As a young guitarist in Yorkshire, England, Oli Brown did not care what kind of music he played as long as he was given the opportunity to solo. When he was 15 years old, he was invited to play lead guitar in the American blues funk band Blinddog Smokin’ ; Brown toured the United States with the band during the summers of 2004-2009. Before long, the youth found himself being mentored by Buddy Guy, Taj Mahal, John Mayall, Walter Trout, Robben Ford and other blues greats. They taught him about the blues and stagecraft, plus they encouraged him to sing. Beginning in 2008, Brown released three studio albums and one live album, all of which earned him British blues awards. He then formed a more hard rocking band, RavenEye, in 2014 in Milton Keynes, England. RavenEye released an EP in 2015 and a debut album, Nova, on September 23, 2016. The power trio presently consists of vocalist/guitarist Oli Brown, bassist Aaron Spiers and drummer Adam Breeze.
RavenEye generously adapted the blues but made it far more riotous at The Studio At Webster Hall. For each song, Brown sang a bit, then the rhythm section held down the groove as Brown roared with extended solos until he returned to the microphone to end the songs with a bit more lyrics. Brown’s stagecraft was riveting, especially when he jumped off of the bass drum, or stood on his bassist’s thigh and shoulder, or rode his bassist’s shoulders through the audience, all while Brown played steaming non-stop guitar licks. A RavenEye concert is a show to both hear and see.
Pokey LaFarge/Bowery Ballroom/July 12, 2017
Andrew Heissler was reportedly nicknamed “Pokey” as a child by his mother in Bloomington, Illinois, as she repeatedly scolded him to hurry. Pokey’s grandfather, a member of the St. Louis Banjo Club, gave Pokey his first guitar and tenor banjo. In his early teens, while living in Normal, Illinois, Pokey’s love of Americana grew when he first heard blues in a local pizza parlor. Then, after hearing Bill Monroe at age 16, Pokey traded his guitar for a mandolin. Pokey graduated from high school in 2001, and the 17-year-old Pokey hitchhiked to the West Coast and then to Ashville, North Carolina, busking on sidewalks and pedestrian malls along the way. He adopted the name Pokey LaFarge because it sounded like the musical direction he desired; this would later become the name of his band as well. Two albums received the Independent Music Award for Best Americana Album, and the band began getting better gigs and recording opportunities. Pokey LaFarge’s seventh and most recent studio album, Manic Revelations, was released on May 19, 2017.
Headlining at the Bowery Ballroom, Pokey LaFarge performed original songs founded in timeless music that sprung from both the heart and from the heartlands. LaFarge himself led the charge with smooth, crooning vocals, guitar and guitjo, and ably backed himself with Adam Hoskins (guitar), Joey Glynn (bass), Ryan Koenig (harmonica, washboard, guitar, guitjo), Luc Klein (trumpet), Ryan Weisheit (clarinet, saxophone), and Matthew Meyer (drums). Rooted in old-timey sounds, the songs avoided a dusty retro or nostalgic tone by featuring keen lyrics, pop melodies and lively arrangements. The set bounced with free and fresh takes on hot swing, early jazz, rolling ragtime, muddy blues, Appalachian folk, and front porch bluegrass. The musicians frequently were given moments to improvise and shine, which prevented the music from locking into one stiff genre and also further distanced the performance from becoming a novelty event. This was old-fashioned music with a biting new edge.
King’s X/City Winery/July 14, 2017
Bassist/vocalist Doug Pinnick was born in Braidwood, Illinois, then at age 14 moved to Joliet, Illinois. Drummer Jerry Gaskill was born and raised in Bridgeton, New Jersey, and attended college in Springfield, Missouri. The two met in 1979 in Springfield while working in a failed musical project coordinated by Greg X. Volz of the Christian rock band Petra, but then became the rhythm section for guitarist Phil Keaggy’s live band. Pinnick and Gaskill later played in two separate bands that featured guitarist Ty Tabor. By 1980, Pinnick, Gaskill and Tabor bonded as the Edge, later called Sneak Preview, and renamed King’s X in 1985, based out of Houston, Texas. King’s X’s 12th and most recent studio album is 2008’s XV.
King’s X has remained together for 37 years despite a lack of commercial success. At City Winery, the power trio demonstrated the brilliance that emerges when three talented musicians are in sync with each other for so long a period. Playing 17 songs from nine of the band’s albums, King’s X performed complex hard rock with experimental and prog-rock flourishes. Pinnick’s muscular vocals borrowed from funk and blues, and the band’s harmonies evoked the 1960s British Invasion and psychedelic eras. The lyrics leaned on the spiritual, but derived their essence from the musicians’ struggles to balance the perplexities of life while embracing hope. The defining genius in all this was in how the dynamic and dulcet compositions fit together so mellifluously. King’s X performed superior music for the intellect and the soul like only a veteran band could muster.
The Bloodshots/Hill Country Barbecue Market/July 14, 2017
Little Lesley Swift was a farmer’s daughter when at age eight she began playing piano and singing country music in backwoods bars in upstate New York. She later learned to play guitar and upright bass, and began writing and performing her own rock and roll songs. She met ex-cowboy and rockabilly guitarist Brian “Swifty” Swift in Nevada and took to his wild guitar style. They moved to New York City and formed The Bloodshots with drummer Bobby Lee of Staten Island. The Bloodshots so far released one album, On Fire, in 2013, and a couple of 7″ singles. The band now has a home base in Greenville, South Carolina.
Performing two sets at Hill Country Barbecue Market, Little Lesley led The Bloodshots on most songs with her complex bass rhythms and her sassy, belting vocal delivery. While the coifed hair and cowgirl outfit made her the center of attention, the strong undercurrent of Swifty’s twangy guitar licks were the center of gravity in each song. Lee’s big-band influenced percussion completed the band’s sparse sound. The set included some western swing and boogie-woogie, but the trio largely remained faithful to a rockabilly sound powered by turbo rock and roll energy. The music was honest, passionate and danceable, ripe for listening and for partying.