The Delta Saints/Mercury Lounge/May 11, 2017
Born to a musical family in Louisiana, Benjamin Ringel learned to play guitar at age 10. Later, he learned to slide notes on a resonator guitar. While attending university in Nashville, Tennessee, he met bassist David Supica and together they began assembling the blues-rocking Delta Saints in 2007. They recruited guitarist Dylan Fitch, and the core of The Delta Saints was established. Drummer Vincent “Footz” Williams and keyboardist Nate Kremer joined later. The band’s fourth studio album, Monte Vista, was released on April 28, 2017.
At its core, The Delta Saints is a blues rock band, but at the Mercury Lounge, the band showed how it has continued to expand its bandwidth by occasionally straying from its original swampy bayou sounds to opposite extremes, from singer-songwriter pop to experimental jazz. At times, the music revolved around pensive lyrics, but then on other songs, the compositions were turned into extended funk jams. Fortunately the band has been able to stretch without losing its integrity or identity. Several of the new songs were honest reflections of modern events: “Sun God” related to the current political climate, and “Spaceman” was a tribute to the late David Bowie. The Delta Saints is transcending its vintage roots sound to make music worth investigating.
Delbert McClinton/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/May 13, 2017
Delbert McClinton was born in Lubbock, Texas, and relocated with his family to Fort Worth, Texas, when he was 11 years old. Growing up, he listened to country, tejano, western swing, rhythm and blues, and early rock and roll. Starting a career in music in 1962, he played harmonica, guitar and piano for others. McClinton played harmonica on Bruce Channel’s 1962 hit “Hey! Baby” and toured England in Channel’s band with the Beatles as the opening act; legend has it that McClinton instructed a young John Lennon on the finer points of blues harmonica. McClinton led the Straitjackets, the house band for all the top blues musicians who came through Ft. Worth, then worked briefly as a songwriter in Los Angeles, California, and then returned to Texas to join the Austin music scene. He began recording solo albums in 1973 and was inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2011. His 25th and most recent album, Prick of the Litter, was released on January 27, 2017.
B.B. King Blues Club & Grill seems to be McClinton’s New York anchor, as he headlines at the venue two or three times each year. Although the set list changes with each visit, the product is much the same, an outstanding set of blues-rooted rock and roll. At 76 years of age, McClinton played blues harmonica and sang rich and gutsy rhythm and blues vocals like he invented them. As he stepped back to catch his breath, the band carried his vision, providing lively rolling keyboard, guitar and horn breaks. In a couple of departures, McClinton crooned on a song that sounded like it came from the Great American Songbook, and the band supported him by stepping up the funk on a cover of the Temptations’ “Shakey Ground.” Otherwise, McClinton’s somewhat hoarse vocals clung to his signature blues rock. As usual, McClinton ended his set with his sole Top 40 hit single, 1980’s “Giving It Up for Your Love,” and then returned for encores. McClinton should get an award for rocking so hard in his senior years.
Delbert McClinton will return to B.B. King Blues Club & Grill on November 1.
Midnight Oil/Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom/May 15, 2017
Guitarist/keyboardist Jim Moginie and drummer Rob Hirst formed a rock trio in 1971 while still in high school in Sydney, Australia. They took the name Farm in 1972 and played covers of hard rock songs. Looking to expand their line-up, the three musicians placed a classified ad in 1975, and university student Peter Garrett became their new vocalist and synthesizer player. They wrote original songs, and Garrett began introducing progressive rock elements. In 1977, Farm added guitarist Martin Rotsey, and became a full-time pub-rock band called Midnight Oil. New Zealander Bones Hillman replaced two former bassists in 1987. Midnight Oil (also known informally as “The Oils” to fans) achieved international success for its driving hard-rock sound, intense live performances and political activism, particularly in aid of anti-nuclear, environmentalist and indigenous causes. After 11 studio albums, Garrett pursued political ambitions in 2002 and Midnight Oil disbanded. After a decade in politics, Garrett withdrew in 2013 and wrote a memoir, Big Blue Sky, that triggered his first solo album in 2016 and also reunited Midnight Oil. With no new recorded work, Midnight Oil’s current tour promotes several box sets of back-catalogue songs, released on May 5, 2017.
Midnight Oil prepared for the Great Circle 2017 World Tour by rehearsing nearly 170 songs. This meant that over the two nights at Webster Hall’s Grand Ballroom, the band played two distinct sets, with only a few songs overlapping. The second night’s set perhaps dug a little deeper, including two songs that had not yet been performed on the tour. The high-energy performance was a whirlwind of primal rock and roll firepower, while the two guitarists traded leads and the rhythm section’s hard and rapidly pulsing patterns repeatedly punctured the atmosphere like an automatic weapon. The tall and lanky Garrett jerked fiercely to the cadence as the band ripped. The songs often carried powerful messages, and Garrett’s strong vocals served them justice. The band provided a few softer moments, but even an acoustic harmony-filled version of “Koskiusko” was louder than really necessary. These dates were Midnight Oil’s first performance in New York in about 20 years, so the band gave the fans the hard-hitting and memorable show they anticipated.
Midnight Oil will perform at Terminal 5 on August 21.
Christopher Cross/City Winery/May 15,2017
Before becoming a singer-songwriter and solo performer, Christopher Cross (born Christopher Charles Geppert) played in a cover band in his native San Antonio, Texas. He made music history when his 1979 eponymous debut album earned him five Grammy Awards including—for the first time ever—the four most prestigious awards: Record of the Year (for the single “Sailing”), Album of the Year, Song of the Year (also for “Sailing”), and Best New Artist. Two years later, “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do),” won him an Oscar and a Golden Globe award. Over a course of a few years, Cross’ early albums produced nine Top 20 hits and sold more than nine million albums. His 10th and most recent album is 2014’s Secret Ladder. After decades in Southern California, Cross now lives in Austin, Texas.
Early in his performance at City Winery, Cross performed “Sailing” and “Never Be the Same.” He then explained that he hoped to showcase lesser-known songs from his entire career. While his most familiar tunes seemed to be the most skillfully crafted, the remainder of his set was also tasteful and pleasant. Cross sang higher than typical male vocalists, rendering a unique timber to his songs, and his lead guitar licks were equally impressive. Backed by a small band, Cross proved to be more rocking than one would explain from an Adult Contemporary artist. Most of his songs were accompanied by slide shows, some of which breathed more depth to his lyrics, particularly “Think of Laura,” about a college student killed by a stray bullet, and “We Will Remember You,” a tribute to those who serve in the military. Although his music does not get the attention it commanded 35 years ago, Christopher Cross is still a fine live performer.