Joy Askew/City Winery/June 28, 2017
Joy Askew grew up in Newcastle, England, and by age 14 was playing piano and singing around town in a blues band with her brother. She later attending a jazz college in London, where she studied tenor saxophone along with the piano and vocal classes. She heard American music and determined she would get there. This opportunity came when she joined the band Eye to Eye for an East Coast tour in 1982, which led to her relocating to New York City. She played keyboards and sang background on tours for Joe Jackson in 1982, Laurie Anderson in 1984, Rodney Crowell in 1991, and Peter Gabriel in 1992. Askew began working on a solo career in 1993. For her eighth and most recent album, Queen Victoria, released on May 11, 2017, returned to England and recorded with a traditional British brass band.
Over the past few years, Joy Askew’s performances have gradually gravitated from accompanying herself only with a piano, to incorporating a folkie band, and recently to piano with rhythm section plus horns. For most of her set at City Winery, Askew sat at a piano on the left half of the stage, and five horn players sat in a semicircle on the right side of the stage. This reworking of her songs to this final stage of piano and horns brought a new light to her songs. On many songs, Askew began with a sensitive, whispering delivery, but opened into a big, loud voice, equally passionate and resounding with richness. “Queen Victoria” in particular featured Askew playing accomplished piano melodies that built towards a rousing climax. The Americanized brass band consisting of tuba, French horn, trombone and two trumpets (French horns and trumpets are usually absent in traditional British brass bands) punctuated a moody, even mournful enormity to the piano-based songs. Headliner James Maddock joined her for the final song, “Knocking Around an Old Tin Can,” adding a grittiness to an otherwise soft and fluid set. The piano/vocal/horn arrangements were brilliantly imagined and beautifully executed. The result was original and moving.
James Maddock/City Winery/June 28, 2017
James Maddock, the son of a part-time jazz musician, was born and raised in a village called Countesthorpe, pretty much in the center of England. He sang in local bands including Fire Next Time, which released an album in 1988. In his 20s, Maddock relocated to London, England, where he formed an Americana-inspired quartet called Wood; understandably, the band had greater success in America than in the Brit-pop obsessed United Kingdom, and songs from Wood’s sole 1999 album were featured on television shows like Dawson’s Creek. Ultimately, this brought Maddock to New York City in 2004, where he launched a solo career. His 2009 solo album Sunrise On Avenue C won a New York Music Award for Best Americana Album. Maddock’s fourth and most recent studio album is 2015’s The Green.
Bruce Springsteen and Willie Nile are fans of James Maddock, and at Maddock’s debut headlining show at City Winery it was easy to determine why; Maddock’s music has grown to sound very much like that of those two singer-songwriters. Maddock’s point of origin seemed to be an earthy folk aesthetic that went ballistic with powerhouse rock arrangements. Maddock’s poetic lyrics and craggy vocals were given ammunition from his band mates, who loaded the songs with imaginative arrangements, sparkling piano fills and stinging guitar leads. Perhaps the singer-songwriter is in the process of outgrowing his folk and Americana roots, because the set took the vulnerability from which the songs were born and gave them turbo pop and mega kick. Whether his future performances continue at this fevered pace or they mellow back to his earlier style, either presentation is a musical event worth catching live.
Raging Slab/The Map Room at the Bowery Electric/June 30, 2017
Guitarists Greg Strzempka and Elyse Steinman met in 1983 in New York City and discovered that they shared a common passion for 1970s heavy rock and blues boogie and 1980s punk rock groups. The couple enlisted like-minded musicians and Raging Slab began playing its first shows in Manhattan rock clubs. As the band gained a following, it also wound up having endless lineup changes; about 20 drummers can claim to have had membership in Raging Slab. The band was also plagued with ongoing record company resistance and lack of support. In 1990, Strzempka and Steinman purchased a rural property in Hooversville, Pennsylvania, where they built a recording studio they named Slabby Road. The members of the group lived together on the farm in a communal relationship. Raging Slab went on hiatus in 2002, but Strzempka and Steinman reformed a new lineup in 2004. Steinman lost a three-year battle with cancer on March 30, 2017.
The Raging Slab concert tonight at the Map Room at the Bowery Electric was a memorial to Steinman. Attendees were welcomed with a food spread, and also with photographs of Steinman from childhood to rocker along the walls. The audience cheered when after a few songs Strzempka strapped on his United States-shaped guitar. The band reunited Strzempka with former lead guitarist Mark Middleton and former bassist Alec Morton. Paul Sheehan played drums for the first few songs and then Bob Pantella replaced him for the rest of the set. Tom “5” Guay, formerly of White Zombie and Angel Rot, played guitar on “Sir Lord Ford.” Pamela Le Grand sang a cover of Mountain’s “Mississippi Queen.” Vocalist Liza Colby of the Liza Colby Sound and guitarist Daniel Rey, producer of Iggy Pop, the Ramones and Raging Slab, joined Raging Slab for the Jeff Beck Group’s “I’m Going Down,” and Rey also played guitar on a cover of Bad Company’s “Shooting Star.” The Raging Slab songs were not the same without Steinman, but Strzempka and a series of guest vocalists and musicians performed with the blunt energy and fierce excitement that comes from playing raw hard rock. The jams borrowed from southern rock and stoner rock but remained knit in the boogie tradition. Raging Slab may have to rebuild once again, but it would be a shame for the band not to rock again in some form.
Flat Duo Jets/Hill Country Barbecue Market/June 30, 2017
John Michael Dexter Romweber was born in Batesville, Indiana, and played in his first band, Crash Landon & the Kamikazes, at age 11 while attending junior high school. He later teamed with a drummer and the two musicians became the Flat Duo Jets, naming themselves after hearing Gene Vincent speak about his Gretsch Duo Jet guitar. The Flat Duo Jets began recording in 1985 and relocated to Athens, Georgia, where the band was featured in the film Athens, GA: Inside Out. The Flat Duo Jets moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and then split in 1999 after eight albums. Romweber subsequently released solo albums and formed the Dexter Romweber Duo, which for a time included drummer Crash LaResh, who performed with Romweber in various outfits from 1995 to 2005. In the 2008 documentary It Might Get Loud, Jack White played the Flat Duo Jets’ version of the traditional “Frog Went A-Courtin'” for Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page and U2’s The Edge, and discussed the impact that the Jets had on him and his music. In 2009, a documentary about Romweber’s musical journey, Two Headed Cow, featured testimonials from White, Exene Cervenka of X, Cat Power and Neko Case. Flat Jets Duo’s most recent album is 2008’s soundtrack from Two Headed Cow.
Dexter Romweber and Crash LaResh reunited, this time as Flat Duo Jets, at Hill Country Barbecue Market, playing rootsy garage rock and roll from America’s south and borrowing generously from traditional blues, rhythm & blues, rockabilly and country. The sparse guitar/drums arrangements created spine-tingling eruptions that were abrupt, coarse, and blazing. LaResh, ostentatious with his multiple tattoos, bleached blond dreads and oversized sunglasses, forcefully played his drum kit while standing, and seemed to be energized by the mad riffs and deep grooves played by Romweber. Romweber, on the other hand, dressed more conservatively in an opened white shirt with the sleeves rolled up, seemed consumed by his playing and nothing else, as he played nearly the entire set with his eyes closed and his back to the audience. Romweber sang soulfully and tenderly, yet kept his vocals as raw as his guitar playing. Romweber spoke little, except at the end when he begged off playing an encore.