Sunday, February 23, 2014

Peter Wolf Brings The Blues, Soul, Rock & Country To Infinity Hall

As lead singer of the J. Geils Band, and as a solo artist, Peter Wolf has always moved across genres as nimbly as he spins around onstage during his live performances. This past Friday’s concert at Infinity Hall in Norfolk, CT was a tour de force that included touches of country, rock, soul & the blues. Opening the show with “Long Line,” the title cut from his 1996 album, he & his stellar band The Midnight Travelers treated us to a fantastic evening of music. Wolf was equal parts singer, raconteur & storyteller, as he entertained the audience with between song stories about Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings & Tennessee Williams. The Williams story featured a reading of a poem by the celebrated playwright, as well as a performance of a song inspired by him, “Five O’ Clock Angel.”

The evening also featured covers of country classics like Lefty Frizzell’s “She’s Gone, Gone, Gone” and blues numbers like “Homework,” which Wolf recorded with The J. Geils Band and as a solo artist. He also delighted us by doing several other J. Geils tunes, including “Looking For a Love, Give It To Me,” and “Love Stinks,” which was re-worked with a country style and featured one of the night’s several sing-alongs. But the highlight of the show was Wolf himself. The singer was charming & entertaining, leading his band & the audience through every song & anecdote with humor, energy & rock star cool. At 67 years old, he’s still got the moves like Jagger, a singer he’s often compared to; in fact, he performed “Nothing But The Wheel,” a song he recorded with Mick, during the early part of the set.

Other highlights included a generous selection of tracks from his excellent 2010 album, Midnight Souvenirs, such as “Tragedy, Always Asking For You, and It’s Too Late For Me,” originally recorded with Merle Haggard. It was clear from Wolf’s joy in performing and his telling of behind the scenes stories that he’s grateful to have worked with & met with so many legendary artists. He's clearly just as much of a fan of these musical genres as his listeners. The Midnight Travelers, Wolf’s powerful, talented backing band, were also an integral part of the evening, and were tight & electric, matching the singer's vibe & energy on every number. Their chemistry with Wolf was excellent.

I’ve long been a fan of Wolf, as a member of J. Geils and a solo performer, but I’ve never had the chance to seem him live until now. It was an amazing evening of music. Peter Wolf rocked, rolled, reeled, testified, country-ified, and soul-ified us with an extraordinary night of music. By the time of the evenings final song, the J. Geils hit “Must of Got Lost,” he left us wanting more. And isn’t that the mark of a great artist? I urge you to check him out if he’s in your area: if you only know him from his days with J. Geils, you’ll gain a whole new respect for him as a performer. I also want to give a brief shout out to Infinity Hall: this was my first show at this intimate venue; it’s a wonderful place to see live music, and I will definitely be returning there to see more shows. They will also be opening a second location in Hartford later this summer.

Here are links to Peter performing “Looking for A Love” with The J. Geils Band:, and “Tragedy,” from Midnight Souvenirs, with Shelby Lynne:

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings Are Back With "Give The People What They Want"

Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings have been making fantastic records since 2002’s Dap Dippin’ with Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings. Their live shows are energetic soul revivals, fusing the classic sounds of 60s & 70s R&B with a modern sensibility. Lead singer Jones, whose style is influenced by the likes of Mavis Staples, Aretha Franklin & Betty Wright, has an amazing voice that can thrill, chill & amaze you. The group has grown in popularity & stature in recent years, releasing several more well-received albums, and doing a series of can't miss performances as both an opening act & a headliner. But in 2013, just after completing the album Give The People What They WantJones was diagnosed with bile duct cancer. The album’s release and subsequent tour dates were postponed while she underwent surgery & chemotherapy.
The singer is now healthy & ready to get back on the road, and a tour kicked off earlier this month at The Beacon in New York. The album was released in January, and like the group’s previous discs, it’s a fantastic collection of songs, kicking off with “Retreat,” a funk-ified challenge to an unfaithful lover. Throughout the disc’s ten tracks, Jones & her band shout, jump, rattle & groove together, as their driving, percussive backing provides a perfect match for her excellent vocals. Songs like the wonderful “Making Up & Breaking Up” sound like they could have been recorded at Stax in the 60s or 70s. Then there’s “Get Up & Get Out,” which drops a little touch of Motown into the mix.

Although the disc runs a scant 34 minutes you’ll be spinning it over & over again to hear the tasty grooves on tracks like “Long Time, Wrong Time” & “You’ll Be Lonely.” And you won’t dispute Ms. Jones is a queen of soul in her own right after listening to powerful ballads like “Slow Down, Love.” If you’re a fan of Stax, Motown or the Philly soul sounds of the 60s & 70s, this album is for you. Sharon Jones & The Dap Kings take the classic sounds of yesterday & fuse them with their own style, to create real music that stands out amid much of today’s manufactured pop and R&B. Give The People What They Want is now available in stores & at online retailers such as the iTunes store. The iTunes version boasts a couple of bonus tracks & a music video on the Deluxe Version of the album. Here’s a link to the video for “Retreat!”


Sunday, February 9, 2014

Mud: A Tale About Losing Your Illusions

Matthew McConaughey has had something of a renaissance in the last few years. After a strong start to his career, he became the go-to guy for lightweight romantic comedies and low-grade action thrillers. But with recent films like Dallas Buyers Club, The Wolf of Wall Street and Killer Joe, he’s back at the top of his game. He gives an excellent performance in Dan Nichols’ Mud (2012), a coming of age tale set in Arkansas. Two boys, Ellis & Neckbone, learn of a boat stuck in a tree on a small island on the Mississippi River. They head there to find the craft, and find a man named Mud living in it. He says he’s there because he’s going on to meet the woman he loves. Mud promises them they can have the boat when he’s done with it. The boys just need to help him repair it, and bring him food & supplies while he’s on the island. Mud fascinates them with tales of loves lost, murder & dangerous men, and explains why he seems to be on the run.

As the story progresses, we learn nothing is quite as it seems. Mud has secrets he’s not telling the boys. His girlfriend, Juniper (Reese Witherspoon), isn’t quite what she appears, and the true story of Mud & Juniper’s relationship has yet to be told. One of the boys, Ellis (masterfully played by Tye Sheridan) comes to idolize Mud, and believes the grandiose stories of romantic love Mud tells them. But Mud’s real story is far more complicated. Meanwhile, Ellis’ parents are having their own issues, and he will learn some hard truths about life. The problems of the grown ups in Ellis' life are about to come crashing down on him. This is a powerful story about losing your childhood views regarding the world, and seeing it with adult eyes for the first time. Sometimes, becoming an adult means putting away some of the illusions you have about the way the world works. It’s not an easy thing to do, but it’s part of life. Everyone in the story will face some harsh truths about the world before it's over, even Mud.

The cast is excellent across the board, with Sheridan, McConaughey and Witherspoon leading a solid core of character actors in supporting roles, including Sarah Paulson (American Horror Story), Ray McKinnon (Sons of Anarchy), Sam Shepard (The Right Stuff) and Michael Shannon, who was so good as Zod in  2013's Man of Steel. Writer-director Nichols has a real feeling for this part of the country, and there’s a tremendous sense of place & atmosphere that pervades the film. Location becomes a character in this compelling tale. This is a movie with a deep emotional core, and a moving story that will touch your heart. It never becomes fake, predictable or sappy. This is one of those "under the radar" independent films that is well worth seeing. Highly recommended. Mud is available on DVD, Blu-ray and for digital download. Here’s a link to the film’s trailer:

Sunday, February 2, 2014

A Return to the World of "The Shining"

For fans of Stephen King, The Shining is one of his best loved & well-remembered novels. The story of Jack Torrance, his wife Wendy & their son Danny, who struggle with dark forces at The Overlook Hotel in Colorado, (where Jack is the caretaker) has become a modern classic of horror fiction. Danny has a power called “the shining” that the dark forces at the hotel seek to possess. Of course, the book was also adapted into the well regarded (though not by King himself) 1980 film by Stanley Kubrick, It was later turned into a 1997 TV miniseries with a teleplay by the author, which he felt was closer in spirit to the book. Now, King has returned with a sequel to The Shining called Doctor Sleep (2013).

A grown up Dan Torrance is still haunted by his experiences at The Overlook, which ultimately took the life of his father. He’s gone through some dark times, including alcoholism, a series of low-end jobs, and bad relationships. His demons, like his father’s, threaten to consume him. But Dan makes a real effort to start over, and gets a job at a hospice in New Hampshire. He uses his power to help patients cross over to the other side in peace. Dan finds some new friends in town, and finds some meaning & contentment in his life. Things start to look up for him, and Dan hopes he's found his place in the world after all.

Meanwhile, a young girl named Abra Stone displays amazing powers & abilities, and also has ‘the shining,” though she appears to be even more powerful than Dan. She forms a link with him, though he is unaware of her identity at first. Abra also draws the attention of the True Knot, a group of people who feed off the magically talented; in a way they are “psychic vampires.” They want to drain Abra’s power, which they call “steam.” They've been alive for centuries, and have killed many other children over the years, in order to survive. Jack & Abra are about to cross paths, and will battle the evil of the True Knot together. Will Dan be strong enough to help save her…and truly redeem himself in the process?

King is a master of creating people we care about in his fiction, and writing dialogue that sounds very real. Billed as the author’s return to “balls out horror,” it’s the most old school of his recent work. Though not as strong as his 2011 success 11/22/63, or the Bradbury-esque coming of age tale Joyland (2013), it is nevertheless a powerful, compelling book. It’s great to see Dan Torrance and some of the supporting cast from The Shining again, and Abra Stone is a strong, fully realized character. There are some truly creepy scenes and “Rose the Hat,” the leader of the True Knot, is a formidable villain.

As always, there are references to other stories by King. and even a reference to a work by his son Joe Hill, peppered throughout the book. The conclusion is a bit rushed, especially after the strong buildup, and there are a couple of too convenient coincidences regarding certain characters & situations. But if you’re a fan of The Shining and King’s other works, you’ll find reading Doctor Sleep a rewarding experience. The book is now available in hardcover, and for computers, e-readers & mobile devices. Here’s a link to a trailer prepared by the book’s publisher: