The Trick Is To Keep Going

Archive for February, 2010

Johnette’s sketchbook

by on Feb.26, 2010, under Music

After coming out of the L.A. post-punk scene of the early 1980s, the members of Concrete Blonde found their niche in modern rock nearly 10 years later. The band was not a part of the pop-rock or hair rock genres of the ’80s and preceded the popular grunge movement of the early ’90s. Nonetheless, they enjoyed considerable commericial success once they were established on I.R.S., the label REM made famous.

Johnette Napolitano Sketchbook #3What they did bring was a punk attitude over a competent hard rock base, augmented by brilliant melodic structure, dark edgy lyrics and the distinctive and powerful voice of Johnette Napolitano. Let’s not forget Jim Mankey, who wrote much of the material with Napolitano, and displayed a highly proficient and inventive approach in his guitar playing.

Almost always a trio, except for an imaginative collaboration with Los Illegals in 1997, the band featured various drummers, including mainstay Harry Rushakoff. Since their successes of the early-to-mid ’90s, the group had regrouped on occasion before breaking up for good in 2007, with valid, creative efforts that had been largely ignored by the general public.

So what has become of bassist/singer Napolitano in recent years? Well, she has retreated a bit to Joshua Tree, Calif., but is still creating as an artist and as a musician with a solo release in 2007, Scarred, and occasional independent releases in her Sketchbook series. The Sketchbooks are not demos per se, but rather song fragments, ideas, flashes of brilliance caught in the moment, sometimes solo, sometimes in collaboration, often using GarageBand software.

I almost accidentally came upon Sketchbook #3 over at CD Baby when I was looking for a couple of other titles and I couldn’t be more pleased with the find.

Admittedly some tracks, although interesting and creative, can become a little tedious such as Bass Idea or Drum Practice. Perhaps she’s offering those to other musicians to expand upon. But in many of the other tracks, the old magic surfaces. That familiar proficient and explosive voice and that wonderful engaging of melody is still there. (continue reading…)

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Mayall still living in the blues

by on Feb.18, 2010, under Music

John Mayall, left, with lead guitarist Rocky Athas

John Mayall, left, with lead guitarist Rocky Athas

John Mayall has been an ambassador of the blues for parts of seven decades. At 76, Mayall is still rocking and commandeering yet another blues outfit of accomplished musicians.

At the Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk Sunday, Mayall ran through a two-hour set after quietly selling CDs and graciously signing anything from tickets to album covers in the club’s ticket office room. After the show he hustled through the crowd to get back to his display table with CDs of his latest album Tough.

This is a busy and active man for 76 and he still sings in his unique high-pitched, blues-flavored style, plays a mean boogie-leaning piano, adds a 12-string guitar on one tune in this night’s set and has probably never sounded better on harmonica, which he played frequently during the show.

Although many cite Alexis Korner and Cyril Davies as true fathers of the British Blues, it’s Mayall that has that moniker associated with him and none deserves it more.

He brought attention more than any other Brit to the wealth of American bluesman in the 1960s who were being virtually ignored by the U.S. public, and with a string of quality lineups through the ’60s and ’70s helped reestablish blues in this country as well as the U.K., being at the forefront of electrified and modern blues interpretation.

John Mayall harp 2 smallDon’t forget the guitar players who passed through Mayall’s Bluesbreakers: Eric Clapton, on the original Bluesbreakers album often dubbed Beano; Peter Green, founding member of Fleetwood Mac; and Mick Taylor, later a Rolling Stone, all played with The Bluesbreakers, learning and trendsetting with Mayall as the father figure.

Was there a more revolutionary electric blues album than Beano for guitarists? Wasn’t Green singled out by American bluesman, in particular B.B. King, as the one who scared them the most as a player.

And Taylor played in arguably the Stones’ best era or at least last, great era as the world’s greatest rock ‘n roll band. (continue reading…)

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Return engagement for Steve Winwood

by on Feb.15, 2010, under Music

At various times in his career, Steve Winwood had gone extended periods during which he rarely played live, the most recent from the late 1990s to the early 2000s. But since his exceptional return album, About Time in 2004, he has toured relentlessly in the States and Europe, including stints with Eric Clapton.

Steve Winwood at the Hammond B-3 with Karl Vanden Bossche on drums and Jose Neto, guitar, in background.

Steve Winwood at the Hammond B-3 with Karl Vanden Bossche on drums and Jose Neto, guitar, in background.

I’ve seen Winwood about a dozen times in his career since 1968, seven times since 2004. Winwood played the MGM Grand Friday night, his third trip to Foxwoods since the release of About Time, with his usual five-piece band that includes a percussionist and sax player but no bass player. Winwood handles that with his left foot at the Hammond B-3, while providing adept, funky and soulful keyboard playing and still delivering with one of the best voices in the music world.

After the second song in his set, Hungry Man, from his Top 10 album from 2008, Nine Lives, he noted all the returning customers he spotted in the front of the 5,000-seat house, which was about 90 percent filled. He added that he and his band would be returning customers for a while also, a pronouncement that was received very enthusiastically.

The musicianship complementing one of the bonafide great talents in rock history is impressive: Jose Neto, who has been with Winwood since About Time, is on classical-electric guitar, as well as a Fender Strat for some tunes; Paul Booth plays tenor and soprano sax, flute, whistle, organ and sings background vocals; Richard Bailey handles drums with a fierce, worldly rhythmic fire; and Karl Vanden Bossche is the percussionist center stage on an array of congas and other embellishing tools of the trade.

Winwood’s band, with the exception of Neto, has changed personnel several times in the last six years, but this unit, which I saw open for Tom Petty at The Meadows in Hartford in 2008, has been together at least that long. And it sounds it. It’s a tight-knit, rocking, funky lineup that burns through a set of old and new songs with equal polish. (continue reading…)

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Vulture sighting

by on Feb.12, 2010, under Music

Them Crooked Vultures is a very heavy band. Not heavy as in heavy metal, heavy as in heavy hard rock.

Them Crooked Vultures Album CoverFeaturing three hard rock virtuosos in Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, Dave Grohl, from Foo Fighters, who switches from guitar back to drums, his spot in Nirvana, and Josh Homme of Queens Of The Stone Age on guitar and lead vocals, the group exhibits a competency and energy rarely found in the genre today.

Their self-titled debut album consists of songs that are virtually all guitar riff driven over a furious and powerful rhythm section, adorned with dark, devilish, often impenetrable (sometimes penetrable) lyrics. With titles such as No One Loves Me & Neither Do I, Dead End Friends, Reptiles, Warsaw Or The First Breath You Take After You Give Up and Caligulove, it’s hard to imagine anything else.

The grinding, churning rhythm section not only shows how adept Grohl is back on the drums, but also gives a strong indication of Jones’ contribution to Zeppelin, which was often lost or overlooked during that band’s heyday.

Homme is fully capable of handling the vocal and lead guitar duties, although they did add a second guitarist, Alain Johannes, on their recent Saturday Night Live appearance, during which they played Mind Eraser, No Chaser, a tune that might be termed their most accessible or commercial to crossover audiences, although nothing on the album really falls entirely in that vein, and New Fang, the group’s first single, with its complicated guitar rhythm over which Homme sings a completely different melodic structure, something always to take note of.

The group hits a three-song streak in the middle of their the album that is really quite brilliant in Elephants, Scumbag Blues and Bandoliers. In fact, by the fifth track, Elephants, the listener starts to realize how much Homme can sound like Jim Morrison. And this likens the overall sound of the band to The Doors as a power trio, minus Ray Manzarek’s keyboards. (continue reading…)

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