Category Archives: Music

Russian Samovar

Russian Samovar
Russian Samovar

Each May, I pilgrimage to NYC for BEA (along with the rest of the book industry). Last year a friend introduced me to Russian Samovar. I made a newbie mistake that first year – I dove headfirst into the delicious savory vodkas (and on an empty stomach no less). Worst hangover of my life. And I had to work the next day.

Russian Samovar, savory vodka
Russian Samovar, savory vodka
Russian Samovar, vodka menu
Russian Samovar, vodka menu

This past BEA, my friend and I arrived at Russian Samovar about 7-8pm on a Friday night and stayed until after midnight. We left a party with free top-shelf drinks to pay for our own. The place is that good. The vodkas were just as delicious as I remembered, but the ambiance was even better. There was dramatic live music and by midnight there were also a few vodka-fueled personal micro-dramas and the music provided a perfect soundtrack to imagined conversations. Also, you haven’t really lived until you’ve heard Russian-accented Kenny Rogers.

Russian Samovar, live music
Russian Samovar, live music
Russian Samovar, live music
Russian Samovar, live music
Russian Samovar, live music
Russian Samovar, live music

I introduced WPT to the place when we traveled to NYC in August and despite it being a bit early in the evening, he suddenly understood what I had been raving about.

Russian Samovar, potatoes in all forms
Russian Samovar, I love potatoes in all forms

My recommendations: try the horseradish and garlic vodkas. When they start getting on top of you, order the dill french fries. Try a few more flavors – coriander, basil, and ginger are all good. Then repeat the fry trick. About 4-5 shots in, they transcend their mere potatohood and become something akin to perfection. When you’ve decided you’ve had just about enough, order the cherry vodka as a nightcap. Then stumble outside, stare up at the sky, and think for a moment just how fantastic NYC can be.

Russian Samovar
Russian Samovar
Russian Samovar, greatest bartender ever
Russian Samovar, greatest bartender ever (seriously)

There is something almost addictive about the horseradish and garlic flavors, so a week or so after we returned from NYC, WPT decided to try and infuse some at home. We don’t have any live music at home and we attempt to keep the personal micro-dramas to a minimum, but we have discovered the next best thing to Russian Samovar. We are experimenting with a few different vodkas, but Sloop Betty, featured in our last post, is by far the best. Recipes below…

Little Water (vodka)
Little Water (vodka)

INFUSED VODKAS (INSPIRED BY RUSSIAN SAMOVAR)

HORSERADISH VODKA
1 bottle (750 ml) Sloop Betty or other good-quality vodka
6 half-inch slices of horseradish root
1 clean quart-size Mason jar w/lid

Place horseradish root in Mason jar and fill with vodka (saving the original bottle). Tightly screw lid on jar and give vodka a few good shakes. Store in a cool, dry place for at least four days, thereafter testing vodka until desired level of flavor is reached (I prefer a minimum of one week). Can be shaken and smelled during the infusing process. Using funnel, strain vodka back into original bottle for ease of serving. Enjoy cold or at room temperature.

GARLIC VODKA
1 bottle (750 ml) Sloop Betty or other good-quality vodka
1 medium-large bulb of garlic
1 clean quart-size Mason jar w/lid

Peel garlic and place individual cloves in Mason jar and fill with vodka (saving the original bottle). Tightly screw lid on jar and give vodka a few good shakes. Store in a cool, dry place for at least four days, thereafter testing vodka until desired level of flavor is reached (I prefer a minimum of one week). Can be shaken and smelled during the infusing process. Using funnel, strain vodka back into original bottle for ease of serving. Enjoy cold or at room temperature.

Russian Samovar
Russian Samovar

Russian Samovar
256 W.52nd Street, New York, NY 10019
Phone: 212-757-0168
Website: http://www.russiansamovar.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Russian-Samovar/106942739345111?fref=ts

Music: Shotgun Jazz Band and Tuba Skinny (New Orleans)

Music is as fundamental to the character of New Orleans as red beans and rice, which is why I always stop by the Louisiana Music Factory whenever I’m in town. The place focuses on regional music, from New Orleans jazz and R&B to zydeco and early rock ‘n’ roll, and its multiple listening stations are an aural smorgasbord. Every trip unearths a few gems; here are a couple of my favorites.

Shotgun Jazz Band
Shotgun Jazz Band

SHOTGUN JAZZ BAND – Don’t Give Up the Ship

Much like “Johnny B. Goode” sounds as fresh in concert today as when Chuck Berry first recorded it in 1958, the Shotgun Jazz Band’s old-school jazz selections are infused with a vitality that belies their age. Indeed, tracks like Zilner Randolph’s “Old Man Mose”, the opening number on SJB’s 2013 album, Don’t Give Up the Ship, spring from a nearly century-old repertoire.

SJB sweeps aside the at-times too-cool-for-school jazz of the mid-20th century onward, and instead lunges straight for its roots in the New Orleans of Satchmo, the Kingfish, and Prohibition. The band’s “fairly consistent” core lineup – including Christopher Johnson (tenor saxophone); Michael Magro (clarinet); Peter Loggins (trombone); Justin Peake (drums); John Dixon (banjo); and Tyler Thomson (bass) – produces a tight sound that still affects the breeziness of an impromptu hootenanny.

But the proverbial ace up SJB’s sleeve is vocalist and trumpeter Marla Dixon, whose vibrant and soulful style at once recalls blues queen Bessie Smith (notably manifest in her interpretation of “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”) and poet Dylan Thomas’s summation of novelist Flann O’Brien’s raucous 1939 masterpiece At Swim-Two-Birds: “This is just the book to give your sister – if she’s a loud, dirty, boozy girl.” (The sentiment applies to both band and book in the best possible ways.)

Other highlights include jaunty covers of Wooden Joe Nicholas’s “All the Whores”, Sam Morgan’s “Short Dress Gal”, the Harlem Hamfats’ “Weed Smoker’s Dream”, Bessie Smith’s “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out”, and a few infectious originals, such as the title track and “Girl, You Better Use Your Head”. The album’s cover art (and title) draw upon Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry’s battle flag commemorating the dying words of Captain James Lawrence during the War of 1812.

 

Tuba Skinny

Tuba Skinny

TUBA SKINNY – Pyramid Strut

Fellow New Orleans jazz revivalists Tuba Skinny launch their latest full-length effort, Pyramid Strut (2014), with their take on Bunk Johnson’s “Big Chief Battle Axe” and from there throw an all-hours party.

As the Cramps famously did for forgotten garage and rockabilly, so Tuba Skinny resurrects obscure and long-forgotten tracks from the early days of jazz and blues, such as Victoria Spivey’s “Blood Thirsty Blues” and “Mean Blue Spirits”, a variation of Bessie Smith’s “Blue Spirit Blues”. The band’s line-up includes Todd Burdick (tuba); Westen Borghesi (tenor banjo); Jon Doyle (clarinet); Barnabus Jones (trombone); Shayne Cohn (cornet/fiddle, as well as the album’s cover artwork); Robin Rapuzzi (washboard); and Erika Lewis (vocals/bass drum), whose voice can conjure heaven, hell, and everything in between within the span of three minutes.

What’s more, the band is insanely prolific. While Pyramid Strut (Tuba Skinny’s fifth full-length record since 2009) was just released in early 2014, as of this writing (August 2014), the band’s website already reports the completion of its next album, Owl Call Blues.

While both bands amply demonstrate their musical chops, the music they play itself hearkens back to the bouncy simplicity of early-era jazz, much like the early days of rock and roll and Chicago blues, before both were overrun by dorm-room wankers and 12-minute guitar solos. Both albums are available through Louisiana Music Factory, or directly from the artists’ websites.

Dick Dale

Fifty reverb-drenched years following the release of his signature hit, “Misirlou”, Dick Dale never comes off as an “oldies” act, a feat the 77-year-old “King of the Surf Guitar” reaffirmed with a recent Boston-area performance that for me happily coincided with a work conference in that city.

Middle East, Dick Dale
Dick Dale, August 6, 2014, The Middle East, Cambridge, MA

Having closed down a rooftop cocktail reception our second night in town, three friends and I hailed a cab from the convention hotel in the city’s Back Bay section to Cambridge, just across the Charles River. In less than 10 minutes, the four of us stood outside the Middle East nightclub, located at 472-480 Massachusetts Avenue.

Middle East, Dick Dale
Dick Dale, August 6, 2014, The Middle East, Cambridge, MA

The $30 cover ($25 in advance) was substantially more than the $11 or $12 I used to pay to see Dale back in the mid-’90s, when he rode a wave of resurgent popularity following director Quentin Tarantino’s prominent use of “Misirlou” in his film Pulp Fiction. Still, I was pleased to find the Middle East a throwback to the smaller, darker, more intimate venues frequented in my youth, like Philadelphia’s Trocadero Theatre.

Dick Dale
Dick Dale, August 6, 2014, The Middle East, Cambridge, MA

Downstairs, people packed the floor while the opening act, Three Day Threshold, delivered a decent brand of cow-punk somewhat reminiscent of the Supersuckers. I spied an opening at the bar, and we promptly ordered a round. The right moment arrived a few minutes later, when the band went off stage and the crowd briefly broke for the bathrooms and bar. It was then, drinks in hand, that we deftly made our way to the foot of the stage.

Dale is, in a sense, multiculturalism incarnate. Born in Boston to a Polish mother and Lebanese father, he grew up in nearby Quincy before moving with his family to El Segundo, California, where the teenage Dale took up surfing. The traditional Middle Eastern music he had known all his life came to heavily influence a style of music now commonly associated with Southern California. Indeed, his best-known tune, “Misirlou”, is based on a folk song that dates back to the 1920s. With his ferocious speed and amp-blowing volume, many today consider Dick Dale a progenitor of everything from punk to heavy metal.

Dick Dale
Dick Dale, August 6, 2014, The Middle East, Cambridge, MA

Despite his advanced years and a recent bout with cancer, Dale, backed by a top-notch bass guitarist and drummer, tore through his 50-year repertoire with hurricane fury that night in Cambridge: “Let’s Go Trippin”, “Fish Taco”, “Ghost Riders in the Sky”, “House of the Rising Sun”, “Louie Louie”, “Summertime Blues”, and a blistering rendition of the late Link Wray’s “Rumble”. He also remains the only man alive who can make both “Hava Nagila” and “Amazing Grace” sound completely bad-ass. No matter the tune, Dale, like the Ramones, has a sound so distinctive that whatever he plays instantly becomes his own.

At one point during the show I turned around to face the crowd. The whole place was packed.

Dick Dale
Dick Dale, August 6, 2014, The Middle East, Cambridge, MA

While Dale has to pay the bills just like the rest of us, one aspect that has always stuck with me since his earlier shows is his manifest enthusiasm for his fans. At no time was this ever more evident than the end of the show, when Dale would sit at the edge of the stage and talk with everyone, autograph anything, until the very last person had left, no matter how long that took.

Dick Dale
Dick Dale, August 6, 2014, The Middle East, Cambridge, MA

But perhaps the most impressive thing about Dick Dale is that he is nothing if not a survivor, defying a half-century of passing trends, health troubles, and an industry chronically obsessed with youth. As a fellow cancer survivor, I greatly respect that.

If Dale displayed any symptom of age it was sitting in a chair behind the merch table after the show. But there he sat, once again, chatting with fans and signing autographs, until the last folks in line (us) had their turn at the table. I bought a black-and-white photo of the King of the Surf Guitar, circa 1963, which he graciously signed to the attention of my 8-year-old son, also a fan.

Dick Dale
Dick Dale, August 6, 2014, The Middle East, Cambridge, MA

“Fantastic as ever, Mr. Dale,” I said as he signed the picture. “I’ve been coming to see you for 20 years now.” He grew momentarily frustrated upon realizing he’d misspelled the word “special”.

“Heh,” he chuckled, handing me the photo. “You don’t look that old.”

“Neither do you, sir,” I laughed. “Neither do you.”

THE MIDDLE EAST
472-480 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA  02139
Phone: (617) 864-3278
Websitehttp://mideastoffers.com

DICK DALE
Websitehttp://www.dickdale.com/

 

Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

In 1994, New Orleans R&B legend Ernie K-Doe and his wife, Antoinette, opened the Mother-in-Law Lounge (named after the singer’s 1961 hit single). Located at 1500 N. Claiborne Avenue, in the city’s Treme neighborhood, they hoped the lounge would infuse new life into the singer’s career. It did just that, and the bar and music spot soon became a cultural hub of the community.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

Following her husband’s death in 2001, Antoinette K-Doe continued to own and operate the Mother-in-Law Lounge (which was badly damaged by Hurricane Katrina in 2005) until her own death in 2009. The club closed the following year.

But in January 2014, the Mother-in-Law found new life when it reopened on Martin Luther King Day under the stewardship of New Orleans jazzman and native son Kermit Ruffins. Today, with its vibrant exterior murals and predominantly local clientele (as well as a smattering of tourists), the Mother-in-Law is reaffirming its place in Treme, providing a venue and gathering point for a variety of area musicians.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

The renowned Treme Brass Band’s weekly Sunday gig happily coincided with my first night in town. So at the encouragement of Andy Rubin, a Baltimore-based friend and the Treme Brass Band’s General Manager, I set out on the mile-and-a-half walk from our digs at the French Market Inn on Decatur Street.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

The residential streets surrounding Esplanade Avenue, in Faubourg Marigny, are quieter, more empty, and within a few blocks of the Mother-in-Law it becomes evident that you’re no longer in the tourist-driven combine of the Quarter. The words “I told u who hold the fuckin power!” are hand-scrawled in black Sharpie across the warped clapboards of a nearby house. And then, farther up the street, the visages of Ernie and Antoinette manifest in the form of a colorfully loud mural. A bronze plaque beside the door commemorates the previous owners.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

Inside, the Lounge is comparatively nondescript (save for a flamboyant life-size statue of Ernie K-Doe), comprised mainly of two utilitarian rooms – the bar side and the stage side – separated by a cinderblock wall, patrons in the former dancing to the brassy strains emanating from the latter. Benny Jones, Sr., the Treme Brass Band’s leader since the 2012 passing of Uncle Lionel Batiste, and five or six other band members generate their signature sound with little, if any, amplification from the tiny stage, which is little more than a raised platform. Five or six patrons stand watching the band, their backs to the dividing wall; unlike the bar side, no one facing the music is dancing. Not in the corporeal sense, anyway.

For once, I don’t feel badly for sweating through my pressed, button-down shirt; in this climate, everyone does, especially in late June. I found the staff to be very friendly, and I downed a couple of reasonably priced beers during the roughly 45 minutes of the Treme Brass Band’s set that I caught. Despite its simplicity, the place exudes an identity, a sense of history and atmosphere, much more on par with the classic juke joints and gin mills of old than their more modern, sanitized corporate counterparts.

Kermit's Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge

The band wrapped up their set, and I dropped a few bills in the metal urn in front of the stage that serves as a tip jar. I bought a copy of their 2008 album, New Orleans Music, which the band members graciously signed to the attention of my 8-year-old son. From hard rock to hip-hop to traditional folk, he loves live music – the enthusiasm and energy – in all its forms. And the CD, by proxy, will hopefully tide him over until the day I can bring him with me back to see and hear and appreciate for himself the singular city of New Orleans, and the resilient, unvarnished character that appears nightly in places like Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge.

Kermit’s Treme Mother-in-Law Lounge
1500 North Claiborne Avenue, New Orleans, LA 70116
P: (504) 975-3955

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Kermits-Treme-Motherinlaw-Lounge/674959599217170

SOUNDTRACK: 12 Days on the Road in the U.K.

Davida and I first traveled together in January 2000, when we took a road trip around the United Kingdom, which took us from London to Brighton; Hastings to Dover; Whitby to Edinburgh; and Glasgow to Cardiff. We stayed with friends and friends of friends, sleeping in guest rooms, a cold-water squat without any heat, and at least one night in the car upon returning to England on the last boat from Calais.

A mix-tape I had prepared for the trip accompanied our odyssey, which neither of us could rightly afford, although somehow we did. At the time I would never have guessed that it would be the start of a tradition of compiling a soundtrack for every major joint trip we have taken since. Lux Interior once said that he considered each Cramps album a postcard, of sorts, from a particular time and place. And while our playlists are now digital and capable of including far more music than was ever previously possible, many of them, for us, have likewise become postcards that by association evoke the nuance and feeling of an especially magical moment or place.

This is one of them…

The BellRays – “Good Behavior”

Demolition Doll Rods – “Hey You”

The Neanderthal Spongecake – “This Thing”

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts – “Fetish”

The BellRays – “King of the World”

Alien Sex Fiend – “My Brain is the Cupboard”

Demolition Doll Rods – “Lil Darlin”

The Velvet Underground – “Run Run Run”

The Gories – “Feral”

Guitar Wolf – “Refrigerator Zero”

Iggy Pop – “Nightclubbing”

The BellRays – “Black Honey”

The Stooges – “Gimme Danger”

The Velvet Underground – “White Light/White Heat”

Alien Sex Fiend – “I Think I”

Guitar Wolf – “Cosmic Space Girl”

The BellRays – “Get on Thru”

 

SOUNDTRACK: Southern Louisiana

The best music will evoke the most cinematic qualities from any landscape. The musical gumbo of southern Louisiana is infused with a variety of cultures, including French, Spanish, English, and Afro-Caribbean, to name just a few. Rock and roll, jazz, zydeco, New Orleans rhythm and blues – each speaks to the syncopated rhythm of life in a particular time and place.

And so it was that, still haunted by the first season of the HBO series TRUE DETECTIVE, we fled the Crescent City for the swamplands of Iberia Parish, the brassy strut of urban jazz soon yielding to dusty folk rhythms and the lonesome twang of a blues guitar…

The New Orleans Bingo! Show – “New Orleans”

 

Huey “Piano” Smith & His Clowns – “Little Chickee Wah Wah”

 

Ernie K-Doe – “T’aint It the Truth”

 

Earl King – “Those Lonely, Lonely Nights”

 

Ike & Tina Turner – “Too Many Tears in My Eyes”

 

The Handsome Family – “Far From Any Road”

 

Ronnie Hawkins & the Hawks – “Southern Love”

 

Brian Tyler – “The King’s Highway” (BUBBA HO-TEP soundtrack)

 

Trailer Bride – “Porch Song”

 

Luna – “Bonnie & Clyde” (Serge Gainsbourg cover)

 

John Lee Hooker – “Unfriendly Woman”

 

Jo-El Sonnier – “Evangeline Special”

 

Boozoo Chavis – “Paper in My Shoe”

 

James McMurtry – “Hurricane Party”

 

Ray Wylie Hubbard – “Snake Farm”

 

The Rock*A*Teens – “Never Really Had It”

 

Kris Kristofferson – “Casey’s Last Ride”

 

Dr. C.J. Johnson – “You Better Run to the City of Refuge”

 

Gary U.S. Bonds – “New Orleans”