by Frank De Blase
A world where no Republican is safe: anywhere New York City's Ed Hamell is performing. Hamell's Thursday, September 11, show at Milestones was edgy and engaging. His lyrics and between-song banter were hysterical --- not just with their occasional absurdity but with barefaced insight and honesty. Sure, Hamell plays acoustic, but it's clear he learned electrically. His right arm frequently blurred from view. His ultra-percussive slashing at the strings was a testimony to the fine American craftsmen who forged his guitar way back in 1937.
Every now and then a body needs to downshift from all the movin' and shakin' and contemplate the good things in life, like his own bellybutton. And that is precisely what I did in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico for a week. I made a conscious effort to do nothing except take a few snapshots and get a third-degree tan. Feeling either an overwhelming sense of security or bravery, I did drink the water. Alas, the rumors are true.
No sooner did I get back, I was off to Evanston, Illinois for an alternative newspaper writers' conference. Tons of pro scribes and me. I think I picked up a few tricks that I'll implement in the next few weeks.
Took the train from Evanston to Chicago to see a country version of the Leroy Fix play tribute to Johnny Cash. I truly believe Cash died of a broken heart. Consequently, I believe in true love once again.
Monday night in the Bop Shop Atrium and the odd, experimental strains of John Butcher and Rhodri Davies filled the air like a creepy foreign film. A little sparse and lacking in melody, the duo was fascinating to watch. They played off one another with a meter and tempo only apparent to them. In order to get a tight shot of Davies working the strings of his harp with what appeared to be a wet rag, I stealthily approached the stage on my knees like a hungry lion hunting a gazelle. Just as I got close enough and had Davies in my shot, my cell phone erupted in my pants --- loud. Not a great way to make friends in the jazz set.
Tons of sweaty kids piled into Water Street Music Hall Friday, September 19, to see The Dropkick Murphys' Irish-flavored rock and pogo-inducing cacophony. Though their beat and roar wax violent, these Boston boys are deliberately positive. With kids liking bands like this, I'm not as worried about our future.
Darien Lake was Bruce Springsteen and The E Street Band's second stop in the area this year. Sure he's cool and genuine. Sure, he's the Boss, but the music seems to have slowed some. First of all --- though I'm surprised to hear myself say this --- there were just too many guitar payers on stage. Secondly, he needs a horn section. A little swingin' brass would give his sound the goose it needs (playing "Candy's Room" a little more often wouldn't hurt either). Or we could just listen to him preach on in three-hour-plus installments for the rest of our lives.
From the corporate, four-dollar-for-a-bottle-of-water world of Darien Lake and back to the disenfranchised, beer-joint charm of the Bug Jar to see The Grinders play a blistering set and throw cans of The Champagne of Beers to the thirsty, grateful audience who happily returned the empties sailing to the stage.
I know you'll stop believing me if I keep referring to things as "the best," but I'm tellin' you there ain't no way around it. Austin, Texan Dale Watson is the best country singer alive. Watson made his first area appearance at The Montage Grille for an early show on Sunday, September 21. Tim Clark's new country group Dang! thoroughly warmed up the daylight crowd with some fine, swingin' country before Watson hit the stage and played two long sets.
OK, so there was the smooth rumble of his baritone croon. And the appropriately sharp pluck-twang of his coin-covered Tele. But it's Watson's genuine humility and sincerity that truly endeared him to the listeners. He honored every request. He burned with the heartache, passion, and rage of a man who has walked a few honky-tonk miles.
One topic Watson hit upon frequently was the current state of so-called country music and the soulless machinery behind it. He complained how contemporary country stations wouldn't play the Man In Black until he was dead, pretending they had always revered him. Watson's opinions culminated in a rousing rendition of a song he wrote based on a conversation between Willie and Waylon called "Country, My Ass." In the spirit of that evening I would like to dedicate this week's column to the late, great Johnny Cash. I'd also like to dedicate the sentiment of Watson's song to WBEE.