Category Archives: Music

Rodney Crowell continues quest for ‘timelessness’


Rodney Crowell / Photo by David McClister
Rodney Crowell / Photo by David McClister

By Barry Gilbert

Rodney Crowell, bluesman. That might sound like a contradiction coming from a veteran country music singer/songwriter, but he has said that a bluesman is inside him trying to get out – and that the bluesman hasn’t always been there.

However, Crowell, a perfectionist who’s most recent CD, “Tarpaper Sky,” continues to sit atop the American Music Association chart, is hesitant to talk too much about it.

You have to be careful … when you’re trying to tap into and learn to create from an artistic place that comes to you later on,” he said recently from his home in Tennessee. “To talk about it is tricky. To hear you quote me that way, I was thinking, hmm, am I being wise to talk about it?”

Crowell, who tore up the country charts in 1988 with five No. 1 singles from his fifth album, “Diamonds & Dirt,” acknowledges that rock musicians such as Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones drew from Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, and that Stevie Ray Vaughan drew from Lightin’ Hopkins.

I certainly understood (the blues) from Day 1, from being 4 years old, I understood Hank Williams’ version of the blues, and it is an authentic version of the blues,” Crowell says. “I’ve certainly been trying to get instinctive about it and intuitive enough that I’m not manufacturing rehashed blues, but to intuitively find my own version of it. That’s the way I work. And to speak of it before you’ve actually achieved it is maybe not the smartest thing to do.”

I interviewed Crowell recently in advance of his show in St. Louis on June 5, 2014, when he will headline the second night of the 18th annual, four-night roots music series Twangfest. I found him to be extremely gracious and generous with his time and, as expected, very thoughtful.

Continue reading Rodney Crowell continues quest for ‘timelessness’

All those music lessons paid off for Judy Collins

Judy CollinsBy Barry Gilbert 

Her enormous blue-gray-green eyes were half closed, her long hair swung gently across her back and her white-stockinged ankles urged the heavy beat. Judy Collins performed for her friends at the Oakdale Muscial Theater Sunday night.”

This is the lead paragraph of a concert review I wrote for the Hartford Courant on July 16, 1968. I was 19 – it clearly reads that way to me now – and I had quite the crush on the performer.

By then, Judy Collins, a classically trained pianist, had been a teen prodigy in Denver, performing Mozart with the Denver Symphony Orchestra at age 13. She was a veteran of the folk circuit and, drawing on her training, had already expanded her palette from guitar-accompanied folk music to orchestrated pop songs, art songs and show tunes.

She had recorded the groundbreaking “In My Life” and “Wildflowers” albums in 1966 and 1967, respectively, and “Who Knows Where the Time Goes,” her eighth, would be released a couple of months later. It would include her own composition, “My Father,” and feature songs by writers she continued to champion: Leonard Cohen, Ian Tyson, Sandy Denny, Bob Dylan and Robin Williamson.

I interviewed Judy Collins before her concert in her green room, a small trailer behind the venue in Wallingford, Conn., sitting across from her in the cramped quarters and staring into those eyes. She was the first celebrity/artist I had ever interviewed. I was starstruck and smitten, no doubt about it. 

Collins turned 75 on May 1. She is a worldwide performer, PBS star and road warrior equally at home with large orchestras or simply with her piano and guitar. She has survived alcoholism and laser surgery to save her voice, and lived through the 1992 tragedy of losing her son to suicide. She wrote about that in bestselling books, “Singing Lessons” (1998) and “Sanity and Grace” (2003), and is an advocate for the mentally ill.

The recent “Live in Ireland” is her 50th release.

So it was a real treat to interview her again after all these years, by phone from her home in New York City in advance of her concert in Edwardsville, Ill., on May 17, 2014.

My only regret is I couldn’t see those eyes.

Continue reading All those music lessons paid off for Judy Collins

The Blasters live up to their name in St. Louis

The Blasters perform in St. Louis. From left: Keith Wyatt, Phil Alvin, John Bazz and Bill Bateman / Photos by Barry Gilbert

By Barry Gilbert

The Blasters brought “American Music” back to St. Louis on Sunday night (May 11, 2014), and like the song says, “it was a howl from the desert (and) a scream from the slums,” with “the Mississippi rollin’ to the beat of the drums” just a few blocks away from the Off Broadway music club.

Phil Alvin’s stoked rhythm & rockabilly band from Downey, Calif., doesn’t make it to the Midwest very often, so it’s always a treat to see them. Unfortunately, Sunday was also Mother’s Day, and the crowd numbered only about 50. But they were largely hard-core fans, and they had their dancing shoes on.

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Aaron Neville Q&A: Doo-wop, poetry and Roy Rogers

Aaron Neville

By Barry Gilbert

You can take Aaron Neville out of New Orleans, but you can’t take New Orleans out of Aaron Neville.

Among the Neville Brothers, New Orleans’ first family of music, he’s the brother with the sweet tenor. Like so many others, he lost his home to Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and eventually relocated to New York City. But he says the change in residence, and the loss of his Crescent City anchor, hasn’t changed him.

“The music is always in my heart and soul, it doesn’t matter where I am,” Neville, 73, said recently from his home. “But I’m loving where I’m at, that’s a good thing. And I’m doing a lot of writing now.”

Neville laments changes in the music industry, especially the dominance of digital technology.

Yeah, that and downloading and all,” he says. “Even cars – they don’t put CD players in ’em no more. I don’t know what the format’s gonna be.”

So it’s amusing to learn that he uses that technology to write.

“I don’t use pencil and paper,” Neville says. “I write on my iPhone. So I start out writing poetry. I have a poetry book (“I Am a Song”) that’s out also, I had a limited edition. I have maybe a hundred more poems in my phone. I’ll use some of them to make songs out of, maybe another poetry book.

Neville, interviewed in advance of his Feb. 22 show at the Sheldon Concert Hall in St. Louis, is still touring behind “My True Story,” which was produced by fellow music legends Don Was and Keith Richards, who plays on all the tracks with an all-star band. It’s a collection of classic and later doo-wop songs, from “Ruby Baby” (Dion) to “Tears on My Pillow” (Little Anthony) to “Be My Baby” (the Ronettes and Phil Spector).

Neville says making the record — he went into the studio with 12 songs and ended up recording 23 — was “a labor of love” for Richards and the other players, including organist Benmont Tench of the Heartbreakers, guitarist Greg Leisz and drummer George Receli (Bob Dylan’s band).

And he says he’s far fromn done.

“I’ll be going back in this year with another album on Blue Note,” he says. “It’ll probably be some stuff I’m writing, and we still have stuff in the can for another doo-wop, maybe later on.”

Following is our Q&A session, edited for clarity and flow.

Q: You’re still touring behind “My True Story” and doing songs from it?

Neville: New to old and in between, whatever, you know. Stuff that nobody ever really heard, stuff that I grew up listening to, and especially in the duo shows, I can do impromptu, whatever comes into my mind.

Continue reading Aaron Neville Q&A: Doo-wop, poetry and Roy Rogers

My favorite roots-music CDs of 2013

By Barry Gilbert

It’s that time of year when I look back and think: Man, I dropped a lot of money on music this year. Again. So here’s my Top 10 list of the best roots music of 2013. Feel free to disagree. But keep in mind, these are the one’s that stuck among the albums I heard this year, and I didn’t hear anywhere close to everything. Nobody did.

And with 18 days remaining in the year, something great might slip into the mailbox before it’s over — like today, when Jimmer Podrasky’s “The Would-Be Plans” arrived. Can’t wait to dive into this long-overdue new work by the leader of the long-defunct Rave-Ups. Who knows, I might have to revise this list.

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Iris DeMent, a perfectionist of spirit, comes to a musical crossroad

Iris DeMent // Photo by Pieta Brown

By Barry Gilbert
Special to Go! Magazine

ST. LOUIS – The saying “good things come to those who wait” epitomizes folk singer Iris DeMent as well as her fans. It took 16 years for DeMent to release her fourth studio CD, last year’s “Sing the Delta.” And that gap says volumes about DeMent and, as she put it, “my music career, if you want to call it that.”

DeMent, who performs with a full band Friday (Nov. 22, 2013) at the Sheldon Concert Hall, is a perfectionist of spirit. If her writing doesn’t move her, she won’t record it.

As the years passed after the release of “The Way I Should” in 1996, “I kept trying to write, but there was just no life to it,” DeMent says by phone from her home in Iowa City, Iowa. “And I didn’t feel like making a record that was just a bunch of songs that didn’t have life and spirit to them. … My secret fear is that I’m a lazy ass, but I don’t think that’s it, because I (put in the work).”

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Lights, latkes, action: Food, music, social causes highlight Brothers Lazaroff’s Hanukkah Hullaballoo

Hullabaloo rhearsal-6
Rabbi James Stone Goodman at Hanukkah Hullabaloo rehearsal.

By Barry Gilbert
Special to the St. Louis Jewish Light

Brothers Lazaroff’s Hanukkah Hullabaloo, which began just three years ago as a humble holiday party after a Kinky Friedman concert, has grown into a music, dining and cultural experience bringing together multiple strands of the St. Louis Jewish community.

The event has broken out of the confines of its original home at Off Broadway in south St. Louis and moved to the Plush restaurant and nightclub in midtown. The third edition Dec. 4 will offer a separate-admission “tish,” or teaching dinner, led by rabbis; music ranging from rock, doo-wop and hip-hop to klezmer and acid-jazz; special readings; and DJ sets.

The centerpieces of the first two Hullabaloos will return: latkes prepared and served live onstage; and a performance of Rabbi James Stone Goodman’s Hanukkah epic “Eight Days,” backed by the Eight Nights Orchestra: Brothers Lazaroff with members of the Funky Butt Brass Band, Will Soll’s Klezmer Conspiracy and the Vaad.

The big change this year is the inclusion of several organizations, or presenting partners, representing the arts, social justice activists and creative entrepreneurs.

All proceeds from the general admission ($10 minimum donation) and the tish ($36 per person) will go to One Life-One World, an organization founded by Goodman at Congregation Neve Shalom that offers programs in prison outreach, mental illness and addiction. Last year’s Hullabaloo raised $1,500.

David and Jeff Lazaroff say the expansion of the Hullabaloo and the move to Plush are basically a happy coincidence.

“We were surprised by the community turnout (last year), and they wanted to sit,” David Lazaroff says.

Continue reading at the St. Louis Jewish Light



Garland Jeffreys: ‘R.O.C.K.’ in Chicago

The Garland Jeffreys Band performs at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago on Nov. 16, 2013 / Photo by Barry Gilbert

By Barry Gilbert

CHICAGO  (Nov. 16, 2013) // Some fans had waited for years, even decades, to see Garland Jeffreys on Saturday night. And that wait was more than worth it when the veteran rocker took the stage at the Old Town School of Folk Music in Chicago.

Jeffreys, who wears his New York City hometown like a suit of armor, came out at full speed with “Coney Island Winter” from his 2011 comeback album, “The King of in Between”: “Politician kiss my ass/ your promises break like glass,” he sang, the poetry and beat slamming at a country in crumbling decline.

But every song about liars, scam artists and abusers also showed the way toward redemption, truth and love. Jeffreys is ultimately a powerful, positive artist who radiates warmth and honesty and gets it back in kind from his audience. This show ended in a love fest that included a spontaneous third encore – his band had already tossed set lists into the crowd, and it took a few minutes for the players to heed the boss’ call to return.

Jeffreys, 70, also made a deal with his audience regarding his daughter Savannah, 16 (yes, 16!): “When my daughter comes to Northwestern (University), I expect you all to watch out for her.”

“We will,” the crowd answered.

Jeffreys is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-born singer/songwriter who has released just 12 studio albums in his 43-year career. His mixed heritage – Puerto Rican and African-American – is mirrored in his music, which embraces rock, soul, R&B and reggae. His lyrics often deal with the challenges and responsibilities of being “other,” such as in “I May Not Be Your Kind,” “It’s What I Am” (“… too white to be black, too black to be white … I’m one of them, it’s what I am”) and in “Hail Hail Rock ‘n Roll”:

Father of coal, mother of pearl/
Never too black to blush to pick up a white girl/
The color of you, the color of me/
You can’t judge a man by looking at the marque/

His set spanned 16 songs and almost 90 minutes, backed by an excellent four-piece band featuring Mark Bosch on guitar, Brian Stanley on bass, Tom Curiano on drums and Gray Reinhard on keyboards.

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Peter Cooper hits it out of the park on ‘Opening Day’

Peter Cooper
Peter Cooper

By Barry Gilbert

As I write this, Opening Day is just three hours away – well, Opening Day of the 2013 World Series. A good time to listen anew to Peter Cooper’s recent CD, “Opening Day.”

The bases on “Opening Day” (Red Beet Records) are loaded – with the humor, warmth and honesty that have marked Cooper’s previous solo albums as well as his contributions to three CDs with duo partner Eric Brace (who harmonizes on this CD).

opening day cvr(2)The CD cover is evocative of the music within: a photo of Cooper as a boy at his first major league game, in 1978 in Atlanta. “I’ve been coming since before I can remember,” Cooper sings. “ I’ve seen the pictures to prove it was so.”

And with just the Cardinals and the Red Sox standing, out of the 30 teams that had such high hopes back in April, the chorus of the title track has never been sharper (Cubs fans might want to avert their eyes):

“All’s well that ends well/ ’round here things don’t end well/ but we’re tied for first with the whole summer left to play/ the fall breaks kind for the lucky ones/ winter comes even to the champions/ keep the aftermath and the epitaph/ give me Opening Day.”

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