An Evening of Joyful Blues with Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’

Blues Legends Bring Good Time to Pennsylvania’s Wyoming Valley

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A long three months finally came to an end last night. Shortly after Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ had issued their collaboration album TajMo in May, I found out about their All Around the World tour and got a ticket to what I knew I simply wouldn’t want to miss. It was a great decision!

Yesterday night, the two blues dynamos brought their show to the F.M. Kirby Center of the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The heart of the Wyoming Valley is not exactly New York or Chicago, but was well worth the 2.5-hour hike from my house through the Pocono Mountains!

Readers of the blog have probably noticed the blues has been on my mind frequently as of late. Undoubtedly, the excellent TajMo album, which I previously reviewed here, has something to do with it. In addition, I’ve been excited about other recent new releases in the blues and soul genres from artists like Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Casey James and Southern Avenue. Maybe Taj Mahal and Keb’ Mo’ are right when they expressed full confidence that the blues will survive during a recent PBS NewsHour segment.

Jontavious Willis

Before I get to TajMo, I’d like to say few words about the opening act, a country blues artist called Jontavious Willis. According to his online bio, Mahal called Willis “my Wonderboy, the Wunderkind.” After having seen last night’s 30-minute performance by the 21-year-old from Greenville, Ga., I have to say this is not an exaggeration and yet another indication that the prospects of the blues look bright these days!

Willis, who is currently finishing his studies at Columbus State University, released his debut album Blue Metamorphosis in February this year. He’ll continue to tour with TajMo for many of their upcoming gigs in August and September. What this young artist got out of just an acoustic guitar was insane. It’s hard to find clips that do his exceptional solo acoustic skills full justice.

After Willis blew off the Kirby Center’s roof with his dynamic acoustic guitar performance, it was time for TajMo. From the very first moment they walked on stage, their joy of performing together was palpable. The set opened with Señor Blues, a jazz standard by Horace Silver, which Mahal covered on his 1999 studio album with the same title. This was followed by Don’t Leave Me Here, the first of five songs Mahal and Mo’ played from TajMo, and one of favorites from that album.

After six tunes with the full band, the two blues maestros took things “to the deep country blues,” as Mahal put it, playing Diving Duck Blues. Written by Sleepy John Estes, Mahal first recorded the track on his 1969 eponymous debut album. It is also included on TajMo and another highlight of that record. Watch the amazing chemistry between the two.

One of the highlights during the second half of the set was The Worst Is Yet to Come. Co-written by Mo’, Heather Donovan and Pete Sallis, Mo included the tune on 2014’s BLUESAmericana, his 12th studio album. I wonder whether Mo’ got the inspiration for the song’s title from the American songbook 1959 standard The Best Is Yet to Come, which became one of Frank Sinatra’s popular tunes in the mid-’60s. Unfortunately, the only TajMo clip I could find is cut off in the beginning.

Ironically, The Worst Is Yet to Come was followed by one of my longtime favorite blues tunes: She Caught the Katy And Left Me a Mule to Ride. Prior to that I only had known the great version by The Blues Brothers. It turns out Mahal co-wrote this classic with Yank Rachell and included it on this second studio album The Natch’s Blues, which was released in 1968.

The last song I’d like to highlight is All Around the World, which also appears on TajMo and was the closer of the 20-song regular set. The tune perfectly sums up the positive vibes Mahal and Mo’ sent to the audience throughout the show. People were up on their feet and made some noise, so they came back for one encore: Soul, yet another tune from their collaboration album.

Finally, I’d like to say a few words about the top-notch band that backed up Mahal and Mo’. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the names of the musicians, but here are a few things I remember. The drummer comes from Memphis, Tenn., former home of the storied Stax Records label. The bassist, who is a lefty, hails from Washington, D.C. The fantastic horn section consists of a male trumpet player and female saxophonist. Mo’ called her out for her amazing sound. The keyboarder, who among others played a seductively roaring Hammond, was top-rate as well. Last but not least, there were two special background vocalists: Mahal’s daughters, Deva and Zoe. And they were not there just for alibi – these ladies can sing!

TajMo are taking their tour next to Wheeling, W.Va.; and Richmond, Va. before hitting New York City’s SummerStage in Central Park this Sunday, where they will perform a free show. I’m tempted to go there to see them again! The tour continues throughout the remainder of August and September all the way into October, when it concludes in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. on October 21.

Sources: PBS NewsHour, Jontavious Willis website, Setlist.fm, Facebook, TajMo web site, YouTube

When Live Performances Become the Ultimate Listening Experience

A list of great songs performed live

To me there is nothing that beats the experience of listening to music live. But there are only so many shows one can go to. Plus, at least in my case, some of my favorite artists are no longer around or bands have changed their line-ups to the point where they no longer have much to do with the act I initially came to like.

Fortunately, many music artists have recorded live albums. While a live record can never replace attending an actual show, if well produced, it can at least convey an idea of how it must have felt being there. Obviously, some live albums are better and more authentic than others. Following is a list of songs from some of my favorite live records.

Things We Said Today/The Beatles (The Beatles at the Hollywood Bowl, 1977/1964 & 1965)

Sunny Afternoon/The Kinks (Live at Kelvin Hall, 1967)

Jumpin’ Jack Flash/The Rolling Stones (Get Yer Ya-Ya’s Out!, 1970)

First I Look At the Purse/The J. Geils Band (“Live” Full House, 1972)

Rock And Roll All Nite/Kiss (Alive!, 1975)

Turn the Page/Bob Seger & The Silver Bullet Band (Live Bullet, 1976)

I Want You to Want Me/Cheap Trick (Cheap Trick At Budokan, 1978)

Rock You Like a Hurricane/Scorpions (World Wide Live, 1985)

Nutbush City Limits/Tina Turner (Tina Live In Europe, 1988)

Pride (In the Name of Love)/U2 (Rattle And Hum, 1988)

Sources: Wikipedia, YouTube

It’s That Time of the Year Again: Summer Concert Season

From rock to roots music to blues to hard rock and shock rock, it’s all in the mix for the next few months

To readers of the blog and folks who know me it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that I love going to concerts. I can barely wait until the end of June when my summer concert season kicks off. Following is a preview of shows I’m currently planning to see.

U2: The Joshua Tree Tour 2017, MetLife Stadium, East Rutherford, NJ, June 29

Even though I’ve listened to U2 since the early ’80s, I’ve never seen them live. They have been on my bucket list for a long time. And what better occasion to catch them than during their 2017 tour to celebrate the 30th anniversary of The Joshua Tree, their fifth studio album and probably my favorite U2 record. The tour, which includes North America and Europe, kicked off on May 12 in Vancouver, Canada and will conclude in Brussels, Belgium on August 1. “My show” will be the second night at MetLife and the 20th date.

Rolling Stone, which covered the U.S. tour opener in Seattle on May 14, called the show “epic.” The set kicked off with Sunday Bloody Sunday and featured 16 tracks, including all songs from The Joshua Tree, played in the same order than on the album. U2 also played two encores with seven additional songs. For the final Joshua Tree tune, Mothers of the Disappeared, Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder joined U2, together with Mumford & Sons who had opened the show. Here’s a clip of Where the Streets Have No Name.

John Mellencamp: Sad Clowns & Hillbillies 2017 Summer Tour, The Mann, Philadelphia, PA, July 6

This will be my second time to see John Mellencamp, one of my favorite music artists. Similar to U2, I’ve listened to him since the early ’80s. I like both the early, more rock-oriented Mellencamp with songs like Hurts So Good, Pink Houses and R.O.C.K. In the U.S.A., as well as his roots-oriented, more stripped down approach he has increasingly adopted over the past 20 years. I think his current album Sad Clowns & Hillbillies with Carlene Carter is an absolute gem. I previously reviewed it here.

The summer tour, which features Carlene Carter and Emmylou Harris, includes 22 shows. It is set to kick off on Monday, June 5 in Denver, Colo. and will finish in Forest Hills, N.Y. on July 11. The concert at the Mann in Philly will be the 18th date. As reported by Variety, the upcoming tour will include outdoor gigs, the first time in 15 years Mellencamp has played such venues.  Here’s a clip of Indigo Sunset, one of the best songs from the new album. I think Carter’s beautiful country voice and Mellencamp’s raspy singing make for a great mix.

Taj Mahal & Keb’ Mo’: F.M. Kirby Center, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., August 10

I’m particularly excited about this show, which will be the first time I see any of these legendary blues artists. Taj Mahal’s and Keb’ Mo’s recently released collaboration album TajMo, which I previously reviewed here, has become one of my most frequently played records. The joy these two guys had when recording the album is obvious and something I find very engaging.

Things got underway in Fort Collins, Colo. on May 30. The concert in Wilkes-Barre will be the 11th of 39 shows of the tour, which will conclude in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla on October 28. Here’s a clip of All Around the World.

Deep Purple and Alice Cooper: PNC Bank Arts Center, Holmdel, N.J., August 28

While there are several hard rock bands I like, if I would have to choose only one, it would be Deep Purple. And if I would need to select only one of their albums, undoubtedly, it would be Machine Head, which to me is the definitive ’70s hard rock album. It was also one of my first vinyl records I bought in the late ’70s – I still own it!

While I’ve enjoyed listening to Deep Purple for more than 30 years, this will be the first time I’m going to see them live, as will be the case with Alice Cooper. But unlike Deep Purple, I don’t know Mr. Shock Rock’s music, except for the epic School’s Out and No More Mr. Nice Guy. According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the co-lining tour includes 19 gigs in North America, starting in Las Vegas on August 12 and concluding on September 10 in Cincinnati. PNC Bank Arts Center will be 11th show. The tour is part of Deep Purple’s Long Goodbye Tour – sounds like it’s about time to see them!

Of course, I realize Machine Head was released 45 years ago. It’s still hard for me to picture Deep Purple without Ritchie Blackmore and especially Jon Lord, and Ian Gillan’s voice has probably seen better days. But Steve Morse and Don Airey are top-notch musicians, and the band’s new album inFinite, which I reviewed here, shows Deep Purple still has some gas in the tank. Here’s a clip of Highway Star from a recent concert in Munich, Germany.

I’ll probably need hearing aids after the show!

Sources: Wikipedia, U2 web site, Rolling Stone, YouTube, John Mellencamp web site, Ultimate Classic Rock