back                                                    OCTOBER 2009

  Garth Fagan Dance Company: Oct 29th @ The Joyce Theater

You probably already know how I feel about this company.  When I saw them for the first time in 2002, about five minutes into the performance I leaned over to Judy and said "This is the best I've seen in a long time".  I still feel that way.

This was yet another beautiful and eclectic program which included Landscape For 10 (1988) (Music: "Violin Concerto in D, opus 77" by Johannes Brahms); Mudan/175/39 (New York City Premiere) with music by composers Zhou Long, Tan Dun and Lei Liang, all performed by The Ying Quartet; Oatka Trail (1979) (Music: Concerto for Cello and Orchestra in B Minor, op. 104 by Antonin Dvorak) and Life: Dark/Light (2005) with music from jazz violinist Billy Bang.  Did I say eclectic?

I expect seasoned veterans Norwood Pennewell and Nicolette DePasse to perform at a "world class" level - it's a given, but young dancers Khama Kgari and Lynet' Rochelle, whose talent has been obvious from the first time I saw them, seem to have stepped up to the next level. When either is on the stage, you can't take your eyes off of them.  Kaori Otani, who for me has not been as impressive as the others in the past, seems to have jumped up two levels and is now a wonder to behold. I think all of this speaks volumes about Garth's method.  Several other new recruits were also very impressive, especially Travis St. Denny and Lindsay Benton.  I can't wait to see them develop.

Steve Humphrey, who's been with the company for 39 years (you do the math), danced Oatka Trail, for which he won a Bessie Award in 1984.  He doesn't jump quite as high as he once did, but he's built like a warrior and still moves beautifully. I don't know how long he'll be able to continue to defy time, but I suspect this also speaks volumes to Garth's method.

Check out the balance, strength and flexibility of these dancers: (Garth video)

 

David Bromberg: Oct 28th @ Music On Main Street (Woodbridge, NJ)

This "sold-out" show was the ninth of our ten shows in our debut 2009 season, which I'm happy to report has been a great success. We have one more show in this season and have just begun working on the Spring 2010 series. Thanks to everyone who worked on the series and everyone who supported the efforts.

David Bromberg is a musicologist and a virtuoso on a number of stringed instruments, and is comfortable in a wide variety on musical genres including folk, rock, blues, country, bluegrass and jazz, or more broadly described as "American Roots" music.

This show was essentially an acoustic blues show, as David drove up from Delaware with his road manager and one acoustic guitar which, it turns out, was a big thrill for his hardcore followers who had either never experienced him totally acoustic solo or had not in a very very long time.

The set featured songs from Reverend Gary Davis, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie McTell and Big Bill Broonzy, to name a few, as well as a number of amusing or informative anecdotes, often about the particular song about to be played. The playing of the Broonzy tune was inspired by me introducing myself to David as "Big Bill" earlier in the evening.  David doesn't do requests so it was pleasing to be involved in the formation of the set list even in such an inadvertent way.

In a show with a good number of highlights (Cocaine Blues, Walking Blues, Oh Sharon....), my favorite moments were his version of the traditional Spanish Johnny, which he did as part of his encore, and when he spontaneously warned the audience that if they don't support the lesser known artists in this series that the series will not succeed. Wow, very gracious and appreciated. (Walking Blues)

I'm guessing that I'll be bringing him back as sooner rather than later. Stay tuned! 

 

  Lost In The Trees: Oct 25th @ Concerts In The Studio (Freehold, NJ)

I've written about Concerts In The Studio a couple of times before. This is the series where everyone brings a dish and after the show the audience and performers enjoy a "pot luck" dinner and talk mostly about music. The venue is a two car garage converted into a photo studio and normally has a capacity of about 55, but with this 9 piece North Carolina ensemble, the room maxed out at about 10 less than usual.

 Lost In The Trees has a lush orchestral sound fused with acoustic folk and pop sensibilities creating a sound that's their own. Entertainment Weekly described their fusion as "Vivaldi meets Death Cab For Cutie" which is a pretty good  description. The group performs with up to 14 musicians, depending on a number of variables, but the driving force is the group's front man, Ari Pickler, who writes the songs, plays acoustic guitar and sings lead vocals. He reminds me vaguely of Chris Martin from Coldplay in that he's not a great singer but the songs are so good that it doesn't matter. (For Leah and Chloe)

     

This lineup had 2 violins, 2 cellos, drums, acoustic guitar and three musicians who played a variety of instruments including glockenspiels, accordion and tubas, among others, and everybody sang backup vocals which sounded heavenly in the tiny room.  I enjoyed this set from beginning to end and it's very likely that I'll be seeing this ensemble in the future. (Time Taunts Me)

 

 Richard Thompson: Oct 23rd @ City Winery 

You may have figured out by now that Richard Thompson is one of my favorite artists on the planet. This was the last of three "all-request" shows where anyone interested could write down one song and drop it in a big silver bowl from which Richard would choose requests. I wrote down an older song called Taking My Business Elsewhere, which I've never heard him perform in concert and which is certainly one of the saddest song ever written (maybe that's why he didn't play it).

After turning in my request, I ran into a friend who said that on the previous nights some people suggested songs that were not Richard Thompson's and he performed several of them. He had a person just off stage with a computer printing out music from the internet for the songs he needed. Very clever!

So aside from a cross section of Richard's (and Linda's) songbook, including Walking On A Wire, Down Where The Drunkards Roll, Never Again, When The Spell Is Broken, 1952 Vincent Black Lightening, Al Bowlly's In Heaven and Hard On Me, we were also treated to classics like Monster Mash, Friday On My Mind and Don't Dream It's Over. That last tune was a big hit for Crowded House but the request read "Play a song you didn't write but wish you had".  A great result to that request.  Anytime he picked a song he didn't want to play, he amusingly pretended it was another request for Monster Mash. (Don't Dream It's Over)

And so it went, great songs and dry humor, all evening.  Word's can't really capture the experience, which is why I try to experience the real thing as often as I'm able.  This gives you some idea : (When The Spell Is Broken)

 

Acoustic Poco: Oct 21st @ Music On Main Street

Poco's first album was released in the late 60's and the title, Pickin' Up The Pieces, referred to the group's forming out of the ashes of the recently disbanded country-rock super group Buffalo Springfield. Their roster has included Rich Furay and Jim Messina, as well as Randy Meisner and Timothy B. Schmit, both of whom eventually ended up in The Eagles (Schmit actually replaced Meisner both times). Rolling Stone Magazine gave that first album a rare 5-star rating but the group's first "big time" commercial success came with 1978's Legend, which had the hits Crazy Love and Heart Of The Night.

Acoustic Poco consists of founding member Rusty Young who plays guitars, steel guitar, dobro and mandolin, guitarist Paul Cotton who joined the group around 1970 and wrote one of their signature songs Bad Weather, and newcomer Jack Sundrud on bass who's only been with the band about 25 years. All sing and harmonize beautifully.

This show featured a cross section of the bands catalog including the three previously mentioned songs as well as fan favorites like Good Feelin' To Know and Keep On Tryin', which were written by former members.  Jack Sundrud also did an original tune which most people agreed was one of the highlights of the show.  Rusty joked that Jack joined Poco because he had heard that all their bass players end up in The Eagles, but he's been waiting 25 years for Don Henley to call.

They also did a couple of Buffalo Springfield songs and Rusty told the story of how as a teenager his local band opened for Buffalo Springfield and in their youthful ignorance did a set of Springfield songs. It was very funny! The whole evening was a relaxed affair with great music and amusing stories. Below are a few pictures sent to me from photographer Kevin Papa from Cranford, NJ.  It looks like I was having a good time!!

                     

 

 

Mulebone: Oct 19th @ The Rodeo Bar

Mulebone is an "American roots music" duo that features Hugh Pool on guitars, harmonicas and lead vocals and John Ragusa on just about anything he can blow into, including flutes, cornet, tin whistles and even conch shells, and backup vocals. They do a mix of original tunes with an assortment of traditional country blues, boogies and rags.

 I first encountered them at The Bottom Line back in the 90's as one of the acts in The Downtown Messiah, a Greenwich Village interpretation of Handel's Messiah, where an assortment of artists each did a song from the Messiah but in their own discipline. It was performed as jazz, blues, country, rock, folk and gospel with the choral parts done in traditional fashion with an 18 person choir. It was becoming one of New York's budding  Christmas traditions before the demise of that establishment. Mulebone was always one of the highlights of that show and always blew the roof off the place.

I've seen them in an occasional tribute show since then, but thought it was time to catch one of their own sets. They proved to still be a unique and dynamic act with a mix of traditional tunes like Jesus Is On The Mainline and I'll Be Alright with some new material from an upcoming release. These guys should be getting more attention. (I'll Be Alright) 

 

Steve Forbert: Oct 7th @ Music On Main Street

I wrote a nice preview to this show which was read by only a few people so rather than review the show, (it was good, it was fun and a good time was had by all) I thought I'd give my preview another shot at the world.

Steve Forbert…..Is he still around?

I came to realize a long time ago that, musically speaking, I inhabit a parallel universe. In my universe it makes no difference who’s been nominated for a Grammy, has a platinum record or is #1 on the charts, the only thing that matters is whose music excites or fascinates me. So, even though I go to about 75 concerts a year, maintain a music web site and often get calls from friends to settle music trivia debates, I can’t tell you the name of a Madonna, Whitney Houston or Britany Spears CD.  

The difference between these two worlds is most clearly illustrated to me by the number of times I tell someone I’m going to see some important, even iconic, musical figure like Dr. John, Van Morrison or Allen Toussaint, only to have them respond, “Who’s that” or “Is he still around”?  

This all comes to mind because earlier this year I began working with the people of Town Hall in Woodbridge to develop a new Wednesday evening concert series called “Music On Main Street”. One of our Springtime shows featured British rock star Graham Parker, and the fall series, which opened on September 16th with acoustic blues man Guy Davis, will also be featuring David Bromberg, whose Mr. Bojangles is one of the most popular versions of the song, country rock legends Poco, which is the band that spawned two of The Eagles, and several others . 

When I tell people that Bromberg and Poco are coming to Woodbridge, the most common response is something akin to “Holy cow!”, but when I add that our next show on October 7th is Southern singer/songwriter Steve Forbert, several people have responded, “Is he still around?”. So, I thought a brief update might be in order. 

Steve Forbert burst into my universe in 1978 with his debut masterpiece, Alive On Arrival thought by many to be among the finest debut albums in popular music history. That a young man from Mississippi with an acoustic guitar and harmonica could write so poignantly about the experience of a young country boy coming to the big city in search of his dreams took my music world by storm. The critics instantly anointed him “The next Dylan” which was a moniker given to many but survived by few. (Springsteen did, but who remembers Elliot Murphy?)

The album brilliantly captures naïve optimism and the harsh reality simultaneously. It Isn’t Gonna Be That Way is a heartbreaking ballad of a young man telling a woman who believes she’s found her soul mate and has her life clearly laid out in front of her that he has other plans. It’s as sad as any country song you’ve ever heard.  Tonight I Feel So Far Away from Home is another beautiful ballad which rivals the loneliness of Hank Williams. (Isn't Gonna Be...)

But the album also relates the wide-eyed wonder of a country boy’s first look at the biggest of big cities with Grand Central Station March 18, 1977 and the joy and anticipation of a trip back to his “dirty stinking town” because a girl ‘who’s a fool for loving me” is waiting for him in Goin’ Down To Laurel.  (Laurel video)

Forbert burst into that other world, which is fair to call the commercial world of music, a year later with his sophomore effort, Jack Rabbit Slim, which contained the mega hit Romeo’s Tune which could be heard from the boardwalks at the Jersey Shore to the aisles of Walmart, as well as on every radio in the free world. There are some who feel the album surpassed the debut, although I am not one of those people. It was a fine album regardless.                  

In that commercial world, Forbert’s star shone brightly and faded quickly as men in suits who count well decided they could sell more records with electronica and dance music and so A Flock Of Seagulls and The Thompson Twins became their “raison d’etre”, and it fell to people in my universe to sustain the poets, troubadours, traditionalists and innovators. 

So, to answer the question “Is he still around?”, let me say that his most recent CD, The Place and The Time was released this year and his previous CD, Strange Names and New Sensations was released in 2007. He no longer writes with the “wide-eyed wonder” of a young country boy, but with a voice that has experienced life’s joys, sorrows, trials and tribulations; a voice that has learned to appreciate life’s simple pleasures and count its blessings. One thing that hasn’t changed is he still knows how to put a good story to a good melody.