In Concert

Delbert McClinton may not be a household name, but he should be. A singer-songwriter, harmonica player, pianist and guitarist, we are talking about a gifted musician who has been active in the music scene since 1962 and is showing no signs of slowing down some fifty-five years later. It is even rumored McClinton taught John Lennon how to play harmonica. The Texas native is a multi-Grammy Award winning singer, earning one for his 2006 release Cost of Living, an album where each track is infused with McClinton’s unique vision and is as impressive as the next. In a career that has been nothing short of remarkable, McClinton has recorded with several big-named artists including Bonnie Raitt and Tanya Tucker with whom he landed his highest-charting single “Tell Me About It” in 1992.

McClinton’s music is exceptional in the fact that it bridges the gaps between Blues, Rock and Country. At nearly seventy-seven-years-old, he still plays his music with the energy of a much younger man and entertains with the best of them. Inducted into the Texas Heritage Songwriters Hall of Fame in March 2011, I highly recommend music fans who have not yet seen this talented artist to do so – and you can next week. Currently on tour for his latest effort Prick of the Litter, Delbert McClinton will be performing at City Winery Chicago on Wednesday August 9th. The wine and music will be flowing that night for sure.

Published in In Concert

Shannon McNally is a singer, song writer and guitar player. Black Irish is her seventh release, if I heard correctly last night at City Winery. There, at City Winery, McNally headlined with Big Sadie playing the first set.

Big Sadie is a Bluegrass quartet from Chicago? Yes, you heard correctly…a Bluegrass quartet from Chicago. A lot of people tend to think this is either a Blues town or cover band town, but there are plenty of hidden gems to be found. You either gotta look or get lucky.

Big Sadie is led by a husband (Collin Moore) and wife (Elise Bergman) team who handle most of the vocals, as well. Bergman plays upright bass and Moore plays guitar. Andy Malloy on banjo and Matt Brown on fiddle complete the quartet.

There were two things I really liked about seeing this group live. Number one were their harmonies. Moore and Bergman have a really sweet blend. Harmonies executed so well make such a difference - getting voices to blend like that. The second thing was they played and sang in front of ONE microphone. I loved it! Very reminiscent of the Grand Old Opry days. They did have the upright going direct but they had everything else going through one mic. With this method, you get your “mix” by your proximity to the microphone. Also, dynamics used by the other players is important. My only criticism of their set up is that the guitar gets buried. The guitar should go direct along with the upright. Moore was playing some hot licks, but they were fighting to be heard.

McNally was accompanied by Brett Hughes on guitars, mandolin and vocals. I see a lot of people playing without drummers lately, which tends to keep a nice volume in clubs sometimes. That way you can just dig into the songs. You can also hear the vocals, a lot of which are lost in the heavy mixes of the bass and drums that dominate a lot of times.

She played a short set, mostly originals. I would honestly have to describe her as seeming uncomfortable. I will admit, I am not familiar with her work at all. She had some nice bluesy moments and I did like her singing and playing. Her songs were good, but easy to forget. In between songs, she just seemed awkward. I understand some people are more creatures of the studio or the writing table and am guessing she’d be in that category. I did really enjoy her last song, a cover of “It Makes No Difference” by The Band.

It’s always a great night at City Winery Chicago. Great food, wine and music. The volume is always adjusted just right in the room, too. You always walk away with happy ears.

Published in In Concert

It was an interesting pairing of solo singer/guitar players last night at City Winery. I often check out artists I review that I don’t know before I go and see them. Often, I end up finding they can be quite different than the usual Youtube videos you see. This can be good or bad. A couple reasons for this. There is the energy of the room that cannot be captured on video or sometimes you end up checking out the videos that do not exemplify the band as much. In this case, both artists were better in person than video.

 

First up was Edward David Anderson. I would call him a bit of a story teller type of writer and singer. Most of his songs had entertaining introductions and good story lines. I found it interesting that he sat down and played bass drum while he sang and played guitar - a one-man band. His left foot seemed to be getting something like a tambourine sound. I could not see how he did that, exactly. After opening with a nylon string guitar that looked like it had survived a war, he switched over to banjo for a few songs. After that, he played slide on one of those cigar box guitars. He killed it on the cigar box playing a great version of Bill Preston’s “Go ‘Round In Circles”. I really liked that. 

 

Edward was a very funny guy between songs as well. His own songs were great. I really liked one called “That’s My Dog”. He was not too serious and very down to Earth. I thought his music was very accessible, and the crowd was in agreement. He got a great response. He even did some Dylan-esque harp work and, believe it or not, some kazoo while plying guitar and bass drum.

 

After a short intermission, Seth Walker took the stage. He was sporting and old Gibson hollow body guitar at first. He plugged into a little tube amplifier. He was a little more Blues based, but not a bunch of twelve bar repetition. He had some really good songs, too. He was a switch from Anderson but it was a smooth transition, either one could have been headliner. 

 

He switched to a steel string acoustic after a few songs, joking it was a borrowed guitar. His version of “Blue Eyes Crying in The Rain” was just amazing. Willie Nelson would surely approve. He switched back to the old Gibson for the rest of his set. He also seemed to put a little humor in his delivery. This tends to work rather well in a club this size. The crowd was very relaxed. There was a lot of clapping on two and four during Walker’s set.

 

Anderson came up and joined Walker for the last couple songs. “Ophelia” was a knockout song I first heard The Band do years ago. It had that kind of Levon Helm vibe. 

 

It was yet another great show at City Winery, which is a real nice place to see a show. The wine is excellent and so is the food. They also have a top-notch staff. The crowd was a nice mix too. I would highly recommend both the venue and the two artists highly. It was a great way to spend a Thursday evening.

 

Published in In Concert

It’s so easy to make comparisons with artists these days. He/she sounds like so and so, etc. My expectation before seeing Becca Stevens was to find a folk singer along the lines of the clichéd variety. I was surprised at what I found. I guess Stevens does somewhat fit into the folk category only because the industry likes to file music into genres. However, the folkie title is a bit too generic for her music.

 

Stevens is the singer/songwriter type for sure. That being said, I would consider her music to be more along the lines of eclectic pop sprinkled with some folk and almost Medieval overtones. During her recent performance in support of her latest release Regina at City Winery, I sat back, unsure of what to expect live. As l listened to Stevens’ set, I heard some very catchy melodies including those in “Queen Mab” off her latest album. Steven’s voice I might compare with someone like a Joni Mitchell, at least in terms of range, though her songs were quite different than Joni’s. I really liked the band she had, as well. Three musicians backed her up - drums, keys and bass. Stevens also played guitar – and well.

 

Steven’s ability to play guitar with such heart and technical prowess was jaw-dropping at times. I couldn’t help but notice several interesting chord voiceings and it sounded to me like she might have ventured in to some open tunings. Stevens did not perform any guitar solos. She is not that kind of player, and her music did not lack anything because of that.

 

Liam Robinson was the man on keys. He also contributed backing vocals. He played a grand piano, electric keys and accordion depending on the song. Robinson adds a very melodic element to the fold. The accordion was a nice touch and Steven’s performance had me wondering if it was not also used as a midi controller due to some of the timbres I heard.

 

Jordan Perlson played drums. A very solid pocket guy, he did not over or underplay either. He was part of what I would consider a very solid rhythm section. I consider dynamics a huge part of performing and he led the musicians in that direction very well. He knew just when to pull back when the time called. The balance of sounds has a lot to do with the man behind the kit. A live band can’t really be any better than their drummer, and in this case, they have a solid one in Perlson. 

 

My favorite part of her band was bass player Chris Tordini. He also sang along with Stevens and even pitched in with some short lead vocal lines of his own. His style was very diverse. Pick and finger styles were used along with some almost classical guitar style right hand work. Tordini complimented the dynamic drums and never overpowered the vocals.

 

The City Winery has a great system. I am not sure if the person running the board was the house guy or not. The mix was flawless, very unlike a lot of the clubs I hear in Chicago were all you hear is the bass and drums. I don’t care to much for that. I like hearing the vocals myself. I was not disappointed.

 

Becca seemed to have quite a following at City Winery, as many people were singing along with her songs. I may need to dive into some more listening from her catalog. I also thought it was very cool that she did some work with a band I highly respect, Snarky Puppy. Talented people do seem to attract one another’s attention so I shouldn’t be all that surprised. The surprise to me was that Stevens was billed as some type of roots musician. I didn’t hear that at all. I found the songs to never really sound dated. I think that title should be dismissed. I don’t like categories anyway. That always narrows the focus of the artist and the mind of the listener. Music should expand your mind, and Becca Stevens is a fine example of that notion.

 

For more info on Becca Stevens visit http://www.beccastevens.com/.

 

To check out the upcoming schedule at City Winery, visit http://www.citywinery.com/chicago/

 

Published in In Concert

 

 

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