Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 9/5/10

OK, we missed a day (up at Graceland North celebrating Labor Day). But our daily countdown of the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1 continues. Sunday’s album was #877:

Jimmy Reed – At Carnegie Hall

This 1961 album is neither live nor was it recorded at Carnegie Hall, but it is the great bluesman at the peak of his sly, seductive, sleepy power. It’s a bedroom album right up there with anything Al Green or Sade ever recorded, a dusky, nocturnal tour de force. Reed was a big hit with the ladies but also with the guys for his wry sense of humor and his confident subtlety: he doesn’t beg, he beckons. This one gets the nod over the others in his catalog because it’s a double album with more tracks. It’s got all the big hits: Bright Lights, Big City; Baby What You Want Me to Do; Big Boss Man; Going to New York; Take Out Some Insurance, and Ain’t That Loving You Baby. And who’s that laid-back, terrifically interesting, counterintuitive drummer? Believe it or not, that’s Albert King. Extra props to Reed for helping launch that guy’s career. Here’s a random torrent.

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September 6, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 8/21/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #892:

Albert King – Live Wire/Blues Power

A characteristically intense yet nuanced concert recording by the great blues guitarist, clearly amped to be playing in front of a captive audience at the Fillmore West in 1968, probably making twice as much as he did playing the chitlin circuit where he honed his chops. Like a lot of lefthanded guitarists (Hendrix, Otis Rush, Randi Russo), Albert King had an instantly recognizable, signature style, in his case a finely honed, bent-note attack where he could say more with a note’s subtle inflection than most players could say in an entire album. This album captures both sides of King, his subtlety and ferocity, in a mix of extended excursions – Elmore James’ Blues at Sunrise and a sprawling, ten-minute version of King’s own Blues Power – as well as a spirited blast through the instrumental Night Stomp and a bit later, B.B. King’s Please Love Me. Booker T. & the MGs drummer Al Jackson Jr. is his magnificently understated, groovemeister self and the rest of the band hangs back and lets King do his thing without getting in the way. Ask any fan of electric blues if they have this and the answer is that most of them do. As good as King is on this date, he’d get even better as the years wore on: pretty much any bootleg from the 80s has at least a few transcendent moments. Here’s a random torrent.

August 21, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/19/10

Every day, for the next forty days anyway, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s song is #40:

Albert King – As the Years Go Passing By

The studio version of Don Robey’s dark, stately, minor-key 6/8 blues ballad on the 1965 Born Under a Bad Sign album is ok, but it’s the live versions that really haunt. The best we know of is a ten-minute version on a 1979 double live album on the French Tomato label. The link above is a nice extended version from that same period.

June 18, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/15/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is #408:

Chris Thomas King – Bonnie & Clyde in D Minor

Best known for his deadpan portrayal of the blues singer in O Brother Where Art Thou, Chris Thomas King has also had a prolific career as a songwriter, spanning soul to acoustic blues to hip-hop. He’s also an excellent guitarist, one of the few who claim to be influenced by Albert King who actually play with the same kind of soul and restraint. The murderously intense, layered guitar leads on this track would make Albert (no relation) very proud. From The Legend of Tommy Johnson cd, 2001; mp3s are out there.

June 15, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/12/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s song is #472:

Otis Rush – All Your Love

Arguably the greatest Chicago blues guitarist, Rush is lefthanded. Perhaps partly for that reason, like Hendrix, Albert King and Randi Russo, his playing has a distinctively dark feel. In Rush’s case, it’s a combination of screaming, tortured bent chords and ominous passing tones that mingle in his flights up and down the scale, giving his sound a special eeriness. If you’re a blues fan, you know this one, scary intro and outro making a somewhat jarring segue with the upbeat boogie in the middle. Mp3s are everywhere. Like all the best blues guys, Rush is at his best live: the 1975 Live in Japan version is choice, but there are other equally good versions (Chicago Blues, NYC, 2001, for example) floating around in bootleg-land. The link above is a characteristically expansive live take.

April 12, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/11/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #504:

Derek & the DominoesLayla

No way, no way, no way. This can’t be one of the alltime top 666. “Classic rock radio” has burnt this to toast.

 

Oh yeah? Every year, a new generation of gradeschool kids discovers it with fresh ears. And did you know that for all intents and purposes, the hack who gets all the credit for it basically didn’t write it? That opening guitar lick? Stolen straight out of Personal Manager by Albert King. All those layers of crazy slide guitar overdubs? Duane Allman. And the piano part? That was written and played by the drummer, Jim Gordon, who later went nuts, killed his mother and remains institutionalized in California, 25 years later. Contrarians should check out John Fahey’s lovely 1984 acoustic guitar instrumental version. 

March 10, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review From the Archives: Albert King at Tramps, NYC 4/24/92

[editor’s note: we were going to review the Moisturizer show last night at BPM, but something got in the way. From the looks of it, about five charter buses full of fresh-faced white kids looking like they came straight from the prom. There was literally a line around the block. I’ve never seen that many people waiting outside a small club in my life. Maybe someone spotted one of the Olsen twins, texted their whole IM list, and what we saw was the resulting flashmob. It would be heartening to believe that they’d all showed up to see the band, but Moisturizer’s dazzling musicianship and Satie-esque wit don’t exactly fit into corporatized suburban “culture.”

It was quickly obvious that those who weren’t already inside the club were never going to get in, but nobody seemed to mind. To complicate matters, there had just been a stabbing, obviously a white person since there were police cruisers speeding up and down the surrounding streets and a couple of helicopters overhead. So we went over to a friend’s place instead. In lieu of a full review of Moisturizer, we’ve pulled one out of the archives: legendary southpaw guitarist Albert King at Tramps in April of 1992]:

We rushed up here after an interesting and inspiring day at the Socialist Scholars’ Conference downtown on Chambers St. The club was crowded, but, happily, not ridiculously oversold and jampacked like it usually is. This was an incredibly moving show, perhaps the best blues concert I’ve ever seen. His band opened with two instrumentals: the rhythm guitarist played an unreal, lightining-fast, bone-chilling solo in the second. Albert King then took the stage: “Are you ready? I’m not,” warmed up with Every Day I Have the Blues (which he took slowly) and then launched into a brilliant set. Maybe the best song selection I’ve ever seen at a show like this. The anguished, screaming power of Elmore James’ The Sky Is Crying was overwhelming. A swinging Born Under a Bad Sign, an upbeat Crosscut Saw and a driven Stormy Monday were crowd-pleasers, as the band took turns soloing around the horn: first King, then the rhythm player (who got to showcase his jazz chops), and the keyboardist, whose talents unfortunately didn’t measure up to the rest of the band. It seemed he only knew one flashy descending riff, which he played on the cheesiest setting available. But even this could not detract from the power of King’s guitar playing and singing, which were, for lack of a better word, deep. With his guitar, he can say more in the microtones of a single bent note than most people could say in a whole album, and his vocals are the very definition of soul.

As much as King loves minor keys and slowly smoldering crescendos, he was in an upbeat mood tonight. Maybe the ever-present wine glass was part of it. “Ain’t nothing like a glass of red wine,” he mused. The best of many highlights was when the band went into an ominous, slow 6/8 minor-key groove, the keyboardist hit that unexpected major chord and King began to dedicate the song, “From the album Born Under a Bad Sign, As the Years Go Passing By.” He was rudely interrupted by a fan during his second solo, when some asshole handed him a piece of paper (a request? why not wait til he finished?). Later, they also did Robert Cray’s Phone Booth (which King popularized a few years before Cray hit it big). In a word, exhilarating.

[postscript: This was Albert King’s last New York show. He died less than eight months later.]

June 23, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Booker T & the MG’s with Sharon Jones at Metrotech Park, Brooklyn NY 6/14/07

Daytime shows tend to be lacklustre because they’re a bitch to play. Musicians are by nature nocturnal creatures, and these guys were forced to take the stage a few minutes after noon. Meaning that they’d had to soundcheck at some ridiculously early hour of the morning, as if they’d had to get up for a dayjob.

Now imagine doing that if you’re in your sixties and you’ve been on tour for awhile. That’s the task legendary soul instrumentalists Booker T & the MG’s were facing. Yet not only did they manage to acquit themselves decently, they turned in an inspired performance that built slowly and finished on an ecstatic note. Sadly, the one most important person in the band was missing (and has been missing for a long time): drummer Al Jackson Jr., who died in 1975. Booker T & the MG’s without Al Jackson Jr. is kind of like the Stooges without Iggy, Sabbath without Ozzie or the Yeah Yeah Yeahs without that trust fund kid (which one, you ask? The girl in the raggedy dress). Jackson more than anyone defined their sound: simple, always in the groove, a minimalist who could make your hips move one way or the other with just a flick at the cymbals.

Instead, they had Anton Fig, who plays in the house band on one of those network tv gabfests. To his credit, he stayed in the background and other than a solo early on, didn’t clutter the songs. Instead, organist/bandleader Booker T. Jones, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn and guitarist Steve Cropper held down the fort. They opened with a slowly shuffling, psychedelic groove version of Dylan’s You Gotta Serve Somebody, which was basically unrecognizable (which is probably why Jones told the crowd what it was). They continued in this vein for awhile. On the Gershwin standard Summertime, Cropper took an admirably lean, meaningful solo, like Albert King without all the long, sustained bends. By the time they got to their big 60s hit Hip-Hug Her, they’d picked up the pace. Soon after that, they played Green Onions and basically phoned it in, a tad fast. Essentially, it became the basis for another Cropper solo. It’s a silly little ditty, probably not what the band envisioned would become their signature song, and they played it as if they just wanted to get it out of the way and get on with the show.

The high point of their instrumentals was the classic Time Is Tight, which started out all churchified, just Jones’ organ and Dunn’s bass, sounded like Georgia on My Mind. Then Cropper’s guitar came in and they went into Theme from a Summer place for a couple of bars, which was delectably funny. Then Dunn started into his famous bassline, and they played a long, 10-minute version. Dunn has incredible touch: his melodic phrasing can change the meaning of a whole verse with just a subtle adjustment of how his fingers attack the strings, and this was fascinating to watch.

In their 60s heyday Booker T & the MG’s backed a whole pantheon of great soul and blues artists at various times, most notably Albert King, Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding, so it was only natural that this era’s greatest soul singer, New York’s own Sharon Jones, would be invited up to front the band for the latter half of the show. Though her own band the Dap-Kings are a mighty, authentic funk/soul group, today’s show was pretty close to a marriage made in heaven. Like Tina Turner, Jones uses her lower register most of the time (although her voice is considerably higher and clearer), exuding an earthy sensuality. Yet she exhibited equal amounts of subtlety, intelligence and taste in her phrasing. She only really kicks it into overdrive when she needs to: she’s a universe removed from the melismaddicts of corporate, so-called “R&B” who dream of becoming Beyonce’s replacement in the reunited Destiny’s Child.

Sharon Jones did a matter-of-fact take of the Wilson Pickett classic In the Midnight Hour, then Dunn launched into the most famous bass hammer-on in the history of rock, and the audience picked up on it right away. After the first couple of verses, the frontwoman brought Sitting on the Dock of the Bay way down and tried to get the audience to whistle along with the solo. Nobody, even the band, could do it. It was just as well: whistling is annoying, anyway, especially if it’s amplified. Then she took it even further down, sat down at the edge of the stage, then went into the audience for a bit. She took another Otis Redding standard, I’ve Been Loving You Too Long, even further down and ended on a whisper after a trick ending that was so quiet the audience missed it. The sky looked ominous and a sprinkle of rain could be felt through the trees, so they closed the show with Knock on Wood. Again, Dunn stole the show with this one, leaving the blues scale and reaching up to the high sixth note on the verses’ central hook. Jones got the obligatory solo from each band member as she introduced them.

This is a weekly Thursday noontime summer series booked by the Brooklyn Academy of Music featuring mostly older Black artists, and once in awhile they get someone really good. Props to whoever was responsible for scoring Booker T. There are additional shows worth seeing here on July 26 with Muddy Waters’ harp player James Cotton and his band, and on August 9 with roots reggae vets the Itals. And Sharon Jones plays a free show with her own band at Castle Clinton in Battery Park, also on July 26, with two free tickets per person being given away at the table in front of the fort starting at 5 PM.

June 14, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment