Rant’n’Roll: Jersey Blues, Florida Rock, Amazing Devi, Controversy, Worldbeat & Aussie Pop…Meanwhile, Back At The Cafe

Rant’n’Roll: Jersey Blues, Florida Rock, Amazing Devi, Controversy, Worldbeat & Aussie Pop…Meanwhile, Back At The Cafe

—by , July 12, 2017

07-12 Rant 'N' Roll - Mike Esposito self-portrait

Jersey vocalist Mike Esposito has the blues. He also has bluegrass, country, folk and rock ‘n’ roll up his sleeve and if you ever happen to witness him sitting there with his Mississippi National Steel Guitar, you would do yourself a favor to stop and listen. That’s exactly what I did when I chanced upon him performing in Stanhope recently when he put a big smile on my face. Dude plays bottleneck slide, dobro, lap steel, guitar bass and ukulele. I love it when he does old-time mountain-music Appalachian back-porch swing. Check him out at mikeesposito1.com. He deserves attention. And he doesn’t need a band.

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Wade Waist Deep, by Thomas Wynn and The Believers, out of Orlando, is a Mascot Records debut that won’t seem to leave my CD player. Between the barrelhouse Southern Rock, the organic acoustic folk-pop, the all-out Americana, the sibling harmonies and classic Country-Rock, I have, indeed, waded waist deep and have come up totally refreshed. Produced by White Stripes producer Vance Powell, there’s even the kind of thought-provoking confessional lyrics that make this spectacular debut more than just a feel-good assemblage of well-worn comfortable clichés. There’s meat on these bones. Highlight? I’ve been playing “We Could All Die Screaming” for friends and neighbors just to see their reaction. Wholeheartedly recommended.

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Say hello to singer/songwriter Devi and then give her a long hard listen. This singer-songwriter delivers the goods on her self-released Amazing be it about the raptures of sex on the title track, loss (“One More Day”), more sex (“Summer Love”), fear (“Darkness”) and, of course, female empowerment (“Promises”). She can funk it up as well as blues it down. Plus, she knows how to rock.

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Then there’s Fred Gillen, Jr., singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist New Yorker from the Hudson Valley who is positively fearless on his self-released What She Said. Not above stirring the pot with incendiary lyrics that might get some folks angry, this is an artist who wears his heart on his sleeve, as they say. Ten CDs in 20 years, he refuses to budge. A friend and neighbor of the late Pete Seeger, he’s just as politically charged. Recommended with reservation.

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Jocelyn Medina finds Common Ground on her new Running Tree Records CD on which she sings, produces and arranges nine of her own tunes set to an Indian beat and utilizing flutes, guitar, keyboards, bass, drums, tabla and percussion. She studied the art of Hindustani vocals in Mumbai, India, for six months. The result is jazz mixed with raga and it’s absolutely delightful.

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Singer/songwriter Kathleen Potton has it all. Her self-released NERO debut is more Laura Nyro than the befuddled emperor who fiddled while Rome burned. This Australian lass from New South Wales emigrated to Singapore in Southeast Asia before finally ending up in New York City to work with producer/bassist Alan Hampton who found her a hot band to flesh out her ideas while she earned a Master’s Degree in Jazz Performance at Queens College. The songs, all her own except for Joni Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning,” veer pop but sway jazz. One highlight is “Montauk,” inspired by the Jim Carrey movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind in which the protagonist wistfully wants to freeze certain moments of his past. Wholeheartedly recommended.

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The MusikFest Café on the campus of Steel Stacks in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, hosted two transcendent shows recently starring a member of New Orleans royalty, Aaron Neville, and a band who, like Miles in the ‘70s, is pushing, poking and prodding jazz forward, The Robert Glaspar Experiment. While Neville sat and read his lyrics from a teleprompter, a hush fell over the room as he imbued songs alternately beloved and loathed with that singular idiosyncratic voice of his. It’s a voice that has no precedent. The only American vocalist I can think of who was so individualistic in her essence like never before was Billie Holiday. Hers and his are voices you recognize within seconds. The beloved material came fast and furious as he ran through a cornucopia of classics like the state song of the not-so-great state of Georgia written by Hoagy Carmichael in 1932 and appropriated by Ray Charles in 1960, “Georgia On My Mind.” Willie Nelson done stole the song in 1978 but now Neville owns it. What song did he sing that’s been universally loathed by hipsters since its radio heyday in 1968 by Bobby Goldsboro? “Honey” is still maudlin and worthy of derisive laughter but in Neville’s hands, the genius vocalist imbues it with the kind of pathos that its author, Bobby Russell, originally intended. He must have sung snatches of a hundred songs that night, some for just a line or two, accompanied only by a pianist and his own electric keyboard. It was magic.

The Robert Glaspar Experiment was a trip to the future as his brand of jazz incorporates prog-rock, post-bop swing, funky soul and hip-hop excitement. Glaspar is an A-Lister. He did the music for Don Cheadle’s 2015 flawed but fun Miles Ahead movie and his movements have always been progressive. He can play some hot jazz on piano but prefers to let his talented bandmates steal the show. They can go from “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and R&B to fusion and beyond. Casey Benjamin steals the show on sax and vocals as heard through his vocoder, an Auto-Tuned machine that fits right in and sounds amazing live.

Upcoming at the MusikFest Café: Arlo Guthrie 7/23, Andrew Bird/Esperanza Spalding 7/26, Hunter Hayes 7/27, Christopher Titus 7/30, Maria Bamford 8/18, The Billy Bauer Band’s Dave Matthews Tribute 8/19, Marshall Crenshaw/Los Straitjackets 8/23, Old Dominion 8/27, The Mavericks 8/31 and Henry Rollins 9/10.


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