JULY 2009             back

Burning Spear: July 30th @ Prospect Park

He's a reggae icon, what more do I need to say. You think I'm kidding? Ok, I'm really tired, I'll add more soon. :-) here are some videos from this show (video)

 

Raul Malo: July 29th @ Madison Square Park

Raul Malo is one of my favorite artists on the planet and unquestionably one of the finest vocalists in music. I've seen him sing jazz standards, Cuban boleros, country, rock and blues tunes, sing originals and cover everyone from Hank Williams, Buck Owens and Dwight Yoakum to Louie Armstrong and Roy Orbison to whom Malo is often compared.

I've seen him perform solo and as a trio, with The Mavericks, with a large band and in just about every combination you can think of up to a dozen. I bring all this up because this time I saw him a new way.....in the pouring rain. The show was delayed about a half hour to allow the very scary black clouds, lightening and thunder to move out and then proceeded in the rain for about an hour until the rain started coming down hard again and they pulled the plug.

Always an amusing stage presence, he made a point of including a few tunes with rain lyrics including You Always Win from his new release, along with his classics like Dance The Night Away and his usual sprinkling of covers.  Even after being told it's time to shut down he couldn't leave without squeezing in Roy Orbison's Crying before ending the set. (Hello Again)

I'm beginning to think that there's something especially satisfying about the experience of seeing a show in the rain. The patter of drops on umbrellas and parkas is somehow soothing and maybe only the real committed fans would stay in those conditions creating a sense of community. Whatever it is I seem to enjoy those shows every time.

 

Laura Izibor: July 28th @ S.O.B.'s

 This young black girl from Ireland has been creating quite a buzz around NYC for about a year now, so I thought it was time to see for myself. I won't be the first person to say this, but I will confirm what some people have already been saying, and that is that this is going to be the next Alicia Keys. (I Don't Want You back)

Her debut CD "Let The Truth Be Told" was released last month and in my humble opinion there's no stopping her now. Her fusion of retro R&B with popular contemporary elements brings to mind Alicia Keys, Lauren Hill and Corinne Bailey Rae, while still maintaining a sound that can be called her own. She has the potential to be the best singer of the lot. (From My Heart To Yours)

This show featured songs from the CD which mostly could be either described as catchy pop R&B like Shine and From My Heart to Yours or soulful power ballads like What Would You Do, MMM, Perfect World and I Don't Want You Back any of which could be a hit. Having said all that, if I had to pick a favorite it might have been Yes, I'll Be Your Baby which had the feel of Alicia's No One and could be just as big if released as a single. (Don't Stay)

I wish I had seen this artist last year when I was considering it, I love being one of the first kids on the block when it comes to new talent. I should add that she's  put together (probably helped by her label) a smokin' band especially her trumpet player. Every time he was utilized, the music was kicked up a notch on the energy level.

 

Jonatha Brooke: July 22nd @ Madison Square Park

I've been aware of Jonatha Brooke since she was half of The Story, a duo with Jennifer Kimball, back in the early 90's. But I didn't fall in love with her music until Judy and I went to see her at one of her 10 gigs at the Anspacher Theater in March of 2004. We went at the invitation of AnnMarie Milazzo, who played keyboard and sang backup for Jonatha during that tour, and loved the show so much that we went back and saw a second show. Judy and I have both been big fans ever since.

This show included fan favorites along with songs from her most recent release "The Works" which featured songs where Jonatha put the lyrics of Woody Guthrie to her own music. This was another in a series of projects arranged by Nora Guthrie, the curator of Woody's archives. She offers access to Woody's archives to artists she feels best qualified to interpret the material.  The most well known of the projects is the Billy Bragg/Wilco collaboration.

From that project she performed More True Lovers Than One which she quipped was like Woody had written Love The One You're With two decades before Stephen Stills, and Taste Of Danger which, in another time, would be the biggest summer hit on the radio.

She also performed Keep The River On Your Right, Je Ne Peux Pas te Plaire, Linger, Because I Told You So and other fan favorites from previous releases over the last dozen years. She had a full band that did not include guitarist Goeffrey Moore, which was a mild disappointment, but they sounded great regardless. take a look: (Because I Told You So) 

 

  Jackson Browne: July 21st @ Prospect Park Brooklyn

This was one of the "Not Free" shows at "Celebrate Brooklyn" which help to finance all the free shows there. I've been a fan of Jackson Browne going on 40 years and have seen him a number of times during that time, so with all the free shows around town I wasn't planning on going to this show. Then WFUV offered freebies on their ticket hot line and I just couldn't resist.

Jackson still looks and sounds great and his band is amazing, especially the two backup singers who were so good that some songs had reworked vocal arrangements to take advantage of the two stellar vocalists. Example: (Lives In The Balance)  

The show was a career retrospective featuring songs from across his entire career including Jamaica Say You Will, Doctor My Eyes, Take It Easy, Fountain Of Sorrow, For A Dancer, The Pretender, Running On Empty, Shape Of A Heart, Lives In The Balance and Too Many Angels, among others. I believe I listed those in chronological order of record release date from memory. I leave for you to check me. Just illustrates how much of a fan I am.

He didn't converse much and did get a little hoarse down the home stretch, but the sum total of the experience for me was a sense of total satisfaction and bliss.

 

Alpha Blondy & Lee "Scratch" Perry: July19th Summerstage

 I already knew that Alpha Blondy was an international reggae star from The Ivory Coast, what I didn't know was that he was inspired to become a reggae artist after seeing Burning Spear at Central Park Summerstage back in the 80's. Talk about coming full circle! (I Wish you Were Here)

  Lee "Scratch" Perry is one of the historic figures in reggae who not only produced Bob Marley and the Wailers and recorded tons of original material, but helped with the formation of "dub" music with his mixing board experiments. He's always been considered eccentric, and his purple hair and beard along with 30 or 40 pounds of bling, did nothing to dispel that notion. His set didn't really reach me, maybe at 73 he doesn't have the chops that he used to, or maybe he's just always been better on the sound board, but I was unmoved. (Live @ SXSW)

In contrast, as soon as Alpha Blondy and The Solar System took the stage playing Led Zeppelin's Black Dog as a lead into their first song, my heart started to race. With three horns and two female back up singers in the band, they had a big sound that grabbed me right away. Anyone who ever thought  "if you've heard one reggae song, you've heard them all" should have been at this show. For me, it was night and day. (Alpha Blondy-Jerusalem) 

 

Don Byron: July 15th at Madison Square Park

Don Byron is an eclectic jazz clarinetist whose projects span from avant-garde jazz to klezmer music and everything in between. His most recent project is a tribute to soul/funk artist Junior Walker who gave us classics like Shotgun, Roadrunner, What Does It take To Win Your Love and Do The Boomerang, which is also the title of Byron's recent release.

Byron performed the above mentioned songs and a handful of period pieces like Marvin Gaye's Hitch Hike, playing sax for most of the set and only picking up his clarinet a couple of times. Dean Bowman did a credible job on vocals and the band exhibited an impressive feel for the music which was jazzy funk or funky jazz depending on your perspective. For one enthusiastic dancing audience member it seemed that this may have been the best concert he's ever attended. For me, it was fun.

 

Marshall Crenshaw: July 12 @ Maplewoodstock

This little two day mini Woodstock in Maplewood, New Jersey had Jonathan Edwards headlining yesterday and Marshall Crenshaw today. Nice Maplewood!

Marshall was backed by Rich Pagano (Fab Faux) on drums and Byron Isaacs (Ollabelle) on bass and backing vocals and performed songs from his new release Jaggedland including Right On Time, Someone Told Me and the title cut along with a bunch of his best known tunes like Someday Someway, Cynical Girl, Mary Anne, Whenever You're On My Mind and Fantastic Planet of Love among others. (Fantastic Planet Of Love)

As always, Marshall's songs have a catchy pop sensibility which makes them cling to your mind but the bass and drums at this show gave many of the songs a jazzy groove which, in my opinion, made them better! This was a great set.

Before Marshall (and after, long story) a cover band called The Band Band did an impressive job performing popular songs from The Band including Up On Cripple Creek and The Shape I'm In among others.

I came to the festival last year to see Aztec Two-Step and now I'm wondering who they're going to get next year! 

 

Red Molly & The Duhks: July 8th @ Madison Square Park

Red Molly is a female "American roots" trio who've slowly but surely been developing a following at the folk festivals and acoustic music venues in the Northeast over the last five years and have recently begun broadening their horizons with some touring. Their beautiful harmonies and excellent musicianship make these native northeasterners sound like they were raised in the Carolina hills.

They did several songs from their most recent release called "Love and Other Tragedies" including covering Gillian Welch (Whichita), Susan Werner (May I Suggest) and the original tune Honey On My Grave which opened their set. (Whitchita)

They also covered Lucinda Williams Can't Let Go, did a traditional gospel tune and, as they described, some songs about coal mines. It's hard to believe that this mix of country, blues, gospel and mountain music played so beautifully on steel guitar, acoustic guitar, banjo and acoustic bass and with such authentic sounding harmonies is coming from a couple of Jersey girls and a New Yorker. But it does.

  The Duhks are a Canadian band who, like Red Molly, are also known for doing "American roots" music. But their recent CD, Fast Paced World, and new lead singer, Sarah Dugas who replaced Jessie Havey in late 2007, seem to have taken the group into a more contemporary direction.

Dugas has a powerful soulful and bluesy voice which is equally adept at traditional songs like Mighty Storm and contemporary rockers like Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love, which would have blown the roof off this show except that we were already outside. They also covered, with a very creative arrangement, Bob Dylan's Don't Cry Mama, I'm Only Bleeding (thanks Pablo) and an original tune called This Fall which sounded like it could have been a Kurt Weill song. (Death Came a Knockin')

To say they have an eclectic sound would be accurate. These days you're as likely to hear bossa nova as zydeco or hard bluesy rock as bluegrass. I'm sure some long time fans will lament the drifting away from the more traditional bluegrass and such, and a new singer will never win over everybody no matter how good she is, but this was a very compelling show from a very talented group of musicians. 

 

Oumou Sangare, Les Nubians & Asa: July 5th Central Park Summerstage

Oumou Sangare is the most popular female singer in Mali and has just released a new CD called Seya, so it was fitting that she headlined this concert of Afropop and Afropean music. Singing in Mali's Bambara language, it didn't matter that you couldn't understand the lyrics because the music either hypnotized or energized depending on the song. (Hypnotic)

Her great band included guitar, bass, kora (21 string African instrument), drums, flute, percussion and two back up singer/dancers who exuded so much energy and joy as they performed and were so beautiful that they were a pleasure to watch.

And if her expressive vocals and great band weren't enough, she also welcomed guitar virtuoso Bela Fleck who played one song solo and one with the band. Bela has been exploring the African roots of the banjo and spent time with Oumou in Mali. (Afro Bela)

The middle set was Afropean group Les Nubians who're fronted by sisters Helene and Celia Faussart. Their blend of funk, jazz, reggae, R&B, hip-hop and African music is right at home in a dance club but their vocal arrangements make for good listening as well. I've written about them a few times before and this show was a collection of their popular tunes from previous releases (Temperature Rising, J'Veux D'la Musiq...) with a few new tunes from an upcoming CD. (J'veux d'la Musiq)

Asa (pronounced Asha) is a Nigerian Afropop singer who opened the day with a set sung in both English and her native language. Some of the material really rocked but her subtle cover of Nina Simone's Feeling Good was one of the highlights of her set. (Asa rocks!)

One extra note, I spied Jackson Browne back stage enjoying the show. He's playing Brooklyn's Prospect Park band shell on July 21st, a show that I'll also attend. This was a great show on a beautiful mild summer day in NYC and it was free. It doesn't get much better than this!  

 

Sarah Lee Guthrie and Johnny Irion: July 1st River to River Festival (opening for Tift Merrit)

Sarah Lee Guthrie (daughter of Arlo and granddaughter of Woody) and husband Johnny Irion were the opening act for this free "River To River" show which was originally scheduled for Rockefeller Park but moved indoors due to threat of rain.

They're about to release a new live DVD/CD called Folk Songs and judging from this performance, I think it might be worth investigating. They've got beautiful harmonies and a very relaxed stage presence. Sarah sounded just like her dad as she told the story of how her dad bought the church made famous in Alice's Restaurant, and then described it to one of the locals as "a bring your own God church". The story was her lead in to a beautiful ballad called Kindness which has the lyric "bring your own God". (Kindness)

I had seen them a few years ago at South Street seaport and liked them, but this set brought my appreciation to a whole new level. This was a really enjoyable set with the only drawback being that the bass was way too loud which tended too drown out the harmonies and acoustic guitar at times. Otherwise, just beautiful!

Tift Merrit's CD, Tambourine, was nominated a few years ago for best country album. Her recent release "Buckingham Solo" is a live recording from a show in Buckingham England in November of 2008. Playing mostly guitar and a little keyboard, her set of country tunes had hints of Lucinda Williams and Emmy Lou Harris and was nice but not as compelling for me as the beautiful harmonies of the opening set. She did rock out a little when she did a song using Johnny Irion's guitar. Have a look: (Tift rocks)