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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Tad Robinson: Soul Under Fire

Admittedly (in a tongue-in-cheek sort of way) Indiana soul blues man Tad Robinson has played gigs at some dangerous, rough and tumble places in Gary IN and on the west side of Chicago. But nothing could have prepared Robinson for the excitement (if you will) of playing the Middle East in a war zone. And that's exactly what happened when Tad and his band visited Israel this past January during the latest Palestinian/Israeli Gaza Strip dust up. They had to play their show in a bomb shelter. "The local authorities would only let us go on after the club owner moved the show to an underground bunker/parking garage. We were definitely in range of Hamas missiles. At first we were worried about a low turnout," Robinson recalls from his home in the Indianapolis area. "But the people had been cooped up in their apartments for almost a week so they were willing to venture out. And a missile did hit outside on the street as we were finishing up. It was sad there was a war but overall things went pretty good." Tad Robinson plays the finale of the Cabin Fever Blues Series at Billy's on Feb. 28 in support of his recent release, A New Point of View (Severn). The disc (though not this appearance) features the guitar of Alex Schultz who is long known as the preeminent West coast jump blues player for his work with William Clarke and Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers. "Alex played with William Clarke on the "Must Be Jelly" recording which was blues record of the year that year. He had a choice between Clarke and Rod Piazza and chose Rod with Clarke's blessing. Alex replaced Junior Watson in the Mighty Flyers and everyone said that couldn't be done. But he did it and helped the guitar chair in that band become hallowed ground for all who came afterward, namely Rick Holmstrom (Mavis Staples)." But on A New Point of View, Schultz had to dig deep into his soul bag. "Alex and I have been lifelong friends. We grew up in New York digging the sounds of Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett. When he plays with me he gets to take on a different soulful role." Tad has been nominated in the Soul/Blues Male Artist of the Year category for the 2009 Blues Music Awards (formerly the Handy Awards). He also plays harmonica and his oh-so-soulful singing voice has been described as having both "sandpaper and honey" qualities. The band he will bring on Saturday are some mates from Indy, Kevin Anker (keys) and Paul Holdman (guitar), plus phenomenal players from Chicago (well-versed in Tad's music) in bassist Harlan Terson (Dave Spector) and Marty Binder (Albert Collins & the Icebreakers, Ken Saydak) on drums. Tad has been busy establishing himself as a premier soul singer alongside the biggies: Curtis Salgado, Robert Cray, Doyle Bramhall, Darrell Nulisch, and Lou Pride. Robinson knows well how important it is to create your own niche. The niche that he has fashioned allows him to look farther afield for gigs when the music business is slow, like in January, hence the trip to Israel. During a time when gigs have been slowing down for some blues musicians, Robinson has a full slate of shows going into the summer including plans to head to Russia and Belgium in April, an enviable schedule he attributes to the aforementioned niche building. "European folks like the soul blues vibe. We have a pretty active touring circuit over there." Here's hoping the next trip overseas will be less eventful. "During the week we were there we got to see and hear how the average Joe on the street and Israeli intellectuals viewed this conflict," Robinson observes. "After a week the public attitude had changed considerably. It was an interesting peek into a different high stakes political environment."

The Kinsey Report at the Kalamazoo State Theatre 2/27

Chicago-based blues/rock band The Kinsey Report make a headline appearance in Kalamazoo this Friday Feb. 27 as part of the WRKR-FM 2009 Bud Blues Series. The Kinsey Report has previously appeared at the venerable State Theatre as an opening act for B.B. King. The Kinsey brothers have performed in the West Michigan area for many years. You may have seen them play at the Silver Cloud, 48 West, Martini's (now Billy's), and Blues on the Mall. They play Rosa's on West Armitage in Chicago on Saturday. The Kinsey Report consists of Donald Kinsey on vocals and guitar, with Ralph Kinsey on drums and Kenneth Kinsey on bass. Opening act is Harper. www.kazoostate.com

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Liz Mandeville: Conduit to the Blues

Ever the go-getter, Chicagoan Liz Mandeville related this tale to TMGR: "I woke up one day and said, 'What am I going to do if for some unforeseeable reason I am no longer able to sing? What am I going to do then?'" Come to find out Liz is of the rare breed who then goes out to find another style of music to play, one that relies heavily on serious instrumentation. In this case it was early Piedmont-style acoustic blues guitar. But not only did she learn it, she actually got good at it. Ever the songwriter, Liz even penned a couple of tunes while woodshedding with her guitar. In addition to the songwriting workshops she conducts around the country, she was nominated for Best Blues Songwriter of the Year 2008 by the American Roots Music Association. "Words are bridges to basic instincts; they make you want to know more," Mandeville notes from her home in Chicago. She counts the songs of Melissa Etheridge, Lucinda Williams, and Sheryl Crow among her songwriting inspirations. "They tell stories with their songs, of course and they're revelatory, but they have a hard edge to them to go along with their universality." Mandeville has been with the Earwig blues label for many years, and credits owner Michael Robert Frank with gentle prodding ever so often to get her to reinvent herself; to keep her moving forward musically and otherwise. The result: she is more than just an blues diva powerhouse with painting endeavors and music column writing to help round things out. "I'm an observer at the core. Through my songs the listener gets to see what I have seen and heard, be it in my voice, on my guitar, or through a painting. " A consummate entertainer with 20 years experience, she is sexy and sassy, a Mistress of Tasteful Bawdiness calling things out as they really are in the world. Nowadays Liz feels the need more than ever to connect on a deeper level with her audience in order to make the experience more worthwhile for all. "I'm there to make sure the happy animal comes out in people. I want to connect on a gut level. When I perform I want you to dance, to feel rhythm, to express yourself-to work up a good sweat. I want to conjure up the positive effect music can have the entire being," she says."After they have a couple of drinks, it's like okay, now we know each other. Now we trust each other. If I have it my way the audience will have access to everything I've experienced in my life," she continues. As for the approach she and her band use when working on songs for the set: "We try to reinvent the song to fit the band and then we work the groove. It's like a musical adventure. By doing songs differently each time we try to keep the feeling fresh and in the moment." Liz Mandeville and her world-class band The Blue Points will have you dancing and really feeling it deep on Saturday when they play the Cabin Fever Blues Series at Billy's in support of Liz's most recent release Red Top (Earwig). Mandeville has appeared in West Michigan previously at the Silver Cloud (GR), The B.O.B., Martini's (now Billy's), Winterfest (Grand Haven), and Creekfest (Newaygo). "I've seen a thousand performances. I've gone to check out people I might never go see just to see what it is about them, what is it that makes them so popular. Then I try to incorporate that into what I do. I try to provide the humor and sophistication. I'm really lucky to be doing what I'm doing."

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Euforquestra at Founders Brewery 2/12

Euforquestra is a seven-member band who originally hails from Iowa City IA but who are now forced to admit they recently relocated to Fort Collins CO. Euforquestra, having recently opened for Eek-a-Mouse, plays a barrage of different styles: their material says they play Afro-beat/Reggae/Funk but later down the page it lists Afro-Caribbean and barnyard funk. I guess you can have it both ways; nothing get funkier than the barnyard at times. We'll see how adept they are at these musical adventures when Euforquestra plays at Founders on Thursday Feb. 12. They play in support of the release The Adventures of Glen Devey which at times sounds like that other famous Colorado dance band, Cabaret Diosa (at least the horns do, coupled with the world groove sensibility). The title track has a nice trance-like quality about it. "Medicine Bow Run" is the other good one and it sounds like Ron Levy's Wild Kingdom, the Green Eyed Soul era. Again, the seven-piece outfit appears to be a percussion powerhouse with dual horns and even the vibes. Can't go wrong like that. Progressive band, progressive booking. Check it out.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra at Founders Brewing 2/8-9

The Grand Rapids Jazz Orchestra will be making a live recording of their music for two consecutive nights, Feb 8th and 9th, between 5:30pm-7:30pm at Founders. The GRJO consists of Tim Froncek (drums), Steve Talaga (piano), and Paul Brewer (trombone) among many other fine local players. Admission is free. www.grjo.com

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Root Doctor at Billy's 2/6

The Lansing-based Root Doctor has been churning out their own trademark elixir of funk for 15 years now. Serious road dogs, the good Doctor has been traversing the land from Traverse City to Detroit and back with an occasional trip to the Nudie Blues festival (now defunct). They make a stop at Billy's Lounge in Eastown on Feb. 6. The Root Doctor's stalwart members are Freddie Cunningham (vocals) and James Williams (bass, vocals), and with the not-so-recent addition of Jim Alfredson (organ, vocals) and Greg Nagy (guitar, vocals) they now have some further songwriting credentials. Beyond that, what Alfredson and Nagy are able to bring to the band in both playing and presence is vital. There aren't too many bands who can still bring a crowd after 15 years at some of the same haunts. The key to the Root Doctor's sound is their connection to old school R & B (LTD's "Back in Love Again") and the Motown sound. For those of us who have lived in the state for so long it's easy to take the sounds of Detroit's West Grand Blvd for granted. Not so with the Root Doctor; their dance-floor-packing version of "I Can't Get Next To You" among others are worth the price of admission any night. What better way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the founding of Motown records in 2009 than with a trip to see the only authentic practitioners of that quality, world renown vibe left, the Root Doctor. RD plays at Billy's in support of their latest CD, Live at the Cadillac Club.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Nick Moss: Sparse Winter Blues

Like most of America, Chicago's Nick Moss is trying to tough out a long cold winter in slow economic times. And the talented guitar player ought to know first-hand how rough it is out there: Live entertainment along with the food service industry (bars, restaurants, catering) are usually the first to feel the effects of a tight budget. As imperative as it seems in the winter, for some getting out to see live music is a jaunt they might have to postpone for a month or two. For as in-demand as this young Chicago blues player has been for the past ten years, his have gigs slowed down a lot more this past year. "In the Midwest things grind to a halt in the winter. But this time my schedule slowed down back in October which is a whole month earlier than previous years. For the past ten years I would have weeks go by where I would be working a full schedule. Now I have three week layoffs with not one single gig," Moss says from his home near Chicago. Nick Moss and his outstanding band the Flip Tops will be doing their part to shake off the winter blahs when they appear at the WYCE-FM, West Michigan Blues Society, and Billy's Lounge presentation of the first Cabin Fever Blues Series of 2009 on Feb. 7. Although Moss has performed with Buddy Guy, Jimmy Rogers, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, Lynwood Slim, among others, it is the collective talent of his band which puts Nick above the rest. The Flip Tops consist of drummer Bob Carter (one of the best in the business, formerly of the Mighty Blue Kings), pianist/bassist Willie Oshawny (who could be a show all by himself), and Gerry Hundt on mandolin and guitar. Their muscular sound has a totally danceable rock and roll element but they can also finesse their way through the deep soul slower numbers. Look out for the stripped down portion of the show with Nick paired up with only one other band mate. Not all is a downer for Moss: He just firmed up an overseas trip to Riga, Latvia, and he has in the can the second installment of live recordings he did at Chan's Eggrolls & Jazz Chinese restaurant. Plus a 2009 Blues Music Awards nomination for Band of the Year, for an incredible third year in a row. With the cold month of January behind us, Moss looks ramp up for a month of gigs in February starting with a return appearance at Billy's, where previously the Flip Tops where the back up band for local harp player Hank "The Hawk" Mowery. In good times, Nick started his own record label, Blue Bella, where he recorded his own band along with Indiana harmonica master Bill Lupkin and blues mandolin player Gerry Hundt. "We're not a traditional label with a powerhouse roster or anything like that. For me it's more like a side project mostly for fun. Blue Bella is for recording the people whose music I think is worth something," Moss says modestly. Moss has performed previously in Grand Rapids at the Rhythm Kitchen Cafe (New Years Eve 2000), Blues on the Mall, and Celebration on the Grand. What you're in store for at Billy's on Saturday is the present and future of Chicago blues, the world renown brand of roots music that spawned rock and roll. "It will pick back up,"Moss says of the slowdown."Whenever we elect a new president there is an upswing of positive good-will that you can feel. We're just hoping to catch some of what is left of that while we're still slow on gigs. My booking agent tells me the summer festival season looks good for business. I'm looking forward to that."

Monday, February 2, 2009

Coming Soon: Interview with Chicago bluesman Nick Moss

Nick Moss and his band the Flip Tops appear at the inaugural Cabin Fever 2009 blues series at Billy's Lounge 2/7.