Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Beatles Tribute at Hugh's Room...

It's a long drive from stately Rylander Manor to the Big Smoke, especially on a Friday evening, of a long weekend. Nonetheless my wife and I made the trek, and considering was a fairly simple journey. A Man Called Wrycraft had invited us to attend TWIST & SHOUT the second annual tribute to the Beatles. The poster is fantastic, using imagery from HELP! to advertise this homegrown show.

Walked into the room and there was Michael, who waved us over and in his booming voice said, "David...didn't you have a hat on the last time we met? Meet Gurf Morlix!" Two minutes in and I'd been introduced to Gurf Morlix...not bad. After a brief chat (and an autograph) we took our place at the next table and ordered dinner. Pasta and sausage for me, beef stroganoff for Milady. The food at Hugh's Room is not bad, but I think their menus could use an update.

The show started at 8:30 with the sound of the pipes from the bar. That's right...THE PIPES! Bagpipes, played by Grier Coppins, leading the Highland Brothers in a spirited version of George Harrison's sitar masterpiece, "Within You, Without You". Pipes, drum and sax marched to the stage, the tune melding into "Rain". Then the pipes and drum were laid down and replaced by guitars for "Hey Bulldog" and more. Then more pipes as the trio retreated to the bar. Michael introduced Aaron Jensen and the Omnium Gatherum who sang "In My Life" and "Got to Get You Into My Life" in guitar accompanied vocalese. Lovely. They were followed by a bluesy "Yesterday" and "Yer Blues" from Alfie Smith and Nicole Christian. Interesting, if a bit awkward. "Yesterday" doesn't really lend itself to blues scales. Next up, Toronto producer/guitarist Ray Montford who did weird things to "Girl" and almost redeemed himself with an instrumental "Come Together".

After a brief intermission the music began again with David Celia bravely tackling "Happiness Is A Warm Gun" and "A Day In The Life"! Awesome really! The Indo-African trio Sharbat was up next with long renditions of "Let It Be" and "Eleanor Rigby". World Music rules. Gurf Morlix, who had been watching and enjoying the show with the rest of us, then took the stage. He played "From Me To You" and Ringo's "Don't Pass Me By" as if they were Townes Van Zandt songs! I would've loved to hear a whole set by him...maybe next time.

That left Saidah Baba Talibah and Donna Gratis to finish the night. Saidah's voice and Donna's guitar were magical, adding soul to two tunes from Abbey Road. "You Never Give Me Your Money" and "I Want You/She's So Heavy" both sounded great. Then Michael called the whole cast back to the stage for a singalong on "Don't Let Me Down". It was fun! The whole audience got involved. In fact the audience was just dying to get involved and would have happy sung along at any point during the night.

Then it ended. We wandered into the night. Drove home and dreamed of John, Paul, Ringo and George. A great evening. Thanks Man Called Wrycraft, thanks a lot!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Reviews are in for Ry's show in SanFran...

I've heard a lot of friends complain that living in San Francisco comes with a steep cover charge. While that is true, many notable artists have a particular affinity for the Bay Area's unique venues and personalities. With that high cost of living comes the opportunity to experience art and culture that can be found nowhere else in the world.

Such is the case with Ry Cooder's current stint at the Great American Music Hall. The shows are primarily intended to announce the release of his latest album, "Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down," but more than that he wanted to bring his San Francisco audience, who he applauds for their appreciation of the new and unexpected, something that in his words "they don't get to see every damn day." There will be no tour to follow this two-night run and on Wednesday fans came from as far away as Florida and Wisconsin.

The band brings together Cooder's past and present, featuring a rare appearance by accordionist Flaco Jimenez as well as singers Terry Evans and Arnold McCuller, all veterans of Cooder's touring bands from the '70s and '80s. The rhythm section represents the younger generation with son Joachim Cooder on drums and Los Angeles based-singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Robert Francis on bass. The core configuration is augmented by a ten-piece horn section including tuba and bass-saxophone, many of whom are positioned in the balconies on either side of the stage.

The Wednesday set spanned Cooder's career highlighted by a spirited version of Woody Guthrie's "Do Re Mi" featuring Jimenez's deft accordion work, a romping boogie-woogie rendition of Sam the Sham's "Wooly Bully," and a whole lot of down home blues and Mexican-tinged traditional songs.

Cooder's new material from "Pull Up Some Dust" was well received by the left-leaning San Francisco audience who seemed to particularly enjoy "El Corrido de Jesse James," a modern-day fable told as a conversation between the outlaw and God. Jesse James asks for his gun back so that he can return to Earth to shoot up Wall Street and "set things straight," naive to the reality that America's problems can no longer be solved with grit and bullets. "No Banker Left Behind" began a two-song encore again using satire to illustrate Cooder's concerns about American political and economic policy.

Time has been kind to Cooder's voice. His vocals have matured over the course of his career and he has learned how to use his singing to convey the spirit of his more recent work which is more lyrics-driven.

Joachim Cooder was solid with good feel and held down the rhythm effectively. The bond between father and son was evident and could be felt in the music, although at times Jim Keltner's wider breadth of expression and rhythmic mastery was missed. Francis' bass playing was enthusiastic and functional although there were moments when he seemed to be just hanging on and unsure where certain songs were going.

The horns were sonically magnificent and added a new dimension to the material but at times overpowered the band and were overwhelming, bordering on painfully loud, which Cooder seemed to enjoy tremendously.

Even with so much sound and so much to look at, the most transcendent moments were when slide hit steel. Cooder is a true master of the guitar and every time he took the lead the music was elevated to a higher level. Though firmly rooted in slide blues, his playing defies genre classification and can only be compared to a handful of other living masters who share his dedication to the eclectic. Guitarists Bill Frisell, Pat Metheny and Mark Ribot jump to mind.

San Pablo's Los Cenzontles (The Mockingbirds) opened the evening with a richly authentic and spirited set of traditional Mexican-influenced dance songs to the delight of the crowd.

Both shows are sold out, but a number of fans were looking for tickets at the door on Wednesday night and most seemed to find their way in. For the dedicated, it might be worth a trip downtown to see if you can get lucky on Thursday. You won't get many, if any, more chances to see this ensemble. Only in San Francisco.
(from SF Gate)

Thursday, September 1, 2011

New interview with Ry Cooder...

This appeared on CANOE today!

It feels like old times to Ry Cooder. And that's the problem.

Economic malaise, unfettered greed, spiralling unemployment, self-serving politicians, impotent media: Life in America hasn't been this depressing since ... well, the Great Depression, the veteran singer-guitarist and musicologist believes.

"It's only perfectly obvious," grumbles the ornery 64-year-old Cooder from his Santa Monica home. "I read history books. I know what this is all about. I'm not stupid. What we have now is a replica of those conditions. Politicians in general and corporations have manipulated and wrecked the country. As a nation, we've come full circle entirely."

Fittingly, so has he. Cooder's latest album Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down harkens back to his '70s heyday, when he specialized in unearthing and revamping Depression-era fare like "How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?" and "The Very Thing That Makes You Rich (Makes Me Poor)". This time around, however, Cooder's timeless tracks -- a musical melting pot of folk, blues, country, Tex-Mex, gospel, soul and more -- are topped with his own topical lyrics about everyone from bankers and brokers to illegal aliens and John Lee Hooker. It may be the most personal and potent album of his career; no small feat for a guy whose resumé includes more than a dozen acclaimed solo albums, a slew of magnificent Hollywood soundtracks and collaborations with everyone from The Rolling Stones and Captain Beefheart to Buena Vista Social Club.

With Pull Up Some Dust now in stores, Cooder made some time to talk about creeping up on Woody, the kids and their texting, and how he soothes his jangled nerves.

Most artists go from angry young man to aging gracefully. You're getting feistier.

Ha! Not really. But I see what you mean. When you're surrounded by all these criminal acts and this terrible devolution of political life and social structure here in America -- I don't how it must seem up there, but down here, at my age, you can certainly trace this arc of collapse and chaos -- what are you going to do? It was either die of frustration and bitterness or make something out of it, you see. It's bad mental health to let that overtake you.

But you came up in the '70s during Watergate and Vietnam, and didn't write about them. What's different?

It took me a long time to get to where I had a handle on songwriting. You know, the old populist music of the '30s, which was invented and written by working-class people, was used to describe their lives and what they were going through, whether you were on strike at the cotton mill or westward-bound on the road. But since I didn't migrate west with the Dust Bowl guys like Woody Guthrie or see this first hand, I had to creep up on it more. It took time to absorb that kind of songwriting. It's taken me ... well, a lifetime.

Does it rankle you that protest music seems dead?

Well, here's the thing: In the '70s, you had one huge difference, and that was the record business. You had the three Rs: Radio, records and retail. You had a quick-response system. You could write a song and could go into a studio -- in those days, you still did that too -- and the record company could put it out as a single pretty quickly.

You could do that today on the Internet.

Oh, I don't think it's the same. The Internet is so vast and so diffuse. You can't compare that to the record business and the way it worked. And digital cyberspace doesn't provide a shared experience. I used to go see Pete Seeger, and within minutes he'd have an entire audience singing. When people sing together, they feel the same thing, they feel kinship. And by the end of the song, they've learned something and they can be moved forward. It's hard to have this kind of experience now; that feeling of solidarity.

Speaking of performing, you haven't done much lately. Why not?

It's hard. I'm a homebody. Travelling was not my favourite thing. And it's very difficult to do music out in the world. It's the most random, odd feeling. But I'm starting to think people are ready for this message. I don't know about the youth with their texting; they're hypnotized by their little screens. But they don't come see me anyway unless their grandparents bring 'em. But I think older people will respond to this. So if that means I go and play for 150 people -- which I think is an ideal audience -- to get this message across and give them the feeling I want them to have, I'm happy to do it. We're going to try a couple of shows this month. We'll see if I can pull it off. If it's motivating, maybe I'll find a friendly billionaire who will underwrite the whole thing.

I find it reassuring that your music has retained its own sound. You've never chased a trend.

Heaven forbid. I wouldn't even know a trend to chase.

What kind of music do you listen to?

Classical. It's very spacious and undemanding, especially the French guys. I like Ravel and all those cats. It's very soothing to my jangled nerves.