Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Forgotten Music: Black 47 - New York Town (2005)

This is a reprint of an review that was originally posted on this blog over ten years ago, on May 8, 2005. It's been updated and rerun here.
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In 2005 Black 47 released their first studio album after the September 11, 2001 attacks. The Irish rockers from New York City  released New York Town, another very interesting CD, this one dedicated to bandleader Larry Kirwan's adopted hometown. The twelve songs Kirwan composed form a loosely connected concept album:  every one  is set in the Big Apple. Kirwan has called New York Town his "love letter" to America's largest city.

Whether the song concerns romantic relationships, the immigrant experience, people on the dark side of urban life, or the awful events of September 11th that appear to have inspired him, Kirwan composed some wonderfully literate music. As always, he wrote with both humor and sadness and each song makes you feel the emotion he wanted to convey.

In a lot of a ways this CD is typical Black 47 but the concept and an unusual abundance of star-studded musical guests help set this one apart. Rosanne Cash is great here as she shares lead vocals with Kirwan on "Fiona's Song," a story about a lonely, young Irish woman who seeks solace in the bars of Queens. (You can listen to Cash & Kirwan together here.)

David Johansen duets with Kirwan on the upbeat "Staten Island Baby" and Suzzy Roche appears on two tracks. Fiddler Eileen Ivers and blues lady Christine Ohlman also add color.

Interesting songs are everywhere. "Livin' in America - 11 Years On" has the identical melody and an almost identical arrangement of the same song from the band's first major label CD, Fire of Freedom, but with a whole new set of lyrics that update the lives of the feuding couple we were originally introduced to in 1993.

"Fatima," is a story about immigrants adjusting to life in The United States but this time we hear the tale of a Muslim father not coming to terms with his daughter's Christian boyfriend.

The highlight is "Orphans Of The Storm," a song written as a sequel to Kirwan's "American Wake," a completely different song that appeared on the sextet's 1994 CD Home Of The Brave. In "Wake," Sean, a young Irishman, leaves his native land for America. The sequel finds him living in New York and working at the World Trade Center on September 11th.

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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

How Can Anyone (Especially Women) Listen To This?

Every once in awhile I acquire an urge to go on a rant regarding something that incenses me about music.  Once or twice before I used this space to vent and stirred up some unfortunate, nasty comments, enough to make me say, "never again."  However, Compton, Dr. Dre's new, soundtrack CD to the movie Straight Out Of Compton, has set me off again.

First, I have to admit that I have not listened to a single note of Dre's comeback album so I know some people will wonder how I'm qualified to write about something I have never heard.  Normally, I would say these folks have a valid point. However, I've heard enough rap and hip-hop in my life to know that it's a hideous sounding blight upon humanity that makes my ears bleed.  I have no reason to believe Compton sounds any different from all the ultra-profanity laced gangsta rap that came before it but today I'm more concerned with the genre's lyrics.

This past Sunday, Dan DeLuca, music critic of the The Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote a review of Dre's unfortunate new release.  Almost as an afterthought he very briefly touches on two terribly troubling songs at the end of his article after highly praising the album in a lengthy discourse.  First, in a guest appearance on "Medicine Man," Eminem brags about his skills as a rapist and on "Loose Cannon" a woman pleads for her life before being shot to death.   DeLuca writes, "Really? Who thought that was a good idea? It's an ugly blot on an otherwise almost wholly impressive return by a hip-hop titan" and I must say to DeLuca, "Really, you listen to this garbage?"

Dr. Dre is a billionaire.  People, ladies especially, why do you help make these men rich?  Why do you find rap music so alluring?

I know 60s and 70s classic rock was not without its misogynistic, violent, and drugged out moments but no artists have obsessively embraced violence as proudly and as matter-of-factly as the perpetrators of hip-hop culture.

Here is Mr. DeLuca's complete review.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Graham Nash Live At The Keswick Theater, Glenside, PA, August 8, 2015

Nash on the cover of his recent autobiography 
Every time I tell myself that the music I love the most won my affection only because it was the soundtrack of my generation, and not because it is superior to what followed, I have an experience like the one I had on Saturday night and I get defensive of the classic rock era all over again. The experience was Graham Nash.

The two time hall of famer played a two hour set of music that spanned his entire career. He played acoustic guitar, harmonica, electric piano, and regaled us with a lot of stories.

Nash's only sideman, Shane Fontayne, supplied electric guitar while harmonizing eloquently with the star all evening.  Fontayne has also played lead for Sting and Bruce Springsteen as well as serving as the second lead guitarist for Crosby, Stills, and Nash. He also worked with Joe Cocker, Chris Botti, and Marc Cohn and recently released his first solo album.

The Blackpool, UK native opened the show with two Hollies' songs, "Bus Stop" and "King Midas In Reverse," and they were the only tunes we heard from the songbook of the band that first brought him to prominence.

Nash is a great storyteller.  He told us about the Moroccan train ride that inspired "Marrakesh Express" from Crosby Stills, and Nash's eponymous debut record.  Later he played "Lady of the Island" from the same album.

Another story preceded "Our House."  It's about Nash's relationship with then girlfriend Joni Mitchell and how their day out shopping inspired the famous song from Deja Vu.

From 1977's CSN we heard the story behind "Just a Song Before I Go," a hit Nash wrote on a dare in an airport while waiting for a plane and another one about his eerie LSD trip that gave birth to the song "Cathedral."

The singer-songwriter played "Wasted on the Way" after he said the quartet could have accomplished so much more if they hadn't been so "messed up" (not the phrase he used) all of the time.

Nash also performed four tracks from his debut solo LP, Songs for Beginners. We heard "Military Madness," "Simple Man," "I Used to be a King," and "Chicago."

Other songs included "Immigration Man," another true story. It's about the time Nash had trouble getting back into the United States from Canada after a tour while his three bandmates breezed through customs.

For "Wind on the Water" the auditorium went black while the the original, hymn-like, acapella introduction to the anti-whaling song Nash and David Crosby released on one of their duet records was played. It segued into the live version of the ballad as the stage lights came back on.

"Oh! Camil (the Winter Soldier)" was a request that Nash hadn't performed in thirty years. He asked a stagehand to google the lyrics so he could get it right after two false starts. It was a funny moment preceding a very serious song about the Viet Nam vet, Scott Camil, who later became a leader in the organization,Viet Nam Veterans Against the War, an act that  landed the ex-soldier on Richard Nixon's enemies list.

Nash gave a lot of credit to Fontayne for his work on the star's new solo album that is coming out soon. The duo wrote twenty songs together on a recent CSN tour and later recorded them in a studio in just eight days. Fontayne also produced the album. They did four songs from it including a tribute to Levon Helm and one about the Michael Brown/Ferguson, MO controversy that so infuriated an audience member he walked out. (All I can say is, "Dude, it's a Graham Nash concert. Did you really expect him NOT to get political?")

The first encore was an early CSN concert standard, The Beatles' "Blackbird," and Fontayne sang lead.   The highlight of the show also ended the evening. My personal Nash favorite, "Teach Your Children," was absolutely perfect.

Because Nash performed every song of consequence he left us wanting nothing while demanding more.

For some in attendance it may have been an evening of nostalgia but it was also a night filled with some of the greatest music from  the classic rock era. I hope that most of those in the sold out Keswick Theater came for the latter reason.

Related Links:
Graham Nash
Shayne Fontayne
Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young
Wild Tales

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Jimmy Lafave House Concert, Phoenixville, PA, Saturday, August 1, 2015

Jimmy Lafave onstage in Phoenixville, PA
Have you ever been to a house concert? For the uninitiated they are simply concerts hosted by a homeowner on their private property for their family and friends and sometimes the general public. On Saturday night I attended my first such affair.

This rain or shine event was held in the backyard of a typical suburban development home outside Phoenixville, PA on a very pleasant evening. The performance was open to the public and was advertised on the website of Jimmy Lafave, the superb, Austin based, singer-songwriter who was the entertainment for the evening. The $20 per head price included a potluck picnic before the show began. About sixty-five paying guests heard Lafave and his band play for almost two and a half hours.

Lafave played acoustic guitar. He was supported by a new four piece band: a drummer, an electric bass player, an excellent, twenty-four year old, electric lead guitarist, Anthony Da Costa, and an even better harmonica virtuoso, Bob Beach. The group had great onstage rapport with each other and the frequent verbal jousting between the star and Da Costa was especially entertaining.

Saturday was a little different for Lafave. Even though he has an extensive catalog of his own work, the evening was loaded with cover versions. His original tunes took a back seat. The reason for this is not entirely known but perhaps it's because, as Lafave said, this band doesn't know a lot of his songs. Lafave couldn't honor the host's request to play one of his self-penned efforts, "This Land," because they never rehearsed it together so he had to settle for a version of Bob Dylan's "Not Dark Yet" instead. (Settling isn't really the right word, the band's take on it was outstanding.) Dylan's music is ingrained into Lafave's soul and covers of Mr. Zimmerman's songs are always an essential part of Lafave's albums and stage repertoire.

Lafave opened the affair with two songs from the new CD, The Night Tribe, including "The Beauty of You," but then he pretty much left the disc alone except for his cover of "Queen Jane Approximately." He played some of his earlier originals later in the show, but not many.

Other covers included Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Have You Ever Seen the Rain" as a singalong and "These Days," one of Jackson Browne's greatest, as well as a third and final Dylan piece, "Just Like A Woman."

Much of Lafave's own work is very laid back but he and the band can work up a sweat when they want to and they proved it on three pure blues offerings that put both Da Costa and Beach in the spotlight. The harp player easily won over the crowd and he was often the featured soloist throughout the night. He just may be the best harmonica player I've ever heard live and his contributions were very important to the success of the evening.

The only obvious flaw was that Lafave seldom gave us the names of the songs he and the band played. Other than that the evening was almost perfect and the neighbors never complained.

Lafave has recorded nine studio albums beginning in 1992 plus four "official" bootlegs.

Read more about Lafave on Bloggerhythms here.

We'll close with a postscript that is mostly for readers who were fans of Philadelphia's wonderful alternative radio scene of the late 60s. Before Lafave took the stage a local legend, disc jockey Michael Tearson, grabbed a mic and spoke to the assembled crowd. He told us that he just left his position with Sirius XM's Deep Tracks because he believed the satellite radio giant was "dumbing down the station." He also promoted his two free online podcasts: Radio That Doesn't Suck and Michael Tearson’s Marconi Experiment on iRadioPhilly. He also sang one song, acapella, from his own folk music CD.

Monday, August 03, 2015

Anthony D'Amato - The Shipwreck From The Shore (2014)

Singer-songwriter and rocker Anthony D'Amato is quite an engaging personality in concert. He's also a good musician and songwriter, two talents you will immediately notice upon listening to the ten songs from his third CD, The Shipwreck From The Shore.

This is D'Amato's first album released with the help of his new label, New West Records, and it contains everything that makes a pop album a pleasurable experience. He serves up clever lyrics filled with hooks while giving us songs that are concise enough to not overstay their welcome.

Shipwreck is quite a surprise, especially when you consider that D'Amato's only previous recording experience was laying down tracks for his first two albums in his dorm room at Princeton University. The ex-Ivy Leaguer kicked these latest sessions up a notch by recruiting members of Bon Iver into his backing band and using Sam Kassirer, Josh Ritter's keyboard player for over a decade and producer of three of Ritter's albums, to run these sessions. The combination makes D'Amato sound as if he's a seasoned veteran.

The young guitarist's lyrics are not cryptic and they're laced with a sense of humor many singer-songwriters lack. The opener, "Was A Time," is proof. The New Jersey native takes a serious subject, like a romantic breakup, and uses a very upbeat riff and melody to lighten the tone, especially when coupled with the song's humorous official video (seen below). The same is true with "Good and Ready," a refreshing and unique take on the tired old topic about a protagonist who just doesn't want to live without waking up next to the love of his life.

Other highlights include "No Not Tonight," "Cold Comfort, and "If It Don't Work Out."

D'Amato has sometimes been compared to Bob Dylan and, as usual, a pronouncement like this one is oversused and almost always unfair. An artist doesn't have to be a rock god to produce satisfying work and D'Amato, as a mere mortal, most certainly does. Perhaps this comparison was born of the news that he studied songwriting at Princeton with Pulitzer Prize winning poet Paul Muldoon.

At times D'Amato comes across as a folkie performing at a coffeehouse and other times he is a middle-of-the-road rocker with a pleasing edge. Either way he's a winning newcomer.

Website: Anthony D'Amato Music