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Tina Dico: March 23rd at The Highline Ballroom

I've written about Tina Dico a bunch of times over the last couple of years, including last month, so you may already know that she was in the electronica band Zero 7 (the band who also brought us Sia) and that in Denmark she plays backed by a band to sold out arenas. 

I've seen her a number of times but this was the first time with backing musicians which was a treat. Helgi Johnson played keyboards, guitars, trombone and added beautiful backing vocals and Dennis Ahlgron also played numerous instruments including drums. Helgi joked that one reviewer wrote about how great the two powerful female voices blended together. His voice can easily be mistaken for  female and his haunting opening set reminded me at times of Icelandic band Sigur Ros.

Tina's set featured mostly songs from her recent release, a three EP collection called A Beginning, A Detour, An Open Ending with a few tunes (Count To Ten, In The Red) from previously releases added. Judy noticed that her song Stains sounded like a cross between Jeffrey Gaines Fear and The Cranberries Zombie. Good catch! (Stains)

Anything I say about how she and the band sounded, how much I appreciate her songwriting or how great she looked would tell you less than the fact that I saw her last month and came out on a Monday night to see her again. I think that says it all. 


K J Denhert : March 21 at Coffee With a Conscious (Westfield, NJ)

This is another small venue that brings "world class" acts right into your own neighborhood, served up with coffee and snacks. K J Denhert is a funky jazz musician (She calls her music urban folk and jazz) who fits somewhere between Phoebe Snow and Tuck & Patti. Certainly not a household name, she's a highly respected artist in the world where talent is more important than name recognition. You know, my world.

After many years of playing in cover bands she eventually released 7 studio CD's of original material, standards and an eclectic mix of covers, has had a long running residency at the 55 bar in NYC and made several successful appearances at The Umbria Jazz festival in Italy.

This set included some selections from her most recent studio CD, Lucky 7, including He's Not Coming Home Again and a very cool version of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, and a new reggae song called Choose Your Weapon which was my favorite of the evening. (Choose Your Weapon)

She was backed by Bennett Paster on keyboards, Ray Lavier on drums and Senegalese bass player Mamadou Ba and joked that she got them to come by telling them that there might be Entennman's cakes. Talented and funny!


Calexico: March 10th at The City Winery (Darius Rucker, Marshall Crenshaw, Rhett Miller, Keren Ann....)

This show was billed as John and Joey of Calexico with opening act Keren Ann. The City Winery is a new venue that's been booking some great acts and I had been wanting to check it out, so this looked like a great opportunity. I'm a big Calexico fan and was also impressed by Keren Ann a few years ago at Globalfest, so this was a no-brainer.

Little did I know that this would also be a preview of Carnegie Hall's tribute to REM which was scheduled for the next night and where Calexico would be the house band. This set included Calexico songs Two Silver Trees, Pretty Little Horses, Bisbee Blue... sprinkled with guest appearances by artists performing REM songs with Calexico, including Darius Rucker (I Believe), Keren Ann (Man on the Moon), Rhett Miller (Driver 8), Marshall Crenshaw (Supernatural Superserious) and a couple of others. (Rucker- I Believe)

At the end of the evening Judy and I spoke with Darius Rucker for a few minutes. He currently has the #1 song on the country charts, looks great and was very gracious. Apparently things turned out very well for Hootie.  

The venue was so beautiful, the sound so good and the show so much fun that I was left with a strong desire to see both Calexico and The City Winery again, the sooner the better. I suspect I will accomplish both in short order.

I should add that Keren Ann playing guitar and backed by trumpet did a beautiful set and her version of Man On the Moon with Calexico was one of the highlights of the evening. (Man on the Moon)


Betty LaVette: March 8th at Joe's Pub

Betty LaVette had her first hit on the R & B charts as a teenager in 1962 with My Man Is A Loving Man, and then again a few years later with Let Me Down Easy.  Over the next twenty years she charted with a handful of singles before fading from public consciousness.

Then something amazing began to happen. Her 2003 release, A Woman Like Me, won the W.C. Handy "Comeback Blues Album of the Year" award as well as "Female Blues Artists of the Year". She followed that with the critically acclaimed I've Got My Own Hell To Raise which featured songs written by women including Dolly Parton, Aimee Mann, Lucinda Williams, Sinead O'Connor and other distinctly non-soul artists. Any song becomes a soul song in her hands.

She usually tours with an R&B band, but this show featured only her voice and a piano. She joked that six years ago she made $50 for three sets just like this. Considering that she recently sang with Jon Bon Jovi at the Obama inauguration concert and performed a tribute for The Who at The Kennedy Center Honors (another president attended that event), I think the days of the $50 gig are over.

For this show she performed her soulful versions of an eclectic mix of songs including Leon Russell's A Song For You, The Beatles Eleanor Rigby, Neil Young's Heart Of Gold, Otis Redding's I've Been Loving You Too Long and Bruce Springsteen's Streets Of Philadelphia. Those songs represent some of my all-time favorites, but my favorite of the night was an emotional and haunting song called The High Road written for Betty by Sharon Robinson. Just beautiful! (The High Road)

Betty Lavette is one of the greatest female soul singers of all time. Bush and Obama both got to see her recently, but I got to see her do an entire set in a much more intimate setting. It's good to be king!