Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 10/27/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #825:

Gregory Isaacs – Reggae Greats Live

The Cool Ruler has left Babylon: we’ve lost one of the great voices in reggae music. Gregory Isaacs died on Monday, at 59, leaving a legacy of literally hundreds of albums and many broken hearts. In the last few years, if you wanted to meet Jamaican women of a certain age, you could find them swaying to Night Nurse at a Gregory Isaacs show. This live album from 1983, probably recorded about a year earlier, doesn’t have that one but it does have a bunch of hits from the late 70s/early 80s when he was one of the biggest stars in Jamaica. As with the rest of his catalog, it’s a mix of sly come-ons (Isaacs was sort of the Jamaican Jimmy Reed) and righteous Rasta anthems. His biggest hit before Night Nurse was Number One (as in, “If you wanna be my number one…) and he opens with that, backed by a terrific oldschool roots band with lead guitar, electric piano and percussion. Stylistically, the songs run the gamut from oldschool rocksteady like Tune In (check out the vintage video from Rockers TV), Substitute or Mr. Brown to straight-up pop (Ooh What a Feeling). Other big Jamaican hits in the set include Soon Forward, Sunday Morning (not the Lou Reed song), Top Ten and Front Door. The politically-charged immigrant’s tale The Border closes the album on an epic note, a throwback to his early days as Rasta rebel. As reggae went more digital, so did Isaacs’ recordings, with predictable results, although pretty much anything he did before, say, this album, is usually worth a listen. And there’s a lot of it. Here’s a random torrent.

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October 26, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: The Congos and Toots and the Maytals at Tramps, NYC 6/12/97

[Editor’s note – when we first started this blog, we weren’t overwhelmed with album submissions and invitations to seemingly every show in town. Since we’d inherited a book of literally over a thousand reviews of New York concerts from over the years, most of them previously unpublished, from our predecessor e-zine, we’d put one up when we didn’t have anything new to report. With apologies to all the artists – over three dozen of you – whose excellent albums remain in the queue waiting for some attention, we return to a feature we hope to revisit now and again in the future. For those of you who’ve been pushing us to continue to put these up, thanks for sticking to your guns: the squeaky wheel always gets the grease]

Seems all the yuppie pupppies who didn’t make it uptown to the Matt Murphy show at Manny’s all showed up here tonight: I was finally edged out of my shaft of AC by a pack of drunken amateurs who acted as if I didn’t exist. A leering posse of fratboys persuaded a couple of shy but increasingly drunk girls to indulge them in body shots (how you drink tequila out of a girl’s bellybutton when she’s standing upright is a new frontier that physics hasn’t figured out yet). That aside, the somewhat reformed Congos (frontman Cedric Myton, minus the two original harmony singers) gave a powerful performance that was, as it turned out, impossible to follow. Myton was joined this time out by two women singing backup, creating some hauntingly delicious harmonies that faithfully replicated the sound the legendary roots reggae group achieved on their cult classic album Heart of the Congos. Although the synth player’s horn setting went out of tune on one song, this wasn’t a problem for the rest of the show. Most of the material drew from that legendary album, including Ark of the Covenant, At the Feast (a showcase for Myton’s soaring falsetto, which is as vital as it was twenty years ago) and the last song (an encore which they went into again after Rockers TV host “Rootsman” Earl Chin got the audience to howl for them), Fisherman. Which, surprisingly, actually wasn’t as good as the rest of their stuff  – although the part about the dealer with “the best collie weed in town” went over well.

Toots and the Maytals followed, playing to the crowd, or so they thought. Toots: “Are there any people from Jamaica out there?”

Silence.

But the fratboys had come to party, and Toots delivered. It’s been thirty years since 54-46 Was My Number, since Toots Hibbert – the Jamaican James Brown – did jail time for weed possession, and it’s amazing how he keeps his set as fresh as he does, considering how they play the same songs night after night to (in this country at least) a mostly white audience that has no concept of the circumstances under which they were created.  With horn section, keys, lead guitar and their irrepressible frontman, they made their way through actually inspired, sometimes ten-minute jams on classics like the joyous Pressure Drop, the bouncy Time Tough and Get Up, Stand Up, a brooding epic on record but an endless minor-key dance vamp here. As good as most of the band was, the weak link was the lead guitarist, whose garish metal solos only detracted from the songs’ hypnotic energy (Toots really needs to deep-six that guy). Meanwhile, Toots gyrated, spun and exhorted the crowd to sing along, and they complied (fratboys are a subservient lot). Take Me Home Country Roads was better than the execrable John Denver original, but when they followed that with Louie Louie, after an hour’s worth of bouncing, it was time to concede the battle for the shaft of air conditioning, head out into the heat and hit Twin Donut for an after-show snack.

June 12, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lucid Culture Interview: Toots Hibbert of Toots & the Maytals

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over forty years since the Maytals cut their first 45 in a little studio in Jamaica. Since then, Toots & the Maytals have become one of the world’s best-loved reggae bands, filling clubs around the world with good vibes and their unique blend of classic, funky, gospel-inspired roots reggae, rocksteady and ska all summer long. With a perpetual smile on his face and that inimitable, gruff patwa-infused voice, legendary frontman Toots Hibbert was generous to take some time out from his grueling schedule to do some talking with Lucid Culture:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: You’ve been on tour for over two weeks now. How much time do you spend on the road every year?

Toots Hibbert: It varies per year. Sometime I travel doing benefit shows, sometimes other shows. I would say about three months.

LCC: You had a day off yesterday, tonight you play Salt Lake City. How do they like Toots & the Maytals?

TH: We played Minneapolis the night before. It’s good all the time!

LCC: You’re playing B.B. King’s in New York on June 2 at 8 PM, a place you’ve played several times…

TH: They always request me back all the time, they always want me at B.B. King’s. I remember leaving Jamaica to do a show there, a special show, a benefit. They have a lot of artists, five different artists, some of us from Jamaica…a great memory, when I go there I feel it all the time.

LCC: As anyone who has ever seen you knows, you are one of the most energetic performers in any style of music – it’s hard to imagine that you’re in your sixties now. How did you refine your style over the years?

TH: Well, you know it is, they see me come up and start to do my thing, like no artist from Jamaica did with respect to the audience. I can’t sing without dancing first – and let the audience go from there. It’s about one person. He or she will go away feeling the feeling, you know they love it every time.

LCC: Is getting up on stage your daily workout routine, or do you have another secret to staying in shape?

TH: I just exercise, and make my psalm in my vocal chord…I do everything that’s good!

LCC: Who are some of your influences, as far as your performance onstage? I see a little James Brown in you up there…

TH: Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson – people before you were born! I’m a performer; I’m a jazz player, and I still do this way. I don’t copy anyone. I’m just my kind of style.

LCC: Your new album Flip and Twist is on your own D&F music label, it’s out now digitally at all the usual places and it’ll be in stores on May 18. Is this the first time you’ve released an album yourself?

TH: D&F is a Jamaican music label. I have a contract through William Morris, they are the ones who are going to distribute and everything like that.

LCC: How does it feel to see so many of the younger generation being influenced by classic ska and roots reggae, to see so many inspiring new bands with real horns, real keyboards, real vocals, no computerized stuff, who sound a lot like Toots & the Maytals?

TH: Yeah, they fill the place! I saw them in Europe, in the UK, all over, in America, all over! I feel good about it – people try to be real again, positive, work in themselves, mostly white groups and white youths and a few black ones in Jamaica too: you have Chinese and Japanese! Their songs are good, so I leave with a good feeling, they can follow in my footsteps. Other people, Marley, other good people from Jamaica too. Some of them are negative – but I listen to the positive ones!

LCC: Can you tell us about the DVD you’re making for the BBC on your life story?

TH: The BBC documentary’s not done yet. We’ve started on it already, we’ve just finished this album now, and across the country is the next step!

Toots & the Maytals play B.B. King’s in New York on June 2 at 8 PM. The rest of the US tour schedule is below:

05/12: Flagstaff, AZ @ Orpheum Theater

05/13: San Diego, CA @ SoundWave

05/14: Las Vegas, NV @ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino – Outdoor Pool

05/15: Hermosa Beach, CA @ Saint Rocke

05/16: West Hollywood, CA @ Key Club

05/18: San Francisco, CA @ Regency Ballroom

05/19: Eugene, OR @ McDonald Theatre

05/20: Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater

05/21: Seattle, WA @ Showbox At The Market

05/22: Missoula, MT @ Wilma Theater

05/23: Billings, MT @

05/25: Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue

05/26: Milwaukee, WI @ Turner Hall Ballroom

05/27: Chicago, IL @ House of Blues

05/28: Chicago, IL @ House of Blues

05/29: Niagara Falls, NY @ Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel – The Bear’s Den

05/30: Boston, MA @ House of Blues

05/31: South Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground – Ballroom

06/02: New York, NY @ B.B. King Blues Club & Grill

06/03: Amagansett, NY @ The Stephen Talkhouse

06/04: Hunter Mountain, NY @ Hunter Mountain

06/05: Hyannis, MA @ Cape Cod Melody Tent

May 11, 2010 Posted by | interview, Live Events, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Very Be Careful – Escape Room

Los Angeles band Very Be Careful have built a well-deserved reputation as sort of the Gogol Bordello of Colombian music, both for their delirious, hypnotic live shows and the snotty yet absolutely authentic attitude of their albums. No disrespect to Carlos Vives, but Very Be Careful take vallenato back to its roots in the north, to back when, just like roots reggae, it was the party music of the drug underworld – it doesn’t sound anything like him. Which makes sense: Very Be Careful’s slinky cumbia pulse has a lot in common with late 60s Jamaican rocksteady, the otherworldly swirl of the accordion is nothing if not psychedelic and so is the eerie insectile scrape of the guacharaca, the beat of the caja vallenata and clatter of the cowbell. Although if you asked this band for more cowbell, you’d probably get one upside the head – they bring a menacing, hallucinatory party vibe a lot like the Pogues back in the day when Shane MacGowan was drinking at peak capacity but still lucid. That considered, their new album Escape Room works equally well for the drinkers, dancers and stoners in the crowd. It’s all originals along with three rustic, boisterous covers, with the same resilient-bordering-on-aggressive feel of their 2009 live album, the deliciously titled Horrible Club.

The opening track, La Furgoneta (The Van) is a cumbia, its catchy descending progression carried by Ricardo Guzman’s accordion as his brother Arturo swings low with broken chords on the bass, way behind the beat in a style similar to great reggae bassists like Family Man Barrett. It segues into a hypnotic, two-chord number, La Abeja (The Bee), followed by the fast, bouncy, wickedly catchy La Alergia (Allergies), accordion playing major on minor, vividly evoking a horror-movie summer haze.

The first of the covers by legendary vallenato composer Calixto Ochoa, Playas Marinas (Sandy Beaches) is a party song, a staggering series of flourishes as the bass runs a catchy octave riff over and over. The other, Manantial del Alma (Springtime of the Soul) makes a sly attempt at seduction, the guy just wanting the girl to let him play for her. Another oldschool number, by Abel Antonio Villa, evokes a guy’s heartbreak, vocals on the verse trading off with accordion on the chorus – although it’s a party song without any real heartbroken vibe, at least musically.

The rest of the album is originals, and they’re great. El Hospital sounds like something the Clash might have done on Sandinista, wry and cynical. La Broma (The Joke) has the accordion playing minor on major this time, to equally ominous effect. The metaphorically charged La Gata Perdida (Lost Cat) has the poor critter going round in circles: “I think this killed me.” They end it with the upbeat La Sorpresa (Surprise) and then the aptly titled, psychedelic El Viajero del Tiempo (Time Traveler), bass playing three on four beneath insistent, trance-inducing minor-key accordion. You don’t have to speak Spanish to enjoy this, although you won’t get the clever, often snide, pun-laden lyrics. But as dance music, it doesn’t get any better than this – it’s out now on Barbes Records. Another reviewer had problems with this cd, calling it unsubtle and complaining about being blasted by the accordion, to which the only conceivable response is, who wouldn’t want to be blasted by an accordion? Very Be Careful play Highline Ballroom on May 23 – also keep an eye out for their annual Brooklyn 4th of July rooftop party (they got their start here, playing in the subway).

April 28, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Gilzene & the Blue Light Mento Band – Sweet Sweet Jamaica

Two words: YEAH MON! This new cd does double duty as valuable cultural artifact and strangely delightful party album. With acoustic guitar, a primitive “rhumba box” for a bass and an impressively energetic octogenarian banjo player, Gilzene & the Blue Light Mento Band play what Jamaicans were playing and dancing to before calypso, decades before reggae. Mento is sort of like Jamaican bluegrass, with similar chord changes but a different rhythm. It’s not reggae, but as this album goes on you can hear several elements that survived the transformation: for example, the way the percussion rolls when the song reaches a turnaround, and the guitar accent on the downbeat. Sung in old-fashioned Jamaican patwa, the lyrics reflect an earlier era, sometimes sly, sometimes silly, laden with puns and innuendo. Authenticity these days may be a dubious concept, but this album has an strikingly roughhewn, rustic vibe. The ramshackle quality of the performances, the dodgy harmonies and the slightly out-of-tune instruments only enhance the vintage feel. Although mento is an indelible part of Jamaican culture – island jazz still abounds with mento themes and references – it’s been a long time since it was in style. So this album is overdue, and particularly welcome for preserving these songs pretty much the way they were played seventy and eighty years ago.

The group kicks it off with a stripped-down, acoustic version of Crying, an international hit for Katie Kissoon in the 70s. The second track has a rousing, careening bluegrass feel with bracing, sometimes abrupt banjo accents. Gungu Walk, which follows, is a playful narrative told from the point of view of a peeping tom. The work song Hill & Gully is a long (some might say interminable) call-and-response vamp with a vintage Cuban feel – being an island nation, Jamaica has long been a melting pot for a stupefyingly large variety of styles. Ole Im Joe (Hold Him, Joe) is similarly rousing, in this case the metaphorically loaded tale of a donkey who can’t get enough to drink, alcoholic or otherwise. And Wata Yu Garden needs no explanation. The last of the fifteen tracks is a somewhat breakneck, out-of-tune version of the Toots & the Maytals classic Sweet & Dandy with vocals by Toots himself.

The backstory here is classically Jamaican. Gilzene has two other incarnations, one as Culture George, a reggae artist whose orthodox Rasta roots album was produced by the Twinkle Brothers’ Norman Grant back in the 70s, and the other as a gospel singer. Backup singer/percussionist Donnett Leslie moonlights as the keyboardist in his reggae band.

January 29, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment