Starting at the top of heap, we had a fantastic time hearing the Taj Mo Band at the Cape Cod Melody Tent last Friday evening. What a great combination of talents! Keb’ Mo and Taj Mahal may be the best representatives we have of traditional blues. Backed by an ace band that included Taj’s two daughters on backing vocals, plus horns, keys, a great bass player and a drummer that was an absolute machine of rhythmic goodness they put on a show that was, for lack of better description, a celebration of the blues. We had second row seats and watching the grins that never left their faces was almost as much fun as the music itself. I heartily recommend their recent album too. Unfortunately, the years are catching up with Taj and he needed help getting on and off the stage but the years have in no way diminished his singing or his guitar chops. Keb’ demonstrated his prowess on resonator guitar and also electric lead, and oh man, that voice is pure smoke and honey. See them on this tour if you can, judging by Taj’s health it may be your only chance.
Then there is the local music scene. I’m pleased to report that there are more places than ever to hear live music on Cape Cod, which is a wonderful trend compared to a few years ago when DJ’s and karaoke seemed to rule the world. I’m seeing signs advertising live music at restaurants and bars that never have used live music before. My only conclusion must be that owners of those places have noticed the big crowds at places that have always had live music and they want in on the action. Plus there are more outdoor concerts in various towns than ever. Yeah!
Of course, the overall quality is variable, which is to be expected. I was reminded of the age-old truism of putting a back together that many groups seem to ignore: no matter how hot a player you are, no matter how well your group knows the tunes….. someone has to sing! I heard a local group in town at the Friday evening free concert series and they had an impressive line-up that included bass, drums, congas, sax, keys, and two (!) guitars. But unfortunately the vocals seemed to be an afterthought and weren’t very good, to say the least. I have to believe that with the popularity of TV shows like The Voice and karaoke sessions in many places there must be a good singer out there who could front this band. But so it has always been. Any group playing most any style of popular music has to understand that the audience for the most part doesn’t really care if you can play a Santana solo note-for-note, they want to hear good vocals.
On the other hand, I went to a GREAT afternoon of bluegrass at a local venue called Highfield Hall, a restored mansion with beautiful grounds. It was a free event, held each summer. There were two bands and both were excellent but my favorite was a bunch of young guys calling themselves The Lonely Heartstring Band. They played traditional bluegrass of course but also plenty of original material in the bluegrass style. All were superb players and their vocals were top notch. It turns out they were the National Bluegrass Association “Up and Coming Band of the Year” last year. I spoke to the young guitarist/leader at length between sets and he was very friendly and modest. They sold out Passim in Cambridge the next night, probably the most prestigious gig in the acoustic scene in New England. I bought their CD and have been listening to it a lot. Just a great band – search their name and check them out on their site. And see them if you can!
This was a truly wonderful family event held under a perfect summer sky with young and old enjoying themselves thoroughly. There were upwards of 500 in attendance and the only negative was the guy who is in charge of booking music at Highfield who featured himself the master of ceremonies and seemed to want to keep the attention of the audience on himself as much as on the music. I kind of felt like telling him to just shut up and sit down and I’ll bet I wasn’t the only one! Oh well, ego is a tough thing to battle I guess.
A couple of local bands I know are doing better than ever, gig-wise. Again, this is great to see. They have the right attitude: have fun, make good music with solid vocals, don’t fall into the trap of having aspirations of glory (unless they were willing to travel, which they are not). Just play it right, play it tight, and keep a smile on your face. The audience WILL respond.
Last night I went over to a popular bar/restaurant to hear one of them but unfortunately the online listing of entertainment at this place was not accurate and instead there was a young woman playing outside under a small tent. While she was enthusiastic, and in fairness I didn’t listen too long, I do wish women who bang away on guitars would just retire “Me & Bobby McGee.” Most guys I know who do singles have finally retired “Margaritville.” Is it too much to ask?! Sorry, cranky Gene comment there, ha!
Finally, I had a wonderful conversation with a guy who I introduced to guitar 40 (gulp!) years ago. Haven’t connected with him in decades. He was at that time my best guitar student and he has made a very fine career in music over the years, playing in rock bands, general business and other bands and most recently has begun playing in a couple of bluegrass bands, returning to his acoustic “roots.” He also has taught guitar right along and for the last few years has been a guitar and bass teacher at an exclusive and expensive private school. We reminisced about the old days and told war stories. I hope to hear him soon and even do some playing with him. I’m hoping to trade some bluegrass tunes for his jazz chops!
Peace & good music,