CD Review of the Day: Carlene Carter’s “Carter Girl”

March 3, 2014


Carter Girl (Rounder Records)

By Brian Arsenault

The connection between blues and rock has long been established and celebrated, bemoaned and argued about. Even the connection between blues and jazz has been recognized.

Seemingly less considered has been the close relationship of country and blues.

There are differences to overcome: white – black, rural – urban, poor poorer poorest. Yet the sterling, true roots country represented by the Carters over three generations aligns with the blues in so many ways:

Sad songs about sad situations to make you happy or at least help you cope.

Songs stripped down to the basics in melody and tempo.

Guitar based instrumentation, originally acoustic and later electric.

The plain language of plain spoken people.

Roots that run to gospel and other church music.

That connection struck me as Carlene Carter’s first solo album in a decade, Carter Girl, kicked off with a jumpy, bluesy version of “Little Black Train,” first recorded by the Carter Family in 1935. 1935!

The little black train of judgment or death or both may arrive tonight but that’s no reason not to dance to Carlene and the nifty little band assembled for the album. A. P. Carter wrote the tune and his compositions are all over the album, which will be released the first week in April.

Carlene Carter

This daughter of June Carter Cash and granddaughter of Mother Maybelle Carter has a voice that’s come down the generations. She sings and fits right in (artistically) with some of the departed on the family’s classic “I Ain’t Gonna Work Tomorrow.” Step dad Johnny Cash can be heard there as well.

The heartstrings get pulled on “Troublesome Waters,” where Willie Nelson sings the opening bars of this wondrous duet with Carlene. Sounds like Willie’s acoustic guitar work in there too. The dark turbulent water the symbol for “life’s stormy seas.”

The strings get pulled again on the following song “Lonesome Valley 2003,” Carlene’s reworking of A.P.’s song of loss, in Carlene’s case her mom and sister and Cash.

Carlene Carter and Kris Kristofferson

Carlene Carter and Kris Kristofferson

The mood is lightened on Carlene’s duet with Kris Kristofferson, “Blackjack David,” where a pretty little girl who’ll “be 16 next Sunday” hooks up with a rascal. Might be illegal today but just like in Chuck Berry’s “Teenage Wedding” darned if they don’t last together. “Goes to show you never can tell.”

Carlene herself will be 59 next September but that just means she controls her considerable talent with dignity and stylish tribute, not imitation. Plus there’s a youthfulness to this album because good songs, and good singers, stay fresh.

Oh yeah, I mentioned the fine band but didn’t know till I read some publicity after listening that one of my favorite drummers of all time, Jim Keltner, is pounding just great on songs like “Blackie’s Gunman.”

Give Carlene the roses while she lives — a paraphrase of my favorite song on the album. “Give me the Roses while I live . . . “Don’t wait to death to speak kind words.” I’ve tried to provide a few. As the song says, they’re “useless after the soul has gone.”

I know, I know. I’m supposed to mention Americana music, roots music. All the rage in some circles right now. Suffice to say that this album is the real thing amidst so much that is good and so much more that is just slowed down pop songs played with acoustic instruments.

This would be a fine album even if Travolta was still dressing funny (not funny dresses) and cavorting to Bee Gees’ disco tunes.

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To read more posts, reviews and columns by Brian Arsenault click HERE.

Live Country Music: Brantley Gilbert, Jack Ingram and Rachel Farley at the Greek Theatre

July 22, 2013

By Mike Finkelstein

On a perfect Friday evening, KKGO radio hosted a triple bill bonanza showcasing the new sound of country music at the Greek Theatre.  What transpired was lovingly devoured by one of the most enthusiastic and attractive crowds you could hope to see.  It was beautiful. The bands rocked and the crowd rolled all night long.  They played like pros, looked current, sported any image they wanted to, and delivered their tunes with conviction and energy.  Still, the curious thing about this big event country show was that it looked and sounded so very much like a classic southern rock show.

Brantley Gilbert and his band were top billed and delivered a high-energy set of, let’s face it, southern rock.   Their sound was driven by 3 snarling guitars, huge bottom end bass sound, and hard-hitting drums.   The crunch and punch in their sound would have to have been inspired by the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd, Molly Hatchett, or the Outlaws.    Lynyrd Skynyrd is a worthy model to base a southern rock sound on.  But, seriously, LS may have been country personalities, but they were not a country band.

Gilbert’s band had such a curious assortment of looks going on that one had to wonder if it was just an accident.   Bassist Jonathan Waggoner and lead guitarist Jess Franklin both had hippie length hair and beards, looking like vintage 70’s musicians (think Allman Brothers Band, 1970).  Drummer Ben Sims had a gigantic striped Mohawk.   Gilbert himself wore a black ball cap very low, so that it pretty much covered his eyes to make him look a bit sinister.  Cowboy hats and Nudie suits are not required under this tent.

Brantley Gilbert

Brantley Gilbert

Brantley Gilbert hails from Georgia and he let us know several times that he is one proud redneck.    He sang with a throaty twang about brawlin’ in “Take It Outside,” partying out in the woods in “My Kind of Party,” taking the law into his own hands in “Read Me My Rights,” running moonshine in “Hell on Wheels,” crazy love in “My Kind of Crazy,”   and old fashioned county pride in “Country Must Be Country Wide.”

Jack Ingram and his Beat-Up Ford Band (as in a Ford pickup truck) were second billed and played a winsome set of straight ahead boogie styled southern rock.  They too, owed much of how they do what they do to bands like Lynyrd Skynyrd and the Allman Brothers Band.  Ingram’s sound featured a generous amount of walking bass and his two lead guitarists often split themselves into slide and unison lead lines a la the Allman Brothers.  In the end, there wasn’t anywhere close to the amount of improvisation and straight blues in the arrangement to continue the comparison with the Allmans.   There weren’t a whole lot of rock guitar licks here that we haven’t heard before.  And they were definitely not country sounding guitar licks, just straight-ahead rock all the way.  But they were played with panache and to be sure the presentation rocked.

Jack Ingram

Jack Ingram

Ingram is forty-two years old and performed in a black t-shirt that said “Kristofferson,” in a nod to classic country singer and songwriter Kris Kristofferson.  His approach onstage is earnest, appealing, down to earth, and positive.  A recurring lyrical theme from him concerned the inevitability of things going wrong in life and how one must “Keep on Keepin’ On.”  He also humbly told us the story of how it felt to go from playing s#$&hole bars in Dallas to having a #1 record, “Wherever You Are,” on the country charts.  He was clearly blown away by his improbable turn of good fortune.  Gotta like this guy, as he doesn’t take himself too seriously and he is clearly all about writing the best music he can.

It’s fun, and rather unavoidable now, to consider what the term country actually refers to.   We all know labels can be non-descriptive, limiting, or even pointless.  But the point of labeling something is to let other folks know what they’re getting.   Country music has, from the beginning, suggested that we will likely hear a sparse, snare-based drumbeat, with very clear, clean guitars, often pedal steel guitars, and words that are entirely audible.   Style wise, cowboy hats and western wear in one form or another are part of the package, too.  Styles and fashion change like everything does, but classic country music by the likes of Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings or even Red Sovine is unmistakable for its sound.   Lyrically country music has always been the place to find great story telling in a song and innumerable descriptive tales of woe and heartache.

Friday’s show satisfied the audience big time, but in the name of perspective, it really didn’t sound like country music.   It owed most of its sound to southern rock and AC/DC.   The old-school, cornerstone country artists may get lip service from the new country gang but little to none of that was musically apparent on Saturday.  Not that it matters.  Clearly the audience identifies with country style and attitude.   The girl sitting next to me mentioned that the new country music is more wholesome and likable than what rock has become.    I get it, too – many rock ‘n rollers are so over the top in image and their crazy lifestyles that it turns a lot of people off.    In the rock arena we have old rockers still touring and young rockers who come across as too extreme and too dysfunctional to want to listen to.  It doesn’t speak to young people like it used to.

During the 90’s many people must have begun wondering, “Can we just rock without all the distraction? “ How about we just rebuild classic rock from the ground up and then call it something else?  If we build it the people will come.

The new country is simply classic rock, cleaned up quite a bit, and marketed squarely to young people as “country.” But the name “country” has been taken for years because it refers to something much different, and to market rock ‘n roll music as country music is not unlike the emperor’s new clothes.   Face it folks, it’s still rock ‘n roll, and we still like it.   But it’s really southern rock played by country folks.

Rachel Farley

Rachel Farley

When you have an audience full of hot young women in boots and miniskirts singing along with the music, they have bought in.  So, the young men will surely follow and your prospects are very good.  Thirty years ago, young ladies were doing the same thing…at an Aerosmith or Cheap Trick show.   It’s all good, just call it what it is.

Rachel Farley opened the show to a good reception with an upbeat set of, yes, southern-sounding rock (although hers was the only one of the three to use keyboards). Was it really any wonder that her lead guitarist stuck the guitar solo of Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” into her last number?   No, not at all.  Farley is only eighteen, and an energetic performer who can deliver the power vocals… so the future looks mighty bright for her.

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To read more reviews and posts by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

Live Music: Rita Coolidge at Catalina Bar & Grill

April 29, 2013

By Don Heckman

Hollywood, CA. There was a distinct feeling of time warp in the air Friday night during Rita Coolidge’s performance at Catalina Bar & Grill.  “Nostalgia” couldn’t quite describe the experience of hearing her embracing voice singing “Superstar,” “Born Under A Bad Sign,” “You’re Love Takes Me Higher,” and more.

Rita Coolidge

Rita Coolidge

I first heard Coolidge in the very early ‘70s, when I reviewed her for the New York Times.  Can’t remember if it was at the Bitter End or the Village Gate, but I do recall Kris Kristofferson coming on stage and dueting with her in very intimate fashion.  I’m guessing it was during the romantic build up to their marriage in 1973.

Rita Coolidge and Lynn Colter

Rita Coolidge and Lynn Colter

Nothing like that took place in her performance at Catalina’s.  Except, that is, for a cozy duet that Coolidge sang with her drummer, Lynn Coulter, on “Baby, It’s Cold Outside.  Not exactly the song one would expect on a warm spring night in Hollywood, but well done, nonetheless.

Beyond the time warp (and the nostalgia) Coolidge offered a memorable set of tunes that included a standard or two, as well as the ‘70s songs most closely associated with her early career.  She opened her set, in fact, with “Come Rain or Come Shine,” sung with gentle rhythms and the sort of warm, communicative musical story telling that is at the heart of her interpretive style.

Describing her affection for Peggy Lee’s singing and songwriting, Coolidge also included such Lee-associated classics as “I Don’t Know Enough About You” and the incomparable “Fever,” delivered with a distinct rock edge from her versatile four piece band.

Rita Coolidge and Her Band

Rita Coolidge and Her Band

Other tunes, tracing to different periods in her career, demanded different approaches, and Coolidge handled them all with ease.  Among them: Allen Toussaint’s “Basic Lady”; a version of “Amazing Grace” (sung in the Cherokee language) that she described as a song she heard in her Cherokee childhood; “We’re All Alone”; I”d Rather Leave”; and “How Sweet It Is.”

There were more high points, all of them the product of the warm, engaging professional entertainer Coolidge has become in her mature years. She has, after all, had hits on the pop, country, adult contemporary and jazz charts.

And what made this evening special was the seamless way in which Coolidge moved from one style to another, from one song to another, while maintaining the stylistic integrity of each.  The “Delta Lady” described by Leon Russell in the song he wrote for her, has been transformed into an interpretive musical artist of the first rank.

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Rita Coolidge photo by Bob Barry.

Rita Coolidge and Lynn Colter photo, and Rita Coolidge band photo by Faith Frenz.

Picks of the Week: Sept. 18 – 23

September 18, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Catharine Russell

– Sept 19. (Wed.) Catharine Russell.  Her resume includes gigs and recordings with the likes of Paul Simon, Steely Dan, David Bowie, Michael Feinstein.  But she’s very much the “real thing” according to critic Nat Hentoff.  And why not?  Her father, pianist Luis Russell, was Louis Armstrong’s music director.  Catalina Bar & Grill.   (323) 466-2210.

– Sept. 20. (Thurs.)  Stephanie Haynes & the Karen Hammack Trio. A decade or two ago Haynes was one of the Southland’s most admired jazz singers.  Now, after a too-long absence, she’s on the comeback trail, backed by the vocalist-friendly pianist Hammack and her trio.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Sept. 20. (Thurs.)  Gabriel Johnson.  Yet another trumpeter/vocalist, Johnson – highly praised by Clint Eastwood – celebrates the release of his new CD, Introducing Gabriel Johnson. Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Sept. 21 & 22.  (Fri. & Sat.) Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionescu.  U.C.L.A.’s new performing arts entity – “Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA” – begins its debut season with Ionescu’s classic absurdist play, as performed by the Theatre de la Ville-Paris.  It’s done in French with English supertitles.   CAP UCLA.  Royce Hall.  (310) 825-2101.

Karrin Allyson

– Sept.21–23. (Fri. – Sun.)  Karrin Allyson. Admired by musicians as well as her enthusiastic audiences for her far reaching musicality, Allyson moves convincingly across stylistic lines while always maintaining her jazz roots.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Sept. 22. (Sat.) Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein and Greg Hutchinson.  A classic jazz organ trio – with Goldings at the B-3, Bernstein on guitar and Hutchinson on drums – at its very best.  Vitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

– Sept. 22. (Sat.) Sing-A-Long Sound of Music. If you wake up on Sat. morning with an irresistible urge to sing some of the songs from Sound of Music, here’s the solution – the Bowl’s annual all-join-in event.  And don’t forget to wear your costume.  Hollywood Bowl.    (323) 850-2000.

– Sept. 22. (Sat.)  Gregory Porter.  It’s an L.A. week filled with impressive jazz vocal performances, and Porter’s warm, engaging voice and sturdy jazz vocalizing are among its major highlights. The Mint.   (323) 954-9400.

– Sept. 22. (Sat.)  Pianist Laurence Hobgood is rightly praised for his excellent work as an accompanist and arranger.  But there are other equally impressive aspects to his skills, and they’ll all be on display in this quartet performance with saxophonist Ernie Watts, bassist Hamilton Price and drummer Dan SchnelleThe Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

Kris Kristofferson and Merle Haggard

– Sept. 22. Sat.) Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson.  “Legendary” is a word that actually makes sense when applied to these great folk and country music artists.  Hearing them together will be one of the memorable musical experiences of a lifetime  Click HERE to read a recent iRoM review of Haggard and Kristofferson in action. Valley Performing Arts Center. (818) 677- 3000.

– Sept. 22. (Sat.) Emil Richards Quartet.  Veteran vibist’s resume is covered with all-star performances.  But he’s at his best when he steps into the spotlight with equally stellar backing from the likes of Mike Lang, piano, Mike Valerio, bass and Ralph Humphrey, drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

– Sept. 23. (Sun.) Carol Robbins.  She’s everyone’s first call harpist, as well as one of the rare practitioners of jazz on her instrument.  Robbins will be celebrating the release of her new CD in the company of Billy Childs, Larry Koonse, Rob Lockart, Darek Oles and Dan SchnelleVitello’s.   (818) 769-0905.

San Francisco

– Sept. 19 – 21. (Wed. – Fri.)  Pat Metheny Unity Band.  Always in search of challenging new musical settings, Metheny finds an exciting new musical environment with Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez and Ben WilliamsYoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.


Jeff Lorber

– Sept. 20 – 23.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  Jeff Lorber Superband. The label is right on target.  Keyboardist Lorber’s led some impressive bands over the course of his long career.  Add this one to the list, with Brian Bromberg, bass, Everette Harp, saxophones, Gary Novak, drums.  Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.


– Sept. 20 – 23. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Fred Hersch Trio. With John Hebert, bass, Eric McPherson, drums. Pianist Hersch, a master of the jazz piano trio format, celebrates the release of his new album Live at the Vanguard.  The Jazz Showcase.   (212) 360-0234.

New York

– Sept. 18 – 22.  (Tues. – Sat.)  Coltrane Revisited. Pianist Steve Kuhn’s Coltrane credentials reach back to his early days on the jazz scene.  He makes the journey back in the company of trumpeter Tom Harrell, saxophonist Eric Alexander, drummer Andrew Cyrille and bassist Lonnie PlaxicoBirdland.    (212) 581-3080.

Anat Cohen

– Sept. 18 – 23. (Tues. – Sun.)  Anat Cohen Quartet. The lovely Anat Cohen isn’t just re-inventing the clarinet in contemporary jazz, she’s also a powerfully original tenor saxophonist, as well.  She performs with Jason Lindner, piano, Joe Martin, bass, Daniel Freedman, drums.  Village Vanguard.  (212) 255-4037.


– Sept. 18. (Tues.)  Patricia Barber.  Pianist/singer/songwriter Barber’s adventurous music – with her own works as well as the interpretations of others – is always a fascinating display of creative imagination.  Ronnie Scott’s.    (0) 020 7439 0747.

– Sept. 21 – 23. (Fri. – Sun.)  Mindi Abair. Smooth jazz saxophonist Abair finds intriguing areas of expression within the instrumental pop format.  Pizza Express Jazz Club Soho. 0845 6027 017.


– Sept. 20 & 21. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Nicola Stilo Jazz & Latin Quartet. Versatile Italian musician Stilo (he plays adroitly on guitar, flute and piano) came to maturity as a regular with Chet Baker and Rahsaan Roland Kirk.   Jazzhus Montmartre.  (+45) 70 15 65 65.


Chris Bennett

– Sept. 20 & 21. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Chris Bennett. Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter/pianist Bennett has proven her far-ranging skills with Tina Turner, Donna Summer and others.  But she’s also an impressive and imaginative jazz artist.  A Trane Jazz.  030/313 25 50.


– Sept. 21 & 22. (Fri. & Sat.)  Richard Galliano.  “Piazzolla Forever.”   French accordionist Galliano, a master of the instrument in his own right, honors the music of the great Argentine composer/accordionist. Blue Note Tokyo.    03.5485.0088.

Picks of the Week: June 20 – 24

June 20, 2012

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Jane Harvey

– June 20. (Wed.)  Jane Harvey.  The remarkable Jane Harvey’s career dates back to gigs with Benny Goodman in the ‘40s.  Now well into her ‘80s she continues to draw critical raves for her performances.  Click HERE to read a recent iRoM review of a Harvey appearance.   Catalina Bar & Grill. (323) 466-2210.

– June 21 – 11. (Thurs. & Fri.)  Joey DeFrancesco.  The master of the B-3 has been placing at the top of the critics’ polls in Down Beat and with the Jazz Journalists association for years.  And with good reason.  He’ll be performing with Steve Cotter, bass and Ramon Banda, drums.  Vitello’s. (818) 769-0905.

– June 21 – 23. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Melissa Manchester. Grammy-winning singer-songwriter scored her biggest, chart-topping hits in the ‘70s and early ‘80s.  And her dramatic renderings of tunes such as “Midnight Blue” and “Don’t Cry Out Loud” are still classics.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– June 21. (Thurs.)  Chuck Manning.  Tenor saxophonist Manning’s resume includes gigs with everyone from Anthony Wilson and Branford Marsalis to Cedar Walton and Charlie Haden.  This time out, he takes on the most challenging setting for a horn player – a trio gig with bass, drums and no harmony instrument.  He’ll be backed by Pat Senatore, bass and Jimmy Branley, drums.  Vibrato Grill Jazz…etc.  (310) 474-9400.

Reba McEntire

– June 22. (Fri.)  Opening Night of the 2012 Season at the Hollywood Bowl. Julie Andrews hosts an evening featuring Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame inductees Reba McEntire and Chaka Khan, with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra conducted by Thomas Wilkins.  Additional guests and presenters are yet to be announced..   (323) 850-2000.  Hollywood Bowl.

– June 22. (Fri.)  Mary Stallings.  An underappreciated jazz vocalist for years, Stallings has been producing first rate recordings since a 1961 duet album with Cal Tjader.  Still in rare form, she’ll no doubt sing some selections from her latest release Don’t Look Back.  A Jazz Bakery Movable Feast at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.  .  (310) 271-9039.

– June 23. (Sat.) Jazz Journalist Association Awards Party.  In celebration of the 2012 JJA Awards, a Jazz Hero Award will be granted to Catalina Popescu, proprietor of L.A.’s pre-eminent jazz club, Catalina Bar & Grill.  The Blue Whale, from 7 to 8:30 p.m.  The Ferenc Nemeth Trio perform at 9 p.m.   The Blue Whale.  (213) 620-0908.

Katia Moraes

– June 24. (Sun.)  Katia Moraes.  There’s no one quite like this Brazilian bundle of musical dynamite.  Bringing irresistible vitality to every song she sings, Katia celebrates her birthday with her original quartet, the lively Sambaguru, featuring Bill Brindle, keyboards, Hussain Jiffry, bass and Tony Shoren, drums.  Vitello’s.  (818) 769-0905.

– June 24. (Sun.)  Sing! Sing! Sing!  “Giving Our Regards to Broadway.”  It’s just after the Tony Awards, and what better time to join the Southland’s engaging singalong in a tour through some of the most memorable Broadway songs as well as a sampling of the latest numbers on the Great White Way.  At Keyboard Concepts in West L.A. Sing! Sing! Sing!     (310) 990-2405.

Glen Campbell

– June 24. (Sun.)  Glen Campbell.  The Goodbye Tour.  Veteran singer/guitarist Campbell has produced 12 gold albums and 4 platinum albums while receiving a string of Grammy awards (including four in 1967).  A year ago, he announced he had been diagnosed with Altzheimer’s disease.  The Goodbye Tour, which he says will be his last, features the group Dawes, with Jackson Browne, Kris Kristofferson, Lucinda Williams and others.  (323) 850-2000.  Hollywood Bowl.


San Francisco

– June 22. (Fri.)  Ceu.  Grammy-nominated Brazilian singer/songwriter Ceu has carved a unique musical pathway for herself, combining Brazilian roots rhythms with everything from soul and funk to afrobeat and electronica.  An SFJAZZ event at the Herbst Theatre.    (866) 920-5299.


– June 21 – 24. (Thur. – Sun.)  Spectrum Road.  After producing a spectacular climax to the Playboy Jazz Festival on Sunday night, Spectrum Road takes off for Seattle with their explosive reminders of drummer Tony Williams’ Lifetime group.  The band consists of bassist Jack Bruce, guitarist Vernon Reid, keyboardist John Medeski and drummer Cindy Blackman Santana. Click HERE to read iRoM’s review of the Playboy Jazz Festival and Spectrum’s Festival performance.  Jazz Alley.    (206) 441-9729.

New York

Samson Schmitt

– June 20 – 24. (Wed. – Sun.) The Django Reinhardt New York Festival.  Featuring rising gypsy jazz star Samson Schmitt, guitarist son of the iconic Dorado Schmitt, leading a collective of European jazz artists.  They’ll be joined by a trio of the finest female jazz artists: Anat Cohen on Wed., Grace Kelly on Thurs. & Fri., and Cyrille Aimee on Sat. and Sunday.  Birdland.    (212) 581-3080.

– June 20 – 24. (Wed. – Sun.)  Barbara Carroll.  Jazz pianist/singer Carroll is still going strong at 87, her upbeat style recalling her high visibility in New York’s jazz clubs of the ‘50s and ‘60s. She performs with the stellar backing of Ken Peplowski, Jay Leonhart and Neal SmithDizzy’s Club Coca Cola.   (212) 258-9595.

– June 21 – 24. (Thurs. – Sun.)  McCoy Tyner and the Charles Tolliver Big band get together to recreate John Coltrane’s vital 1961 album, Africa Brass, more than fifty years after its original release.  The Blue Note.    (212) 475-8592.


– June 21 – 23. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Jean Carne and Doug Carn.  Four decades ago, jazz and soul singer Carne and her then-husband, pianist/composer, Doug Carn, produced a series of fusion jazz and soul albums strongly influenced by John Coltrane. After decades in which their lives and music took different paths, they’re back with a Reunion Performance of their ‘70s classics. Ronnie Scott’s.  020 7439 0747.


– June 20 – 23 (Wed. – Sat.)  Bob Mintzer Big Band.  A vital member of the Yellowjackets, saxophonist/composer Mintzer is also an innovative big band arranger, producing a book full of gripping arrangements for his collection of fine players. Blue Note Tokyo.   03.5485.0088.

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Jane Harvey photo by Tony Gieske.  Katia Moraes photo by Caesar Lima.

Live Music: Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson at the Greek Theatre

October 10, 2011

By Mike Finkelstein

Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson

Both Kristofferson and Haggard are now into their seventies and it’s worth mentioning that they are both in good enough shape to keep up with the pace of touring.    Over the past several months the Greek has presented several aging rock icons either pushing or in excess of sixty years of age.  It has been remarkable to see how the one thing that every one of them has in common is that they are lean and, having been training for the road, clearly have the endurance to carry a 90-minute or longer set like a walk in the park.   Haggard and Kristofferson are both known, in addition to their great songs, for years/decades of hard living.   While the music documents the lifestyle both men once lived, they are now running just on the juice of being onstage.

Though Haggard and Kristofferson are both country artists they may have once seemed farther apart than they do any more.  Both men became very popular in the 60’s and early 70’s when this country was going through a lot of growing pains.  Issues like the Vietnam War divided people by lines of hip and straight, establishment and counterculture.   People were taking sides and the tension tore people apart.  Kristofferson wrote of stoned people in several songs and at the time it served as a bit of double entendre.   Stone drunk or stoned on pot?  Haggard wrote “Okie from Muskogee” with its lyrics rejecting the hippie lifestyle in terms of style and libations and while continually coming back to waving Old Glory over the courthouse.   Was it an endorsement of the straight life?  An anti-anti-war song or was it perhaps tongue in cheek? It probably was the former at the time it was written.  But on Friday, both men actually looked a bit sheepish as they sang it, because over the years reality has settled in and the lines between the two schools of thought have surely become blurred.

Kris Kristofferson

Kristofferson is probably best known for the exceptional way his songs capture images and powerful feelings with simple language.   Many of his songs descriptively portray the lifestyle of a guy who lives hard, drinks and smokes too much and knows it.  The characters in his songs have regrets and feelings that cut to the bone.   In his set, Kristofferson’s songs were less formally arranged than Haggard’s.   This meant that what Kris was working with to get the songs across was bare bones to start with — his rough yet still tender voice, his sparsely finger-picked guitar, and the undeniable power of his words to put our imaginations in motion.  A song like “Sunday Morning Coming Down,” really does strike a chord in people as they can relate to hearing a young kid cussing as he kicks a can, while smelling someone frying chicken and wearing your cleanest dirty shirt.

On the Sunday morning sidewalks
wishing Lord that I was stoned
’cause there is something in a Sunday
that makes a body feel alone
and there’s nothin’ short of dyin’
half as lonesome as the sound
on the sleepin’ city side walks
Sunday mornin’ comin’ down

It’s all in the details…and in the way his stanzas actually take the feeling deeper with every line.  One could almost hear a pin drop in the ripple of the breeze as the audience hung on every word of  “Loving Her Was Easier Than Anything I’ll Ever Do Again.”

Waking in the morning to the feeling of her fingers on my skin
Wiping out the traces of the people and the places that I’ve been 

Merle Haggard

Merle Haggard is still a country music giant and has provided some of the most clear and concise commentary on being a regular guy in America that one will ever hear.  His singing voice remains clear, warm and, actually, still beautiful.   Always within himself during his set, he never had to push his range or levels.  This is key to pacing one’s self onstage.  And of course it allowed him to lend nuance to the lyrics of his tunes.   His songs mirror himself and they in turn allow people to do the same with themselves .  Songs like “Tonight the Bottle Let Me Down” and “I Think I’ll Just Sit Here and Drink” express the futility and emptiness with drinking out of despair.   These songs work perhaps more profoundly lyrically than musically but, man, are the words ever on the money.   And then there was “Are The Good Times Really Over For Good?” written by a man who has seen things in this country go from simple, plentiful, and available to complicated and not nearly so available.   In this song we hear the same guy who wrote “Okie From Muskogee” lament:

I wish coke was still cola,
And a joint was a bad place to be.
And it was back before Nixon lied to us all on TV.

Wish a Ford and a Chevy,
Could still last ten years, like they should.
Is the best of the free life behind us now?
Are the good times really over for good? 

People will always have their personal favorite songs, the ones that speak to them most or personify the performer best.  I believe I liked Merle’s “Mama Tried” the most on Friday night.   It is a simple yet classic set of chords with a clever turnaround and the song bounces along appealingly.  But the words tell of a man who deeply regrets letting his mother down by running afoul of the law.  You just wince as you hear it:

Dear old Daddy, rest his soul,
Left my Mom a heavy load;
She tried so very hard to fill his shoes.
Working hours without rest,
Wanted me to have the best.
She tried to raise me right but I refused.

And I turned twenty-one in prison doing life without parole.
No-one could steer me right but Mama tried, Mama tried.

Merle and the band played through small amps with restrained drumming and this type of sound works very well at the Greek.   Touchingly, Merle’s son Ben plays lead guitar in the Strangers and he had plenty of polished clean twang to pull out of his Telecaster.   True to country and western music, the Strangers feature fiddle and pedal steel guitar.   While the fiddle is a nod to the rural roots of country music, the pedal steel guitar is a wonderful mechanical contraption, bending and sliding chord harmonies into a mesmerizing effect that gained its notice in Western swing music.  It is the signature of most country music and as iconic to the genre as distorted guitars are to rock and roll.

But as clean and tight as the band was, it was the power of the lyrics that connected most directly.    It was inspiring to see these two once hard-living guys still putting the songs over convincingly to a big audience on such a direct level.   Both of their catalogues are impressive legacies.   And those songs will last forever.

To read more reviews by Mike Finkelstein click HERE.

Picks of the Week: Oct. 4 – 9

October 3, 2011

By Don Heckman

Los Angeles

Patti Lupone

– Oct. 4. (Tues.) Patti Lupone. The versatile, two-time Tony Award winning artist presents “Gypsy in My Soul,” a set of songs illuminating her life on and off stage.  Royce Hall.    (310) 825-2101.

– Oct. 5 & 6. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Further (Phil Lesh and Bob Weir)  The spirit of the Grateful Dead still lives in the playing of Lesh and Weir.  Expect to hear familiar classics and experience an irresistible Grateful Dead jam.  Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

– Oct. 6. (Thurs.) Patty AscherBossa, Jazz ‘n’ Samba.  Sao Paulo’s Ascher lays it all out in the title of her approach to Brazilian music.  Richly experienced in both Brazilian music and jazz, she combines the two in her own uniquely appealing fashion.  Vitello’s.    (818) 769-0905.

– Oct. 6. (Thurs.)  Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave. Trombone Shorty (who also plays scintillating trumpet) has brought Hollywood Bowl crowds to their feet at Playboy Jazz Festivals.  Here’s a chance to experience that energy up close and personal.  The El Rey.    (323) 936-6400.

– Oct. 6. (Thurs.)  Fabiana Passoni. It’s a great night for Brazilian music in L.A.  Passoni has survived challenging health problems to establish a fascinating, utterly unique blend of Brazilian and American musical forms.   Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

– Oct. 7. (Fri.)  Tamela D’Amico with the Pat Longo Big Band.  Multi hyphenate D’Amico – a jazz singer, actress, director and producer – takes a break from her other activities to display her appealing interpretations of American songbook classics, backed by Longo’s stirring big band charts.  Catalina Bar & Grill.  (323) 466-2210.

Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson

– Oct. 7. (Fri.)  Merle Haggard and Kris Kristofferson.  A pair of country music’s iconic figures get together for a rare and, no doubt, wonderful tour through their well known classics.  Greek Theatre.    (323) 665-5857.

– Oct. 7. (Fri.)  Kevin Mahogany.  At a time when male jazz singers have been in relatively short supply, Mahogany continues to apply his rich sound and easygoing swing to everything he sings.  Culver’s Club for JazzAt the Double Tree L.A. Westside Hotel.   (310) 649-1776 Ext. 4137.

– Oct. 7. (Fri.)  Amanda McBroom and Lee Lessack.  A classic night of cabaret, at its very best.  McBroom’s expressive storytelling finds the inner heart of everything she sings; Lessack adds appealing interpretations from his own, different, but appealing perspective.  Ford Amphitheatre.  (323) 461-3673.

– Oct. 9. (Sun.)  Josh Nelson & Pat Senatore Duo.  An intriguing cross generational encounter, between pianist Nelson’s vibrant, thoughtful style and Senatore’s richly mature foundation.  Call it an evening of deep musicality. Vibrato Jazz Grill…etc.   (310) 474-9400.

San Francisco

– Oct. 5. (Wed.)  Mingus Amungus.  Bay area-based Mingus Amungus continue to be one of the most effective celebrants of Charles Mingus’ music, bringing it to life in a way that would surely have pleased Mingus himself.  Yoshi’s San Francisco.   (415) 655-5600.

Baaba Maal

– Oct. 5 & 6. (Wed. & Thurs.)  Baaba Maal.  Senegalese master Maal performs an unplugged and impromptu set of his music, after a discussion of his life and times with music journalist Chris Salewicz.  Yoshi’s Oakland.  /show/2112  (510) 238-9200.


– Oct. 6 – 9.  (Thurs. – Sun.)  The Family Stone.  Original members of Sly & the Family Stone revive some of the biggest hits of the seventies – “I Want To Take You Higher,” “Everyday People” and “Dance to the Music” among them.  Jazz Alley.  (206) 441-9729.


– Oct. 6 – 9. (Thurs. – Sun.)  Eric Alexander with the Harold Mabern Quartet. Hard-driving, intensely articulate saxophonist Alexander finds the right backing for his powerful style in pianist Mabern.  Jazz Showcase.    (312) 360-0234.

New York

– Oct. 4 – 9. (Tues. – Sun.) Italian Jazz Days.  The Anthony Ciacca Quintet. One of the highlights of a weeklong celebration of the prominent role Italian jazz musicians have played in the expansion of contemporary jazz.  With trumpeter Dominic Farinacci, saxophonist George Garzone, guitarist Steve Kirby and Special GuestsDizzy’s Club Coca Cola.    (212) 258-9800.

– Oct. 7 – 9. (Fri. – Sun.)  Larry Goldings, Peter Bernstein, Bill Stewart. An All-Star Organ trio would be the proper label for this impressive group of young players, as they bring new delights to one of jazz’s classic instrumental formats.  Jazz Standard.    (212) 576-2232.

Washington D.C.

Roy Hargrove

– Oct. 5 – 9. (Wed. – Sun.)  The Roy Hargrove Quintet. Grammy-winning trumpeter Hargrove’s busy schedule reaches from his big band to solo outings.  And, especially, to his excursions across the length of contemporary jazz with his own quintet.  Blues Alley.   (202) 337-4141.


– Oct. 7 & 8. (Fri. & Sat.)  Robert Glasper. Pianist Glasper has established himself as a musical voice capable of reaching across genre boundaries to attract young audiences to jazz.  His current group features Derrick Hodge, bass, with Mark Colenburg, drums.  The Regatta Bar.    (617) 661-5000.


– Oct. 6. (Thurs.)  Pat Martino. Guitarist Martino had to literally learn to play his instrument again after a brain aneurysm in 1980.  Incredibly, he did so with astonishing success, thoroughly establishing himself as one of the principal creative voices among the large array of contemporary jazz guitarists.  New Morning.  01 45 23 51 41.


Carol Welsman

– Oct. 4. (Tues.)  Carol Welsman with Ken Peplowski and the Benny Goodman Orchestra. Pianist/singer Welsman is a superb jazz artist in her own right. Here, she takes a different role, performing many of Peggy Lee’s familiar Swing Era hits with the Goodman Orchestra.  Nakano Sun Plaza.   03 3388 2893.

– Oct. 6 – 8. (Thurs. – Sat.)  Tania Maria.  Grammy-nominated, Brazil-born singer/pianist Maria has been a dynamic figure in the crossover area between jazz and Brazilian music since the ‘70s.  And she’s still going strong.  Blue Note Tokyo.    03 5485 0088.


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