No. 73  and several poems written by or for children.

This show was a showcase for some of the things she's been working on, plus a collection of fan favorites sprinkled throughout the set. I have to admit that I enjoyed seeing her in the 80's and, of course, was familiar with her many hits over the years, but it's fair to say that she never became one of my favorites. This show made me recognize that mistake. She was funny and charming, the history lesson about the black death was surprisingly amusing, and her voice is not just unique, it's warm and beautiful. Her six piece band, which included some members of the New England band The Slip, was also very impressive doing a great job on the new material as well as songs intimately familiar to everyone in the audience.

One of my favorites among the new material was the Shakespeare piece which was a slow deliberate waltz whose pace she maintained with her hands like an orchestra conductor (I wish I had that on video, but the video police were very diligent at this show). Others were a beautiful ballad that she dedicated to Benazir Bhutto while holding up a peace banner, and a melodic and hypnotic waltz called A Man In The Wilderness. The only "less than smooth" performance was their cover of The Kinks Village Green Preservation Society which got off to an uneven start before settling  down. (montage, not mine, from the show)

Some in the audience might have preferred more of their old favorites, but this show left me with a sense of anticipation for her next release and wondering when I'll be able to see her again.