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Roomful of Blues is celebrating fifty years this year. That’s a long time playing together. Not all the members go back that far, but the history of the band does.

Opening for Roomful of Blues at City Winery Chicago was Corey Dennison and his band. I think fans of Freddie King would dig this cat. I don’t see Dennison as a King imitator, but I did see some similarities in his appearance and the guitar he played. Dennison has a four-piece band - two guitars, bass and drums. The band pulls off some fun choreographed stage moves and display a ton of energy. Corey even did the Buddy Guy trick of walking through the crowd while playing. The difference being that Dennison started singing without a microphone in the middle of the club. Still, you could hear his strong voice without a problem. Sometimes Blues singing is almost like a holler, just shouting more or less. You can really feel it.

Dennison proved to be a decent Chicago Blues guitar player. He plays without a pick like a lot of the older players, using a lot of thumb. It seems primitive but it’s a great sound.

Roomful of Blues is a bigger band - three horns, keys, guitar, bass, drums and vocals and the crowd was responsive. Together, they present a powerful sound. The horns give more melodic information to chew on. Everything about the band was musically excellent. Well-seasoned players are such a treat to watch. The energy of the band was good but did not match Dennison and crew.

I have heard a lot of Blues music in Chicago. Having said that, I am dying to hear something new. I know a lot is tradition. The twelve-bar form does have limitations. I don’t really hear songs anymore. It’s all the same song. You can speed it up, slow it down…change keys…it’s still the same song. The Blues bands of yesterday had more going on. The missing ingredient is the dancing.

Once upon a time, bands were there so people could dance. Even Classical Music was based on the dances of the day. Dancing has been replaced by sitting. Blues bands of yesteryear would never have held a gig doing whole sets of twelve bar. Tough to dance to a shuffle beat.

Roomful of Blues started towards the end of the sixties Blues movement. Then it stopped moving. The Psychedlic era killed it and I don’t see it being much more than a novelty now. Stevie Ray Vaughan brought it back thirty years ago and that was really Rock disguised as Blues. In no way am I saying that I am down on The Blues. It is still a valid form of music but it needs to grow. This genre of music spawned Rock and Jazz and a lot of other styles. And I think there is more that can come from it in the future. But that will not come from repeating the past.

Published in In Concert
Thursday, 10 August 2017 22:14

Delbert McClinton - One of the Fortunate Few

 

I have been waiting to see Delbert McClinton for a while. It just never happened for me…timing, etc. Finally, it happened. I even took my Mom who is as big a fan as I am.

Warming up for Delbert was Amy Black, a singer/songwriter from Nashville. Black sang only accompanied by piano, which blended perfectly with her very strong voice that comes with powerful with awesome intonation. However, I didn’t feel that strongly for her songs. They were well written but just not overly catchy. In fact, I walked away with no memory of them at all, but only that of an amazing voice. I would like to see her with her full band instead of the simple piano/voice arrangements. Maybe that’s what was missing.

Then, after a brief intermission following Black’s set… Delbert McClinton walks onto the stage. I can’t even comprehend how many times he has done this. “Take Me to the River” was the opener. Del’s version is way more swampy feeling than Talking Heads - not even the same song. Del’s hand-picked musicians formed a tremendous band. No name brand guys. No one under fifty or sixty-years-old. I don’t even remember a band introduction. It was all about the music.

What about the music, you ask? McClinton’s music is self described as Blues but there is much more to it than that. It more like the intersection of Blues Road, Country Avenue and Old Rock and Roll Boulevard. If you think of music like cooking I guess it all kinda comes from the same kitchen, but his unique formula really makes the flavors that stand out. You have the basic recipe but when you start adding spices and such…things get extra tasty.

In a way, I feel here is a guy that should be headlining stadiums. But when I see him work a club, my thoughts change. An intimate venue like such is the perfect environment for Delbert. He is basically a breathtaking club act with great songs. Sometimes we put too much emphasis on the bands playing the hockey stadiums and forget the guys in the clubs exist. The lesson here - go see more musicians like this where you can see the expressions on their face and the watch each note played with finesse and passion rather than viewing a giant monitor.

Let’s get back to the songs. “When Rita Leaves” was played early in the set and another crowd favorite “Ain’t I Got a Right to be Wrong?” was included in the first five, six songs. He has SO many great songs. Two of Delbert’s songs that always stood out were songs at least partially penned by a guy named Jerry Lyn Williams – the same guy that wrote a chunk of Clapton’s later hits. “Giving It Up for Your Love” is a classic that was on the set list. The other is a beautiful song called “Sending Me Angels”.

Music like McClinton’s is good for your cardio-vascular system. It even gets the older people dancing…did I mention that? Well, I just turned fifty and took my seventy-one-year-old mother…and there were people older than her dancing. Some of you youngsters should get out and watch a band like this. You might not be able to keep up…unless somebody breaks a hip.

 

Published in In Concert

Davina & the Vagabonds' rollicking New Orleans-inflected jazz, gospel, and R&B delighted fans at a packed City Winery in Chicago this week. The retro stylings of this Minneapolis group carries a 1960's vibe, underscoring lyrics packed with an ironic take on songs of the “you done me wrong” and “don’t steal my man” variety.  

While the band features cornet and trombone, bass, drums and keyboard, there is added brass in the high powered vocals of lead singer Davina Powers, who along with her band mates, wins fans because she “brings it” to every performance.

Imagine Bette Midler impersonating Amy Winehouse, with a dash of Madeline Peyroux thrown in, and you get a sense of Davina Sowers. And while she has a lot of control of her vocal instrument - going from breathy to belting, with a light rasp that softens the delivery - she’s affecting as a pianist as well.

 

The  enthusiasm and turnout at City Winery - Wednesday's windchill notwithstanding - also delighted Sowers: nearly everyone yowled in the affirmative when she asked if they’d seen the show before. The band had begun this day before dawn to make an appearance at WGN Studios in the morning, and was to be up at dawn the next day for a show in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Sowers writes most of the songs, and her performance is loaded with showmanship as she mugs her way through the breaks and as songs unfold – but at a point in most songs she gets captured by the music, and really delivers. 

The group is much more than Davina, though, as each member – trombonist Steve Rognes, trumpet Zack Lozier, and drummer Connor McRae Hammergren - sings and writes original songs. Rognes and Lozier take the lead as they swing into Dixieland and Bourbon Street jazz. (The bass at City Winery is not a permanent member of the group.) Drummer Connor Hammergren, with big muttonchops, seems to have a lot of street-style percussive techniques up his sleeve.

Chicago’s City Winery is the perfect setting both in terms of intimacy and sound – and because the elegant noshes and paired with house wines harkens back to the glory days of 1950s and 1960s night clubs. As do Davina & the Vagabonds. 

 

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