Mike Greenblatt’s Rant ‘N’ Roll

The Smithereens Celebrate 40 Years

It was 1979 when guitarist Jim Babjak, drummer Dennis Diken, and bassist Mike Mesarus of Carteret knew they had to get a lead singer, so they put an ad in the classified section of The Aquarian Weekly. The late Pat DiNizio answered the ad and the band made their debut on March 23, 1980 at The Dirt Club in Bloomfield. Seventeen albums and 2,500+ shows later, after opening tours for Tom Petty (who personally requested them), Squeeze, The Pretenders, The Ramones, and Lou Reed, Robin Wilson of Gin Blossoms pinch-hit for Pat at a recent show in Virginia. Now it’s singer/songwriter Marshall Crenshaw fronting the band. It’s such a hot ticket that rock ‘n’ roll Professor George Dassinger of William Paterson University in Wayne—who used to write for this newspaper—will be taking his entire class to the South Orange Performing Arts Center on March 6 to see some Smithereens action so these kids will know that solid rock does, indeed, still live. Those who can’t make it can go the next night, March 7, when The Pollack Theater in West Long Branch will get loud with the Smithereen sound. It’s a Jersey thing. 

Come To The Revival!

It’s a Dustbowl Revival. This eclectic alt-Americana band knows no genre limitations. These multi-instrumentalists, depending upon the mood and venue, might venture into folk, jazz-grass, pop, down-home back-porch Appalachian mountain music, pure country, rock ‘n’ roll, or jam-band alternative. The new album, Is It You Is It Me, is deliciously listenable over and over. Brian Joseph (Bon Iver) engineered it, thus a pristine attention-to-detail permeates every track with a special trebly high. They’ll exhibit their particular blend of special March 12 at Rough Trade in Brooklyn with Smooth Hound Smith opening.     

Achieving a State of Blissonance

The superb quintet out of Oakland known as Never Weather has unleashed its Blissonance debut on Ridgeway Records. Led by drummer/composer Dillon Vado, this 12-track gem opens with a blues that features dynamite trumpeter Josh Reed and closes with Monk’s rarely-played “Introspection.” The cool thing about this last track is that they recorded it multiple times in different tempi and Vado inserted some of the riffs within the previous songs so that by the time it is presented in its entirety, you feel like you’ve heard it before. Vado’s main influence, Paul Motian, can be mostly discerned on the mysterious ballad “Mask.” The rhythm section is the star of “There Is No Secret” by guitarist Justin Rock who rolls like a big wheel on a Georgia cotton field when bassist Tyler Harlow gets movin’ and groovin’ with him like a second skin. The highlight, though, has to be the title track, 7:47 of pure abstract “Blissonance” that goes through a myriad of changes.    

Sophisticated Soul

Deep Blue Love (Dot Time Records), by sultry French-British jazz singer-songwriter Sarah Thorpe, hits the sweet spot. She puts words to Pat Metheny’s “Free,” uses Jon Hendricks’ scat lyrics to Randy Weston’s “Pretty Strange,” completely revitalizes Horace Silver’s “Lonely Woman,” and has the courage to end it all on the Diane Reeves arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s “Infant Eyes.” Hers is a purring, evocative instrument capable of a wide-range of emotion. Backed by piano, bass, drums, alto and soprano saxophones, trumpet, and flugelhorn, Thorpe hits her stride midway through the opening title track (one of four she wrote), never letting up be it on a waltz, some Latin fire, swing, cabaret, or groove-laden sophisticated soul.   

Fun & Funky

Toronto octet Manteca has been confounding audiences since 1979. Are they a funk band? A worldbeat ensemble? A jazz band? They’ve opened shows for Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Weather Report, and Van Morrison. Their frontline—of bass clarinet and alto flute—is unique. Discerning music fans in Asia, South Africa, and Germany know their name. Now, with the release of the four-track Augmented Indifference, their 13th album, North American ears will no doubt perk up. It’s all over the map. Maybe they’re now an alternative rock band? The blaring electric guitar soloing would attest to that. Yet the sprightly percussion keeps it grounded within salsa parameters. There’s just no way to properly define it, and that’s always been their strength.  


Native New Yorker Steven Keene has scaled the top of the mountain only to fall back down, dust himself off, and climb anew. Twenty-five years ago, his sophomore release, No Alternative, pretty much encapsulated his mindset. Recorded with numerous Dylan cohorts, the “Only Homeless” single made him big in Europe for five minutes. Six years later, his Set Clock featured a tune called “She Poured Gasoline” that certainly set him apart from his fellow folkies, adding a Tom Waits/Leonard Cohen vibe which he has since cultivated on his new It Is What It Is (ONErpm Records) which now boasts “Don’t Blame It On The Alcohol” as the tune most likely to pop. I prefer “Far Better Friend Than Lover” or “She Used Me I Used Her.” Opening with “Can’t See It When You’re In It,” Keene gets right to the heart of matters whether he’s singing about booze or regret or both within the same song. He produced it himself down the shore in Long Branch with a bevy of sounds like mandolin, pedal steel, and keyboards in obeyance to his idiosyncratic vocals, imbued with lust, wisdom, and ever-searching curiosity. 

Jazz To The Max

Swing’s the thing on Ken Fowser’s gorgeous Morning Light where on his fifth album the tenor saxophonist/composer continues the tradition of his forebears while adding new and exciting wrinkles to the equation. The Philadelphia native hit Jersey running where he studied with Harold Mabern at William Paterson University before becoming a man-in-demand in New York City where he now resides. As produced by Marc Free, who can do no wrong, his sound is sterling, accentuating the positive, eliminating the negative, and keying in on the kind of melodic and harmonic abstractions that characterizes most releases on Posi-Tone Records. He wrote all 11 and each one is a highlight. His quintet gets to shine, from his front-line partner Josh Bruneau on trumpet and flugehorn to his exquisite rhythm section of pianist Tadataka Unno, bassist Bince Dupont, and drummer Joe Strasser.