March 2004                 back

  Jonatha Brooke : March 21st at Anspacher Theatre

  This review is in two parts. Since I just saw her three nights ago, and don't want to be redundant, you should probably read that review first if you haven't already. Jonatha is a great songwriter and talented singer and musician who puts on a great show. I promised to mention her excellent band in the last review. They are Goffrey Moore on electric guitar who had several excellent jams which drove the dial on the rock meter way up, Darren Embry on bass whose backup vocals greatly enhanced the Beatlesque quality of the songs, Rich Mercurio on drums who did an admirable job and AnnMarie whom we previously mentioned in detail. We enjoyed Jonatha and this band so much on Thursday, that we couldn't resist going again. (And we're glad we did).

We sat next to a fellow named Paul who, in the course of conversation, said he was an inventor. For some reason, probably cartoons, that word conjures up visions of a crazy professor inventing gadgets like self-cleaning ashtrays or mousetraps with 117 moving parts. I jokingly asked if that paid well and he said you have good years and bad. I asked what he had invented and he said "on-line streaming"! I said "That must have been a good year"! A good looking self described geek sitting in front of us turned and joined the conversation. He said he had just read about a guy who made some money inventing a combination lock that has letters instead of numbers. With so many numbers in our heads, your combination can be a word. Like a password. Yes, any one of us could have thought of this anytime in the last fifty years and made a pile of money! Can you believe you didn't think of it? Anyway, it was fun chatting.

After the show we met up with AnnMarie again, said hello to Jonatha and chatted with a young couple from Princeton who love lots of the same music as us. We picked up Jonatha's new album "Back in the Circus" which on initial listening is an excellent piece of work. More on that later.

 AnnMarie has written a musical which has been turned into a twenty minute short film. It's called "Pretty Dead Girls" and was recently shown at Sundance and has been accepted at Tribeca Film Festival for this spring.

 

Raul Midon : March 20th at Joe's Pub

Musically speaking, I'm having a helluva month. One great performance after another. Tonight's festivities began with Arif Mardin announcing that Raul had been signed to Manhattan Records and would be going into the studio immediately to begin work on a new CD. Arif is the legendary producer who has worked with Carly Simon, Aretha Franklin, The Bee Gees, Willie Nelson, Chaka Khan and Norah Jones, to name but a few.  (I've been telling you this guy is good)!

Raul did a typical set, which for him means incredible vocals, amazing guitar work, a little bit of simulated trumpet and captivating songs. My friend Joseph said "I've never seen anyone play guitar like that". His set included a few songs from his self produced debut album "Blind to Reality" (which is good but doesn't really completely capture what he's about), some songs which I assume will be on the new album, an amazing cover of Sam Cooke's "A Change is Gonna Come" (this was worth the price of admission) and "She Hate Me" a song he wrote for the upcoming Spike Lee Movie, which didn't make it into the movie. To hear the song he wrote that did make it into the movie, Raul said "you'll have to see the movie".  My favorite of the night was "Everybody Can Be Somebody".

After the set, I spoke briefly with Kathleen Midon and Raul and ran into Martha Redbone. She's a singer Judy and I saw in last year's "Downtown Messiah".  who had really impressed us.  I had been checking her web site on occasion to see if I could catch one of her gigs and had just been talking about her last week. She's working on her 2nd CD on which Raul and jazz trumpeter Randy Brecker will appear.

I also tried to finagle us into the second half of the Jonatha Brooke show which was going on simultaneously  upstairs. (Not to mention the Tim Robbins play "Embedded" in the other room. Only in New York!) We got the OK to go up and were within earshot of Jonatha before house manager Pauline informed us that, unfortunately for us, (good for her) the house was sold out. I thanked her and told her I'd see her tomorrow. Yeah, I couldn't help myself. Judy had said that if there were still tickets available for Sunday that we should go again and I thought "Well, if you insist.............." :-)    

 

Jonatha Brooke : March 18th at Anspacher Theatre

About a month ago we received an e-mail from our friend, AnnMarie Milazzo, saying she would be singing backup for Jonatha Brooke in this series of shows at The Public Theatre.  If you've been following my adventures, then  you've seen AnnMarie pictured singing at the "Downtown Messiah" and singing backup for Angelique Kidjo.

I've been aware of Jonatha for almost ten years and always thought she had a nice voice and wrote some nice ballads and catchy pop tunes. But nothing that ever clicked with me in a way that made me want to rush out and see a show or buy a CD.  Boy, did I miss that boat!!

From the moment we stepped into this beautiful and intimate theatre, we began to enjoy ourselves. Tying into her new album "Back in the Circus", they used the prop room at the theatre to design a circus theme set with trapeze nets, trunks, and even a clown nose on the Greek statue.

The show began with Jonatha on acoustic guitar and Ann Marie on keyboard  performing two songs from her early days with "The Story" (a duo with Jennifer Kimball). As soon as Jonatha started to sing, I thought her voice was much stronger than I had expected and her harmonies with Ann Marie made the hair on my neck take notice.  Judy's eyes watered up the moment she heard their harmonies. (Judy had just finished loving a book called "Angel Seeker", by Sharon Shinn, a sort of "Lord of the Rings" with angels instead of Hobbits, which prominently features angels singing harmonies.  Hearing Jonatha and AnnMarie gave her a strong sense of deja vu).  I was very impressed that Jonatha allowed Ann Marie to shine so prominently.  An usher we spoke with at intermission said after the fist two songs he wasn't sure which girl was Jonatha. This type of generosity, confidence and lack of ego is not often observed in this business.

Jonatha alternated between guitar and keyboard while AnnMarie displayed her versatility by playing keyboard, clarinet, guitar, and tambourine.  They were joined by an excellent band consisting of bass, guitar and drums. (I will include their names later, they deserve it)

I could throw darts at her set list to pick my favorite songs.  Her set used songs from throughout her career and among others, included "Secrets and Lies", "Back in the Circus", "Sally", "Everything I Wanted" and a cover of Brian Wilson's "God Only Knows".

Her rapport with the audience greatly enhanced the overall experience.  She joked that "God Only Knows" seems like a beautiful love song until you look more closely. The opening line is "I may not always love you" and later he wrote "If you should ever leave me, Life would go on -- Believe Me!" Her attitude was relaxed and warm, she even graciously welcomed some late comers.

"Deny" was written for the movie "In The Gloaming" and then not used.  It's about an AIDS patient who returns home to make peace with his family before dying. It's so beautiful and moving that it's difficult to imagine how it didn't get used.

"Sally" is about Jonatha having a little bit of envy for her singer/songwriter friend who got out of the business to have two beautiful kids and conversely her friend having a little bit of envy for Jonatha's career. (Jonatha talked about her earlier career as a modern dancer and I wondered if this song was also inspired by the movie "The Turning Point" about two dancer friends, Anne Bancroft and Shirley MacLaine, one of whom goes on to fame and fortune and the other who gets married and opens a suburban dance school).

After the show, we visited with AnnMarie and met Jonatha who was as warm and friendly as her stage persona. What you see is what you get. It is highly likely that if tickets are still available we will be going to the show again on Sunday night. There is no higher endorsement from me.    

 

Susan Werner : March 13th at Joe's Pub

At the start of this show Susan explained that she had written the songs for her new album, "I Can't Be New", in the style of the 30's and 40's songwriters like Johnny Mercer and Cole Porter. She said she felt that someone should be doing it because song production from these guys has "really dropped off".  Dressed in black slacks and a white blouse, she added "Now that I'm wearing hosiery, I'm officially out of the folk singers union".

Judy and I have always felt Susan was a folk singer who could be as successful  in cabarets as in folk venues. With her new show, I believe she demonstrates she could play jazz clubs as well. Backed by seasoned veterans Billy Novick on clarinet, sax and flute and Tyrone Brown on bass, she played a series of songs all of which could have been jazz standards except for the fact that they were written by Susan over the last several years.

For me, the ultimate level of enjoyment or satisfaction  comes when I enter "the zone".  That's when I lose track of time and get carried away by the music. A sort of nirvanic state. My reaction to the early part of the show, as she alternated between nylon string guitar and piano, was  "Wow, she can sing", "Wow, she can play piano" and "Man, she can really play that guitar too". Then, maybe a half hour into the set, I started to drift into the zone. She played "Stay On Your Side Of Town"  which had the amusing lyrics "I've got the Northside where the brownstones are, You've got the Southside and that big blues bar, If you cross the river you've gone too far, Stay on your own side of town" and several other amusing songs like the self explanatory "Let's Regret This In Advance".

Then she said she wanted to do a cover from that world famous cabaret composer, Bob Marley. (she's so funny)  She did a slow haunting version of "Waiting in Vain" which, sans Reggae beat, was a beautiful and simple love song. I almost got teary thinking of what a treasure Bob Marley was and felt his loss more than I had in some time. That's being in the zone!

A one point, Tyrone, the bass player, had tilted his head towards the ceiling, closed his eyes, and was gently rolling his head while he played.  Judy and I looked at each other and smiled because we knew he was also in the zone.  This was a good show!

 

 Jeffrey Gaines : March 12 at Outpost in the Burbs

  The first time I heard "Hero in Me" from Jeffrey's 1992 self-titled debut album , I immediately thought "What a great song! I have to get this". Unfortunately, when I woke up the next morning, I couldn't remember his name.  Later that next day, I heard it again and drove directly to Vintage Vinyl, bought the CD, drove home and said to Judy "sit down you have got to hear this". For the next six months there was not a day when that CD was not played in our house and to this day it still gets some "airtime" along with his four subsequent CDs.

Since then we've seen him perform many times, mostly acoustic solo and half a dozen times with a full band, but last night he tried a new twist. He was accompanied by a keyboard player who alternated between piano and organ.  I've always preferred him solo because, for me, the attraction is his powerful  soulful voice and introspective lyrics which a band can sometimes overpower. (the exception was a show at Shine in NYC where the band was great and the mix perfect) But the keyboard was a beautiful touch, adding richness to the songs without diminishing the melodic or lyric quality. (except for the first few songs where the piano sounded more like a tuning fork due to some sound problems)

He still does quite a few songs from that self-titled masterpiece along with songs from each of his other albums plus his obligatory cover of Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes", of which the audience never tires. (although, I gather Jeffrey does since he only played half the song)   The surprise of the night was his cover of Led Zeppelin's "Rock and Roll" where he showed he could rock with the best of them.

Equally enjoyable was his banter between songs. He sincerely thanked the audience for coming because he said "except for this, I'm basically unemployable". He proceeded to tell us some of his amusing job disaster stories. He also talked about how when he first started performing, he didn't know about communicating with the audience. All the bands he had ever seen came out, did 90 minutes of hits and said "Goodnight". Judy and I could really relate to that. The first few times we saw him perform, we actually had conversations on the way home about how he has so much to say with his songs but he is so uncomfortable speaking that he can barely get out a complete sentence. Now, with his charming stories, he's able to wrap a room around his finger without singing a note. You've come a long way baby! :-)

After the show, we had a great time chatting with Jeffrey and his posse (sister Felicia, Manager Dianne and girlfriend Jackie) all of whom we've met before. They got a kick out of my story from the first paragraph about the first time we heard Jeffrey.  I was flattered that Jeffrey asked me for my latest recommendations, which were Ollabelle and Raul Midon,  (I forgot Los Lonely Boys) and Judy told them how proud she feels for him when he conquers a room like he did tonight. She just loves him. Jeffrey said his new "Live" album should be out in May.  Do you think I'll buy it?  Duh!!!  :-)

Ollabelle : March 10 at The Living Room

You may have noticed this name has been popping up quite a bit recently on this web site. I get pretty worked up when I come across a new artist or group that satisfies on so many levels. (like in 1996/1997 when I was seeing Martin Sexton about every 6 weeks for a year)  This is a very talented group of artists. Great lead vocals from various members, great harmonies and an eclectic mix of music based mostly in gospel, country and blues.

The Living Room is a small venue where indie artists or newcomers to the NYC music scene are able to play for tips in order to build a following and get experience playing for the public. An important venue with good sound. Immediately after the show, my friend Joseph said "These guys are too good for this place". The fact that they recently opened for Nanci Griffith at Town Hall and are opening for Roseanne Cash this weekend, leads me to believe they won't be playing The Living Room much longer. (in a way, that's too bad because it's a great place to see them)

You will no doubt be seeing their name here again as I continue to "jones" for the rush I get when I hear these guys. For more info on the band check previous reviews or their web page. The new self titled album is now available, I highly recommend it.

 

  John Kelly as Joni Mitchell :  March 6th at Fez

Judy and I have met John Kelly a few times because he's a friend of our dancer friend, Alexandre Proia. We have seen him perform before, most memorably as the tenor in James Joyce's "The Dead" with Christopher Walken and Blair Brown, but I've wanted to see his Joni Mitchell show for quite some time. The last time he did it, the New York Times described it as " more like spiritual transformation than drag" and called it "magnificent".

 We had the good fortune to be seated next to fellow WFUV members, Kate and Ben from Long Island, who had seen the show two years ago and joked that the only difference between John and Joni is that John can still hit all the notes. :-)  They were only half joking and John proved them right.

With Georgia O'Keefe (I never got his real name) supplying synthesized piano, horns, percussion and some harmonies, John sang and played guitar on an assortment of Joni songs and amused us with stories between songs. He told us that he was fighting a cold so his voice might sound "husky".  Actually, he did have a cold, and it affected his voice a few times, but for most of the night if you closed your eyes it was easy to imagine you were listening to Joni. Let me also add that it's no easy task playing Joni songs on guitar. I knew John sang, acted and danced but I didn't know he also played guitar.

Later, he joked that he had wanted to play a song on a dulcimer but that Georgia had thought it was a crossbow and ruined it trying to shoot pigeons. All this while mimicking Joni's mannerisms in how she adjusts her hair or wets her lips. You couldn't help but laugh.

He did several of her well known classics such as "Circle Game" and "Woodstock" (which he changed to Wigstock in honor of the drag Woodstock which took place downtown for about 20 years) but my favorites were "Night Ride Home" and "Slouching Toward Bethlehem" from the 1991 album "Night Ride Home". He nailed her so perfectly on those songs that it was scary.

He's there every Friday and Saturday in March and Judy and I both agreed that we wouldn't mind going again.