Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: John Prine – In Person & On Stage

John Prine is one of those songwriters whose music give you instant cred because he’s such a cult artist. He never had a radio hit of his own (although Bonnie Raitt scored mightily with Angel from Montgomery), never was particularly trendy or popular, quite possibly because his output over the past forty years has been so consistently intelligent and often brilliant. Over a career that spans part of five decades, Prine has written scores of wry, clever Americana-rock narratives, many of them classics. Steve Earle would be hard to imagine without him. Prine was one of the first artists to abandon the major label world and release his own music on his own label, Oh Boy Records, the folks responsible for this latest live album which came out late last month. For Prine fans, this is a must-own; for the uninitiated, it’s as good an introduction as any to one of the great songwriters of this era.

In the 70s, Prine’s sardonic drawl always made him seem twenty years older than he was – at this point, his vocals have a time-ravaged edge, approaching Ralph Stanley territory, but his vitality as a performer and writer comes across absolutely undiminished here (NPR has his recent Bonnaroo appearance streaming here). In this semi-acoustic setting, he’s joined by Jason Wilber, a richly melodic, tasteful yet exuberant lead guitarist who’s equally at home with twangy honkytonk as he is with incisive blues. The set is a mix of material from live shows from the recent past, with songs dating as far back as Prine’s 1971 debut album. He’s always had a sentimental streak, but even on the occasion where that vibe might overwhelm the song, the quality of the music here transcends that. She Is My Everything might not be the most poetic love song ever written, but its rich, spiky web of interlocking guitars is, well, transcendent (you can get a free mp3 here). He’s still got that indelibly literate, stream-of-consciousness stoner humor, and there’s virtually always a slyly defiant undercurrent at work here, whether on the upbeat Spanish Pipedream (be careful what you wish for), or going full blast on the classic Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore, as apropos today in the “tea party” era as it was in its Vietnam War heyday.

The acoustic version of the death-obsessed Mexican Home (with Josh Ritter) doesn’t have the spooky organ of the original 1973 recording but still holds up surprisingly well. The brooding, metaphorically charged Saddle in the Rain gets a fresh treatment that considerably surpasses the studio version. There’s also the surreal In Spite of Ourselves, a comically boozy duet with Iris DeMent; the subdued Long Monday, with its surprise dark ending; a slow, pretty version of The Late John Garfield Blues, with Sara Watkins on vocals; a fiery, careening, guitar-stoked version of Bear Creek Blues; the poignant Unwed Fathers (also a duet with DeMent) and the obligatory Angel from Montgomery, Emmylou Harris mystifyingly waiting to appear on the second verse after Prine has announced in his baritone drawl that he is an old woman named after his mother. Surreal as it is, it actually works alongside everything else. Nice to see an icon from decades past still going strong.

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June 17, 2010 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Debra from Devi’s Top 10 Guitar Albums

This falls into the “ask an expert” category. Debra, who plays lead guitar and fronts the ferocious, psychedelic power trio Devi (whose excellent debut cd you can get at itunes and in stores) knows a thing or two about guitar – she’s one of the most uniquely individual, virtuosic stylists of this era. Here are the ten albums that really hook her up:   

 

Key to the Highway, Freddy King – Best phrasing in the blues and so tuff and sexy it makes me want to dance on a table in hot pants for Mr. King. I snuck a lick from “Hideaway” into Devi’s jam version of “The Needle and the Damage Done.” (You can hear it at 3:43).

 

Another Perfect Day, Motorhead – I moved into a grungy cat-stank apartment on Avenue B one December and by Christmas Eve I couldn’t breathe. Found myself in Bellevue sucking adrenalin from a tank to open my lungs and was told I’d die if I tried to spend another night in my apartment. The only friend I knew who didn’t have a freaking cat was bassist Nick Marden. He had a bird, a rat, a pitbull and a snake. Slept under the Christmas tree in the living room and awoke to Nick handing me this album, saying “Merry Christmas.” Thin Lizzy guitarist Brian Robertson was kicked out of Motorhead after the tour for Another Perfect Day for wearing leg warmers and being generally fey, but I was hooked from the opening note on his soaring, searing, gorgeous playing. Thanks Nick.

 

That’s Entertainment, Gang of Four – Every once in awhile a guitarist comes along who is so original, he makes everyone else sound boring and dated and stupid. Andy Gill’s playing is utterly fresh, sharp, and compulsively danceable. I saw Gang of Four play and all I remember is flying into a state of spasmodic ecstasy from the Gill’s first slashing rip across the strings.

 

Filth Pig, Ministry – God, I love this record. I’ve been known to put it on repeat and listen to it for 8 hours in a row. The guitars sound like thunder, like earthquakes, like tsunamis. One of my fave moments ever was meeting Al Jourgensen and having his wife Angie ask him, “Guess which Ministry album Deb likes the best?” and me and Al both hollering at the same time “FILTH PIIIIIIIIG!!”

 

Dreamboat Annie, Heart — Nancy Wilson’s acoustic guitar playing is exquisitely feminine and also every bit as rock as the Celtic touches Jimmy Page was giving Zeppelin. Otherwordly and heartbreakingly beautiful. Need to cry your way through a breakup? This is the album.

 

Country Life, Roxy Music — Phil Manzanera’s romantic passionate solos slay me. When he lets that delay fly, it sounds like flocks of magical sparkling geese heading straight to heaven. Saw Roxy Music at Radio City Music Hall. Cried. Sighed. Swooned.

 

Texas Flood, Steve Ray Vaughan – Hands that could crush a Volkswagen. His best solos are on this album and they are bursts of fire. I learned his solo on “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and I use what I learned all the time. Snuck a few variations on the licks from that solo into mine on “C21H23NO3”.

 

Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols, Sex Pistols – Guitars like a punch in the face. Steve Jones set the standard for the tightest, most powerful playing on the tightest, most powerful punk rock record ever. Taught the rest of us how to triple track separate parts for maximum wallop. It still makes me want to throw furniture and slamdance as hard as it did the first time I heard it.

 

Ritual de lo Habitual, Jane’s Addiction – Dave Navarro’s solo on “Three Days” is a rippling, cascading masterpiece. He took what Daniel Ash was doing in Bauhaus with digital delay and mixed it up with Jimmy Page and superscorchers like Nuno Bettencourt to create a new style that everyone’s been ripping off every since.

 

Santana, Santana – Jimmy Page said “tone is in the fingers” and Carlos Santana’s fingers make the guitar sound like a celestial viola. His gorgeous sense of melody is like nobody else’s either…he never gets stuck in a blues bag. Even just trying to play along with him for just a few minutes opens up entire new vistas.

 

 

Honorable Mention:

 

Everything by Led Zeppelin, everything by Pink Floyd

 

Pretenders, The Pretenders

 

Sweet Forgiveness, Bonnie Raitt

June 24, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Concert Review: Allen Toussaint at Metrotech Park, Brooklyn NY 6/11/09

At age 70, Allen Toussaint is entitled to do whatever he wants. For his early 60s work as a New Orleans soul/pop producer, pianist and songwriter for Lee Dorsey and scores of others, he belongs in whatever hall of fame is big enough for someone of his stature (forget that stupid place in Cleveland who just inducted Journey and New Kids on the Block – or if they haven’t, someday they assuredly will). Despite grey skies and a very welcome chill in the air, Toussaint proved he still has his groove. And proof that good things sometimes actually come to those who wait: cover and drinks at his recent stand at the Village Vanguard with a dubious cast including Marc Ribot and Don Byron could have set you back something in the neighborhood of fifty bucks, while this show was free. With a five-piece band – guitar, rhythm section, percussionist and tenor sax – perfectly tasteful and in the pocket, Toussaint mixed familiar oldies radio standards, classic R&B, and a little funk along with a couple of lite FM hits.

Right off the bat, his chops were in full force. Toussaint isn’t flashy, never was – like many songwriters from his genre and his era, he doesn’t waste notes getting to the point, with a warmly chordal, staccato, even percussive attack. Nor is he a flashy singer, which was especially noticeable as the sound engineer fiddled with his vocals in the mix, but did a capable job nonetheless. He played the old stuff first: There’s a Party Going On, Here Comes the Girl and a long, tasty, fluidly soulful version of the minor-key We Got Love, which he wrote for Dorsey well over forty years ago. Then he did a medley including A Certain Girl, Mother-in-Law, Fortune Teller and Working in a Coal Mine. The Pointer Sisters’ hit Yes We Can Can was reinvented and vastly improved as yet another soul/funk number, as was another unfamiliar tune (at least to anyone who knows nothing about lite FM) apparently made famous by Bonnie Raitt.

Toussaint messed around, jazzing up some Grieg and Chopin before bringing back the groove with Get Out of My Life Woman (his most-covered song, he said, 35 times). Everything I Do Is Gonna Be Funky featured an impressively multistylistic guitar solo (his axeman had great chops, all too apparent on an ill-advised metal excursion during one of the early numbers). After over an hour and casual, warm takes of the oldschool soul tune Waiting at the Station (written for Aaron Neville, pre-Neville Bros.) and Something You Got (covered by every bluesman and woman in existence), raindrops started to appear and by then it was obvious that Toussaint wasn’t going to play anything from The River in Reverse, his superb (and perhaps career-best) collaboration with Elvis Costello. Then the band began the intro to the Glenn Campbell easy-listening hit Southern Nights, which made it easy to get up and leave. Something like that would leave a concertgoer feeling shortchanged at a pricy jazz club, but for free at lunchtime, who cares. This summer’s Thursday noontime outdoor shows at Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn, put on by BAM, aren’t much: Rebirth Brass Band will be there on July 9, with Malian guitar siren Rokia Traore on August 6.

June 11, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Kelly Richey – Carry the Light

Admired by her fellow musicians and blues fans around the world, singer/guitarist Kelly Richey and her band live on the road, playing a punishing schedule throughout mostly the midwest and south. Like a lot of great blues guitarists, this immaculately produced studio cd only hints at the intensity she can generate onstage, although her playing here is supremely tasteful. She gets a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan comparisons, but her style is considerably more terse than his ever was, a lot closer to the more thoughtful side of both Freddie King and Jimi Hendrix (think Little Wing and Castles Made of Sand). Richey also happens to be a terrific singer, a song stylist with the same kind of subtle command and inflections as late-period Chrissie Hynde. This latest cd is more of a rock album – the blues here tend to have more of a modern feel. But that’s ok. Like any other style of music that’s still being played, the blues are bound to evolve. Richey manages to carry the torch, doing justice to her influences while putting her own unique stamp on it.

 

The cd opens with Leave the Blues Behind, a fast soul song in a Robert Cray vein with terse chorus-box guitar, beautifully modulated vocals and an equally terse, tasteful solo. The following cut, I Want You is not a Dylan cover – it’s darkly creeping late 60s/early 70s style riff-rock a la Cries from the Midnight Circus by the Pretty Things with a tasteful Freddie King-inflected solo. What in the World reminds of a cross between gentle, pensive Hendrix and vintage Tracy Chapman. After Carry the Light – a Texas boogie with some sly Billy Gibbons-style guitar – there’s Angela’s Song with its gospel-fueled southern soul groove.

 

With its layers of guitar sustain and vocal harmonies, Jericho Road is a slowly swaying, sunbaked minor-key haunter building to an impressively big, whirling outro. The next track, Run Like Hell isn’t a Floyd cover: it’s a return to late 60s style riff-rock. When All Is Said and Done starts out something of a Little Wing ripoff, growing more stately and anthemic with its atmospheric, David Gilmour-esque layers of guitar. The cd ends with a couple of boozy, Led Zep inflected riff-rockers and then another big ballad, Time for a Change, equal parts Henrix and Allmans with some of the most beautiful vocals on the album. Fans of the current crop of blues guitar hotshots – Johnny Lang, Mike Welch and the rest won’t be disappointed. Or if you like the idea of John Mayer but can’t stand the Lite FM sound of his albums – or if you like Bonnie Raitt in concert but can’t stand the Lite FM sound of her albums either – this is for you. Or sneak this into the mix at a Clapton fan’s barbecue and watch the jaws drop: “Who’s that playing guitar? Oh, that’s her. She’s good!”

March 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments