Tag Archives: Music

If the Pipes Call, Take a Message

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Our son had called the tune when the singer invited requests. “The Rocky Road to Dublin” was the second of the boy’s picks honored that night (the first, “Galway Races”). The crowd of pensioners packing the small hotel bar in Tuesday-night Donegal took a shine to the wee lad from America with a taste for Irish tradition. It was well past 10, but the boy was fighting sleep – afraid to miss a minute.

When he reached the end of that verbose “Road”, the singer called out for more. An old lady piped up.

“‘Danny Boy’,” said she with a tone of good-natured frustration. “I’ve asked for ‘Danny Boy’ three times now.”

Like Ronald Reagan dodging questions from the press corps at the door of Air Force One, the singer pretended, for the third time, not to hear. Instead, he issued a musical plea to be taken home by way of “Country Roads”.

Go raibh maith agat, I thought, for I share his evident disdain for “Danny Boy”, the go-to anthem for every dyed beer-swilling frat boy in a green plastic derby, the obligatory sendoff for every ward-boss before he’s planted in the ground. Ironically, this insufferably sappy tune – held dear by Irish communities around the world – was, in fact, penned by an Englishman. These traits, when juxtaposed with the infinite canon of fine Irish music new and old (or even the John Denver catalogue), permit no justifiable cause for suffering “Danny Boy”.

Frankly, I just don’t get it.

Though often reduced to drunk and downtrodden caricature, Irish music is, in fact, rife with a kind of exuberance that is at once comic and tragic, and it often employs a dark, inherent brand of humor which, at its best, may be equitably applied to both cirrhosis and the RIC.

“It’s not that the Irish are cynical,” author Brendan Behan once noted. “It’s rather that they have a wonderful lack of respect for everything and everybody.” Behan certainly fit that bill, as did his brother, Dominic. The latter, himself an author, singer, and songwriter, had a paradoxical sensibility that could at once convey humor and sorrow, loyalty and insolence. It fully manifests in his recording of the jaunty “A Grand Old Country”, written by the Behan boys’ uncle, renowned rebel songwriter Peadar Kearney:

We’ll pray for mother England while I’m waiting on the day
I’ll pray for mother England ’til I’m blind and bald and grey
I’ll pray that I and she may die, and drown that she may drown
And if ever she tries to lift her head I’ll be there to push it down

But Behan is but one voice in a musical oeuvre that includes Planxty, the Dubliners, the Wolf Tones, the Clancys and Tommy Makem (who introduced the world to Irish music), but also Enya, Thin Lizzy, The Cranberries, Van Morrison…to name very few.

Just not U2, who might be the only humorless lot in the bunch.

I don’t know if the old lady’s request was ever fulfilled, as the craic was still going full bore when we retired for the night. But it was not the last we saw of her. The next morning, we crossed paths in the hotel lobby. She and a friend of similar age engaged our son with a few friendly words, and complimented us on his conduct. Many Irish, we observed throughout our travels across the Emerald Isle, seem to have a soft spot for children.

Maybe that explains “Danny Boy”?

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Bomba Estereo

War, some say, is God’s way of teaching Americans geography. And while for many, sadly, that may still hold true, today’s digital technology readily issues passports to foreign landscapes for anyone with a Galilean sense of curiosity and a good wifi connection – particularly in the musical sphere. Indeed, fusions of Western sound as filtered through the experience of foreign cultures – and vice versa – make for some of today’s freshest, most exciting music, and the Internet offers an improbably diverse world of rhythms and melodies for those willing to listen.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

Among my favorite acts of recent years is Bomba Estereo, a Colombian band at the forefront of a style some have dubbed “electrocumbia”, a seamless blend of indigenous rhythms, Latin, reggae, rock, and electronic music. I had longed to experience this monstrously heady fusion in person for the last several years, but the space/time continuum remained steadfastly averse to it; Bomba Estereo never played Baltimore, and driving 45 minutes to Washington, D.C., on a Monday night usually proved problematic.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

That Davida and I finally leapt at the opportunity to instead drive twice as far on a Monday night, to World Café Live in Philadelphia, probably reflects our feelings for D.C. as much as any affinity for Philly. Leaving work an hour early meant our only significant challenge would be the Rush Hour of Brotherly Love.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

Having arrived at our destination about an hour before the doors opened, we enjoyed a delicious Indian buffet dinner at the nearby Sitar India. (Being a buffet, it allowed us to not only eat our fill, but also be as fast or slow in the process as we wished.) Afterward, we enjoyed the mild evening air of mid-September as we wandered back to the venue.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

It was our second trip to World Café Live, the first having taken place a year earlier, when we took our 7-year-old son to his first concert, a Halloween-themed triple bill of the Fleshtones, Southern Culture on the Skids, and Los Straitjackets called “Mondo Zombie Boogaloo” (after a collaborative album of the same name). We’d found both sound and stage favorable, the staff to be most accommodating, and the restrooms quite clean. We bought drinks at the bar, then wandered out to the still-empty floor.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

With their own blend of Latin, jazz, funk, and psychedelia, opening act Los Crema Paraiso proved well-suited to the task. I particularly dug the Venezuelan band’s seven-minute trance-epic called “Shine On You (Crazy Diablo)”, as well as the bouncy jangle of “Petrocumbia”. The next day, in fact, we bought their album, El Debut, online. (Curiously, neither band had a merch table that night.). When their set concluded, Davida and I staked out our places at the foot of the stage.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

Upon taking the stage, Bomba Estereo unleashed a sonic juggernaut, an irresistible melting pot of jungle noise and urban nightlife. I found the lighting – which more often than not cast the band in silhouette (and sometimes total darkness) while at times, in fact, spotlighting the audience instead – to be especially interesting.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

Though diminutive in stature (despite her platform sneakers), vocalist/MC Liliana Saumet commanded the audience with a powerful feminine presence that, amazingly, never detours into either pixie-princess or androgyny. Backed by band-founder Simon Mejia (bass), Julian Salazar (guitar/synthesizer), and Kike Eggurola (drums), Saumet – with her impeccable ability to rile the audience at just the right moments – led the band through dance-inducing numbers like “Fuego” as deftly as more atmospheric tunes, such as “Lo Que Tengo Que Decir”.

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

For 90-odd minutes, Bomba Estereo awed concertgoers not with blood and fire, but rather a distinctively reshuffled deck of human experience, demonstrating the notion that, often, travel is in the eye (or ear) of the beholder…

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

And you could dance to it.

BOMBA ESTEREO
Website: http://bombaestereo.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/BombaEstereo

LOS CREMA PARAISO
Website
http://loscremaparaiso.bandcamp.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/loscremaparaiso

WORLD CAFÉ LIVE
3025 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Phone: (215) 222-1400
Website: http://philly.worldcafelive.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/wclive

SITAR INDIA
60 South 38th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Phone: (215) 662-0818
Email: sitarindiapa@yahoo.com
Website: http://www.sitarindiacuisine.net/
(DGB comment: they note on the buffet which items are vegan and gluten-free.)

 

Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014
Bomba Estereo, World Cafe Live, Sept. 15, 2014

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.