Category Archives: reviews

Richard Thompson’s Electric Trio at Musikfest Cafe 11/9/18

Richard Thompson may be one of the best artists and performers you’ve never heard of. In a career spanning 5 decades he has produced often brilliant music starting with the band Fairport Convention in the late sixties, to his acclaimed work in the seventies with his wife Linda to his solo work over the last 40 years. 

 His work ranges from beautiful acoustic English folk to up tempo raucous rock and roll. All of his music is punctuated by his technically amazing guitar playing, brilliant vocals and great songwriting . He is truly one of the best guitarists on the planet.

 All of this was on display last night in Bethlehem at the Musikfest Cafe at a show sponsored by WXPN. Thompson brought his Electric Trio to the intimate venue to play for an adoring crowd of about 350.

Over 2 1/2 hours the band highlighted material from Thompson’s new album “13 Songs” in between music from his entire career. I was not extensively familiar with his whole catalogue but that barely mattered. 

His opener “Bones of Gilead “ and the “Rattle Within” from the new album stand up to his older material. One of the highlights for me off the new record was “Her Love was Meant for Me”

At age 69 his voice is as strong as ever as is his guitar playing. He showed off a little with a song called “Guitar Heroes” that talked from his personal experience as a teen learning guitar and trying to play like his heroes. He then proceeded to play perfectly in the style of Django Rheinhardt, Les Paul and Chuck Berry.

The center piece of the show was an amazing version of the acoustic  “52 Vincent Black Lightning “ from his solo 1991 album Rumor and Sigh. 

He ended the main set with one of his live staples, the classic “Tear Stained Letter” featuring aback and forth sing along with the crowd and an absolutely scorching guitar solo.

He returned for the first encore alone to play  “Beeswing” and the hauntingly beautiful “Dimming of the Day”.

He brought out his bass player and drummer as well as his guitar tech for the final encore and tore the place down with “Trying” and the cover “Take a Heart”

While I was only familiar with about half the songs he played, it made no difference. It was absolutely fantastic to sit and just absorb great music live in such  a perfect setting. Needless to say , I’ll be diving in to Richard Thompson’s back catalogue.

John Hiatt and the Goners Slow Turning 30th Anniversary Tour Concert Review

About 30 years ago,  I read a record review in Rolling Stone magazine of John Hiatt’s Slow Turning and was intrigued enough to go out and buy it without having heard a song – the one and only time actually that I have ever done that!  I can’t remember exactly what intrigued me, although I vaguely remember that the review said that Hiatt had used the word somnambulist in one lyric (for Ride Along) and still made it work. So started a 30 year love of John Hiatt and his music.  He has become one of my favorite artists, and Slow Turning  would definitely be one of my Desert Island discs.

So I was beyond thrilled to find out (from Facebook of all places!) that he was touring with the Goners, his back up band on Slow Turning, to celebrate the album’s 30 anniversary, and that he would be coming through my area.  Its been awhile since Hiatt has toured with a band- most of his concerts over the last 5 years or so have been solo acoustic, in line with his recent work.

The concert, at the Weinberg Center for the Arts, a beautiful historic theater (it opened in the 1920s) in downtown Frederick MD, began with a surprise (to me) – an “opening” five song set from Hiatt himself, on acoustic guitar.  He opened with Perfectly Good Guitar from his 1993 album of the same name, which has the classic line “Oh, it breaks my heart to see those stars, Smashing a perfectly good guitar.”  The original Perfectly Good Guitar was loud and noisy, written to show his teenage son that he could still rock out, so hearing it acoustic was a jarring but effective contrast.  The rest of the songs spanned his career from the late 1980’s to the present, including a new song, Cry to Me, off his forthcoming album, The Eclipse Sessions, coming out this fall.

After a short intermission, Hiatt returned with the GonersDavid Ranson on bass and vocals, Kenneth Blevins on drums and vocals, and Sonny Landreth on electric and slide guitars and vocals.  Landreth of course is an acclaimed guitarist in his own right, and so the phrase on the outside concert billboard that had said “Featuring Sonny Landreth” was no lie – his guitar work on these songs  was fantastic, bringing them to life as if we were attending a live recording session of Slow Turning.  I’ve heard many of these songs live before, but hearing them with Landreth (and Ranson and Blevins) playing took them to a different level.

As is usual for these types of album anniversary concerts, Hiatt and the Goners played the album straight through in order, with Hiatt telling some funny stories and anecdotes to introduce them. (As an aside, I had to laugh a few times when at several points someone in the audience would yell out a request for some other song from a different album – do you not understand the concept of this type of concert??  At one point even Hiatt himself had to say “You know on any other night we would play that song, but tonight we decided to play this album all the way through.”

As the band played the opening notes of Drive South, the first song on the album, it was thrilling to know that we were about to hear this classic collection of songs straight through live – songs which have been part of the soundtrack of my adult life.  Every song was a highlight, of course, but I thought the band really kicked into gear on the 3rd song in, Tennessee Plates, a great example of Hiatt’s ability to tell a funny engaging story in a song with a twist at the end that brings it all together.  Here’s some video of that song [disclaimer – all these videos are not from this concert but others on this tour; I decided not to video for several reasons – the theater setting made it hard to do without being disruptive to those around me, and the drunk jerk next to me was providing all the disruption needed as he was videoing every song and then loudly commenting on it – but that’s perhaps a topic for another post.)

Here’s Tennnessee Plates from the Boulder, Co stop (courtesy of YouTuber Bob Terwilliger):

As I mentioned, what made the concert really special was the slide guitar work of Sonny Landreth.  He was really the (not so) secret weapon that made the concert so special.  While I love all the songs on the album, some I love more than others.  But Landreth’s playing made some of the other songs my new favorites.  Here’s Ride Along from the Raleigh NC stop (courtesy YouTuber Ralph Berg; song starts at about 1:30 after band intros):

The highpoint of the concert (and the album) for me was of course Slow Turning, which has the classic line “Well I’m in the car, yeah I got the radio down, and I’m a’yelling at the kids in the back cause they’re banding like a’ Charlie Watts.” The song has spoken to me in different ways over the years, but its central message that life is a journey, a “slow turnin’ from the inside out” to love, satisfaction, and meaning in life, “not fade away, not fade away” has been something I’ve returned to time and time again through both the good and bad of life. Here’s some video from the Augusta GA show (courtesy YouTuber Greg Perry)

The last song I’d like to highlight is Is Anybody There?, a gospel influenced song that Hiatt performed on organ.  He told a wonderful story about tuning into a Nashville station on Sunday nights when he was a kid to hear R&B and gospel songs that really influenced him, and he wrote this song with that in mind.  Its message of searching and striving to be better, both in life and in love, has always been profound to me.  Here’s some video from the tour stop in Amsterdam, Netherlands courtesy of YouTuber Jos Westenberg:

After completing the album song sequence with Feels Like Rain, Hiatt and the Goners came back for the encore.  To highlight and give due to what Landreth added to these songs (and also perhaps to fulfill a contract arrangement?) the first song was Congo Square, a Landreth song that really allowed him to showcase his skills.  Hiatt then played Have a Little Faith in Me solo at the organ (another favorite moment, as it was my wife and I’s wedding song), and the night concluded with the rollicking classic Memphis in the Meantime off Bring the Family, the acclaimed album that immediately preceded Slow Turning.

The Slow Turning 30th Anniversary tour has only 5 shows left with stops in NY and the Midwest.  Hiatt will then be back in October touring solo behind his forthcoming record The Eclipse Sessions.  Either with the Goners or solo, if you get the chance I would highly recommend trying to catch one of the best songwriters around!

Setlist

Perfectly Good Guitar (solo acoustic)
Real Fine Love (solo acoustic)
Master of Disaster (solo acoustic)
Cry to Me (solo acoustic)
Aces Up Your Sleeve (solo acoustic)
Crossing Muddy Waters (solo acoustic)
Cry Love (solo acoustic)Drive South (with the Goners)
Trudy and Dave (with the Goners)
Tennessee Plates (with the Goners)
Icy Blue Heart (with the Goners)
Sometime Other Than Now (with the Goners)
Georgia Rae (with the Goners)
Ride Along (with the Goners)
Slow Turning (with the Goners)
It’ll Come to You (with the Goners)
Is Anybody There? (with the Goners)
Paper Thin (with the Goners)
Feels Like Rain (with the Goners)

Congo Square (Sonny Landreth)
Have A Little Faith In Me (solo at piano)
Memphis in Meantime (with the Goners)

 

Frank Turner – Be More Kind

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Frank Turner is an English singer whose songs have been described as folk punk.  A former member of the punk band Million Dead, his songs as a solo artist are folk songs with a punk asthetic – fast paced, aggressive, fist pumping and easy to sing loud to.  What we really love about his songs though is the message inherent in his lyrics: to be true to yourself, experience life to the fullest, and be authentic.  Very inspirational and life affirming at any age, whether your adult life is just starting or you’re facing midlife and questioning what comes next.

Turner has never shied away from the political, but it hasn’t been as much of a focus as earlier in his career.

Early in his solo career he wrote  songs bursting with youthful indignation and righteous anger. They were sometimes political, sometimes blasphemous and occasionally profane.

The last two albums, 2013‘s Tape Deck Heart and 2015‘s Positive Songs for Negative People found Frank focusing more inwardly; somewhat pessimistically, on TDH and then with a somewhat  sunnier outlook on Positive Songs. Those albums chronicle a personal emotional journey from a darker emotional place to new promising relationships. 

2018 has Frank turning his gaze back outward to the rest of the world.

His latest album, Be More Kind returns to  earlier themes.  The election of Donald Trump in the US, and Brexit in his home UK, have made him contemplate the meaning of these events in our time, and how to continue to be authentic when the world is “slipping over the brink,” as he states in the punk tinged ‘1933‘, an allusion to the years before WWII and the start of the rise of Hitler in Germany.  The song is a direct slap in the listener’s face to wake up and pay attention to what’s going on, a pretty terrifying take on the current state of world affairs.

While 1933 (along with the one off song ‘Sand in the Gears‘ that he premiered right after Trump’s election in Jan. 2017) are directly confrontational, Turner’s larger question on his current album is how to move forward to a better place given the situation we find ourselves in.  His answer, as you may have guessed by now, is answered in the title track ‘Be More Kind‘.  Starting quietly with just acoustic guitar, the song slowly builds to a full  yet restrained melody as Turner implores us to show more kindness towards each other, try to better understand each other and find common ground, regardless of our political views or beliefs.

We’ve stopped talking to each other
And there’s something wrong with that
So before you go out searching
Don’t decide what you will find
Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind

 

In other songs, Turner explores this theme of connection by focusing on finding individual connection with another within a futuristic nightmare landscape where the world is already over the brink (‘20th Century Survival Blues‘)  or when faced with a literal and figurative ‘Blackout‘:

Meet me in the middle
Meet me in the middle
Bring a burning candle with you
Meet me in the middle
Meet me in the middle
I will be there waiting for you

Musically, this is Turner’s most expansive album to date, incorporating not just his trademark punk folk as well as rock style, but also the most pop influenced songs of his career.  While ‘There She Is‘ is a lovely slice of acoustic pop balladry, ‘Little Changes‘ uses an upbeat and bouncy melody to impart the message that “the big things stay the same until we make Little changes” – change, whether in your personal relationships or in society as a whole, cannot happen all at once but needs to start one step at a time, always moving forward.

In our mind, the highlight of the album and the song that brings it all together is ‘Make America Great Again‘, where Turner brilliantly turns the Trump slogan on its head, using the conceit of an Englishman using the US/England “special relationship” to give advice to his country’s former colony.  After suggesting in the chorus that we make America great again by “By making racists ashamed again, Let’s make compassion in fashion again” Turner ends the song by saying:

Let’s be a friend to our oldest friends
And call them out when they’re faltering
Remind them of their best selves and then
We’ll make America great again

Be More Kind provides a compelling reminder for finding our best selves again, for showing kindness, love and tolerance of others, as the only way to make it through these challenging times.

 

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, 7/14/18

 

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Our family (like many) loves the Harry Potter books and movies.  I have read the books three times (once myself, and once each with each of my kids).  I have always been a bit disappointed with the movies as I feel that they don’t always do justice to the richness of the novels – of course they can’t given the inherent limits of time and format of a movie.

But when we heard that the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO) was going to be playing the soundtrack to the 4th movie, HP and the Goblet of Fire, live as the movie played, we thought it would be a fun way to see the movie.

My sense is that many professional orchestras have been doing these types of concerts as a way of connecting with younger generation of listeners.  Of course the counter point, as expressed by my son’s music teacher (herself a professional bass player) is that it just shows that audiences these days can’t even listen to an orchestra without some visual stimulation.  Be that as it may….

Goblet of Fire is one of my favorites of the movie series, and I was excited to see how it would be with a live symphony accompaniment.  In a word it was amazing!

After the traditional orchestra tune-up, the orchestra conductor Jeffrey Schindler came out and enthusiastically welcomed the audience, encouraging everyone to enjoy the movie by clapping, cheering and laughing to their favorite parts.  He then polled us on our Hogwarts House allegiances (we have always been Gryffindor, although I was surprised how many Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws there were in audience – even Slytherin got a good response).  As the house lights went down, the stage was black except for small lights on the orchestra member’s music stands so they could see their music, and a single spotlight on the conductor.  At first I thought this would be distracting in watching the movie on the large screen above the orchestra, but it left my awareness after the movie started.  The other potential distraction was that the film was close captioned, but again this ended up not being a big deal and was actually essential at several points where the orchestra music made it hard to hear the dialogue. (Although it did make it clear how simple and brief the movie dialogue is).  Given that the movie was close to 2:40, there was a 15 minute intermission about 1:30 into the movie.

Where having a live orchestra playing live to the movie worked best was during the many dramatic or suspenseful scenes – the Quidditch World Cup, the naming of the House Champions by the Goblet, the dragon task, the underwater lake task, the Yule Ball, and especially the final task and scene with Voldemort [I am assuming readers have seen the movies – if not, sorry…].  All of these scenes were enhanced, made more dramatic or suspenseful by both the volume of the sound and the brightness and clarity of the themes being played.   Call me crazy, but Emma Watson looked all the more stunning coming down the stairs at the Yule Ball with the orchestra accompaniment.  Ditto the death of Cedric Diggory, which was all the sadder and more tragic.

As I mentioned earlier, I have sometimes been disappointed with the movie versions of the Harry Potter books, in part because I find myself always comparing them to the books and thinking of all the plotlines being left out or changed.  But I have to say that seeing Goblet of Fire with the BSO let me enjoy the movie on its own merits and as its own version of the story.  There were many times when I simply forgot that the orchestra was there and that the music was just bigger and bolder than normal.

Having a live symphony orchestra playing while watching is a one of a kind experience that I would definitely recommend everyone experience at least once (we are already planning for future Harry Potter concerts as well as Star Wars)!

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