Live Music: Lawrence Lebo and Doug MacLeod at McCabe’s Guitar Shop

By Mike Finkelstein

Last week, McCabe’s Guitar Shop delivered the goods in style, as usual, with a show that featured three of their resident instructors: vocalist Lawrence Lebo, bassist Denny Croy, and guitarist Doug MacLeod.   Lebo and her combo went on first, MacLeod finished the evening, and Croy backed both of them.

Lebo’s instrumentation was noteworthy — vocals, standup bass, guitar (Tony Mandracchia), and accordion  (Phil Parlapiano).   With no drums, the subdued percussive end of the sound came from the bass and guitar strings’ attack.   The accordion weaved uniquely in, out, and around the arrangements, providing a matrix yet leaving a lot of space to hear the subtleties of each song. It was easy to experience the nuances and to catch the flavor of every part of the band.  The rhythm and tone of Lawrence’s voice over Denny’s bass was the sound’s core, while the guitar and accordion added a whole lot of color to the mix.

Lawrence Lebo

As soon as she had descended the stairs to the stage, Lawrence wondered aloud if anyone had ever fallen while making the walk.   Not much later she removed her high-heeled leopard print shoes just to be safe.   With both feet firmly on the boards she proceeded to lead her combo through a gorgeous hour long set.  Her program concentrated on material from the third volume in a series of her “Don’t Call Her Larry” CDs.   She was in great control of her voice and in the calm living room atmosphere of McCabe’s it was easy to pick up the subtleties in her vocals.  Her sound was a smooth personal tapestry of blues, jazz, and country/western swing influences.

Lawrence Lebo and Denny Croy

Beginning the set with her own “It’s Not the First Time,” the bond between her voice and Denny Croy’s Chicago styled walking bass lines was clearly laid out.   A sultry, emotive voice like Lawrence’s sounds just right over a smooth acoustic bass — very pure and balanced. An acoustic bass can mesmerize.  It draws you in with soothing tone and gliding motion, like floating down a calm river.   As he moved through his lines, Croy’s bass throbbed, clicked, and resonated beautifully in the quiet atmosphere at McCabe’s.

The covers ranged from Koko Taylor’s “Please Don’t Dog Me,” to the old standard, “How High the Moon,” and even a jazzy nod to Patsy Cline with “Walking After Midnight.”   On these tunes guitarist Tony Mandracchia shone as he cut loose a flurry of razor sharp runs and even a tasty chord solo in “How High the Moon.”   The set also included a tune that Lawrence wrote about people who take it too far with cell phones in public places called “Stop Shouting Your Business.” It’s a song whose time has certainly arrived.

The fact that Lawrence and Denny are married no doubt enhanced the sound, which leads us to “Happy Anniversary,” written appropriately by her for him. Fast but clean blues guitar flurries meshed with accordion fills to frame Lawrence’s voice and bring home the sentiments in style.  Also, it was appealing that the accordion and guitar together suggested Django-vintage French jazz sound while not simply aping it.

Doug MacLeod

Doug MacLeod came on second and played a very impressive set.  He is currently riding a nice wave of recognition, having been nominated in two categories for awards by the Blues Foundation: Acoustic Artist and Acoustic Album of the Year.   Speaking and singing with a warm drawl, he presented a very engaging demeanor onstage.  By his own admission, his set lists were unplanned affairs.   Which meant that Croy, who has backed MacLeod for years, would take his cues and just roll with it from song to song.

The instrumentation for the set was sparse but perfectly balanced.   While Croy stuck with his stand up bass, MacLeod played a resonator guitar for the whole set and really worked the finger picking and thumb-thumping angle on it, masterfully so.  He brought out the subtleties of the axe and lowered the crowd to a hush with straight balladeer chording on songs like “Run With the Devil.” On “New Panama Limited,” a train song, he used his slide, his fingers and his foot to dynamically simulate the train rattling the rails, approaching, slowing down, stopping, and speeding through the station.   And, he relayed to us something that Pee Wee Crayton once told him, “Never play two slow blues in a row.   Someone’s going to get hurt…and it might be you.”

As I walked out of McCabe’s I overheard one fellow explaining to his friends that he had coaxed them out to see some good blues, specifically not in a bar.   The group was clearly delighted to have experienced one of the tastier double bills of basically acoustic blues one might chance to see around town, without the distraction and the din of a bar.  Good call!

To read more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

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