Saturday Midnight Special Government Shutdown Blues — Samantha Fish, Nikki Hill, Mike Zito, Joe Louis Walker, and Popa Chubby

I have a number of colleagues, friends, and family serving the public interest and I am sure that serial dysfunctional governance by Continuing Resolution, critical positions at senior levels being unfilled, and now a shutdown that will affect their ability to make ends meet are weighing on them at this moment. Thus, a bit of blues music for our times seems to be apropos.

For those not familiar with the history or the form of the music, rather than a music that leads one to hopelessness and resignation, the blues catalogue through the human folk tradition the day-to-day worries and challenges of everyday people.

The blues were born from the work songs of African-American slaves–a brutal environment that punished summarily any sign of protest or rebellion. Thus two outlets were allowed to them–the use of music during heavy labor and mundane work that the slave owners encouraged as a way of ensuring quiescence and productivity, and in religious worship, which was thought as a means of pacification through the acceptance of sanctified music. The slave owners and slavery’s supporters did not fully understand nor recognize the subversive message in the lyrics of these two musical roots, which communicated human dignity, perseverance, and–yes–hope, in the face of oppression, rape, murder, and brutality. The rhythm of the music is organic, borrowed in part from the African rhythms of the different tribes from which the slaves originated, but also derived from whatever was at hand in the New World borrowed from the ruling white society and indigenous American tribes, many of whom accepted runaway slaves and, later, freedmen among their tribes. Thus, forged from the fire of oppression, came a music that embodied the aspirations inspired by the promise embodied in such ideas as freedom, democracy, and equality in a uniquely American way, The blues are the musical soil and soul of American ideal.

The blues carried itself into jazz, which elevated the simplistic folk forms, and has become an elegant, groundbreaking, and uniquely American classical music that continues to push the limits of musical improvisation and expression. It also carried itself into and influenced American popular music, where its deceivingly simplistic forms were imitated and evolved into other musical styles, merging and developing over time.With the great African-American migration to northern cities to escape Jim Crow, the music evolved and incorporated urban influences, with the added dynamics of electrified instruments, and a new defiant message that included elements of black pride, black power, and northern attitude.

Other countries adopted and unabashedly mimicked the music, reviving interest in the music during times when it was undervalued and ignored in this, its country of origin. The British Invasion of the 1960s reintroduced the music to the U.S. through the hybrid of blues-rock, thus anyone familiar with the Rolling Stones, Led Zepplin, early Fleetwood Mac, The Yardbirds, Cream, and others are listening to the blues adapted and recycled to a new generation. It continues today with a broader mix and diversity of musicians that have taken the music of those first generations of African-American blues musicians–Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Son House, B.B. King, Albert King, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and others–and have broadened it, continuing in both the tradition and in extending the music to make it an urgent and vital expression of the human experience. It reveals in its best form the interconnectedness and basic humanity that we all share, across cultures, across generations, and across time.

Unfortunately many blues performers cannot be readily found on YouTube in authorized forms for sharing. No doubt, this post, as with posts in the past that covered blues and jazz will record below average traffic compared to even the esoteric and specialized subjects of Big Data and project management. Fortunately, however, individuals like Don Odell and his Legends studios in Massachusetts records the new generation of bluesmen and blueswomen and so I can share these artists tonight. Each of the musicians below–all amazing and talented in their own way–provide a diversity of perspectives of life and its challenges through their music.

The first artist is Samantha Fish. She hails from Kansas City, Missouri, a town that is rich in blues and jazz history. She lists her influences as visiting blues musicians who performed at Knuckleheads Saloon, a popular musical venue. She began performing in 2009 and she has been mercurial. Her blues album, Wild Heart, charted as the top blues album in 2015. Her latest album is Belle of the West.

 

Nikki Hill is from North Carolina and, if you aren’t familiar with her the clip that follows should bring you running to the store to find her music. She combines intelligent lyrics, strong woman attitude, and powerful vocals to her music–all hallmarks of a great blues vocalist. Her first album is Heavy Hearts, Hard Fists.

 

 

Mike Zito, like Samatha Fish, also is from the mid-west. In his case it is St. Louis. Born in 1970, he began singing at the age of 5, and performed locally in the St. Louis area for many years. In 2008 he gained his big break and was signed on by the Eclecto Groove label. The title song from his 2009 release entitled Pearl River won Song of the Year at the 2010 Blues Music Awards. In 2013 his album Gone to Texas also garnered critical reviews and was nominated for best album at Blues Music Awards in 2013. His latest album is Make Blues, Not War. Here he is covering “Fortunate Son.”

 

 

Joe Louis Walker is, of course, a living blues legend and a living national treasure. He took up guitar growing up in the San Francisco bay area. He hooked up with Mike Bloomfield, Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and other musical pioneers that pushed rock and psychedelic music to new pathways. Burned out on blues after 1975, he turned to sanctified music. However, after attending the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 1985 he returned to his blues roots. Here he is performing “One Time Around.”

 

 

Last, but not least, is Popa Chubby. The name is actually the nom de plume of Ted Horowitz, who grew up in the Bronx, New York. After working the woodshed for a number of years (he was born in 1960) he was finally “discovered” in 1992 by the public radio station in Long Beach, California, which sponsored a national blues talent search. Since that time his album production has been prolific, spanning and incorporating other musical genres within a blues structure. Idiosyncratic and eclectic, Papa Chubby combines showmanship, independence, and amzaing musical chops to keep the music vital and interesting. In the clip below Popa Chubby is the large man who plays lead guitar, and like a good leader who showcases the talents of others, has deferred to his keyboardist to take the lead vocals on the song, “Not So Nice Anymore.”

 

 

 

 

Saturday Night Music Interlude — The Marcus King Band performing “Rita is Gone”

The lead singer and guitarist that provides the Marcus King Band’s moniker hails from Greenville, South Carolina, and plays what he calls “soul-influenced psychedelic southern rock,” which is an apt description.  Only 20 years old, Marcus King’s father, Marvin King, was a regionally popular blues and gospel singer, and his grandfather was a regional musician as well.  Growing up as a boy, young Marcus told eastof8th blog “I was listening to George Jones, Chet Atkins, and Merle Haggard with my granddad.  Later on, I was heavily influenced by jazz cats like Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Jimmy Smith.”

The legendary Warren Haynes has promoted Marcus and his band as a true believer, performing with them at concerts and inviting Marcus King to perform with him in the band Gov’t Mule.  The band has two albums to its credit: Soul Insight, a gritty blues, southern rock and prog rock-inflected debut, and the self-titled double disc Marcus King Band on the Fantasy label.

Touring in anticipation of their new album, they impressed at SXSW, jamming out with George Clinton, performed at Mountain Jam that included electric sets and extended jams with Warren Haynes, and–a last minute substitute booking–took the XPoNential Music Festival in Philadelphia by storm, becoming WXPN’s August Artist to Watch.

You can hear the musical influences that informed Marcus’ sound blend together in the mix of horns, drums, keyboards, and guitar, the band’s eclectic mix of blues, soul, prog rock, and southern rock producing a gumbo reminiscent of Tower of Power at their peak mixed in with a bit of Allman Brothers, a slice of John McLaughlin, a dash of Gov’t Mule, and a pinch of Hendrix psychedelia.  While still a bit raw and unfocused at times, this is one talent to watch as he matures and develops his sound.

Here is the band at WFUV performing “Rita is Gone.”

 

Sunday Music Interlude — Adia Victoria, SHEL, and onDeadWaves

I haven’t written about music in a while, so it’s time to catch up on some of the more interesting new acts and new projects that I’ve come across.

Originally out of South Carolina, Adia Victoria now calls Nashville home.  Her interesting bio can be found at Allmusic.com here.  Her original music is a combination of country and electric blues, punk, garage rock, and a modern type of dark Americana roots music borne of the narrative tradition and neo-folk.  Her voice consists of a girlish rasp wrapped in an alto silkiness.  You can learn more about her at her website at www.adiavictoria.com.

She was named WXPN’s Artist to Watch for July 2016, and just performed on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert.  The performance from this last appears below.

 

SHEL is a group of four sisters out of Fort Collins, Colorado.  I wrote about them back in September 2014 as they were just out of the egg, featuring their neo-folk music after an EP and first album.  They have since matured and have come out with a critically hailed album entitled Just Crazy Enough.  They just played live on Echoes.org with John Diliberto.   Here they are performing a couple of selections that reveal both their developing maturity and natural talent informed by that maturity.  The first is “Let Me Do.”  The song begins as a deceptively simplistic song that then changes both tempo and melody, carried by the ethereal combined voice of their harmony vocals in the call and response from narrative to chorus.

Speaking of ethereal, here is SHEL performing “I’m Just a Shadow.”  This is first class neo-noir folk and roots music.  The following Lyric Video highlights the emotional power of the lyrics.

It is probably time for a shout-out to John Diliberto at Echoes.org.  I actually came across John’s taste in music through the program Star’s End, which is still on-going.  There I was introduced to ambient and space music in the 1970s when I split time between visits to my home state of New Jersey and during trips from my job in Washington, D.C.  FM radio waves being as they were, especially in the early morning over weekends, I would occasionally be able to tune into the program, which memory serves was out of Philly, while driving down some deserted highway with the star-streaked night sky above, and wish that the feeling of my movement through time and space, the fresh air from the open windows, the firmament of the night sky, and the music–which seemed to transport me to some other dimension–would never end.  Then, after years traveling and at sea, I was reintroduced to John as music critic through his contributions to the long-missed CD Review magazine.  His thoughtful, eloquent, and informative reviews opened my world to new music and new musical genre’s that I would probably not otherwise have explored.  There are a few critics that fall into this category which, for me, includes Ralph Gleason, Leonard Feather, Ira Gitler, John McDonough, Robert Christgau, Gary Giddins, Orrin Keepnews, Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Michael Cuscuna, and David Dye, among a few–all good company.

This serves as introduction to another project to which I was introduced through Echoes.org and Mr. Diliberto.  It is the group onDeadWaves.  The group consists of British singers Polly Scattergood and James Chapman.  Their maiden album is this month’s Echoes CD of the Month.  According to the review by John Diliberto, onDeadWaves’s sound is like “a meeting of Lanterna, driving across the desert in a 57 ‘Chevy, with Leonard Cohen and Lucinda Williams in the backseat.”  Their music, also called “shoegaze west”, seems more varied, especially when confronted by the 60’s Byrd’s-like guitar and unrestrained punk of the song “California.”  Overall, though, I can hear the influence of the moodier neo-noir song-styling of Lana Del Rey through most of the songs.  Perhaps Ms. Del Rey was onto something after all.

Here they are the song “Blue Inside”.  Other videos are also available at the Echoes site linked above.

 

Sunday Music Interlude — The Record Company performing “Off the Ground”

The Record Company consists of lead vocalist and instrumentalist Chris Vos, and multi-instrumentalists Alex Stiff, and Marc Cazoria.  They began as a band in 2011, using old equipment and self-recording in Stiff’s living room in Los Feliz, California.  They name classic blues players as their inspiration, mixed up with the gritty sound of early blues-inspired rock bands of the ’60s and ’70s like the Rolling Stones.  This article from L.A. Weekly from 2012 tells you all you need to know about the personality of the band during their woodshedding days: three talented musicians playing great music inspired by great musicians–the beat goes on.  They have opened for artists as diverse as Mavis Staples, the late B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Grace Potter, and Trombone Shorty.  Their album, Give It Back To You, was released earlier this year on the Concord label.  Given the commitment of Concord to the music of jazz and blues, getting a release under that label is testament to how highly their music is regarded.

The song that follows, “Off the Ground” was recorded live for WXPN’s excellent World Cafe.  Whenever I have the opportunity, I listen avidly to this public radio station out of the University of Pennsylvania.  It’s a national treasure.

Saturday Late Night Music — Fantastic Negrito performing “Lost in the Crowd”

Every once in a while a natural talent arises that distills the American experience.  According to the interesting bio on his website, Fantastic Negrito is out of Oakland California.  But that’s like saying Bob Dylan is from Minnesota and taking significance from that fact alone.  I know, I know–I’ve used origins of artists as a way of placing them in time and space.

No doubt, anyone with a passing knowledge of American social history understands the significance of Oakland to African-American culture: its centrality in the Great Migration on the west coast of the United States, its musical influence on West Coast Jazz, blues, rhythm & blues, jump, and funk.  It’s economic importance in the development of the black working and middle class.  The political movements that contributed to the advancement of equal rights and equal opportunity and then, in the wake of redlining, assassinations, white flight, and white backlash, the organization of the Black Panthers which came to a violent end.  Out of this strong conflict of cultures and ambitions, however, arose a city that learned the meaning of reconciliation and synthesis.

Fantastic Negrito’s real name is Xavier Dphrepaulezz.  He is the son of the first Somalian ambassador to the United States.  He was raised as a strict Sunni Muslim from childhood.  When his family emigrated to the United States they first settled in Massachusetts, where he was born, but then crossed the country and landed in Oakland in the 1980s.  It was during this time that Xavier was exposed to one of the most diverse cities in the United States.  The African-American community in Oakland during those years reached its peak in both proportion of population and cultural influence.  Thus, Xavier made the transformation from the strictures of religious chants to the music of Funkadelic and other similar bands, absorbing the culture, music, and ideas of the liberal and accepting world around him.

This transformation caused him to be rejected by his family, but also led to his reinvention in the 1990s from emigrant to the personality known simply as Xavier.  Under Xavier he created a unique R&B/funk/electronic dance sound, where he played all of the instruments, under the title the X Factor, which landed him a contract with the Interscope label.  Unfortunately, realizing success too soon, which stilted his creativity, and at the wrong time–since Rap had overtaken the type of music that he was doing–led to disappointment.  Coinciding with the end of X Factor came a devastating auto accident in 2000 that left him in a coma.  After awaking from his coma, he undertook many months of painful physical therapy due to muscle atrophy while he was bedridden.  A reinvigorated life after cheating death, and the birth of his son, caused his eventual transformation into his latest incarnation as the Fantastic Negrito.  If Elizabeth Woolridge Grant can be Lana Del Rey, then Xavier Dphrepaulezz can be the Fantastic Negrito.

His appropriation of the word Negrito is interesting.  The term is derived from the Spanish to describe small dark-skinned persons.  Geographically, it has been largely confined to refer to the diminutive dark-skinned people of Southeast Asia.  Rather than having a direct association with groups in Africa, DNA testing has shown that Negritos are most closely related to Asian populations that surround them with some splitting from the African migration that occurred about 60,000 years ago.  Thus, despite their distinctive physical characteristics, they are a very diverse admixture of distinctive Southeast Asian ethnic groups.  Perhaps, for one who has self-confessed to having gone through several transformations within the span of a single lifetime–which is a typical part of the American experience–the moniker is an appropriate one.

The band members, aside from Xavier, consists of Thomas Alcedo, Nate Pedley, and Ruthie Price.  The band won the NPR Tiny Desk Concert Award for 2015 back in February.  Then in March they took SXSW by storm.  This is the blues updated to our joint experience–essential, urgent, and exciting.

Sunday Music Interlude — Warren Haynes with Railroad Earth performing “Coal Tattoo” and “Blue Maiden’s Tale”

Warren Haynes hails from Asheville, North Carolina and is one of the most sought after–and accomplished–guitarists and songwriters in the world.  Rolling Stone has listed him as one of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”  His resume’ is simply phenomenal.  He started out at the age of 20 in David Allan Coe’s band in 1980.  After four years with Coe he played with The Nighthawks and penned, along with Dennis Robbins and Bobby Boyd, the Garth Brooks hit “Two of a Kind, Workin’ on a Full House”, which appeared on the album No Fences.  In 1987 he then worked on the Dickey Betts band as backup vocal and guitarist.  He also continued to write, contributing the title song to Gregg Allman‘s Just Before the Bullets Fly.  In 1989, when the Allman Brothers Band decided to get back together, he was picked up there and continued to play with the band until 1997, when he formed Gov’t Mule along with drummer Matt Abts and the late bass guitarist Allen Woody.  After a short hiatus from the Allman Band he has continued to perform with the band, among other projects.  These projects have included performing as guitarist for the Grateful Dead after the death of Jerry Garcia, as well as releasing solo albums and performing with groups as diverse as the Dave Matthews Band to Railroad Earth, heard on these songs.  This last week the XM Satellite station “The Loft” interviewed Haynes, where he talked about his storied career and upcoming album Ashes and Dust, due out on 24 July.

Unfortunately I haven’t found a live version of “Coal Tattoo” but here is the official audio from the album.

Here he is with the band on the PBS program Front & Center performing “Blue Maiden’s Tale”.  You can find additional songs on the site.

 

 

A Saturday Music Midnight Special — Meg Mac performing “Roll up Your Sleeves” and Lucinda Williams performing “Protection”

It’s getting into early Sunday morning here on the east coast.  I’ve been listening to a number of recently released music from both new artists and old favorites and, given both the hour and variety, I began thinking about the old Midnight Special television show.  The talent that appeared on that show was incredible both for the breadth of artists that appeared and the fact the performances were live, at least until near the end.  It’s unfortunate that we don’t have an equivalent today.

While in today’s new media environment instant gratification is achieved through music downloads and music videos, there is a significant missing component to these largely self-reinforcing navel-gazing technologies: the absence of the sense of community that we used to experience through the shared event.  While some may dismiss this observation as being a typical “old guy” perspective in critiquing new-fangled technology, I think it best to pause.  As a geek I have been enamored with new technology and media through all of its iterations–and use them now, hence this blog and the 200+ apps on my smartphone.  I had high hopes during the early days of “I Want My MTV” that the synthesis of visualized media with music would free the artist to communicate in new ways–and some have pushed the envelope in that direction.  Largely, though, it comes down to people trying to look cool in front of the camera, and more than a few pretty people with marginal talent (at best) scooping up a good portion of the rare money that is available on which to make a living through music.  Largely for my own enjoyment and for those of you who have the patience to subscribe to this blog, I’m providing just a little variety in covering two artists: a newcomer in the form of Meg Mac and the musical legend that is Lucinda Williams.

According to Billboard, Meg Mac is the nom de plume of Megan McInerney.  She hails from Melbourne, Australia, and began getting attention from the triple j unearthed site in 2013.  There she uploaded some songs including the video “Every Lie”, which can be viewed at the same link, and won their Falls Festival competition.  Her early songs show a powerful voice with a neo-soul demeanor in the vein in Adele and Amy Winehouse.  She has a website that provides some additional details of her musical influences, as well as her past and current projects.  She was identified as the New Artist to Watch for June 2015 by WXPN.  She released an EP self-titled Meg Mac, and is in the process of putting together her first album.  The following live performance on 89.3 The Current has her performing “Roll Up Your Sleeves.”

At the other end of the spectrum we have Lucinda Williams.  I first came across her unique voice through an album of original songs that I picked up from the Smithsonian Institution store during a visit to D.C. back in the early ’80s entitled Happy Woman Blues.  This was actually her second release and I was so taken by her original vision, voice, and authenticity that I quickly sought out her debut album, which consisted of covers of traditional folk and blues songs that she seemed to make her own through the timbre of her voice and her emotional connection to the songs communicated in a manner that I had never heard before: Ramblin’ On My Mind.  She has had many successes since that time with breakthrough albums that are an essential part of the American songbook.  Late last year she released her first double album: Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone.   Her voice is now a bit worn, raw, and weary-sounding–reminding me of the same metamorphosis that happened to Billy Holiday’s by the time she released Lady in Satin in 1958.  Here she is performing “Protection” for KEXP.