Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Mamie Minch and C.W. Stoneking at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 9/14/08

Hard to imagine a blues bill in New York this year that could have been any better than the one than last night at Barbes. Mamie Minch, New York’s best-loved blues singer opened the show solo on her trusty steel guitar. The former Roulette Sisters frontwoman can be a hilarious live performer, and she worked the crowd expertly for some vocals on choruses, some call-and-response and some timely applause just as one of her predecessors would have done. B.B. King comes to mind. She opened with the title track to her excellent and surprisingly diverse solo debut, Razorburn Blues, a breathless catalog of the indignities a woman suffers just so she can “strut her stuff.” But Minch is a purist: she knows that blues is deep. There’s just as much darkness as there is fun in her music. Sung from the point of view of a woman, Minch’s reworking of the old standard Pallet on Your Floor took on a desperate, somewhat cynical edge, a striking contrast with the sly, innuendo-laden material that comprised most of her set. 

 

It’s been said that Minch sounds like she stepped out of an old 78 RPM record, and this is true, but it’s even more true of C.W. Stoneking. Australia’s #1 purveyor of oldtimey Americana has definitely done his homework. Accompanying himself on an old National steel guitar (and later banjo), he had the hoarse, scratchy voice, the slightly stentorian inflection and the vernacular of oldtime 1920s hokum blues, minstrel music and ragtime down cold. Since this was a solo show, he didn’t have his usual brass band behind him so he vocalised the sound of a trombone, to considerable laughter from the packed house. He began his set with a long, sparse, drony minor-key blues that could have been AA Bondy, barely offering a hint of the theatricality and amusement that was to come. Some of Stoneking’s best numbers are a song-within-a-song, such as the title cut on his new cd Jungle Blues, whose narrator takes his girlfriend to the seaside for some R&R while humming, of course, the Jungle Blues. But then the couple reach the shoreline and the song starts to come to life, all kinds of crazy beasties coming out of the sky!  They manage to escape to a bar where he ends up onstage triumphantly singing the song that got him in so much trouble. 

 

Another song-within-a-song possibly called Dodo Bird Blues began with Stoneking doing both the voices in a bizarre conversation between an Egyptian street peddler and the unsuspecting tourist to whom he’s trying to sell a “dodo bird.” Turns out the peddler has this both this particular dodo bird and another, apparently a slightly different species, who sings. The repartee between salesman and customer, as the tale spun along, was as funny as it was weird, in other words, period-perfect. Rather than playing full-length sets, both Stoneking and Minch alternated onstage, each playing a few songs at a time and then handing over the mic to the other performer, not a bad idea since they had the whole night – and since Stoneking is leaving town in a few days, maximizing his chances of catching the ear of stray bar customers who might have wandered in and wondered what on earth was going on in the back room. If you’re wishing you hadn’t missed this show, you’re in luck: Stoneking will be at the Jalopy Cafe on Sept 17 at 9:30 PM with the similarly retro, sensationally amusing Al Duvall.

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September 15, 2008 - Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews

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