Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 3/19/11

Here we are, to quote Muddy Waters, deep down in Florida. If any of you have ever entertained the idea of staying at one of those all-inclusive resorts run by a national hotel chain anywhere near the Disney universe, DON’T. Beyond the guilt of taking a vacation at the moment that hundreds of thousands of Japanese people are dying of radiation poisoning in a catastrophe that makes Chernobyl look like a walk in the park, this place is hell. Walking out back of the compound yesterday alongside a stinking brown cesspool dug out to simulate a real lagoon, we had to dodge the cloud of malathion casually being sprayed by a guy in a dinghy holding a fishing rod in his other hand. Maybe we should chalk this up to preparation for a post-Fukushima world. So Muddy, here’s to you. As we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #682:

Muddy Waters – Muddy Mississippi Waters Live

While you’re watching the unfolding disaster, we’re going to sneak a second Muddy Waters album onto this list. With this icon, the question is not which Muddy Waters albums belong here, but which ones don’t. Basically, everything this guy put out between the Alan Lomax recordings from the late 30s until the 1956 Blues and Brass album is worth owning. After that, everything up to the grossly overrated Fathers and Sons album. After that, the pickings get slim among the studio albums, although he was still an unstoppable live act. This 2003 reissue of a 1979 release mostly recorded in the early 70s features Muddy at his matter-of-fact, sly, occasionally harrowing peak of his powers as both a singer and slide guitarist, includes a second disc recorded in Indiana in the early 80s. Johnny Winter handles a lot of the solos and doesn’t embarrass himself; Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson takes a stinging solo on what may be the best-ever version of Baby Please Don’t Go. There’s also the slow, growling She’s Nineteen Years Old, Nine Below Zero and Deep Down in Florida along with a casually potent version of Streamline Woman and the requisite Mannish Boy. The second disc isn’t quite up to the level of the first, but it’s mostly the same band including the ageless Pinetop Perkins on piano. Here’s a random torrent via dimosblues.

March 19, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 11/1/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #820:

Percy Mayfield – His Tangerine and Atlantic Sides

One of bluesman Percy Mayfield’s albums from the late 1950s is called My Heart Is Always Singing Sad Songs, and it perfectly captures his esthetic. Ironically, it’s not those songs that he’s best remembered for: his first big hit was Please Send Me Someone to Love. A few years later later he wrote Hit the Road Jack, iconically covered by Ray Charles. In 1969, Elvis covered Stranger in My Own Hometown; twenty years later, Mose Allison did a killer version of that one. But Mayfield, an old soul if there ever was one, was the best interpreter of his own material. A star of the West Coast blues circuit in the early 50s, he narrowly survived a 1954 car accident that left him disfigured for life, with a sizeable crater in his forehead (the inspiration for Stranger in My Own Home Town). This is a 2003 reissue of 1962-74 recordings. Mayfield always sounded older than he was: among the 28 tracks here are the shuffling R&B of Never No More; the lushly orchestrated piano blues Memory Pain; the even lusher, far more modern-sounding River’s Invitation; the slow, brooding My Jug and I; the funky, psychedelic Nothing Stays the Same Forever and the Louis Jordan-esque Life Is Suicide. The titles pretty much speak for themselves: it’s some of the most wrenching stuff ever recorded. Mayfield’s stuff from the 50s is equally good: other albums worth checking out are his Specialty Singles compilation as well as the Poet Of the Blues, Memory Pain and Two Years of Torture anthologies. Here’s a random torrent.

November 1, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/17/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #835:

The Essential Sonny Boy Williamson

Famously covered by the Stones, Van Morrison and the Yardbirds (whose live album with him is a complete trainwreck), Sonny Boy Williamson’s sly, often leering vocals and somewhat unhinged playing have made him an icon among blues fans. The great blues harpist, songwriter and showman was, like every bluesman of his era, a singles artist. For that reason, we picked this 1993 compilation from among the dozens of out there, many of them bootlegs, since it has the most tracks. 45 in all, recorded with a Hall of Fame list of Chess stars: drummer Fred Below, bassist/producer Willie Dixon, guitarist Muddy Waters, pianist Lafayette Leake and too many others to name. To blues scholars, this guy, Alec “Rice” Miller was Sonny Boy Williamson #2, to differentiate him from the first, John Lee Williamson, who was younger and whom #2 outlived by over a dozen years. From his days hustling on the chitlin and party circuit and then emceeing the King Biscuit Flour Hour,Williamson #2 developed a rakish persona to go along with a voracious appetite for alcohol and a knack for an aphoristic turn of phrase that fueled a succession of hit singles in the 50s. The best-known one, if not his best one, is One Way Out, butchered by the Allman Brothers to the point of being almost unrecognizable. Others you may recognize here are Fattening Frogs for Snakes, Your Funeral and My Trial, Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide, Nine Below Zero, Don’t Start Me to Talking and Keep It To Yourself. Some of the other tracks here are ephemeral but virtually all of them are choice. Pretty much anything did during the 50s is worth hearing, if you’re into this stuff: by the 60s, he was pretty much running on (alcohol) fumes. Here’s a random torrent.

October 17, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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 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

Concert Review from the Archives: Joe Louis Walker, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Scotty Moore and Ike Turner in Central Park 7/26/97

A fair approximation of what the Robert Cray/Albert Collins/Johnny Copeland album Showdown might have sounded like, live. Roomful of Blues opened the outdoor show with a set of pedestrian, swingy blues. Joe Louis Walker followed, backed by an excellent band featuring a terrific rhythm guitarist who only got one solo all night long but made the most of it. Walker is the absolute real deal: the guy can play. His opening tune was a long, extended number, possibly titled Hip Shaking Mama, featuring all kinds of searing, distorted solos on a black Gibson solidbody. Another original, Slipping and Sliding was next, and just as long, Walker switching to a Les Paul, playing with in an open tuning with a slide and this was as good as Sonny Rhodes at his best. It was pretty obvious that Walker knew this would be a shootout, and he was trying his best to establish himself as the meanest guitarslinger onstage before the others appeared.

Matt “Guitar” Murphy, of Blues Brothers fame, was the first to join him. Early on, he tried several of his trademark lightining-fast triplets and couldn’t get off the ground with them, so he stuck wailing furiously up and down on chords and burning through innumerable, supersonic blues runs, and ended up stealing the show. It’s hard to imagine Murphy, or for that matter any lead guitarist, turning in a more exciting performance than Murphy’s today: pretty impressive, considering the rest of the crew who would be up there with him. After a gentle, jazz-inflected solo in the duo’s first song together, he took a fiery, searing one in the next tune that had everything a good solo should have: spectacular speed, melodicism and a point to drive home, hard. Later he took another one but lost focus and fell back into triplet mode. At that point, Walker, who was playing rhythm, hit his distortion pedal and really slammed out his chords, as if to say, Matt, get your act together. Which Murphy did, spectacularly.

Scotty Moore, the legendary lead player in Elvis Presley’s original band then joined them, somewhat of a fish out of water. He comes from an earlier era, a jazzier, more reflective school of lead playing, like Les Paul or an even mellower Jimmy Rogers. He looked lost up there more often than not, surrounded by so much adrenaline: ostentation is not his thing. Walker savagely stepped all over the outro to one of Moore’s solos, bringing the intensity up to redline again in seconds flat.

Then Ike Turner joined the fray, first playing sensationally good, fast, brightly chordal blues piano, then wailing on a Strat running through all kinds of effects: chorus, digital delay and then a phaser. Which was showy, assuring him the spotlight whenever he took a solo, regardless of what he played. Although he was also excellent, using short bursts a la Albert Collins from time to time and with the phaser, this was intense and extremely entertaining. They did Rocket 88 as Turner returned to the piano and sang it; vocally, he’s lost quite a bit. Later, they all did Mystery Train, showcasing Moore again. Their lone encore had all five of the guitarists soloing and playing off each other and rather than sounding like Phish, this was amazing, Moore even being swept up in the madness and turning in his most incisive, bluesy solo of the night. A frequently transcendent, historically significant show.

July 26, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Dwight & Nicole and Howard Fishman at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 1/11/08

Dwight & Nicole took the night from shithouse to penthouse (a putrid, suburban Lite FM act had preceded them) in the span of seconds. A cynic might consider them a lounge act, but a closer listen reveals them to be the real thing, a completely authentic, 1960s style soul act. Dwight Ritcher was battling a nasty cold, but he still managed to nail his harmonies and play his Flying V guitar with a virtuosic, purist touch, very reminiscent of Steve Cropper. Nicole Nelson is the real deal, a genuine soul singer with a subtle, jazzy touch, stylistically evocative of Sharon Jones at her gentlest, or Dinah Washington in straight-ahead mode. Tonight she didn’t use any melisma, and hardly any vibrato, and held back from belting until she really needed to go to the well. When she did, it was spine-tingling. Ritcher and Nelson have the kind of intuitive chemistry that comes with toiling night after night in dives of all kinds, and it was clear that she was making up a lot of her lyrics on the spot. Yet she sang them as if she’d been living in them her whole life. Exuberance, joy, sadness, heartbreak: every emotion she tackled, she nailed them all.

The duo also have a deep feel for the blues. They recast Slim Harpo’s Hip Shake as a slinky, seductive soul number, and did a spot-on version of the Muddy Waters classic Honeybee. The most delightful thing about the original is the counterintuitive, staccato way Waters used his low E string to punctuate the phrases. Ritcher obviously knows the song well: his playful, purist take would have made Muddy proud. At the end of the night (the duo played between the other bands’ sets and then again after pretty much everybody had left), Ritcher moved to piano and, after some urging, Nelson picked up his guitar. She ought to play more: with her impeccable sense of melody and good taste, one can only imagine how good she’d sound if she could work up a few songs, or a few vamps.

Blues guitarist Howard Fishman got his start in New York busking on the Bedford Avenue L train platform. He was the first artist to have a weekly residency at Pete’s Candy Store, and released two excellent albums of original songs (the second of which actually made our top 20 list a few years ago, in a former incarnation). He built up quite a following, and then, completely without warning, he turned into Dave Matthews. And immediately fell off the face of the earth. He’s back, if not exactly humbled, tonight accompanied by a first-rate crew including Roland Satterwhite on violin, Ian Riggs on upright bass and a superb trombone player who stole the show with his soaring, crescendoing solos. Fishman mixed older material with a few covers, including a subtle and soulful version of the brilliant Willard Robison obscurity Where Are You. Having left the rock and the jam-band stuff behind, he’s taken on a little bit of a gypsy edge in his chordal attack, giving his material considerable added bite. Each of the supporting cast took a turn on vocals, Satterwhite impressing the most with a Chet Baker-style take on Pennies from Heaven to close the set.

Fishman’s stage persona is indifferent, sometimes abrasive, qualities which can be admirable for a punk performer (John Lydon made a thirty-year career out of acting that way), but that could make it more difficult for someone more reliant on audience rapport. Which might explain why Fishman was at Banjo Jim’s tonight instead of headlining the Gershwin Hotel as he triumphantly did in his first incarnation as a bluesman. He still sings like your older uncle who only shows up for birthdays and seders, but the lyrical wit and understated, purist musical sensibility that were part and parcel of his earlier work are back and in full effect. As good as it is to be able to reinvent yourself, it’s just as useful to be able to return to a previous incarnation, especially as captivating as Fishman used to be and has become again.

January 11, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The James Cotton Band at Metrotech Park, Brooklyn NY 7/26/07

Although James Cotton is their drawing card, he doesn’t sing or even talk to the audience. But his band is killer. No surprise, considering that Cotton’s main axeman in the 70s was none other than Matt “Guitar” Murphy of Animal House and Blues Brothers fame. This afternoon, the portly ex-Muddy Waters blues harpist took a seat in front of his four-piece backing unit, almost at the edge of the stage, beyond the shadow cast by the fabric of the tent overhead. From the amount of sweat pouring from his brow, it was clear that this was not the most comfortable place he could have been. Considering the early hour of the show (for an old bluesman, at least) and the oppressive humidity, it wouldn’t be fair to blame him for basically phoning it in. Playing mostly chromatic harp, he proved that he still has the earthy, sometimes showy chops that got him the gig with Muddy, but he didn’t do much of anything else. Today was the band’s turn to kick ass.

Singer/lead guitarist Slam Allen, who’s essentially their frontman, is star in his own right, a brilliant player, excellent singer and quite the showman. From his first rapidly precise excursion up the fretboard, it was clear that the heat didn’t bother him in the least. He played soulfully and often spectacularly fast throughout the band’s roughly 45-minute set, literally channeling B.B. King at times, especially on their two King covers, Let the Good Times Roll and How Blue Can You Get. Rhythm player Tom Holland, on the other hand, played like somebody had pulled him out of bed, consistently biting off more than he could chew whether he was soloing with a slide or launching into some frenetic chord-chopping. He clearly has the chops to do it: it’s a safe bet to say that if this had been late in the evening at some crowded blues joint, he would have pulled it off. The rhythm section gave the songs swing and bounce; their only misstep was letting bassist Charles Mack take an excruciatingly long, wanky, finger-poppin’ solo during one of the earlier numbers. It’s nice to see a veteran of a rapidly vanishing genre getting good paying gigs like this one– probably far more lucrative than anything he ever did with Muddy – at this stage of his career.

An old-timey band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, opened the show with a brief, barely half-hour set. While the musicians, particularly the fiddle player, proved adept at old acoustic country blues, they need to find somebody who can sing. Or they should just do instrumentals, which would be fine.

Outdoor NYC parks shows like this one are a great way to see some fairly important figures in the history of music, for free, with absolutely no hassles. Another fairly important band from an entirely different genre, 70s roots reggae vets the Itals play here on August 9 at noon, definitely worth seeing if that’s your thing.

July 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment