Tag Archives: Bill Withers

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A Collaboration Grows in Brooklyn

June 19th, 2013

The Roots and Jim James – Prospect Park Bandshell – June 18, 2013


Let’s face it, musical collaborations rarely pan out. With too many artists pulling a song in too many directions, before you know it, you’ve got “We Are the World.” But if there’s one group that can make collaboration worthwhile, it’s the Roots. As the house band on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, they’ve thrown their musical superpowers behind plenty of visiting musicians, with the end result almost always turning out exceptional. So how would a collaborative “State of the Union” show in Prospect Park turn out between the Roots and My Morning Jacket’s Jim James, one of the greatest, soulful voices to come out of recent history? Is the answer so obvious that asking this rhetorical question seems silly?

The show kicked off promptly at 7 p.m. with James and his backing band. Despite the early start time and lousy weather, an impressive number of umbrella-wielding fans made it there on time. His set ran through most of his debut solo album, Regions of Light and Sound of God, before closing with Monsters of Folk songs “The Right Place” and “Changing World.” The Roots followed with a formidable set of their own as the rain began to clear, starting off rather appropriately with “Table of Contents (Parts 1 & 2),” which dissolved into a cover of “Jungle Boogie.” One song often bled into another, keeping the music flowing and energy levels high, with the band using the massive stage to run from side to side, keeping the crowd’s attention. There were a few pauses to showcase some serious musicianship, with Damon “Tuba Gooding Jr.” Bryson blowing through a vicious sousaphone solo (yes, these things exist). Brooklyn’s own Captain Kirk Douglas ripped through a Pete Frampton-esque talky guitar solo on “You Got Me.”

Jim James returned to the stage when the clock struck 10, kicking off things with the 2.0 version of Monsters of Folk’s “Dear God,” which originated from the band’s appearance on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. This was followed by a trifecta of covers: Prince’s “I Could Never Take the Place of Your Man,” a superfunky rendition of Bill Withers’ “Use Me” and ending with John Lennon’s powerful “Instant Karma!” Were it not for the park’s hard stop time, the show probably could have gone on forever, as the Roots and James were certainly enjoying themselves. The best we can do for now is hope that these two musical forces meet again, some time sooner rather than later. —Dan Rickershauser

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

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Robert Randolph Feels the Love

November 21st, 2012

Robert Randoph & the Family Band – Brooklyn Bowl – November 20, 2012


You’d be hard pressed to find a more likeable act than Robert Randolph & the Family Band. It’s not just the fact that a large chunk of the group comes from the same family as the supremely talented pedal-steel guitarist—it’s that Randolph’s music is just so damn eclectic. In the artist notes on his Web site, Randolph called his latest record, We Walk This Road, “…a celebration of African-American music over the past 100 years….” In truth, it showcases his signature fusion of gospel, soul, funk and blues. But it’s clear that there’s a hefty helping of sonic diversity in the mix. Last night at Brooklyn Bowl, along with covers of songs by preeminent black artists like Bill Withers (“Use Me”) and Michael Jackson (“Don’t Stop ’Til You Get Enough”), the group jammed on selections from legendary white rockers like Bob Dylan (“Maggie’s Farm”) and Led Zeppelin (“Whole Lotta Love”).

To hammer in the point further, the band invited Marc Roberge, from frat-boy favorite O.A.R., to pop onstage for a few songs. It’s this ability to integrate a variety of musical influences that underscores Randolph’s likeability. The second—and equally important— piece of the puzzle is Randolph’s unbelievably energetic show. He slowly hooked in the crowd with his virtuosity, beginning the night teasing his signature licks by playing them in short bursts and then finishing up the set with prolonged, heavily climactic solos. “Can I get a witness!” he screamed to the delighted audience after one particularly uplifting jam.

As it turns out, Randolph had no trouble doing that at all. Halfway through the set, one incredibly bold woman climbed onstage to display her dancing ability. (Quick note: She didn’t come anywhere close to vocalist Lenesha Randolph’s kinetic prowess.) And in a matter of seconds, 12 or so women were strutting their stuff in front of hundreds of delighted fans. After the song ended and people returned to the status quo, two of the interlopers planted big, grateful kisses on Randolph’s cheek. It was a fitting symbol of the crowd’s collective love for the band. —Alex Kapelman

(Robert Randolph & the Family Band play Brooklyn Bowl tonight, Friday and Saturday.)

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The Wind and Rain Are No Match for the Soulful Michael Kiwanuka

September 19th, 2012

Michael Kiwanuka – Webster Hall – September 18, 2012


Throwback is the perfect definition for British soul artist Michael Kiwanuka, who has cited influences from Bill Withers to Otis Redding. His delicate guitar strums brightened a rather stormy Tuesday evening and for the Webster Hall crowd that braved the rain and wind, Kiwanuka was in fine form. Stepping onstage, he welcomed the audience with “I’ll Get Along” and followed up with “Tell Me a Tale,” which he described “as a tune you might know.” Taking up his acoustic guitar for the latter, the rhythm section came in with a percussion-heavy interlude. Kiwanuka played largely from his debut album, Home Again, enamoring his fans with “Bones.” The single is a gospel-y, upbeat tune with underhanded morose lyrics—truly a sad-song-makes-me-happy tune.

At the middle of his set, Kiwanuka drew attention to the night’s date, the anniversary of Jimi Hendrix’s death. As a dedication, he covered “May This Be Love (Waterfall)” with his guitarist in character, donning a feather necklace and fringed guitar strap. Trading in the electric for the acoustic, the singer-songwriter played recent single “I’m Getting Ready” and stripped down the band to just his bassist, Pete Randall, for “Rest,” a country-twinged, heartache-y song showcasing Kiwanuka’s vocals. And although “Home Again” had some ringing feedback, he mollified it with soothing lyrics: “Movin’ on / So I’ll close my eyes / Won’t look behind.”

The end of the evening really brought out Kiwanuka’s gems with a new song, “If You Dare,” reminiscent of the Temptations’ downtempo swagger mixed with the first few chords of Redding’s “Sittin’ On (The Dock of the Bay).” Coincidentally (or not), he continued with a cover of Redding’s “I Don’t Know.” The audience joined in, clapping and singing along, “I just don’t know oh oh.” For the encore, Kiwanuka and Randall concluded the evening with “Lasan,” originally a collaboration with Dan Auerbach of the Black Keys. Kiwanuka hoped it would send the onlookers “softly and soulfully into the night.” It certainly did. —Sharlene Chiu

(Michael Kiwanuka plays Music Hall of Williamsburg on Friday.)

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Two Nights of Michael Kiwanuka

September 18th, 2012

The TV show The Voice isn’t actually about Michael Kiwanuka, but it probably should be. Because his bluesy, soulful voice, which has earned him heady comparisons to Bill Withers, Otis Redding and Van Morrison, is his calling card. Kiwanuka (above, doing “I’m Getting Ready” on Later … with Jools Holland) grew up in North London with a thing for bands like Nirvana and Radiohead. Despite later becoming a session guitarist, he still did work of his own. The authentic, raw demos eventually caught the attention of Communion, which released his two EPs. Then things got progressively bigger: Adele invited the 24-year-old out on tour with her last year as she was ruling the music world. Then in January, BBC named the singer-songwriter the Sound of 2012 by the . And a few months later, he put out his debut studio album, Home Again (stream it below). It’s worth mentioning that despite talk of him having an old soul and the comparisons to legends of the past, Kiwanuka and his music are authentic and not just some retro throwback. “It would be easy to dismiss this all as a clever piece of calculated marketing,” says The Independent, “were it not for a soulful maturity in his voice that belies his age.” And, of course, the best way to hear that voice is live: Tonight at Webster Hall and on Friday at Music Hall of Williamsburg.

(Listen to Michael Kiwanuka play songs from his album and cover Jimi Hendrix for NPR.)

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A True Original

June 20th, 2012

Ani DiFranco – The Bowery Ballroom – June 19, 2012


When you go see a band at a club, usually the differences between the casual fans and the hard-core ones are shades of gray. But when Ani DiFranco plays to a sold-out Bowery Ballroom, the difference between the two is like ones and zeros with the former enjoying a top-notch live performance of superlatively realized music and the latter experiencing a transcendental moment, part rally, part therapy session, part sing-along, part poetry slam. There were plenty of moments for all comers last night as DiFranco, paired with drummer Allison Miller, showed why she is the rare breed with nothing to sell but herself and her music, a genre unto itself.

The show opened strongly with “Done Wrong” and “Untouchable Face”—which sent the woman behind me into gleeful hysterics (“This is awesome, right off the bat!”) and forced DiFranco to admit that her cheeks hurt, smiling so much at some combination of the audience, her playing and the interaction between the two. The disconnect was obvious: She’s singing an angry “fuck you!” and yet straining her facial muscles to contain her joy, which sums up the set in a moment. When she sang, “I can do a lot of things … and I do,” the crowd loved it for the lyricism and also because it was true. By the third song, “Napoleon,” Miller made her presence felt, beautifully setting the tone for the great interplay between her drumming and DiFranco’s guitar all night long. She brought an intensity to a minimalism, playing as little as necessary but making every sound count.

While the music was superb, the set was more than just a string of great material (with any missed or botched verses immediately caught by the audience). The banter in between songs was the rambling of a woman with much to say and no fear in saying it, including a rant on “restoring anarchy to New York City,” a long, rhythmic poem that wonderfully balanced anger and inspiration, and a hilarious anecdote about the time she met and played with Prince. New stuff appeared (although DiFranco did say, “The minute you feel like you need to play something off your new record is the moment you sold out”), with “J” being the highlight. The show ended as strongly as it began, with opener Melissa Ferrick joining the duo for a rendition of Bill Withers’ “Who is He (And What Is He to You)” and an everyone-sing-with-us “Which Side Are You On?” As if she needed to ask! —A. Stein

Photos courtesy of JC McIlwaine | jcmcilwaine.com