Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Kasey Chambers - World Cafe Live, Philadelphia, 7/05/2017; Kasey Crushed It; Plus An Excellent Opening Set By Garrett Kato

Photo courtesy of Kasey Chambers

Kasey Chambers and her band gave a phenomenal performance, Wednesday night July 5th, at Philadelphia's World Cafe Live; they flew in the night before from Sydney, Australia to resume the American leg of her Dragonfly tour. "I was glad that they let us in to your country" [audience laughter]. Dragonfly is Chambers' newest album, available since March Down Under, it was only just released here. Dragonfly is a double album with one disc produced by Kasey's brother Nash (her long time producer) and featuring her road band. The other disc was produced by Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly and features numerous guest appearances such as Ed Sheeran, Keith Urban, Paul Kelly, Foy Vance and more.

There were three generations of Chambers this time. Kasey's dad, Bill Chambers, plays guitar in her band as he's done for the past nineteen years since she first went solo. Kasey also had one of her three children with her; her younger son Arlo (9) came out on stage during one song to play a cajón. Not joining mom on tour was daughter Poet (5) and her older brother Talon (15). Talon provided Kasey the inspiration to write "Is God Real". She told the story of co-parenting with her ex and Talon's creative solution to the seemingly disparate religious views of his parents.

The downstairs venue, though not sold out, gave Chambers such a warm and enthusiastic reception that she was knocked out by it, "I never thought so many of you would come along." Part of the reason that the crowd was so receptive was the way that Chambers told stories with so much heart and emotion that some of the intros seemed longer than the songs. She really put herself out there and the audience loved it.

Her set surveyed most of her career and even though her new album, Dragonfly, is a double CD with twenty songs, she only played about four of them. She was unusually apologetic about playing new songs, basically offering that if the audience was "nice about the new one, I'll reward you with an old one." I'm thinking that since Chambers is such a major star in Australia that she might be used to larger concert crowds offering some resistant to new material. Here in America, I feel that fans that know her seek out her shows and may be more interested in her new stuff than she realizes.

Chambers was amazing, as was her band. In addition to lead vocals, Kasey played guitars and banjo. Bill Chambers played guitars and James Haselwood played bass. Kasey talked about finding her band's two newest members, Brandon Dodd (banjo and guitars) and Josh Dufficy (drums and percussion), playing together in a beer garden in one of the small beach towns of the central coast of New South Wales, Australia where she lives.

The highlights were many. Click on the linked titles below to watch video. Chambers was especially delighted after "Not Pretty Enough", the second song of her set. "Nothing makes me happier than looking down and seeing a big tough guy like you singing, 'Am I not pretty enough?' [crowd laughter]."

Chambers' last five songs were killer. First she did a cover of the Little Feat song "Willin'" written by Lowell George. Next, she introduced "Aint No Little Girl", a new one from Dragonfly, as being "the glue that holds the whole new album together." As she started playing the song she added, "it's actually the glue that holds my whole life together... a lot of glue" The reward for that wonderful new one was her signature song, "The Captain", which closed her set. She came back and encored with what may be my personal favorite from her new album,"Talkin' Baby Blues". I can't adequately describe this tune, or her life story which came as the intro. You just will have to click and watch the video. Finally, after checking to make sure that the venue didn't mind her going overtime, she finished with "Barricades & Brickwalls". Kasey's performance was so good and her stage presence was so cheerful and overflowing with energy that you could not help but love her.

After the show, Bill Chambers came out for some conversation with members of the audience who hadn't left yet. It was great to meet him, a super nice guy.

Many thanks to World Cafe Live for the lighting and sound, and especially to Garrett Kato for the live mix of Kasey's set. Many thanks to Bev Kates for the camera work and to Lindsey Mitchell for video production. Thanks also to IvanBourgeois and squintyt4e for use of their videos on the last four songs.

Watch "Not Pretty Enough"

Setlist: Click on linked titles to watch
01. Wheelbarrow
02. Not Pretty Enough
03. This Flower
04. Rattlin' Bones feat. Brandon
05. Is God Real
06. Pony
07. Crossfire
08. If I Died
09. A Million Tears
10. Oh Grace
11. Georgia Brown
12. Hey
13. GT Song feat. Brandon & Josh
14. Willin' (Little Feat cover)
15. Ain't No Little Girl video by IvanBourgeois, June 8, 2017, Tractor Tavern, Seattle, WA
16. The Captain video by squintyt4e, July 12, 2017 at the Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, MA.
17. Talkin' Baby Blues video by IvanBourgeois, Mar 9, 2017, Live at Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse, Berkeley, California
18. Barricades & Brickwalls video by squintyt4e, July 12, 2017 at the Iron Horse Music Hall, Northampton, MA.

Kasey Chambers - Dragonfly
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Photo courtesy of Amplify, JohnnyD Photography

Garrett Kato lives in the same central coast area of New South Wales, Australia as Kasey Chambers. That's where she found the Canadian native busking on the street. As Kato tells it, the two struck up a conversation; soon afterwards they were both recording at the same studio and he asked about opening for her.

Kato is a man of many talents, which were evident in his performance. The seven song set consisted of six originals. Kato won over the crowd immediately with his understated story intros, which showed his disarming sense of humor.

He introduced "Trouble Will Find Me" by talking about relocating from Canada to Australia, only to discover that life there was basically the same and that change had to come from within. The influence behind "Take It Slowly", according to Kato, is advice that he has for his daughter.

Kato's one cover song was the Temptations' "My Girl". His unhurried acoustic version answered the question of what "My Girl" might sound like without that iconic bass line. Kato told a sincere story about writing "Sweet Jane" for his mother, only to find out later that the song had been selected to be used in the movie Bad Moms [more crowd laughter].

Kato has been compared with Bruce Springsteen by Rolling Stone Australia. Without any mention in advance, Kato dropped a verse of Springsteen's "Dancing in the Dark" right into the middle of "The River Mouth". His last song was a sing-a-long.

All through his set, Kato seemed genuinely touched by the warm reception he was getting from Chambers' audience. The crowd reacted to the degree that he spoke between songs. After his set, Kato went behind the venue's sound console and did the live mix for Kasey's set.

The next day, I purchased Kato's second and latest album, That Low and Lonesome Sound, and it's quite good. Rolling Stone Australia said, "Kato’s debut LP is a warm and gentle gem, rich with songwriting nous, simple instrumentation, emotion leaking from every pore." I agree.

Watch "Trouble Will Find Me"

Setlist: Click on linked titles to watch
01. Arkansas
02. Trouble Will Find Me
03. Take It Slowly
04. My Girl (Temptations cover)
05. Sweet Jane
06. The River Mouth
07. Oh My My

Garrett Kato - That Low and Lonesome Sound
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Friday, July 07, 2017

Shannon McNally - Black Irish; McNally and Producer Rodney Crowell Both Triumph on Shannon's Compass Record Debut, It Doesn't Get Any Better Than This

Photos: Compass Records

“There is something for every roots-loving, singer-songwriting fan in these dozen tracks. . . it ought to move Shannon McNally to the forefront of Americana artists, where she clearly belongs.” - Hal Horowitz, American Songwriter

When I was checking out the new releases on Friday, June 16th, the one that was immediately the most impressive to me was Black Irish by Shannon McNally. The next morning I gave it a thorough listen and I was knocked out by the quality of the record. McNally's vocal gifts have been a given for some time. Even though the songwriting of the originals was so strong and the covers so impeccably chosen, I think that the thing that impressed me most were the performances and the production. I was more familiar with Rodney Crowell as a recording artist and singer-songwriter, but on this album he completely knocks it out of the park as a producer.

I absolutely love the sound of Black Irish. Right in track one, the band sounds surprisingly muscular. I could single out every instrument because they all excel throughout the record. The arrangements, the instrumentation, the pacing and the sequencing are superb as well.

I first became aware of Shannon McNally in 2002 when she released her debut album Jukebox Sparrows which featured the unstoppable "Down and Dirty". We went to see her then at a small club in Philadelphia (North X Northwest) where she opened for Levon Helm of The Band.

McNally has done many great things over the last 15 years and 9 albums, but I was excited that her new album sounded so good. Reading my email, I was also excited to learn that McNally had signed with Compass Records who released Black Irish. Compass is one of the few labels who really know and care about music. They also have a vital and growing roster of Americana, British, and Celtic artists.

You can clearly see what I'm talking about in the detailed discussion of Black Irish, provided by Compass, which is included below. I encourage you to click on the tracklist and listen to these fine songs while you read. Regarding McNally's performance on the cover versions, they compare her to great interpreters such as Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Maria Muldaur and Emmylou Harris. To that list, I would add Joan Osborne; I thought of her especially during Stevie Wonder's “I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It”. And there are many excellent aspects to this record, as you'll see below, but the bottom line is that I would totally agree that this is Shannon McNally's career defining album. It doesn't get any better than this.

Black Irish Trailer

Shannon McNally - Black Irish
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Tracklist: Click song title to listen

01. You Made Me Feel For You (Rodney Crowell)
02. I Ain't Gonna Stand For It (Stevie Wonder), Feat. Cody Dickinson - drums and organ
03. Banshee Moan (Shannon McNally/Rodney Crowell)
04. I Went to the Well (Shannon McNally/Garry Burnside)
05. Roll Away the Stone (Shannon McNally/Cary Hudson)
06. Black Haired Boy (Susanna Clark/Guy Clark), Feat. Emmylou Harris, Elizabeth Cook - backing vocals
07. Low Rider (J.J. Cale)
08. Isn't that Love? (Beth Nielsen Chapman/Rodney Crowell), Feat. Beth Nielsen Chapman - backing vocals
09. The Stuff You Gotta Watch (McKinley Morganfield)
10. Prayer in Open D (Emmylou Harris)
11. It Makes No Difference (J.R. Robertson)
12. Let's Go Home (Roebuck Staples)

Audley Freed - Guitar
Colin Linden - Guitar
Rodney Crowell - Acoustic guitar, organ, backing vocals
Jedd Hughes - Electric guitar
Steve Fishell - Steel guitar

Michael Rhodes - Bass
David Santos - Bass
Lex Price - Bass
Chris Wood - Bass
Byron House - Bass
Michael Rinne - Bass

Jerry Roe - Drums
Dom Billet - Drums
Byron House - Drum
John McTigue - Drums

Micah Hulscher - Keyboards
Jim Hoke - Piano, pedal steel, flute, sax
Kai Welch - Piano
Chris Tuttle - Keys and organ
Dave Cohen - Organ
Tim Lauer - Organ

Shannon McNally - Lead vocalist, acoustic guitar
Wendy Moten - Backing vocals
Tania Hancheroff - Backing vocals
Kim Keyes - Backing vocals
Hannah Sutherland - Backing vocals

Produced by Rodney Crowell

Read the following unabridged description of Black Irish.
From Compass Records:

In Irish folklore it’s said that the darker Celts have special powers; it must be true because Shannon McNally’s blues-Americana return, BLACK IRISH, will make you dance, break your heart, and save your soul.

Black Irish is McNally’s most personal project yet, which is saying a lot, given the Americana singer-songwriter’s deep catalog. But it speaks to the power of connection, and the power of music to create it and to reflect it. The kick off track “You Made Me Feel For You”, was written by her producer, Americana icon, Rodney Crowell, and serves as a metaphor for their collaboration - how his particular understanding of her unique gifts pulled out the career-defining album many have been waiting for since she came on the scene.

The album concept began in 2013, as she was going through what she calls “a miserable divorce,” raising her daughter Maeve, and nursing her terminally ill mother Maureen. Her parents had relocated to Holly Springs, Mississippi, and McNally moved in, caring for her mom until her death in 2015.

“I had no vim or vigor in me for a couple of years,” she admits. What saved her was her email relationship with Crowell, who’d been talking about producing her since 2012. He writes in the liner notes for Black Irish that their musical connection was immediate, describing McNally as “this dark- eyed beauty who wrote grown-up songs, played a pretty mean Fender Stratocaster and, at times, sounded a lot like Jesse Mae Hemphill. From our first meeting I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was the right man for the job of shepherding the next Shannon McNally record into existence.”

It wasn’t easy. Too depressed to write, McNally recorded a favorite Emmylou Harris song on her laptop and worked up the nerve to email it to him. With lines like “There’s a river of darkness in my blood,” “Prayer in Open D” spoke to pain she couldn’t verbalize. “And he called me back and said, ‘That’s gorgeous, you were meant to do that song. Do more.” That was all she needed.

“We started this really wonderful thing of just lobbing song titles back and forth. And I just sat at that table and learned about a dozen tunes, my favorite covers, anything to spark a fire in this really dark turn.”

She co-wrote three of the album’s 12 songs – one with producer Crowell, who also penned two more for her; the rest include personal favorites by Stevie Wonder (“I Ain’t Gonna Stand For It”), Robbie Robertson (“It Makes No Difference”), and J.J. Cale (“Low Rider”). The result is an album that stands with the best of classic vocal interpreters like Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris and Maria Muldaur.

“I just love great songs,” she says. “I’m inspired by Willie Nelson, Muddy Waters, Emmylou Harris, Bill Withers, Mavis Staples. None of them hesitate to sing any song they feel like singing, even if they didn’t write it. I think great songs need to be spotlighted, they need to recycle back up into the consciousness.”

Today, McNally makes her home in the Mississippi hill country, “the most Southern place on earth,” she says. But her musical journey began in New York, where she was born on St. Patrick’s Day and raised in Hempstead, Long Island. Growing up in the age of ‘80s MTV-pop, she found an escape route. “When I was 12, my uncle gave me a J.J. Cale album. That saved me from the Debbie Gibson era.” So began her obsession with roots music. (She pays tribute to that early influence here with a swampy take on Cale’s “Low Rider.”)

McNally became a performing singer/songwriter/guitarist in college and eventually signed with Capitol Records. After some time in Los Angeles, she moved to New Orleans soaking up that city’s music, culminating in her 2013 tribute to singer/songwriter Bobby Charles, Small Town Talk, with an all-star band that included her producer Dr. John. (Earlier, she’d recorded a definitive version of Charles’ “Tennessee Blues” on 2005’s Geronimo.)

Between those albums she’d moved to North Mississippi as a Katrina refugee, and became part of legendary producer Jim Dickinson’s extended musical family. “Jim was the first person I met up there. He was a big mentor for me.” She sings about her early Mississippi days on “Roll Away the Stone,” a swaggering, horn-driven, Stones-inspired rocker, as well as “I Went to the Well,” a slinky blues co-written with Garry Burnside, the youngest of legendary bluesman R.L. Burnside’s 13 children.

The third McNally original, and an album standout, is “Banshee Moan,” about her experiences in the music industry, experiences common to working women everywhere. “I wrote that a ways back, previous to the

rebirth of the women's movement we've seen of late. I’m thrilled to see women truly engaged and pissed off again.” With its haunting melody and McNally’s rich, deep-blue vocals, “Banshee Moan” is no mere protest song, it’s a howl of the collective female spirit, equal parts softness and strength.

Black Irish was recorded in Nashville, but its distinctive sense of place lies 210 miles west, where Memphis meets Mississippi. The primary colors of American music are black and white, and Black Irish displays that hybrid in many shades, mixing country, blues, soul, rock, folk balladry and classic pop.

“Sense of place” is important to McNally. “I don’t do anything half-assed,” she says with a laugh. “I tend to move into a place. I’m a Pisces and that’s a water sign. And water takes on the shape of the vessel that carries it. When I lived in New Orleans I became fast friends with Bobby Charles and Dr. John and was really kind of consumed whole by that. And then, when I came up here (to Mississippi) the blues stuff was so organic and authentic and natural that I kind of got consumed by it.”

That’s her approach to Black Irish. Whether singing her own songs or others’, she “moves into” them, making them hers.

When it came time to record McNally enlisted her friend, Memphis soul- gospel powerhouse Wendy Moten on background vocals, while Crowell called in some of Music City’s finest, including guitarists Colin Linden and Audley Freed, bassists Michael Rhodes and David Santos, and drummer Jerry Roe.

For those familiar with Levon Helm’s ramshackle take on Muddy Waters’ “The Stuff You Got to Watch,” McNally’s smoothly swinging rockabilly/ jump blues will be a revelation. It’s her tribute to Muddy. “I love how classy he was, how sharp-dressed and handsome, with his pompadour and his gold and his perfect suit.”

To McNally, the late Susanna Clark’s song about Townes Van Zandt, “Black Haired Boy” (with Emmylou and Elizabeth Cook singing harmony) is a bookend to “Prayer in Open D,” the two most “singer-songwriter” tracks, both featuring Crowell’s fingerpicking.

“Isn’t That Love,” by Crowell and Beth Nielsen Chapman, expands the production with an organic pop feel. It’s McNally’s finest vocal showcase, her voice soaring into hitherto unheard upper registers. “I love Otis Redding and all those great soul singers who go right up there and get to that place,” she says. “That was the scariest, being that honest and vulnerable and that far out on a limb vocally. It’s liberating.”

Another challenge was The Band’s “It Makes No Difference,” originally sung to tragic perfection by the late Rick Danko. “I cried all over it in the studio, and I had to sing it a bunch of times, ‘cause I just couldn't keep it together,” she remembers. “And that’s where you’re supposed to be, the emotional intensity on the precipice of ‘I’m about to lose it. I’m about to break down, and it’s going to take everything I have not to.’”

She inhabits that song, her performance more resilient than Danko’s. “You don’t have to agree to the abyss,” McNally says. “You can be a quality singer and songwriter and not just drown yourself in the bottle. Everybody’s a little tortured if you do this; I’d just like to be there for the long haul.”

From that darkness comes light, as McNally and company close Black Irish with the joyous, roof-raising Delta gospel of The Staple Singers’ “Let’s Go Home.”

She won’t be staying long. With Black Irish, Shannon McNally moves into the next part of her journey.

"You Made Me Feel for You"

"Ain't Gonna Stand For It"

"Banshee Moan"

Shannon McNally's Website
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