IN TUNE: It’s not often you get to see one cultural icon — much less two — up close, but a rambunctious audience at City Winery cheered a unique onstage pairing of American musical institutions: The Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the remarkable Del McCoury.
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Although one group is black and the other white, they sing from the same hymn book, to paraphrase Jimmy Carter, lead singer of the Blind Boys of Alabama. Their individual styles are tied closely to their respective cultures, but both rely strongly on improvisational spotlight turns taken at high speed.
The point was driven home with what was supposed to be the encore, “I’ll Fly Away,” which featured a brilliant duet break from longtime PHJB clarinetist Charlie Gabriel and McCoury fiddle player Jason Carter, as well as a soul-fired vocal by Pres Hall saxman Clint Maedgen. The ensemble brought the song to a rousing close with all 10 instrumentalists jamming in time.
The raucous crowd kept clapping, stomping and howling as the houselights began going up and the canned music began to swell – until finally both quickly were extinguished and the two groups returned to the stage. At that point, it was entirely appropriate that they close the evening, ragtime-style, with “When the Saints Go Marching In.”
The bands found a natural kinship after Ben Jaffe, the PHJB’s tuba player and creative director, approached McCoury follwing a gig with the Nashville Symphony. The way McCoury told it Wednesday night, the son of the Preservation Band’s co-founders, Allan and Sandra, “played his tuba with us on the Grand Ol’ Opry stage – and he didn’t ask permission.
“He just went up and did it.”
Soon, McCoury was guesting on a PHJB album, and the groups were playing together whenever they had the chance. Two months ago, they released “American Legacies,” an album that highlights the common bond that both New Orleans jazz and bluegrass share: uplifting solos. They also played Bonnaroo together. Tuesday night, they were on Letterman.
Through the years, members of the PHJB have been ambassadors of New Orleans and Dixieland jazz throughout the world. With respect to Bill Monroe, McCoury is the undisputed champion of bluegrass — the original alternative country music – as we have come to know it.
Each was locked in to the other’s style. At times it felt like a standoff of different approaches. But mostly their sounds complemented one another, falling together in a combination few can say they’d ever heard before.
The Pres Band took first crack, with some jump, swing and sass, beginning with “The Band’s In Town,” which allowed each player to solo. Maedgen quickly became a crowd favorite, not just by his playing but mostly through his singing – holding the microphone like Sinatra in his early crooning days. Like McCoury, he has a terrific voice, full of feverish passion.
Continuing a tradition that dates back to his earliest performances, McCoury literally shared the microphone with members of his band. At times, as many as four would be singing together, moving their instruments around one other as if it was second nature.
The white-pompadoured McCoury, who is celebrating 50 years in the music business, looks great for 70 — although, dressed in his usual suit and tie this sizzling summer night, he needed a towel to dry his brow.
McCoury hasn’t lost any of the joy of performing, though, and his tenor was sharp as ever. A little bit Hank, a little bit George Jones, particularly on “After You’ve Gone,” punctuated by Pres Band trumpeter Mark Braud’s muted cornet.
Also celebrating the late Monroe’s 100th birthday, McCoury’s outfit ripped through an amped-up version of the instrumental “Rawhide.” Then came “Banjo Frisco,” which featured combos first by the strings, then the horns, then all together.
Braud took the lead for what he called “the diabetics’ national anthem,” from a record that “sold well under a million records,” performed by “my mother’s all-time favorite singer” – and a good one, at that. “Sugar Blues” included sweet turns by Carter and banjo player Rob McCoury, one of Del’s two sidemen sons (mandolin player Ronnie was the other), as well as a muted trumpet solo by Braud.
Maedgen then whipped the crowd into a frenzy, playing razzy tenor sax and singing like he was begging for his life on Ernest Tubbs’ “You Don’t Have To Be A Baby To Cry.”
Bridging both bands at the keyboards was the Pres Band’s versatile Rickie Monie, who, when unleashed, plays a mighty barrelhouse.
Speaking of barrelhouse: McCoury also pulled a neat trick, having his band begin New Orleans jazz innovator Jelly Roll Morton’s “Mihlenberg Joys,” before the horns kicked in and the song exploded into genuine swing.
The combined troupe sprinted headlong to the finish, alternately going down the line of instruments before a thunderous drum solo by Joe Lastie, Jr. A beaming Gabriel – all of 78 years young –stomped his foot and slapped his thigh in time.
He wasn’t the only one tickled by the experience.
City Winery is an eclectic venue, presenting fascinating acts of all styles. But the core foundation clearly is American roots music. And the same way the unique venue blends different wines into unique vintages, two bands from opposite sides of the tracks came together to produce a sound unlike any other.
Call it Mardi Grass.
Have you been to CITY WINERY yet?
Besides its unique take on producing and serving wine,New York City’s only operating winery has become THE premier spot for singer-songwriters, with a vibe that Dave Alvin described as “like the Bottom Line, only nicer.”
Wine lovers can find plenty to excite them; the service is always top-notch (you can’t believe you’re in the city); and the food is more than up to par.
Check out the menu and the lineup: CITY WINERY EVENTS
After you’ve had a look at this funky behind-the-scenes video, you’ll be sold (then scroll down to a selection of reviews from the club):
CLICK ON THE HEADLINES FOR THE FULL STORIES….Tuesday, 12 July 2011 07:15 Jerry DeMarco
IN TUNE: Imagine listening to Aaron Neville in a cozy room, backed only by a piano, singing doo wop chestnuts. Add a handful of gospel, blues and soul selections. It made for a magical night Monday at City Winery. And he has two more shows there on tap.
Aaron Neville at City Winery
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A gig for the ages relied heavily on some of the most beautifully crafted ballads of the 50s — “Stand By Me,” “Earth Angel,” “Daddy’s Home,” “Tears On My Pillow” and, of course, Neville’s very first hit, 1967’s “Tell It Like It Is,” which gave the appreciative crowd a chance to sing along with one of the sweetest set o’ pipes ever to cradle a melody.
Friday, 24 June 2011 06:06 Jerry DeMarco
IN TUNE: Just when you think Dave Alvin can’t possibly top himself, he gathers another crackerjack band and mounts another knockout show like he did Thursday night at City Winery.
Dave Alvin & Guilty Ones at City Winery (All photos by CLIFFVIEWPILOT.COM. No re-use without hyperlink)
Although a huge chunk of the material was familiar, Alvin unveiled some songs from his new CD, “Eleven Eleven”
“A double album — I have lived long enough to see the return of vinyl,” he boasted. “Maybe I’ll live long enough to see 78s.”
Wednesday, 11 May 2011 07:09 Jerry DeMarco
My hands are still sore from the revival meetin’ that was the Blind Boys of Alabama show at City Winery last night. With cameos by the Oak Ridge Boys and spirituals delivered with a fury, the Blind Boys fired up an adoring audience that clapped and cheered louder with each number.
A swinging version of Norman Greenbaum’s “Spirit in the Sky,” followed by the slinky “Way Down in the Hole” (the Tom Waits-written theme song from the brilliant HBO series “The Wire”) prepped the packed house for tunes from the Blind Boys’ latest LP, “Take the High Road,” the first to directly inject traditional country music into the classic outfit’s gospel sound.
Tuesday, 19 April 2011 07:55 Jerry DeMarco
Shelby Lynne isn’t cut out for cookie-cutter country, for which an adoring throng at City Winery was ever-so-grateful. More Bonnie Raitt or Norah Jones than Faith Hill, Lynne culls her brand of American roots music from Austin, New Orleans, and other points south of pop-craved Nashville.
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It did a number on her, that town, before she bolted for Palm Springs in 1998. But her transformation and renewal yielded a straight-up artist whose intimate, faith-fueled, 90-minute set will be tough to shake.
“I’m strong enough, Lord, except when I’m not…,” Lynne, 42, sang with a conviction borne of experience. “ It’s just a reminder: I can’t go back home.”
Saturday, 01 January 2011 11:17 Jerry DeMarco
IN TUNE : Critical faculties gave way somewhere around the fifth (or was it the sixth?) New Year’s Eve whiskey, but that’s the point of ringing in a new decade with a band as versatile and talented as Los Lobos, isn’t it?
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Saturday, 06 November 2010 08:03 Jerry DeMarco
IN TUNE : Bob Mould doesn’t have a title yet for his memoir, but he says it’ll be out June 2011. Until then, he’s playing out, as he did for a full, sated City Winery house Thursday and Friday. From the opening chords of “Wishing Well” through the closer “If I Could Change Your Mind,” Friday’s show was an impassoned “best of” set that clearly wasn’t a perfunctory run-through for the just-turned-50 Robert Arthur Mould, who unleashed the fury he’s known for.
PHOTOS: Jerry DeMarco / CLIFFVIEW PILOT
He’s battling a cold, he said — good news for the faithful, who know that the insightful poet’s voice is usually best when strained.
You wouldn’t have known he was having any trouble at all from the dozen and a half numbers, most of them old favorites such as “See a Little Light,” that had the perfect framework in the Varick Street venue.
Thursday, 21 October 2010 06:51 Jerry DeMarco
IN TUNE : “We’re certainly not traveling in the lap of luxury,” Nick Lowe told the first of three sold-out audiences at City Winery on Tuesday. “Maybe the knee of luxury. Certainly the foot.” The past several years, Lowe solo’d whenever he came to town. This time he brought the band — including legendary barrelhouse keyboardist Geraint Watkins — “so that you can have a look at them.”
ALL photos by Jerry DeMarco
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“It hasn’t been easy,” said Lowe, 61. “The expense — holy, moly. To send a rock-and-roll group, especially an aging rock-and-roll group, to the United States for two or three weeks — the cost is eye-watering.”
So were a few of Lowe’s sardonic ballads, including “I Trained Her to Love Me,” in which the character who ends up with the broken heart isn’t the one you’d expect.
Wednesday, 22 September 2010 08:53 Jerry DeMarco
: It’s taken a lot for Paula Cole to be able to look over her shoulder at the audience and coyly sing: “You can do the laundry, while I go have a beer.” But the sold-out crowd at City Winery was as grateful for the reborn songstress’ strut as she was to share her new-found fearlessness with them.
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It truly was a release party in more ways than one. Hours before the show, the magnificent “Ithaca” was officially issued. I’ll bet it’s going to surprise a lot of people.
“I circled this date on the calendar,” Cole told the crowd at the outset. “I love you, New York.”
Saturday, 04 September 2010 10:19 Jerry DeMarco
: Kill me now. After 38 years of nourishing my soul with live music, I wonder whether I’ll ever experience a night like this again. Sometimes a band is on fire, in perfect sync. The audience is stoked. The musicians exchange knowing smiles and half-glances. Dave Alvin and the Guilty Women gave us one those nights.
I’ve never written the following sentence in a review before, but there’s no other way to say it:
You had to be there.
You had to feel the passionate fury of the Guilty Women, jackhammering as hard as the Blasters, Friday night at City Winery.
You had to look closely and convince yourself you weren’t listening to a young Linda Ronstadt whenever Christy McWilson sang, especially on the heartbreaking “Here in California.”
Friday, 06 August 2010 08:04 Jerry DeMarco
: Curious that Allison Moorer continues to perform “Dancing Barefoot,” transforming it from a dirge to an ode, now that she’s clearly stepped from the shadow cast by her husband. During a four-show residency at City Winery that Steve Earle and the missus closed Thursday night, Moorer became more commanding than ever.
Her songs, as well, are finally nearing the depths of the tunes she covers. Perhaps motherhood has a way of doing that.
The Earles brought their new baby to the marathon show, which also featured New Jersey’s own
. In addition to his own material — including a touching seaside-melody, “This I Had to Do” — Trooper played alongside Earle, getting a raucous rise out of the crowd when they combo’d on the ever-hopeful “Someday.”
Wednesday, 04 August 2010 05:51 Jerry DeMarco
When a living legend speaks, you best listen. “This is only the 880th oil spill [in the Gulf] since 2001,” Dr. John told a packed house Tuesday night at City Winery in Manhattan. “Call your [expletive] congressman and say, ‘I don’t like this shit’.” Backed by the airtight Lower 911, the good Doctor then cut into “Black Gold” with a fury stunning for a man a few months shy of 70.
With the possible exception of the Neville Brothers, Dr. John is the most distinctively recognizable talent to come out of New Orleans since Fats Domino. And since Katrina hit his beloved home, the hoodoo king has been reminding people about “The City That Care Forgot,” with a musical mastery matched only by the late Professor Longhair — and, to a degree, Allen Toussaint.
Monday, 03 May 2010 06:10 Jerry DeMarco
When you get down to it, “folk music and punk are pretty similar,” John Doe said from the City Winery stage. Then a polite but enthusiastic crowd got an abject lesson.
Doe said he didn’t want to deconstruct what he and Exene Cervenka are doing on this acoustic to
r, one without roadies or a lead guitarist (fretboard wizard Billy Zoom, Exene said, “lives somewhere just outside 19
.”). Some academic somewhere is probably writing such a thesis already, Doe theorized.
But when they ripped into “See How We Are,” many of us got to see the direct connections between, say, Brenda Lee and Auntie Christ.
Combined, their catalog is rich, and now and then they‘ll borrow a bit. They even did a customary Dave Alvin song, only it was “Dry River” and not “Fourth of July” (FYI: They’ve got a brief mini-Knitters tour booked later this month with him that closes in Exene’s favorite music city, Austin).
To mature from legendary power punks X to an acoustic duo that can keep an audience rapt in songs of hope and desperation is no mean feat.
But opening with “Burning House of Love” pretty much cued in the faithful that — global warming, terrorism and greed be damned — we were gonna have fun on a steamy Sunday night in Soho.