Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mick Reed: Urban Cowboy

I missed the CD release party in Manhattan the day before but what the hell,  I was visiting my sister and only four miles from the next stop on the tour- Theodore's in Springfield, MA. I walked through the doors and thought "What a great place!" I found Mick and the band, finishing up dinner and getting ready to play. Mick leads with vocals and guitar, accompanied by Casey Abrams (lead guitar), Chris Butler (drums),  Jaime Lamb (double bass) and Nate Trier (keyboards).


I'm a huge fan of live music. With studio recording, you get all the precision that technology allows along with multiple instruments,  and all the other benefits of multiple takes.  But I still love the raw experience of live music.  That's where I was able to see the forever-calm and laid-back presence of Mick Reed as he sings and leads the band through his original compositions with his country twang vocals.  As he lays out story after story of the sad and lonely life of a cowboy, I can detect the smile of a man who loves doing this and quite frankly, ma'am, he is perfectly happy to play to a crowded room or sit on his front porch chewing on a wad of tobacco and contemplating the wide-open range.  Even when his band takes a break, he continues to sing...he's just so laid-back, nothing frazzles this urban cowboy.


His lyrics are so visual....and then it hits me.  Of course: his day job is video producer.  He's a visual guy, he percieves the world through his eyes and his imagination.  And that's the common denominator of his songs: his lyrics paint rich and vivid images like these from a track on the new album, "A Fool at the Other" that he sings with the help of Madeliene Peyroux on the CD.

You got me staying up til the sun comes up
And there's nothing left but ashes in this coffee cup
You got me playing solitaire
'Til I pull my hair
Oh, brother...

But its more than that.  It's that he's so damn convincing, this new dad who lives in a suburb of Connecticut, who seems as much at home in the midst of city life as he seems to be on the range...or at least in this wonderfully divey wide open blues bar in the middle of Springfield, on a chilly Tuesday night with it's oversized Indian motorcycle sign overlooking the pool players and the roughly painted mural of  hallowed bluesmen.


For more information on Mick Reed and his latest CD, Goodnight, Texas, go to http://www.mickreed.com/.





Jazz Interplay: Noah Preminger

Scullers, Feb 23, 2011 -Noah Preminger
with Frank Kimbrough (piano), John Hebert (bass), Matt Wilson (drummer)


I recently had a chance to hear Noah Preminger, tenor saxophonist-composer, in his performance marking the release of his 2nd CD, Before the Rain.   Although this collection differs from his first CD, Dry Bridge Road, in that it is mostly ballads, the “creativity and passion remain extremely high" on both albums, according to Ed Enright, Downbeat.   I was certainly able that to hear that passion on this night.

The other aspect of this band that you can’t help but notice is their synergy. According to Preminger, there are things that happen between himself and Frank Kimbrough (piano) that "aren’t planned but are perfectly in sync."  And he seems to have that interplay with the other members of the band as well.
At first Preminger seemed a bit awkward on the stage in front of the audience, almost a shy can’t-look-you-in –the-eyes demeanor.  But I soon saw that this was one of the looks of a musician lost in his music, while maintaining enough control to produce some amazing range on the instrument. 
With the opening tune, the rich sound of the alto saxophone filled the room…gave me a chill right off. And I found myself lost, too, in this seemingly free-form medley that included Toy Dance, an Ornette Coleman tune.  Another Coleman tune, Street Woman, was embellished by Kimbrough’s compelling piano solo, his classical influences shining through. Preminger’s delightful interpretation of Where or When shows just how much of a “natural” this versatile musician is.
The bass player John Hebert, took a fabulous solo on the title song, Before the Rain, that was beautiful. Matt Wilson, the drummer, is clearly a favorite of the audience and after listening to his playing, I can see why.  
In Nancy with the Laughing Face, all four talented musicians are showcased with solos and the audience has a chance to witness firsthand, that magical thing that happens when musicians play off each other by sheer intuition.  Preminger, Kimbrough and (bass player) John Hebert have been playing together for nearly 4 years.  And it shows. Listen to how Preminger ends the song, how he and the others inject their own sort of voodoo into this beautiful tune. 
Interestingly, this is a song I never paid attention to until I heard Kurt Elling’s arrangement and delivery of it.  It turns out Preminger played with Elling in high school.  As an added note, I had the amazing opportunity  to attend Kurt Elling’s concert a few days later, at the same venue.  This was a good week for music.

Currently residing in New York, Preminger went to New England Conservatory of Music where he made some very important contacts including Ruth Lepson, a teacher and poet.  Preminger collaborated with Lepson, setting some of her poetry to the music.  Another former teacher from “the conservatory,” Bob Nieske, is a bass player that Preminger has played with.
Although Preminger grew up listening to a fairly eclectic group of musicians, including Joni Mitchell, Joshua  Redman, Orleans and Grateful Dead, his parents were avid Jazz enthusiasts and that clearly had an impact.  Today, Preminger cites Charlie Parker as one of the great influences on his music.  He also mentions Mun, an Icelandic band that has inspired him personally and Fred Hirsch, an “amazing piano player” says Preminger, who he will be playing with in an upcoming gig.
I, for one, will be keeping my eyes on the “up and coming” talent of Noah Preminger and his band.  For more information about Noah Preminger, go to http://www.noahpreminger.com/

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Valentine's Day with Eight to the Bar

For years now, I’ve been following this band.  Even when it’s tough getting out of the house, I make a bit more of an effort when Eight to the Bar are playing.  They never disappoint the dancers and this was Valentine’s Day, after all.  Without complaints, I drove the full 45 minutes up to Leominster on a Sunday night to hear them.  When I entered, the band was swinging and the floor was filled with dancers, a smear of red:  Red hearts, red lights, red skirts and dresses twirling.  I even saw a red bowtie.
Alan and Luanne, founders of Dance2Swing, make a big night of February 14th, complete with raffles, do-it-yourself valentine’s, chocolates and pizza for all.  The place was packed.  When I arrived, there wasn’t a seat to be had in the huge room.
The band is made up of Cynthia Lyons on vocals and keyboards, Brinna Jones on vocals and percussion, Tom Whalen on guitar and vocals, Michael Corsini on bass and vocals, Shawn Meehan on drums and Collin Tilton on sax.

Based out of the Hartford area, this swing band has a huge following of dancers.  They specialize in big band songs that are particularly danceable.  And they’re been busy. “The Romper Room,” released in Aug 2010, is the band’s 11th CD.  Their songs are classic swing songs of the ‘50s as well as originals. I happened to capture “Candy man” on video, a personal favorite….

For more information on ETTB, go to http://www.eighttothebar.com/index.html

DELTA GENERATORS AT BEATNIKS

I was finally able to attend a gig of one of the bands I had written about in Worcester Magazine, The Delta Generators.  As it turned out, they were playing at a new club in Worcester---Beatniks.  I’d never been there and according to Craig Rawding, the lead singer of the band, neither had they.

When we arrived, although the band was just starting up, they came “out of the gate” with power, no start-up needed.  Within seconds, all eyes were on them and the idle conversations came to a halt.  This band had presence.   The lead vocalist, Craig Rawding, was clearly the front man but guitar-man Charlie O’Neal and his brother, Rick on bass, were very much in the limelight throughout.  And when Jeff Armstrong did his drum solos, it felt like he was the only one in the room, which filled up quickly as the drinks were poured and the tiny dance floor filled.
The Delta Generators played a perfect combination of covers like their opening song “Crossroads;” then  “One Way Out” and “I’m Goin’ Down” but included many of their own “crowd pleasers” like the title cut of their latest CD “Hard River to Row.” It was easy to see why this band was selected as one of the top five self-produced CDs by the 2011 International Blues Challenge.
At events like this, I am often torn between shooting video and just plain getting into the moment but this band was visually so exciting that every time I put the camera aside, I quickly picked it up again to capture a great moment on stage. 
This night, I was particularly fascinated by Charlie O’Neal’s playing, especially his use of the glass slide to produce some great slide-guitar sounds.  I am drawn to gifted musicians who seem to get lost in their music, unaware of the surroundings.  I hope it’s not just a dramatic flourish to entertain, not that it should matter. Maybe it’s just humility, I don’t know. I just know that I like it.
Although I’ve noticed this before, when Charlie O’Neal switched guitars, I was curious as to why.  When I asked him at the break, his simple answer was that he had different tunings for different guitars.  So, rather than taking the time to retune his  guitar, he tunes it ahead of time and has it ready and waiting for that song. This common practice for musicians seems practical and the variation certainly adds visual interest for people like me, especially when the guitars are so dramatically different looking.
After the break, things got even more exciting and even more relaxed.  The mood in this club was buoyant now that we all knew what to expect.  Rawding enjoyed the growing rapport with the crowd when he asked, “Is everybody here…” the crowd quickly roared “Yeah!!!” He laughed and said, “Hold it---I know you’re all here.  Wait ‘til I actually ask you the question…(laughing again) ”Is everyone here… having a good time?”  That funny little interaction was so typical of the night.  Lots of exuberance, fun, and lots of power-playing.  

On a personal note:
During one song, when I finally put my camcorder down to get lost in the music myself, I happened to glance around and briefly noticed someone moving along with me to the music. I smiled and, as I looked back at the band, I had a fleeting thought that this person looked a lot like my daughter who lived in New York City AND who I hadn’t seen for some time.  I turned to look at her again, thinking, “I wish she was here” and then it HIT ME.  She was….

(See if you can see my surprise unfold in this rather dark clip shot from a cell phone)

That unexpected visit plus a little bit of birthday attention from the band made for one great night.  Thank you, Delta Generators.  You ARE the band to watch…

video

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Romance Is In the Air

TOO HUMAN @ The Watertown Library, 2/9/2011
I don’t make it to all their gigs but nevertheless, I am a devoted fan.  Some of my interest in the husband and wife duo called Too Human may be because I know the “back stories” behind many of the songs, so personal and so easy to relate to.   I know this because I was there when my sister Ellen got her first guitar at age 5
that launched her into a nonstop interest in music, leading her to her husband and lifelong musical partner, Roger. Their passion in writing and performing hasn’t waned for a minute since then.  After a career in Los Angeles as staff songwriters for Chapel Music, they returned back East to be closer to family and jumped full swing into producing and performing their own music.
Last night, a few days before Valentine’s Day, the Watertown Library delighted the local community with a live concert by Too Human.  It had been awhile since I’ve heard them and you could do a lot worse than be entertained by this talented couple----both by the warmth, humor and synergy they generate as well as beauty and thoughtfulness of their music.  Their music touches your soul, making you laugh as you listen to the seemingly-authentic banter of the duo, arguing in the middle of “Twisted” or being caught off guard by a lyric that hits close to home--- I’ve shed a tear or two while listening to  their original music, including the very moving ballad “Crater on the Moon.” 
The subdued concert setting of the library is a little different for me this night, as I am more used to the loud and distracting environment of clubs, bars, and dance halls.  But I can see why these two accomplished songwriter/musicians prefer this type of venue. The people that attend their concerts are here because they WANT to listen to lyrics, to the music and to the heart of this creative duo whose playing is rounded out by the stellar sounds of Bryan Rizzuto on his upright bass.   Ellen plays guitar and Roger fills it out with a range of percussion instruments as well as his mouth as trombone—You’ve got to hear it to believe it!  And they both do vocals.  Ellen’s soulful, even and sometimes gritty sound is a perfect balance to Roger’s smooth crooning vocals. Together, they provide gorgeous harmonies. 
Guaranteed.  If you were with your honey last night, you would have reached for his/her hand, leaned back in your chair and closed your eyes as you listened to the band’s wonderfully romantic arrangement of “It Had to Be You” or “I’ve Got a Crush on You.”
Too Human has a particular talent of customizing their playlist to the audience and since there were some children present, another original, “Swimmies” was a fun way to involve the kids and get us all to visualize a much-needed break from snow, anticipating warmer summer days ahead.
A signature part of the Too Human act is a sing-along at the end that never fails to engage the audience—“Pennies From Heaven.” By the last chorus, this reserved audience was transformed into an animated chorus, happily waiting for their cue. 
After an enthusiastic applause, the crowd reluctantly filtered out of the room, uplifted, many of them stopping to chat with the musicians.  Thank you, friends of the Watertown Library, for sponsoring a delightful night and wonderful prequel to Valentine’s Day. 



To find out more about Too Human, go to http://www.toohumanonline.com/



Sunday, February 6, 2011

Winter Wonderland


Driving up north on 1A brings back a vague memory of the Wonderland Ballroom.  In balmier weather, this could have been a nice drive were it not for the fact that we were over an hour late to see the “Legends of Rock &  Blues” concert in historic Lynn, MA.  Driving through this working class industrial town at night, I watched the white clouds of exhaust and who knows what else as it billowed out of the chimneys of the General Electric factory into the black sky.  This is the source of global warming, I thought, and why I have four feet of snow on my roof and my kitchen ceiling looks like a sieve. Thinking that I had hoped tonight would be a departure from the woes of winter, I focused back on the Lynn Auditorium, wondering what that might be like, hoping for the best.

We arrived in the middle of James Montgomery warming up his version of “You Gotta Help Me Baby” and my spirits soared.  Although I am not a big fan, he was definitely “on his game” tonight.  The acoustics and the lighting in the room were fantastic and the dramatically oversized, wood-carved stage was a perfect setting for this blues harp player and the other luminaries.  Montgomery had the benefit of a very talented lead guitar player as well as support from Brad Whitford of Aerosmith, local rocker Johnny A, and a multitude of other gifted musicians.


Then came Rick Derringer.  Although I have heard of him— “Hang on Sloopy” and “Frankenstein,” this was my first time hearing him play live.  In contrast to the previous act, Derringer just had a bass player and drummer to accompany him.  But somehow, that was enough.  It was oddly entertaining to see Derringer, who hardly moved anything but his nimble fingers over his guitar, contrasted with the theatrics of the bass player, Charlie Torres, who pranced about the stage during the performance.

Lastly, came Edgar Winter, a strikingly tall image, dressed in black from head to toe, accentuating the white glow of his pale face and white flowing hair.  No warm-up needed, this rock ‘ n’ roll/blues icon starting out “on fire” along with yet another core of talented musicians.  The lead guitar-player, Doug Rappaport, seemed to complete sentences that Winter started—literally.  Winter still has his rock ‘n’ roll chops and proceeded to display his talents not just with his scatting vocals but his significant skill on sax, keyboard and drums.  I snapped a great shot of him with his signature playing of a keyboard strapped around his neck—pretty impressive considering its size and I’m guessing it’s weight but he wields it like a toy. 
My favorite part was his duets with each of the musicians, initiating a vocal “conversation” that each of the musicians responded to with their respective instruments, showcasing the talents of all. 



Although advertised as a rock and blues concert, this event was much more of a rocker event although some blues favorites were included like “Tobacco Road” and “You Gotta Help Me Baby.”  All in all, a great event, and proof that New Englanders know how to have fun, especially in the midst of Winter.






2/4/2011