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Tag: jerry garcia

Eight-String Guitarist Charlie Hunter Brings His Irrepressibly Fun Band to the Rockwood

Guitarists who don’t waste notes are a rare breed. They’re even rarer in the world of jambands and summer tours, which is where Charlie Hunter made his mark. As you would expect from a guy who tacked on a couple of extra strings to bolster the low end of his six-string model, groove is his thing. In doing so, he invented his own style of music, equal parts jazz, reggae, funk and vintage soul. And he can be hilarious. His latest excellent, characteristically eclectic album Everybody Has a Plan Until They Get Punched is streaming at Spotify. Hunter and his fantastic quartet have a two-night stand coming up on March 8 and 9 at 8:30 PM at the third stage at the Rockwood; cover is $15. The last time this blog was in the house there, they weren’t enforcing that annoying drink minimum, a good thing since Hunter’s crowd is more likely to smoke than get wasted on the Rockwood’s expensive drinks.

The album opens with the title track, a slow, comfortable swing blues with a characteristically wry, bubbling Curtis Fowlkes trombone solo; then cornetist Kirk Knuffke signals that all may not be so cool after all. Drummer Bobby Previte’s emphatic, tersely swinging slow triplet groove anchors the second track, Looks Like Someone Got Ahead of Schedule on Their Medication, which opens with an amusingly woozy voicings from Fowlkes and Knuffke, then takes a detour to New Orleans before the meds kick in again.

Staccato horns add spice to Leave Him Lay, a mid-80s Grateful Dead style blues fueled by Previte’s swinging, almost disco drive and Hunter’s spiky, Bob Weir-ish chords. We Don’t Want Nobody Nobody Sent is an uneasily swaying midtempo noir theme, like Big Lazy with horns and  a long, purposefully crescendoing blues solo from the bandleader. Then Hunter gets even more retro with Big Bill’s Blues, ostensibly a Big Bill Broonzy homage. beginning starkly and then shifting into jubilant Crescent City territory with some artful counterpoint from the horns.

The darkly simmering soul theme Latin for Travelers is a vehicle for a contrastingly bright solo from Knuffke and then Fowlkes, dipping down to just the horns and then back for extra dynamic punch. No Money No Honey is as hard as the funk gets here, although it’s more of a swing tune: everybody in the band, especially Previte, is having a ball with this one.

Who Put You Behind the Wheel opens as a spaciously tiptoeing, Asian-tinged excursion, then morphs into reggae, with a trick ending. The looseness and freeness of Wish I Was Already Paid and On My Way Home mask its relentlessly dark, distantly klezmer-tinged undercurrent . The album winds up with the jaunty, dixieland-ish second-line march The Guys Get Shirts. This works on every level, as first-rate jazz, blues and psychedelia.

Shannon McNally’s Western Ballad – First-Class Gothic Americana

This time of year makes as good a place as any to catch up on some of the good things lingering from last year, from the days before this blog existed. Shannon McNally’s Western Ballad album is one of them: if you like Neko Case or the darker side of the intersection where jangly rock meets country, this is for you. It’s been out in March of 2011, in fact, an understatedly evocative, smart, lyrically driven collaboration with New Orleans cult artist and producer Mark Bingham, who wrote about half the tunes here. McNally’s unselfconsciously pensive alto reminds a lot of more recent Emmylou Harris, rising matter-of-factly over a richly interwoven, jangly mesh of electric and acoustic guitars and a straight-up rhythm section.

The opening track, Bingham’s Memory of a Ghost (a southwestern gothic recasting of the Allen Ginsburg poem) sets the stage for pretty much everything afterward. It’s a wary shuffle that wouldn’t be out of place in the Patricia Vonne catalog, with a biting electric guitar solo by McNally herself. High, with its jangly Lucy in the Sky Beatlisms, is a quietly triumphant stoner anthem with a mellow yet vivid Jerry Garcia-ish guitar solo. “I recognize myself – how very nice to be home again,” McNally muses. They follow that with the understatedly morbid, gospel piano-driven When I Am Called and then McNally’s True Possession, a defiantly individualistic, brisk country shuffle, calmly assured vocals over tastefully rippling piano.

Sung in French, Tristesse Oubliee (Forgotten Sadness) is West Texas honkytonk with a little cajun flavor. Thunderhead, a Bingham song, returns to the echoey layers of tremoloing guitars and subtly doomed imagery. The strongest track here might be McNally’s Rock & Roll Angels, a long, slowly swaying 6/8 ballad with a Leonard Cohen/Richard Thompson vibe, a chilling if sympathetic portrait of someone on the way down who couldn’t resist more than one kind of lure. “Rock & Roll Angels and barroom saints reliving your checkered pasts, tumble in your hallelujah chorus,” McNally begins. “Will you always be broke, choking on slivered dreams?”

Toast, another Bingham track, is a swaying funk-tinged oldschool soul song with more vintage Jerry Garcia style guitar. McNally’s version of the traditional bluegrass tune Little Stream of Whiskey has a Dolly Parton-esque feel, while Bingham’s big, majestic ballad In My Own Second Line sounds like the Pretenders circa 1982 doing Americana. It’s a good bet that if you follow Americana these days, you already know about this; if not, it’s a good listen all the way through.