back JUNE 2005
Ollabelle : June 30th at South Street Seaport
This is another group I've written about several times over the last two years. Performing this time as a quintet, guitarist Jim Zhivago was not at this show, they performed songs from their debut CD along with new material from a CD due out several months down the road according to singer Fiona McBain who I had a nice conversation with before the show.
They blend gospel, country and blues standards along with some original material and do beautiful 5-part harmonies which stopped tourists in their tracks. Most interesting for me was their slow, dark, almost ominous version of When The Saints Come Marching In. You can read more about this talented bunch in my many previous reviews.
Opening the show was Sarah Lee Guthrie and husband Johnny Irion. They do mostly original, and very catchy, country and pop rock tunes with nice harmonies and some great lead and slide guitar from Johnny. They both play keyboards and guitar, actually smoothly changing places in the middle of one song so Johnny could do an amazing guitar solo, and were backed by bass and drums. Their cranked up version of Pete Seeger's Take It From Dr. King was certainly a crowd favorite. I always consider it a bonus when I enjoy the opening act.
Musically, this was a good match of opening act with headliner, but another interesting aspect is that Sara Lee is the daughter of folk icon Arlo Guthrie and Amy Helm of Ollabelle is the daughter of Levon Helm of The Band. Interesting coincidence, but that's the least of the reasons to be interested in these two groups.
Richard Thompson : June 28 at World Financial Plaza
You may be aware that this is not the first time I've seen Richard Thompson. He's a world class guitarist, picked by Rolling Stone as one of the world's top 100 guitarists, who helped pioneer the British folk rock scene in the 60's. I love his music and his guitar work never ceases to amaze me, so I rarely pass on a chance to see him. Judy is also a big fan but because she doesn't do hot and humid, this was a solo adventure.
In a way, he reminds me of Eric Clapton. There is a vague physical likeness and where Eric plays rock and blues, Richard is a rock guitarist with folk and Celtic influences. You wouldn't describe either as great singers but they both do a great job with what they've got. They were both in important groups in the 60's, Cream and Fairport Convention, and have long since established themselves as solo artists. Richard is certainly the better songwriter.
Richard has a new CD coming out in August. He said it's an acoustic album which was recorded in his house because of a limited budget. He added that the limited budget might be apparent in the poor sound quality, but not in the exorbitant price of the CD. He has a very dry sense of humor.
This free show included several songs from the new CD and a sampling of fan favorites from his vast catalog of tunes. They included Walking On A Wire, Gethsemane, Persuasion, 1952 Vincent Black Lightning, and Crawl Back among others. I read not too long ago that Vincent Black Lightning is the most requested song on public radio stations across the country. Very impressive considering it's from 1991!
Aztec Two-Step : June 24th at Satalla
About 35 years ago, Rex Fowler (pictured) and Neal Shulman heard each other at an open mike in Boston and decided to pool their talents and form Aztec Two-Step. With impressive harmonies, well crafted songs and "has to be seen to be believed" guitar work, I've often affectionately referred to them as "The Everly Brothers on speed". With Rex handling the lion's share of songwriting and lead vocals and Neal the harmonies and incredible acoustic lead guitar, they developed a unique sound which they've described as "Folk and Roll".
The first time I heard them was in 1972 when I was wandering through The Music Den, Menlo Park Mall's first music store, looking at albums and wondering about the music being played in the store. After three or four songs, I asked the girl behind the counter who she was playing and she held up an album with a picture of two young hippie-looking guys loitering in front of a Greenwich Village townhouse. Across the top read Aztec Two-Step and I immediately handed over my three or four dollars and rushed home for a listen.
Shortly thereafter, they became a staple of college and free form radio with the pseudo FM hit "The Persecution and Restoration of Dean Moriarty" (aka On The Road) and had gigs opening for Judy Collins and Harry Chapin, among others. I began to see them as often as possible and a few years later when I met Judy, she adopted them as one of her favorite groups.
In 1990, after seeing them perform numerous times, I hired them to play at a picnic in my backyard as a 10th anniversary surprise for Judy. It's still the best gift I've ever given. At the time we joked that for our 20th anniversary I'd have to hire Jackson Browne in order to top this. (that didn't happen)
Except for a few years hiatus during which neither member would say the band had dissolved, they have continued to tour and play to small but enthusiastic crowds for almost 35 years. This show at Satalla was well over 100 people and as near as I could tell, a good time was had by all. They did a a handful of songs from their recent release, Days of Horses, and a collection of fan favorites from previous albums.
I believe Days of Horses is their 10th release. If you asked me if it will be their breakthrough CD, I'd say that after 35 years of trying probably not. But that doesn't make them any less talented or deserving.
Lizz Wright : June 16th at Joe's Pub
I don't know which I feel more, tired or happy. Tired because besides being busy with work, I went to five concerts and a movie in the last nine days. Happy because despite being busy with work, I managed to see five great performances and an excellent movie in the last nine days. If I could go see one of them again, it would be this one... or the East Village Opera Company, or maybe David Poe. OK, I'd go see any of them again tomorrow!
Lizz Wright has one of the most beautiful and amazing voices in music today. Her deep sultry contralto voice just oozes warmth and emotion. She's an R&B singer with jazz and gospel influences who, like Cassandra Wilson, covers some unexpected pop and folk material and also writes or co-writes a few tunes as well.
She opened the show with an original tune, the title cut from her debut album "Salt", followed by an assortment of tunes from her new release "Dreaming Wide Awake". Those tunes included Neil Young's Old Man and Chester Powers Get Together, which was a mega hit for Jesse Colin Young in the '60's. Toshi Reagon joined her and sang harmonies for those two songs and the band included electric and acoustic guitar, upright bass and drums. All were great but the guitar work was particularly impressive. (I'll report their names next time, I told you I was tired.)
She also performed A Taste of Honey which you might know from the Kingston Trio, The Beatles, Bobby Darin, Sarah Vaughn, Julie London or Roger Whittaker to name but a few! In each case she made the songs her own.
My most pleasant surprises were my favorite Joe Henry song, Stop, and Wake Up Little Sparrow, a beautiful song by Ella Jenkins who's sort of a female Pete Seeger. I'd love to know how Lizz found that song.
Also impressive were Hit The Ground which she co-wrote with Toshi Reagon and Jesse Harris, of Norah Jones fame, and Trouble which she co-wrote with her brother, Carlos Henderson. If you're beginning to suspect that there was nothing that I didn't like, you'd be right. My friend Joseph said the best way to describe this show would be "Superb". I concur, and I've just added her CD to my best of 2005 list..
Closer To Home : June 15th at Imaginasian Theatre
My good friend Joseph Nobile, wrote produced and directed this two hour feature length film which was shown at 26 film festivals worldwide several years ago. Despite receiving excellent reviews , it was not picked up for distribution and sat on his shelf collecting dust until last year when, after being inspired by an article in the NY Times, he decided to release it on DVD and market it himself.
He contacted numerous Filipino websites, retailers, newspapers and anybody whose name sounded Filipino and now the film has taken on a new life. It's being sold on numerous websites, even amazon.com has been selling quite a few, and caught the attention of the sponsors of this film festival who invited Joseph to show the film at their festival.
You can read reviews and see more info at his website www.elibonfilms.com and also see some great reviews at www.amazon.com
East Village Opera Company: June 14th at Joe's Pub
With two violins, cello, viola, drums, two guitars, keyboard and bass, and one male and one female singer not being constrained by the intended gender of any particular song, the East Village Opera Company is performing opera in a way never imagined by Bizet or Puccini. But I'm not complaining!
The company takes some of opera's favorite and most familiar arias and duets and reworks them with contemporary arrangements. No one is implying that they make them better, only that they be can beautiful and enjoyed in different ways. Arranger and keyboardist, Peter Kiesewalter, who co-founded the troupe with vocalist Tyley Ross, announced to the audience that "anyone who says that you shouldn't mess with the original arrangements, I ask Why?"
We went to this show because we try to see anything that features our friend, Ann Marie Milazzo, who joined the group last year. We know her from having seen her perform numerous times in the Downtown Messiah and singing backup for Angelique Kidjo and Jonatha Brooke, among other things, and have been completely wowed by her every time. Tonight was no exception. In fact, when I tried to imagine what non-operatic vocalists could have done as good a job as these two, the only person I could think of was Freddie Mercury. The vocalists are astounding which is why the whole concept works. That, and the fact that the troupe loves and respects the material despite what some purists might think.
The set included my two favorite duets "Au fond du temple saint" from Bizet's The Pearl Fishers and "Viens, Mallika" by Delibes, which most people know as the British Airways theme. Also included were arias from Carmen, La Boheme, Turandot, Madama Butterfly and the most amusing offering, disco Pagliacci, complete with spinning disco ball.
They are currently in the studio working on a CD due out in September. I will definitely be adding it to my CD library. What I'm not sure of is whether I should look for it next to the East of England Orchestra or the East River Blues Band. But don't worry, I'll find it.
Laura Love Duo : June 9th at Satalla
We left The Mercury Lounge (see Jorane below) and made our way up to Satalla where we found Laura Love, Jen Todd and their posse hanging out and chatting in front of the club. We joined in the conversation and had some nice conversations with all involved. There were hoppermusic cards for all! When we finally entered the club, we met our friend John Platt from WFUV who was exiting from having just seen Italian jazz singer Chiara Civello. There is a lot to do in NYC.
Laura Love is a singer songwriter from Seattle whose music can be difficult to categorize. She's described it herself as hip-alachian or Afro-Celtic, which is to say that it's country, funky, bluesy, spiritual, folkie and it rocks. She does mostly original material but also covers Stephen Foster, Laura Nyro, Nirvana and does a funky version of Amazing Grace. How's that for eclectic? At this show she didn't do Come As You Are, the Nirvana cover.
The duo includes Laura on vocals and bass and Jen Todd on harmony and acoustic guitar. They're both great singers and the harmonies are beautiful. Jen also slips in lead vocals on a few of her original tunes. They're also both hysterical and the banter between songs is very amusing. Laura talked about her memoir called You Ain't Got No Easter Clothes, which details what is was like growing up poor and black in 1960's Nebraska. Jen added that her memoir is based on being white and privileged in Seattle and is called Dad, There's Too Much Chlorine in the Pool.
Laura also quipped that her love letter to Bush called I Want You Gone went over better here than it did in North Carolina. She added that she's glad because it's too hot for her kevlar vest. Her shows are always a good mix of great music with lots of laughs. She's another artist that we've seen many times and every time has been a treat. I suspect that this won't be the last time.
Jorane : June 9th at The Mercury Lounge
About a month ago, I was coming out of Joe's Pub and someone was handing out sample CD's. I usually give them a listen and then throw them away. This time one of the CD's was a four song disc by Jorane, a French Canadian singer songwriter and cellist. I listened to it twice on my way home and then gave it to Judy and told her to give it a listen. We were both very impressed and intrigued. How many singing cellists can you name?
I checked her web site and saw she was playing the Mercury Lounge on the same night we were going to see Laura Love at Satalla. Fortunately, her set was at 7:30 and Laura Love was 9:30 so we decided to do a double header. We're glad we did!
This was a solo show although she said she normally plays with a band. Her beautiful voice and playing won us over instantly. Her music could be vaguely compared to Enya or Tori Amos, but it was when she did a version of Led Zeppelin's Dazed and Confused that I knew this would not be the last time I would see this performer. I have to admit that I had never imagined Led Zeppelin played on cello and sung in French. What a treat!
On her new CD, The You And The Now, she collaborates with other songwriters like Daniel Lanois and Lisa Germano to bring lyrics to her sound. She had previously used her voice as an instrument, singing notes rather than words. Good move, the new material is beautiful and probably more commercial. I would have bought the CD on the spot but she didn't have them with her at this show. It'll take more than that to stop me from getting it.
After the set we spoke briefly and promised that she had not seen the last of us. You can take that to the bank.
David Poe (w/Duncan Sheik) : June 8th at Joe's Pub
About eight years ago, Judy and I went to The Bottom Line for a show that featured Jeffrey Gaines, Marry Me Jane, Mila Drumke and David Poe. We were there to see Jeffrey and had never heard of the other three; but when we left the club, we were big fans of David Poe as well. Since then, we've seen him perform numerous times and always look forward to seeing him again.
His music is an unusual mix of catchy pop tunes and jazzy lounge ballads with lyrics that can be surprisingly dark. Surprising because the music tends to be soothing and his stage persona is that of a happy, laid back surfer dude. He actually sometimes reminds me of Shaggy from the Scooby Doo cartoon. (I mean that in a loveable way)
Even his tunes that rock, have a reserved Chris Issac approach, the exception being Deathwatch For a Living Legend, a country rock tune somewhat reminiscent of Country Death Song by The Violent Femmes. It's about a terminal country rock movie star lamenting that after his demise, society will polish his legend into something he wouldn't recognize. It really rocks and was one of the highlights of this show.
In another up tempo tune, Reunion, his girlfriend invites him to her family reunion. She doesn't want to go alone because her brother's suicide has left her family a dysfunctional mess. I should add that not all his lyrics are so dark, he does have a few of love songs. I thought there was one on his soon to be released Love Is Red, which will be his third CD release, but now that I've read the lyrics, I may be wrong about that.
The CD was recorded mostly live in a studio in Germany and consists of some new songs and some new approaches to songs from previous CD's. One of the new songs, So Beautiful, is a jazzy country pop cha-cha in which he tells his ex-girlfriend that she'll find love again because she's so beautiful. The final line of the song is "You're so beautiful and I'm so sorry, but that's all". At least she can dance to it!
In between all the songs about death, betrayal and heartbreak he joked about how some recent drug commercials have given him some good ideas for monster movies. Like Zocor vs. Lipitor! Maybe the humor is the spoonful of sugar?
I should add that his band kicks butt. Sim Cain on drums and John Abbey on upright bass are simply a joy to watch. I didn't catch the keyboard player's name but he also did an excellent job and added some good backup vocals as well. Pop star Duncan Sheik also joined the band and played lead guitar on two songs and sang some great harmony on another. A pleasant surprise.
Some additional pleasures were sitting next to Wil Harcourt who turned out to be the brother of British singer/songwriter Ed Harcourt who gets a little air play on WFUV. He offered to put us on the guest list the next time his brother plays New York. We also found out that our favorite waitress at Joe's Pub, who we've always referred to as the little cutie pie, is actually named Elise. Sometimes the little things help add to a great time.