JUNE 2007                   back

 Lura: June 30th at Joe's Pub

It's fitting as a music junkie that in a month which included favorites Richard Thompson, Cassandra Wilson, Habib Koite and Lizz Wright, I was able to finish up with a hit of Lura. Fortunately, the only side effect from my drug of choice is a sense of well-being and satisfaction, which at times could be described as nirvana.

This is the fourth time I've written about her in the last 18 months, so if you're familiar with this site but not with her music then you need to remedy that condition. Her two most recent CD's are two of the favorites in my collection. After this set my friend Anna introduced Judy and me to her friend Iliana from Cape Verde, who I think has convinced me to pick up Lura's earlier work as well.

The music of Cape Verde includes influences from Cuba, Brazil, Portugal and Africa, among others. It's melodic, rhythmic, sometimes sensual and usually fun. Her voice is warm and powerful and she's moves beautifully. On a few numbers she dances up such a storm that it's worth the price of admission just for that. She sings in Portuguese and Creolo but her English gets better each time I see her so she's better able to explain the songs. You can read my previous reviews for more details about her amazing band or specific songs, or you could just go to any retail music site and listen to songs from M'bem di fora and di korpu ku alma. If you do, there's a good chance I'll see you the next time she plays in NYC.

As if it wasn't enough to finish off my month with such a beautiful and talented artist, we also had the great pleasure of sitting next to and conversing with another of my favorite artists, Habib Koite from Mali. For more on him simply simply scroll down. I saw him perform the night before this one. I think I need to go take a vitamin pill to prepare for July!  Or at least a nice long nap.

 

Andy Palacio and The Garifuna Collective : June 29th at G.R. N'Namdi Gallery (w/Habib Koite opening)

This little gathering was presented by Paranda Media and Cumbancha in support of an "in production" documentary film called Punta Rock, about a Central American music style of which Andy Palacio and his Garifuna Collection are at the forefront. I had previously seen Andy and his band at Globalfest and was very impressed. Their vocal harmonies and high level of energy really get my musical juices flowing. They featured songs from Palacio's most recent release, Watina, a beautiful work which I highly recommend. There is so much more I could say about this talented bunch but I'm so pressed for time that I'll leave it to your own musical curiosity to investigate further. I have no doubt that you'll hear more from me on these guys in the future.

Habib Koite opened with a short solo set. You've seen him these pages several times before. This amazing singer/guitarist from Mali is one of my favorite artists. His new CD, Afriki, comes out in September. I've already heard it and it will be difficult for any other CD to replace it as my favorite for this year. Absolutely beautiful from beginning to end. I believe he'll be touring after its release and it's safe to assume that when he's plays NYC, I'll be there!

                

Sinead O'Connor: June 26th at Joe's Pub

In reality, I should not have been at this show. This was the release day for her new CD, Theology, and her record company reserved almost all the show tickets for media and industry people. I do sometimes  get free tickets or CD's because of my site, but not for artists of Sinead's stature. So when I heard about this show I immediately tried to buy tickets but the few tickets made available to the public, apparently sold out in about 63 seconds. 

So I e-mailed my contact at the pub to see if maybe I could wrangle a press pass, but he referred me to Sinead's  record company who were handling all that. The contact at the record company was very nice, thanking me for supporting Sinead, I had sent her a link to my 2005 Webster Hall review (bought my own tickets for that), and said that although all the tickets were locked down, she'd keep my e-mail handy in case any became available. Very nice but I decided on not holding my breath!

My one last chance was 90.7 WFUV radio station from Fordham. As a dues paying member of the public station, I often get free tickets to artists of any stature such as Dianna Krall, Jackson Browne and Morrissey, to name a few. In fact, about seven or eight years ago I got to see Sinead's "Sessions From 54th Street" show because of 'FUV. But alas, even 'FUV was not plugged into this show so no tickets were offered.

I had resigned myself to doing something else when I received an e-mail from Shannon, who had seen my web site, saw that I frequented Joe's Pub and had some questions for me. Shannon had discovered my site on some Sinead message board where a disappointed fan was saying how unfair it was that media gets to go to this show but real fans are out in the cold, or out in the heat as the case was, and used my web site as an example of someone not deserving to go. Because of that post, Shannon had assumed that I was going to the show but found out after a few e-mails that I was, in fact, NOT going and offered me an extra ticket! Isn't life grand!

Joe's Pub works on a tight time schedule so the show was basically ten songs from Theology plus a few older tunes. It's a two disc set, one with acoustic versions and one with full band versions of the same songs. The title should give you a hint that the songs are spiritual in nature and Sinead said at the show that the lyrics are either directly from scriptures or a mix of scriptures and her ranting. Sinead sang and played acoustic guitar and was backed by Bill Shanley on another acoustic guitar, so obviously these were not the full band versions.

It was a beautiful and intimate set. Whether she uses her voice as a prayer or a call to action there is always a sense of deep emotion. I particularly enjoyed Watcher Of Men, 33 (Psalm 33) which she dedicated to her son and If You Had A Vineyard. I also liked the three covers from the CD, Curtis Mayfield's We People Who Are Darker Than Blue, The Melodian's great reggae classic Rivers Of Babylon and the Tim Rice/Andrew Lloyd Webber tune I Don't Know How To Love Him from Jesus Christ Superstar. That last one could seem like an unusual choice but her performance was very moving and beautiful. It worked for me. Her older tunes, Big Bunch of Junkie Lies and Black Boys on Mopeds, seemed strangely at home in the spiritual set as well.

After the set I had the opportunity to chat briefly with Sinead. At the end of the brief conversation, I told her that many people here tonight might try to claim to be her biggest fan but that I could say with certainty that I was her tallest fan at the show. She laughed and said "that's for sure." (I didn't just make up "Big Bill", I'm 6'6" tall). I hope something good happens for the guy who was unhappy with hoppersmusic. I am indebted to him and wouldn't want to waste any good Karma .

 

Passing Strange Passing Strange: June 24th at The Public Theater

Reflecting on this new musical theater piece at the Public Theater, the thought that keeps leaping out in my mind is that for the first forty minutes of this show I laughed harder and more frequently than any other forty minute stretch of time in recent memory..........probably since I saw The Producers in previews.......and great humor only begins to explain why I loved this show.

The story, directed by Annie Dorsen,  is presented as an autobiographical account of a young artist's journey of musical and personal discovery. That artist, Stew, wrote the book and lyrics for the show and co-wrote the music with his bass player Heidi Rodewald. Stew also narrates the story, sings, plays guitar and casts many regretful stares at the young Stew played beautifully by Daniel Breaker.

As a young middle-class black man with a rock and roll dream, his battle isn't with racism but with not being comfortable in his own skin. His mother wants him to attend church to feel the Lord, but all he feels is the power of the music.  It's clear he's a round peg in a square hole when his young ambitious girlfriend tells him he needs to act more black, but not so much that he's unemployable. What a great line!

So, with the encouragement of the Reverend's son who claims he's been chained to the church organ by his father or he'd have gone himself, our young aspiring artist heads to Amsterdam to pursue his artistic dreams. Unfortunately, the free love, hash, openness and non-judgmental attitudes of the liberal city completely engulf his creative juices. A call from his mother makes him realize he's wasting his time and needs to move on. You have to love his mother played with simple elegance by the beautiful Eisa Davis. It's his relationship with her, or his failure to recognize the importance of it, that is at the heart of the story.

The second act finds him in Berlin where a group of revolutionary artists want to know why they should accept him into their coven. With faux anger, he tells them they know nothing about being black in America, about living in the ghetto, pan-handling for dimes to survive till the next day. As the revolutionaries enthusiastically welcome young Stew, the modern Stew pipes in that nobody in this play knows what that's like either. He begins to establish himself as an artist in Berlin and at a press conference to discuss his music, a reporter asks him how to fry her chicken all the way through without burning the batter. He turns his palms skyward and gives his "best guess" answer and I almost fell off my seat.

The balance of the superb cast includes De'Adre Aziza, Colman Domingo, Chad Goodridge and Rebecca Naomi Jones who each play characters in all three cities. All are delightful but Domingo is particularly notable with all of his characters played larger than life. Actually, the four musicians, who are partially submerged at the four compass points of the stage, interact with the cast a number of times with great comic effect and so are essentially also part of the cast.

The music mostly covers various rock incarnations like punk, psychedelic music, garage rock, electronic and even melodic pop ballads but also includes some Gospel and avant-garde cabaret with a Kurt Weill sensibility. Stew has released four CD's over the years, two with his L.A. band called The Negro Problem, which should give you a hint of his quirky humor, and two as Stew. All have been critical darlings but commercially ignored.   This play could actually be the vehicle that brings him into public consciousness. It only runs one more week at the Public Theater but I can't imagine it won't have a life after that. It's just too good to quietly go away.

 

India.Arie and Lizz Wright: June 22nd at Carnegie Hall

This was part of the JVC Jazz Festival and billed as an evening of sweet Georgia Soul. Both artists grew up in Georgia but take very different approaches to soul singing. Lizz brings more jazz, gospel and blues influences while India utilizes urban and pop styles more. Both are vocalists of the highest order and Lizz Wright is, as a matter of fact, my favorite young vocalist in music today. So I will begin with her opening set of this double bill.

I first reviewed Lizz Wright four years ago in June and July of 2003 and then again in 2004. That should be a hint of how I feel about her talent. Her beautiful contralto voice is, in my opinion, the purest vocal instrument in popular music today. But, like Cassandra Wilson, it's her song selection that intrigues me as much as her arrangements and vocal prowess. See, and hear, for yourself on this youtube video: (Hit The Ground)

Her set included a handful of songs from her first two CD's including a funky version of the traditional gospel tune "Walk With Me Lord" from her debut CD titled Salt. The song featured an amazing vocal solo from Catherine Russell who was singing backup and playing mandolin. From her second CD  Dreaming Wide Awake, she performed her original tunes Trouble and Hit The Ground, co-written with Carlos Henderson and Toshi Reagon respectively.

The set also included works from a CD in progress, which will feature several songs co-written with Toshi Reagon, and some interesting covers ranging from Ike and Tina turner, Bernice Johnson Reagon (Founder of Sweet Honey in The Rock and Toshi's mother) and the biggest surprise of all, Thank You from Led Zeppelin II. The tempo and arrangement was not all that different from Zeppelin's although you would not likely confuse the vocals.

Another little surprise were keyboardist Glen Patscha and guitarist Orin Bloedow, both of whom I saw play the night before with Ollabelle, and percussionist Jeffrey Haynes who plays with Cassandra Wilson. I guess it is a small world after all. I'll finish with Lizz the same way I finished with Ollabelle. You should see this singer. Enough said.

India.Arie burst on the scene several years ago with her debut CD Acoustic Soul which had a commercial hit with the song Video and garnered her seven Grammy nominations. Her urban and pop style is sometimes not as appealing to me as Lizz Wright, but there's no denying she's an enormous talent.

During this show she played guitar, piano and flute, sang mostly original songs with her impressive soulful voice and spread her message of love and happiness through her lyrics and her stories. She actually said that her stated mission is to spread love and happiness through the power of words and music. There are less noble goals.

My favorite songs of the set were the more acoustic introspective songs like Wings Of Forgiveness which was inspired by her meeting Nelson Mandela, a cover of Don Henley's Heart Of The Matter and a new song called If These Walls Could Talk which she said she didn't include on the new CD because it was so sad. Too bad because it was stunningly beautiful.

She featured several songs from the new release including her opening number I Am Not My Hair,  along with There's Hope and Good Morning to name a few. She asked the audience if they would feel cheated if she didn't perform Video and they let her know in no uncertain terms that "Yes", they would feel let down. So she performed it, and they were all happy, but I wondered what we didn't hear so everyone could hear a song they've all heard countless times. I do understand how they feel and I also understand that I think a little differently than most people on such matters. This month isn't over yet but I'm already certain it's a candidate for the best music month I've ever experienced, and that's saying something!

 

Richard Thompson w/Ollabelle opening: June 21st in Prospect Park Brooklyn

While standing on line for this show I was listening to a conversation between four guys, ages twenty something to almost sixty, which meandered thru Adrian Belew, Tom Verlain and Television, David Byrne, The Losers Lounge, The Grateful Dead and so on. They talked about their first concerts, who they were going to see next week and basically all things musical. They were like me! I chirped in at one point that my first concert was Vanilla Fudge (You Keep Me Hanging On) in 1967 and I think they were impressed and amused.

I bring this up because when the show was ready to start, John Platt from WFUV introduced Richard Thompson as a guitarist's guitarist and a songwriter's songwriter. John's introduction got me to thinking about the fact that most times when I mention Richard Thompson, a majority of people have never heard of him and yet he sells out venues like Tarrytown Music Hall or Town Hall easily.

The reason for that is that the audience fills up with musicians, songwriters and music fanatics like myself and the four guys in front of me, all of whom know that Richard Thompson is a unique artist (unique is too ordinary a word for him) whose performances, solo or with a band, usually have a jaw dropping effect. Watching him play his guitar is simply thrilling, his songwriting is stellar and I even like his voice. I would compare his voice to Eric Clapton's in that it's emotional and effective but nobody goes to see him for his voice. I do find Richard's voice to be stronger than Eric's. 

This show was with his band, which included the amazing Pete Zorn on assorted horns and guitars, and featured several tunes from his new CD, Sweet Warrior, including Bad Monkey, I'll Never Give Up, Take Care The Road You Choose and Needle and Thread. There were also plenty of older tunes and fan favorites like Wrong Heartbeat, Hard On Me and, of course, his 1991 pseudo hit 52 Vincent Black Lightening, which is the most requested song on public radio nationwide to this day.

Maybe he's too good for the general public but musicians and music nuts all agree, as well as 4 out of 5 dentists, that you don't miss a Richard Thompson show.

Ollabelle opened the show and Richard Thompson commented during his set that he thinks they're one of the finest bands around. I agree, and have said so in my several previous reviews of them. This diverse group of artists came together several years ago on the lower East side at a Sunday night Gospel jam and something clicked. They recorded a demo which got the attention of T-Bone Burnett who signed them and produced their self-titled debut CD. Last year they released their sophomore effort "Riverside Battle Songs" which was produced by Larry Campbell. Note: Those are "big time" producers.

Their music can be generally described as American Roots which includes Gospel, blues, country and folk music. Their eclectic repertoire includes traditional tunes, original tunes written in traditional styles and covers, like The Rolling Stones "I Am Waiting", performed like traditional roots music.

They're excellent musicians with an impressive grasp of musical history but it's their 5 part harmonies which blow me away. I feel like I can float away on their wave of harmonies. (listen for yourself)

The band consists of Levon Helm's daughter Amy Helm (vocals, mandolin), Australian Fiona McBain (vocals, guitar), Byron Issacs (bass, vocals),Tony Leone (drums, vocals), Glenn Patscha (keyboards, vocals) and I'm guessing that Oren Bloedow has replaced Jim Zhivago on guitars although he's not yet listed as a member of the band. You should see this band. Enough said!

 

Lucy Kaplansky: June 20th at Madison Square Park

Back in the eighties, Lucy was in a folk duo with Shawn Colvin which she quit to pursue her doctorate in Psychology. But after getting her degree and starting a practice, her old music friends like Shawn and Suzanne Vega kept dragging her into studios to sing harmonies on their work.  Eventually, the call of music became too strong to resist and she returned to what it's clear she should be doing.

She's just released a new CD called Over The Hills but this show was more a retrospective covering material from throughout her career. One song from the new CD was her cover of June Carter Cash's Ring Of Fire made famous by Johnny Cash. She also did an abbreviated version of Johnny's I Walk The Line and covered Paul McCartney's I've Just Seen a Face, which was a hidden track on her first CD.

From her second CD, Ten Year Night, she performed the beautiful title cut which is the story of meeting her husband, as well as End Of The Day and Somewhere Out There. Also in the set was the bluesy Hole In My Head and the title cut from The Red Thread.  She even slipped in a tune from Cry Cry Cry, her adventure with Dar Williams and Richard Shindell, and an unfinished tune about her brother Spike which was very moving. She joked that her brother, Spike Kaplansky, had the coolest name in the world.  It does make an impression.

Many of Lucy's songs are stories and she's prone to telling stories between songs as well, making the experience seem very personal. Her four year old adopted daughter, Molly, is the subject of many of those stories. She was there with most of her pre-school graduating class who formed a joyful dancing mosh pit of 4 and 5 year olds in front of the stage. That was slightly distracting on Lucy's serious songs but mostly they were just fun to watch. 

Her finger picking guitar style suits her songs perfectly and backed by Duke Levine's guitar and mandolin they pack a punch when needed. I've seen Lucy many times and always leave her shows with a sense of well being. I ran into several WFUV listeners at the show who I suspect would know what I mean by that.

 

Tina Dico: June 18th at Joe's Pub

It's always difficult for one person with one guitar to go on stage and really impress me. That's because there are a half million people out there doing that for a living who sing, play or write pretty well. But pretty well translates into "been there, done that". For someone to impress me with one voice and one guitar they have to offer something extraordinary. That's why I go see artists like Martin Sexton, Raul Midon or Jeffrey Gaines over and over. They are so extraordinary that I can never tire of their live performances.

Tina Dico may have just entered that club. This was my first time seeing her live. I heard her on the radio (David Dye's World Cafe) about a year ago and was so impressed that I bought her CD "In The Red". It immediately became one of the most listened to CD's for both me and Judy. It's filled with beautiful ballads and pop rock tunes that have great melodies, good hooks and smart lyrics all delivered with a warm but powerful voice.

For this show she performed solo on guitar (one song on piano) and played several tunes from the CD including Nobody's Man, Room With a View, My Mirror and the title cut. She also added several songs from a CD in progress two of which were titled He Doesn't Know and Quarter To Forever. I enjoyed the new material as much as the familiar which bodes well for the new CD.

One surprise was her cover of Bob Dylan's Don't Think Twice, it's Alright. She recently had a gig for a room full of golfers and thought she better add something familiar to the set. It apparently went well because she decided to add it to her set list.

On My Mirror she created some tape loops to add harmonies and some guitar which was very effective and fun to watch. She's got the whole package, including personality and stage presence, and I enjoyed this set from beginning to end. She doesn't play NYC as often as the other aforementioned artists, but it's a safe bet that the next time she does, I'll be there. 

A Fine Frenzy (Alison Sudol & co.) opened the show and musically that was a good match. If this picture reminds you of Tori Amos, some of her music might have as well. Backed by two musicians who played drums, keyboard and sometimes acoustic guitar, the songs had that pop/rock/indie feel of artists like Tori, Coldplay or Keane. The set was a little uneven with a few songs that I liked very much and a couple that were less memorable, but overall I heard lots of potential.  Ranger was upbeat and catchy and Almost Lover hauntingly beautiful. Her voice was very impressive when she belted out the high notes but occasionally drifted off key in the lower register. As powerful as her voice was, I think maybe nerves had something to do with that. It was their first show in NYC so a little anxiety is to be expected. Their first CD comes out in July and I think it's going to be worth a listen.

 

Cassandra Wilson w/Olu Dara: June 15th in Central Park

This was opening night for the new season of the free concert series in Central Park called Summerstage. I'm trying to keep my reviews short this month because I'm so busy, but I love this singer so much that it's going to be difficult to do.

Cassandra Wilson is one of my favorite contemporary vocalists for a number of reasons including, of course, her deep smoky voice, great arrangements and great band which for this show included regulars Marvin Sewell on guitar, Reginald Veal on bass, Herlin Riley on Drums, a percussionist whose name I missed and special guest Cyrus Chestnut on piano. But I think the biggest reason I love her is that it seems we have such a similar taste in music.

A sampling of the set list for this show is a good example of her eclectic taste with Jimmy Webb's Wichita Lineman, Cyndi Lauper's Time After Time and Shall We Dance from the Broadway play The King and I.  It also included standards like Sweet Georgia Brown and Blue Skies. When she asked for requests, a few people yelled out You Move Me, which she sang, but from where I was sitting , many more people yelled out a U-2 song called Love Is Blindness which she didn't perform. That's one of my all time favorite songs but I was unaware that so many other people felt the same way about that song. If you've never heard her version of it, you really should move it to the top of your "Things to do" list.

On her CD's she also covers Sting, Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Van Morrison to name a few. Not your standard jazz repertoire! I'm guessing that by now you should be curious, so on to other topics.

Mississippi jazz and blues singer and coronet player,  Olu Dara, has played with many of the jazz greats over the years, including Cassandra Wilson, and has put out two well reviewed solo CD's. His set included several songs from his 1998 release From Natchez To New York, including the somewhat popular Rain Shower and Your Lips ("your lips are juicy") and two dancers joined him on stage for Harlem Country Girl from the same CD.

He seemed like quite a character, often starting conversations with friends in the audience in the middle of a song, sometimes making the conversation part of the song. Cassandra, who's also from Mississippi, joined him for his encore to the great delight of the crowd. This was a great way to open the new season.

 

The Neville Brothers: June 14th at Prospect Park Brooklyn

For thirty years the Neville Brothers have held the post of ambassadors for everything New Orleans, a position formerly held by Louis Armstrong. They seem to have the philosophy that if you can't come to Mardi Gras, then they'll bring Mardi Gras to you.

The brothers, Aaron-vocals, Art-b3 organ/vocals, Charles-sax/vocals and Cyril-percussion/vocals, came together under the family name in 1977 after twenty years of performing under various incarnations. They incorporate jazz, blues, reggae, soul and funk, among others, into their repertoire, but all of it ends up with the flavor of New Orleans. Like a musical gumbo.

This two hour set on a comfortably cool evening opened the new season for "Celebrate Brooklyn" and included many of their best known songs like Yellow Moon, Tell It Like It Is, Sister Rosa, Fire On The Bayou and Sam Cooke's A Change Is Gonna Come. Theirs is maybe the best known version of the famous Sam Cooke tune. They also performed Don't Know Much, the mega hit duet that Aaron recorded with Linda Ronstadt many moons ago.

Their sets always include an interesting collection of cover tunes, often funkified, and on this night we were treated to Marvin Gaye (Mercy Me), Bill Withers (Use Me) and Dobie Gray (Drift Away). (You know it: "I want to get lost in your rock and roll and drift away").  They also did an instrumental jam of Besame Mucho with Charles just going wild on the sax. Very impressive!

I think this was my fifth or sixth time seeing the Neville's and several people I spoke with had seen them many more times than that. They're the type of band that if you do go see them for the first time, I assure you it won't be your last time. It's hard to resist such a good party.

 

Joan Armatrading: June 12th World Financial Plaza

I have so many shows to attend in the upcoming weeks that I need to edit myself and keep my reviews short and sweet. So many concerts and so little time.

Singer, songwriter and guitarist, Joan Armatrading was born in the West Indies and raised in England. Although she's had several hits here including Show Some Emotion, Love and Affection and Me Myself I, she's never reached the level of recognition that she enjoys back in England.

Her new CD, Into the Blues, is a collection of original blues tunes which is somewhat of a change in direction for the artist best known for soul, folk and pop. It's a given that her songwriting and singing are both of the highest caliber, but this show allowed her to show off her guitar chops as well. Backed by bass, drums and keyboard, her new tunes impressed me enough to want to investigate the CD. The set was dominated by the new material but, of course, lots of old favorites were also mixed in.

 

Ryan Shaw: June 8th at J&R Music World

Ryan Shaw has just released his debut CD appropriately titled "This Is Ryan Shaw". It's a mix of originals and classic soul tunes, all performed in the style of sixties soul singers like Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. When I heard he was doing a lunch time "in store" performance at J&R, I jumped on the PATH train, walked two blocks to J&R, saw the short set and was back from lunch almost on time. (Hey, you only live once)

For this acoustic set, he was backed with only one guitar which made it easy to appreciate his voice which can be soulful, pleading, gritty and romantic. He performed three songs including originals We Got Love and his new single Nobody.  Later in the day he was opening for Joss Stone in Central Park where I'm guessing he picked up quite a few new fans. I suspect you'll be hearing more from him in the not too distant future. Check out my youtube videos and you can see and hear why.