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.

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

Marianne Dissard Charms the Crowd at Barbes

Marianne Dissard’s latest Album Paris One Takes is deliciously intense, a noir cabaret-tinged mix of southwestern gothic and snarling post-new wave guitar rock. Thursday night at Barbes, backed by an inspired pickup band featuring an slinky, jazz-trained rhythm section as well as piano and accordion, she affirmed that she’s also a tremendously captivating performer, as slyly funny as she was intense. She’d just made friends with Birds Are Alive, a French blues band who happened to be in town, so she had their guitarist open for her, backed by the bassist and drummer who would accompany her later on. He was interesting to hear, enough to hold Dissard’s crowd for an hour while he turned up again, and again, and again, to the point where he no longer had any competition for loudest act to ever play Barbes’ little back room (that includes Slavic Soul Party and their blaring horns). He’s got an individual style, part hypnotic R.L. Burnside hill country rumble, part Stevie Ray Vaughan, with a little Billy Gibbons and Ali Farka Toure thrown in for surprise factor. The rhythm section shifted quickly along with him as he segued from Big Boss Man, to some more psychedelic one-chord vamps, to a Muddy Waters tune, a little electrified Robert Johnson and finally a rolling and tumbling original to wrap up an hour’s worth of roar and crackle from his overdriven, buzzing little Peavey amp.

Dissard is also on the New French Chanson: Eight for Matisse compilation just out from Barbes Records. She brought up a friend to join her on her contribution Les Draps Sourds (The Drunken Sheets), a duet that turned out to be amusingly seductive, by contrast with the frenetically passionate, hard-rocking studio version. She’d opened with a slinky, accordion-driven version of Sans-Façon, a sultry yet ominous contemplation of a summery “boy season,” everybody taking off their clothes at the water’s edge, her breathy vocals less world-weary than eagerly anticipating whatever suspense lay in store. Her accordionist switched to piano for a beautifully nuanced yet straight-ahead take of the bitter backbeat rock song Les Confettis. The wickedly catchy, new wave-infused La Peau du Lait (Porcelain Skin) turned out to be a slap at French radio, its characteristically clever, pun-laden French lyrics resonating with the big crowd of French fans who’d come out to see her. She also did a dramatic, flamenco-inflected 6/8 ballad along with a single song in English. Dissard is in New York doing some movie work (her new film L’Abandon premiered in Tucson, the place she’s most recently called home, earlier this month) – so she’ll no doubt have other shows like this one coming up in the near future.

October 23, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

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

Concert Review from the Archives: Jimmy Rogers at Chicago Blues, NYC 3/9/95

[Editor’s note: from time to time we delve into the archives if we don’t have something brand-new to keep the front page fresh. Consider this an obscure alternative to “this date in rock – or in this case blues – history.”]

The band went on immediately at showtime, and they were good. The new keyboardist was the star of the show and took most of the solos. The white guy playing rhythm guitar had some unfortunate heavy metal tendencies but his Gibson’s sweet, sustained tone took the edge off. After the band had run through a few standards, Jimmy Rogers came up with his big, hollowbody Gibson and tentatively launched into Rock This House. He’s an uncommonly subtle, urbane player, fond of big, sustained jazzy chords: he doesn’t bear much resemblance to the guy who provided all that deceptively simple chordal work behind Muddy Waters back in the fifties. He rarely soloed, once trading off a few licks with the keyboardist, but that’s about it. The harp player who marred Rogers’ previous New York show at Downtime with his ridiculous ostentation was wisely kept in the background this time; the keyboardist stepped all over him every time he tried to solo. If that’s what it takes – other than outright firing the guy – to keep him in check, that’s what the band needs to do. After Rogers had been up there about 35 minutes, they decided to take a “break” which at this venue can mean a couple of hours, so it’s anybody’s guess if they ever came back or if there was anyone left at the bar when they did.

[Postscript: Rogers’ performance at this show was vital and energetic, at least as energetic as the relatively phleghmatic guitarist ever got; his death about about two years later came as quite a shock]

March 9, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bobby Radcliff Live at Lucille’s Bar and Grill, NYC 2/23/08

The joke was on the crowd tonight. There was a long line of New Jersey tourists upstairs waiting to pay $60 to get into the larger adjacent B.B. King’s to see a Journey cover band. The whole lot of them, obviously impatient to get out of the cold, could have gotten into the smaller space and seen Bobby Radcliff and they all would have been $60 richer. And would have had a far better time. Saturday night in New York City at a popular, spacious nightclub, and who’s playing the main stage? A Journey cover band. Just think about that for a second.

To steal a phrase from LJ Murphy, in case you don’t know what the blues is, it is the kind of music that has nothing to do with Eric Clapton. In case you don’t know Bobby Radcliff, he’s one of the world’s most exciting blues guitarists. The Washington, DC native, tonight looking something like Chewbacca the Wookie from Star Wars in a three-piece suit, has always had sensational chops, but in recent years he’s really come into his own. B.B. King is the obvious influence, but Radcliff has brought a multitude of other styles into his playing, from Muddy Waters to funk, and they’re all good. Although he still plays an awful lot of notes, like a funkier, more minor-key or jazz-inclined Stevie Ray Vaughan, he’s finally discovered space, making all those scales and riffs and licks actually count for something. Tonight he was accompanied by what seemed to be a pickup rhythm section, the drummer pushing everything along by playing just ahead of the beat. The bass player was using all kinds of unorthodox voicings for what were clearly pretty standard lines. Instead of staying in position and just playing the notes as they went up the scale and up the strings, he’d move further up his A or D strings, sometimes sliding to the notes, actually a very effective device. A closer look revealed why: his G string was missing. For awhile it was hard to resist the temptation to call out from the audience and ask how that happened. On second thought, it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do: losing one’s G string can be traumatic, something that isn’t easily discussed in front of a crowd.

Radcliff alternated originals with covers. To his immense credit, it was sometimes hard to tell which was which. Although his vocals were miked too low in the mix for his audience repartee to be audible to all but those at the tables closest to the stage, he was in a gregarious mood tonight, revealing how Lovesick Blues wasn’t written by Muddy Waters, but was actually a Memphis Minnie tune (blues fans are obsessive like that). Radcliff’s version was uniquely his own, although he added some low vibrato on his E string, mimicking Muddy’s ominous tonalities. His version of Muddy’s Honeybee was rich with vibrato as well.

He did a couple of ominous, hypnotic numbers that evoked Howlin Wolf’s Smokestack Lightning as well as something that sounded like a dead ringer for Otis Rush’s Lonely Man, right down to the fast boogie break on the chorus, but with different lyrics. Radcliff sang with a drawl, but a casually unaffected one, making it clear that he doesn’t take his blues vocal cues from Robert Plant. Guitarwise, he used pretty much every trick in the book: lightning-fast chord-chopping and tremolo-picking, sizzling sixteenth-note runs, long sustained notes and elaborate jazz chords, all with just a touch of natural distortion from his gorgeous Gibson Les Paul. At the end of the set he did an utterly macabre instrumental cover of Memphis, of all songs, and this was as effective as it was bizarre. Don’t let the fact that he’s white scare you away: the guy can flat-out play, as he reaffirmed tonight. He’s back here on March 15 at 8.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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