back                                                                JANUARY 2010

Shawn Mullins (Vance Gilbert opening): Jan 28 @ The City Winery

It's hard to believe that it's been about a dozen years since Shawn had his big hit with Lullaby. Since then he's continued to release critically acclaimed new material and tour mostly small venues performing for adoring crowds who count him among their favorites, but nothing has come close to making a splash as big as Lullaby.

That's a shame because this Atlanta based singer songwriter has an impressive catalog of great songs, has a deep coarse voice, that sometimes brings Greg Brown to mind, but has impressive range and is a great story teller.

The storytelling can be the song, as with The Ballad Of Kathryn Johnston, or with the between song banter like his story of his first trip to Australia when he was recognized by a paddy wagon full of boozing cops who took him out for a night of drinking. (Ballad Of Kathryn Johnston)

For this show he was backed on acoustic guitar by Patrick Blanchard and performed several songs from an upcoming CD that's in the works. The new material sounded great, the most memorable being the sing-along he orchestrated on I Just Want To Light You Up. I wouldn't rule out the possibility of another hit for this deserving artist. ( I Just Want To Light You Up)

Vance Gilbert is another long time favorite who has one of the most pure voices in popular music. He has not had any commercial hits, although he's very well known on many NPR stations, and likes to joke that Unfamiliar Moon is a hit in his house. (Unfamiliar Moon)

You could not ask for a better opening act. He wowed the audience with his voice and guitar work opening with a cover of Sam Cookes A Change Is Gonna Come, then proceeded to have them rolling in the aisles with his observations ranging from the effect of Aaron Neville's voice on Women to self deprecating jokes about his own career.


Globalfest: Jan 08 @ Webster Hall

Namgar, Caravan Palace, Cara Dillon....

 This was the seventh annual Globafest, of which I've been to five.  I don't know what I was thinking those other two years because each one I've attended has ultimately become one of my favorite shows of that year.  In a city known for it's musical virtuosity, diversity, creativity and a mind boggling volume of performances, Globalfest has become one of the coolest events of the year for the hard core music aficionados, not to mention people in the business.  Some of my favorites who've appeared over the years include Angelique Kidjo, Lura, Susheela Raman, Emeline Michelle, Daby Toure, and Ollabelle.  It's a great place to discover one of your next favorites.

At each Globalfest, I've mapped out a plan that will allow me to see all or most of the acts, and the plan never works because once I get in a room with great music, I have a hard time leaving that room.  But, I certainly saw enough great music that, once again,  this Globalfest will rank among my favorites for this year.

The most unusual new act I saw, and maybe the most exciting, was a Siberian group called Namgar.  The lead singer and a few of the band members are from the Buryat tribe near the borders of Russia, Mongolia and China. They've joined with some Russian musicians and producer to fuse their traditional songs about life on the plains with elements of rock, electronica and jazz. The end result was quite astonishing.  I did see a number of long haired young people whipping their hair to the beat ala Wayne's World.  I understood how they felt and wished I could have joined them!  (Namgar video) 

Caravan Palace, a Parisian group making their NYC debut, blend swinging Gypsy jazz, electronica, cabaret and contemporary dance  rhythms all sprinkled with a little bit of schtick. One amusing trivia fact is the group had its birth when three of the members were asked to score a silent pornographic film from the early 20th century. That collaboration led to the formation of Caravan Palace whose debut self-titled CD will be released here this spring after already going platinum in France. (Caravan Palace video) 

I only caught a brief portion of Cara Dillon's set, but I wish I had heard more. I did hear a couple of beautiful Irish ballads that gave me goose bumps. Her voice vaguely reminded me of Sarah McLaughlin and the melodies were haunting and emotional. I think I need to see this artist again.  (Cara Dillon video)

Meta and The Cornerstones play reggae music flavored with Afropop, soul, hip-hop and rock music. Meta is from Senegal and the band members from various ports of call including Trinidad, Mexico and the United States. I haven't heard a new reggae band that I've liked this much in a long time.  (video)

Actually, I liked them so much that I booked them for a FREE concert series in Woodbridge, NJ. (Details) 

I also caught partial sets from large energetic salsa band La Excellencia and Columbian group La Cumbiamba eNeYe who recreate the music and dance of traditional Columbian outdoor parties called "cumbiamba's", with some contemporary tweaks as is usually the case at Globalfest. Alif Naaba, from the West African country of Burkina Faso, was also having his American debut. His smooth voice, acoustic guitar and danceable rhythms sometimes brought Habib Koite to mind. Habib is another one that you already know if you've spent any time here. 

There were a few other acts which, by all accounts, were fantastic, but I didn't get around to hearing any of their sets. Maybe, next time.


APAP Showcase "Here Comes Trouble": Jan 08 @ 92Y Tribeca (featuring Chicha Libre, The Cuban Cowboys, Pistolera....)

Chicha Libre: (Pshchedelic Surf Cumbia!)

It's APAP convention time again which means the city is bursting at the seams with arts promoters and presenters and showcases pop up everywhere so everyone can take in as much music as is humanly possible during their short stay. Because I also took in so much music, I need to be brief but I do need to spend at least a little time on this group.

Chicha music is a hybrid of Amazonian music and psychedelic rock which became popular in Peru in the 70's. Chicha Libre is a Brooklyn based band whose front man is French singer and cuatro player Olivier Conan, who fell in love with chicha music and brought his willing band along for the ride. Using assorted Latin rhythms, surf guitar riffs and psychedelic organ riffs, along with some of their French musical influences, they've turned this hybrid music into another hybrid all their own. The organ sounds actually come from an organ/accordion hybrid called an electravox which sounded just like the organ from the classic psychedelic tune In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.

This was energetic feel good music that left me wanting more and considering that they play quite frequently in Brooklyn, it's likely I'll see them again before too long. I checked out their CD Sonido Amazonico and it's moody and hypnotic, even when it's being energetic. It's the type of music that if you played it anywhere, people would ask "what is this?" I'll be spending some time with it myself.

The Cuban Cowboys: (Cuban Surf Rock)

Did I say Cuban surf rock? Yes I did, and the 4-piece rock combo cranked out some driving surf rock fronted by singer, songwriter and guitarist Jorge Navarro, who had dynamic stage presence and sang in English, Spanish and Spanglish. They're currently working on a Spring release called The Devils Dance, which I suspect is going to be worth investigating. The fusion of Cuban Son with American roots and surf rock was described on their web site as indie Surf and Son. Clever!

Rana Santacruz: (Ranchero punk - Celtic Mariachi)

If you're beginning to see a theme here you would be correct. The four bands I've reviewed here have all taken musical styles from Central or South America and fused them with North American or sometimes European musical styles. Rana Santacruz can sound like The Pogues singing in Spanish or like a traditionalal Mexican folk singer and everything in between. Rana sings in Spanish and plays accordion and cajon while being backed by banjo, violin, upright bass, drums and sometimes trumpet. The possibilities are limitless.

Pistolera (Ranchera, cumbia indie-pop)

This mostly female Mexican folk/indie rock quartet performed the most pop sounding tunes of the evening in Spanish. Then half way through the short set, they turned the Pistolera sign around and became Moona Luna, a bi-lingual children's group. I suspect kids would love the catchy tunes with titles like Jump, Jump Jump, although it wasn't really my cup of tea. Then again, it wasn't meant to be.