Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Shannon McNally - Sellersville Theater, 9/06/2017, Shannon Delighted the Crowd With Stories and Songs From Black Irish "Let the Best Song Win"; Opener Caroline Reese Debuted Her New EP Two Horses

Photo courtesy of Shannon McNally

Being that I was totally impressed with Shannon McNally's latest album Black Irish, when her tour to promote it was booked into the Sellersville Theater for a show Septemer 6th, it was one that I could not miss.

Even though it had been fifteen years since I last saw her perform (early in her career), it was really interesting that there were some common threads between the two performances. In 2002, when McNally released Jukebox Sparrows, her major label debut, we went to see her at a small venue in Philadelphia, NXNW. At that show, when Bev came back from the ladies room, she mentioned that Shannon was in there preparing to go on stage.

Fast forward fifteen years, and before she even played a note she was telling a story about having a deja vu about a past appearance there and encountering Johnny Winter in the dressing room. "It was nothing terrible," she said, "just not the way you want to see one of your idols." But that was not the only thing. When we saw that show in 2002, she was opening for Levon Helm. At Sellersville, she spoke at length about Helm, and about how much she admired him, and how she used to see him play often, and how she hated to see him reduced to playing little bars. That was part of an intro to "Rock My Soul," a song she wrote in tribute to Helm after his death.
McNally's storytelling is as entertaining as her music, and her show had plenty of both. Brett Hughes accompanied her throughout the set with some well played guitar. McNally drew a little better than half her set from the Black Irish album (see setlist below), which is garnering rave reviews, and not just mine.

In addition to "Rock My Soul", the songs that weren't from Black Irish included "This Never Happened and I Was Never Here", a rarity from her Light Walker Demos EP. She sang her "Bohemian Wedding Prayer", which came from Chasing The Ghost - Rehearsal Sessions with Amy LaVere.

It was nice to hear a couple of songs so new that they haven't been released yet. First was "Cajun", which is the working title of a song that McNally hopes to record with Crowell for an album to follow Black Irish. Accompanist Brett Hughes wrote "Sweet Little Bird" for a solo album, which has yet to be released. For her encore, McNally took an audience request for "Lonesome On'ry And Mean", a song recorded by Waylon Jennings. She prefaced it with an interesting and funny story about signing with Jennings' label.

The song's from Black Irish all sounded great at Sellersville. Hughes' guitar combined with McNally's to flesh out the sound.

The album has a good mix of covers and originals. From it, she sang three of the originals, including "Banshee Moan", which came with Shannon's explanation of the terms Banshee and Banshee Moan as only she could tell it. The best aspect of Black Irish is that the originals are as good as the covers, and the covers are well chosen indeed.

The covers in the set included songwriters such as J.J. Cale (love that she's keeping alive the memory of this talented "Okie") and Susanna Clark who got a story about her being a muse for a whole group of excellent songwriters including her husband Guy Clark and Townes Van Zandt ("I want that gig"). When she covered The Staple Singers, she talked about vinyl records and interviewing Mavis Staples at The Grammy Museum in Cleveland, Mississippi.

When you watch the video below you'll see McNally talk about the concept of song writing and recording cover versions, and how if you want songs to live on and have others sing your songs you have sing someone else's songs sometimes. All this came during the intro to her cover of The Band's "It Makes No Difference". She maintained that she couldn't write a better song "so let the best song win."

Few artists open up during a performance the way Shannon does. Armed with some excellent songs and that outsized personality, McNally is the real deal.

Watch "It Makes No Difference"

Setlist: Click on linked songs to watch.

01. You Made Me Feel For You* (Rodney Crowell)
02. Rock My Soul (Shannon McNally)
03. This Never Happened and I Was Never Here (Shannon McNally)
04. Banshee Moan* (w/ Parenting Intro) (Shannon McNally, Rodney Crowell)
05. Low Rider* (J.J. Cale)
06. Bohemian Wedding Prayer (Tag/Prince Intro) (Shannon McNally)
07. Cajun (Shannon McNally)
08. Sweet Little Bird (Brett Hughes)
09. Black Haired Boy* (Susanna Clark)
10. I Went to the Well* (Cary Hudson, Shannon McNally)
11. Let's Go Home* (Vinyl Intro) [Cover of The Staple Singers] ("Pops" Staples)
12. It Makes No Difference* [Cover of The Band](Robbie Robertson)
13. Lonesome On'ry And Mean (Steve Young)
* Drawn from Black Irish

Shannon McNally - Black Irish
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See the complete review.

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Photo: Homido

The evening's opening act was Caroline Reese. Her well received seven song set included all four tracks from her Two Horses EP, which was released that Friday (September 8th). The crowd really enjoyed her sense of humor in addition to her music. She was an excellent lead in for McNally.

Watch "Two Horses"

Setlist: Click on linked songs to watch.

01. Nicotine
02. Ease My Mind
03. I'm not Selling the Telecaster
04. New Tricks
05. Snake Eyes
06. Two Horses
07. Die Hard

Caroline Reese - Two Horses
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Caroline Reese's Two Horses EP is excellent. The songs, which sounded good solo acoustic, positively shine on the EP where they receive full production including some very expressive pedal steel and lead guitar.

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Sunday, September 17, 2017

Aretha Franklin - Mann Music Center, Philadelphia, 8/26/2017; The Queen of Soul Returns to Her Philadelphia Roots

Photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images for Tribeca Film Festival

When I first started hearing Aretha Franklin on the radio in 1967, I knew that one day I would see her singing live. I didn't imagine that it would take fifty years though. Actually, we had tickets to see her last year in Bethlehem, PA as part of Musikfest, but the concert wound up being cancelled.

So it was with maximum anticipation that we took our seats at the Mann Music Center on Saturday night, August 26th.

The show was an old fashioned big production with no opening act and a large band on stage. In addition to four backing vocalists, there were as many as 21 other musicians, including a couple of dancers.

The band performed a medley of Aretha's hits. An announcer then introduced the Queen of Soul with a very old school style as Aretha took the stage.

She opened with "I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)", a song that she sang with George Michael on her 1986 album Aretha. Then she dipped back to her 1976 soundtrack album Sparkle, written and produced by Curtis Mayfield for the title track.

Next up was the first of many highlights of the evening, "Until You Come Back To Me", a song written for her by Stevie Wonder. She followed that with a cover of Ben E. King's "Don't Play That Song (You Lied)", drawn from her 1970 Grammy winning album Spirit in the Dark. At last count, Aretha is the proud owner of eighteen Grammy awards.

On what has been called her "classic diva setlist", she next sang her 1967 hit "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman."
Carole King wrote the song, but Aretha made it her own. Staying in the sixties, she followed that with "Chain of Fools", a song which reached #2 on the U.S. pop chart in 1968.

Aretha then left stage for a short intermission, during which her band stretched out with a nice instrumental take on Earth, Wind & Fire. I'll take this opportunity to mention a few things. It's been reported that when Aretha resumed her performance schedule earlier this year after a string of cancellations for health reasons dating back to mid 2016, she surprised audiences with a new svelte figure. Even though there is apparently less of her on stage, she still has that voice. The many musicians and singers in her band threatened to drown her out at times, but most of the time she surpassed the backing.

In my opinion, the large band is overkill; they may provide security but I don't think she really needs that much. The show's best parts I thought, were when the backing arrangements were minimal, or the times like in "Respect" when her high throttle voice dominated the backing. The other aspect of this show which was really special, took place in the second half when she spent considerable time talking to the audience with just the organ riffing behind her.

After the "intermission" Aretha retook the stage and talked about one of her mentors, Clara Ward of the Philadelphia based gospel group the Ward Singers, and with that Aretha transformed the Mann into a gospel church in which the band and back up singers sounded totally appropriate. Watch the video and you'll see and hear what I'm talking about. "Giving Him Something He Can Feel" was next, the set's second song from the Curtis Mayfield composed Sparkle soundtrack.

Before launching into "A Brand New Me", Aretha talked about starting her career in Philadelphia, reminiscing about some of the places she had played, and then she talked a bit about boxing and about growing up watching boxing with her dad, and introduced the daughter of boxing great Joe Frasier. These topics seemed spontaneous, which made a nice counterpoint to her otherwise scripted show. "A Brand New Me" is said to be the title track from an album that is planned for November release and according to reports will also include guest appearances by Stevie Wonder and Lionel Richie.

Aretha seemed revved up for her second set and next performed the B.B. King penned blues, "Sweet Sixteen". "My Cup Runneth Over" is an Aretha rarity, an outtake from her 1972 album Young, Gifted And Black; the track eventually found release on Aretha's Rare & Unreleased Recordings From The Golden Reign Of The Queen Of Soul (2007).

Next was the crowd pleaser "Freeway of Love", an extra long version, which with intro clocked in over fifteen minutes. Late in the song, Aretha left the stage for a short time, returning for the finish. She then tore it up with "Respect" as the encore. After the main vocal part of "Respect", she left the stage as the announcer said, "The Undisputed Queen of Soul, Ar...etha... Franklin," sounding like a boxing announcer. After the song ended, the band started playing a lengthy version of "There's No Business Like Show Business" during which Aretha came back out to take her bows, and when she left the stage again, the (ring) announcer repeated, "The Undisputed Queen of Soul, Ar...etha...Franklin." The instrumental music continued as the crowd filed out.

Earlier this year Aretha announced her retirement, see the full text below. She is retiring from touring but not performing. She plans to open a self-titled venue in Detroit that sounds very much like the one that B.B. King opened in NYC. That would make this concert part of her farewell tour, but she did say to the Mann audience that there are just a couple of places where she intends to perform a second time before she hangs it up, and Philadelphia is one of them. Seeing Aretha perform at age seventy-five is a complete privilege. She may be going off the road soon, but her music career shows no sign of slowing down.

Watch "Until You Back Come To Me"

Setlist: Click on the linked songs to watch.
01. Think/Natural Woman/Freeway of Love (Performed by the Aretha Franklin Orchestra)
02. I Knew You Were Waiting (For Me)
03. Sparkle
04. Until You Come Back To Me (Stevie Wonder)
05. Don't Play That Song (You Lied) (Ben E. King)
06. (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (Carole King)
07. Chain of Fools
08. Band Instrumental - Intermission (Earth, Wind, & Fire)
09. Gospel Interlude (Inspired by mentor Clara Ward)
10. Giving Him Something He Can Feel
11. A Brand New Me
12. Sweet Sixteen (B.B. King)
13. My Cup Runneth Over (Harvey Schmidt & Tom Jones)
14. Freeway of Love

15. Respect (Otis Redding)
16. There's No Business Like Show Business (Band Instrumental)

Aretha Franklin Out-Divas All Other Retiring Divas

She’s going home to Detroit, but that’s not all.
by Hilary Weaver, Vanity Fair
AUGUST 17, 2017

Aretha Franklin is settling down into retirement, but she’s doing it her way. The famous diva, who announced in February that she would be retiring after this year, now has a plan for her post-performance days. Per the Detroit Free Press, Franklin will be moving from her current home of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, to a residence in Detroit. But she’s not just going to hole up in a luxurious home, watch old recordings of her performances, and lay low. This is Aretha Franklin. She’s building a nightclub in her hometown Detroit, where—yes—she will sometimes sing.

Franklin told the paper that she and Bruce Schwartz, Detroit relocation ambassador for Bedrock Real Estate Services, have been talking about this move for some years. Now, at 75, the singer is finally ready to make the jump.

“From time to time I would sing, and of course, I would have special artists come in to perform for the city that people in Detroit like—Detroit favorites,” she said of her future plans.

Giving up a life on the road for a regular gig in a single location is a common move for singers, and especially women lately, who have become famous enough that the fans will come to them. Celine Dion has been a Vegas staple since her show began in 2011. Britney Spears has been a regular face around Sin City since 2013. Even Billy Joel took on a Madison Square Garden residency in New York City. Bruce Springsteen, whose tours last years, is coming to Broadway!

But none have opened up their own clubs, much less named it after themselves; the Detroit spot, yes, will be called Aretha’s.

For now, Franklin will continue singing for the masses; the next stop on her tour is the Mann Center in Philadelphia, on August 26. Per Billboard, she is also working on an album with Stevie Wonder, Elton John, Lionel Richie, and Yitzhak Perlman, which will likely be released in January.

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Monday, September 04, 2017

Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer - World Cafe Live, Philadelphia - 8/25/2017; For the First Time Ever the Sisters Record an Album Together and Take It On the Road; Rick Brantley's Opening Set Was a Treat

Photo: All Eyes Media

I have been listening to Shelby Lynne and to Allison Moorer for a long time, so when I saw that they had booked a show together at World Cafe Live on August 25th, it was a must. Each has their own career and their music is different enough from each other that I never realized how similar their voices are until I heard them sing together.

Not Dark Yet is the title of their Teddy Thompson produced album, the first time ever that they have recorded as a duo. For this project they selected some of their favorite songs, nine of the ten songs are covers. The album was released exactly one week before the show, and as I tried to get ready, I played it a few times. The material they chose is excellent, the performances impeccable, and the production was terrific. I could plainly hear that this is a work of quality, but for some reason I felt like I was missing something. Sometimes it seems that the albums which are most satisfying in the long run, are records that you don't immediately "get."

On the fourth spin I found a way in. I started with the final track, the one that they wrote together, and worked backwards. Track ten, "Is It Too Much," is a real gem and may wind up as my favorite song on the album. The lyrics are written so that if you know the tragic story of their parents the words take on their intended weight and intensity; the beauty of the songwriting is that even if you had never heard of them, the song still works. Once that door starts to open, the album seems to do likewise, working backwards. Track nine is the cover of Nirvana's "Lithium," complete with some great grunge guitar work that was even more impressive live. On track eight they cover Nick Cave, Merle Haggard on track seven, Jason Isbell and Amanda Shires on track six, and so on. The album seemed to be opening up like a flower.

Photo: Nashville Country Club

Seeing them live later that same day, the thought occurred to me that the album is like a family portrait and in concert that picture comes alive.

As you'll see in the video below, they opened the show with "My List", which also opens the album. Their entrance got a big reaction. With the first notes of the song playing, Shelby and Allison came out holding hands; a nice touch. They then proceeded to play the songs from the album in its entirety, in track order. I greatly enjoyed the fact that they did this. It reminded me of Lynne's SXSW performance in 2008 when she played her (then new) album, Just a Little Lovin', a tribute to Dusty Springfield.

There were lots of stories about growing up in Alabama and about their musical influences. They joked a little and called each other "Sissy". The bond between these sisters is strong.

After performing the ten tracks from Not Dark Yet, Lynne and Moorer offered six more songs to round out the set. All were great to hear. They did "Alabama Song", perhaps one of Moorer's best known compositions. They followed that with Lynne's take on the same subject with a gorgeous reading of "Where I'm From". And the high points kept on coming as Moorer then sang the lovely and delicate lullaby "Easy In the Summertime". On the video, watch the complete intro where Moorer talks about thinking about her childhood and being inspired to write it when she had a child of her own. Read the setlist below for the full details.

In addition to the sisters' voices being similar, it was breathtaking to hear how good the two voices sounded when they blended together. This magic is not unusual among sisters. At this show, Lynne and Moorer accompanied themselves on acoustic guitar and piano. They derived a full band sound with just three backing musicians: Joe V. McMahan on guitar, Jason Weinheimer on bass, and Rick Reed on drums. The band's backing was superb, especially McMahan's guitar work; he had just the right touch throughout the set. Check out his work in the video for "Lithium." When asked about the gig playing on this tour McMahan said, "after two weeks of playing shows almost every day, we have had nothing but good vibes. On stage and off."

Many thanks to World Cafe Live for the sound and lighting. Thank you also to Beverly Kates for camera work and to Lindsey Mitchell for video production.

Watch Shelby Lynne and Allison Moorer open the show with "My List".

Setlist: Click on linked tracks to watch.
01. My List (Brandon Flowers, David Keuning, Mark Stoermer)
02. Every Time You Leave (Charlie Louvin, Ira Louvin)
03. Not Dark Yet (Bob Dylan)
04. Looking For Blue Eyes (Jessi Colter)
05. Lungs (Townes Van Zandt)
06. Color of a Cloudy Day (Jason Isbell, Amanda Shires)
07. Silver Wings (Merle Haggard)
08. Into My Arms (Nick Cave)
09. Lithium (Kurt Cobain)
10. Is It Too Much (Shelby Lynne, Allison Moorer)
11. She Knows Where She Goes (Allison Moorer)
12. Alabama Song (Allison Moorer)
13. Where I'm From (Shelby Lynne)
14. Easy In the Summertime (Allison Moorer)
15. Thunderstorm/Hurricane (Allison Moorer)
16. I'll Hold Your Head (Shelby Lynne)

Shelby Lynne & Allison Moorer - Not Dark Yet
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“Not Dark Yet,” is not a duet record. It is no ordinary collaboration. It is not a creation, but rather a celebration of something that has always been, two voices becoming one and finding home within each other. - Allison Moorer

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Photo courtesy of Rick Brantley

Rick Brantley opened the show. With a strong voice and his high voltage personality, he quickly established rapport with the audience and it was clear that he is a well seasoned performer. Brantley has opened for John Hiatt and Zac Brown among others.

Musically, he sounds almost like a countrified, acoustic Bruce Springsteen. Brantley calls Nashville home now, but he was born in Macon, Georgia, something he notes during his set when he sings "Try a Little Tenderness", a classic from another son of Macon, Otis Redding. In addition to Redding, other locals including Blind Willie McTell and The Allman Brothers Band numbered among Brantley's early influences.

It's always a treat when an opening act is really good and Brantley had the crowd in the palm of his hand during his seven song set.

Watch Rick Brantley sing "I Still Dream of the Tumbleweeds"

Setlist: Click on linked tracks to watch.
01. 40 Days, 40 Nights
02. I Still Dream of the Tumbleweeds
03. Claudette
04. Try a Little Tenderness
05. Mama's Red Boots
06. Hurt People
06. B - Talking
07. Little Bit More

Rick Brantley - Lo-Fi
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Rick Brantley - Hi-Fi
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