Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Zevon-athon at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 11/12/09

by Richard Wallace

Warren Zevon was an American songwriter whose vocabulary, both written and musical, earned him acclaim from the music press, his peers and his loyal following throughout a 30 year-plus career that ended too soon when he died after a short battle with cancer in 2003.  It may have been his Russian heritage that fueled many of his songs with an unforgettably rebellious, muscular, Cossack spirit.  

It must have been that same spirit that drove Nate Schweber to lead the cavalry into Banjo Jim’s on Thursday night for the very first Warren Zevon-athon. Schweber, frontman of the New Heathens, pulled together a band of stellar downtown Americana talent to perform a robust double barrel set of Zevon’s material. The audience that packed into Banjo Jim’s shared the small club’s confined, standing-room-only space with the dozens of musicians on the bill, and they reveled all night long, celebrating in the work of an indelible artist.

For this show, Schweber was joined by J.D. Hughes on drums, Alison Jones on bass, Rich Hinman (of the Madison Square Gardeners, among others) on guitar and Andy Mullen on piano, and together they were able to do an outstanding job of recreating the stylish west coast feel of Zevon’s early recordings.

Among the standup performances were Jesse Bates (“I’ll Sleep When I’m Dead”), Mr. Somebody (“I Was in the House when the House Burned Down”),  Mr. Somebodyelse (“Mr. Bad Example”) and Andy Mullen (“The French Inhaler”).  Schweber and his bandmates added “Frank and Jesse James”, “Mohammed’s Radio”, “Lawyers, Guns and Money” and of course the irrepressible “Werewolves of London.” In addition, Steve Welnter delivered “I Was In The House When The House Burned Down,” and Steve Strunsky performed “Mr. Bad Example”. 

But the highlights of the evening may have been the contributions of the female vocalists in the house:  Mary Lee Kortes of Mary Lee’s Corvette (“Desperados Under the Eaves”)  Charlene McPherson of Spanking Charlene (“Hasten Down the Wind”), Eleanor Whitmore (“Carmelita”), Monica Passin and Drina Seay (“Keep Me in Your Heart”).  Each one of these striking performances were done with a remarkable forthrightness and amazing compassion for the material. 

Leave it to Zevon. The Excitable One’s foot-stomping numbers are models of boyish swagger. A notorious womanizer, Zevon may have been dead for six years now, yet he can still charm his way through to all the female hearts in a room with his poignantly candid lyrics. 

And then Serena Jean Southam (of the Whisky Trippers) belted out “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” and the night was allowed to proceed to its fitful conclusion.   Leave it to Schweber, who’d courageously orchestrated the night, and yes, “His hair was perfect.”

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November 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Monica Passin/Sean Kershaw and the New Jack Ramblers at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 4/24/08

It’s no secret that New York has one of the most vital, thriving country music scenes anywhere. Forget any snide commentary you may have overheard about urban musicians playing country: if anything, the music coming out of the New York country scene is far more traditionally-oriented than most anything Nashville is producing these days. Tonight’s bill paired two of the more popular country acts in town. Monica Passin, frontwoman of long-running Rodeo Bar honkytonkers L’il Mo and the Monicats played mostly solo acoustic, with occasional help from a couple of women who sang harmonies, and the New Jack Ramblers’ amazing lead guitarist. She’s pretty much everything you could want in a country singer: pretty voice, good songs, good taste in covers and backing musicians. Her best song was a minor-key rockabilly number – the first one in that style she’d ever written, she said – possibly titled This Cat. The lead player used Passin’s ominous chord changes as a springboard for a riveting, intense, jazz-inflected solo that drew roars of appreciation from the crowd. On the last song, Passin invited Lisa, the bar owner up to sing harmonies, and as it turned out she’s actually good! Not since the days when Juliana Nash ran the show at Pete’s Candy Store has there been a bar owner who’s been able to show off such a soaring, fearless voice. Bands in need of a frontwoman ought to stop by the bar: she won’t embarrass you, and if all else fails you’ll always have a place to play.

Sean Kershaw and the New Jack Ramblers aren’t exactly under the radar, maintaining a hectic gig schedule in addition to the regular Sunday night residency they’ve been playing at Hank’s for what seems forever. They’re a rotating crew of some of the best players in town: the weekly Sunday show originated out of necessity, as this was the only night everybody in the band didn’t have a gig. Tonight, backed by just lead guitar and upright bass (their awe-inspiring pedal steel player Bob Hoffnar wasn’t available, and you really don’t need drums in a small room like Banjo Jim’s), Kershaw ran through a mix of what sounded like covers but probably weren’t. The guy’s a hell of a songwriter, a prolific, versatile writer as comfortable with western swing as honkytonk, rockabilly or stark, Johnny Cash-inspired narratives. Tonight’s show was the western swing show, driven by lead guitarist Skip Krevens, whose ability to burn through a whole slew of styles was nothing short of spectacular, everything from jazz to rockabilly to blues. He made it seem effortless. They gamely ran through the old standard Smoke That Cigarette in addition to a bunch of originals, some recorded, some not, closing the first of their two sets with what has become Kershaw’s signature song, Moonlight Eyes. Originally recorded with his first band, the fiery, rockabilly unit the Blind Pharaohs, it’s a genuine classic, something that sounds like a Carl Perkins hit from 1956. Kershaw has played it a million times, but still manages to make it sound fresh, the ominous undercurrent beneath its blithe romantic sway more apparent than ever tonight, stripped down to just the basics.

And what was even more apparent was that both of the acts on this bill would probably be big stars in a smaller metropolis: here, they’re only part of a widespread, talented scene.

April 25, 2008 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment