Saturday, September 24, 2011

Bruce Cockburn: Songs & Stories at FTC

Bruce Cockburn, a highly-regarded Canadian folk rocker & singer-songwriter, has been making great music since his first album was released in 1970. He’s well known for his emotional lyrics, covering subject matter from the spiritual & emotional to the political. His songs have been covered by a diverse group of artists including Barenaked Ladies, Judy Collins, Jimmy Buffett and Ani DiFranco, and his fans include Jackson Browne & Emmylou Harris. Thursday night he made a stop in CT at The Fairfield Theatre Company on his Solo Acoustic tour. It was a magnetic, emotional performance of songs such as Last Night of The World, Child of The Wind, and Lovers in a Dangerous Time.

Cockburn also featured a sampling of tunes from his latest album Small Source of Comfort, including “Call Me Rose,” about Richard Nixon reincarnated as a girl in the projects. He has a loyal, passionate legion of fans. There was a spirited audience sing along on “Wondering Where the Lions Are,” his only US top 40 hit. Cockburn is also a great guitarist; he performed some excellent instrumental pieces during the show.

He told some stories about the origins of the songs performed during the evening. Cockburn is well known for his political & humanitarian activism. Bruce was visiting Afghanistan when the bodies of two Canadian servicemen killed in action were sent home. The artist was present when the plane returning their bodies took off, and said it was a very moving experience, so he was inspired to write the touching, elegiac “Each One Lost.”

Even if you don’t know much about the man & his music, if you appreciate excellent lyrics, emotional performances and some fantastic guitar work, I suggest you head out to see Bruce on this tour, and check out some of his music on CD. The collection Anytime, Anyplace, Anywhere: Singles 1979-2002, is a great starting point, as is the aforementioned, excellent new album, Small Source of Comfort.

An additional note: The wonderful thing about seeing artists perform at these smaller performance spaces is that you're often given the opportunity to meet them after the concert, which doesn't generally happen at the larger venues. Bruce very kindly took time out to meet fans & sign CDs after the show. He was a friendly guy, and very appreciative of his fans. A nice way to end a wonderful evening of music.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Fab Faux: Live At The Klein

The music of The Beatles continues to inspire us more than forty years after their break up in 1970. There are many tribute bands that perform the songs of the group, but one of the best is The Fab Faux, a group of diverse musicians who have worked with many of the top names in the music industry. Founded in 1998 by Will Lee, longtime bassist for The Late Show with David Letterman’s house band, the group is dedicated to giving amazing performances of The Beatles’ music, playing many songs the group never got to perform on stage during their existence, as they essentially ceased performing live in 1966.  The Fab Faux has performed all over the world, with artists as diverse as Joan Osborne, Trey Anastasio (Phish), and Denny Laine (Wings). They celebrated their 10th anniversary in 2008 with a sold out show at Radio City Music Hall.

On Saturday, September 10, the group appeared at The Klein Auditorium in Bridgeport, CT. The concert was simply fantastic. This is no mere “cover band.” These talented musicians play these songs because they love them, and want to share that love with the audience.  Their passion for this music shines through every note. Energetic performances of songs like “While My Guitar Gently Weeps, Strawberry Fields Forever, Day Tripper and A Hard Day’s Night” were part of the first set, which spanned The Beatles’ entire catalog. Accompanied by the talented Hogshead Horns and Creme Tangerine Strings, the band had the crowd cheering and singing along throughout the night. Many of these songs are part of our musical DNA, and you can't help but enjoy yourself (or recall some musically charged memories of your own) when you hear them.

After a brief intermission, the group returned to play the classic album Abbey Road in its entirety, and in sequence.  It was a knockout performance. The artistry, sheer talent & enthusiasm of this band shone through as they tore into such classics as “Come Together, Something & Here Comes The Sun” and the complex medley that climaxes the original album. All of the members trade off on vocals (and sometimes instruments), making for an eclectic, entertaining evening. I could write kudos and accolades about every performance, every solo, and every vocal, but I’d be going on & on for pages. The encore consisted of “And Your Bird Can Sing” and “All You Need Is Love,” (a dedication by the band to those we lost on 9/11, and a call for peace in the world), and it was a fitting climax to a wonderful evening. If you weren’t a fan when you entered The Klein, you certainly left as one. If you are a fan of The Beatles’ music, and enjoy seeing a wonderful evening of great music, I heartily recommend checking out this group. The Fab Faux carries on the legacy of the greatest band of all time in excellent fashion.


Note: To learn more about the band, or see a schedule of performances, I suggest visiting their website at: http://www.thefabfaux.com/. There are also a number of links to their performances on You Tube, including this one, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oRnrbOcjyZY. The photos above are not intended to infringe on any copyright.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

The Triumph of a Rock & Roll Survivor


The first thing you notice (or hear) is the voice. Floating out into the audience, on songs like “Baby, I Love You.” It may have deepened a bit over the years, but it still sounds wonderful. Then, you hear Ronnie Spector’s story, in her own words, and you appreciate her journey & perseverance on a whole new level. On Friday, September 9, the audience was treated to a heartfelt, emotional performance, as Ronnie Spector brought her one-woman show Beyond The Beehive to The Kate in Old Saybrook.

Ronnie tells her life story in words, pictures & songs, accompanied by an excellent backing group. We hear about her younger days growing up as Veronica Bennett, a multiracial child in New York; her father was Irish and her mother was Cherokee Indian and African-American. Ronnie’s lifelong love of music leads her to form a group with her sister Estelle and their cousin Nedra Talley.  Later known as The Ronettes, the group performs around New York City, including gigs as dancers & backup singers at the famed Peppermint Lounge.

Once Phil Spector enters her life, The Ronettes find fame with classic hits like “Be My Baby” and tour England with The Beatles & The Rolling Stones. Phil Spector’s “Wall Of Sound” style production combined with Ronnie's wonderful voice, leads to many chart successes for the group. And Phil Spector has hits with other acts, including The Crystals & The Righteous Brothers. But there was a dark side to Spector’s personality, and his possessiveness of Ronnie (they married in 1968), lead to her becoming a virtual prisoner in his mansion. Barred from performing or even leaving the house, and subject to mental & physical abuse, she finally left Spector in 1973. But he would still cast a dark cloud over her life in years to come, as she relates during the show.

Ronnie details the highs & lows of her life with frankness, humor & a touch of sadness. The stories are amazing; encounters with The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and a young Sonny & Cher (who also worked for Phil Spector), among others. Ronnie’s voice & style inspired a generation of rockers, and many of them wrote songs for her, and produced sessions for her, including Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band, Joey Ramone & Billy Joel. As she makes her long climb back to the top, you can’t help but be inspired by her story.

Along with the stories, words & pictures are the songs: “The Best Part of Breakin’ Up, Walking in the Rain, I Can Hear Music, Say Goodbye to Hollywood,” and of course “Be My Baby.” Powerful, expressive performances of songs that everyone in the rock & roll generation remembers.  And Ronnie’s story isn’t over. It’s a story of triumph over adversity and the things life can throw at you. Beyond The Beehive isn’t just a show: It’s the testament of a true rock & roll survivor.  It’s well worth seeing, and if the show (or Ronnie doing a regular concert appearance) comes to your area, you owe to yourself to check out this amazing woman; she’s a true legend, and an unforgettable performer.

Note: Ronnie’s latest album “Last of The Rock Stars,” was released in 2009, and features guest appearances by Keith Richards, members of The Raconteurs and Patti Smith, and it’s also worth checking out. Full disclosure: This reviewer got to meet her (briefly) and she's a warm, genuine person who really cares about her fans.







Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Another Random Playlist...

As we hit the mid-point in the first full week of September, here's another "Baker's Dozen" playlist from the Eclectic Avenue iTunes jukebox...

1.         Galveston by Glen Campbell from All The Best. The soaring production and Campbell’s plaintive vocals imbue Jimmy Webb’s lyrics with pathos, as the song tells the story of a soldier who is thinking of his love while he’s away at war. The recent announcement that Campbell is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, (and releasing one last album and doing one more tour) adds an extra level of poignancy to his music.

2.         September Gurls by The Bangles from Different Light. The group who brought us “Walk Like An Egyptian” faithfully cover Alex Chilton’s classic from his days with Big Star. Bassist Michael Steele admirably handles the lead vocals on this one.

3.         I Hope That Something Better Comes Along by Matt Nathanson. Folk rocker Nathanson covers this tune from 1979's The Muppet Movie on the new The Green Album tribute disc, which has a host of alternative rockers covering Muppet songs from their films and the classic TV show.

4.         Say Goodbye to Hollywood by Ronnie Spector (with the E Street Band). Produced by E Street’s Little Steven, girl group icon Spector takes Billy Joel’s song and makes it her own. (Reportedly, Joel actually wrote the song with Ronnie in mind). Originally released as a single, it can be found as a bonus track on the album Dangerous.

5.         One Night Stand by Lemon from Changing Into Me. Lemon brings back 80s style soul with this stylish tune, which has a retro sound but combines it with a modern sensibility.

6.         Love’s A Mystery (I Don’t Understand) from Remote Control by The Tubes. The Tubes (and producer Todd Rundgren) combine forces on this ballad and mix The Tubes’ sound with a dash of Rundgren’s side project, Utopia. Great song from an underrated album.

7.         Somehow by Joss Stone. British soul singer Stone brings a tough, funky feel to this track from her new disc LP1, produced by former Eurythmic Dave Stewart. Both artists are also working with Mick Jagger on his side project, Superheavy.

8.         Mamacita by The Grass Roots from Anthology 1965-75. Also recorded by Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & The Raiders, this poppy, Latin infused song was the last chart hit for the late Rob Grill’s band. One of those songs that gets stuck in your head after you hear it.

9.         It’s All Too Much by Journey from Look Into the Future. The pre-Steve Perry, Gregg Rolie fronted version of the band takes on this Beatles tune from Yellow Submarine.

10.       Collide by Kid Rock & Sheryl Crow from Born Free. The duo follow up their earlier ballad Picture with a country-tinged paen to broken hearts & last chances at love.

11.      Jealous Again by The Black Crowes. The Crowes do a solid acoustic version of their earlier hit from the recent “unplugged” style disc Croweology.

12.      Someone Like You by Adele from 21. Beautiful, heartbreaking ballad from her album, 21. The singer recently performed an amazing live version of this song on the MTV Music Awards. Perhaps the best song on an outstanding album.

13.      No Anchovies, Please by The J. Geils Band. Quirky & funny spoken word track from the Love Stinks album.

Monday, September 5, 2011

The Genius, Joy and Sadness of A Great Songwriting Partnership


Richard & Robert Sherman created some of the most memorable movie music of the last 50 years, writing songs for films such as Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, The Parent Trap and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Their story is told in the 2009 documentary, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story, and it’s a unique portrait of these two talented, but very different, individuals. It covers their remarkable story from their beginnings as young songwriters, to their Academy Award winning success with Mary Poppins, and beyond.

Interviews with those who worked with them, (Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, Hayley Mills) are interspersed with reminisces by their family and friends. A good portion of the film covers their close relationship with Walt Disney, and their years spent working as part of the Disney family.  Along the way, we’re treated to clips from many of the films and stage productions they worked on, along with commentary by contemporary artists, actors & directors (Ben Stiller, singer-songwriter Randy Newman, Pixar’s John Lasseter, among others), who talk about the influences of this amazing duo, and their remarkable body of work.

But that’s not the whole story. What makes the film fascinating is it’s in-depth examination of the relationship between the two brothers. Like many great songwriting partnerships, it’s the very differences in their personalities that make their collaboration so successful. But it’s those qualities that also cause friction in their relationship, and are the cause of some personal heartbreak. Outside of their working relationship, the brothers (and even their families), don’t seem to socialize, and their intense working relationship causes some personal heartbreak. The film (produced & directed by the duo’s sons, Gregory B. & Jeff Sherman), tries to get to the heart of this complicated, but deep, relationship, and provide some answers (and some closure) regarding the brothers’ history.

If you’re a fan of any of the films mentioned above (especially their Disney work, though Chitty Chitty Bang Bang is a personal favorite of this author), or are interested in a well made examination of the creative process, and how it informs & affects the relationship of the artists doing the work, The Boys: The Sherman Brothers’ Story (available on DVD from Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment) is highly recommended.