There’s so much good new music out there. The best music of 2012:
1. Radio Music Society, Esperanza Spalding: Invigorating blend of R&B, funk and jazz infused with top-shelf musicianship and an enticing lyrical quality. This is perhaps her best yet. Spalding sports a fluid, proficient and pleasing voice that delivers her poignant lyricism over the engaging compositions. Get the Deluxe Edition with a Making of DVD.
2. Locked Down, Dr. John: Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach gets an inspiration to record with the N’Awlins legend and they whip up a spooky, funky, voodoo dose of swamp funk mixed with hard rock sensibilities. Some of the best from recent vintage of the good Doctor.
3. Tramp, Sharon Van Etten: One of the truly remarkable and original sounding records from a singer/songwriter whose dense, penetrating lyrics are revealed through inventive arrangements that complement her songwriting.
4. Sunken Condos, Donald Fagen: At his wry, funky, satirical and stinging best. Glossed with a Steely Dan sheen but it still swings like mad.
5. Everybody’s Talkin’, Tedeschi-Trucks Band: Live outing from one of the best ensembles around today. A beautiful combination of blues, rock and pop whipped together with Derek Trucks’ slide lacing through it and the marvelous Susan Tedeschi’s soulful, blazing voice on top. Not to be missed live.
6. Sun, Cat Power: Return of the elusive, mercurial and magnetic singer/songwriter. Her best since The Greatest.
7. Election Special, Ry Cooder: Venerable American music stylist gives his biting political take on the present state of affairs with his usual entertaining, insightful views served with a helping of exquisite string playing.
8. Driving Towards The Daylight, Joe Bonamassa: Another edition in the evolving style and development of one of our best modern-day blues guitarists, who happens to have a soulful voice as well.
9. The Lion, The Beast, The Beat, Grace Potter & The Nocturnals: From the opening strains of the remarkable title track through another set of inspired rock and pop, a step forward and upward from this New England-based group. Their roots are firmly planted in the fertile ground of the 1960s and early ’70s. All framing Potter’s gloriously wild and unrestrained voice.
10. Blues Funeral, Mark Lanegan: Love him for his various collaborations over the years, not the least with Isobel Campbell, but there is something dark and compelling about this bluesy and funereal outing that is addicting. (continue reading…)
Robben Ford played at the Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk Friday night. It was the second time we had seen him in three years at the venue and he was on fire, playing a variety of blues and jazz inflected solos over traditional blues material and some of his own tunes.
From Robert Johnson (Travelin’ Riverside Blues) to Paul Butterfield (Lovin’ Cup) to Elmore James and Jimmy Reed (Please Set A Date/You Don’t Have To Go) as well as some of his own compositions, including two instrumentals, Indianola, a tribute to B.B. King, and a nod to the Texas Cannonball, Freddie King (Cannonball Express), Ford displayed his creative and eclectic approach on each of the songs in his setlist.
Finally a list of favorite albums from 2011. I’ve included the best albums of early 2012 as well. Here are the top albums from 2011:
1. El Camino, The Black Keys: No they haven’t lost their way. No, this isn’t a step back or a step to the side. This is infectious, rocking and raw, though not as raw as their early releases, tuneful and driving. They keep moving forward.
2. The Harrow & The Harvest, Gillian Welch and Let England Shake, P.J. Harvey: It’s a tie. Second choices each. Can’t separate them. Welch and her partner David Rowlings have produced an extraordinary duet album underpinned with roots guitar and banjo and enchanting vocals. The songs are spare country-folk pieces beautifully executed. As for Harvey, I’ve already mentioned this one in an early 2011 best-of list. It continues to grow on me if that’s possible. Highly thoughtful, enveloping musical statement featuring Harvey’s and her friends’ expert muscianship and musicality. There, I’ve used a form of music three times in that sentence.
4. I’m With You, The Red Hot Chili Peppers: Talk about an overlooked album. Oh, I’m sure it sold well. The only problem with this album is that it had to follow Stadium Arcadium, which was a career effort in creativity and popularity. Still, it’s more of the Peppers and the Peppers are quite something.
5. Hard Bargain, Emmylou Harris: This was my top choice for the early list. It’s dropped a few places, not because it isn’t worthy, because the later releases were just that good.
6. Tedeschi Trucks Band, Revelator: Another early choice that stood up. Blues, soul, R&B mix with Tedeschi’s heartfelt, soulful vocals on top and Trucks’ dynamic, penetrating slide running through it all. (continue reading…)
In early August, 1969, there was quite a buzz about Woodstock. I don’t believe anyone, even at that late date, anticipated how big it was going to be. At least not among my friends.
Most of us were not planning on a trip to upstate New York though. On Sunday the 17th during the festival weekend, a concert was scheduled at the original Oakdale Music Theatre, with its theatre-in-the-round stage, in Wallingford, Conn., that was not to be missed, Led Zeppelin.
We’d seen Cream there the previous summer and myriad other mid-to-late ’60s acts: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Lovin’ Spoonful, Ray Charles. Shows I didn’t get to see included The Who, The Doors and Chicago. One of my bands, The Bram Rigg Set opened for The Dave Clark Five in late summer, 1967. It was an almost-perfect venue to get an up-close look at performers. Seating was perhaps no more than about 2,000, the closest within about 15 to 20 feet of the musicians, sometimes even closer when they came to the edge of stage, which was only a few feet off the ground.
Zeppelin’s first album was released in early 1969 and it made quite an impact. Surprising really. Jimmy Page was well known and I’d seen him with the last version of The Yardbirds in 1967 at the Village Theater in New York. But Robert Plant, John Paul Jones, John Bonham, where did they come from? (continue reading…)
By the fall of 1968, I had seen Cream four times, another of my favorite artists The Paul Butterfield Band five times, The Electric Flag with Mike Bloomfield, Traffic, The Stones, The Beach Boys, among a host of other artists, but I had yet to see Jimi Hendrix.
Two members of the Bram Rigg Set, Peter Neri and Rich Bednarzyk along with the group’s road manager Mike Geremia had met Hendrix on the street in Greenwich Village in the summer of ’67. The three had ventured into the city after the first night of a weekend engagement in Brewster, N.Y. The group’s drummer, Beau Segal, and I had driven back home after the gig and our lead singer Bobby Schlosser had also opted for his long trek back to Rhode Island.
The boys had run into Hendrix at about 3 a.m. on Bleecker Street I believe opposite the Cafe Au Go Go and he was affable, friendly and wished them well.
Beau got to see The Jimi Hendrix Experience by accident that same year in the fall. He traveled into the city to the Cafe Au Go Go to see a show billed as Eric Burdon and The New Animals and found when he arrived that The Experience had replaced them on the bill. Nice surprise. And, of course, Beau raved about them.
Hendrix was still a bit of an unknown quantity at the time here in the States as opposed to the United Kingdom, where he was a sensation with a string of single releases and his first album.
Notwithstanding the bizarre ads in Billboard during the summer that showed the three Afro-adorned musicians on the inside cover of the industry magazine and the buzz in musicians’ circles, the album Are You Experienced? had just been released and there was no single from it running up the charts. It was probably getting the majority of its play on the new FM radio stations, particularly the college stations, which were just starting to play what became known as Album Rock programming.
When I had played the first track of the album for guys in my dorm at Boston University in Sept. 1967, before I transferred to Berklee School of Music, some of them thought there was something wrong with their record players. True. Those same guys would come to love Hendrix in a few months. (continue reading…)
Here’s my Top 10 for the past year along with a few bonus selections and various related categories:
1. The Union, Elton John & Leon Russell: A collaboration made in heaven and one wonders why it took so long for these two to get together. The record brings out their similarities, differences and a wonderful melding of their talents with some of their best songwriting in years. A truly inspirational collection.
2. Band Of Joy, Robert Plant: Another entry on the road of Americana from the transplanted Led Zeppelin lead man. Almost every bit as good as The Union with interesting and well-executed covers as only Plant has been able to deliver in recent years.
3. I’m New Here, Gil Scott-Heron: 28 minutes of bliss from the commander of narrative R&B. Scott-Heron is still here and as relevant as ever.
4. San Patricio, The Chieftains with Ry Cooder: A mythical adventure, cloaked in reality, that brings together Mexican, Celtic and American blues and country into one steaming pot of influences.
5. Tears, Lies & Alibis, Shelby Lynne: Stripped-down Shelby Lynne and she greatly benefits from the sparse arrangements putting the emphasis on her singing and songwriting.
6. Have One On Me, Joanna Newsom: It took a while to warm to this unusual songwriter with the reedy, young girl voice but this triple album is captivating and expressive.
7. The Stanley Clarke Band, Stanley Clarke: A bass hero for the ages re-engages with his jazz-rock roots on new and revisited material with a sympathetic and proficient group of musicians.
8. Chamber Music Society, Esperanza Spalding: One of the most unusual and ultimately satisfying collection of songs from a performer/composer who continually surprises and delivers.
9. Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (self-titled): Fourth outing from a group with all the signs of breaking out big-time and it appears they’re finally starting to catch on in a bigger way.
10 Naked Honest, Kala Farnham: Honest, heartfelt, poignant lyricism backed with prodigious keyboard chops and crystal clear vocal styling from this rising solo artist. (continue reading…)
I couldn’t resist putting this video of Leon Russell from 1971 on top of a piece that actually is about a recent show Leon played at the Infinity Music Hall in Norfolk, Connecticut.
This show was taped in Los Angeles with his Shelter People band and a bunch of hippies in attendance dancing, listening and even preparing food, a very relaxed atmosphere. The song is one of the great rock ballads of all time, A Song For You.
His performance is masterful, the song is melodically beautiful and the lyrics poignant and penetrating. One of the great lyric ballads. There is another performance at the end of this piece of more recent vintage, same song. You’ll see Leon hasn’t lost much. To testify to that, he put on a brilliant show at the Infinity of good old Rock ‘n Roll with an excellent band, which included guitar virtuoso Chris Simmons.
This is the third time I’ve seen Leon, the first two in 1971 and 1972. The 1971 show was at the Fillmore East with Elton John opening, a show I’ve touched on a few times and that I need to write about in more detail. The ’72 show was at the Long Beach Arena (Calif.), when Leon was probably at the height of his popularity capable of filling large auditoriums. Later I would learn it was the show used for his classic live album, Leon Live. More on that one later, too.
At the Infinity, which has a relatively small stage, the right-hand side was taken up by Russell’s elaborate, almost montrous keyboard setup. No more grand piano as in the early ’70s. He gets acoustic sound from an electronic grand and it works out just fine. The audience can really only see the back of the keyboard setup, which is built in a large anvil case for traveling. The back is open and has hundreds of wires and connections so completely entwined with one another, you wonder how that actually works without a hitch and if anything went wrong how would a keyboard tech track down the problem. (continue reading…)
Three varied but commendable releases have graced my CD player and iPod of late from four, what you might call, elder statesman of the music world.
The first, Robert Plant’s Band Of Joy, a follow-up to the hugely successful Raising Sand of three years ago with Alison Krause. This is not a sequel, as that broke down almost before it started, but it shares a lot in common with Raising Sand.
The title is the name of a band Plant played in before Led Zeppelin, but the music bares little resemblance to that never recorded blues-psychedelia mashup and even less to Zeppelin. Plant continues his journey through Americana-based country, bluegrass, blues and Rock ‘n Roll with a small, tight ensemble, featuring Buddy Miller on a variety of stringed instruments and as band leader and co-producer with Plant, and backing vocals from Patty Griffin.
These are mostly covers, but impeccably selected beginning with the opener Angel Dance from Los Lobos that rings with glistening mandolin and acoustic and electric guitars under Plant’s effective low-key delivery, at least low-key in comparison with what he is most noted for as the quintessential rock frontman. The track in underpinned by a churning, almost dirge-like marching rhythm.
The production on most of the album has a heavy sounding bottom that gives each track a dark, menacing drive, but each song also has adeptly placed ornamentation, including mandoguitar, baritone 6-string bass, octave mandolin, banjo and pedal and lap steel that lifts the overall sound up and all of which lends an Appalachian quality to the proceedings.
There is only one original co-written by Plant and Miller, Central Two-O-Nine, and the team arranges two traditionals, Satan Your Kingdom Must Come Down and Cindy, I’ll Marry You Someday, both imaginative versions meticulously executed. But Plant loves good songwriters and has an excellent ear for them. (continue reading…)
I was taken aback by the title of Esperanza Spalding’s latest offering, Chamber Music Society. So when I sat down to listen, I was expecting a left turn from Spalding’s self-titled jazz solo debut of 2008, which was one of my Top 5 albums of that year.
Three string players are indeed included here, added to Spalding’s doublebasse, and they underpin all of the tunes on the album. But she retains her Latin leanings in a jazz setting, an enchanting fusion of glorious melody, infectious rhythms and inspired musicisianship. All of the string arrangements, meticulously written and executed, are collaborations between Spalding and Gil Goldstein.
The album is also more of a showcase for Spalding’s fluid voice, with its extended range in the upper registers, and her accomplished bass playing for someone so young, 26. Many of her compositions are written sans lyrics, which at once frees the singer to explore more complicated melodies and imbues the songs with her natural scatting ability.
One with lyrics opens the album and is a 3-minute marvel consisting of voice, bass and strings. A delicate, lilting melody embraces lyrics written by the 19th century poet-artist William Blake on Little Fly. From Blake’s Songs Of Experience, it captures just the right touch of simplicity and vulnerability. (continue reading…)
About six months after writing a series of pieces in 2009 on Cream concerts I’ve been to, I was contacted by Ken Melville. Ken was in the band Catharsis in Boston in September, 1967 and opened for Cream for their one-week run of concerts at the Psychedelic Supermarket in Kenmore Square, just a stone’s throw from Fenway Park.
I went to see Cream on a Sunday, the first night of the engagement, which was supposed to last two weeks but only survived the one. A detailed description of the concert, a particularly memorable one, is available here.
I do recall an opening act, but don’t remember much about the band. To my amazement, Ken sent me some photos from that week after leaving a comment on one of the posts. Taken by his girlfriend with a Kodak instamatic, as I recall, the photos above and on the following page show the band on stage and in the dressing room with Ken and some of his friends.
It’s all quite remarkable really that more than 40 years later, we’re viewing photos from that week.
Also on the page, you will see two shots from their June, 1968 date at the original Oakdale Theatre in Wallingford, Conn. A piece on the two shows at Oakdale and the last concert I saw of Cream during this stretch in the fall of 1968 at the New Haven Arena during the Farewell Tour is available here.
It took a jury of people to identify the Oakdale shots, which I’ve come across through an astute friend on the Internet. A fellow who worked at Oakdale and another similar summer tent theater in Rhode Island identified it by the lighting grid you see above Clapton’s head. Also the shot with Jack Bruce sitting on the edge of the orchestra pit includes Rich Bednarczyk in the foreground of the pit, surfer blond hair, who played keyboards for my band Pulse.
There is also a piece on this site describing the April, 1968 concert at Woolsey Hall at Yale in New Haven here.
If you’re an avid Cream fan, it’s likely you’ve already come across these. The only place I’ve seen them is in a few of Ken’s posts to a music forum. The subject, of all things, started out as a discussion of whether Clapton used a Gibson ES-335 on the classic cut Crossroads from Wheels Of Fire. I don’t think that was ever resolved but some of the discussion is interesting and, of course, Ken’s photos are the highlight.
All quite heady. Click on continue reading for the other shots. (continue reading…)