New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: Cindy Cashdollar

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.

Jim Kweskin and Geoff Muldaur: Just As Relevant As They Were Fifty Years Ago

Jim Kweskin‘s Jug Band sounded like they were as old as the songs they played. But that was the point.

They were hippies reprising the ribald, raucous sounds of folk music that went back as far as a century before them, sometimes to the consternation of the establishment. Over half a century after the peak of his band’s late 60s popularity, Kweskin and his bandmate Geoff Muldaur (father to Clare Muldaur of the brilliant art-rock band Clare & the Reasons) have a new album, Penny’s Farm – streaming at Spotify – and a release show tonight, Oct 4 at 7 PM at Joe’s Pub. Cover is steep, $30, but you could be witness to history. Who ever thought that Kweskin’s Jug Band, or any facsimile thereof, would ever take the stage again, let alone in their old Village stomping ground?

This isn’t the original Kweskin band lineup from all those years ago. Instead, the album features top-tier Americana talent including steel guitarist and dobro sorceress Cindy Cashdollar, blues fiddler Suzy Thompson, and singer Juli Crockett of the Evangenitals. The voices of both Kweskin and Muldaur have weathered over the years, but that’s to be expected, and if anything, enhances the songs’ rustic appeal. The music here has a spare, front-porch feel; in case you were wondering, there is no jug in this band.

Diamond Joe, the album’s opening cut, pairs Thompson’s fiddle with Kweskin’s wry vocal, Cashdollar’s dobro filling in the spaces elegantly. Likewise, the band gives The Boll Weevil a low-key, sly feel, signifying like crazy through this thinly veiled slave lament. And the Celtic-tinged title track, Down on Penny’s Farm resonates just as much as it did a hundred years ago, a grim tale of foreclosure and destitution.

The guitars in the swaying country blues Sweet to Mama are panned left and right to give the song an unexpectedly rich, lush feel, which the band reprises in the balmy 19th century reminiscence My Mary. And the interplay between the bandleaders’ fingerpicking in Fishin’ Blues is just plain gorgeous.

Early zeros New York Americana fans will remember the ballad Louis Collins (also known as Angels Laid Him Away) from the morose Jack Grace version. The band picks up the pace with the swinging ragtime-flavored Just a Little While to Stay Here, which they replicate a little later with the jaunty Downtown Blues, which Thompson caps off with a lusciously shivery solo.

Musically speaking, the album’s high point is The Cuckoo, reinvented as a somber, Richard Thompson-esque dirge awash in tersely purposeful guitar interweave. Kweskin continues to play his cards close to his vest throughout the surreal guitar cascades of the murder ballad 99 Year Blues; then the band waltzes with a vivid weariness through Tennessee Blues. The album winds up with a live take of the murder ballad Frankie, a reminder of how magically the band can recreate this stuff onstage. There’s also a vintage children’s song as well as a bizarre number in fractured Spanglish. Authenticity is a dubious concept these days, but this further cements the whole band’s claim to a vast, centuries-old heritage.

Intense, Eclectic Hot Club of Cowtown Fiddler Elana James Puts Out a Great New Album

Elana James is best known as the fiery fiddler in Austin western swing/Romany jazz trio the Hot Club of Cowtown, who’re coming to Subculture on March 7 at 8 PM: $20 advance tix are still available and highly recommended. In addition to James’ work with that band, she’s also put out a couple of albums as a solo bandleader, which she finds time to do when she’s not touring with her main band…or with Bob Dylan or Willie Nelson. Her latest release, Black Beauty, is just out and streaming at her webpage: it’s a smart, vivid combination of just about every one of the many  styles she’s spun off her bow in the last couple of decades. And since her Hot Club bandmates, guitarist Whit Smith and bassist Jake Erwin, both play on the new record, there’s a good chance they’ll be airing out some of those songs on the current tour.

The opening number, Only You, is a backbeat-driven As Tears Go By soundalike, more Americana than Stones chamber pop. Although James gets all kinds of props for her work on the fingerboard, she’s also a fantastic singer, and she pulls out all the stops on the menacingly breathy noir cabaret number Who Loves You More, from its starkly orchestrated intro, to a spiraling Dave Biller guitar solo. Then she completely switches gears with a lively, step-dancing take of her original High Upon the Mountain, with Cindy Cashdollar playing tersely soulful baritone weissenborn guitar.

James brings back the haunting, gloomy intensity with the stark Azeri folk tune Ayniliq, then switches gears again with a poignant, calmly shuffling take of Woody Guthrie’s Hobo’s Lullaby. Reunion (Livin’ Your Dream) is a wryly allusive tale from the life of a touring musician, veering between wary Romany swing and blithe bluegrass.

Joe Kerr’s elegant slip-key piano flavors James’ misty version of the torch jazz standard All I Need Is You, slinking along with Chris Maresh’s bass and Damien Llanes’ brushes on the drums. Then the band picks up the pace with Eva’s Dance, which is equal parts western swing and bluegrass, and the closest thing to the HCOC on the album.

James does the Grateful Dead classic Ripple as a straight-up oldschool C&W sway, lowlit by Biller’s steel guitar work. Her take of Dylan’s I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight  is probably the best anybody’s ever done with that one, including the guy who wrote it, part irresistible torch song, part ragtime, part vintage country. The funniest number here is the Meri Wilson hit Telephone Man, a mashup of oldtimey swing, hokum blues and Salt ‘N Pepa.

The album’s most intense, powerful song is Hey Beautiful, Last Letter From Iraq, where James recounts the final words written by the late Army Staff Sergeant Juan Campos to his wife, setting them to to a stark country shuffle groove: “It’s like every time we go out, any little bump or sound freaks me out…I can’t wait to get out of this place,” the doomed soldier relates. James chooses to end the album with the pensive, bucolic Waltz of the Animals, no doubt inspired by her considerable experience as a horse wrangler. What else is there to say: one of the best albums of the year from somebody so talented that a lot of us take her for granted.

Shelley King Brings Her Southern Gospel, Soul and Country Fire to Manhattan

Shelley King is a big deal in Texas. The Arkansas-born, Austin-based bandleader has a sizzling new album, Building a Fire – streaming at Spotify – and a free show tonight at 9 PM at Hill Country. If they give her any amperage in the PA, there won’t be a tourist there who can drown her out. King’s music is retro in the best way possible, drawing on oldtime gospel, C&W and soul, and the band on the album is killer. A couple of Subdudes do much of the heavy lifting: John Magnie on accordion and organ and Steve Amedee on drums, with Marvin Dykhuis on guitars, dobro and mandolin, Sarah Brown on bass and cameos from fellow Austinites Warren Hood, Cindy Cashdollar and Carolyn Wonderland. King’s soulful midrange vocals are down-to-earth but full of bristling intensity and a little grit in places: the influence of the southern gospel church is everywhere. .

The album’s title track is a swaying, subtly blues-tinged, ominous noir soul song. King follows that with Grace, a stark, stripped-down oldtime gospel shuffle with nifty accordion and slow-burning slide guitar. King gets even more intense on the traditional gospel tune I Know I’ve Been Changed a little later on, over more of that blue-flame slide work.

The best song on the album is The Ones You Don’t See Coming, a gorgeous backbeat country tune, King working her oldschool metaphors for all they’re worth:

Hidden from the radar in the still of the night
Left total devastation in the morning light
Rain-wrapped tornado, invisible storm
Never saw it coming, no sirens to warn
Worst are the ones you don’t see coming…

Things You Do is a brisk, hard-hitting soul-blues number anchored by dirty, distorted Rhodes piano, while The Real Thing offers the flipside of that vibe, roto organ propelling the wamly swaying soul ballad. King learned Larry Campbell’s bittersweet gospel anthem When I Go Away from Levon Helm, offering it up here as a darkly soaring tribute to her old pal.

The rustically waltzing 1940s Eyes mines a wistful acoustic string band vein, then King and band pick up the pace with the punchy organ-soul groove Hard Times Are No Match for Sweet Dreams. King brings back a bucolic, pre-bluegrass feel on the album’s closing cut, Moonlight.

There are also a couple of 70s style country-pop ballads here:, Talking ‘Bout the Weather and Lost in You, both substituting purist acoustic production values for Nashville big-studio gloss (and some tasty glockenspiel on the second one). Miranda Lambert only wishes she had material this catchy.