Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives/Bowery Ballroom/April 26, 2017
Born in Philadelphia, Mississippi, Marty Stuart taught himself to play the guitar and mandolin. By age 12, Stuart performed with the bluegrass group The Sullivan Family. At age 14, he began a six-year stint in Lester Flatt’s band, then played with Vassar Clements, Doc Watson and then a six-year stint with his future father-in-law, Johnny Cash. Stuart released his first solo album in 1979, and had a string of country hits in the early 1990s. His 18th studio album, Way Out West, was released on March 10, 2017.
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives (guitarist Kenny Vaughan, bassist Chris Scruggs and drummer Harry Stinson) headlined at the Bowery Ballroom and for nearly two hours performed an eclectic mélange of traditional country, bluegrass, honky-tonk, rockabilly, gospel and even surf music. Now at age 58, Stuart still sang his hits as clearly as when he recorded them, and also rocked seven songs from his new album and at least six cover songs. These covers included the set-starter, the traditional “I Know Your Rider” (popularized by the Grateful Dead and others), through Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere” (popularized by The Byrds), and Lefty Frizzell’s “Long Black Veil” (popularized by The Band). Stuart sang, played guitar and dazzled on mandolin, and each of his versatile multi-instrumentalists also sang lead on one song and commanded the spotlight for masterful solos, such that the set often seemed more centered on instrumental jams than on songs, particularly when Stuart and Vaughan engaged in string-bending duels. Yet, several of the songs captured attention as epic story songs, particularly with Stuart singing Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” and Stinson singing Woody Guthrie’s “The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd.” Sometimes more western than country, Stuart and company’s roots were in old-time folk and country classics, and the high-energy performance gave these old sounds new life.
Sweet Crude/Mercury Lounge/April 28, 2017
In New Orleans, Louisiana, brothers Sam Craft (lead vocals, violin, additional percussion) and Jack Craft (keyboards, vocals) led a band called Glasgow that in its final incarnation included John Arceneaux (drums) and Alexis Marceaux (lead vocals, additional percussion). Alexis and Sam also played in another band, Alexis & The Samurai, with bassist Stephen McDonald (bass) and Skylar Stroup (keyboard, trumpet, vocals). The six formed an indie mega-band in 2013, and later recruited Dave Shirley (drums). Consistent with a desire to remain true to their origins, they selected the name Sweet Crude, acknowledging the oil-rich Gulf Coast, and chose to sing both in English and in the local Cajun French dialect. Sweet Crude released its debut album, Créatures, on April 21, 2017.
Sweet Crude headlined the Mercury Lounge, and proved to be a unique-sounding party band. Sam Craft and Alexis Marceaux led most of the vocals, but there could be as many as five band members shouting in unison as the songs reached their peaks. Adhering to a strict “no guitars” policy, Sweet Crude was driven by cascades of voices, keyboards, bass, and oodles of percussion instruments at strategic apexes. Tribal rhythms abounded, such that the Franglish chants became additional percussion, even as they injected playful “na na-nas.” Drawing from the breath of New Orleans’ soul, but decidedly not Cajun, zydeco or dixieland-based, Sweet Crude sounded like a marching band that discovered bouncy bilingual parade-pop. Sweet Crude is a band of party-starters with a penchant for keeping it Creole.
Mike Peters & The Alarm/Gramercy Theatre/April 29, 2017
Vocalist/guitarist Mike Peters was born in Prestatyn, Wales, and grew up in Rhyl. His musical debut in 1975 was fronting Harry Hippie, a band formed with his schoolmates to perform at his sister’s 21st birthday party. After seeing the Sex Pistols perform in 1976, he formed a punk band called The Toilets in 1977, then played in a Who tribute band called Quiasimodo in 1978, and then formed a power pop band called Seventeen. That band evolved into Alarm Alarm, which was shortened to The Alarm in 1981 when the band relocated to London, England. The band sold five million albums before Peters quit the band after a concert in 1991. Since 2000, Peters has used the brand name The Alarm with other musicians. The soundtrack to the documentary Man in the Camo Jacket was released in vinyl on Record Store Day, April 22, 2017; the digital version will be released in June. Peters lives in Dyserth, North Wales.
Mike Peters is a three-time cancer survivor, and his life, musical career, health struggles, and commitment to a cancer foundation called Love Hope Strength were captured in an inspiring documentary, Man in the Camo Jacket. That film debuted at the Gramercy Theatre and was followed by an acoustic set by Peters in the afternoon and an electric concert by The Alarm in the evening. The electric set was turbo-charged, with Peters singing an archive of 25 uplifting songs of hope, idealistic values and spirituality, and the trio behind him powered the songs with a wall of sound. (An additional musician, David Bowie’s sideman and producer Tony Visconti, joined on bass and back-up vocals on “Sold Me Down the River.”) Peters was in fine voice and seemed positively joy-filled. While many of Peters’ most recent New York concerts have been solo acoustic, this set was largely booming and bombastic. Far from the band’s punk and pop origins, this set was delivered in 1980s-style stadium rock, even when Peters played acoustic guitar and harmonica. More than 35 years after the band began, the world might be in need of another burst of The Alarm’s happy rock.
Kris Kristofferson/City Winery/April 30, 2017
Born to a military family in Brownsville, Texas, Kris Kristofferson moved often, finally settling in San Mateo, California, and studied creative writing in college in Pomona, California, and Oxford, England. He started his musical career unsuccessfully in England under the name Kris Carson. Pressured by his family, Kristofferson joined the U.S. Army, but then rejected an opportunity to teach at West Point Academy, leading his parents to disown him. Instead, he moved in 1965 to Nashville, Tennessee, where he swept floors at a record company and flew a commercial helicopter until he began peddling his songs to well-known recording artists in the 1970s. By 1987, it was estimated that more than 450 artists had recorded Kristofferson’s compositions. Kristofferson had several successful albums of his own and launched an acting career; he has appeared in 70 films. His 29th and most recent album, The Cedar Creek Sessions, was released on June 17, 2016.
In 2016, Rolling Stone reported that the 80-year-old Kristofferson was dealing with Lyme disease, originally diagnosed as Alzheimer’s disease. At Kristofferson’s solo acoustic set at City Winery, there was little evidence of the affliction beyond a much more frail vocal delivery. Kristofferson was charming in his between-song chatter, and accompanied only by his acoustic guitar, the sparse interpretations of his songs demonstrated how gifted he has been as a songwriter. While his soft vocal delivery was absent the husky projection of his past, his new renditions only made the lyrics more poignant and the lonely, pensive passion more genuine. Despite its limitations, Kris Kristofferson’s performance was startlingly timeless and a first class experience.