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Album of the Day 9/16/11

Pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #501:

JB Lenoir and Sunnyland Slim – Live ’63

Recorded in lo-fi mono by blues enthusiast Norman Oden at the obscure Chicago nightspot Nina’s Lounge and reissued 37 years later, this is a prime example of the blues as blue-collar neighborhood drinking music, not cultural tourism for politically correct yuppies. As The Hound has insightfully observed, Lenoir’s subtly chordal guitar style was a big influence on Ali Farka Toure, helping to jumpstart the desert blues movement. This doesn’t have Lenoir’s “protest songs” like Eisenhower Blues or Vietnam Blues, but this mostly solo set on his home turf is a treat. Pianist Sunnyland Slim – the guy who introduced Muddy Waters to Big Bill Broonzy and springboarded Waters’ career – plays with his usual casual, incisively smart style as Lenoir makes his way through the understatedly biting Harlem Can’t Be Heaven, hits like It’s You Baby and Brown Skin Woman along with a bunch of jams with titles obviously not supplied by the musicians, i.e. J.B.’s Harp-Rack Blues.The whole thing is streaming at spotify if you have it, deezer also (if you haven’t used your allotted monthly hour or whatever it is now); here’s a random torrent via The Blues-That Jazz.

September 16, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/25/11

The core crew here says hello from Montreal! Busy day tomorrow, and we might let you in on the fun! In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #584:

Junior Kimbrough – Sad Days Lonely Nights

Kimbrough was sort of the Mississippi hill country equivalent of Roscoe Ambel: a bar owner who happened to be a hell of a guitarist (or a hell of a guitarist who just happened to own a bar). Mostly, it’s just Kimbrough with either a rhythm section, or just a drummer. But unlike T-Model Ford and R.L. Burnside, Kimbrough didn’t go for interminable, overtone-packed chordal vamps: his slowly crescendoing, gorgeously expansive, broodingly meandering blues songs go on for ten minutes at a clip, a clinic in subtlety and minimalism. This stuff is mournful, gently intense, soulful in the purest sense of the word. The title track from this 1993 album, generally considered his best, is the iconic one, setting the tone for a judicious, bent-note style he’d reprise again and again in Lonesome in My Home, Lord Have Mercy on Me, My Mind Is Rambling and Leaving in the Morning. Old Black Mattie is the closest thing to the raw, hypnotic dance music of Burnside and Ford here; I’m in Love is unexpectedly upbeat, but Pull Your Clothes Off is about the most cynically depressing attempt at seduction anybody ever made. And the version of Crawling King Snake here is seriously creepy, in fact barely recognizable compared to John Lee Hooker, or for that matter, the Doors. Here’s a random torrent via Rukusjuice.

June 24, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vieux Farka Toure Kicks Ass on The Secret – How About the Special Guests?

Many years ago, a bunch of early jam band guys got together and decided to make a tribute to Muddy Waters. The result was a lacklustre album called Fathers and Sons (it’s easy to find, if you really want to hear it). The guys from the Butterfield Blues Band and their friends were bigger fans of Muddy’s than he was of them, but probably since it beat working as the handyman at Chess Records (which is what the guy who might have been the greatest blues slide guitarist of all time did when he wasn’t on tour or in the studio), Waters did the album. And phoned it in. Fast forward a little more than forty years: some of the big names on the American jam band circuit have discovered powerhouse Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure (the oldest son of the great Ali Farka Toure). And they’re all over his new album, The Secret. The biggest secret here is that almost all of them elevate their game – with one exception, this isn’t a bunch of white wannabes patronizing somebody from another tradition whose music they admire. For the most part, this is a clinic in how musicians from different cultures can create real alchemy if they’re inspired.

What’s nicest to see is that Toure is allowed to be the star he is, doubletracking and tripletracking here and the result is exhilarating. Acoustic rhythm guitarist Ali Magassa holds it down incisively and hypnotically with broken chords and simple, direct riffs over the loping calabash and djembe of Souleymane Kane. The first track, Sokosondou sets the stage for what’s to come with an endless succession of molten lava hammer-ons and hypnotic call-and-response vocals in Toure’s native dialect. Toure plays acoustic on the second cut, Aigna, where Derek Trucks does a surprisingly killer evocation of a sitar with his slide guitar, livening up the dusky atmospherics, getting darker and growlier as it goes on. Guess all that hanging out with Susan Tedeschi has been a good thing for him! The fourth track, Ali is a vertigo-inducing polyrhythmic forest of guitars, Toure throwing in a subtle, ominous chromatic allusion once in awhile

The first of the Malian/American hybrids, here, Watch Out is a swaying, funky number featuring Eric Krasno (of the generic Soulive and dubious Lettuce), who contributes some biting, vibrato-toned incisions with a little wah thrown in for good measure. Aaron Neville, who knows a little something about hypnotic grooves, hangs back with the beat and adds terse, smart organ fills; Toure winds it out with one of his unstoppable, stunningly precise, adrenalizing solos. A boisterously swaying, mostly acoustic number, Wonda Guay has Toure lingering overhead like an out-of-control helicopter. The title track, a hypnotic, resolute instrumental features a guitar track by his late father along with spiky textures from Ganda Tounkara’s ngoni and Cheikh Diallo’s distant flute atmospherics. It’s one of those tracks where it’s hard to figure out who’s playing what – you just get lost in it. The poignantly catchy closing track, Touri, is much the same. Borei, a fast, shuffling concert favorite is a feast of Toure textures, fast fluid runs, chords blasting on the beat and a searing, mostly one-note solo midway through.

The most traditional desert blues song here, Sankare Diadje has a typical call-and- response over a hypnotic, circular two-chord theme. Meandering, midtempo and ominously modal, Gido features John Scofield, who slinks through a wary, slowly furtive chromatically-charged solo and only puts the bite on once, at the very end, when he can’t contain himself any longer. Amani Quay begins with a gorgeous twelve-string acoustic intro that gives way to a shuffling, hypnotic groove, Toure picking it up and blasting through yet another rapidfire solo, this one a little sunbaked and slightly restrained. The only dud here features the clown prince of wretched jamband excess, Dave Matthews. When you put this on your ipod, you’ll want to delete track three. But what a pleasant surprise this is – and reason to check out what Derek Trucks and Eric Krasno have been up to lately.

June 11, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/13/11

Did you remember to set your clock ahead an hour?

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #688:

Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland – Showdown

A blues guitar summit from 1985. Collins was one of the most intense, exhilarating musicians ever, icy fire blasting from his custom-made amp for the “cool” sound that made him famous. Although better known as a singer than guitarist, Copeland gave 100% here and Cray proves that he belongs onstage with any other great blues player. The songs are cool too: as you might expect from a Collins album, it’s a Texas vibe with only a couple of standards and those get reinvented: an edgy, low-down Bring Your Fine Self Home and Black Cat Bone, modeled on Hop Wilson’s lapsteel version. From the first track, T-Bone Shuffle, they’re wailing; Cray picks his spots and fires off one smartly chosen volley after another on She’s Into Something and the airy, psychedelic The Dream. As you’d expect, the Texas shuffles are also in full effect: Lion’s Den and the instrumental Albert’s Alley are as adrenalizing as you’d expect. And on the long volcanic outro to the closer, Blackjack, surprisingly it’s Copeland who really takes the energy up. Many, many notes, none of them wasted. Here’s a random torrent via mississippimoan.

March 13, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/8/10

We’re going to head out today for a little R&R to celebrate Elvis’ birthday after an exhausting but transcendent evening running around Bleecker Street to catch a bunch of Winter Jazzfest shows (by the way, the festival continues tonight and is not sold out). If the force is with us we’ll put up something about it in a few hours. In the meantime, as we do every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Saturday’s is #752:

Albert Collins – Live 92-93

One of the most powerful musicians ever to pick up a guitar, Texas blues legend Albert Collins died barely three months after recording the last tracks on this 1995 album. You would never know it. Running his Telecaster through an amp custom-made to get the icy, reverb-drenched “cool” sound that defined his playing, he blasted through one lightning-fast interlude after another, nonstop. And for a guy who played so many notes, no one has made so many count for so much: fast he as he was, he didn’t waste any. And while his guitar playing has a snide, sarcastic edge (he played almost exclusively in minor keys), his songs are fun and frequently amusing. The party anthem that earned him an audience of college kids in the late 80s is I Ain’t Drunk (I’m Just Drinking), done here with a hilarious bridge where his guitar imitates a belligerent conversation between three drunks in a tavern. There was nobody more adrenalizing at Texas shuffles than Collins (he originally wanted to be an organist, but when his car broke down on the highway, he went off to find a tow truck and someone made off with the brand new Hammond B3 in the trailer that he was pulling, he decided he’d stick with guitar). There are a bunch of them here, all of them absolutely kick-ass: Iceman; the funky Put the Shoe on the Other Foot, and T-Bone Shuffle. There’s also the sarcastic Lights Are On but Nobody’s Home, his lickety-split signature instrumental Frosty, a romp through the standard Travellin’ South and a scorching version of Black Cat Bone. Pretty much everything Collins ever did from the early 80s onwards, even his hastily produced studio albums on Alligator, is worth owning. RIP. Here’s a random torrent.

January 8, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/4/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #787:

Bo Diddley – The Chess Box

When we began this countdown last July, one of our original rules was no box sets: among other things, they’re kind of an easy way out. Choosing the Beatles box, or the Pink Floyd box, for example, takes away the fun of being able to pick an unexpected gem out of all the goodies. But Bo Diddley’s 1950s heyday was much like today, with most everyone listening to singles instead of full-length albums. This double-cd reissue, dating from MCA’s acquisition of the Chess Records catalog in the late 80s, is as good as just about any representation of the guy with the cane and the square guitar. It’s got most of the growling Diddleybeat hits: Who Do You Love, Mona, Hey Bo Diddley and Ride On Josephine. It’s also got the novelty songs: doing the dozens with his deadpan maraca player Jerome Green on Say Man, Bring It to Jerome and Signifying Blues, along with the proto-glam junkie anthem Pills (famously covered by the New York Dolls). But Ellis McDaniel was a lot more than just a hitmaker comedian who liked to do bit parts in cult movies: he was one of the most technologically advanced musicians of his era. He built his own guitars and pioneered the use of electronic effects including chorus, flange, reverb and delay, even foreshadowing the use of the vocoder by twenty years, “talking” through his guitar as on Mumblin’ Guitar. And since he played mostly rhythm on his big hits, they don’t offer much of a hint of what a wryly compelling lead guitarist he was. Or how diverse his songwriting was, from the practically punk R&B of stuff like Roadrunner to ballads like Before You Accuse Me, to cinematic themes like Aztec, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Lee Hazelwood or Ventures catalogs. A few of the later tracks here are marginal, but most of this stuff is choice – and in the public domain, at least in Europe. Here’s a random torrent.

December 4, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marshall Lawrence Brings the Blues from the Great White North

Guitarist Marshall Lawrence’s new album Blues Intervention is blues with a Canadian accent. And it’s completely authentic – that applies to the blues as much as the accent. Like it or not, the blues, like any other style of music, keeps evolving: this is one fun, captivating example of where a talented contemporary artist can take a hundred-year-old style without cutting it off at the roots. Lawrence winkingly calls himself “The Doctor of the Blues,” since he actually is one: his alter ego is a professional psychologist. He keeps it simple and acoustic here, occasionally spicing the songs with mandolin or banjo, alongside his collaborators Sherman “Tank” Doucette on harmonica and former B.B. King sideman Russell Jackson on doghouse bass. Lawrence mixes up his originals with a diverse collection of classics. Lawrence’s take on the blues is brisk, an upbeat, houseparty style with deadpan, bright-eyed, bushytailed vocals that make every double entendre count. The opening track, So Long Rosalee sets the tone – Lawrence doesn’t try to be anybody but himself. In a world full of Clapton wannabes embarrassing themselves by doing what amounts to blackface, that’s genuinely refreshing.

As you might expect, the version of Traveling Blues here is a fast stomp, an amped-up take on the Tommy Johnson original and it’s great. Walking Blues is uncomplicatedly original – Lawrence puts his own stamp on it rather than trying to outdo Robert Johnson at fingerpicking. Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, along with an original, Going to the River mine a vintage Mississippi Sheiks string band vibe.

The rest of the album is originals. You’re Gonna Find the Blues works a bunch of standard lyrical tropes, Jackson playing simple, emphatic beats like Big Crawford did on those first classic Muddy Waters records. The down-and-out urban tale Lay Down My Sorrow and Detroit “Motor City” Blues – a party destination for as many Canadians as bored Detroiters who head for Windsor – are slow and mournful, enhanced by the harmonica. The best song on the album is a fast boogie, Once Loved a Cowgirl, with some sweet layers of guitar and a sly trick ending. There’s also a delta-style party anthem, Going Down to Louisiana; the clever woman-done-me-wrong blues If I Had a Nickel and a couple of tensely swinging resonator numbers. Put this in your collection alongside modern-day blues titans like Will Scott or Mamie Minch.

September 9, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Couldn’t Stand the Weather Revisited

A cynic might say that Stevie Ray Vaughan played pretty well for a cokehead. To be fair, an awful lot of players were doing that stuff back during his 80s heyday. Twenty years after his death in a helicopter crash, Vaughan still owns a cult audience, all of whom will want the new double-cd reissue of his wildly popular Couldn’t Stand the Weather album, originally released in 1984. To those not in the Stevie Ray cult, Vaughan is a somewhat lesser figure. Some see him as little more than a generational reference, the one blues musician that the metalheads of the 80s listened to. Another camp views him as a selfish, self-indulgent player, a cautionary tale on wheels for other guitarists. A more balanced view sees him as a talented if erratic soloist who’d finally overcome his demons and achieved true greatness, only to be cut down at the peak of his career. Which encompassed three distinct periods: his early years, trying to establish himself and usually overdoing it in the process; his cocaine period during the early 80s, where he’d sound like a genius one minute and a buffoon the next; and his later, sober years, where he backed off the incessant volleys of notes, chose his spots more judiciously and in so doing refined his sound to embody genuine soul amidst the barrage of sound.

This album was his second, his first to go platinum, from the coke years. Even so, it holds up well – when he’s on, he’s exhilarating, and when he’s not it’s more because he’s trying to sound like someone else (usually Hendrix, whom he never could come close to emulating), not because he’s wired to the point where he’s off his game. The blistering clusters of notes in Scuttle Buttin’ (the reworked version of Lonnie Mack’s Chicken Feed), the understated funk of the title track and the almost shocking intensity of his version of The Things I Used to Do are no less exhilarating today than when they came out. This new repackage also includes several cuts originally included on his late-career collection The Sky Is Crying, as well as two unreleased tracks: a furiously intense version of that Elmore James classic, and a raw but equally blistering romp through the swinging blues Boot Hill (also known as Look on Yonder Wall). Also included is a complete live show from the Spectrum in Montreal on August 17, 1984.

The show is a Wolfgang’s Vault type of deal – it’s pretty good, to the point that it makes you wonder why it’s never been released until now. It follows a definite trajectory, an early peak, a calculated dip and then an upswing with many genuinely transcendent moments. The way he builds a solo on The Things I Used to Do, alternating sustained, anguished bends with maniacal chord-chopping and sizzling flights down the blues scale is a clinic in imagination and good taste. His eerie, Jeff Beck-style winds and bends on the upper registers on Tin Pan Alley, and his unaffectedly pretty Chuck Berry-isms on Love Struck Baby remind how versatile he could be. And on the eight-and-a-half-minute version of Texas Flood, he builds a fire-and-brimstone crescendo, judiciously adding a tinge of distortion to his usually clean-as-a-whistle tone, continuing to wail up and down on his chords even as the last verse kicks in – and then keeps going almost all the way to the turnaround! His bandmates hold it all together. Tommy Shannon was always a better bass player than anyone ever gave him credit for, his casually simmering chordal work on Texas Flood and his jazzy walks on the utterly joyous version of the instrumental Stang’s Swang give Vaughan a perfect stepping-off point, and drummer Chris Layton holds a steady, straight-up rock beat, keeping Vaughan from jumping the rails. Admittedly, there are an awful lot of notes here, but so many of them are exquisite.

August 12, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Vieux Farka Toure Burns His Guitar

Vieux Farka Toure didn’t really burn his guitar, at least the way Hendrix burned his. He just turned in an incandescent performance. It’s a useful rule of thumb that if a performer plays well in daylight, he or she will rip up whatever joint they’re in come nightfall. Or maybe Toure’s just a morning person. Thursday afternoon in Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn, the Malian guitarist didn’t let the crushing tropical heat and humidity phase him, blasting through one long, hypnotic, minimalistically bluesy number after another.

Like his father, desert blues pioneer Ali Farka Toure, he’ll hang on a chord for minutes at a clip, building tension sometimes thoughtfully, sometimes with savage abandon. That intensity – along with a long, pointless percussion solo- is what got the audience – an impressively diverse mix of daycamp kids and their chaperones, office workers and smelly trendoids – on their feet and roaring. Using his signature icy, crystalline, Albert Collins-esque tone, he took his time getting started, subtly varying his dynamics. What he does is ostensibly blues, inasmuch as his assaultive riffage generally sticks within the parameters of the minor-key blues scale. But the spacious, slowly unwinding melodies are indelibly Malian, with the occasional latin tinge or a shift into a funkier, swaying rhythm. This time out the band included a bass player along with Toure’s steady second guitarist, playing spikily hypnotic vamps on acoustic, along with a sub drummer who was clearly psyched to be onstage and limited himself to a spirited, thumping pulse, and a duo of adrenalized percussionists, one on a large, boomy calabash drum.

Lyrics don’t seem to factor much into this guy’s songwriting: a couple of numbers featured call-and-response on the chorus in Toure’s native tongue, but otherwise it was all about the guitar. As the energy level rose, he’d launch into one volley after another of blistering 32nd-note hammer-ons. And he wouldn’t waste them – after he’d taken a crescendo up as far as he could, he’d signal to the band and in a split second they’d end the song cold. It’s hard to think of another player who blends purposefulness with blinding speed to this degree (although, again, Albert Collins comes to mind – although Toure is more playful than cynical). Toure’s show this past spring at le Poisson Rouge was the last on an obviously exhausting tour: he’d sprint as far as he could, then back off when it was obvious that he needed a breather. Thursday was more of a clinic in command: Toure was completely in control this time out. Like most great guitarists, he spends a lot of time on the road (and has a killer new live album just out, very favorably reviewed here), so you can expect another New York appearance sooner than later.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top 10 Songs of the Week 7/12/10

OK, OK, we’re a day late. But who’s counting. This is just another way we try to spread the word about all the good music out there. As you’ll notice, every song that reaches the #1 spot on this list will also appear on our 100 Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of December. We try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one. The only one here that doesn’t have a link to the track is #1 and that’s because it’s so new.

1. The Brooklyn What – Punk Rock Loneliness

About time Brooklyn’s most charismatic, intense, funny rockers returned to the top spot here. This one has a Dead Boys influence, with the two smoldering guitars and frontman Jamie Frey’s menacing lyric aimed at the gawkers who pass by what used to be CBGB. “You wanna be a dead boy?” Let’s get the Brooklyn What on Hipster Demolition Night!

2. Ernie Vega – Cocaine Blues

Not the one you’re thinking of – this one’s a lot more rustic and it’s hilarious, like something you’d hear on a Smithsonian recording from the 1920s.

3. Under Byen -Alt Er Tabt

A Danish version of the Creatures: catchy, atmospheric vocal overdubs, terse accordion and strings over a clattering Atrocity Exhibition rhythm.

4. Golden Triangle – Neon Noose

X as played by late 80s Jesus & Mary Chain – they’re at South St. Seaport on 7/16 at 6

5. Loose Limbs – Underdog

Lo-fi garage rock with soul/gospel vocals – if you like the Detroit Cobras you’ll like Loose Limbs. They’re at South St. Seaport on 7/23 at 6

6. Jeff Lang – Home to You

Wild insane steel guitar blues by the innovative Aussie guitarist.

7. Mike Rimbaud – Dirty Little Bomb

Classic new wave songwriting by a survivor from the very end of the era, still going strong twenty years later.

8. Costanza – Just Another Alien

The lyrics are the text from a US Immigration form. Eerie and apropos.

9. J-Ron – Weed Song

Texas faux “R&B.”

10. Amy Coleman – Goodbye New York

This is such a blast from the past, it’s kinda funny: the bastard child of DollHouse and Pet Benetar. Suddenly it’s 1979 again. Except it’s not.

July 13, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment