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A Tale of Redemption…Going “The Distance”

taylor-hicks2

First, let me say that Taylor Hicks owes me nothing.  Nada.  Not a thing.

I used to think that he did, but let me say here (clearly), that I was wrong.  You see, four years ago when I rabidly followed Taylor on the cheese fest that is American Idol, I was envigorated by a young man who appeared to beat the odds, defy “the man” and strike a blow for the every day music lover.  He was a refreshing throwback to good, “old” music that was pure, un-synthesized, and “real”.  He was the everyday musical hero who came to save the day.

After AI, I expected Taylor to remain “all about the music” and continue to defy the musical ogres who control content and dole out the uninspiring pablum derived from electronic manipulation.  It was evident from Taylor’s first post-AI release, Taylor Hicks, that there was more influence from those writing the checks than any of us would have preferred.  Through the whole time, Taylor seemed to be impersonating some character in a play and while fans largely supported the record, it rang hollow on the charts.  It seemed that the daring, soulful style and smokin’ harmonica accompniment was largely absent from the record, leaving listeners, including me, wondering just where Taylor Hicks went.

His live tour was very successful and likely garnished Taylor enough dough to break away from J Records (whether mutual or not), start his own label, and take time for the next record that, maybe…just maybe, would more closely represent what fans so desparately want to hear from the soul man.  There have been some detours along the way, including the Broadway role of Teen Angel, that I simply did not agree with because it’s not my vision for the dude.  But, really…what do I know?

Oddly enough, Grease appears to have been the catalyst that provided some public acceptance and a bit of a springboard for, perhaps, a redemption of “America’s pick”.   Even though I still cringe at the notion of Taylor crooning out Beauty School Dropout, I can’t deny that it’s been good for his career.  Hey, it’s a mean to an end, I guess.  I have said all along, if the music is good, people will listen and all of the other extra-cirricular activities won’t mean a thing. 

That brings us to the release of Taylor Hicks’ new CD, The Distance.  I’ve been listening to it for a few days along with some other new music that I’ve been recently turned on to.  I wanted to give it a few days to simmer before I commented.  First, let me quench your curiosity and say that overall, this CD is MUCH better than the first release.

There’s a definite ease on this record that was absent on Taylor Hicks.  While that effort was frenetic, disjointed and a bit out of control, The Distance is thoughtful, balanced and comfortable.  It is very reminiscient of his pre-Idol work and shows that Taylor seems to be going “back” to his core, which is exactly what most people loved about him in the first place.  This should have been his Idol release, had they been smart.  The arrogance of greedy people who believe their “formula” for making a record and maximizing its profit never ceases to amaze me, but we continually see these dinosaurs take unique and genuine talent and turn them into something that is the opposite of what actually makes them appealing, and then scratching their head at its failure.

But, I digress…back to the review.

As I previously detailed, the first single, What’s Right is Right, is a simple, pleasing tune with a great video.  It’s currently doing well on AC radio and seems to be a happy medium between what’s expected from fans and what’s accepted by the industry. 

But what about the rest of the record?   Well, I think I get Taylor.  He is not just one style or one genre.  Like me, he likes a lot of different types and styles of music and I think that’s what he wanted this record to be.  Recently, he did a guest DJ spot on “My Turn” on 100.3 (Newport Beach, CA), no doubt as part of his promotion of this release (which I have to say is 200% better than the crack PR team at J Records and The Firm).  Whoever is in charge of promotion this time is doing a fabulous job.  Anyway, Taylor’s playlist for the hour long DJ stint is very telling.

St. Dominic’s PreviewVan Morrison
Gasoline Alley -Rod Stewart
How Long – Ace
Rainy Night In Georgia – Brook Benton
You Belong To Me – Carly Simon 
Hurricane Water – Citizen Cope
Foggy Mountain Breakdown – Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs
Where I’m From (Alabama Frame Of Mind)- Shelby Lynne
Life’s Been Good – Joe Walsh
Lowdown in Lodi – Freddie King
Something So Right – Paul Simon
Arc Of A Diver – Steve Winwood
Don’t Think TwiceSusan Tedeschi
I’m In Love – Wilson Pickett

To hear Taylor’s DJ skillz, click on the following player.

Now, I have to say that this was one of the most redeeming things I’ve heard from Taylor in a while.  It validated that the dude still has great music taste and still true to it.  Many of the songs on the new CD incorporate “sounds” from Taylor influences like Steve Winwood, Keb ‘Mo, Delbert McClinton, Van Morrison, and The Meters.  He signed on a quality producer in Simon Climie, who has produced Eric Clapton and who is an accomplished keyboardist and song writer in his own right.  In addition, some of Clapton’s touring band performed on the record, including Doyle Brahmall II and bassist Nathan East and was joined by Paul McCartney’s drummer, Abe Laboriel, Jr.

This is a quality record, with quality songs, musicians, and mixing.  I like it.  I have to say that it’s very entertaining and there are a few really good tracks on it.  If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Maybe You Should.  Written by Taylor and Nashville songwriter Gary Nicholson (who contributes on several songs), it is a great ballad that reminds me of Bonnie Raitt’s I Can’t Make You Love Me.  That could be because songwriter Michael Reid co-wrote both of them.  While I love Taylor’s raspy blues feel to this song, I could also see Keith Urban doing this song.

Along with Nineteen, Seven Mile Breakdown (co-penned with Hicks by Spoonful James’ guitarist and pre-Idol buddy, Wynn Christian) and the title-track, The Distance, Maybe You Should has serious Country potential, if appopriately brought to Nashville.  Even the blues number, Wedding Day Blues is oddly reminiscient of Garth Brooks’ Country anthem, Friends in Low Places.

While there’s certainly some Country influence, this CD is not a one trick twang pony.  One of my favorites, Keeping It Real, is influenced by co-author Delbert McClinton’s wily humor along with a great strider piano, New Orleans sound.  It’s also the ONLY track on the CD with a harmonica accompniment.  A pity, as I really dig the harp.

There’s also plenty of “soul” in the Nick Lowe cover, I Live on a Battlefield, and one of my all-time favorite tunes, Woman’s Gotta Have It, where he is accompanied by AI buddy, Elliott Yamin.  Now, Woman’s Gotta Have It is one on my Music Maven “All-Time Favorite” list, but James Taylor’s 1976 version from his In the Pocket CD which is, in my opinion, one of the best albums ever made — but that’s a different subject for a different day.  I really love the meshing of voices between Elliott and Taylor and especially Taylor harmonizing background vocal (fulfilling Simon’s ambition for him), but the beginning of JT’s version is more to my liking.  Got me to wondering what a combined version would sound like.  Hmmmm….

Once Upon a Lover and New Found Freedom are my “throw away” tracks.  I didn’t like the Latino sound of West Texas Sky and I don’t care for it on Once Upon a Lover.  New Found Freedom is more of an Idol “coronation” song that just doesn’t measure up to the other songs on the CD.   

The marketing plan of three “special tracks” via different store exclusives are in play for The Distance.  Wal-Mart offers the Ray Charles’ cover Hide Nor Hair, Target provides Indiscriminate Act of Kindness, and iTunes has Yes We Can, Can.  While I haven’t been able to sample Hide Nor Hair, Indiscriminate Act of Kindness reminds me of Taylor’s much heralded performance of the Ray classic, Georgia.  It is indulgent and very non-descript.  While I know this won’t be popular with the “Soul Patrol”, Indiscriminate Act of Kindness is NOT a song that exhibits Taylor Hicks’ talent nor is it a very appealing cut.  However, if you’re looking for a theme song about drug addiction and recovery, this is likely as good as it gets.

On the other hand, the iTunes “special”, Yes We Can is a veritable who’s who of funk & boogie.  Written by Allen Toussaint and covered by the likes of soul man, Marc Broussard and The Pointer Sisters, Yes We Can pays homage to the soul/zydeco/funk of the Southern Gulf Coast.  While Taylor may be considered the “forgotten idol”, the fact that Ivan Neville, Delbert McClinton and Stax legend, Steve Cropper provide back-up, indicates that “real” musicians “get” Taylor.  Even Marc Broussard couldn’t pull that off.

Music Maven gives Taylor Hicks’ The Distance  4 of 5 stars.   Buy it.

Redemption attained.

 

Van Update

ETA:  Here is the NY Times review of Van’s NYC show.  Just an observation….this review was all over the place.  I couldn’t get a handle on if he loved it or hated it.  Perhaps he just didn’t understand it.

Shrew has reported in.  Because of the wunderbar technology of the iPhone, I relentlessly bugged her by emailing, “Are you there yet?”,  just about every 15 minutes.  She let me know when she got on the train and again when they got to their seats.

Pretty good seats

…she sent back.  Evidence of said “pretty good seats”…

van

Who’s the ghoul in the forefront?

Anyway, while I was enthralled in watching my kid’s soccer tournament on the interwebs, an email alert pops up with the following message…

Voice is perfect!
No set list but he did 
And it stoned me
Caravan
At James infirmary (ripped it up too)
Gloria
Comfortably numb
And a town called paradise
Break
Fabulous weird little dude
And, about an hour later, this follow-up….
The Astral Weeks portion of the show was like good perfume. Heady, intoxicating and elusive, leaving you wanting more.  
More tomorrow 
Absolutely love the description.  Saturday morning she sent me this final recollection of Sweet Thing….
Infront of a backdrop pinpoint lights, Van Morrison began to strum the hypnotic melody.  Morrison is like a musical instrument of the muses and gods letting each note radiate outward from all of his being.  He is at the same time; lost in the music allowing the audiance in on his deeply personal dance with each measure and very present, conducting his orchestra with minimal twitches and hand gestures.  Each wave of music that emminated from Morrison on Sweet Thing, seemed to spread to each member of the band. The measures building to a soul filling swell seemed to swirl all around us.  The sound was deeply familiar and yet spontanious.  At one point I was transported to a younger self.  I had the impression of a warm summer night watching the song unfold under the cover of stars.

Satisfying.
I want more.

Ah yes.  As it should be.
While Shrew attended the Friday night concert, Little Deb took in the Saturday night gig.  Here is her “review”:
First, I have to admit that I was not a huge Van Morrison fan. No dislike, just uneducated. I love the Moondance album and have always loved his voice, I just never actively pursued his other music. I was even a little leary because I enjoy concerts the most when I know a lot of the songs being performed. Before a few days ago, I had never ever listened to Astral Weeks. So shoot me okay.  I remedied that by an itunes emergency download and played the album a a bunch before the concert. Beautiful music, but I still wasn’t sure how the concert would go for me. I even told the hubby that we couldn’t eat too big of a dinner or have too many glasses of wine because I wanted to stay awake. Little did I know.

I’ve been to a lot of concerts over the years and have been wowed and disappointed. Without sounding over the top here, I’ll try to explain the experience. As I said above, Van Morrison defines the term “a voice is an instrument”. Truly a genius at his craft. He changes up the songs to fit the moment.  He directs the band with hand signals and called out instructions and it all flows so damn smoothly that it’s almost unreal. It was 2 1/2 hours of musical bliss. It didn’t matter that I did not know all the songs. At the risk of sounding corny and cliched(sp), I would have been happy if he sang and the band played the damn phone book. First time I’ve ever said that.

The band was amazing – really amazing. I want to marry the violin/fiddle player. At times he played a violin virtuoso, other times some of the best country fiddle. At one point – and I wish I could remember the damn song – Van and the trumpet (I think) player did this echo thing. Van would speak/sing the words, with the other guy following one step behind. The only way to describe it simply would be sort of like “row, row, row your boat”. It was awesome. Maybe some of the educated Van fans can help me out on what the song was.

After the first set, we were told there would be a 5 minute intermission. WTF? 5 minutes. I’m wondering if that was his idea. The funny part of this was that there was the usual women’s room line 5 miles long. I had to go, so was set to miss the first few numbers of the next set. There was a woman attendant in the ladies room Demanding that the women move. “Come on ladies, just pee and get the hell out of there. Mr. Morrison’s gonna be singing soon. Move it, move it, move it.” She marched those women through there like a drill sargeant. I want to hire this woman to be at every concert I attend from here on. It worked. I was back in my seat as the beginning chords of the first song were played. Really, this woman needs to be knighted or something.

The second set was Astral Weeks in it’s entirety. Not one minute of the concert was anything less than pure musical magic. The audience sat quietly and LISTENED instead of jumping around, singing along and carrying on. That was so damn refreshing. I go to concerts to listen. Dance around and sing along at home when you won’t ruin anyone else’s experience. Really, you could hear a pin drop during the entire performance. PERFECT. And people remained seated and just gave standing O’s at the end of songs. It was almost like the audience was in awe and since I was, I bet they were too.

On a side note, a few strange things. Shrew, was this your experience?  When we got there we were informed by event employees that they had just stopped serving alcohol by request. What? Not a big deal, but strange. This was not a rowdy crowd. As we walked through to get to our seat, all the bars were putting the bottles and glasses away. So they were already set up to serve drinks and all of a sudden shut down. Then the 5 minutes only intermission thing. Perhaps a crotchety Van request at the last minute? “These people came hear to hear me sing and play and I want them in their damn seats and not wandering around getting drinks and going to the bathroom”. During the entire performance, I did not see one person get up to go to the bathroom. Really.

So, on to the songs. I did not take a pen and paper to write down the set lists. Too much work to interrupt my enjoyment. The ones I remember are Domino, And It Stoned Me, Brown Eyed Girl, Gloria, Listen to the Lion and a truly amazing rendition of Floyd’s Comfortably Numb. Seriously – Comfortably Numb. It started with a female back-up singer and was hauntingly beautiful. I think I like it better than Floyd. He also did a song that I know was a Ray Charles country song. I know he’s recorded I Can’t Stop Loving You, but it wasn’t that one. I still can’t believe that I can’t remember what it was.  Again, shrew – any help here since I know what a big twang fan you are.

I’m still scouring the internet for a concert review or a set list. The second set was Astral Weeks and some other stuff too. I think I remember almost all of the songs, just not what order. The Healing Game was in there too. And we were also graced with two encores.

Let’s just say that I was utterly and completely WOWED.

As a side note. I’ve been doing a lot of research today of Van’s stuff (which you true fans already know).  The man has covered the entire music spectrum. Which got me to thinking. I’ve read and heard other artists say that their album “will have a Van Morrison feel”. Not knocking any other artists here, but that would be totally impossible. Which Van Morrison? There is no Van mold as far as I can tell.

And MM, he did a beautiful rendition of Sweet Thing just for you.

Yea, I guess I’m a fan now.

Awesome.  Thank you both for the great descriptions and sharing your Van encounters.  You both got to experience one of the truly original masters of modern music.  So wonderful that he’s still making music that he shares with fans old and new.

P.S.  Little Deb, could the song have been What Am I Living For?

  Chuck Willis

 
 

Mad About Mad Men…

Oh my Lord in Heaven.

I’m not one for watching “series” on TV.  I usually can’t get interested in a story line long enough to watch for any length of time.  However, a few weeks ago Shrew recommended Mad Men.  “You will love it”, she said.  While skeptical, I decided to puruse Hulu to find it, but evidently AMC (American Movie Classics), the cable network that carries Mad Men, does not license through Hulu, BUT did have one episode — the second season premier.  I decided to watch this episode and if it garnered my interest, I would download season one from iTunes, to keep me company on my many business trips.

Naturally, I LOVED IT.  I have completed season one and am anxiously awaiting the weekend when I can catch up on season two, which is conveniently available (for free) on On Demand.  YAHOO!!!

If you watch Mad Men, you know how I can love it so.  If you haven’t watched, YOU HAVE TO!!  Set in the early 60s, the characters lives revolve around a Madison Avenue advertising agency.  The nostalgia is phenomenal, to the point where you think you’ve entered a time warp and are right there with the girls in the secretarial pool, adjusting your Playtex bra and dodging the wayward hands of your boss.

The show is so honestly unpolitically correct that it’s realism captivates.  Here is a video I found on YouTube that lists the Top 10 politically incorrect moments in Mad Men (so far):

Of course, the brilliance of this is that in 1960, this was perfectly accepted behavior.  And, there are many more where these came from.  Women smoking and drinking while pregnant, drinking in the office (at any hour), incessant smoking — anywhere and everywhere by everybody, and the perfect mother worrying about her six year old “getting fat” are just a few of the issues that folks today would simply be mortified over.

And then there’s the sex.  Everyone is doing or trying to do everybody else.  While likely a little over done, the show does expose “the greatest generation’s” proclivity for extra marital dalliances — particularly in action-packed New York City when commerce and culture were seeping from every pore of the city.

Oh, and the music….I love me some nostalgia music, as I call it and Mad Men does not disappoint.  Here’s a few of my favorites from the first two seasons:

  Band of Gold, Don Cherry

  P.S., I Love You, Bobby Vinton

  Babylon (Written by Don McLean)

  Botcha Me, Rosemary Clooney  (ignore the drag queen)

  The Twist, Chubby Checker

  Fly Me to the Moon, Julie London

  Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright, Bob Dylan

  Theme from Summer Place, Percy Faith Orchestra

  Break It To Me Gently, Brenda Lee

  I’m Through With Love, Marilyn Monroe

Man, I just LOVE this stuff.  The songs, the era, the stories, and oh, the characters.  My favorite is Ad Agency owner Roger Sterling, played superbly (and oh so handsomely) by John Slattery.

Yeah buddy.

Anyway, even though the story of Mad Men takes place a couple of years before I was born, there is something oddly familiar about it all.  Even though things had changed (and not necessarily for the better) by the early 70s and my formative years, alot of what is portrayed in Mad Men was still happening.  While society continued to become more “open”, it also became much less tolerant of, and dare I say militant against, the obvious sexism and male dominance of everything in business and otherwise.  

Even through the bawdy behavior and pervasive deceptiveness, there’s still a wonderful innocence of a world before assassinations, marches in the streets and really, really bad clothes.  Watching Mad Men provides a glimpse into the end of an era…likely the most exciting time in recent U.S. history.  Post WWII society, drunk on money, sex and freedom. 

While you may be shocked by some of the behavior of these peers of our elders, I dare you not to have a few good laughs when you watch Mad Men and relish in the fact that yes, “you’ve come a long way, baby”.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on October 29, 2008 in Good Stuff, oldies, Reviews, TV

 

Tags: , ,

John Mayer Shows Us Exactly “Where the Light Is”

On July 1st, John Mayer released his extended play CD and DVD, Where the Light Is. Basically, this high-quality DVD was a recording of Mayer’s December 8th, 2007 concert at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles.

Now, being the Mayer lovah that I am, I downloaded the movie on iTunes and I must say, I LOVE IT. For the life of me, I can’t understand why every artist doesn’t produce a live video of a concert like this.

Johnny Boy starts off with an acoustic set that is simply brilliant in its simplicity. Perhaps my favorite of this set (and any other) is Stop This Train: I really dig the added whistling, as well.

Stop This Train

I really identify with this song. The lyrics really touch on the progression of life and the realization of aging parents and that we are ever closer to there being no buffer between us and death. He touches on that every once in a while you’re all together and everyone is there and it’s all just perfect and you just want to stop time and have it last just a while longer. But, time stops for no-one. Mayer captures it beautifully and runs the gamut of emotion from fear to happiness to contentment.

Another acoustic gem is John’s cover of Tom Petty’s Free Fallin’, when he’s joined by guitarists David Ryan Harris and Robbie McIntosh of The Pretenders, who also has served as a session musician for Sir Paul McCartney. It is fantastic…

Free Fallin”

The cinematography in this film is awesome. There are many great angles including those from in amongst the crowd. This movie really gives you the feel of a concert without the hassle of getting good tickets, parking, fighting the crowds and bad sound. While I try to make several concerts a year, I just can’t make all the ones I’d like to, but putting up $12.99 for a kick ass, high quality, extended set concert that I can watch on my HDTV? Done. I would like to see other artists begin to produce concert movies like CDs, particularly when the concert is as good as this one.

After the acoustic set, John brings on Steve Jordan and Pino Palladino, who are part of the John Mayer Trio to go down and dirty blues and jazz.

Who Did You Think I Was?

He also performs the great Hendrix anthem Bold as Love with the trio with a very heartfelt introduction, as well as some pretty frank dialogue in the middle about living his life and love — that “gotcha back kind of love”

Bold As Love

Lastly, Mayer brings his entire band on to complete the concert with many hits from Continuum and otherwise. Perhaps my favorite is the I’ve Got Dreams to Remember intro into Gravity:

The film/concert is a little over 2.5 hours and is definitely a keeper. Mayer shows his depth of talent and his obvious intelligence and sincerity in his music. To me, Mayer’s viability as a contemporary artist is directly correlated with his ability to evolve and expand his music into various genres and styles and to be “all about the music”.

The CD/DVD live concert release will be a nice tune up to his upcoming CD of new material, which will include All We Ever Do Is Say Goodbye. Here is a short sample:

If you’re looking to attend a great concert (over and over again), I strongly recommend purchasing the movie, Where The Light Is. Once again, Johnny Boy does not disappoint.

The “Where The Light Is” tracklisting is as follows:

Acoustic Set:
1. Neon
2. Stop This Train
3. In Your Atmosphere (L.A. Song)
4. Daughters
5. Free Fallin’

Trio Set:
6. Everyday I Have The Blues
7. Wait Until Tomorrow
8. Who Did You Think I Was
9. Come When I Call
10. Good Love Is On The Way
11. Out Of My Mind
12. Vultures
13. Bold As Love

Band Set:
14. Waiting On The World To Change
15. Slow Dancing In A Burning Room
16. Why Georgia
17. The Heart Of Life
18. I Don’t Need No Doctor
19. Gravity
20. I Don’t Trust Myself (With Loving You)
21. Belief
22. I’m Gonna Find Another You

 

The Queen of Soul…One Girl’s Perspective

aretha.jpg

Many a young girl (and old ones, as well) have belted out Aretha Franklin’s anthems like Chain of Fools, Never Loved a Man and House That Jack Built with fervor and passion, playacting at commanding an audience the way the Queen does.

One such mini-Ree is our own Shrew. This uber-fan of the Queen realized a dream and was able to attend Aretha’s concert in NYC, at Radio City Music Hall, no less.

aretha-ticket.jpg

Image Courtesy of Shrew

Rather than me trying to inadequately relay the experience, here it is straight from the horse’s mouth:

Imagine yourself walking through the fabulous streets of New York City…not the gritty streets of the 70’s and 80’s , but the lush sparkling streets of midtown in the 60’s.
The lush New York of Holly Go-Lightly…

The sophisticated city of May and Nichols…

The controversial vibe of Dylan and Cafe Waa…

and one site you would likely see is

The Queen of Soul, the Empress of Music…sold out for a two night engagement at the world famous Radio City Music Hall. But, this is 2008, right?

Not so for this gal, for one night it was 1966 and I was seeing Aretha.
The energy was electric as we walked into the beautiful Radio City Music Hall.

I wasn’t sure if it was my excitement or the design of the interior, but everything I saw assumed this golden rose hue. If you have never been to Radio City Music Hall you must understand that no detail is without the grace and beauty of art deco influences.
From the etched “Rockettes Glass” overseeing the main lobby…

 to the grand mural along the master stairwell.

Even the bathroom looks like a set from a Fred and Ginger movie…

There are Rockettes even waiting to take you back to your seat…

So we made our way to the doors. As we approached the full glow of the stage radiated through the door into the hall.

And the doors opened….

The full splendor of Radio City can not be told through words and pictures. The grandure of the space is lost. I was pleased to see despite being in the second to last row on the third mezz. our view of the stage was terrific.
The place filled up rather quickly. The crowd was a melange of young packs of twenty-somethings to couples reliving there 1960’s memories. The atmosphere equaled a gospel revival…reverant and jublient all in the same breath.
The lights dimmed and the funky pulse of a tight ensamble pierced the air. Then the lights lifted…

The crowd bubbled with anticipation as the band limbered up…then THE moment.
A legend is announced~
“Ladies and Gentlemen, the EMPRESS OF MUSIC, AREEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEETHA FRAAAAAAANKLIN.”


The music vamped for a while and from stage right she walked on, giving a few saucy side bobs of her head and then headed center stage.

And then…She sang. Those first few notes hit my ears and my heart lept. Vibrations of sound that she was making, left her throat and traveled through the air directly connecting with my ears. At first all I heard was emotion; pure energy and soul heaped out of one being and offered up to hundreds.
My eyes welled, was I really hearing the same woman as she sang that I danced to when I was four? That I grooved to when I was 15? That I made countless others listen to when I was 20? That I sang with at the top of my lungs while I drove to work the day before? Live, here, now, in front of me, sounding every bit the woman I have heard on record all my life.
Then in an instant: I was present hearing what Aretha was singing, “Your Love is Lifting Me Higher” as if an ode to each and everyone of us who continue to love her. Aretha shifted to a rendition of My Funny Valentine that was bluesy and introspective. Then she went back to one of my favorite songs…her number one hit cover of Don’t Play That Song.

Now, if you have come to read the set list I will disappoint you…I stink at getting them. I do know, she made Moody’s Mood For Love a worthy inclusion for the set, gliding effortlessly through each vocal obsticle slung her way.
And then before I knew what was happening…”bada-bang, bada-bang, bada-bang, bada-bang. HOO- What you want? Hoo-Baby I got it” Radio City errupted…all jumped to their feet enmass to groove. All, excpet for the guy sitting next to me. Dude? Really? You can sit through one of the most electric songs ever? I guess so because he just sat clapping together his finger tips in time like he was listening to a Bach concert. Weird no? All I could think is he MUST be bad in bed.
Ms. Franklin welcomed to the stage Ali-Ollie Woodson of Temptation fame to “take us to church” with some gospel. And we went to church. One word for Aretha and gospel…resplendent!

Halfway through the show, Aretha welcomed her seventeen year old son KeCalf, a christian hip-hop artist onto the stage. He did a yoeman’s job of performing while his mother rested. The two songs felt long and I was accutely aware of the crowd’s discomfort. As a treat, Ms. Franklin sang Chain of Fools upon return.

All in all the evening was all I wished…then the strains of Old Landmark began and Aretha and crew raised the roof. All concerned were out of our seats and boogying on down

“Shouting, shouting, shouting, shouting…Stay in the service of the Lord.”

and off she went…stage right.

Clapping… and many vamps of the band.

On she came…

The encore she chose was the seasonal, Berlin’s Easter Bonnet. As she sang, you could not help but feel this one song was more for her than for us. That fact did not deminish the enjoyment of the simple melody and wish.
Soul, Gospel, Jazz, Contemporary R&B, American Standard…why indeed…Empress of Music is accurate.

90 minutes…much much too short.

Fabulous.

 

 

 

Click here for video. Take that Beyonce’.

 

Viral Listenitis: Brandi Carlile

brandi-carlile.jpg

Every once in a while, I stumble across music that leaves me gobsmacked. Generally, when this happens a period of viral listening follows in which the newly found gems are listened to incessantly until I get tired or another viral listenitis germ is caught.

This happened with Ray LaMontagne and then Amos Lee, shortly followed by John Mayer’s Continuum and then Sara Bareilles. However, it’s been a few months since I’ve had a real “favorite” that commanded my attention. I certainly wasn’t expecting to find my new obsession at The Indigo Girls concert. After all, Mr. D and I only attended The IG concert because I wanted to explore more music and we had great seats.

We always arrive a little early to enjoy a cocktail before the show and to take in the opening act. You just never know what you might discover by doing so. On this night, I discovered one seriously talented artist that I just can’t put down. Ladies and Gentlemen, Ms. Brandi Carlile.

Brandi grew up in Washington State, out in the country where she practiced music to pass the time. She is heavily influenced by Elton John, Patsy Cline, Queen, Johnny Cash and Roy Orbison. Her mother was a professional singer and her grandfather a yodeler. In the never-ending circular nature of music, she has opened for Ray LaMontagne and Chris Isaak.

Here is Brandi and Chris on Love Me Tender:

The pureness of her voice was so mesmerizing. She’s a bit Joni Mitchell mixed with Patsy Cline, with something about Karen Carpenter. You may have heard of Brandi from her highly acclaimed song The Story, which was featured on Grey’s Anatomy. The title track to her recently released CD that was recorded by producer T Bone Burnett in his private studios with vintage instruments.

The Story on Grey’s Anatomy

Almost all of her songs are self-composed or by one of “the twins” Tim & Phil Hanseroth. This duo is also extremely talented and is a great compliment to Brandi Carlile.

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For me, the lyrics to these songs are seriously profound and the melodies haunting. Take for example the song Turpentine from The Story CD.

These days we go to waste like wine
That’s turned to turpentine
It’s six AM and I’m all messed up
I didn’t maen to waste your time
So I’ll fall back in line
But I’m warning you we’re growing up

A song that is reportedly about her tumultuous relationship with her brother, Turpentine strikes a chord:

Turpentine

After investigating Brandi and her songs over the last few weeks, I found that a few of her songs are credited to being about her relationship with her brother. In much of her lyrics, accompanied by powerful melodies, I can relate. In this performance, she identifies a young fan who “knows all the words”. Precious.

Wasted, with Zoe

These lyrics speak so strongly to me…

If you had eyes like golden crowns and diamonds in your fingertips you’d waste it
If shining wisdom passed your lips and traveled to the ears of God you’d waste it
And so I hate that your overrated most revered and celebrated cause you’re wasted

Then again it’s good to get a call
Now and then just to say hello
Have I said I hate to see you go…hate to see you go

Every time you close a door and nothing opens in its place you’ve wasted
And when you speak the words you know to those who know the words themselves you’re wasted,
You’re such a classic waste of cool, so afraid to break the rules in all the wrong places

Then again it’s good to get a call
Now and then just to say hello
Have I said I hate to see you go…hate to see you go

This song is one of those that builds like a crescendo, until you can’t wait to hear it again. I now know every inch of this song.

There were several watershed moments of this concert, but perhaps the most dramatic, show-stopping moment was when Ms. Carlile and the “twins” approached the front of the stage. After quieting the crowd, she explained that the wonderful old Saenger would provide the natural acoustics to perform their next number without amplification, if we all kept the noise down. It was pure. And, I love pure.

What Can I Say?

Ms. Carlile then pulled the proverbial rabbit out of the hat with a rousing rendition of the great Johnny Cash’s Folsom Prison Blues:

Folsom Prison Blues

One of my favorite songs of Brandi Carlile’s is Cannonball. Perhaps it’s because I’m a sucker for three-part harmony, or maybe the Civil War feel of the song, but this song just speaks to me. Oh, and as an aside, The Indigo Girls actually provide back-up on this song on the CD.

Cannonball

As most of you remember, we had quite the Hallejuah discussion back at GrayCharles.com and even here. Brandi closed her set with a strong, Jeff Buckley-like rendition of Hallejuah. It was absolutely incredible.

Hallejuah

I promptly purchased both the self-titled, Brandi Carlile, as well as The Story. Both CDs are superb. I have not been this excited about an artist since Amos Lee and the Viral Listenitis that overwhelmed me over a year ago. Do yourself a favor, go to iTunes and download The Story CD. If, like me, you like what you hear, purchase Brandi Carlile. I promise, you will not regret some investigation into this extremely talented musical artist.

Electronic Press Kit on Brandi Carlile

 

The Saenger Series

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I’ve been fortunate enough to attend several concerts over the last few months at the beautifully renovated Saenger Theatre in Mobile. Living a scant three miles from Downtown Mobile has certain benefits and I consider the Saenger at the top of the list. Built in 1927, The Saenger served Mobile as its’ premier movie theater. On the eve of its’ slated demolition in 1970, the University of South Alabama rescued the structure and turned it into a performing arts center for the university. In 1999, the City of Mobile purchased The Saenger and the privately funded Centre of the Living Arts raised over $6 million to exquisitely refurbish the gem that narrowly escaped destruction.

Over the last year, The Saenger has landed some great musical acts for performance and I’ve been in attendance at several. It started in June, right before my unfortunate bar stool incident, with the incomparable B.B. King. Likely the last time I’ll get to see ole B.B. light it up and front row seats were worth every penny.

In December, we were treated to a glorious Christmas concert by Aaron Neville, that was fronted by the local LeFlore Preparatory Choir. From the fourth row, my camera caught the evident sorrow of Aaron Neville over the recent death of his wife, Joelle.
Started my new job in January and it’s been keeping me mighty busy (but a good busy), so I haven’t had the chance to really sit down and compose a post about seeing The Indigo Girls in late January.

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The Indigo Girls crowd was a bit “different”, NTTAWWT, and very emotional. Perhaps it was because of the Mardi Gras Parade season that was in full swing just before the concert, but it was packed and very rowdy. Again, we had great seats, on the third row, center.

Admittedly, I didn’t know much about The Indigo Girls other than they were acoustic, but I wanted to experience some new music that I hadn’t before and this seemed a good place to start, considering I had such good tickets. They were good. Both were sick but you really couldn’t tell. It really wouldn’t have mattered as the crowd continually out-sung them.

Closer to Fine

The crowd particularly got into Power of Two:

At the end, much of the crowd rushed the stage, so Mr. D and I decided to head out. The newspaper indicated that some fans actually ran up on stage and tackled da girls. I dunno, just a very strange vibe.

However, by far, the best thing of the whole night was the discovery of my new musical obsession in the opening act. But, I’ll cover that in a dedicated post so that I make sure to give it its’ due.

Lastly, on this past Friday night, I had 2nd row center seats for the great Keb ‘Mo.

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Keb ‘Mo was divine and as mentioned in my previous post, so was my new find, Kevin So. He, too, rates a dedicated post, so I’ll save that for later. Now, Keb is one tall drink of water and he has a very charming wit that endures him to the crowd. In short order he had this wonderfully Southern crowd eating from the palm of his hand.

He played wonderfully and sang favorites like Shave Yo’ Legs:

and the wonderful Angelina:

But what had caught my eye since we sat in our seats was the beautiful resonator guitar. When he grabbed the slide, I was near giddiness.

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As an aside, I took some really great pictures and will try to get my Flickr tool up and running with these and other concert images soon.

Keb is a premier blues guitarist and harp player. He did not disappoint. It went something like this:

It Hurts Me Too

Such a delightful artist. I’d pay double to see him again.

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I’m looking forward to more great shows at The Saenger. Jackson Browne will be there on St. Patrick’s Day but I’ll be out of town. Perhaps some more greats and some more new artists will grace the grand old theatre, and maybe…just maybe, I’ll be in one of those front rows again.

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8 Comments

Posted by on March 1, 2008 in acoustic, blues, Reviews

 

The Thunder Rolls….Or Not.

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Oh. My. Gawd.

Friday night, I happened to be channel-surfing and saw that CBS was carrying a Garth Brooks’ concert, live from L.A., to benefit the firefighters who fought the recent wildfires out west. Having nothing better to do at 9:00pm, CST (yes, I’m old), I decided to tune in a see old Garth do his magic.

You see, in my “Blue” period, I was a huge Country Music fan and other than George Straight, Garth Brooks was as big of a country artist as it gets. Garth had many hits in the 80s and 90s and I always had a particular fondness for his ballads like To Make You Feel My Love (written by Bob Dylan) and The Dance.

His concerts were legendary for the passion in his performance and the overall high-energy. Everyone that I’ve known who has attended one of Garth’s shows said two things: 1.) It was worth every penny they paid; 2.) The guy is seriously talented.

So, I looked forward to settling in, hearing and seeing the great Garth Brooks, and being wowed once again. Unfortunately, it was not to be. Garth was really off. I don’t know if he couldn’t hear his tone, was ill or just way rusty, but virtually every song was out flat or out of tune and at points he seemed to be screeching. He covered with a bunch of yells to the crowd and let them sing some verses, but it was just not good. It was more glaringly evident how bad it was when his wife, Trisha Yearwood came out and sang perfectly in tune and then again, when Huey Lewis came out and sang Workin’ for Livin’.

Here’s an excerpt of Friday night’s Garth:

Callin’ Baton Rouge

The unofficial anthem of Louisiana may have been irreparably damaged. Now, contrast that with the loveliness of Garth past, singing one of Mr. D’s all-time favorite songs:

The River

 
5 Comments

Posted by on January 27, 2008 in Country, music dudes, Reviews, Uncategorized

 

An Aaron Neville Christmas

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While I wish the secret Santa would have been Van the Man, we got the next best thing. One of my favorites…

Aaron Neville. Joined by his little big brother, Charles and his Quintet. At the beautiful Saenger Theatre in Mobile, Alabama.

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We were on the third row just right of center in a full house. The opening act was a local public high school choir, LeFlore Preparatory.

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They were very good and quite moving. Their opening number was a very spirited African song that really set the positive tone of the evening.

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They featured several solos that were all simply lovely. It was really quite inspiring to watch these enthusiastic, young people obviously committed to music.

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After an hour, the announcer came out and welcomed Aaron Neville. Now, Aaron is a literal mountain of a man. At 66, he is buff and looks a full 25 years younger.

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He opened with I Don’t Know Much and thanked his duet partner on that song, Linda Ronstadt, at its conclusion. Next came Stand By Me and Ain’t No Sunshine. In doing a little pre-concert research, I found out that these two songs, in particular had become special prayers for Aaron Neville.

Our local paper had a write up on the Aaron Neville concert on Friday. In that article, Aaron stated that this mini-tour was helping him get over the loss of his wife of 48 years to lung cancer last January. I had no idea.

Aaron Neville married Joel Roux (pronounced Jo-el) in 1959 when she was 18 and he was 17. His mother actually signed their marriage license because he was not of legal age. Through substance abuse, a prison stint, a rollercoaster career and four children, Joel was his best friend. He credits her with saving his life by throwing him out in the early years of their marriage and calls her his backbone. Dedicated Catholics, they both credited prayer and St. Jude with saving Aaron and turning their lives around.

Their life was anything but easy. Even after his 1966 hit, Tell It Like It Is, wealth and fame were illusive. Aaron supported his family by working the docks at the Port of New Orleans. Eventually, he started a band with his brothers and concentrated on the funky, back beat music of the Mardi Gras Indians, which is part of his heritage. His Warm Your Heart album was wildly successful as a solo effort and life got a lot easier for the Neville family.

Joel finally retired from her 20-year career at Charity Hospital of New Orleans and joined Aaron as informal Ambassadors for New Orleans and found a special place in the music industry with the fabulous rhythms of the Neville family, including The Meters, the Wild Tchoupitoulas, and of course, The Neville Brothers Band. All was really good until 2004, when Joel was diagnosed with lung cancer. Through prayer, radiation and chemotherapy, she went into remission. And then…Hurricane Katrina.

Aaron and Joel Neville lost their home and all of their possessions, as did many of their family. Aaron was in New York, on tour, when Katrina hit and has gone to New Orleans only once since the storm — to bury his dear wife. He has an asthma condition now that he feels would be exacerbated by living in New Orleans and the unknown environmental hazards that may be lurking. He also didn’t want to risk Joel’s fragile health by being in such a risky environment. However, he never abandoned New Orleans and has done dozens of benefit concerts to raise money for musicians and the people of the city, at large.

In November, the Nevilles announced that they will be back to play the 2008 JazzFest in April. It is a long awaited return that many residents view as a milestone in the recovery. It should be quite a joyous occasion, however I’m sure that for Aaron it will provide a stinging reminder of loss and what is missing. Great and enduring loves — particularly those who overcome adversity and trials — generally leave a gaping void when one is gone and the other is left to carry on.

While it was thrilling to see Aaron Neville on Sunday night, there was a certain pall and sadness to him. In particular, when he sang Amazing Grace….

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Now, Aaron makes no bones about his faith. He’s Catholic to the core. He’s tatted up with crucifixes (including one on his cheek) and the face of Jesus on his huge bicep. He wears a St. Jude medal for an earring as a simple reminder of how a “hopeless case” can be redeemed.

I know the feeling.

However, my symbol is a little bigger and has more attitude. He had on a crucifix necklace as well as a rosary and an Our Lady of Guadalupe t-shirt. Being Catholic ourselves, we totally get Big Aaron. He’s thankful to God for saving his life and uses these outward symbols to proclaim his love of Christ to the world…and to maybe influence others in need. Perhaps that’s why is his music is so particularly lovely.

He sang for over two hours and didn’t clutter the performance with much chatter at all. He just really went to work and gave us great music. A few of the highlights:

Tell It Like It Is

It’s Alright

Please Come Home for Christmas

Silent Night

A Change Gonna Come

O Holy Night

Here are a few pictures I took from the show:

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After the show, Big Mike, the keyboardist was out at the front of the stage talking to folks. Mr. D. had bought a fleur de lis Aaron Neville hat before the concert to support New Orleans and the re-building (because we’re loyal like dat) and we asked Mike if he could get Aaron to sign it. He said sure and got Jason the Roadie to go back stage. Within two minutes, we had our keepsake.

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Let Me Hear It

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Please, even if you usually just lurk…give me an opinion, a review, a comment, on the following tunes.

Danke Shoen

 
12 Comments

Posted by on October 26, 2007 in acoustic, rate a record, Reviews

 
 
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