EP Review: Liz Bills – Liz Bills

Liz Bills

photo by Scott Bakal; photo courtesy of Liz Bills

EP Review of Liz Bills: Liz Bills

This brand new self-titled four-song EP – it’s scheduled to drop on Saturday, November 18th – is the first solo release by Analog Heart frontwoman Liz Bills. Liz has a voice you can recognize quickly. It’s powerful, versatile, original, and memorable.

When I first heard Liz with Analog Heart, I was impressed, but with each successive step, I’ve heard growth. In dynamic delivery, full utilization of her vocal tools, consistently strong songwriting and the ability to find unique hooks. Most of all, though, while conveying a confidence and feeling that she is exactly where she belongs. That has always been a strength of Liz’s (at least during the two-plus years since I first – and last – saw her perform); her presence just seems to get stronger with each recording.

Liz Bills EP cover

image courtesy of Liz Bills

You’ve seen reviews of Analog Heart’s Sun Here I Come album last year and, this past summer, the band’s “Not Good Enough” single here in the Blog. Those had a band vibe. Liz’s new, eponymous EP is still a rock album, but it really showcases her voice and personality within and beyond the music. And hits. It has hits. The first two tracks on the collection are immediate, smack-you-in-the-face with their catchiness kind of hits; the back end of the EP, meanwhile, is subtler in its hookiness, obviously good songs even at first, but they ultimately hit you sneaky-hard as you peel back their layers and discover their massive coolness.

The first half of the collection, which I’ll call the “instant favorites” half, begins with “Born to Wander,” a big song with energetic strumming and rhythm, monster hooky stop-gaps and tempo changes, big, powerful vocals that include Liz’s crystal clear highs, and plenty of engaging character.

It’s followed by “My Man,” another smack-you-in-the-face, memorable-from-the-first-listen, causes-music-journalists-to-overuse-hyphens tune. There’s a bit of a ’70s funky rhythm and some tempo-changing lyrical runs, but the most Liz Bills element of the song is a spoken word, conversational, encouraging/empowering-conversation-with-the-audience portion, something she does memorably well, a trick Analog Heart fans might recognize from “She’s Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Indeed, “My Man” is a song you won’t soon forget.

Liz Bills

photo by Jonathan Rummel; photo courtesy of Liz Bills

The “back half” of Liz’s EP contains a couple songs whose hooks are slightly more hidden but very certainly potent and likely with a more permanent impact. “Werewolf,” the first single from the disc, was released October 21st. It has a subtler, rhythmically nuanced vocal, a song that softly ratchets the intensity, punctuated by howls that are both appealing and a bit confusing, at least until you start to pay attention to the lyrics (or, at least the song title). Oh, the lyrics are well-crafted to tell the song’s tale, and they match the journey of the song as well as its vocalization and instrumentation, musically leaning on the rich texture and versatility of Liz’s voice while only hinting at its power. “Werewolf” is a thoughtfully-constructed, very cool rock ‘n roll song and quite possibly my favorite…

Unless my favorite is “Bomb Song.” It’s also lyrically clever. And, as with “Werewolf,” once you stop listening passively and pay attention to said lyrics, the unusual point of emphasis, “bang,” suddenly makes sense and becomes the lyric you sing along to the most, just as you start to howl after several listens to “Werewolf.” “Bomb Song” also sports a cool, rhythmic, not-quite-syncopated strum that, at the end, halts abruptly. Abruptly emphasizing the brevity of this four-song collection and making you want more. So, of course, this is an EP that has to be played on repeat.

In the end, yes, I’ve been in Liz Bills’ camp for a while now, intrigued the first time I heard her perform live. At the time, before I started blogging and just as “Merrimack Jane” was released, I thought Analog Heart had finally hit its songwriting groove, found its niche. The band rounded a corner with a strong album beginning to end with Sun Here I Come. And now Liz has managed to kick things up another notch with her eponymous solo EP. She’ll have to blow the roof off the proverbial joint to lift her game any higher, and I look forward to hearing her try. I bet she can. For now, though, I’ll just sing and howl along with her all-too-short solo EP, and I suggest you do the same. This rock ‘n roll singer-songwriter-bandleader is something special.

Looking Ahead

The “tour” section of Liz’s website lists her upcoming tour, kicking off with a Saturday, November 18th album release show at the Chit Chat Lounge in Haverhill, MA. The subsequent tour includes stops in Millvale, PA; Cincinnati, OH; Burns, TN; Nashville, TN; Louisville, KY; Richmond, VA; Lynchburg, VA; Baltimore, MD; and Brooklyn, NY before she returns to Massachusetts for a December 5th date at Atwood’s Tavern in Cambridge. Check Liz’s website for details and for additional dates as they’re added.

Live Review: Eric Schwartz at The Backyard

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Eric Schwartz

The Backyard, Brighton, MA

November 5, 2017

A series of scheduling conflicts have kept me from getting to The Backyard earlier this year. But this late addition to the calendar provided an opportunity to get to one of my favorite local live music spaces at least once during 2017.

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Meanwhile, I had thought to catch Eric Schwartz at his Fox Run House Concerts show on November 25th this year at another very cool local house concert performance space. But this Backyard show allowed me to see Eric perform live while resolving a potential Thanksgiving weekend schedule conflict. Win-win.

Eric Schwartz, if you’re not familiar with him, is one of America’s preeminent comedy singer-songwriters; I’ve seen him referred to as “folk,” but that is a bit of a misnomer, as his style incorporates a variety of musical influences crossing various singer-songwriter subcategories. Perhaps the one song that gained the most notoriety was one of Eric’s political ditties, his 2008 International Songwriting Competition winning song, “Clinton Got a BJ.” (NSFW word tweaked to avoid search engine wrath.) More recently, his social commentary jam “I Gotta Problem With That” has drawn some attention, but my personal favorite Eric Schwartz tune – the one that made it onto my smartphone playlist – is the hilarious screenplay-in-a-song “Don’t Tell My Wife.”

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from an Eric Schwartz live performance, since this was my first time seeing him in person, but this guy’s one of the best at what he does – and, as I always say, it’s always worthwhile to see musicians who excel in any lane of the 50-lane superhighway that is their craft – so I jumped at the chance.

It’s sometimes hard to tell where Eric’s musical and comedic noodling turns into a song and when it’s merely noodling – though a perusal of his ReverbNation page and a scan of the song titles on his albums may help figure out where to draw the lines. Regardless, Eric performed about 15 songs on this particular evening. Or 18. Your call. It was a chilly evening in Brighton, but thanks to some unseasonable warmth, still a decent night for a live show.

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Eric’s first song of the evening was an R-rated comedic female-hygiene-related adaption of “Saving All My Love For You,” setting the bar at its clearly-not-for-children adultest right from the start. Next up was my personal favorite, “Don’t Tell My Wife,” rather Hee Haw-ish in its delivery at times, just like on the recording. ‘Til now, though, I had no idea it was actually based on a true story. “Don’t Ask” followed, a bluesy soul-like word salad sporting significant rhythmic vocal scatting.

Eric followed that with his most political song of the evening, “He Won,” a tale of the last presidential election as seen through the eyes of an unhappy deity, delivered devilishly in a dark, smoky narrative vocal style; perhaps I’ve said too much.

Any political conservatives who couldn’t find humor in the prior track, though, hopefully returned from their bathroom breaks in time for the next number, Eric’s voyage through a seemingly random collection of rhyming words that he tied together at the end… quite cleverly. You’ll know it when you hear it. And he followed that up with the frighteningly unhygienic “Telltale Kitchen.”

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Following some hilariously demented children’s music and some more comedy noodling, Eric moved on to his uber, ultra, meta-country song, “There’s a Picture.” (Do I need to warn you not to click through on this link if you’re at work? Really, with Eric’s songs, it’s always a risk.)

Politics returned with “I’ve Got a Problem With That,” followed by Eric’s Gospel song, “The Better Man,” a song of forgiveness… of oneself.

With that, in spite of a supposed zero percent chance of rain (when I checked my weather app earlier in the day), drops of water fell from the sky, so the show moved indoors for the final two songs. First up, Eric swung through his catchy, hooky ode to lesbian trailblazers, “Hattie and Mattie.” And then he closed the evening with “Hallelujah,” a brilliantly NSFW re-imagining of the tune and its cliched use by vocally-talented would-be troubadours to melt women’s… um… let’s just say “it’s ability to attract women” and leave it at that.

Eric plans to take some time off from touring soon, so catch him now if you can. At least, jump at the chance if you’d enjoy a fun, lighthearted evening of clever, imaginative, occasionally political, and often highly inappropriate (adult?) musical comedy. I can’t say it too often: This dude’s one of the best at what he does.

Eric Schwartz

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Looking Ahead

This is the last backyard show of the season at The Backyard, but you should bookmark the “Events” page of the venue’s website and check back for future show listings. Liking The Backyard’s Facebook page is probably also a good idea.

West coast-based Eric Schwartz has a few more gigs in the northeast over the next month, with dates scheduled on Saturday, November 25th in Sudbury, MA; Saturday, December 2nd in Oswego, NY; and Sunday, December 3rd in Oxford, NY. See the “Shows” page of Eric’s website for additional information and to see upcoming live dates whenever they’re added.

One Last Advisory

It’s worth repeating, and I’m serious here: Do not sample Eric’s music while at work. Wait until you get home, lock the doors, turn out the lights, and for heaven’s sake, use protection… I mean, headphones.

Album Review: Savoy Brown – Witchy Feelin’

Album Review of Savoy Brown: Witchy Feelin’

Yes, that Savoy Brown. Legendary British blues rockers you’d know mostly from the ’60s and ’70s, though they’ve been releasing music pretty steadily ever since. And by they, I mean Kim Simmonds and whoever is in the band with him, as he has churned through a significant number of bandmates through the years under the moniker Savoy Brown; Pat Desalvo (bass) and Garnet Grimm (drums) have been Kim’s bandmates since 2009.

Savoy Brown - Witchy Feelin'

image courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

Through the years, though, Kim’s bluesy guitar wail and bluesy vocals have been a constant, while his list of former Savoy Brown colleagues is impressive in both quantity and quality.

That telltale axework doesn’t take long to appear on Witchy Feelin’, as first track “Why Did You Hoodoo Me” kicks of with crunch and power, a deep bluesy vocal acting as a New Orleans-inspired booming siren call. It is a proper introduction to this old-school, classic blues rock album. Like fine wine, this disc just improves with age; it’s solid at first listen, but the attention to detail helps this collection dig its tentacles in like smoke from an old blues club filters its way through the seams and into the lining of your leather jacket. It’s loud, smelly, and worth the time to fully enjoy.

My other favorite track, closer to the middle of the collection, is “Guitar Slinger,” another crunchy guitar-driven, unforgivingly ploddingly advancing blues rocker, perhaps a bit George Thorogood-esque but with more fancy ’70s rock fretwork in some of the guitar runs.

Savoy Brown

photo courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

Those selections betray my preferences, though. If you’re more of a “Sweet Home Chicago” meets the Fabulous Thunderbirds kind of music fan, you might prefer “Vintage Man.” And the songs “Living on the Bayou” and “Memphis Blues” are additional standout tracks, each illustrating the source of its own particular blues roots in its song title.

“Standing in a Doorway” is a blues-soaked version of what might otherwise be a Dire Straits tune but crunchier and deeper vocalled. And the album ends with a suitable closing blues number, “Thunder, Lightning, and Rain,” a song that includes plenty of street cred-establishing jams, a bar-closing, “you don’t have to go home but you can’t stay here”-worthy spoken-blues delivery and noisy slow fade leading to an abrupt end.

I’m glad I gave this album a few listens. Its music starts off solid and grows on you by the sixth or eighth listen, a classic blues-rock album delivered by a talented veteran crew that really knows what it’s doing. Witchy Feelin’ is a welcome addition to my music collection; it’s a comfortable old-school disc I know I’ll reach for when in a specific mood for years to come.

Looking Ahead

Per the “tour dates” page of the band’s website, Savoy Brown is, indeed, on the road.  You can see them November 17th at Rams Head On Stage in Annapolis, MD; November 18th at the Sellersville Theater in Sellersville, PA; November 25th at The Montage Music Hall in Rochester, NY; November 26th at the Sportsmen’s Tavern in Buffalo, NY; December 1st and 2nd at Iridium Jazz Club in New York, NY; December 8th at The Upper Room in Albany, NY; December 15th at The Bull Run in Shirley, MA; and December 16th at Daryl’s House in Pawling, NY. Go to the band’s website for additional details and more live dates as they are added.

 

Live Review: Corey McLane at Hudson House Restaurant

Corey McLane

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Corey McLane

Hudson House Restaurant, Hudson, MA

October 27, 2017

One of the cool things about hearing a talented hard rock singer like Corey McLane doing an acoustic cover night is that you get to hear songs from a variety of musical styles delivered by a power voice. Corey is the lead singer of Exhale – I would suggest checking out some of his band’s music here on their bandcamp page – and you can hear the vocal power in the songs he performs, even when the songs themselves don’t feature it.

Corey McLane

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The Hudson House is a cool place to catch music, too. It has a kind of neighborhood bar feel on the bar side (with a nice restaurant on the restaurant side of the house). On this particular night, a lot of folks turned out specifically to see Corey, so it was fun crowd. I like to grab something off the menu to combine live music with a late dinner when I come here, and after a big lunch yesterday, I found something delicious (the kielbasa) from the appetizer menu to try.

I had about an hour and a half block of time available last night, and that carried me through more than 20 songs from Corey, plus a few at the end on which Nikki McLane joined him. There were only a couple songs on Corey’s set list I couldn’t identify, so I know it was either entirely or virtually entirely a set of covers. And, though I hadn’t heard him sing live before, his vocals were as crisp and powerful as I had expected from listening to his band’s recordings, with even the mellowest of covers being drenched in his identifiable, grungy-metal tone, sporting something akin to gravel in his voice, but it really comes across more as a warble or a wobble, though those aren’t exactly right either. The key point, though, is that this dude has a powerful, crisp, identifiable voice, and that’s what you’re looking for in a voice that can fill an arena or develop a large, loyal following.

Corey McLane

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Corey opened the evening with “Ain’t No Sunshine,” then followed it with a heavy, brooding number (one of the two for which I didn’t catch the title), doing a song-to-song contrast thing he seems to like to do.

There were plenty of instances in which Corey’s take on various hits was interesting and entertaining. His performance of Soul Asylum’s “Runaway Train,” for example, got the grizzle in the vocal but with kind of an ominous echo overlay. He nailed the howls on “The Joker.” And his performance of The Flys’ “Got You (Where I Want You)” was delivered with an almost Southern hard rock wail while being driven by a sound much bigger than he should have been able to get from an acoustic guitar.

It was fun to hear Corey deliver a song like Marcy Playground’s “Sex and Candy” that’s right in his wheelhouse and then, a couple songs later, to follow it with an on-point performance of Pure Prairie League’s “Amie.” He also back-to-backed a very properly brooding rendition of Bush’s “Glycerine” with Third Eye Blind’s energetic “Semi-Charmed Life,” a song whose opening chords elicit a smile that seems so amusingly out of place coming moments after the closing chords of “Glycerine.”

Corey McLane

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Other standouts during the set included Tracy Chapman’s “Give Me One Reason,” Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive,” and The Who’s “Behind Blue Eyes.” But I actually stopped taking notes after song number 22, Corey’s spot-on version of 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up.” He sounded shudderingly too close to exactly like 4NBs’ Linda Perry, including nailing all the quirky stuff.

Shortly thereafter, Corey was joined by Nikki, and the two performed a few songs before my exit, notably OneRepublic’s “Counting Stars.” Actually, most notably another tune, but I didn’t jot down its title, so we’ll stick with saying “Counting Stars” was the most notable,

In any case, it was a heck of a fun evening of music delivered by an exceptionally talented vocalist. I’d suggest getting out to give him a listen if he’s doing the solo thing at a bar near you; a pure, top-shelf, big stage-caliber voice doing a variety of your favorite tunes. And, of course, if you’re into the heavier stuff, give his band Exhale a listen.

Looking Ahead

You can follow Corey’s solo acoustic performances via the “Events” tab of his Facebook page. And you can follow his band’s Exhale gig schedule via the “Shows” page of their website or on the band’s Facebook “Events” page. In fact, you can catch Exhale tonight at Carlo Rose in Pelham, NH or next Saturday, November 4th, at a Toys for Tots benefit show at Sammy’s Patio in Revere, MA. And I see more gigs in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island before year-end, so check out the band’s calendar (as well as Corey’s solo show list) and catch some loud rock & roll (or a bunch of well-known covers performed by a dude with a powerful rock ‘n roll voice).

Album Review: Sam Sherwin – Iodine Cocktails

Sam Sherwin

photo by Vincent Mineo; photo courtesy of Media Stew Public Relations

Album Review of Sam Sherwin: Iodine Cocktails

Straightforward rock ‘n roll from New Jersey. With roots in the ’70s and ’80s, Sam Sherwin‘s Iodine Cocktails is a bit of a rock ‘n roll, um, cocktail.

Sam Sherwin - Iodine Cocktails

image courtesy of Media Stew Public Relations

Sam Sherwin’s Iodine Cocktails showcases musical styles that recall rock ‘n rollers as disparate as Randy Newman and Bruce Springsteen.

Sam kicks things off with the cheerful, Randy Newman-esque “Anymore.” Picture a sunny day, two or three female backup singers adding emphasis, and a smile on everyone’s face, and you’ve captured the essence of this number. Moderately energetic with a laid-back, catchy, recurring guitar hook, “Anymore” has all the attention-grabbing elements perfect for an opening track, and it’s likely to become and remain a favorite.

Sam Sherwin

photo by Geoff Lee; photo courtesy of Media Stew Public Relations

But even within the sunny opening number, there’s a hint of regular-guy New Jersey in the song, and that’s a thread that’s found elsewhere in Iodine Cocktails, too. Notably on the mellow, slightly melancholy, harmonica and guitar-filled, most Jersey-esque rocker on the album, “Automatic Day.”

Sam Sherwin

photo by Dwyt Dayan; photo courtesy of Media Stew Public Relations

More prominent throughout the album, though, are the female backing vocals that add a fullness to the music. On “Without You,” for example, they’re paired with keyboards and well-placed organ for emphasis. Sam’s voice on “Without You” is smooth, melancholy, and gritty wherever the song calls for it, showing a range of vocal versatility within a five-minute song capsule.

“Well OK” features a John Mellencamp or Bruce Hornsby-ish tempo and well-suited harmonica intro, though Sam’s vocals have perhaps a smidgen more of a knowing sneer than you’d expect form Mellencamp, with maybe a hint of Springsteen’s grit. You’ll find the rich female backing vocals again on “And a Whole Lot More,” this time with more of the uptempo laid-backness of songs like “Well OK.”

Sam Sherwin

photo by Dwyt Dayan; photo courtesy of Media Stew Public Relations

That’s not to say that there isn’t the occasional outlier – the fun “At the Old Canal” is a bit of a barn-raising-ready, slow-tempo, almost-twangy Americana number. But even this has a bit of Sam’s rock ‘n roll show band flair to it, more of a fun, quirky number than a shift in his base style.

And, going the other way on the rock ‘n roll spectrum, “Lick Your Lips” starts with a George Thorogood-esque gritty intro before moving to a more energetic, accessible, gritty blues rock style for the rest of the song. Still rock ‘n roll. And, if you noticed, still “gritty.” A little of that is Sam’s vocals, but more, I think, is the recurring, wailing, blues-rock guitar hook.

Indeed, Sam Sherwin touches upon a variety of classic, mid-tempo, radio-friendly rock ‘n roll styles, infusing his music with elements reminiscent of a broad cross-section of top artists from that mainstream rock ‘n roll genre. A bulk of the songs, including those I failed to mention, fall within this range, providing a varied yet cohesive 10-song collection that’s a solid addition to any mainstream, multi-decade rock ‘n roll collection.

Album Review: Richard X. Heyman – Incognito

Album Review of Richard X. Heyman: Incognito

I’ve crossed paths with Richard X. Heyman a lot through the years. At least, I’ve crossed paths with his name. But I’m not sure I’ve ever reviewed one of his albums before. It’s greatly overdue. I think I may have ended up on his mailing list right around the time the ramping up of my real-life and career-job obligations caused me to stop publishing Geoff Wilbur’s Renegade Newsletter, so I’ve been following his career but haven’t had an opportunity to write about him for nearly a decade and a half.

Of course, even at the time, I was a bit late on-board, as Richard was already a household name in music circles. From his gig with The Doughboys to his solo career, which began in the late ’80s, Heyman is much revered in the industry. And it’s no wonder. Incognito is a diverse, engaging, catchy album. Songwriting is at the basis of the songs’ charms, with influences ranging from ’50s to ’80s (and beyond). These are timeless pop songs. At times, the delivery is a little ’70s folk-pop-rock in nature, sometimes there’s a hint of a punk influence, at times I hear Beatles (or Monkees) song influences. Incognito begins as an engaging album but slowly grows into a long-time favorite. I’m pretty sure this one’s going to have staying power, that I’ll still enjoy listening to it a couple decades down the road.

Richard X. Heyman - Incognito

image courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf Media

The album opens with perhaps the catchiest song of them all, the title track “Incognito.” Or maybe it just seems to be the catchiest because it’s the first song I hear each time through. But it’s memorable. This is a slightly psychedelic, mid-tempo ’60s-style rock number with an insistent edge to Richard’s vocals. And yet it’s combined with a bit of an ’80s new wave melodic undercurrent. Not straight-up ’80s music, but rather an ’80s song paying homage to the late ’60s, a catchy rock ‘n roller with its own hybrid sound. It’s a great way to begin the disc, an instant foreshadow that you’ve begun a song collection that’ll be well worth your attention.

“A Fool’s Errand” follows with a more Beatles-esque ’60s vibe. Then “Chalk It Up” amps up the energy and volume, with a raucous, rockabilly-ish recurring guitar hook adding a little jangle to an otherwise straight-ahead, pre-George Thorogood-type fast-tempo rock ‘n roll ramblin’ song.

Another personal favorite, “And Then,” follows. It’s sort of a summer-of-love-era mainstream rocker. In other words, there’s a rockin’ folk edge to Richard’s vocals and to the instrumentation of the melody itself, with well-placed harmonies adding richness to this pop-rock number.

“Gleam” is an energetic number for which there’s an accompanying YouTube video. It’s an emotional travelogue, a heartfelt, road-music-styled love song, the road-music energy helped along by some well-placed finger-picking, with the rock ‘n roll edge driven home by some multi-instrumental enthusiastic chorus-crashing.

Richard X. Heyman

photo courtesy of Howlin’ Wuelf media

That’s followed by one of the catchiest, poppiest songs on a disc full of catchy pop-rock songs: “So What” is a well-crafted, songwriter-evoked musical smile. “In Our Best Interest” then brings the mood down a bit with a more heartfelt introspective musical and lyrical design, sung with a more gravelly delivery than found elsewhere in this collection.

“Her Garden Path” has a psychedelic ’60s guitar rock vibe. “Lift” carries that mood on, but with more of a grand presentation; in fact, it would probably fit nicely on one of Asia’s hit albums in the ’80s.

Dialing up yet another influence, “Miss Shenandoah Martin” is almost full-on folk, particularly in the opening before adding a bit more tempo. This is the most Americana song on Incognito; it would be the most pop-rock song on a true Americana disc. Again with the many influences; this album showcases a broad variety, suggesting that Richard X. Heyman is a connoisseur of good music, regardless of genre, that his songwriting and performance goal is the pursuit of a good song, while his identifiable voice and delivery serve to provide a cohesive, identifiable sound across an album’s collection of songs. Next up, “All You Can Do,” serves up another dose of folk influence, with organ providing an engaging, original edge.

Then the disc shifts again, to perhaps its highest-energy number, a fun Motown-meets-’50s-flavored rock ‘n roller called “Terry Two Timer.”

“These Troubled Times” circles back to a melancholy, introspective storytelling delivery, almost like you’d expect from someone like Bruce Springsteen.

Disc-ender “Everybody Get Wise” opens with a Talking Heads-ish jangle before bringing in some Motown-inspired harmonies, settling into a bit of enjoyable musical tension between the two songs, delivering an enjoyable, satisfying end to Incognito.

I have some favorites on the disc – “Incognito,” “And Then,” and “So What,” probably the pop-hittiest songs of the batch – but enjoy the variety of influences and deliveries throughout the disc. It’s a great beginning-to-end listen, a journey narrated by one of our time’s most versatile independent singer-songwriter storytellers.

Live Review: Bob Malone at Barn #81

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Bob Malone

Barn #81, Hopkinton, MA

October 14, 2017

Bob Malone is one of the great rockin’ blues keyboardists of our time. Period. Berklee-trained, Bob has chiseled and honed his style among some of the best local musicians in Los Angeles, his performance skills polished over years in the studio and on the road. Since 2011 Bob’s “day job,” in fact, has been as John Fogerty’s keyboardist. And, of course, he has released some stellar blues recordings, performing his own stuff between his Fogerty gigs. On Saturday night, in this intimate “house concert” performance space in an outer suburb of Boston, Bob treated an appreciative audience to his skills.

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

And he was supported by a great band – Jeff St. Pierre on bass, Chris Leadbetter on guitar, and his old college buddy Philip Antoniades on drums. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I love catching Bob Malone with a full band, so this was perfect.

Of course, those of you who have been reading the Blog from the beginning have seen my reviews of Bob Malone. Twice, to be exact. Both times within the first three months of launch. I reviewed Bob’s October 2015 concert at the 100 Club in London as part of my “Five Nights in London” series. And I reviewed Bob’s most recent album, Mojo Deluxe, in January 2016. So you know I’d be shocked – shocked! – if Bob didn’t deliver a world-class performance. Spoiler alert: He rocked the room!

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Bob kicked the evening off with a bang. A rollicking, rousing, energy-filled rendition of “Certain Distance.” He then followed it with one of my favorite instrumental numbers, “Chinese Algebra.” And a room-rocking performance of “I’m Not Fine,” always a song worth shouting along with at the top of your lungs. These are all songs from his most recent release, Mojo Deluxe.

“Up on Cripple Creek,” a tempo-changing energetic number from Ain’t What You Know, followed before Bob really brought the room down with a mellow, contemplative favorite from Mojo Deluxe, an insightful consideration of middle aged-ness, “Can’t Get There From Here.”

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Bob reached back two decades to his 1996 The Darkest Part of the Night album for “I Know He’s Your Husband,” one of Bob’s songs on which his vocals sound the most Randy Newman-esque. Next up, “Don’t Threaten Me With a Good Time,” portrayed a room-electrifying energy and wow, I do love that guitar line. The intensity remained, as “Rage & Cigarettes” came next.

What followed was a really cool rendition of Tom Petty’s “Southern Accents.” In the lead-in to this homage to Petty, Bob asked “someone” to please tape this performance because, after many not-quite-right attempts, he thought he finally had it down. Indeed, he did.

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

While most of the evening’s songs were from Bob’s newest album, he again reached back to 2009’s Ain’t What You Know for the exceptionally emotionally powerful “No One Can Hurt You” (…like me). Then back to a newer track, “Toxic Love,” which simply roars, and the energetic “I Wasn’t Looking For the Blues.”

Next up Bob dipped into his Born Too Late album for “Home to Me.” Light, melancholy; cool, almost jazzy. Very cool selection to showcase yet another side of Bob Malone. Bob picked things up again with chunky, “Walk This Way”-style Steven Tyler-inspire, fast-paced vocals on the next song (whose title I can’t read in my notes).

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

The final two songs of Bob’s set were from Ain’t What You Know. First up was the title track, which turned into a serious jam, and was followed by a rowdy rendition of “Stay With Me” that transformed the end of Bob’s set into a disco ball-spinning dance party (of which there is some photographic proof a couple pictures down).

Bob’s encore was the sentimental “Paris,” a slow, swaying, arena-filling ballad that’s a signature Bob Malone song, a sentimental, emotional, scene-painting, perfect selection to end the evening for an enthusiastic room full of his fans.

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

I love gigs like this. If you keep your eyes open, there are chances to catch some of the most talented musicians in the world in intimate settings full of friends and neighbors, and they’re truly special evenings. I’m glad to have finally made it to my first Barn #81 gig, too – I had heard about the shows in this cool setting. And I knew Bob had played here before, but until Saturday night I didn’t realize the concert series was run by one of his old college buddies from Berklee. But hey, a friendly atmosphere with a talented band featuring one of the premiere blues musicians in the world, and it ended almost as a dance party? What a Saturday night!

Bob Malone at Barn #81

photo by Geoff Wilbur

Looking Ahead

The “tour dates” page of Bob’s website lists several shows around the U.S. over the rest of 2017 and into 2018, with solo gigs in Georgia, North Carolina, Florida, New Jersey, New York, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania in the coming months, and performances as John Fogerty’s keyboardist in Oklahoma and Texas, plus a 10-day stretch of John Fogerty gigs in January in Las Vegas. Be sure to check Bob’s website for details and for additional performances as they’re added.

Barn #81 is a great venue, a relaxed atmosphere full of friends. I don’t see any future events listed on the Barn #81 Facebook events page, but I do see Jennifer Tefft will be there on Saturday, November 11th. I almost hesitate to mention it, though, because I still haven’t figured out if I’ll be able to get there that night, and I’d hate to see the show sell out before I get my tickets.