November 18, 2018

Concert #851 - The Salty Suites and Phil Salazar & The Kin Folk at McCabe's Guitar Shop (November 16, 2018)

Friday night's concert at McCabe's was a double-header that introduced me to two highly entertaining acts.

The evening opened with a seventy-minute set by Phil Salazar & The Kin Folk, a quintet of greying gentlemen whose musical skills and energy level brought us to our feet. Covering various genres - from traditional bluegrass to western swing to cajun music - their set was very well received by the crowd. With three vocalists and a couple of multi-instrumentalists in the lineup, Phil's band kept things rolling at a high pace, with lots of humorous moments between songs. The band members had plenty of opportunities to strut their stuff via engaging instrumental solos that generated frequent applause.

Band lineup
Phil Salazar - Fiddle, vocals
Tom Corbett - Mandolin, guitar, vocals
Bill Knopf - Banjo, vocals
Bill Flores - Dobro, guitar, accordion
Rick Borella - Bass

Phil Salazar & The Kin Folk at McCabe's
Even at first blush, their original compositions sounded good - the one that stood out was Tom Corbett's "Fish To Bite". Their set also included a few covers: Ralph Stanley's "Little Maggie", the classic "St. James Infirmary" and "Swing To Bop", the band's one-song encore.
Phil Salazar & Bill Flores at McCabe's
Tom Corbett & Rick Borella at McCabe's
Phil Salazar's set list
The evening's second set was delivered by the Salty Suites, a genre-bending trio consisting of Chelsea Wiliams (vocals, guitar), Scott Gates (vocals, mandolin) and Chuck Hailes (vocals, upright bass). They are young, talented and energetic. Chelsea knocked my socks off with her vocals, she is something special. Her singing on "I'll Be Fine", a song written by Chelsea herself, was one of the highlights of the evening. Knowing that Chelsea has a solo career as well, I thought that Scott and Chuck were there only to provide instrumental support. Boy, was I wrong.

With his idiosyncratic singing style, great voice and outstanding mandolin playing, Scott Gates was a key contributor to the success of the evening. I loved his rendition of "The Parting Glass", which was the first of the trio's two-song encore. Chuck is a good singer as well, I really liked the way he delivered "Chocolate On My Tongue". The band's entire set, about eighty-minutes in all, was exceptionally entertaining and the crowd responded accordingly.

The Salty Suites at McCabe's
After his outstanding first set, Phil Salazar came back and played with the Salty Suites for half-an-hour or so. His dynamic interplay with Scott was exceptionally good, especially on "Swing To Bop", a song we also heard during Phil Salazar's opening set and we all had a good laugh when Phil picked his violin like a mandolin, while Scott was using Phil violin bow on his mandolin.

By the way, the show was either a sellout or very close to being one.

The Salty Suites & Phil Salazar at McCabe's
Scott Gates & Phil Salazar challenging each other at McCabe's
The Salty Suites, with Elaine Gregson on accordion
Chelsea Williams at McCabe's
The Salty Suite's set list
The end of the show
Chelsea, Chuck & Phil mingling with fans after the show
Chelsea Williams meeting fans after the show
The stage is ready for the Salty Suites
Stage ready for Phil Salazar & The Kin Folk
The merch table
Concert announcer Brian Rodriguez showing the crowd what to turn off

November 15, 2018

Concerts #832 & 833 - Eilen Jewell at McCabe's Guitar Shop (June 15, 2018)

I discovered Eilen Jewell nine or ten years ago, while opening random music videos on YouTube and it took her no time to make a huge fan out of me. This brief review covers her two McCabe's shows on June 15, 2018.

Needless to say, I just had to be there not only for her sold-out 8 PM concert, but also for the late show. I left the venue after midnight, but it was well worth the effort. The concert was exceptionally good, but one small negative kept it from being 100% perfect: the drums were a bit too loud for the intimate listening room of my favorite venue.

The unmistakable highlights of the show were Eilen's voice and the quality of her repertoire. All of her songs, whether covers or self-penned, were top-notch. Her band was good, too - I was particularly impressed with Jerry Miller, an ace guitarist of the highest caliber.
It's Your Voodoo Working
Rich Man's World
Dusty Boxcar Wall
Rio Grande
Don't Leave Poor Me (Big Maybelle)
You Wanna Give Me A Lift (Loretta Lynn)
High Shelf Booze
Mess Around
Santa Fe
Boundary County
You Gonna Miss Me
You'll Be Mine (Howlin' Wolf)
Another Night To Cry
Where They Never Say Your Name
Sea Of Tears
Fading Memory
Bang Bang Bang
Down-Hearted Blues
Head Over Heals
You Know My Love

Toward the end of her late show, Eilen told the audience "I think we have found our LA home", a clear recognition of the quality of the venue as well as the audience. I can't wait to see her again.

The 8 PM show had an opening act, singer-songwriter Amanda Anne Platt. Her short set did not grab me. The late show had no opening act.

Eilen Jewell at McCabe's
Eilen Jewell at McCabe's
Jerry Miller & Eilen Jewell at McCabe's
Eilen Jewell with husband Jason Beek at McCabe's
Eilen Jewell mingling with fans between shows
Guitarist Jerry Miller chatting with fans
Amanda Anne Platt at McCabe's
The merch table
The stage
McCabe's Guitar Shop - The listening room

November 14, 2018

Concert #830 - Todd Albright and Sunny War at McCabe's Guitar Shop (May 27, 2018)

This is a brief write-up on a show I attended six months ago. 

The evening kicked off with a medium-length set by Sunny War, about forty-five minutes in all. She had just received some good press in the Rolling Stone magazine - being named as one of the "Ten New Country Artists You Need To Know" is quite a recognition and there was a palpable buzz in the air before her appearance at McCabe's. Whether or not I agree with Sunny being labeled a "country artist", now that's another matter altogether.

Sunny impressed me with her uniqueness - she is certainly not emulating anyone. I liked her voice, struggled a bit to embrace her singing style, but the one thing that is impossible to forget is her idiosyncratic guitar playing technique: she uses only her right hand's thumb and index finger, something I may never see again. Her original compositions are certainly not bad, but on the minus side, they don't have the catchy hooks that could bring her many more listeners.

In addition to a few of her own songs, among which "If It Wasn't Broken" and "Gotta Live It" stood out to these ears, Sunny played Elizabeth Cotten's "Freight Train" and a reworked version of "A Change Is Gonna Come" that even Sam Cooke, the song's composer, may have had a hard time recognizing.

Sunny War at McCabe's

Sunny War's set list
Todd Albright delivered an eighty-minute set that was quite good, but a tad too long for me. His passionate vocal delivery was top-notch and he sure knows how to play his 12-string guitar, yet his show suffered from a condition I would call "repetitiveness". It's not that all songs sounded the same, but old-school blues from masters such as Leadbelly and Blind Willie McTell was pretty much all he played, one song after another. Todd did a very good job of introducing his songs and, overall, I found his chatter between songs quite clever. I knew a few of his numbers and, as I write this, six months after the show, I still remember "Delia" and "Statesboro Blues".

Todd Albright at McCabe's
Todd Albright merchandise for sale at McCabe's

November 10, 2018

Concert #850 - NRBQ at McCabe's Guitar Shop (November 9, 2018)

Seventy minutes into the concert, keyboardist and band leader Terry Adams announced that NRBQ's contractual obligations have been fulfilled, yet they would keep playing. At that point, driven by the unbearably high decibel level of the concert, I got up and bailed out early, something I seldom do.

I have attended almost five hundred shows at McCabe's, so I can say that I've seen it all. Also heard it all. This was by far the loudest concert I have ever attended there and that wasn't the only thing that set this show apart from all the others. Sitting right next to me was a group of young ladies who expressed their appreciation of the performance by screaming incessantly, from the top of their lungs.

Seventy minutes of extra-loud music and screaming fans ... I'm surprised that I lasted there for as long as I did.

A few words about the music. The band is good, no doubt, and - under more favorable circumstances - I could see myself being a fan of what they do. I recognized two cover songs, "Wouldn't It Be Nice", the old Beach Boys gem and "The Peanut Vendor", a song I first heard with Perez Prado, in my childhood. I suppose the songs I did not recognize were the band's original compositions. Among them, "Walkin'" and "All Night Long" caught my ear.

The band consisted of Terry Adams (keyboards), Scott Ligon (vocals, guitar), Casey McDonough (vocals, bass) and John Perrin (drums). As I said, they are all fine musicians, but their choice of cranking up the speakers to 11 made me leave before the end of the show.

So what was the first thing I did when I got home? That's easy to guess: I ordered a pair of high-quality concert ear plugs.

Terry Adams at McCabe's
Scott Ligon & Casey McDonough at McCabe's
The stage
Concert announcer Lincoln Myerson
NRBQ merchandise

Concert #819 - Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams at McCabe's Guitar Shop (February16, 2018)

This is a brief write-up on a concert that I attended in February 2018.

What attracted me to attend was primarily Larry Campbell's well-known string wizardry and his impressive resume. On the other hand, I knew precious little about Teresa Williams, Larry's wife.

Larry & Teresa, an exceptionally likeable couple, put on a show that exceeded my expectations. Their set list consisted of songs from their 2015 self-titled album, as well as a few covers of songs recorded by musicians such as Doc & Merle Watson, the Louvin Brothers, Carl Perkins, and somewhat surprisingly, soul singer William Bell. Switching from one stringed instrument to another, Larry did live up to his reputation as a virtuoso. And yes, he can sing, too, and so can Teresa and when they were not singing, they shared with us a number of captivating stories from their musical careers.

For their encore, Larry and Teresa returned to the stage with Jackson Browne, with whom they sang the often-heard "Long Black Veil". It was great and so was the entire evening.

The concert was a sellout and there was no opening act.

Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams at McCabe's
Larry Campbell & Jackson Browne at McCabe's
Larry Campbell at McCabe's
Larry Campbell & Teresa Williams at McCabe's
The set list
Jackson Browne at McCabe's
Concert announcer Koko Peterson
The stage