New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: sharon jones

One of the World’s Sharpest, Funniest Song Stylists Salutes the Dearly Departed

Rachelle Garniez has gotten more ink from this blog than just about any other artist, starting with the very first concert ever reviewed here, an installment of Paul Wallfisch‘s fantastic and greatly missed Small Beast series in the late summer of 2011. Since then, she’s released plenty of studio material as well, from the song ranked best of 2015 here – the metaphorically searing, Elizabethan-tinged Vanity’s Curse, from her album Who’s Counting – to her charming, oldtimey-flavored An Evening in New York duo record with Kill Henry Sugar guitar wizard Erik Della Penna earlier this year.

The latest installment of Garniez’s recent creative tear is yet another album, Gone to Glory – streaming at Spotify – her first-ever covers record. The project took shape at a series of shows at East Village boite Pangea, beginning as an annual salute to artists who’d left us the previous year. The secret of playing covers is simple: either you do the song in a completely different way, or make it better than the original, otherwise it’s a waste of time. In this case, Garniez splits the difference between reinventions and improvements.

Playing piano, she opens the record with a quote that’s almost painfully obvious, but still too funny to give away. Then she switches to accordion over the strutting groove of drummer Dave Cole, bassist Derek Nievergelt and violist Karen Waltuch for a polka-tinged take of Motorhead’s Killed By Death. That’s the album’s funniest song, although most of the rest are equally radical reinventions: Garniez has a laserlike sense of a song’s inner meaning and teases that out here, time after time.

She does Prince’s Raspberry Beret as a country song and then discovers the slinky inner suspensefulness in a low-key, noir-tinged take of David Bowie’s Scary Monsters. It’s super creepier than the original, as is a slightly stormier version of Mose Allison’s Monsters of the Id. She switches to piano for a brooding, lush, string-infused version of Jimmy Dorsey’s My Sister and I, a World War II refugee’s tale originally sung by Bea Wain in 1941.

Aretha Franklin is represented twice. Garniez’s droning accordion imbues The Day Is Past and Gone with an otherworldly druid-folk ambience. Her whispery, subtle solo piano take of Day Dreaming is all the more sultry for its simmering calm and mutedly cajoling intensity. Her tender delivery of a pillowy, orchestrated version of Della Reese’s Don’t You Know has much the same effect.

She keeps the sepulchral stillness and poignancy going through a folky arrangement of Kenny Rogers’ disabled veteran’s lament Ruby Don’t Take Your Love to Town – it’s infinitely sadder than the original. Sharon Jones’ 100 Days, 100 Nights gets a dark bolero-tinged interpretation that rises to a brassy peak

Garniez mashes up a little Piazzolla into her gently lilting version of Frank Mills, from the Hair soundtrack, playing up the song’s stream-of-consciousness surrealism. Nancy Wilson’s How Glad I Am has a lush retro 60s soul vibe, in a Bettye LaVette vein.

Garniez’s spare, gospel-tinged piano and subued vocals reveal the battle fatigue in the worn-down showbiz narrative of Glenn Campbell’s Rhinestone Cowboy. She closes the record with an apt, guardedly hopeful cover of Leonard Cohen’s Anthem. There’s a crack in everything, and that’s how Rachelle Garniez gets in.

Big up to the rest of the ensemble, who elevate many of these songs to symphonic levels: violinists Paul Woodiel and Cenovia Cummins, violist Entcho Todorov, cellist Mary Wooten, french horn player Jacob Garniez, multi-reedman Steve Elson, trombonist Dan Levine, trumpeter John Sneider, harpist Mia Theodoratis, harmonica player Randy Weinstein and backing vocalists Amanda Homi and Jeremy Beck.

A Killer New Album From Midwestern Soul Legends the Diplomats of Solid Sound

A few years back, a friend of this blog moved back to his hometown Iowa City. Asked what the music scene there was like, he had two words: “Sarah Cram!”

She’s one of the three phenomenal lead singers for the Diplomats of Solid Sound, who were every bit as important in the Midwest for keeping the flame of classic 60s soul burning as Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings were here. Happily, the Diplomats are still together. Even though their band members have dispersed, they still make great vinyl records chock full of catchy songs that would have been hits fifty years ago. And they still tour occasionally. Their new vinyl record A Higher Place is streaming at Spotify. Pretty much everything here is three minutes or less: no wasted notes, uncluttered purist playing, a real clinic in retro beats and riffs.

The snap of bassist Ben Soltau and drummer Forrest Heusinkveld kicks off the opening track, Common Ground, a Marvelettes-style, go-go flavored number, the band’s formidable vocal frontline – Cram, Katherine Ruestow and Abbie Sawyer – harmonizing over Nate “Count” Basinger’s punchy organ and Douglas Roberson’s spare guitar. Saxophonist Eddie MacKinley’s bright riffage is the icing on this sonic cake.

The strings behind Cram’s warm, comforting vocals and playful jump-rope melody combine for Supremes ambience in Crazy About You, Basinger’s organ fueling an unexpectedly edgy bridge. Good to Do is a punchy, serious wake-up call to a girl who’s gettting played: it brings to mind New Jersey’s excellent One and Nines.

Sometimes starts off as a guitar-driven swamp-rock tune, then the band take it back even further in timewith an early 60s vibe. Gotta Find That Man is a sly, bittersweet, hungover post-hookup scenario set to a snaky Booker T groove. Move On could be a Bill Withers tune with horns and a sultry trio of voices out front. Then the band pick up the pace even further with Already Gone, a pulsing roller-rink bubblegum soul tune with a cool garage-rock bridge.

Fool – as in “You’re a fool to let her go” – shows what else the group can do with that same Girl From New York City riff, in this case making an early 70s-style soul strut out of it. The lushly orchestrated Brave New World is a cynical, spot-on look at how social media and online dating are killing romance.

Hole in Your Soul has a mid-60s Memphis bounce and some nifty stairstepping piano, then the band slink their way into dramatic soul-blues with Take Some Pity on Me Baby. They wind up the album with a toweringly gorgeous Muscle Shoals-style ballad in 6/8 time, Dry Land, the women’s vocals rising from matter-of-fact angst to a defiant wail. The group claim to have twenty million Spotify hits (for which they might have earned a few dimes or quarters). Although online numbers can’t be trusted, it’s hardly a stretch to believe that count. Sharon Jones has sadly gone off to the great stage in the sky, but the Diplomats of Solid Sound are still going strong: nobody does oldschool soul better than this crew.

The Diplomats’ next gig is a hometown show on Sept 20 at 8 PM at Wildwood Smokehouse and Saloon, 4919 Walleye Drive in Iowa City; cover is $15.

Meah Pace Brings Her Classic High-Voltage Soul Sounds to Lincoln Center

Meah Pace is one of the leading lights of the New York soul underground Although the charismatic singer has performed at Lincoln Center in the past, her show there at the atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. on May 30 at 7:30 PM  will be her debut there as a bandleader.

Onstage, Pace is a force of nature. She twirls, pounces, spins and stalks across the stage with the energy of a professional athlete – which she is, as the former leader of a NFL cheerleading squad. Vocally, she.s very eclectic: in quieter moments, she has the sweetness of a golden-age singer like Bettye Swann, as well as the grit of Tina Turner and the relentless power of Sharon Jones, an artist Pace once opened for at the Apollo

Her group for the show includes many bandmates from her debut album, titled 11:03 (streaming at Spotify) .She’ll have jazz keyboardist Randy Ingram along with brilliant baritone saxophonist “Moist” Paula Henderson and bassist Dan Fabricatore, plus trombonist John Speck, tenor saxophonist Jeremy Udden, former Sharon Jones drummer Eric Kalb and noir connoisseur Al Street on guitar.

The songs on the record reveal how much ground Pace can cover, from the simmering, latin-tinged strut of Promised Land, to the title track, a steamy Friday summer night scenario with a trick ending. That’s where the Tina Turner comparison echoes most clearly.

On My Brain has a steady, suspenseful beat flavored with Ingram’s simmering. nocturnal organ and reverb-toned Rhodes, “Would it be too hard to forget about the man I loved too hard?” Pace asks poetically. Yet, she admits that “I get up early and go to bed late so that I can sit for hours with him on my brain.”Meanwhile ingram teases uneasy, carnivalesque flourishes from the keys.

“I come, you call, I trip, you fall,” Pace explains as the funky Memphis groove of I Don’t Need Ya gets underway. It’s a serious reality check aimed at a manipulative dude with an overinflated ego.

Gracefully has a slow Aretha-style gospel sway: it’s a showcase for Pace’s gentle, sweetly nuanced side, a message of encouragement and hope for a brokenhearted friend. The title cut has a chugging, vintage Ike and Tina  pulse. Pace paints a vivid picture of a long overdue end-of-the-week scenario, the main character with her “Long red fingernails, legs like solid gold,” sitting at a six o’clock table, “Feeling enabled for a Friday night.”  The story’s ending hits you so fast that you may not see it coming.

Although Pace writes her own songs, she’s been known to break out a cover or two. One of the best is a harrowing reinvention of the old Alice Cooper ballad Only Women Bleed. Pace sang that with a brooding, knowing intensity at a Long Island City show (very enthusiastically reviewed here), an empahetic empowerment anthem for any woman who might have been abused. Those are just a few of the flavors Pace is likely to deliver this Thursday night.

Catchy, Raw, Soulful, Original Funk and Dance Music From Eliza and the Organix

There’s no band in New York who sound anything like Eliza and the Organix. You can dance to them, but they also have flashes of psychedelia and a vintage punk fearlessness. They’re funky, but their sound is uncluttered and gritty – is it legal to call them organic? In other words, they’re nothing like the slick, cheesy Berklee clones noodling ad nauseum into the wee hours at Rockwood Music Hall. Over the past few years, Eliza and the Organix have been gigging constantly all over town. Their new album Present Future Dreams is streaming at Bandcamp; their next show is Nov 16 at 11 PM at the Way Station in Bed-Stuy.

Frontwoman/guitarist Eliza Waldman gets the funk going on the album’s catchy opening track, My Way (no relation to the Sex Pistols classic), but she also hits some burning Keith Richards riffage. Alto saxophonist Kristen Tivey – an ambitious songwriter and multi-instrumentalist in her own right-  adds vocal harmonies over John Gergely’s subtly crescendoing drums. On the album, Stephen Cleary and Will Carbery share bass duties. The song has a recurrent reference to “doing coke out on the driveway,” which could be sarcastic – or not.

When I Call You is a snide slap upside the head of a “nihilist, masturbator, man-hater,” Waldman’s smoldering distorted chords rising to an unexpectedly swirly break midway through, with more of the band’s signature, tasty guitar/sax harmonies.

Blameless has a slinky latin soul groove under Waldman’s sarcastic vocals and wah guitar: “Aimless, shameless, am I blameless?” she wants to know. Waldman’s organ and Matt Soares’ vibes linger over sharp, staccato guitar in Trouble, an individualist’s anthem and another latin-flavored number: “I’ve been in trouble so long that I hardly remember the other side,” Waldman confides.

The album winds up with the moody nocturne Tapestry in Blue, which is an organ tune until Waldman’s guitar kicks in hard at the end. Everything here sounds like it could go on for twice as long and it would still be interesting – and you could give your lower parts a decent workout. Fans of Sharon Jones,classic soul and funk, and obscure punk-funk cult heroes like the Maul Girls should check them out.

Meah Pace Brings Her Blue-Flame Retro Soul Stylings to a Rare Park Slope Gig

The stage at Long Island City Bar turned out to be too small for Meah Pace the last time she played there, over Martin Luther King weekend last month. The charismatic, personable retro soul singer pounced, and shimmied, and twisted in front of her simmering six-piece band, but ultimately it was like watching a lioness in a cage. She really needs a big stage to do her thing. Until then, you can catch her in similarly intimate blue-flame mode on March 23 at 8 PM at Salzy Bar, 506 5th Ave at 13th St. in Park Slope. Take the F – or the G – to 7th Ave.

Pace’s voice is raw but refined; to compare her to Sharon Jones would not be an overstatement. The nuance and wiggles in her blue notes are in the moment rather than studied, and her band pays close attention to where she takes the crowd. That cold evening in Queens, guitarist Alec Berlin warmed up the room with a wryly haphazard intro from Hendrix’s version of the Star Spangled Banner. Then keyboardist Randy Ingram hit his echoey Fender Rhodes patch and the band launched into a slinky version of Gimme Shelter. It was as if Jagger had invited a young Tina Turner up to sing it, the two-sax line of tenorist Jeremy Udden and baritone goddess Paula Henderson punching in hard.

Pace took the sound back in time another half-decade to the mid-60s with the bouncy, swaying vintage soul ballad after that, Berlin giving it a funky pulse in tandem with bassist Jeremy Willms and drummer Greg Joseph. Then Pace’s voice got gritty as they went deep into Promised Land, the opening track on her album 11:03, part vintage 60s JBs funk, part latin soul.

Ingram’s electric piano flickered over a slow 6/8 groove as Pace brought the lights down with the gorgeously bittersweet 70s Stylistics soul jazz-tinged ballad Gracefully. Then they lit into the vampingly hypnotic clave soul groove of On My Brain and kept the nocturnal vibe going with I Wish It Would Rain, punctuated by Berln’s wall-bending acid-rock solo.

The night’s funkiest, hardest-hitting number was I Don’t Need Ya, the horns nailing a sassy go-go riff, Pace picking it up at the end with a defiant, passionate rasp. Then they brought out all the doom and despair in an absolutely spot-on reinvention of the old mid-70s Alice Cooper ballad Only Women Bleed.

Willms’ Stax/Volt riff and Berlin’s Tex-Mex phrasing anchored their Big Mama Thornton-inspired version of Hound Dog, Pace cajoling Joseph into playing a shuffle beat on the snare with just his hands; Henderson’s shivery hailstorm of a solo brought the intensity to redline. They closed the night with a motoring, expansive take of the album’s title track, Nutbush City Limits style. While Pace can sing classic covers all night long if she feels like it, and has done that for the sake of a payday, it’s always more fun to hear her originals. That’s what she’s probably going to do at the Brooklyn gig.

Spanglish Fly Keep the Party Going at Barbes

Although what Spanglish Fly play is ostensibly boogaloo music, what they do isn’t retro at all. Basically, they come across as jazz guys playing a distinctively edgy 21st century update on classic psychedelic latin soul from the 60s. And there’s a little early Afrobeat – think Hugh Masekela – in there too, along with umpteen breaks for flurrying, postbop jazz horn solos, or momentary explosions from the timbales or the congas. You could make a case that they’re a cross between the Bronx Horns and Sharon Jones‘ backing band the Dap-Kings. When Chicha Libre (another individualistic, smartly improvisational band putting a new spin on an old sound, in their case Peruvian psychedelic cumbias) went on hiatus, Spanglish Fly were the first to take over that band’s long-running Monday night residency at Barbes. And they did a good job picking up the slack for an impossibly good act to follow. The first night of the residency, back in December, and then their show there this past Monday were full of surprises and top-shelf playing. They give party music a good name.

Trumpeter/bandleader Jonathan Goldman directed the band – who seem to be a semi-rotating cast of characters -with split-second precision when he wasn’t kicking in with the rest of the horns on a punchy chorus, or spiraling out into the stratosphere with a solo. At the December show, they were joined midway through by singer Mariella Gonzalez, who led them through several originals with a coyly enticing delivery, singing in both English and Spanish. This past Monday, they had a fashionably dressed dreadlocked guy singing a couple of tunes including a snazzily reworked, salsafied version of I Heard It Through the Grapevine. The bass in this band has always been fat but it was especially fat on Monday: as much as there was going on in the rest of the band, just the catchy hooks looming in from the bass amp were enough to keep your head bobbing. One of the standout tracks both nights was Pensamiento (Think), a big showstopper with a salsa dura break midway through and a hard-hitting, irresistible chorus. December’s set was more stripped-down, with plenty of tumbling, incisive piano work. This week’s set was more of a showcase for the fire and drive of the four-piece horn section and the band’s intricate arrangements, which owe more to jazz than to either salsa or retro soul. Their next Barbes show is Feb 16 at 9 PM, and remember, Monday is professional night. All the amateurs will be at home asleep.

Dina Regine’s Soulful New Album Was Worth the Wait

What does it say about our society that Dina Regine has probably made more money spinning other peoples’ records than she’s made by playing her own unique blend of classic soul and rootsy rock? She was getting paid for playlisting long before just any random person could plug their phone into the PA system and then call it a night. But Regine’s greatest accomplishments have been as a songwriter, bandleader and singer. A well-loved presence in the New York club scene throughout the late 90s and early zeros, she still has an avid cult following, and an excellent, long-awaited new album, Right On All Right. And she’s got an album release show coming up on Nov 18 at around 8:30 PM at Bowery Electric. Ursa Minor, who have a similarly dynamic singer in Michelle Casillas – who also contributes to Regine’s album – are on the bill afterward at around 9:30. Cover is eight bucks.

On the album, Regine plays much of the guitars along with keys, mandolin and harp (!). Tony Scherr plays lead guitar on several tracks, along with Tim Luntzel on bass and Dan Rieser on drums. The opening track, Gotta Tell You is a gorgeously jangling, swaying 6/8 soul ballad, Jon Cowherd’s organ rising on the chorus with Regine’s impassioned vocals – and then they rock it out for a bit. The oldschool soul-funk number Dial My Number has a hot horn section (Erik Lawrence on tenor sax, Briggan Krauss on baritone sax and Frank London on trumpet) juxtaposed with Regine’s more low-key yet simmering vocals. By contrast, Can’t Find You Anywhere welds red-neon noir soul ambience to soaring, anthemic choruses, fueled by Scherr’s biting guitar multitracks.. Likewise, Hurt Somebody works the tension between blue-flame soul and brisk new wave-tinged powerpop – Regine likes to mix up her styles and this is a prime example.

Far Gone takes an unexpected and very successful departure into oldschool C&W with a tasty blend of Regine’s baritone guitar mingling with Scherr’s twangy lines. Then Regine hits a pulsing garage-soul vamp on Until Tomorrow and keeps that going with the gloriously guitar-driven, Gloria-esque Fences. The best track here is Broken, a brooding yet brisk latin-tinged groove with Steve Cropper-esque guitar: “You beat the wall for your past oppressor – sometimes spirits treat you real kind but most of the time they mess with your mind,” Regine sings with a gentle unease. How she varies her delivery from one track to another, from sweet to defiant and undeterred is one of the album’s strongest points.

The title track adds slink and suspense to a vintage go-go theme, with yet another one of Regine’s usual, crescendoing, anthemic choruses.  Shaky Dave Pollack’s hard-hitting blues harp drives the vintage Stonesy Nothing Here. The album’s final cut, Wildest Days, is also its most epic, and it’s surprisingly wistful, a snapshot of a deliriously fun time that threatens not to last too long. Fans of the creme de la creme of retro soul, from Lake Street Dive to Sharon Jones, will love this album. It’s not out yet, therefore no spotify link, but a lot of the tracks are up on Regine’s soundcloud page.

Lake Street Dive Returns to Brooklyn After a Killer Doublebill with Sharon Jones

Good Cop: We’re taking over this blog, I tell you. We got to see the best concert of the entire summer, Lake Street Dive and Sharon Jones, out behind the World Financial Center. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Bad Cop: Don’t get all excited now. It’s the first concert we’ve covered here in two months. And this one was back in July.

Good Cop: For awhile I thought we’d always be the scrubs here, but now we’re getting to see the best shows in town. LJ Murphy, Jenifer Jackson, Serena Jost, and now Sharon Jones. So get ready to kick some ass!

Bad Cop: I’m not holding my breath. Lake Street Dive are basically an oldschool soul band with distorted guitar, would you say that pretty much sums them up?

Good Cop: That’s true, but let’s not confuse the audience, the loud guitar doesn’t make the music punk: it’s still soul music with roots in the 1960s. Think Smokey Robinson & the Miracles but with a woman out front, and a lot louder. And Rachael Price, their singer, just gets better and better. It’s like she was good last year but she’s great this year – and she just keeps finding ways to bend her notes more subtly, and belt more powerfully, and cajole and wail and do everything that makes a soul singer worth seeing. There are a million white girls with big voices out there trying to do the American Idol thing, but she’s something special. And the band was amazing. If you missed this show, Lake Street Dive are at the Bell House on Sept 15 at around 9.

Bad Cop: What really shocked me was that Lake Street Dive upstaged Sharon Jones. Which isn’t to say that Sharon Jones was bad – she was as amazing as she always is, which is even more impressive since the poor woman was coming off of chemotherapy and was probably fried just coming back from European tour. But Lake Street Dive drew the bigger crowd. Looking back, they should have headlined. That’s major.

Good Cop: I wouldn’t say that Lake Street Dive upstaged Sharon Jones. They outdrew her. Sharon Jones jumped, and stalked, and slunk across the stage and sweated up a storm. She’s cancer-free and was celebrating that and just glad to be alive, and the band and the audience fed off that energy. It was so heartwarming, I almost cried. But there’s no question that Lake Street Dive were the big draw.

Bad Cop: Interesting to compare the two crowds. Lake Street Dive: almost all-white, mostly female, monied, Upper West Side. [to Good Cop] Hmmm…could you pass for Upper West Side? Do you iron your hair?

Good Cop: [laughs] Naturally straight. [motions to her forehead] See, bangs!

Bad Cop: OK, I learn something new every day. Sharon Jones’ crowd: as you might expect, more ethnically diverse, more diverse incomewise too, several gaggles of gay Bushwick dudes.

Good Cop: She would have outdrawn Lake Street Dive pretty much anywhere in Notbrooklyn, and definitely in real Brooklyn. But the Bushwick dudes can’t leave Bushwick. Taking selfies in an untrendy neighborhood, no can do. Geotagging is a bitch…

Bad Cop: So let’s count our blessings we weren’t downwind of a bunch of stinky trendoids – and let’s tell the people about what we saw. There was a brass band who opened, who were insufferably boring…

Good Cop: …which might seem like an oxymoron because brass bands are exciting, almost by definition. I mean, why would you be in a brass band if you weren’t an extrovert, right? But this brass band somehow managed to find a way to be really tepid. I basically texted through their whole set. And that went on forever. I kept hoping they’d be done.

Bad Cop: Lack of tunes, that was the issue. But then Lake Street Dive came on and you were happy again.

Good Cop; Very. Cool contrast: intense guitar and vocals, Mike Olson and Rachael Price; slinky groove, Bridget Kearney on bass and Mike Calabrese on drums. Bridget didn’t take any solos like she usually does and that was too bad – but that was ok. A couple of songs had Olson playing trumpet and you’d think that with just trumpet, bass and drums, the sound would be really sketchy and skeletal, but it wasn’t.

Bad Cop: That’s the vocal harmonies. Everybody in the band sings. Did you notice that?

Good Cop: And they were good…

Bad Cop: Part of me wants to say that they have a totally contrived sound: they’ve completely internalized a whole lot of 1960s soul styles. And they’re on a label. Do you think they’re a creation of the marketing department? You know, a very clever imitation of the real thing? You’ve got Lady Gag for the pre-K crowd, Katy Perry for the gradeschoolers and Lake Street Dive for the smart kids?

Good Cop: No label would ever create a band for smart kids because that audience is way too small. And Lake Street Dive have been doing this since way back, before the label.

Bad Cop: OK. I discovered from watching the band this time that Bad Self Portraits, which is a satire of selfie narcissism and the title track from the band’s latest album, was written by Kearney. And I dug her evil chords on Johnny Tanqueray…

Good Cop: …which I love because it’s about this bad dude that no girl can resist, and every girl can relate to. Which might explain the crowd…

Bad Cop: For me the high point was where Rachael would hold the notes for, like, forever. And Rabid Animal, the pissed-off one about moving back to her parents’ basement.

Good Cop: We don’t know if that’s about her or not. I liked the two new songs they played: the slow one with the Beatlesque verse and the rocking Stonesy chorus, then Rachael’s big wounded ballad. The band really took the angst factor all the way up for that one.

Bad Cop: They’re a touring machine. I’m not a fan of pop music in general, as you know, but this band slays me: their songs are so catchy and they do everything right. They don’t waste notes. The songs don’t follow a predictable verse/chorus pattern. The singer is a monster and so is the bass player. And they don’t fall into the phony-gospel American Idol vocal trap.

Good Cop: Ha, they don’t use autotune either. Not that they need it.

Bad Cop: I was wondering when Sharon Jones’ band the Dap-King opened, whether they’d be babying her – especially since they started with that James Brown style intro, you know, the instrumental medley with all the hooks from the hits, and then the two backup singers doing their single and the B-side…

Good Cop: They were awesome! Bouncy wistful tonguetwisting stuff, straight from the bargain bins around 1973 – I mean that in a complimentary way…

Bad Cop: How ironic that stuff that sounds like it would have been a little too obscure to have been a hit back then would be the material a band would want to be playing 40 years later…

Good Cop: Audiences are pickier and more sophisticated now.

Bad Cop: I liked the boomy noir Clairy Browne style ones they did afterward. With a different beat the first one would have been a reggae song.

Good Cop: Wow, I hadn’t thought of that.

Bad Cop: Then Sharon came on and she was on top of her game. Purring and cajoling and strutting and shouting over catchy vamps with tantalizing little breaks for guitar, or baritone sax, or organ.

Good Cop: You’re right, this was kind of a dark set, which surprised me since this was a New York homecoming after the tour, and she’s healthy now, and she took a lot of time to celebrate that. But otherwise the songs were closer to the ones this band made backing Amy Winehouse: lurid and slinky and brooding.

Bad Cop: They’d pick up the pace and bring it down again: a couple of summery ballads, then a rainy-day number. The cover of I Heard It Through the Grapevine was a lot closer to the Tina Turner version. Then there was a catchy original right afterward that was a lot more cheery and bouncy, straight out of a John Waters 1965 scene. The backup singers joined in a lush, early 70s, jazzy number that sounded like the Three Degrees, then the set got gritty again, then there was a funky James Brown medley, Sharon’s long digression about how she’s healthy again, and then they closed with Retreat. Which is not exactly a happy song, and reinforces what you were talking about earlier.

Good Cop: Didn’t they do The Horse?

Bad Cop: Yeah, bits and pieces of that kept bubbling up in more than one song. This band does that a lot. They know every classic soul riff ever written and they can’t resist playing them. Which sometimes leaves you wondering whether they’re playing originals or obscure covers. That by itself proves how closely they nail those oldschool sounds, and of course that extends to the vocals as well.

Good Cop: Which did you end up liking better, Sharon Jones or Lake Street Dive?

Bad Cop: I never thought I’d ever say this, but I thought they were equally good. Although the crowd was annoying.

Good Cop: Yeah, but that’s always the risk you run with these outdoor shows.

Bad Cop: There was that yuppie brutalizing his wife, you remember, that fat girl with the frizzy hair next to us. That douchebag’s annoying nasal voice is all over my recording of the show. Remember, we had to move? I hope she shoots him.

Good Cop: I hope she gets away with it. I’ll give her an alibi!

Bad Cop: Yeah, and then we ended up behind that smelly guy and we had to move again.

Good Cop: Well, at least we had someplace to move to. You have to admit, it has been the best summer ever in this city, hasn’t it? You go back further than me. Can you remember such a great summer here, ever?

Bad Cop [pauses, thinks about it. Guardedly]: There have been excruciating summers where I’ve had more fun. But as far as your basic creature comfort, this summer is as good as I’ve ever seen it and that’s including the last few days which have been nasty. And we’ve got another summer show to relate here, but that’s going to wait til another day.

An Ecstatic, Celebratory New York Debut by the Jones Family Singers

Texas gospel family band the Jones Family Singers‘ new album The Spirit Speaks positions them as a gospel version of Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, more or less. Which they can be, and makes them a lot of fun, to say the least. Their New York debut at Lincoln Center Wednesday night revealed that’s only a small part of the package. “People say, ‘You could play rock music, and be stars,'” frontwoman Alexis Jones told the mostly sold-out crowd, a mix of Harlem and Brooklyn churchgoers and neighborhood people. Without a pause, she offered a righteous response.. “We do play rock n roll. We’re rocking for Jesus!”

And from there the group launched into an ecstatic vamp that would have been perfectly at home in the most ornately arranged Harlem or Brooklyn gospel tabernacle. The five women, her cousins, singing harmonies along with her, stepped and twirled with the bouncy beat as her brother Fred Allen Jones Jr. played some of the most exhilarating, eclectic guitar anybody’s played on a big stage in this city this year. Moving methodically from big, expansive soul/jazz chords to sizzling Freddie King-inspired blues clusters, to Motown and Stax-Volt and even a little metal, he would have stolen the show if not for his sister. Their debonair father, Bishop Fred Jones channeled Wilson Pickett, blurring the line between the sacred and the secular with a come-hither growl, “Say it again!” as he punctuated a clever remake of the hauntingly imagistic gospel classic Bones in the Valley. Behind them, bassist Kenneth Jones held down a fat, booming low end in tandem with the twin drummers (one on congas and a standup percussion kit, the other playing his kit behind a plexiglass shield) for a double-barreled propulsive boost.

And with her insistent, no-nonsense alto delivery, like Tina Turner and Mahalia Jackson wrapped into one, Alexis Jones left no doubt that this was a party. Even the band’s two gritty minor-key Texas blues tunes were far less angst-ridden laments than celebrations. Encompassing a hundred years of African-American gospel inspiration, the band worked the crowd up into a sweat and got everybody on their feet in a joyous call-and-response, through long, hypnotically crescendoing two-chord jams punctuated by the split-second timing of the harmony singers, towering, suspenseful swells building to mighty peaks. Surprisingly, their set incorporated a lot less of the oldschool soul tunesmithing that’s on the new album.

The guitarist came front and center for the blues as well as for some unexpected but period-perfect metal-tinged, Fame-style 80s anthems. One of the backup singers, as well as the group’s matriarch, Sarah M. Jones, each got to take a turn out front toward the end of the show (high voices are not this band’s distinguishing feature: they have a deep sound and obviously like it that way). And for a few striking seconds, mid-song, Bishop Fred Jones hinted at the speaking-in-tongues ecstasy that the group’s Pentecostal Church of God in Christ has been known to inspire. In an era where organized religion is so often employed as a means to divide and conquer, it was inspiring to say the least to hear such an indomitable message of love and unity and resilience in the face of hardship (Markham, Texas, the Houston suburb that the band calls home, is not one of the city’s more affluent neighborhoods). As Alexis Jones affirmed, “The family that prays together, stays together.”

The Jones Family Singers Bring Their Texas Gospel Soul to Lincoln Center

Ever notice how so many storefront churches have great bands? The Jones Family Singers, who make their New York debut at Lincoln Center Out of Doors on July 30 at 6:30 PM, have been raising the roof at their home base, Mount Zion Church of God in Christ in Markham, Texas, since the 80s. They’ve got a new album out, The Spirit Speaks, streaming at Spotfy. Musically speaking, they blend oldschool soul and funk in much the same vein as Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, or a more rousing take on what that band’s labelmates, Naomi Shelton & the Gospel Queens, have been doing around New York over the last few years.

The band’s not-so-secret weapon is multi-instrumentalist Fred Allen Jones Jr., who distinguishes himself on lead guitar, bass, keys and sometimes even drums. Patriarch Bishop Fred Jones, his dad, fronts the band, alongside Kenneth Jones on bass, Matthew Hudlin and Ian Wade sharing the drum chair, with torrential lead and harmony vocals from Sarah M. Jones, Alexis Jones, Ernestine Ray, Sabrina Freeman, Velma “Mice” Davis, Theresa Patrelle and Duane Edward Herbert. It’s an interesting mix: a mighty wash of vocals alongside a terse, no-wasted-notes, mostly mid-60s style groove, recorded with tasteful, uncluttered arrangements, probably to analog tape.

The women in the band carry Down on Me over a scampering early 70s Motown vamp until the bandleader takes over – it makes a good clapalong kickoff for a show, or for a Sunday service. Going Home takes the ambience forward in time about fifteen years or so: imagine a strolling midtempo Al Jarreau ballad without the cheesy synthesizers. With its combination of eerie imagery and a message that’s ultimately hopeful, Bones in the Valley serves as a funky launching pad for some impassioned call-and response, Jones senior leading the way with his gritty baritone.

Made Up My Mind has the band working a suspenseful motorway pulse with tinges of latin and salsa music beneath the women’s mighty voices. Leaning on You takes an easygoing early 80s Grover Washington Jr.-style sway with elegant, jazzy guitar and fortifies it with the Bishop’s insistent vocals – it’s a love song to a higher power.

I Am has a darkly bluesy, bouncy mid 60s Little Milton-ish drive – is that Sarah M. Jones singing “I am your waymaker?” By contrast, You Woke Me Up This Morning has an irrepressible, cheery stomp, Bishop Jones jamming out over the womens’ tight harmonies. Then they take it down just a little with Preacher Man – and bring up again on the wings of some Rainy Night in Georgia guitar.

The album winds up with the tightly rising, upbeat 60s soul tune Through It All and then Try Jesus, a showcase for the band’s many individualistic voices. Even if you don’t share the group’s faith in Jesus to get through the hard times, this is great dance music. Fans of another gospel paradigm-shifter, Brooklyn’s Rev. Vince Anderson won’t be disappointed.