New York Music Daily

Global Music With a New York Edge

Category: soul music

Rhiannon Giddens Winds Up a Transcendent Residency at Symphony Space

Late during her sold-out show at Symphony Space this past evening, Rhiannon Giddens revealed that she and the band had arrived at eleven in the morning and over the course of the next eight hours or so, basically pulled a set together from scratch. For the past couple of weeks, Giddens has been given a residency here: her first show as a bandleader this past Wednesday was frequently transcendent, a salute to important, politically fearless black women musicians from decades past. While tonight’s coda was just as richly informed by history, there was more of a focus on current-day artists, including the vastly talented cast which Giddens had assembled.

That she obviously had no fear of being upstaged by the charisma and powerful pipes of Toshi Reagon speaks to Giddens’ own presence. And although Reagon brought the house down with a couple of singalongs, she also seemed perfectly content to chill in her chair, stage left, and play subtle rhythm guitar during bluesy broadsides by Giddens or powerful multi-instrumentalist singer Amythyst Kiah.

Who is a force of nature and then some. What a discovery. With her darkly looming alto voice and nimble chops on both banjo and acoustic guitar, she was impossible to turn away from. Her most unforgettable moment of the night was a new song, Black Like That, a savagely insightful commentary on racism both from outside and within African-American circles. Its withering call-and-response – for example, “Can’t pass the paper bag test, ‘cause I’m black like that” – may be iconic someday. Another standout number – from a forthcoming Giddens-helmed album, Songs of Our Native Daughters, featuring several other black women banjo players – turned a rare, redemptive focus on the character of Polly Ann in the blues song John Henry. Inspired by a Mississippi hill country version of the song, this version has Polly Ann knowingly explaining that if we can just slow down that steam drill, we can all be free…and nobody, John Henry included, has to die.

Giddens’ most riveting turn in the spotlight was when she lead a rich tapestry of voices – which also included her gospel-singing sister Lalenja Harrington and Birds of Chicago’s Allison Russell – through a harrowing a-cappella original with a 19th century chain gang flavor. This one was based on an all-too-familiar narrative, a slave woman repeatedly raped and tortured and finally getting revenge. But when the men find the overseer’s bloody corpse, they come for mama with the rope ,and she ends up in the tree – the final chorus is “And she won’t come down.” Chills. 

Russell distinguished herself most on clarinet, with a full, envelopingly moody tone. Harrington delivered spoken-word interludes that ranged from political and spiritually-inspired, to a surreal dream sequence. The songs from the forthcoming Giddens album spanned folk-pop, to more austere and rustic sounds infused with rich accordion, piano, organ and electric piano from Francesco Turrisi, over a dynamic pulse from bassist Jason Cyper and drummer Attis Clopton. For the encore, they romped through a mighty take of the Staples Singers’ Freedom Highway, the title track to Giddens’ most recent album.

This residency was a real coup for Symphony Space. Booking here hasn’t been this good since talent buyer Laura Kaminsky left a few years ago. This fall has featured many artists who’ve never played the Upper West Side before, including some of the creme de la creme from the Barbes scene. One especially auspicious upcoming show is this Nov 29 at 7:30 PM with one of those groups, multi-instrumentalist Dennis Lichtman and playfully torchy singer/tapdancer Tamar Korn’s popular western swing band Brain Cloud. You can get in for $20 if you’re thirty or under, and there are all kinds of drink specials at the bar all night.

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An Auspicious, Powerfully Relevant Rhiannon Giddens Residency at Symphony Space

The only thing anyone could have wanted more of at Rhiannon Giddens’ show this past evening at Symphony Space was…Rhiannon Giddens. As a bandleader, the former Carolina Chocolate Drop and Americana roots music maven is extremely generous, and gave her bandmates plenty of time in the spotlight. The evening’s theme was a salute to influential, paradigm-shifting African-American women. The performance turned out to not only be the expected, characteristically insightful, potently relevant guided tour of a far too neglected part of American history, but also a fascinating look at how Giddens works up new material.

The venue has given her a residency this month where she’s not only playing but also booking the space. This was the first of her own shows, backed by a supple, understated rhythm section of Jason Cypher on bass and Attis Clopton on drums. Pianist Francesco Turrisi supplied rapturously glittering piano that spanned from deep blues to neoromantic lustre to postbop jazz power. Playing with a mute, trumpeter Alphonso Horne spun wistfully soaring, ambered lines. 

To her left, Giddens’ sister Lalenja Harrington took the role of narrator for the night, channeling Fannie Lou Hamer’s defiance and fearlessness with excerpts from a selection of prime Civil Right-era speeches. In a time where a new Jim Crow era grows closer and closer in the mirror, those words have never been more relevant.

In keeping with that relevance, Giddens sang Nina Simone’s Old Jim Crow. It was the centerpiece in a brief set of material by the iconic chanteuse. They didn’t do Mississippi Goddamn, but they did play Four Women, Harrington giving somber, gospel-tinged validation to its litany of resilient if embattled black American archetypes.

With her cutting alto, Giddens cut loose with her most raw, plaintive vocal flights of the night in a rousing medley of Sister Rosetta Tharpe numbers, first romping Down That Lonesome Road. Then Giddens and the band sent out a shout to current-day resistance with Up Above My Head, a theme that in the age of Metoo is felt as strongly in the air as it was in 1956.

Turrisi made the most of his chance to build stormy, McCoy Tyner-esque solos during a work-in-progress by Horne. The trumpeter’s grandfather, a South African immigrant, took a prominent role in the organization founded by legendary Harlem Renaissance activist and preacher Mother Kofi, whose history Horne is exploring. Harrington narrated the tale of how the charismatic Ghanian-born firebrand was discovered and then disowned by Marcus Garvey, how she set out on her own – and was assassinated in 1928. Turrisi’s clenched-teeth intensity over a rolling-thunder West African groove was one of the highlights of the night. From there, a faux-soukous interlude went on to the point where one audience member equated it to a Disney cruise ship theme. Then again, that’s the milieu Horne comes from.

There was also a tapdancer who seemed to be a last-minute addition to the bill, possibly working without a setlist. She began by kicking up a storm during the stern, richly ambered minor-key vamp that eventually segued into Giddens’ austere take of Summertime. At that point, the barrage of kicks and clicks began to drown out the rest of the band. It was like an Eddie Van Halen heavy metal guitar solo during the intro to Mood Indigo – or laughter at a funeral. And by the time the band hit that spirited Sister Rosetta Tharpe segment, where those volleys of beats would have been the icing on the cake, the dancer was out of gas.

Giddens’ set with more of her talented circle this Saturday night is sold out, but Turrisi is leading his own group at Symphony Space tomorrow night, Nov 15 at 7:30 PM and there are still tickets available. Those thirty and under can get in for $20.

Single of the Day 11/9/18 – A Scathing Soul Smash

Singer/multi-instrumentalist Alice Lee has been one of the brightest lights to emerge from the New York scene in recent years, a jazz singer at heart with deep soul roots but also an edgy experimental side. Much of her work could be the missing link between Nina Simone and Fiona Apple. This latest single, Me Too, (via youtube) nails a moment, and a movement: it could be the best song of the year.

Say it had it coming and I will own your game
Bury me standing and you will know my name

Shattering Acoustic Songs and Defiant Rock Anthems Side By Side on the Lower East

“The most depressing music ever!” That’s how one of the members of high-voltage rockers Petey & the True Mongrel Hearts introduced his bandmate, singer Erica Smith at the Treehouse at 2A a couple of weekends ago. But much as Smith’s shattering, nuanced voice and painterly lyrics deal almost exclusively with dark topics, her songs actually aren’t depressing at all. She’s all about transcendence. Which is what dark music is all about, right? If everything was hopeless, why bother? The real torment is the lure of something better, and Smith channels that hope against hope better than just about anyone alive.

Her career as one of the leading lights of a still-vital Lower East Side Americana scene in the late zeros took a couple of hits, first with the loss of her drummer, the late, great Dave Campbell, then the demands of job and motherhood. Since then, she hasn’t exactly been inactive, but her gigs have been more sporadic: we can’t take her for granted anymore. Playing solo acoustic, she was all the more unselfconsciously intense for the sparseness and directness of the songs.

As usual, her imagery was loaded. Glances exchanged, unspoken, almost buckled under the weight of a pivotal twist of fate. A surreal, dissociative stare up into bright lights could have been a prelude to a grisly interrogation…or just a particularly anxious moment as seen from a hospital bed. That reference came early during the night’s best song, Veterans of Foreign Wars, a brooding waltz ending with a scenario that could have been either an Eric Garner parable, one with broader, antiwar implications, or both. Otherwise, she strummed and nimbly fingerpicked her way through styles from austere front-porch folk to vintage soul to minimalist rock.

But Smith is hardly all about gloom and doom: she has a fun side. The solo set made a stark contrast with her turn out in front of the band, through a smoldering take of group leader/guitarist Pete Cenedella’s mighty, steamy oldschool soul ballad, Hand to Lend, which quickly became a launching pad for belting and torchy melismatics to rival Aretha. Nobody sings a soul anthem like Smith: we may have lost Sharon Jones, but we still have this elusive performer.

Cenedella got his start fronting the highly regarded American Ambulance, whose ferocious populism and interweave of Stonesy rock with what was then called alt-country won them a national following. But musically speaking, this latest group’s musicianship rivals any outfit he’s been involved with.

Drummer David Anthony’s matter-of-factly swinging four-on-the-floor groove and bassist Ed Iglewski’s trebly, melodic lines underpinned lead guitarist Rich Feridun’s incisively terse fills and Charly CP Roth’s rivers of organ. Alongside Cenedella, the harmony vocal trio of Smith, Lisa Zwier and Rembert Block spun elements of Motown, Tina Turner soul and Balkan gothic into an uneasily silken sheen.

The songs in the group’s first set (this blog went AWOL for the second one) rock just as hard as Cenedella’s most electric earlier material, and if anything, are more anthemic than ever. The addition of the organ along with a frequent 60s soul influence often brought to mind peak-era Springsteen at his most ornate: Gaslight Anthem, eat your heart out.

The catchiest and most danceable number was a slinky go-go-strut, The Getaround. The most straightforwardly poignant, in a mix of songs with persistent themes of heartbreak and crawling from the wreckage afterward, was the imagistic Skies Can’t Decide. Setting the stage with the catchy, defiant Down Harder Roads and Turning of the Wheel worked out well, considering the fireworks, both loud and quiet, which followed.

Petey & the True Mongrel Hearts are currently in the midst of recording a lavish double album, so they ought to be playing out a lot more. And Smith is at Otto’s on Nov 1 at 7 PM with Beatlesque soul band Nikki & the Human Element

More Brown Acid For Halloween Month

Halloween month this year is turning out to be a long, strange trip around here. In celebration of the creepiness coming up at the end of the month, there’s a sixth compilation in the Brown Acid series of obscure proto-metal and heavy psych treasures, most of them from the 60s and early 70s.

Most of the dozens of bands anthologized in the series never made more than a few singles at best. Many made only one. Some of those 45’s sell for thousands of dollars on the collectors market, but the Brown Acid folks have made them available for people who don’t have hedge funds or trust funds. And they actually pay royalties to the surviving artists. Imagine – buy the vinyl and you’re actually helping support some old weedhead.

The most recent vinyl release Brown Acid: The Sixth Trip – streaming at Bandcamp – is the most R&B, psychedelic soul and funk-influenced volume to date. It kicks off with No Parking, by San Franciso band Gold, which welds frantically scampering Blues Magoos garage rock to amped-up R&B. Like a lot of these singles, it’s mixed in mono, an effect which actually helps hold the convulsive outro together.

Inferno, by Canadian group Heat Exchange, comes across as a more nimble version of Cream, with tasty twin leads from guitar and organ and a shockingly good, biting alto sax solo before the wah-wah kicks in. Lovin’ You, by Travis (not the late 90s British arena-rock band) is a slinky,psychedelic soul groove that could almost pass for very early Hendrix. Enoch Smoky’s It’s Cruel distinguishes itself with one of the tastiest, fattest basslines in the entire series: don’t let the fact that it’s basically a supercharged Brill Building pop tune scare you off.

Backwood Memory’s Give Me Time is a vintage psychedelic soul nugget: it’s too bad the band never connected with a record label that could buy some airplay. One of the funnier titles in the collection, Luvin, Huggin & More, by Flight, sounds like a prototype for Bachman-Turner Overdrive recorded on somebody’s home stereo, guitars pinned in the red. Which comes as no surprise – six years after “releasing” this in 1974, bandleader Victor Blecman had a left-field new wave hit with Space Invaders.

Midnight Horsemen, by Truth & Janey, has a loping, funky beat and a doublespeed bridge that almost falls apart: if REO Speedwagon had started out in the 60s, they might have sounded something like this. My Life, by West Minst’r, is the most generic riff-rock track here, although the befuddled lyrics are really funny.

Purgatory’s Polar Expedition is a hippie blues bounce that could be Brownsville Station covering the Doors. Boston hippie Johnny Barnes’ Steele Rail Blues could be early Thin Lizzy. before the label censors edited out the weed references: it’s the one track here that could have been edited down to two minutes fifty seconds without sacrificing anything. The album winds up on a high point with Chicago rockers Zendik’s wickedly catchy, 13th Floor Elevators-tinged There No Peace. The biting diminished chords and “god is dead” mantra make you wish there was more material from this talented, insightful crew.

Devil’s horns raised to the skies for the tireless playlisters here who’ve dedicated literally thousands of hours to giving this music the audience it’s deserved for decades but never reached until recently.

What Would Halloween Month Be Without Brown Acid?

What’s more Halloweenish than LSD? If you’re lucky, you associate it with laughing fits and the ability to consume ridiculous amounts of alcohol without feeling it. But anyone who’s experienced knows the flipside, which can be the distilled essence of macabre. Very few of the songs in the Brown Acid compilations actually reference the drug, pro or con. Do these playlists, whose raison d’etre is to exhume buried treasures from the 60s and 70s at the magic moment when psychedelia got really heavy and started to morph into metal,  actually make a good soundtrack for tripping? Depends on your taste – or maybe your condition.

There are now six Brown acid collections available for stoners and fans of what was called hard rock back in the 60s and 70s. Each compilation is very eclectic: there’s doom metal, stoner boogie, a surprising amount of psychedelic soul, and heavy psych. The fifth one, which is streaming at Bandcamp and available on vinyl, turns out to be more garage and Britrock-influenced.

Track one is No Reason, by Captain Foam, a catchy piece of tumbling Dave Clark Five Britpop turbocharged with fuzzy guitars with the reverb turned all the way up, in the same vein as Spooky Tooth or the Move at their heaviest. The spacy instrumental bridge leaves you wanting several minutes more.

George Brigman’s Blowin’ Smoke is a Hendrix knockoff without the Hendrix – they could have left this one in its dusty sleeve. But Nothing in the Sun, a 1968 rarity by Milwaukee rockers Finch, is a post-Velvets gem: it’s more proto-glam than proto-metal, cheap amps driven to deliver every ounce of buzz and feedback they can as the lead guitar goes up the scale.

The smoky organ over the trebly, jagged heartbeat bassline in Cybernaut’s instrumental Clockwork sounds like Uriah Heep with a Ph.D. – the rhythmic changes are a neat psychedelic touch. The album’s A-side ends with Fargo’s Abbadon, its weirdo religious imagery and twisted early Moody Blues-meet-the-MC5 vibe.

Side 2 opens with Mammoth, by Mammoth (yup), adding a wild, woolly edge to what would otherwise be a mostly one-chord, early Kinks-ish R&B vamp. Icky Blicky, by Flasher opens with the turn of a key in the ignition and then hits a psychedelic soul pulse: Rare Earth comes to mind in this surreal tale about a guy so high he apparently can’t move his car. Fireball, by obscure Canadian band Lance, is a grittier take on what Bowie was doing on Aladdin Sane, while Zebra’s cover of Helter Skelter goes in a psychedelic soul direction and is a little slower than the original (how did the compilers afford what it must have cost to license this?!?!)

The album’s final cut is Lick It, by Thor – keep in mind that this was made long before Spinal Tap, and before gangsta rap made coyly smutty rock innuendos seem like a quaint artifact. Cowbell and fuzztones rule here, a growling lead track half-buried in the mix. The song isn’t quite as funny as Be On My Side, by Fragile & the Eggs, but it’s close. Further proof that the major label history of rock music only tells a tiny fraction of the story.

In Memoriam: Aretha Franklin

Aretha Franklin, the Queen of Soul, died yesterday after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. She was 76.

Of all the soul singers to emerge in the 1960s, Franklin was the most electrifying. She could leap from a murmur or the most delicate melisma to a gale-force wail in a split second. She had timing and sophistication to rival any jazz singer, and breathtaking power across a formidable vocal range. A distinctive pianist who played on most of her albums as well as in concert, she incisively and economically blended blues, gospel and jazz.

The daughter of famed Detroit minister Rev. C.L. Franklin, she had a turbulent early life. Her mother died young. A teenage gospel prodigy, Franklin had two children while still in her teens. Turning to secular music, she found adulation from the Ertegun brothers at Atlantic Records and with their promotion behind her, penned and sang some of the 1960s’ most iconic hit records.

Franklin was a down-to-earth Midwesterner more interested in her craft than celebrity. A solidly built, regal presence onstage, she never let anyone encourage her to adopt a waif look. Loyal to a fault, she kept her hometown band of Detroit musicians together long after the point where everyone in the world wanted to play with her.

She was quick to call bullshit on faulty logic. Her brand of pragmatic feminism had more to do with tearing down obstacles in a male-dominated milieu than with any doctrine or theory. She loved spicy food, to the point of keeping a bottle of Lawry’s Seasoned Salt in her purse.

As soul music grew more corporatized, Franklin’s recordings and appearances grew further and further apart. Always an individualist, she didn’t embrace the disco era until it was almost over, and even then, it was a tentative embrace.

Tens of thousands of singers around the world have covered her songs, but none have been able to replicate her fierce command or fearsome vocal technique. Her hit singles, including but hardly limited to Respect, You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman and Chain of Fools have become anthems for generations of women. 

In the summer of 2011, barely two weeks before this blog first went live, its future owner and a friend went out on the Coney Island boardwalk with a pair of binoculars to see Franklin play one of the last outdoor concerts in the space formerly known as Steeplechase Park (which had been bulldozed by Fred Trump in the 1980s). Backed by a full orchestra, Franklin was dealing with a broken foot and as a result played with understandable restraint, choosing her spots both vocally and at the piano.

Late one night a couple of weeks ago, this blog’s owner’s girlfriend chose the perfect soundtrack for winding down after a sweltering evening that had also begun at Coney Island. That playlist was a Franklin concert recording from the 1980s. Of all the spine-tingling devices she employed, the most memorable one was when she stunned both the orchestra and the audience by flying into a verse a split second before it was time, a thrill she just couldn’t wait to deliver. She is greatly missed.

State-of-the-Art Americana Jamband Rock to Close Out This Year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival

Margo Price dropped a bombshell at Lincoln Center a couple nights ago. Taking her only turn of the evening at the piano for the Lennonesque ballad All American Made, she recalled how by 1987, the world had discovered that “Reagan was selling weapons to the leaders of Iran.” To any student of American history, the October Surprise and the Iran-Contra affair are old news. But for a self-described Midwest farmer’s daughter to mention the ugly truth about that President – who despite every shred of evidence remains a hero throughout parts of that world – it was a radical move.

As the song goes, it wasn’t the first time something like that has happened, and it won’t be the last. And the current blitzkrieg against immigrants makes her want to run for the border. That was Price’s only unvarnished political song in a set of high quality, deep-fried southern jamband rock. Unsurprisingly, it was also the number that drew the loudest roars of appreciation from a crowd who’d braved the threat of a torrential downpour to come out to see her.

Price’s music seems to be contrived to appeal to every single potential audience member on the summer festival circuit. As a fierce frontwoman with a big wail that with a few nuanced tweaks works equally well in classic honkytonk, 60s soul and bluesy rock, Price delivers for the ladies. The six hairy dudes working up a sweat behind her seem like they’d be just as much at home in many other styles beyond choogilng four-on-the-floor rock. The best and most epic of the big psychedelic numbers, Cocaine Cowboy, featured long interludes for Jamie Davis’ stinging electric blues guitar, Luke Schneider’s searing, noisy pedal steel  and the night’s most nebulous break, where keyboardist Micah Hulscher abandoned his judicious Rhodes chords for swirls and dips of string synth straight out of the early Genesis playbook – to the point where band members were exchanging “where the hell are we” grins with each other.

Price went behind a second drumkit for that one. She knows what she’s doing back there, and she flurried up a storm when she played acoustic guitar – which she did throughout the majority of a long set. She stayed behind that kit for the song after that, a wryly undulating take of the Grateful Dead’s Casey Jones, which the band ended with an irresistibly amusing stampede out. It never hurts to know your subject matter.

The rest of the show ranged from careening electric honkytonk numbers like Paper Cowboy and Put a Hurting on the Bottle – with spot-on detours into George Jones and Willie Nelson classics – along with a defiant,snarlingly amped oldschool C&W breakup ballad. The covers were a mixed bag: the band found soul-infused redemption for Tom Petty but could not do the same for Melanie Safka or Dolly Parton’s disco era. Throughout the night, individual band members kept solos short and sweet, often trading off, up to mighty peaks or descents toward suspense. Most of the crowd who’d stuck around gathered down at the front; at the end of the show, Price rewarded them by flinging roses from a big bouquet into the crowd, one by one.

Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real were a hard act to follow. It’s hardly an overstatement to rank Nelson alongside fellow Texas blues greats like Stevie Ray Vaughn and Freddie King. Yet Nelson kept his guitar solos much more concise than either of those two hotheads – maybe because he’d learned that trick playing with another great Texas guitarslinger, his dad Willie. This band is excellent: bassist Corey McCormick was a spring-loaded presence throughout the set and made his one long solo count, hard. Drummer Anthony LoGerfo swung like crazy alongside conguero Tato Melgar, and organist/pianist Jesse Siebenberg doubled on second guitar and lapsteel as well.

They opened with the spaciest number of the night, a multi-part epic about aliens that veered from post Neil Young electric intensity to echoes of Pink Floyd during a long, starry interlude. From there they blended oldschool soul, Texas shuffles and stark red dirt folk with a surreal humor that brought to mind Nelson’s famous dad as much as the vocals did. Yet Lukas Nelson’s voice is a lot bigger, even if he has that signature twang.

They brought the lights down for a pensive, solo acoustic take of Just Outside of Austin?and then what seemed like a rewrite of Gentle on My Mind – the younger Nelson clearly has just as much of a thing for classic Nashville songwriting as his dad. After a slight return to Led Zep-influenced riff-rock, Nelson encored with a brand-new acoustic number where he resolved to “turn off the news and build a garden.” Clearly, Price wasn’t the only populist on this bill.

Lincoln Center Out of Doors may be done for 2018, but there’s the annual Brooklyn Americana Festival, taking place all over Dumbo Sept 20-23, to look forward to.

Mavis Staples Throws a Party For Our Right to Fight at Lincoln Center

By the time Mavis Staples had launched into her second catchy, singalong soul groove at Lincoln Center Out of Doors last night, she was already referencing economic deprivation and political exploitation. At least half of the crowd were on their feet, dancing and swaying. Her voice has weathered over the years, but her message and presence have not. The heir to a seven-decade, politically fearless soul music legacy is as relevant today as she was in 1962, when she marched throughout the South with the family patriarch, Pops Staples, and put her life on the line.

One hand, she’s a friendly, down-to-earth Chicagoan. On the other, she carries herself with the gravitas but also the optimism of someone who won a lot of battles back in the day and remains an inspiration to this generation’s freedom fighters. “We live in troubled times,” she mused soberly. But then she grinned. “I’m thinking about going down to Washington,” she announced, to wild applause. “But I’m not going alone. I’m not stupid. I’m bringng my posse!”

“But they’d just throw me out. ‘You’re not from here, you’re from Chicago, go home.’” No doubt that was the reaction of the rednecks who jailed her alongside Martin Luther King, and her dad, who wrote the gospel call-and-response of Freedom Highway for those marchers. Staples sang that one midway through the set, backed by a tight, terse five-piece band with guitar, bass, drums and two passionate, purposeful harmony singers.

They opened with Are You Ready and its “come go with me” mantra, which came across as more of a challenge to join forces against oppression than simply with the rest of the choir. She evoked a similar call-and-response a couple of songs later: “Don’t rock the boat – who told you that?” The line that drew the most thunderous roar from the crowd was when the gentleman on harmony vocals sang, “Take the sheet off your face, boy, it’s a new day now.”

The rest of the set ranged from comfortable 1960s-style two-chord soul/gospel jams, to more energetic funk and some nifty, shifting tempos in a couple of tunes. Along the way, Staples’ alluded to more contemporary issues including but not limited to the blitzkrieg of gentrification and the war on immigrants. At the end of the set, they finally vamped their way through a joyous singalong of the Staples Singers’ 1971 hit I’ll Take You There.

Throughout the show, the band were tight and purposeful, with a couple of surprisingly volcanic, noisy guitar solos from Telecaster player Rick Holstrom, a little snap and pop from Jeff Turmes’ bass toward the end and some acerbic cameos from both harmony vocalists.

Joe Henry opened. He’s a very serious guy, choosing his words carefully as he addressed the crowd. “Every song I write is part Amazing Grace and part Let’s Get It On,” he explained. That description held up throughout his roughly forty-five minutes onstage: he’s the missing link between Leonard Cohen and Wilco. Another reference point was Bob Dylan’s It’s All Over Now Baby Blue, which kept popping up tunewise throughout the show. Playing acoustic guitar, using both standard and open tunings, he led his six-piece band through a breezy set of slow-to-midtempo parlor Americana ballads. It would have been a treat to be able to hear the great Cindy Cashdollar’s diverse lapsteel textures, which more often than not were drowned out by Levon Henry’s sax. More often than not it takes somebody the caliber of Bob Wills to get horns and country-influenced songwriting to work together. 

Lincoln Center Out of Doors winds up tonight, Aug 12 at 7 PM with another collaboration with the Americana Music Association, featuring sets by guitarslinger Lukas Nelson & Promise of the Real and country-soul chanteuse Margo Price.

Sublime, Impassioned Oldschool Soul from the War and Treaty

What crazy person would walk out during the best song of the War and Treaty’s ecstatic, joyous, redemptive set in front of a packed house at the Rockwood Tuesday night?

Keep going and you’ll find out. It’s ugly. And that’s too bad, because the music was sublime.

Pianist Michael Trotter and his singer wife Tanya front this oldschool soul unit. Imagine Ike & Tina Turner without the abuse (hard to do, but just try). Built like a linebacker, Michael sings with a gritty, impassioned delivery, so forcefully that his voice creates overtones that crackle through the mix…until he goes way, way up with a literally breathtaking falsetto. Tanya is a powerful singer in her own right: you can tell that she’s immersed herself in Aretha Franklin and other icons from the 60s but doesn’t rip them off. Throughout the set, the two traded lines, and verses, and harmonized, and backed each other up with a near-telepathic chemistry. They could have gone on for twice as long as their roughly fifty minutes onstage and the crowd still would have wanted more.

Trotter may have a hurricane for a voice, but he doesn’t overuse it. Likewise, he played with restraint, clearly a good influence on the rest of the band. The guitarist got only two chances to cut loose with solos, and went for jagged grit rather than metal excess. Likewise, the organist stuck to vast, gospel-influenced chords and washes of sound over a tight, purposeful rhythm section who earned comparisons to the Dap-Kings. The War and Treaty are a time warp straight from 1969. It’s like the hippie excesses of the 70s and the cheesiness afterward never happened.

Even the closest thing in the set to a straight-up rock song, The Healing Tide – the title track from the band’s forthcoming album – echoed the Beatles rather than anything more recent. The rest of the material would start slowly and slowly gather momentum, up to big, stomping choruses that would often suddenly recede again, or stop cold. This kept the audience on their toes – and they loved it.

There’s a bittersweet backstory here. As a soldier in Iraq during the Bush/Cheney war, Michael Trotter wrote his first song on Sadaam Hussein’s piano…or one of them. Trotter was clearly scarred by his wartime experience. In a lengthy address to the audience before the night’s final number, he articulated a fierce commitment to working to bring people together regardless of race…and then entreated everybody to turn to the person next to them and give them a big hug.

Now why would anybody leave during the power, and glory, and passion of the band’s final, majestic anthem? Because the MTA was about to shut down the F train. On one hand, it was great to see such a great turnout for the band, even if the big Rockwood room is only the size of a small club. Let’s just hope everyone got home ok afterward rather than having to go to a plan B or plan C that might not have worked any better than the F that night. Wonder why so many music venues are closing all over town?

The War and Treaty tour continues; lucky Denver residents can see them on August 8 at 9 PM at Globe Hall at 4483 Logan St. Cover is $20.