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Friday, November 27, 2009

Bill Lupkin at Billy's in Grand Rapids Fri Nov 27

Bill Lupkin along with his brother Steve Lupkin have been playing harp-based Chicago blues for 30 years. Amplified harp man Bill and bass playing Steve have deep roots in the vibrant Windy City scene with people like Jimmy Rogers, Johnny Littlejohn, and Junior Wells. Between the two of them they have played and shared the stage with just about all of the old-school greats from that city. The brothers played the classic Chicago neighborhood blues bars like the north end Wise Fool's Pub ('71 with Buddy Guy), Ma Bea's on the gritty west side (with Howlin' Wolf), and the famed Pepper's Lounge on South State Street. Bill has performed with Muddy Waters (Wise Fool's '70) and Fred Below (Europe '69). Indiana native Lupkin made somewhat of a career within the relatively short commute to Chicago by gigging with the heavy cats. He knows his stuff and can back it up with a rich, fat toned harp. He's on the roster of Chicagoan Nick Moss' Blue Bella record label with a CD called Hard Pill to Swallow. This show features a guitarist who has played with Moss and a drummer formerly of the Junior Wells band. (Picture by Kate Moss at Buddy Guy's Legends, Chicago)

Friday, November 20, 2009

Los Lobos at Goshen College (IN) Nov. 21: Acoustic Brilliance

Thirty-five years and still going strong, this Grammy® Award winning band has captivated fans around the world. The band’s evolving styles are influenced by traditional Spanish and Mexican music, rock and roll, R&B, folk and country. Rolling Stone magazine confirms its relevance: “With the exception of U2, no other band has stayed on top of its game as long as Los Lobos.”

Los Lobos has recently taken their world-class traditional acoustic presentation, or their folklorico set, to some big names in higher education : Humboldt State University (CA), Michigan State University (Wharton Center), UCLA; early next year finds the band at Duke, the University of Alabama, and Mississippi State U. It seems fitting somehow that the Lobos set of traditional Mexican folk music would find its way into the halls of academia because, after all, this presentation is of Smithsonian Museum-grade caliber hence its still-vital educational value. Equal parts history lesson, language seminar, and music appreciation, this close-to-the-heart show was multicultural long before the term was even coined; the always cultural Lobos have been singing these songs since day one of their storied career. The use of traditional instrumentation like bajo sexto, tres, and guitarron only serves to add authenticity. So when the band lands at Sauder Music Hall on the campus of Goshen College in Indiana on Saturday Nov. 21, the Lobos will be among familiar performance hall confines. The acoustic show is seen more rarely than Lobos in-demand electric set. Just the four original members onstage at first but the night will also include at some point Steve Berlin on saxophone with Cougar Estrada on percussion. Acoustic Lobos opened up for The Chieftains (or as Dave Hidalgo put it that night "Los Chieftains") for a series of shows in 2000 which included a stop at the Meadowbrook Music Festival (Oakland University, Rochester MI). This presentation has the ability to make you rethink and reconsider how music can and should be played. (Meijer Gardens photo courtesy of Pamela Troyer) More Goshen College info at:

All things Los Lobos: http://loslobos.setlist.com/
and http://www.loslobos.org/site/

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Medeski, Martin & Wood in Grand Rapids at the Intersection Nov. 18

20 years ago Whitesnake made it cool for macho tough guys to sing along with a hard rock ballad--in front of their girlfriends no less. 10 years later Medeski, Martin & Wood made it good for hippies to go hear a jazz band and really listen. As you know true music lovers appreciate most all types of music evenly, so this is a show for them. The long jamming (read The Dead) and improvisation of MMW is what many hippies flock to, an aspect that was lifted directly from American jazz. For those seeking, they can get the best of both worlds at a MMW show: songs that aren't performed the same way from night to night; tie dye; modern forward-looking sounds; cute patchouli sprinkled hippie chicks. All of that adds up to a solid live performance; glimpses of briliance which were seen as far back as spring 2001, which was the year MMW played the Kalamazoo State Theatre to a crowded throng of mostly college age people. During that particular show percussionist Billy Martin played flattened metal pieces as percussion in retrospect could have been tile. Keyboardist John Medeski has recorded with gospel pedal-steel star Robert Randolph in a band called The Word and more recently appeared on hard-core jazz saxophonist James Carter's 2009 CD Heaven on Earth. Double bassist Chris Wood gigs with his brother Oliver in a acoustic blues/folk format-which also defies tidy description-appropriately called The Wood Brothers. A jam band in the MI area now covers their song "Bubblehouse" (Back Forty). www.sectionlive.com for more details.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Wood Brothers May 21 House of Blues Cleveland: Past, Present & Future of American Music

In some record stores the Wood Brothers, Oliver (l) and Chris (r), find their CDs filed under the broad folk category. But the show the Woods turned in on May 21 at the House of Blues in downtown Cleveland was anything but introspective. The 200 seat Cambridge Room, adorned in medieval decor, was perfect for an impressive intimate performance consisting of heart felt, soul laden acoustic blues--many of them originals. The wholesome sound of the Wood Brothers live is organic and natural but with perhaps a dash of preservative for good measure. The set on a wonderful Ohio night by the lake featured songs from their 2008 release Loaded (Blue Note). "Don't let me fall too fast, I want to fall slowly, I want my fall to last," sang vocalist Oliver Wood who soon had the folks who were sitting cross-legged on the floor in the palm of his hand. On "Fall Too Fast" his voice possessed an aged quality and youthful innocence sounding both vintage and in-step. Bassist Chris Wood is more than technically proficient on his instrument (he of jazz jam band Medeski, Martin & Wood), showed more grit, fire, and soul that first imaginable. Intent on showing they are no flukes when it comes to exploring the deep well spring that is American music, the Woods unleashed a rousing gospel version of "You Never Can Pray Enough," which had the more zealous of the believers swaying tie dye in the aisle. The blues roots showed early and often with a stunning reading of "Make Me Down a Pallet on Your Floor"(Mississippi John Hurt). "Postcards From Hell," which according to Oliver is purportedly about a guy who "plays in a chicken coop" featured Chris Wood getting out the bow for his bass fiddle. Not to be outdone by anyone in the Cleveland area, the Woods whipped out a Beck cover for good measure. The boys also did a song for their mother who had recently passed. "Lovin' Arms" must make Mrs. Wood awfully proud somewhere. Their sounds alternated from jazzy to folky and back to bluesy seamlessly. Initially Oliver had been playing a National steel guitar but he got out an acoustic for "Liza Jane," a song featured on their most recent effort Up Above My Head (Sister Rosetta Tharpe). In the Wood Brothers ever-capable hands this New Orleans stalwart sounded fresh, loose, and invigorated. Next up was "Chocolate on My Tongue" from the release Ways Not To Lose; about this time the vibe was getting good, of course, just as things were winding down. "Fixing a Hole" contained an attention-grabbing bass solo from Chris. The Wood Brothers live far apart in real life and only get to see each other at these shows. Here's to the whole Wood family; hope you can get together more often in the near future. Chris Wood appears with Medeski, Martin & Wood at the Intersection in Grand Rapids on Nov. 18. Check www.sectionlive.com for more details.

Kim Wilson Blues Revue at the Livery Oct. 25: Little Walter Rides Again

At the Livery brewery in Benton Harbor on Sunday Oct. 25 Kim Wilson demonstrated once more why remains atop the modern blues harmonica scene with an exceptional late afternoon performance. The second set of the show started with an audience request for Little Walter’s “Juke.” While this oft-requested tune has seen the miles, in the hands of Wilson and company it still breathes real life; they wasted not a single note impressing the small but engaged crowd. This edition of the Kim Wilson Blues Revue turned out to be such a tight collection of first-rate players that they perceptively know just what tune they’ll do next by the time Kim begins to count off. During the course of the show just a nod from Kim or some brief eye contact, and the band was off into the next number. Audiences get their money's worth each night as Wilson wastes no time between the end of a song and the beginning of the next, ala Van Morrison. Only first-rate musicianship allows Wilson to cut a wide swath in order to uncover all the elements of true blues music; songs and styles that may go by the wayside with Wilson’s other band, the guitar forward Fabulous Thunderbirds. Featuring Barrelhouse Chuck allowed Wilson to delve further into the deep history of Chicago piano blues reminiscent of keyboardists like Sunnyland Slim, Lafayette Leake, and Otis Spann. If there was one thing this lineup was assembled for it is Wilson’s overlooked instrumental harp extended jam workouts. These jams, often on the chromatic harmonica and sometimes solo, are a true privilege of seeing Kim and company in such a small place. There is no mistaking the influence of Little Walter on Wilson, as Kim was asked to perform all the Little Walter parts for the 2009 motion picture Cadillac Records. But on the chromatic Wilson conjures up in real time the ghost of William Clarke, who as you know was one of the best ever on this particular harp. Wilson again chose the right band for this short tour as evidenced by Kim letting each of his players shine in their individual light. Early on in the set guitarist Billy Flynn got the nod to get out the slide for authentic sounding renditions of Elmore James (Shake Your Moneymaker) and Leroy Carr (Blues before Sunrise). Proclaiming that they as a band “love Jimmy Rogers,” Kim and friends furnished a modified modern version of “That’s All Right.” Little Frank showed off the subtle style that has landed him work with Hubert Sumlin. Kenny Smith proved once again why he got the call for this gig; he’s soft and creative when Kim solos and hits hard on some of the up-tempo pieces. He is one to watch (Kim said it in a word: “wicked”). Of all the great harp players working today, Musselwhite, Estrin, Hummel, and Piazza, Kim is the one with the most signature sound, style, and presentation. He looks just as comfortable without a harp in hand all while sweating out a soulful vocal number by Little Milton. Wilson is either gracious, yes, or just smart enough to let his band do their work. At times he’d walk over to be near Chuck during one of his keyboard solos as if being three feet closer would garner more vibe; apparently so, because it looked like he was really feeling it. Speaking of a solo solo, that was our encore at the Livery. Just Kim alone: a man, his harp, and an amp. After that Kim got his children up to play, Steven and Hunter (on guitar and bass), for some great Sunday-type of family atmosphere. All the superlatives now applied: exciting showman, star bandleader, authentic bluesman, and Dad.(Photos courtesy of Alan Bartlett)