Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Schultz' Earful: Gregg Allman

By: David Schultz

AT THEIR MOST RECENT BEACON THEATER RESIDENCIES (I think we can all safely consider last year’s United Palace misfire an unexplainable Armin Tamzarian interlude), The Allman Brothers Band has shown a purposeful dedication to reenergizing the old-school blues that inspired and influenced them in their early days. Given that T-Bone Burnett has found a way to wipe years of rust off the likes of John Mellencamp and Leon Russell, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that he could engineer the finest effort of Gregg Allman’s solo career. On Low Country Blues, Allman lends his world-weary Southern mourn to a well-vetted selection of blues rarities. An original and founding member of one of the hardest-living Southern rock bands, Allman is at the stage of his career where he could look back at forty years of life on the road and craft blues epics out of his own insightful reflections. Low Country Blues, with its bevy of deep cuts from the likes of Skip James, Otis Rush and B.B. King, is not that album. No matter though, even if the lyrics didn’t originate with Allman, he gives the porch swing lament of “Devil Got My Woman” the measured lope of “Floating Bridge” and the swampy relish of “Rolling Stone” all the grizzled soul required to make them resonate as his own. Stripped to their essence by a band that includes Dr. John and Doyle Bramhall II, Burnett makes every note count. Notwithstanding the breezy charm of “I’m No Angel,” this is the most interesting Gregg Allman has been in nearly three decades. It wouldn’t be surprising to see these songs work their way into Allman Brothers Band setlists over the upcoming months - “Just Another Rider,” a kissin’-cousin to “Midnight Rider” penned by Allman and Warren Haynes is probably a certainty – and you can salivate over the prospects of Haynes and Derek Trucks getting their hands on Allman’s latest.

WHEN THE BLACK CROWES cryptically closed the New York and San Francisco legs of their Say Goodnight To The Bad Guys tour with The Rolling Stones’ “The Last Time,” the collective belief was that the Robinson brothers were sharing one last cosmic joke with their fans before heading off on their most recent “indefinite hiatus.” Well, the Crowes latest respite from performing together will be tallied in months rather than years. This summer, for a stint running from July 7 through July 18, the Crowes will regroup for gigs in Italy, Spain and England before completing the run with a two night stand in The Netherlands. If the Crowes are really going to fade away into the smoky ether, Amsterdam is surely the proper launching point.

THE GLEE-IFICATION OF MODERN MUSIC makes me wistful for the days when popular music was dominated by lip-synching minxes and vapid, prancing boy bands. Perhaps the hidden genius of Glee is that everything they write for Jane Lynch to say about the musical quality of these kids is 100% correct. I’d be surer of this if I could bring myself to watch the show any longer than it takes for me to change the channel away from it. Despite the scads of money that can be made having the show churn out a bland over-emoted version of any song, Slash has bucked the trend and refused permission to let the FOX show incorporate any Guns N’ Roses songs. FOX surely asked Axl Rose as well. He’s probably going to wait 10 years though before giving them a response.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Schultz' Earful: The Low Anthem; Grayson Capps

By: David Schultz

In April of 2010, flush with the success that followed the delayed appreciation of their fine 2008 album, Oh My God, Charlie Darwin, The Low Anthem made a highly anticipated appearance at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City. Greater wordsmiths than I have waxed poetically on the small intrusions and subtle insults that disrupt and destroy the delicate beauty of quiet art. While the poets of yore surely never had the fragile melodies and achingly gorgeous songs of The Low Anthem in mind, they might have nodded knowingly while the drunken chatter of narcissistic New Yorkers ruined whatever moment could be created by softly conveyed, masterfully rendered songs like “Ticket Taker” and “Oh My God Charlie Darwin.” The night served as a brusque reminder that the audience often bears as much as responsibility for the overall impact of a live show as the musicians on stage.

This past Thursday, at the Allen Room at the Time Warner “annex” of Lincoln Center, no such battle took place for attention occurred as the Low Anthem performed as part of the American Songbook series. A perfect match of a spectacular room and a band that can hold it in its thrall, hardly a peep was uttered while The Low Anthem previewed material from Smart Flesh, their upcoming February 22 release, resurrected American folk standards and revisited their Charlie Darwin breakthrough. With the Allen Room’s wall-length windows permitting Columbus Circle, Central Park and the crosstown traffic of 59th Street to serve as a twinkling, snow-covered backdrop, the Providence band’s old-timey organs, horns and jigsaw stood out, gleaming in all their anachronistic glory.

The Low Anthem contrasts carefully measured, beautifully-wrought elegies in which Ben Knox Miller warmly speaks of the simple joys and gratifications to be obtained from others or sings, often with an helping hand from Jeff Prystowsky, Jocie Adams and Mat Davidson, in a haunting falsetto that conjures up the ghosts of another era with upbeat, traditionally based folk rock. As if transported from the 19th Century where pump organs and gaslight filled halls were the height of entertainment, there’s a simplicity to The Low Anthem that though uncomplicated, takes the right temperament to successfully attain the right amount of authenticity without losing a modern audience.

GRAYSON CAPPS IS ANOTHER ARTIST that benefits from an attentive crowd and this past week the New Orleans-influenced guitarist received his due within the intimate confines of the Rockwood Music Hall in New York City. Able to bring listeners into his world, all that was truly missing from the Rockwood on a snowy Manhattan night was a campfire to accentuate Capps’ ability to spin a fascinating tale. Sitting with an acoustic guitar, which he occasionally set down in favor of a resonator, Capps’ charisma and Southern charm showed why he’s been able to expand his reach beyond the Gulf Coast region. If anything, he peaks your interest for a taste of “Coconut Moonshine.”

WITH ESTABLISHED ACTS like The Decemberists, Gregg Allman, Social Distortion, Gang Of Four, Cold War Kids and Iron & Wine as well as emerging acts like The Smith Westerns, Cloud Nothings and Braids all set to release new albums in the next three weeks, the long dry season that parches the landscape of new music from Thanksgiving through the New Year will finally be coming to an end. It will also let us stop rehashing everything we loved and hated in 2010 and look ahead to the future. So Kanye, got anything good for 2011?

Friday, January 14, 2011

The Rinjo Cloudcast: Best of 2010

By: Rinjo Njori
In the spirit of the love of my life we are taking on the Best of 2010 for artists "A" - "J". We have a pair of "heavies" coming out of Tennessee. Some Pop Punk reminiscent of late 70s golden age. Lot's of female fronted pop, with a smidgen of distortion. Listen! Enjoy! Also check out Pirate Radio-- stupid ending but pretty good Almost Famous type of movie. I mention the "F" word about 6 times.

But there is more.....

Time to close of 2010 with some notable artists J-Z (not Jay-Z). We got some nostalgic hardcore via OFF! and also some throwback power pop via Paul Collins. The young kids setting a course correction (see The Young Veins) and some old guys/ gals still trying to rock (see Sweetapple and The Vaselines). The Parting Gifts are Greg Cartwright's latest band but Magic Kids took the name Memphis for their album. So sit back and remember (or discover) the music of 2010.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Schultz' Earful: Prince; Liz Phair

By: David Schultz

Much like Brett Favre, Jay-Z or the multitude of professional wrestlers that have announced their retirement, the enigmatic and mercurial Prince causes the occasional stir by intimating a desire to walk away from his chosen profession. He never states what other ventures he would pursue but I would imagine they wouldn’t involve working for anyone else. Prince seems like he would be a distraction to his co-workers and would surely frustrate his manager with his intermittent productivity and questionable apparel decisions on casual Friday. For his recent Welcome 2 America tour (Prince’s penchant for cutesy-pie shorthand would probably tick off any employer too), the Purple One is once again making overtures that this might be the last time he will be gracing the stages. Hopefully, this is all posturing and rhetoric. If Prince’s recent return to New York City’s Madison Square Garden is any indication, he remains one of the most gifted and compelling live performers alive today.

It’s startling to imagine how many different directions Prince’s career could have taken. With his hit-making ability, he could have easily been Michael Jackson, but he didn’t want that. With his creativity and dexterity with a guitar, he could have easily been Jimi Hendrix, but he didn’t want that either. With this showmanship and dedication to perfection, he could have easily been James Brown, but he didn’t want that. When you get down to it, he could have spent his entire career simply being Prince, but there was a period of time when he didn’t even want to do that, choosing to raise a middle finger to Warner Brothers and refer to himself as an unpronounceable symbol.

Playing in the round or, more accurately, in the symbol at the Garden, Prince exuded every ounce of the charisma that has made him one of the most intriguing entertainers of the past quarter century. Over the course of a two hour set, Prince skittered seamlessly from jaw dropping guitar solos to rump-shaking funk, from sensual theatrics to free-form rock star antics, from reasserted his dominance to reclaiming donated songs like “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Playing a veritable greatest hits set that was notable for what was played as well as omitted, Prince reveled in his Purple Rain heyday (“Baby, I’m A Star,” “The Beautiful Ones,” “Let’s Go Crazy” and of course, “Purple Rain”), randy beginnings (“Delirious” and “1999”) and post-Revolution funk (“Cream”). When Prince is on stage, it’s quite difficult to look anywhere else, his unpredictable stage antics and ballerina-quality body control turning every step or spin into a potentially mind-bending move. His mastery was on full display during the lengthy instrumental coda to “Kiss” as he held the audience rapt with a choreographed dance routine that wasn’t much more than simple arm movements and a couple torso twists.

Mid show, Sheila E., one of the many beneficiaries of Prince’s 80s-era benevolence, emerged at the center stage to handle Sheena Easton’s role on a ferociously libidinous version of “U Got The Look.” With Prince below decks making one of his numerous costume changes, the marvelously preserved 53-year-old percussionist owned the Garden on her own “The Glamorous Life” and returned for the final encore to duet with Prince on “A Love Bizarre.” For the last song of the night, Prince brought every celebrity in the arena on stage, setting the stage for the surreal sight of Dr. Cornell West getting down with Whoopi Goldberg while prompting discussion of whether the professor possesses a larger afro than ?uestlove, who had surreptitiously slid behind one of the drum kits.

As of now, Prince’s January 18th show remains the only one scheduled for 2011. The man is a born performer, I can’t fathom it will be his last of the year.

CLOSE TO TWENTY YEARS since releasing the revelatory Exile In Guyville, Liz Phair seems to have resolved herself to the harsh truth that she will never replicate the success of her career-defining debut. Unflinching in her take on gender politics and unapologetic in her sexually-charged confessions, Phair matter-of-factly unleashed a torrid response to the male dominated world of indie-rock and built a loyal following ready to follow her wherever she may lead. Along the way though, Phair grew up, likely finding answers to many of the questions raised in her earlier work. As a 43-year-old mother, it’s likely she no longer finds satisfaction in boasting about being anyone’s blow job queen. At her December return to New York City’s Bowery Ballroom, Phair seemed content to let her earlier work carry the show, devoting the majority of her hour long set to her marvelous output from the 90s. When someone called out for “H.W.C.,” the most sexually explicit track from her most mainstream release, Phair didn’t flinch at giving the song a try but it was clear she was relearning it on the fly.

Once beleaguered with stage fright, Phair now maintains a measured though uneven rapport with her audience. Comfortable with the fact that the people in front of her show a faithful dedication to her music, the diminutive singer still seems slightly stunned by the level of their interest and depth of their knowledge. Nonetheless, she knows the songs that they want to hear, which doesn’t include much from Funstyle, her recent self-released album. I won’t profess a competency to talk on her latest album’s merits. All I can say is that I’ve been scared off by the horrific word-of-mouth it’s received and want nothing more than to remember Phair fondly. At the Bowery, Phair didn’t exhibit any indication that she was flush with new bursts of creativity or that she’d regained her insightful edge. Rather, she seemed quite comfortable singing her finest songs from the 90s. The irony inherent to Phair’s acceptance of this role is quite cruel: the defiant young woman who eloquently resisted the persona sought to be forced upon her by others has now relented to those pressures, albeit of a different nature, and conformed to our expectations of her as a bawdy, rebellious nonconformist.

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Grace Potter Rocking The Gear circa 2006!