Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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

Album of the Day 8/20/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #528:

Memphis Minnie – I Ain’t No Bad Gal

The prototypical blues guitar goddess, Memphis Minnie’s career spanned from the delta into the Chicago era in the early 1950s. She could outplay most of the guys around her and never really got the credit she deserves. Like many blues artists of the time, she recorded for quick money, very frequently – she wrote hundreds, maybe thousands of songs. This 1998 reissue doesn’t have her signature tune When the Levee Breaks (famously covered by Led Zep), but it’s as good a representation as any. Most of the sides here date from the late 30s or early 40s. Some, like Can’t Afford to Lose My Man and You Need a Friend echo popular artists like Bessie Smith; others (Looking the World Over and Down by the Riverside) offer an update on old folk themes; but the best are her most defiant, rebellious ones like the title track, Remember Me Blues, You Got to Get Out of Here and I Am Sailing. It’s surprisingly absent from the usual sources for free music, but in lieu of this one you can check out the first volume in the “complete recorded works” collection via On Muddy Sava Riverbank.

August 21, 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

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

CD Review: Vieux Farka Toure – Live

A characteristically intense, often exhilarating album by one of the great guitarists of our time. Vieux Farka Toure’s dad Ali Farka Toure was one of the inventors of duskcore, the patiently meandering, hypnotic desert blues. Unlike his dad, Vieux Farka Toure is not exactly a patient player, but in the family tradition he’s also invented his own style of music. Whether it’s blues, or an electrified and electrifying version of Malian folk music is beside the point. He may be playing in a completely different idiom, but Vieux Farka Toure’s approach is essentially the same as Charlie Parker’s, creating mini-symphonies out of seemingly endless, wild volleys of notes within a very simple chord structure. Bird played the blues; sometimes Toure does. Other times he just jams on a single chord. Whatever the case, Toure is the rare fret-burner who still manages to make his notes count for something: this album isn’t just mindless Buckethead or Steve Vai-style shredding. The obvious comparison (and one which invites a lot of chicken-or-the-egg questions, which may be academic) is to hypnotic Mississippi hill country bluesmen like Junior Kimbrough and Will Scott.

Toure’s attack is fluid and precise, utilizing lightning-fast hammer-ons whether he’s sticking to the blues scale, or working subtle shifts in timbre and rhythm during the songs’ quieter passages. He plays with a cool, watery, chorus-box tone very reminiscent of Albert Collins. Here he’s backed by an acoustic rhythm guitarist who holds it down with smooth yet prickly repetitive riffs, along with percussion, sometimes bass and a guest guitarist or two (Australian slide player Jeff Lang converses and eventually duels with him memorably on one track). The album collects several of the hottest moments of a 2009 European and Australian tour.

The midtempo opening number is a teaser, only hinting at the kind of speed Toure is capable of. As with several of the other numbers here, call-and-response is involved, this time with band members (later on he tries to get the audience to talk back to him in his own vernacular, with particularly mystified results). The slow jam that serves as the second track here is a study in dynamics and tension-building up to the ecstatic wail of the next cut.

A couple of songs here work a boisterous, reggae-tinged groove; another echoes the thoughtful, Castles Made of Sand side of Hendrix. When Toure’s taken the energy as high as anyone possibly could, sometimes he’ll stop cold and end the song there rather than doing something anticlimactic. He winds up the album with a big blazing boogie with a trick ending and then a stomp featuring a couple of characteristically paint-peeling solos along with a breakdown where the band takes it low and suspenseful until Toure is ready to wail again. If lead guitar is your thing, this is somebody you need to know – and somebody you really ought to see live. Like most of the great lead guitarists, Toure pretty much lives on the road – his next NYC gig is at Metrotech Park in Brooklyn at noon on July 29.

July 2, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/14/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #106:

Otis Rush – Double Trouble

The original 1956 Willie Dixon-produced single with a big horn band might be the eeriest noir blues song ever. Yet in the decades that followed, the lefty guitar legend has outdone himself at every turn – a ten-minute live version from Chicago Blues in New York as recently as 2000 (which we had the good fortune to get our hands on) is transcendent, as are probably hundreds of other bootlegs. Look ’em up.

April 14, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Mickey Wynne – Running on Empty

We’re late in reviewing this one, but Mickey Wynne’s guitar playing and songwriting defy the ravages of time: the Liverpool-born rock vet delivers vivid, smartly played, smartly written Americana rock. As befits a guy with an Electric Ladyland/Abbey Road Studios pedigree, the song are superbly produced, blending rustic acoustic textures with a savage, electric, early 70s psychedelic bent, guitars swirling, bending, phasing in and out. Perfectly illustrative song: the lush ballad Against All Odds I’ll Do It, with its layers of acoustic guitar and mandolin that build to a big, sweeping crescendo before coming back down again with a majestic grace.

The tour de force here is the fiery, insistent Bush era parable All Quiet on the Eastern Frontier, funky acoustic guitar giving way to macabre, reverb surf guitar on the chorus and an equally nightmarish outro. It could have been an A-list Dire Straits album cut from 1982 or so. The title track is a shapeshifting John Lee Hooker-style blues with sparse, incisive slide guitar accents that morphs into pounding Led Zep style riff-rock; the hallucinatory, reverb-drenched French Blooze evokes recent work by Spottiswoode or Marty Willson-Piper. Wynne plays the usual UK roots music haunts: the 12 Bar, et al.; the live tracks up on Wynne’s site confirm his reputation as a dynamic, intense live performer.

February 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Song of the Day 5/4/09

This is pathetic. We haven’t put up a real post here since the middle of last week and we’re getting more traffic than we’ve seen in weeks. You must like songs with a lot of swear words in them. This one doesn’t have any but it is on our top 666 songs of alltime list which we count down daily, one at a time (tons more reviews coming soon…). Monday’s song is #450:

Robert Cray – Smoking Gun

Wherein the great bluesman decided to write a REM song and succeeded wildly. Like nothing he ever did before or after – maybe that’s a good thing. Love that catchy bassline. And notice how, on the solo, he goes from matter-of-fact swing to absolute redline in a split second? Wow. From the Strong Persuader album, 1986; mp3s are everywhere

May 3, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Duke Robillard at Wagner Park, NYC 7/17/08

Duke Robillard has made a reputation as one of the few blues guitarists who can indulge in a lot of pyrotechnics without overplaying. Tonight, the former Roomful of Blues lead player turned in an almost shockingly terse set: has he lost a step, or was he just in a minimalist mood? Those who came out expecting to hear mile-a-minute solos and wild, frenetic wailing doubtlessly came away disappointed, but for those who think long guitar solos are overkill, this was a show to see. The crowd was weird: in addition to the usual contingent of old stoner guys in Pink Floyd t-shirts, there were tons of rugrats, and a young woman who looked like the actress in Carnival of Souls clinging tightly to a pillow-sized stuffed animal that she wouldn’t let go of, even when her boyfriend showed up. There was also a mobster and the muscular, tattoed guy who appeared to be his enforcer, arguing over a favor the enforcer wanted. Whenever the conversation got really heated, they went closer to the stage to keep their discussion private. No dummies, those guys.

Robillard had an excellent band behind him, a saxist who doubled on harp, keyboardist and rhythm section. Robillard’s always been more of a swing jazz guy than a straight-up blues player, but it was mostly all the latter tonight. Robillard’s remarkably chordal aproach has always distinguished him from similar flashy players, and unsurprisingly, it was that material that stuck out from the rest of the songs in the set, particularly a straight-up, Stonesy rock song possibly titled She’s a Live Wire. Early in the set, Robillard tried taking flight a couple of times but couldn’t get off the runway, so he held back the rest of the way. He started playing his usual big, beautiful Gibson hollowbody, then switched to Telecaster and immediately found his groove. Then, surprisingly, he put it down and sang a cheesy old 50s hit, which didn’t exactly work out because nobody comes out to hear Robillard sing: he’s one of those guys who sounds like he has a frog in his throat. He then picked up the Tele again for a couple of cuts from his new album Swing Session, a jump blues and a slow ballad, then picked up another Fender that he said somebody had handed him and asked him to play, and complied. And played his most interesting solos of the night. With the same charmed guitar, he then tackled a T-Bone Walker number (now there’s a jazzcat playing blues!) and began it with some classic T-Bone style 4-on-3 playing, before closing with a long, almost Grateful Dead-style one-chord jam to close the set.

To answer a question recently posed, why would anyone want to see a blues show? Well, you can dance to it – the kids definitely were. It’s fun, and if the band is good and doesn’t overdo it the soloing and interplay between musicians is very cool (translation: it’s great stoner music). And the blues cats keep dropping like flies: someday you or your children may not get to hear any of this anywhere but on a recording.

July 17, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment