Live Review: Leslie DiNicola, Lee DeWyze & Wakey Wakey at The Cutting Room

By Ernest Barteldes

 

Leslie DiNicola, Lee DeWyze & Wakey Wakey

Cutting Room

February 12, 2016

New York, NY

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On the CD release event for folk/rock singer Lee Dewyze at the Midtown Manhattan music venue, Leslie DiNicola opened the evening accompanied by guitarist Greg Neal, playing a short set comprised mostly of original tunes. I had never heard of her music before, but I was impressed by her strong voice and honest delivery – on the sole cover (a song by Demi Lovato), she made it sound her own, departing from the original version and giving it her distinctive feel.

Next up was Wakey! Wakey! (the stage name of singer-songwriter and actor Michael Grubbs), who accompanied himself on the electric piano, playing songs from his upcoming album “Overreactivist” (Family) and other tunes from his catalogue. It was a lively set in which he cracked jokes about his being a longtime fan of Harry Connick Jr.  and other personal stories. Among the highlights was a tune about New York in which he was critical of religious piety and small town life versus the way he was brought up. He also played “Heartbroke,” a tune he performed on the TV show “One Tree Hill,” where he got one of his big breaks.

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Wakey Wakey

Wakey! Wakey! is clearly inspired by jazz and musical theatre – his vocal chops and delivery seem fit for musicals, and his piano skills have strains of jazz without being exactly improvisational. The set was highly entertaining and the music was quite interesting to hear.

After a short break Lee Dewyze came on, backed by his own acoustic guitar and an electronic bass drum pedal, which he used to mark some parts of the tunes. He mostly showcased music from “Oil and Water,” (Shanachie) but also included a handful of older songs, including a very personal cover of Sam Smith’s “Stay with Me” that focused mostly on his guttural vocals and accomplished guitar strumming.

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He had the stage set up with book-like lights around him, and there were also several books scattered around him – there was no explanation what it was about, and concentrated instead on speaking about his music and approach to songwriting.

Dewyze used several guitar tunings, including open and drop D (a technique famously used by Brian May on Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls”). He made little reference to his time on American Idol (he was the winner of season 9), stating once between songs that he’d prefer to be remembered for his own songwriting than his time on the TV contest.

I was impressed by how much control he has of his voice – he goes from singing in an almost whispered tone to a stronger, throaty voice – this was mostly evident on “Stay with Me” and the music on the new album.

It was a memorable evening of musical discovery – I don’t often get to hear independent pop artists, but I definitely would like to hear more from these three performers in the near future.

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Concert Review: Mehmet Polat Trio at Drom

Mehmet Polat Trio

Drom

January 19th 2016

New York, NY

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By Ernest Barteldes

 

On the closing concert of their tour in support of Next Spring (Homerecords.be, 2015), the Mehmet Polat Trio (Polat: oud; Sinan Arat: ney; Bao Sissoko : kora) took to the stage of New York City’s Drom for a selection of original songs.  Polat briefly introduced the trio telling the audience what the music was about and immediately set out into their set, opening with a mellow-sounding number based around a simple chord sequence, with all the members freely improvising around the melody.

Without interruption, they went right into the second number, a syncopated tune mostly based around Sissoko’s instrument. The trio kept at this pace, going from seamlessly from song to song without pausing – the end of each tune prompted the next, but the differences were quite noticeable as the rhythm and melodic groove constantly changed.

The chemistry that Polat, Arat and Sissoko have is very evident – just a glance at each other is enough to communicate where the music might be going, and during improvised moments they just find themselves in great synchronicity, finishing off a solo where one of them left off. During a short break between songs, Polat talked about their instruments’ origins and their sonic particularities, and then went on to play two final tunes, beginning with a composition by Sissoko that had a strong West African feel with some traditional Turkish tones in between. The groove seemed to go around a single chord with lots of improvised moments. They closed the set with a tune that was based around the kora and that picked up speed every few bars, which kept audience members wondering when it was actually going to end – a simple melody that stayed in my head for at least a few hours.

The Mehmet Polat Trio rarely performs stateside, but they should be returning in the summer – it would be great to hear them again, since we don’t have many opportunities to hear a group to dares to take traditional music to the next level – one that so greatly integrates two cultures in such an amazing manner.

Concert Review: An Evening of Americana Music at Celebrate Brooklyn

By Ernest Barteldes

Joe Henry + Rihannon Giddens

Celebrate Brooklyn

July 18, 2015

Weekend construction on the MTA subway lines are a usual hassle New Yorkers and tourists have to live through all the time, but last weekend’s changes ended up being a recipe for disaster for me because it took me over an hour to get from the East Village to the Prospect Park Bandshell – something that usually does not take more than 25-30 minutes – as a result I was considerably late for Joe Henry’s opening set of Americana music.

Joe Henry at Celebrate Brooklyn

Joe Henry at Celebrate Brooklyn

Henry performed with a sparse band that featured saxophone, bass, percussion and a multi-instrumentalist who played guitars, mandolin and violin. The tunes were very personal, with lyrics that spoke of heartbreak and loss. All the band members improvised a lot around the songs, giving the evening a jazz-inflected feel. He also featured “Don’t Tell Me,”  a collaboration with his sister-in-law Madonna, who also recorded it in her 2000 album “Music,” which he mentioned he’d recorded as a tango while she did it “as a hit – I learned my lesson then.”

Rihannon Giddens and her banjo at Celebrate Brooklyn

Rihannon Giddens and her banjo at Celebrate Brooklyn

After a short break, Rihannon Gibbons came on stage with a small ensemble, kicking the set off with personal covers of songs by Dolly Parton, Bob Dylan and Patsy Cline.  She mentioned the ‘roots of American music’ as she went along, playing each songs with great feeling.   At one point, she talked about the African-American roots of the banjo and went into an inspired spiritual piece.

The set was divided into different historical parts showcasing the rich musical tradition of the United States. One of the great highlights came when she began to improvise around the melody of one of the songs – an amazing blend between folk music and jazz.

It was a magical evening that reminded me what American music was about – I am so exposed to the ‘world’ aspects of things that I often forget that we do have some great melodies out there that do not really make it into the spotlight – even though they should.