Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Delta Dreambox at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 11/16/07

A killer show by New York’s best blues band. That’s right: blues band. Not a bunch of deaf, beerbellied baby boomers playing Clapton and Led Zep covers at earsplitting volume: this band plays like they stepped out of a whorehouse in a pre-code Mae West movie. Delta Dreambox is yet another one of Bliss Blood’s stunningly authentic old-timey bands, along with the irresistibly romantic Moonlighters, the irresistibly dark, haunting Nightcall and her swing jazz side project Cantonement (which seems to have gone on hiatus awhile ago). That’s a lot of work, but somehow she pulls it off. With an uncanny feel (and what seems to be an encyclopedic knowledge) of seemingly every retro style ever invented, she’s a goodwill ambassador from the late 20s come back to remind us what fun really is. Tonight she was in top form, her clear-as-a-churchbell voice soaring over the excellent band behind her. With the addition of a superb piano player doing some killer barrelhouse rolls and solos, they’re sexier than ever, maybe the reason why Blood was decked out in a red vintage outfit with matching boas that left just enough to the imagination.

Slide player Mark Deffenbaugh is their not-so-secret weapon. After Henry Bogdan left the Moonlighters for the Helmet reunion tour and then his adopted state of Hawaii, Blood has become a magnet for the best slide blues players on the planet, and this new guy is no exception. When it was time to cut loose, he ripped into the songs like a panther on a helpless bunny, firing off a flurry of notes but somehow managing not to waste anything. Like Bogdan, he likes the lower registers where it’s murkiest and most sinister. The band also has an excellent blues harpist, whose airy, upbeat playing reminded of Randy Weinstein’s work with Hazmat Modine. Together they ran through a bunch of mostly more obscure songs from the 1920s and 30s, including a couple of Bessie Smith numbers, a grim, haunting song about a guy rallying valiantly against tuberculosis but ultimately succumbing, and a rousing, guitar-driven Charley Patton song to close the set. To say that this band doesn’t play often enough isn’t really fair, because Blood is so busy with the Moonlighters (they’ll be off on European tour til mid-December). As tasty as the Moonlighters’ originals are, it would be nice to get to hear her dip deeper into this genre, considering how well she pulls it off. If you’re a big Janis or Melissa Etheridge fan, Delta Dreambox is probably too quaint, quiet and old-fashioned for you. On the other hand, if you are a purist, this band will make you sweat.

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November 17, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Kirsten Williams at Bar on A, NYC 11/15/07

Kirsten Williams doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a singer-songwriter, a woman with a pretty voice and an acoustic guitar. She doesn’t need to. She makes it seem effortless, with her sweet, absolutely unaffected, slightly Kentucky-accented vocals and fluent, understatedly melodic fretwork. Country radio should seek her out: she’s got the tunes, the voice and – as horribly shallow as this is to admit, it’s inarguably true – the looks. She could be the next Kelly Willis. Which is a good thing. Her songs are terse, catchy and generally driven by disarmingly simple metaphors. Unsurprising, considering that she springs from the same fertile songwriting circle that springboarded the careers of Aimee Van Dyne, Ari Scott and Sharon Goldman, among others. It’s hard to imagine her sounding better than she did tonight.

Tonight onstage it was just her and bass player Andy Mattina, one of the busiest players in town, and for good reason: he’s one of the best players around, and he reaffirmed that. He gives this project a swing and a groove to the point where adding a drummer would be an afterthought. Mattina is well known for having great touch, lending an unexpected range of dynamics to Williams’ generally midtempo, somewhat Americana-inflected major-key pop songs. They opened with a bright, cheery country-pop number possibly called Burn Bright, Mattina taking off and embellishing the end of the tune. They followed with Happy Anyway, with its vivid East Village scenes and an impressively pro-graffiti stance. After that, they played the cleverly metaphorical To Catch a Thief: as the narrator’s cat “lulls itself to sleep with steady, heavy purrs,” she wonders who the thief is, and what’s been stolen from somebody’s heart.

The next song metaphorically examined the end of a relationship from the point of view of a prisoner searching for a way out. The following number was quite a contrast, a catchy, bouncy, 1-4-5 hit called Blue Sky. Other standout tracks Williams and Mattina delivered included the battlescarred Yesterday’s Waves, a metaphorical view of survival in rough emotional waters; the triumphant, upbeat New Lease on Life, and their best song of the night, the richly melodic, anthemic, crescendoing Down to the Road. At the end of the set, the crowd – an interesting mix of neighborhood folk and A-list New York rockers – pleaded for more. But the duo hadn’t played together in awhile and had run out of material.

Afterward we ended up at Banjo Jim’s where the high-energy Austin band the Shotgun Party were playing an upbeat Pete’s Candy Store-style blend of pop and bluegrass. The frontwoman is a cheerleader type who did the cheerleader dance throughout their set and sang cutesy, babyish lyrics in a cutesy, babyish voice, but the trio has a good upright bass player and their violinist Katy Cox was amazing. What she played could be called gypsy bluegrass. Her literally breathtaking solos were jampacked with lightning-fast sixteenth-note runs, bracing double-stops and spiraling swoops to the uppermost registers. As one member of the audience aptly put it, no matter how you felt about the band as a whole, she made them an impossible act to follow. Unsurprisingly, much of the crowd cleared out for Amy Speace, who played afterward.

In an impressive new development, Speace has taken on a strong antiwar and anti-Bush stance. A true democrat would say that having an antiwar and anti-Bush stance is a prerequisite to calling oneself a human being, and that may be true, but we need all the troops we can get, revolutionaries on the front lines no less than a rear guard quietly doing what they can to contribute to the cause. Unthinkable as it might seem at first thought, it’s people like Speace who could exert a lot more influence on the upcoming election than, say, Neil Young.

Now before you throw up and click “home” on your browser, consider that Shakey is pretty much preaching to the converted (other than the contingent of boomers who grew up to him on 70s rock radio and still get a nostalgia fix irrrespective of whatever his politics happen to be at the moment). Speace, on the other hand, doesn’t preach to anyone: it doesn’t seem that her audience is likely to lean very far one way or another, or, for that matter, to have much if any interest in voting at all. She’s just there in the background at that Starbucks in Weekawken, NJ where some bedraggled mortgage broker just might stumble in for his or her sixth HyperVigilLatte of the evening and hear Speace’s sad, plainspoken song about a woman who buries her soldier brother after his body comes home from Iraq. Maybe Speace’s otherwise completely innocuous song might encourage that bedraggled broker, or a couple of them, to actually vote, and make their vote count. And that doesn’t mean voting for Hillary. Neil Young – or Jello Biafra, or whatever Zach de la Rocha’s latest project is – probably won’t bring any upper middleclass, fortysomething Jersey housewives into the fold. But Speace can and probably will. Let’s not be ungrateful for that.

November 17, 2007 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment