Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams w. Cindy Cashdollar/City Winery/Jan. 22, 2019
Larry Campbell was born in New York City, and in the ‘70s and ‘80s, he played guitar, mandolin, and anything with strings in local bands, as well as four Broadway productions. Teresa Williams grew up on a cotton farm in Peckerwood Point, Tennessee; as a young adult, she moved to New York City where she sang and played guitar in bands including Southern Comfort and Swing Fever. Campbell and Williams met when he was hired to play pedal steel guitar for her at a New York gig. They married in 1988, but their separate careers kept them musically apart: he backed Bob Dylan and others, while she backed Emmylou Harris and performed her own music. Whenever they were home, however, they joined Levon Helm‘s Midnight Ramble band in Woodstock, New York. Committed to working together, the duo known as Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams released albums in 2015 and 2018.
At City Winery, Campbell and Williams remained faithful to country roots music, adding resonator and steel guitar player Cindy Cashdollar to the ensemble for most of the set. Campbell played guitar, mandolin, and fiddle, while the duo’s vocals harmonized with substantial twang. Sweet, lilting vocals alternated with speedy fingerpicking throughout the set. Appalachian-styled country and bluegrass dominated, but the set also drew inspiration from Memphis soul, Chicago blues, and Delta honky tonk. When the temperature seemed right for rock ‘n’ roll, bassist Jesse Murphy of Brazilian Girls and drummer Justin Guip, who also performs in Hot Tuna, delivered a driving tempo while Campbell wailed on his guitar. Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams proved equally skillful in playing casual back porch music and energizing booty-shaking songs.
Alejandro Escovedo/City Winery/Jan. 18, 2019
Alejandro Escovedo was born in San Antonio, but his start in music began in San Francisco, playing guitar in the punk rock group the Nuns from 1975 until the band split in 1979. Escovedo then co-founded the cowpunk band Rank and File in New York City in 1980, before relocating with the band to Austin, Texas. In 1983, Escovedo formed the guitar-rocking True Believers with his brother Javier Escovedo, formerly of the Zeros. Both Rank and File and the True Believers split up in 1987, leaving Escovedo to work in a record store while indulging his hard rock tastes with a side project called Buick MacKane and leading the Alejandro Escovedo Orchestra from 1987 through 1990. He finally launched a solo career in 1992. Escovedo’s 13th solo album, a concept album called The Crossing, was released on Sept. 14, 2018.
Alejandro Escovedo is best known for playing roots rock and Americana, but his most recent album—a fictional rock opera about a pair of punk-loving youth in America—has brought out his punk rock, hard rock, and alternative country sides. The plot follows two immigrant youth as they discover their new life in Texas is not the America they envisioned. On this night, the first of three headlining nights at City Winery, Alejandro performed nine of the album’s 17 tracks, and the styles of music shifted frequently to match the narrative of the story. His backup band, a combo from Italy called Don Antonio which had backed him on European tours two years ago, masterfully introduced a uniquely cinematic approach to the music.
Early in the set, while a stage technician was adjusting an amplifier, Escovedo detoured by playing unrehearsed renditions of “Rebel Kind” and “Sister Lost Soul.” On this night, Jesse Malin, Derek Cruz, and Richard Barone joined Escovedo and Don Antonio for the encores. Overall, this might not have been the kind of Alejandro Escovedo concert that fans have come to expect, but it was not so foreign either. Escovedo’s signature songwriting style and in-concert passion anchored the show with the familiar, while embracing the new album’s more ambitious excursion.
The Hipp Pipps/The Map Room at the Bowery Electric/Jan. 25, 2019
In a suburban town outside of Boston, an adolescent Matt Langone saw the Beatles perform on the Ed Sullivan Show. This event inspired him to learn to play guitar, and within a few years he was playing the New England circuit with the Peytons and the Trademarks. Since relocating to the New York area, he has played lead guitar in the Cynz, the Waldos, and the Trash Mavericks. Presently, he sings and plays guitar in the Hipp Pipps. Bassist Kevin Shaw (formerly of the BMTs) and drummer Frankie Pipps complete the band. The Hipp Pipps released a self-titled album in 2015. The Hipp Pipps play the local rock band circuit, but each member moonlights in other bands; Langone in Gotham Rockets, Shaw in the Wraycyclers, and Pipps in the Pipptones.
Matt Langone’s wife, Zoe Stark, presents a monthly concert series at the Map Room at the Bowery Electric, and on many occasions the headliner is the Hipp Pipps. Named after one of the band’s songs, the new year’s opening event was called Rock ‘n’ Roll Party, and indeed that defined the evening. Langone and Shaw sang lead on high energy party songs, with Langone squinting as he ripped on his guitar, Shaw bopping across the tiny stage to the rhythm of his bass, and Pipps battering his drum kit. The Hipp Pipps covered Chuck Berry and Eddie Cochran, but all the original songs sounded like they could have been transplanted from that era as well. This was as pure a rock ‘n’ roll party as one can have in 2019.
Robert Gordon + His All-Star Band/Hill Country Barbecue Market/Jan. 24, 2019
In 1956, Elvis Presley released “Heartbreak Hotel,” his first single on a major record label. That song on the radio inspired Robert Gordon, a nine-year-old in Bethesda, Maryland, to pursue a career as a rock ‘n’ roll musician. At his brother’s request, a 15-year-old Gordon sang at summer camp, marking his public debut as a singer. In his late teens, he sang in several local bands, and at age 17 recorded with a group called the Confidentials, which after multiple lineup changes became the Newports. Gordon married at age 19 and fathered two sons, and in 1970 the family moved to New York City, where he opened a clothing store. Business and family took up most of his time, but after a divorce in the mid-1970s, Gordon joined the burgeoning punk rock scene, singing in Tuff Darts. Tuff Darts became popular locally and appeared ready for a more mainstream audience, until Gordon suddenly quit the band to start a solo career singing rockabilly. Over the years, he has teamed up with stellar guitar icons such as Link Wray, Chris Spedding, and Danny Gatton. Gordon’s 10th and most recent studio album is 2014’s I’m Coming Home.
Robert Gordon does not write music, but rather interprets rockabilly standards and obscurities with his rich baritone. Billed as Robert Gordon + His All-Star Band at Hill Country Barbecue Market, Gordon’s band consisted of three well-known session players: guitarist Chris Spedding, bassist Rob Stoner, and drummer Thommy Price. Spedding led the trio through several songs before Gordon appeared on stage. With no new recording to promote, Gordon’s performance was very similar to his concerts of recent years, even with his slightly altered “all-star” lineup. As usual, Gordon had at his feet a large handwritten set list, but after a few songs paid it little attention, instead taking requests from the audience and band members, singing songs the audience has heard him sing in the past. Spedding seemed to play more extended solos than at last summer’s concert at the same venue, and showcased his masterful ability to pick rockabilly runs rapidly and smoothly. Gordon and his band did a fine job mining a treasury of rockabilly songs; one can only hope that he will introduce new material at future concerts.