SEPTEMBER 2007             back

Carmen Consoli, Luciana Souza & Morley: Sept 25th Delacorte Theater (C. Consoli pictured)

This show was part of the "Joe's Pub In The Park" series which for two weeks in September presents a mix of free and not free shows under the stars in the beautiful Delacorte Theater in Central Park. This free show included New York singer songwriter Morley, who had very much impressed me when I saw her a couple of years ago, as well as highly regarded Brazilian jazz and bossa nova singer/songwriter Luciana Souza and Italian pop star Carmen Consoli, making the whole thing too intriguing for me to pass up.

Luciana Souza opened the evening with a set that relied heavily on her new release "The New Bossa Nova" which features songs from some of the great songwriters in modern times. The set included Down To You from Joni Mitchell, Never Die Young from James Taylor, Here It Is from Leonard Cohen, the Brazilian standard Waters Of March and an original tune that she wrote with her husband called You and the Girl.  She and her band, nylon string guitar, upright bass and drums, beautifully mixed their jazz with the easy feel of bossa nova. She sang mostly in English with a few in Brazilian Portuguese. A great start under a rising full moon.

Beside's Morley's beautiful soulful voice, which sometimes reminds me of Annie Lennox, her great band and her versatile songwriting which prevents the phenomenon of unfamiliar material all sounding similar, I'm also very impressed with how her social activism permeates her show but without seeming to dominate the show. There couldn't be a more timely song than her Women Of Hope which was inspired by Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar (Burma). A beautiful sounding song with a beautiful and inspiring message. I first heard it when I saw her two years ago and was very moved, so imagine how it resonated this week with all that's going on in that country.

 Her band included guitars, bass, cello, drums and two back up singers. All impressive. She was also joined by Persian singer Haale for the beautiful song Sever The Ties. I have a good deal more to say about this artist and her group, but since she announced that she's opening for Raul Midon next week, I'll talk more about her then. Life is good!

I was least familiar with Carmen Consoli at the start of this evening. I had read that she's one of the most popular pop stars in Italy, which isn't necessarily a plus when you consider some of the most popular pop stars in this country. So I'm delighted to report that I would see her again in a heartbeat.

She began her set solo acoustic and with her strong voice, nice guitar playing and melodic tune, I thought I would enjoy her set. Then she began adding guitars, drums, percussion, fiddle, flutes and  at one point even bagpipes, turning her set into an eclectic extravaganza. It was thrilling. She sang in Italian but explained the songs in thickly accented but completely understandable English. The music of all these artists had a certain "worldly" influence that makes them difficult to categorize but what I enjoyed most, and was most surprised by with this artist, was her ability to begin songs very gently and then rev them up into emotional driving rock anthems. She's a certifiable rock and roller who is equally comfortable with catchy pop tunes, melodic ballads or traditional sounding Italian, Gypsy or Irish influenced music.

If all this beautiful and inspiring music under the full moon wasn't enjoyment enough, I also happened upon a photo shoot before the show and shot these amusing photos. I should note that this was a beautiful 82 degree September day.

                        

 

Nick Lowe, Ollabelle, The Holmes Brothers: Sept 19th @ Ground Zero

This was the last of three nights of free music at 7 World Trade Center which is directly adjacent to Ground Zero.  This show was headlined by an acoustic solo set from Nick Lowe who performed a mix of his best loved fan favorites like I Knew The Bride When She Used To Rock and Roll, Cruel To Be Kind and What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding along with new songs from his recently released At My Age. The appreciative crowd hung on every note and lyric and couldn't be distracted by construction trucks, helicopters or hundreds of people walking by on the way home from the office. (Which is not uncommon at eight o'clock in NYC)

 I thought the set might have worked better with a full band considering the setting and the two rollicking opening sets, but judging from the crowd reaction, it wasn't an issue for most. 

I've written about Ollabelle so many times now that they should be familiar to most people here. But for the uninitiated I'll just say that their material covers a wide swath of American Roots music including Blues, Gospel, Folk and Country, all performed in beautiful five part harmonies that gets me every time.

Glen and Amy of Ollabelle

Their songs include both traditional and originals along with the occasional contemporary tune given a traditional treatment. The most obvious comparison is to The Band which is made even more obvious by the fact that singer Amy Helm is the daughter of Levon Helm of The Band. Ollabelle is one of my favorite current groups and I highly recommend that you investigate their two CD's and especially a live show.

The Holmes Brothers are three "old timers" (Sherman Holmes on bass and vocals, Wendell Holmes on guitar, keyboard and vocals and Popsy Dixon on drums and vocals) who perform Blues, Pop, Country and Gospel tunes with a distinct rock edge making them at times seem like a missing link of sorts between genres. Bob Marley, Collective Soul, Cheap Trick and Nick Lowe are just a few artists that they've covered. They also do some original material and all three take turns with lead vocals and their distinctive harmonies. A fun set and a fun evening. 

The Old 97's & The Hold Steady: Sept 17th at 7 World Trade Center

If I didn't meet my yearly quota for rock and roll on Saturday (review below this one), then I'm sure this show put me over the top. The Old 97's are a Texas alt-country rock band that crank out high energy pop and rock tunes that have great hooks, good melodies and driving drums and guitars.

Rhett Miller of The Old 97's

Led by front man Rhett Miller who does most of the lead vocals they did a quick set of catchy tunes many of which would be familiar to anyone who listens to 90.7 WFUV. (i.e. New Kid...)

The Hold Steady are a Brooklyn based indie rock band with a very animated front man who at times reminded me of Elvis Costello. My first impression was that I was going to really like them, but halfway into the set my enthusiasm diminished. They weren't bad and on another day I may have been more impressed, but on this day they just failed to reach me. Overwhelming volume may have contributed to my reaction. 

 

Cranford Musicfest: Sept 15th at Nomahagen Park Cranford, NJ (pictured Chuck Berry, The English Beat and The Smithereens)

My review for this all day event in little Cranford, NJ could be detailed and go on for pages, but I'll opt for a quick summary and a few highlights.  Each band did about a one hour set of mostly familiar material.

Chuck Berry, who'll be 80 next month, is an icon of American music and pretty much did what you'd expect, i.e. Johnny B Goode, Roll Over Beethoven...  Despite occasionally forgetting lyrics and some abrupt endings, he was impressive with what he's still able to do. His daughter contributed some good vocals and harmonica and his son some guitar.

New Jersey rock band, The Smithereens, did their fan favorites like Behind a Wall of Sleep, Time and Time Again, Blood and Roses and A Girl Like You, as well as two tunes from their recent Beatle cover album.  I love their music, I have several of their albums, but as is their custom, they play too loud often drowning out their vocal accomplishments.

The English Beat, a ska band from the 80's, had several hits back then including Mirror In The Bathroom and Save It For Later. This show also included a nice cover of The Staple Singers' I'll Take You There.

Fountains of Wayne are a power pop band from NYC who took their name from a store on Route 46 in Wayne, New Jersey. They were the most contemporary band at this show with hits like Stacy's Mom and Hackensack all over the radio, TV, department stores and ice cream parlors in the last couple of years. They did all their fan favorites as well as tunes from their recent release Traffic and Weather. Their radio friendly tunes have clever and often amusing lyrics with great hooks which has often led to comparisons that put them somewhere between The Beatles and The Monkees.

The Alarm are a Welsh band who had a bunch of hits in the 80's and have often been compared to U-2, for both their sound and their calls to social action. Some of their notable songs at this show were Absolute Reality, Rain In The Summertime and 68 Guns. Their version of 45 RPM turned into a Ramones (Blitzkrieg Bop) and Sex Pistols (Anarchy In The UK) medley, which was a highlight for me. 

Live, from York, Pennsylvania, are arguably the most successful hard rock band to emerge in the 90's. Their Throwing Copper CD sold about a gazillion copies featuring the lyrics and impressive vocals of front man Ed Kowalczyk. His voice has the ability to sing beautiful melodies and growl the harsh aggressive vocals that help define hard rock. He is certainly one of the best vocalists of the genre. They also did some fan favorites like Lightning Crashes and Dolphins Cry, along with their intriguing cover of Johnny Cash's Walk The Line and some new material.

The "little band that could" at this show was North Carolina's The Old Ceremony. They were the only band that I had never heard of before this show and the band I will most likely see again before any of these others. With cello, violin, xylophone, keyboard, drums and electric guitar, they're not exactly a typical rock combo but they were able to churn out a mix of driving rock songs, haunting melodic ballads and alt country pop tunes. Some of what they did reminded me of The Old 97's, The Kinks and The Violent Femmes. A very pleasant surprise.

The entire day was an impressive and well organized affair but I would suggest that rock and roll is not an exclusive club and maybe next year some effort can be made to include women. They could look into Patti Smith, Joan Jett, Bonnie Raitt, Chrissie Hynde or Susan Tedeschi to name a few.

 

Dobet Gnahore: Sept 10th at Joe's Pub

Last November I went to BB King's Blues Club to see a show called "Acoustic Africa" which featured two of my favorites, Habib Koite of Mali and Vusi Mahlasela of South Africa, and a third artist that I'd never heard of called Dobet Gnahore. It turned out that Dobet was a 24 year old singer from the Ivory Coast who not only held her own on stage with two world class seasoned veterans, but she shined so brightly that she became one of my new favorites long before that show ended. Not long after that she released her recent CD, Na Afriki , which has been one of my most listened to CD's of 2007.

A check of her bio turned up an amusing story of how the 12 year old Dobet told her father she was quitting school and coming to live at the artist's enclave where he spent his time. I suspect her father knew that if you stand in the way of a true artist you'll get run over and so, at 12 years old, she began her artistic training. This was a case where dropping out of school was the smart move. 

Her music includes both beautiful melodic ballads with stunningly haunting vocal harmonies, as well as energetic up tempo Afro-pop. The show featured Dobet singing, dancing and playing some percussion while backed by Nabil Mehrezi of Tunisia on bass and vocals, Colin LaRoche de Feline of France on guitar and vocals and Boris Tchango from Togo on drums. She speaks no English (she sings in French and her African language) but tried to explain some of the songs to us by reading some comments that had been written down for her phonetically. I couldn't understand half of it but was charmed by her efforts.

A good portion of the set consisted of my favorite tunes from the new CD, most notably Diguene, Yekiyi, Palea and Pillage, she didn't do Issa,  as well as tunes from her first CD with which I'm not yet familiar. On a few tunes she did some frantic African dancing which was very impressive, especially on such a small stage. Some people in the front flinched more than once and were ready to catch her if needed. (Pillage)

Many contemporary African artists are taking the styles and sounds of Western popular music, most of which has it's roots in Africa, and recycling it back through African musical traditions. The end result is a hybrid of melodies and harmonies very satisfying to Western ears, with rhythms, instruments and the vocal stylings of Africa. It now seems that Western music is having an influence on African music while Africa is simultaneously extending its influence once again into western popular music. Judging from this performance, Dobet Gnahore will be part of that process for a long time to come. I couldn't be more pleased by that prospect.

 

Paul Taylor Dance Company: September 8th in Battery Park

The Paul Taylor Dance Company, one of the most respected modern dance companies in the world,  has been entertaining audiences for over fifty years. Of course, in the 1950's not every audience would have described the experience as entertaining. As one of the pioneers of modern dance, his work for those early audiences was often seen as confusing, unsettling or even disturbing. It was not uncommon for some to leave before the conclusion of a show. Now he's recognized as one of the innovators who changed the face of dance in America.

This was the third of four nights of free dance performances which featured Limon and Phildance Dance Companies, Ballet Hispanico and Paul Taylor Dance Company among others. The program for this performance included Polaris from 1976 with music by Donald York, Company B from 1991 with music of The Andrews Sisters and a new piece called De Suenos with various Latin Music played by The Kronos Quartet.

It was a beautiful late summer evening, with great music and a world class dance troupe. And nobody left before the end of the show. I wish I had been able to attend the other evenings. Having to work for a living is sometimes very inconvenient. :-)