Les Dudek/Hill Country Barbecue Market/July 13, 2014

Six years after Les Dudek was born in Quonset Point, Rhode Island, his family moved to Florida. He built a reputation there as a proficient guitar player, and played guitar harmonies with Dickey Betts on the Allman Brothers Band’s “Ramblin’ Man” and the intro acoustic guitar on “Jessica.” Dudek became a guitarist for Boz Scaggs and the Steve Miller Band, and collaborated with Cher, Stevie Nicks and others in the 1970s and 1980s. Dudek’s guitar playing has not waned. Tonight before a small audience at Hill Country Barbecue Market, Dudek led a guitar-bass-drums trio through a bluesy rock jam. When singing well-written Southern-rock-sounding songs, Dudek played exacting rhythm chords over a basic driving beat, but as soon as he backed off the microphone, his fret dancing and aggressive guitar attack took over. Dudek played full and rich single-string leads tirelessly on his Fender Stratocaster with sweet, melodic phrasing. He slipped on a bottleneck for a few songs and played slide as well. The Allman Brothers Band will be needing a spectacular guitarist soon; that band would do well to revisit Les Dudek.

Crush Of Empires/Arlene’s Grocery/July 14, 2014

Crush Of Empires are a New York-based alternative hard rock band consisting of vocalist/guitarist Earl Drummond, guitarist Steven Cimino, drummer John-Paul Baker and bassist Randy DeGesero. The band released a self-titled CD in 2012 and has been playing the local rock club circuit. Playing a half-hour set at Arlene’s Grocery as part of a Monday night residency, Crush Of Empires proved to be a promising contender in the local hard rock scene. The quartet performed songs that were rooted in the New York singer-songwriter vein, but then developed through the filter of progressive rock. These songs were not scream-and-boogie metal rock, but rather well-thought-out compositions with sensitive singing, clean and melodic guitar leads, occasionally complex rhythms and grunge-like grooves.

SomeKindaWonderful/The Studio At Webster Hall/July 14, 2014

In 2013, a disillusioned Jordy Towers left Los Angeles, California, where he was hoping to make it big as a singer. While visiting family in the small town of Olmstead Falls, Ohio, he met guitarist Matt Gibson and drummer Ben Schigel. Three hours later, they recorded the song “Reverse.” The Cleveland-based trio added vocalist/percussionist Sarah Dyer and bassist/keyboardist Steve Basil. Making its New York debut at The Studio At Webster Hall, SomeKindaWonderful left an impression. Emotive singing with stinging guitar licks and funky basslines made for a sparse rock and soul groove that propelled a series of radio-crafted pop compositions. One song had a reggae lilt, another felt like it was written in a gospel church, and several were born of Towers’ hip-hop roots. SomeKindaWonderful defied genres, but ultimately may find a home within the burgeoning neo-soul movement.

Future Of What/The Standard Hotel, East Village/July 15, 2014

After touring on her 2010 solo album in 2011, Blair Gimma met Sam Axelrod, formerly of Chicago noise band The Narrator, in 2011 at a Thanksgiving party in Brooklyn, New York. Shortly thereafter, the two musicians added Max Kotelchuck to form Future Of What. Performing at the Annie O. music series at The Standard Hotel, East Village, Future Of What played a 45-minute set of original synthpop songs. The music was soft and dreamy, with Gimma singing in pillow-talk the whole time. The band’s songs were a wave of bright yet somber sound. The synth beats were slow and light, and unlike most synth music, devoid of blips and effects. The key ingredient that meshed together the performance was its harmonic simplicity.

Cowboy Mouth/B.B. King Blues Club & Grill/July 17, 2014

Vocalist/drummer Fred LeBlanc formed Cowboy Mouth in 1990, combining alternative rock with roots rock influences. Since then, the New Orleans-based rock quartet has brought a bit of Cajun style and Mardi Gras to all its concerts everywhere. A Cowboy Mouth concert is an interactive experience, in that LeBlanc makes his audience work as hard as he does. At B.B. King Blues Club & Grill, LeBlanc sang well, all four musicians played well, and the high-energy songs were raucously joyful. LeBlanc was a large ringleader and projected an even larger personality. Even with the opening song, LeBlanc spent an extended time instructing his fans to dance, jump and “lose your mind.” Then as the band continued playing, LeBlanc descended from the stage and spent perhaps 10 minutes walking through the club table by table demanding that the diners stand up and participate. As the performance progressed, the rowdy music was enjoyable, many songs included repetitive hooks for audience shout-alongs, and the audience had fun being part of the spectacle. Nevertheless, LeBlanc’s ongoing rants for audience participation were way over the top. Cowboy Mouth would do well to moderate a more manageable balance between quality song performance and party revelry.

Hollis Brown/Drom/July 17, 2014

College friends Mike Montali and Jon Bonilla wrote over 50 songs together before starting the band Hollis Brown in 2009 in Queens, New York. The band released a debut EP in 2012, and a debut album, Ride On The Train, in 2013. For Record Store Day 2014, the group released the limited edition vinyl-only Gets Loaded, a track-for-track re-imagining of The Velvet Underground’s 1970 album Loaded. After a few personnel changes, the band is currently comprised of Montali on vocals, Bonilla on guitar, Adam Bock on keyboards, Dillon Devito on bass and Andrew Zehnal on drums. At Drom, Hollis Brown performed original songs as well as Velvet Underground tracks. The original songs were built around heartfelt lyrics, sweet melodies and country-styled harmonies to create a rustic and soulful rock sound. The musicians mixed a foundation of classic blues-based rock with Southern rock guitar, honky tonk piano and a garage band rhythm section for a sound that felt familiar yet different. The Velvet Underground covers leaned more toward raw garage rock. Halfway through the performance, fellow Queens native Jesse Malin joined Hollis Brown on stage to sing The Velvet Underground’s “Sweet Jane.” Throughout the set, however, Hollis Brown showed that mainstream rock is alive and well.

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