Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Carlene Carter's comeback trail

The other night, I was able to catch Carlene Carter in concert. For those familiar with her music, you probably also could connect that Musical Shapes refers to one of her earlier albums. I am pleased to report that she was in fine form. Fiesty, rockin’, twangy but most of all honest, as a performer and a person. I never saw her back in the day but have now seen her twice while on the comeback trail and haven’t been disappointed either time. And it has been quite the comeback trail. She has survived more than her share of death around her (her mom June Carter, her stepdad Johnny Cash, her boyfriend Howie Epstein) as well as her own nearly fatal addictions. It would be a nice story that she’s simply alive, let alone in such fine form. And I couldn’t help but notice that there was a reserved table in front of the stage (for those keeping track, this was at the Mint in L.A.) with the name Lowe on the reservation card. It was for her daughter Tiffany, who Carlene had with Nick Lowe. Coincidentally, both now are on Yep Roc Records and both recently have come through town (Lowe put on a terrific, albeit lower key show with Robyn Hitchcock at L.A.’s El Rey Theater). Btw, Carter’s fine new album is entitled Stronger, a very aptly named album.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Hail, Hail the Ash Grove

Over this past weekend, UCLA hosted a big, old 50th anniversary tribute to the legendary local music club the Ash Grove. The Ash Grove was, in its 60s heyday, an epicenter for music and social consciousness in LA. Head Grover Ed Pearl booked a wide variety of what is now called roots music: folk, country, blues, etc, etc. His club, which was located in a less-than-trendy spot on Melrose Ave, was seen a special place by many, although others didn’t share this feeling (the club was firebombed several times). While its doors have long been closed (expect for a brief revival in a different location in the mid-90s), it is still fondly remembered.
While I didn’t go the big evening shows, I was able to make it over to the campus on Sunday morning and drop in on a couple of the closing free shows. Sunday morning started with a gospel concert that opened with Eddie Kendricks (the LA gospel pianoman not the late Temptations singer) leading some singers from his church in song. The fabled civil rights group The Freedom Singers then performed several stirring songs including We Shall Not Be Moved. Pharaoh Sanders vocalist Dwight Trible showed off his tremendous voice along with his uniquely expressive performance style. Then Michelle Shocked came out and did some songs, including a soulful rendition of the Band’s The Weight, along with telling some tales in her own humorous way.
I then slipped across the hall to another finale show in another auditorium. This early afternoon’s bill was topped by Taj Majal and Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. I was hoping to catch one of them in the 90 minutes that I could stay. I was thrilled when Taj Mahal, resplendent in a white suit, came out first and performed some blues in his own unique style – starting with Baby, Please Don’t Go. After a nice little set by bassist Laura Love, out came Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. He certainly lived up to his name; he was quite rambling indeed. But in charming albeit irascible way. His brief set featured Louie Jordan’s Salt Pork, West Virginia and Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice it’s All Right.
It was interesting although not that surprising that the audience at these shows seemed like survivors from the Ash Grove’s era. It might have been nice to see a few more younger faces getting exposed to this historic event (maybe there were more youngsters at the nighttime shows). But maybe it all seemed too "kumbaya" for the kids.