Tag Archives: blues

The Terry Gillespie Band: Review

TerryLyndell**5465_560Dominion on Queen, Toronto
Saturday, November 23rd, 2013

Blesséd be the mould-breakers, someone surely said…because they have the power to change the way we think. Many of us have been trained, for the most part, to believe that successful bands are built around a front man or woman – as if this central focal point might make a group more interesting. This is especially true in the blues – as if the music, itself, is not sufficiently sturdy enough to entice a listener without having to rely on a stellar voice or standout instrumentalist. With respect to this band, that conclusion couldn’t be further from reality. Because, as the snow flew outside the warm, congenial interior of this Toronto pub, four musicians worked some magic, dispelling the notion that a real band is less than the true sum of its parts.

Terry GillespieI was aware of the fact that Terry Gillespie is a seasoned guitarist and can sing (a too-rare combination, as a rule) but I didn’t realize he plays his role as more camp director than your typical showman. He prays at the Church of the Groove and nothing else appears to be as important – period. Likewise, his band attends the same church:

Peter Measroch

Peter Measroch, a dizzying flurry of fingers over a dual keyboard, jumping from acoustic piano to swelling B3 in a heartbeat;

LyndellMontgomeryBass560

Lyndell Montgomery fiddle

Lyndell Montgomery, a multi-instrumentalist and singer as comfortable flicking her fingers up and down an electric bass as she is plucking and bowing the strings of a fiddle;

Wayne Stoute

and Wayne Stoute, a drummer’s drummer who goes well beyond keeping time – using his elaborate, jazz-informed attack to call out orders to corral the antics of his band-mates into some sort of organized order.

The resulting chemistry makes for a night of music-listening to change all the rules of a downtown Saturday night: from old favourites, reinvented by artists who love to play, to new songs enjoying the eclectic and inventive contributions from each of them. Terry Gillespie and his band have something special to offer – music you might not have heard before and certainly, if you have, it’s served up with ingenious twists and turns. The set-list, itself, was a revelation packed with truly offbeat and wide-ranging covers mixed with equally solid originals. It’s not often a band does both well ­– but these guys can. At the same time, there’s another ingredient that solidifies the experience. Mistakes. Their dedication to serving the groove is not without some off notes – entirely forgivable from a band who clearly plays from the heart. Not unlike early Faces or any number of early Brit-pop acts, the net result is all the more engaging and part of their charm. Gillespie commands a superior range of vocals for a singer, let alone a guitar player. There are moments when he’s slightly off – but he’s not long in getting back on. The same holds true of his guitar work. He’s not one to lean back and peel into a scorching riff to save the day or steal the focus from his bandmates. He is, rather, a solid team player with tasteful slide where it counts or a flurry of finger-work to complement the song rather than stroke his own ego. As such, he’s an equal partner and an encyclopedia of music history, taking the listener along on a guided tour that covered blues, rock, soul, funk, reggae and folk.

Terry Gillespie Harp Beginning with a rousing treatment of JB Lenoir’s “Round and Round”, Gillespie was quick to impress with his resonant vocals and a band who clearly hold the Stax legend high. Their take on John Lee Hooker’s “Want Ad Blues” underlined the distinctive blues flavouring of Gillespie’s most recent release, Bluesoul – yet it was followed by a track from Brother of the Blues, “Rue Guy Boogie”. Half tongue-in-cheek, Gillespie added harp to this upbeat, horns-free version. Yet none of this properly prepared the audience for a stand-out cover of Curtis Mayfield’s “Check Out Your Mind” – a funky throwback to a lost era of neo-psychedelia that made the most of all four players – notably Measroch’s keyboard swells, Montgomery’s jazz-informed basslines, Stoute’s authoratitive drumming and Gillespie’s clear, confident vocals – each sitting comfortably in the fat groove they had built. Difficult as this might be to follow, a slowed-down version of Chuck Berry’s “No Money Down” featuring some inspired interplay between guitar and keyboards, demonstrated the band’s ability to take total control over a song to make it their own. Another stand-out track was preceded by a story about listening to Dave Van Ronk (the folksinger who inspired Inside Llewelyn Davis)– Gillespie enjoys great rapport with his audience, often explaining the background to each song – following it with a slightly Caribbean twist on Van Ronk’s version of “Tell Old Bill”, Stoute improvising on percussion with two oversized beer-can shakers for full ‘island’ effect while bassist Montgomery switched over to fiddle, plucking it to achieve a mandolin sound. Transitions to his own material proved seamless.  “Brother of the Blues” from Gillespie’s ‘06 release of the same name gave way to the stunning “Magnolia Tree” off the latest – each sounding like they were all cut from the same set-list cloth. The former began with a mellow, B3-bass-guitar stew that changed attitude and picked up speed while the delicate “Magnolia Tree” is largely a gentle duet between guitar and piano as Gillespie’s elastic vocal style recalled a blend of Eric Clapton to Colin Hay. Another original proved a big highlight – “What Would Bo Diddley Do” is as much tribute as it is a fire-starter for the rock’n’roll cause. Cue the dancers. The new “The Devil Likes To Win” locked into a solid blues groove while Tom Waits’ “Theme From The Wire” added Montgomery on fiddle, stabbing it ferociously with her bow, followed by a reggae treatment of Dylan’s “All Along the Watchtower” (Montgomery returning on scorching fiddle). A jazzy treatment of Little Milton’s “Welcome to the Club” and Junior Wells’ “Little By Little” – pumped up by the band leader’s signature, one-handed harp – provided a crystal-clear illustration of Gillespie’s informed, creative range.

TerryLyndell560Following a short break, the band was back with more songs – notably his own “Big Boy”, his half-spoken “It Wasn’t Me” and a highly Dylanesque “Legendary Life”, capped off by – once again – a keeper cover of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” that was so utterly captivating, it should become their permanent theme. A piano-led instrumental of “Soweto” by South African pianist Abdullah Ibrahim served to underline Measroch’s far from subtle, sizeable role within the band. Closing with the Allman’s take on Willie Cobb’s “You Don’t Love Me” invited an encore, transforming their own “Those Days Are Gone” into a full bar sing-along. It was obvious to all in attendance that Terry Gillespie and his talented band are the furthest thing possible from your “typical blues band” – a fact which should surely shower them with much promise for 2014 and beyond.

Photos by: Eric Thom

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Peter Case: The ultimate party guest

  Peter Case at Hugh's RoomHugh’s Room, Toronto, Sept. 23, 2013

At this stage in his 38+ year career, Peter Case remains the ultimate party guest. Shuffling onto the stage in his tweed jacket, music folder in hand, he presents a somewhat disheveled look, not unlike a shorter-haired version of Warren Haynes after a bender, his long, elfin beard resembling something you’d see on a lawn ornament. However, a few phrases into “Put Down The Gun”, delivered with passion as he talked and sang his way through it, Case revealed the rich character that has propelled him through everything he’s done. For many, Case remains a power pop icon. In his essence, as a singer-songwriter, he continues to raise his voice and shake his fist, championing the downtrodden and making a difference with his music. It would seem that he’s happily soaking in the same piss’n’vinegar he started with – and he’s pickling quite nicely, thank you. A brilliant, largely unheralded songwriter – as proven across his tenure as both band leader and solo performer – Case’s other secret ingredient remains his smart, sneering, somewhat nasal, slightly Lennon-esque voice. From “Estella Hotel” with its “garden of earthly delights” to Full Service, No Waiting’s “Crooked Mile”, Case began to open up to his audience, endearingly so, against a backdrop of fingerstyle guitar revealing his deep-rooted love of the blues. Adding a pair of dark, professorial glasses to his wardrobe, he began to blend a little history, telling humourous stories and song-related anecdotes to the delight of the crowd.

Pulling out his 12-string guitar for the comparatively raucous “House Rent Party”, the full sound of his guitar and full-throated vocal proved positively robust, shaking off any dust you might’ve expected from your typical troubadour. Because, although he may now ply his trade on a club-by-club, solo basis, Case has always been a balls-to-the-walls proponent of his power-pop beginnings – from the days of his membership in Moustache Sandwich, Pig Nation, or the more familiar Nerves and the criminally-overlooked Plimsouls. Since then, Case has crafted 11 delicious recordings which have attracted a who’s who of bigger name talent to their making – people who have, as friends or fans, simply wanted to rub shoulders with him. The acid test is, of course, the songs themselves – which are bona fide works of art on a one-to-one basis, but which fully blossom in the context of the musicians he builds around them. Yet, when Case rips into a slow blues beauty like “Old Car Blues”, he stills any room with the superb quality of both his exceptional voice and his accomplished, equally-emotive guitar-playing.

Peter CaseAlways having wanted to be “an itinerant blues singer”, Case acknowledged that he’s really had no drive at all, career-wise, before breaking into “Broke Down Engine” – beginning to have some fun with it. This was followed by two fantastic new compositions – thus far title-less and unrecorded and two of the evening’s high points. Setting up the song, “Walk In The Woods”, Case entertained the crowd with hilarious tales surrounding the sorts of horror stories he has lived in his post-show ‘accommodations’ (to use the word lightly). As he played, you could see him getting lost, trance-like, in the guitar parts, clearly enjoying himself.

Moving over to piano, Case dipped into an older Dylan track, “Black Crow Blues”, and a Jimmy Reed single, “Caress Me, Baby” – both played in a wonderfully bluesy style. With his trusty 6-string in tow, Case performed another of the evening’s highlights in “Underneath The Stars”, followed by another, “Ain’t Gonna Worry No More”. Telling of a song he penned after a Toronto Ultrasound show, later recorded with Richard Thompson, he lit into the spunky “The World Turns Every 24 Hours”, revealing yet another facet of his vocal strengths. By request, he performed what has to be one of his most perfect compositions, “Blue Distance” from Flying Saucer Blues, followed by “Cold Trail Blues”, from the same album, also recorded by Chris Smither. Another Dylan cover, “Long Time Gone”, accompanying himself on 12-string with its full orchestral effect, he closed the show with Robert Johnson’s “Steady Rollin’ Man”, digging into the simple blues classic to mine a hard-played, thick and muddy groove.

He hadn’t quite left the stage before he was called back for more, ending with “The Words In Red” – as if he needed to do anything more to completely win over his rapt audience.

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Al Lerman’s got the Crowe River Blues

Al Lerman did exactly as he sings — he moved out into the woods, but for different reasons than the protagonist in the song “Suitcase Blues”. His album Crowe River Blues is largely the by-product of this move — the cover art reflecting the wondrous change-of-life that moving from city to country can bring.

Al plays many instruments, it seems, and sports a confident vocal ability at the same time.

When I think of Al, however, I hear his harp — which is one of Canada’s finest examples of how good blues harp should be played. So, although Al takes the lead on his first solo record, playing acoustic/electric guitars, tenor sax, harp and handling all lead vocals; it’s his own “Chugging Blues” which is Crowe River Blues’ finest hour. A fine example of what Al can do with a mouthful of harmonica.

As it turns out, Al is much more than a sideman. We see him everywhere — from his Juno-packing band Fathead to the Maple Blues Revue and back. But Al gigs tirelessly as a half of a duo or soloist. He fits in everywhere, but this time he’s out front and immensely capable, as proven here.

The opening track is a beefy blues number cover of Hollywood Fats’ “Suitcase Blues”, delivered at a laidback pace with Lance Anderson’s rollicking piano and Al’s tasteful electric guitar prominent as a relaxed rhythm section completes the picture.

“Gypsy Feet” is another of Al’s ten originals and a solid reminder of his skills as a songwriter. More than mellow, it features acoustic guitar, simpatico backup vocals from bassist/producer Alec Fraser and little else beyond Al’s haunting harp accents. These two could easily be riding a raft down the Crowe River, itself.  Snooky Pryor’s “Judgement Day” provides Al with a solo vehicle for acoustic guitar and harp — likely performed with his feet in the water. It’s got that fly-swattin’, bird-watchin’, sun-worshippin’ country blues feel in tribute to his love of late, Fathead label-mate Snooky Pryor as well as his predilection for Sonny & Brownie.

The soul-searching “Nobody But Myself To Blame” covers Kevin Brown’s original with the sheer power of Al’s strong vocal and tenor sax, Anderson’s boogie-woogie piano and full band kick (Alec Fraser, with Bucky Berger on drums). Al tends to push his vocals, occasionally – sounding slightly more country than country blues at times, or the spirited rhythm & blues he’s known for with Fathead. Sounding not unlike John Sebastian or even Jerry Garcia at times, his vocals nonetheless fit the backwoods camp of what Crowe River Blues represents. Laidback, relaxing, yet soulful and seemingly at peace with the world.  The natural bridge between country and blues, Lerman handles quite naturally on “Blues So Bad I Could Write A Country Song.” He clearly did.

You’ll find many highlights here as Al struts his stuff: “You’re The One” is pure energy and you can visualize him performing this country blues original live, rocking it back and forth. The instrumental, “Harmonica Gumbo” might be shy some Louisiana spice but it sure tastes good – again, a harp showcase with an infectious, percussive bent. Al’s ”I’m Gone” is also a show-stopper – featuring a wall of tremelo’d guitar, tasty harmonies and a memorable, rootsy groove. Everyone can relate to the humourous “Flush Side Of Broke”, spiced up with Al’s thick harp accents and Lance’s Cajun-styled accordion. Al ups the Green ante with “Solar Powered Man”, another uptempo song to close out on, featuring Berger’s perky N’awlins beat and Anderson’s B3 and killer piano.

Crowe River — up near Havelock, Ontario — now has one more reason to be on the map besides its potential for bringing home a muskie. It serves as inspiration to a hard-working musician who proves himself worthy of his rightful piece of the pie.

Torontonians: Don’t miss Al’s CD Release for Crowe River Blues. It’s happening at the Monarch Pub in the Delta Chelsea, this Saturday, February 25th at 3pm. Al will be playing music from the new album, ably assisted by Alec Fraser (bass), Bucky Berger (drums) and Denis Keldie (keys) [subbing in for a touring Lance Anderson]. Special guests are expected and Al will showcase his new music in various combinations of players and with the full band.

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