Steve Earle: Political Animal
“I’ve been fortunate enough to meet most of my musical heroes,” said Steve Earle from the stage of the MusikFest Café in Bethlehem, Pa., “and only two of ‘em were assholes.”
For the 30th Anniversary of his “bluegrass metal” Copperhead Road album, Steve Earle & The Dukes rampaged through those songs in their entirety, giving special emphasis to “Snake Oil” (Reagan) and “The Devil’s Right Hand” (guns).
Later in the set, he changed the words to “Hey Joe” (written by Billy Roberts in 1962 and popularized by Jimi Hendrix in 1966) when he asks the song’s killer — who had just shot his wife — where’s he gonna run to now: “gonna go way down south, way down to Mexico way, if that asshole doesn’t build his fucking wall.” The song was prefaced with “Fixin’ To Die and Going To Hell,” where it’s the singer who shoots his woman. Dramatic, intense and heavy, Earle still has outlaw blood. It’s a Willie’n’Waylon aesthetic that he wears well, proudly, and on his sleeve. He looked and sounded great at 62, trimmed down, rumpled-up jeans, biker bandanna and wearing, for the occasion, his cleanest dirty shirt.
At the tail end of his set, he started getting real political, so much so that people started leaving. This is Pennsylvania, after all, a long-blue state that fell for the new batch of snake oil perpetrated upon enough less-educated people to turn the state red.
He touched upon his seven divorces and played a healthy dose of material from his current So You Wanna Be An Outlaw. He talked about Dylan and how doing interviews is part of his job because “Bob won’t do them anymore.” Now that’s he’s alone again naturally, he mentioned how he likes to sit wherever he wants at the movies, be on time, and “watch as much fucking baseball as I want. God, I’m glad it’s back.”
Kudos to the MusikFest Café for bringing him back. He starts his LSD tour with Lucinda Williams and Dwight Yoakam June 12 in Boston before hitting the Beacon Theater in New York City June 13. Upcoming at the MusikFest Café: John Popper May 2, Renaissance May 17, Spyro Gyra May 23, Philadelphia Funk Authority May 25 and Big Bad Voodoo Daddy June 7.
The Blues Champion
Champion Jack Dupree [1910-1992] positively Rocks (Bear Family Records, Germany) on his new blockbuster look-back at a sterling career that started in his native New Orleans and ended in Germany, his adopted country, where he died of cancer at 81. (This ex-pat was also a U.S. soldier and boxer.) With such accompanying blues stalwarts as acoustic guitarist Brownie McGhee, drummer Stick McGhee, electric guitarist Larry Dale (an early influence of Brian Jones when he formed the Stones), saxophonists Sam The Man Taylor and King Curtis plus Cream collaborator/percussionist Pete Brown on songs about sex, drinking, drugging and jail (topics near and dear to my heart), Dupree is so entertaining, these 29 songs go by quick. Highlights include “Drunk Again,” “Dirty Woman,” “Woman Trouble Again” and “Nasty Boogie.”
The Graft of Thieves
Graft (jazz&people) by Thiefs is a big-time combo of spoken-word poetry, hip-hop, jazz, rock, fusion, soul, funk and electronica. It is, quite simply, like nothing you’ve ever heard before. In taking its cue from today’s desperate times, bassist Keith Witty, saxophonist Christophe Panzani and drummer David Frazier, Jr. have invited pianist Aaron Parks and four rappers/MCs/poets to flesh out a scary vision. If “I Live In Fear” is its heartbeat, then “Make A Fist” is its devout call-to-arms. The music swirls, dipping and cascading over a liquid spill of Butterfly Wurlitzer, sax yelps, electric drums and a whole host of electronic blips, bleeps, squawks and squeals as these outraged prophets spew out their anger and philosophical conundrums over an ever-shifting bed of musical experimentation. And y’know what? This far-out experiment works! Beautifully. Righteously. It almost gives one hope. Almost.
Shaking Suzie’s Love
On Suzie Vinnick’s sixth CD, Shake The Love Around, the Canadian multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter has self-released, co-produced, written, sang and played bass, lap steel and guitar. Unlike her last two CDs which were solo endeavors, this one boasts a band: tight, in-the-pocket and bluesy, swampy (John Fogerty’s “110 In The Shade)” and soulful (Percy Mayfield’s “Danger Zone”). Her originals reek of optimistic enthusiasm (especially opener “Happy As Hell,” “Lean In To The Light” and “Find Some Freedom”). Between sax, accordion, Hammond B-3 and Wurlitzer, a North Americana vibe ensues and entrances. If The Band had one female voice instead of three males, it’d be Suzie Vinnick.
Agglo by Me&Mobi (Prolog Records) takes the musings of pianist Philipp Schlotter, bassist Lisa Hoppe and drummer Fred Burki through an electric, eclectic, electronic blender and when it’s all mixed’n’matched to confusion, you can drink it up to savor what they call post-jazz. Recorded in Switzerland, this sophomore effort was cooked up in six months with no improvisation and no composing. How can that be? They worked in layers, constantly revising, editing, re-editing, mixing, re-mixing and then over-dubbing the left-overs back into the mix. The studio itself became the fourth member of this trio. I call it a fusion project because acoustic and electric are fused together. And since they’re students of that which they take apart only to reassemble, it’s also experimental. Schlotter says, “this collection of `songs’ has the ability to collapse musical history on itself by dissolving musical traditions of the past in sonic iterations of potential after-futures. Get ready for a dose of post-jazz, dystopian sci-fi electronica.” Fine. Now that we’re all totally confused, it’s time to check this stuff out! I did, and it’s not only eminently listenable but its fabulously fractured funk is inherently psychedelic as hell.
Ain’t Nothin’ Like A Brass Band!
In my old age, horns have taken over from lead guitars as my go-to thrill. (Let us not forget that it was the saxophone, not the guitar, that provided rock ’n’ roll’s original spark.) New Orleans brass bands like New Birth, Rebirth and Dirty Dozen yield immeasurable joy. You can now add Toronto’s Heavyweights Brass Band to that short list. This City (Lulaworld), their third, is a star-studded affair as this quintet of trumpet, trombone, tenor sax, tuba (playing the part of bass) and drums have traveled to Louisiana to record and add members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band and Trumpet Mafia to their already rampaging party. “This city won’t wash away, this city won’t ever drown” wrote Steve Earle and, indeed, they close the party with Earle’s title tune.