Book Review: Brian May’s Red Special, The

By Ernest Barteldes


Although not essentially a guitarist (my main instruments are the electric bass and the ukulele), for many years I have been a huge fan of Queen’s Brian May – not only his songwriting, which contrasts strongly with the style of his bandmates but also for the signature sound of his homemade Red Special guitar, which can be recognized immediately even if it is not on one of the band’s or his solo albums – for instance, its tone is distinctive on Joe Cocker’s performance of “With a Little Help From My Friends” at Queen Elizabeth II’s Jubilee Concert at Buckingham Palace in 2002 even though there were other guitarists on hand.

Other examples include Brazil’s Os Paralamas do Sucesso’s “El Vampiro Bajo El Sol, and Lady Gaga’s “You and I,” where May was prominently featured – even if some fans were not aware of it.

His guitar has always intrigued me – built with hand tools because he couldn’t afford his much-desired Gibsons or Fenders, the Red Special is an essential part of Queen’s sound so much that when it is not present (in tunes like “Crazy Little Thing Called Love,” which featured a Fender Telecaster) you can actually hear the difference in sound and texture.

Many stories have been told about how the guitar was built, but until recently it hadn’t been the whole story from the beginning – which finally happened with Brian May’s Red Special: The Story Of The Home-Made Guitar That Rocked Queen And The World (Hal Leonard, Hardcover – $ 22.40 on Amazon), which brings the whole story together with rich illustrations of every piece of the guitar, which was painstakingly taken apart and photographed for this project.

Written by Brian May with the assistance of co-writer Simon Bradley, we follow May’s initial days learning the ukulele and then transitioning to the guitar – which brought the necessity of going electric as rock music invaded the airwaves of Great Britain via Radio Luxembourg – the same station that inspired The Beatles in the days before there was any kind of young music on the BBC.


A young Brian May with his guitar (from

The writing style is quite conversational, but this being a musician who also happens to be an astrophysicist, things get a bit puzzling for the layman when he goes into the physics of acoustic resonance or when he describes the formula of calculating the distance between the guitar’s frets, which he sorted out using a computer at EMI’s laboratories while he interned there as a teenager.

In spite of those few moments that might go over one’s head a bit, it is a highly pleasurable read, and the illustrations  – which include early pictures of a short-haired Brian May playing with some of his early bands prior to his career with Queen and his signature (now gray) mane.

There is also a section with the different copies made of the Red Special over the years, and a description of his historic performance on the rooftop at Buckingham Palace, which was clearly much harder to put together than it sounds like.

The book is recommended not only for Queen fans but also for guitar enthusiasts in general – it’s rich enough in detail that one might want to build your own Red Special someday.


What to hear in July: Summerstage, BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn and Bryant Park

By Ernest Barteldes


Esperanza Spalding – July 30 at Celebrate Brooklyn

July is one of the busiest months in the summer outdoor concert schedule here in New York, and I am one who fully enjoys this – First of all, the Latin Alternative Conference comes to town, bringing tons of Latin talent both to Celebrate Brooklyn and Summerstage (plus many other venues – it’s a music smorgasbord for sure), so things get even more interesting.  Not only that, the public pools are also open so there is a lot to do even if you want to spend the hot days in a lazier fashion.

As I did before, I am only highlighting the free shows, since the ticketed benefit concerts are either sold out or have their own publicity machine behind them – it’s not like they need the likes of me.  For detailed times and locations please refer to the hyperlinks included here.

Things kick off on July 1st in Central Park with a celebration of French and American jazz with a lineup that simply doesn’t feel enough for a single evening, including gypsy guitar virtuoso Stephane Wrembel,  upcoming jazz/pop singer Kat Edmonson and singer Catherine Russell alongside bandleader extraordinaire Vince Giordano. It should be one hell of the night which as usual I am missing because I have plans out of town.

Over at Celebrate Brooklyn Musiq Soulchild does free concert on July 7th – he is regarded as one of the best soul singers of his generation and deserves it – his delivery is fantastic and so is his performance – I expect it to be packed that night.


Jimmy Heath

On July 8th jazz great Jimmy Heath heads to Queens with his big band – the man has played with the likes of John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis (to name a few) and is still here to tell the tale. Look forward to lots of bebop but also contemporary and straight-ahead jazz.

Those not willing to head all the way to Queens that night might want to check out New York’s own Mariachi Flor de Toloache and cumbia queen Totó La Momposina in Central Park. I heard the former during an LAMC concert at Celebrate Brooklyn  few years back – from what I remember it was a lively concert that paid tribute to the traditions of the music of their native Mexico but also looked ahead, using  complex vocal arrangements a few tunes in English; some songs were played with the addition of the cajón and also the ukulele, which both enhanced the songs and gave them an intriguing, innovative sound.


Mon Laferte

The LAMC kicks off on July 12 in Central Park with Puerto Rico’s ÌFÉ, New York’s own Princess Nokia (an interesting use for the virtually defunct cellphone brand, no?) and Chile’s Mon Laferte, a self-taught powerhouse of a musician who blends electronic, rock and R&B in her own unique manner – her video for “Amarrame” (feat, Juanez) is on heavy rotation on Latin music channels (I happened to catch it while vacationing in the Dominican Republic a few weeks ago), and I really want to see how this translates in a live format

The late Fela Kuti is celebrated in music and theater for his contribution to what became the Afrobeat movement, and his legacy is being memorialized on July 16 in a concert  that brings together his son Seun Kuti and Roy Ayers, one of the elder Kuti’s many collaborators during his career and beyond – Ayers is one of the godfathers of the neo-soul movement and a highly respected artist in his own right.

I can’t remember the last time I heard Mali’s Amadou & Mariam on stage – I recall it was at Summerstage about a decade ago when I was still writing for the now-defunct Global Rhythm and New York Press. They are a married blind duo who play their own brand of African blues, and have this magical sound to them. It will be good to catch them again after all this time in Brooklyn on July 21st


Accordion Festival 

On the same day, The Accordion Festival – closing up the Accordions Around The World program happening in Bryant Park – takes place, with tens of players over a five-hour period. Something for those who want to hang in midtown Manhattan and have a good time.

During her tragically brief career, Amy Winehouse left us a memorable canon of songs over two albums (only one released in the US market) and (as far as I know) a single guest appearance – her last recording – on Tony Bennett’s Duets II album. Her music is certainly remembered, and will be the basis for the program developed by BalletX / YY Dance Company on July 26 in Central Park.


Andrew Bird

The month closes in Brooklyn (July 30)  with two of my favorite young musicians: multi-instrumentalist, whistler and vocalist Andrew Bird, who I discovered in a completely unusual way: on the soundtrack of the 2011 Muppets movie, Towards the end of the movie, newcomer Walter did a surprise performance of “The Whistling Caruso” – which was actually played by Bird.

The other favorite is Esperanza Spalding, the genre-bending bassist who began her career doing avant-garde jazz and then went on to make extremely diverse albums that explored a variety of sounds, going from straight-ahead jazz, soul and more recently Emily’s D+Evolution (Concord), an experiment that blends musical theater, jazz, funk and much more – something that some fans heralded and others failed to fully comprehend (me being the latter) – when she first emerged, Spalding was a breath of fresh air in the jazz world, and continues to evolve throughout the years – I can only imagine what she is going to bring to the fore this time.

What to hear in June – Summerstage and Celebrate Brooklyn 2017

by Ernest Barteldes



I don’t think I need to tell you how much I love attending outdoor concerts. As much as I appreciate our various indoor venues and how some of them go above and beyond to bring diverse voices to their stages, my one musical love is to stand under the hot sun – or the stars  – and enjoy some music without drink minimums or any other restriction regularly imposed by club managers.

For this reason, it is with great expectation that I look forward to the summer months when music comes outdoors, because these musicians have a chance to reach audiences they might never reach out to otherwise –  things would be segregated among the ‘jazz,’ ‘world’ or whatever pocket genre your next tastemaker might come up with.

Among the various events I love to attend are Summertage (once limited to Central Park but now a citywide event) and Celebrate Brooklyn – they are both works of love for all those involved, including this writer –   there is no price to pay for the many memories created by each of the shows I have attended over the years.

Which brings me to my selections for the month of June for both venues – but let me note that I am only commenting on the non-benefit shows – the others get plenty of coverage on their own without my help.

Summerstage gets things running on June 3rd with an opening event featuring the great Mavis Staples (remember “I’ll Take You There?” ), who I wrote about when she played at the same stage in 2008, generating one of the best quotes I have ever heard on stage in my life: “Mississippi is a great place to come from, but it is even a better place to get away from” following a rendition of “Down in Mississippi,” a tune that reminded us of the pain so many went through during the Jim Crow era, which she helped – at least legally – get rid of.


Over at Celebrate Brooklyn things begin to get interesting with some soul that brings together Alice Smith, Bilal and Kris Bowers (June 10th) ,all fantastic artists in their own right. Bilal is one of my personal favorites of the three due to his ability to bridge between genres, often contributing with jazz, Latin and rock artists and sounding comfortable among all of them.

Another legend – one of the engineers of funk – is George Clinton, who will be playing with his longtime band Parliament Funkadelic on June 11th  as part of the Only in Queens Festival (associated with Summerstage). It should be a magical night at Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, and will certainly be worth the ride on the 7 train.

Fête de La Musique (June 26th)  brings some new French music to the foreground – my personal highlight is German-born Ayo, whose 2006 debut single “Down on My Knees” has stayed with me and has also become attached to memories of a 2014 trip to Europe, when the song played at a restaurant in Krakow  – whenever I hear the tune it takes me back to that unlikely place in my life. It is a song in which the narrator pleads for her lover not to go away and reminds him (her?) of the things they have shared.

My great appreciation for Robert Glasper (June 25, Central Park)  is not a secret – I have reviewed his albums and live performances over the years. His approach to jazz is quite unique as he blends elements of jazz and contemporary music (hip-hop, soul) with a political edge – he collaborates with folks you don’t usually associate with jazz, such as Erikah Badu and Bilal, to name a few – and is humble enough to go on the road as a supporting musician for Maxwell – one of the pioneers of the contemporary sould movement.


Lila Downs

June closes with Lila Downs (Celebrate Brooklyn, June 29) , who is one of my top 10 favorite female singers. She is one of the few musicians I know who can tackle pretty much any genre while staying true to her Mexican roots. I have been following her music since I saw her at a downtown concert in which she shared the bill with Brazil’s Luciana Souza – I was immediately hooked by her expressive voice and stage presence. I must have seen her live at least ten times since and am surely looking forward for this one.

Live Review: Laura Cheadle at Piano’s, April 15, 2017


Laura Cheadle

Piano’s NYC

New York City

April 15, 2017

article and photos by Ernest Barteldeslaura1

Laura Cheadle traveled light on her recent appearance at Piano’s in New York’s Lower East Side – instead of her full Family Band she was backed solely by her own acoustic guitar, her father James Cheadle on keyboards and a drummer (Cheadle, Sr.  did the basslines on the left-hand side of his instrument), mostly showcasing material from her download-only EP “Chill,” out that day.

She opened the set with an uptempo take on Stevie Wonder’s  “I Was Made To Love Her,” a soul ballad whose lyrics speak of finally finding love and being unapologetic about it. She followed that with “Reverberate,” another tune from “Chill” that has a funky feel.  Cheadle and her father have great chemistry together, and that is evident as her body language affects how he plays – stops are clearly unrehearsed, but since they know each other so well musically it is just seamless.


The audience received the new material well, but things really caught fire when she did a medley of some choice covers including  a low-tempo take on B.B. King’s “The Thrill is Gone” (in which she took over the drums), James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” Aretha Franklin’s “Chain of Fools” and two Stevie Wonder tunes, “Superstition” and “Higher Ground,” the latter of which really showcased her vocal range. During the medley, she left the stage and danced around fans (she even surprised me by coming to my side while I was busy with my notes).

The show ended in a high note – everyone seemed to be having a good time – unfortunately there wasn’t a second set (Piano’s has one set by each listed artist) so we didn’t have a chance for a some more of Cheadle’s music.

Album reviews: Nouvelle Vague’s “I Could Be Happy” and Laura Cheadle’s “Chill” EP

By Ernest Barteldes

I first discovered Nouvelle Vague about a decade ago, when someone handed me a copy of 2006’s Bande a Part, an album which contained very creative treatments of tunes like U2’s “Pride – In The Name of Love” in a a samba-bossa groove and Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” in what could be described as a tongue-in-cheek dance feel.

I have followed them since even though I seem to miss them every time they perform Stateside, this year being no exception. I love the way they recreate the covers they record in a manner that is almost incomparable – tunes feel completely different than the original, and you don’t have that feeling of “why cover this one?” since they have that original feel even if the song is amazingly familiar.


Such is the case of I Could Be Happy, the first to contain original material by Olivier Libaux and Marc Colin, the band’s longtime leaders. The Ramones’ “I Wanna Be Sedated” is played in sleepy down tempo beat reminiscent of the Beatles’ “I’m Only Sleeping” that gives the lyrics new meaning – gone is the rebellious feel of the original and instead is that feeling of someone who simply doesn’t want to get out of bed. Also notable is Richard Bell’s “Love Comes in Spurts,” reinvented here as an electronic ballad that deeply contrasts with the original’s punk arrangement.


Among the independent artists that get our attention, New Jersey-based Laura Cheadle is one of the most frequent – basically because she has great passion on a live setting, is a gifted songwriter and also because she is fortunate enough have a live band mostly formed by her family members – all gifted musicians in her own right.

Cheadle’s new (download-only) EP entitled Chill kicks off with “Conversations in My Mind,” a soul-tinged tune whose lyrics question the narrator’s judgments about her own life. It has a simple but catchy melodic groove and a nice hook that stays in your head for quite some time. Also notable is “See The World With Me,” a gentle ballad about living life beyond the everyday grind.

I also enjoyed the treatment she gave to the cover of the Supremes’ “You Can’t Hurry Love.” While the original (which Phil Collins pretty much copies) was about warning young girls about falling in love too easily, her down-tempo version sends a different message: here is a love-worn woman who is about to give up on finding someone – anyone – but realizes that the best things in life take time even if it breaks your heart every single time.

Though I enjoy hear her on record, the best way to enjoy her music on a live format – those in New York can confirm what am talking about at Piano’s on April 15th – an awesome way to drown out those tax-day sorrows in anticipation of Easter Sunday – or Passover.  Or just another Sunday.

Krar Collective + Hakim at Celebrate Brooklyn



Krar Collective

Article and photos by Ernest Barteldes


Krar Collective + Hakim

Celebrate Brooklyn

Prospect Park Bandshell

Brooklyn, NY

July 15, 2016

On what turned out to be a very warm night in Brooklyn, things kicked off with the England-based Ethyopian trio named after the harp-like instrument played by  bandleader Temesken Zeleke (the trio is rounded out by drummer Grum Begashaw and vocalist Genet Assefa)  playing a selection of uptempo tunes that showcased the band’s talent and also Zeleke’s skills They kept everything very uptempo except for a short period in which the bandleader switched to a more traditional acoustic version of the instrument.

Assefa has great energy and chemistry with the band and audience, dancing and singing the music with great feeling, being the ideal frontwoman for a trio with two musicians who are extremely focused on their instruments.  During the more uptempo moments, she led the crowd to clap and sing along with the chorus even if most couldn’t understand a word.

Though Krar Kollective’s music is deeply rooted into tradition, they clearly have strong pop influences – Tamesken uses a variety of pedals to create a full band effect with an intensely improvisational sound, while Begashaw’s drumming  has a strong, Ringo-like rock vibe.

There was a strong NYPD presence at the show – I spoke to one officer, who told me that they were there following the recent military coup attempt in Turkey  – He said that they didn’t expect any issues, but stated that city officials would rather be safe than sorry. I smiled when he said that, and he thanked me for understanding, considering the anti-cop attitude that has dominated the media in recent times. I shook his hand and went back to hearing the music – there was some great music to be heard.



After a brief intermission, Egypt’s Hakim came on backed by a 12-piece band that included two keyboardists, a  three-piece horn section, several percussionists and electric guitar and bass.

Hakim’s very tight band  kicked things off with a funky instrumental piece that preceded the singer’s entrance.  As he entered to thunderous applause wearing a t-shirt with the inscription “Visit Egypt” , the singer immediately engaged with the crowd, greeting them in Arabic and getting to the hits, which most of his fans sang along to.

I had never heard Hakim on a live setting before, and was impressed with his command of the stage. He seemed to look straight into the eyes of audience members and was friendly with the photographers on the pit, stopping to pose for them as he belted out the music.

The band was well rehearsed, but they allowed various spontaneous moments  – one of the guitarists played an extended solo, and an accordionist had many opportunities to  throw in a few improvised riffs.



Hakin does his thing

I was a little disappointed that Hakim didn’t even bother to greet non-Arabic speaking fans in English, but you could see he was inside his comfort zone, with many of his compatriots waving Egyptian flags as they lost themselves into the music.

He kept the energy level up during the entire set, and mostly stayed away from ballads except for one moment when he went into a more traditional direction with a 7/8 tempo tune. Apart from that it was party time as the singer got almost entire crowd to their feet to dance.

It was a very nice evening  – the energy was great and the music was highly inspiring, and it made for a fantastic musical discovery.

Concert Review: Laura Cheadle Band at Pianos

IMG_2706 (2)

Laura Cheadle Family Band


Saturday, March 5th

New York, NY


Backed by James “Papa” Cheadle on keyboards, a Tina Young on drums and her own electric guitar, South Jersey-born Laura Cheadle took to the stage of New York’s Pianos opening with B.B. King’s 1980 hit “The Thrill Is Gone,” played in a faster groove than the original recording, showcasing her vocal range and rhythm guitar. Given the intimate setting, she ventured into the audience, encouraging everyone to dance along with her. She followed that with a very personal take on The Beatles’ “Come Together”, taking it into a more bluesy direction, contrasting with Lennon’s more psychedelic feel. Her mother was present at the gig, so she dedicated an inspired rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Love The Little Things About You” to her.

She then featured a few originals including a funk-laden tune about the end of a love affair, and also debuted a new tune called “Blues Hangs Out,” which got great applause from the audience, and then did a nice cover of James Brown’s “I Feel Good,” sticking close to the original. This was the first time I had heard Cheadle do so many covers in a single set. She also included a take on the classic soul tune “Train, Train,” a song that she said her parents – who recently celebrated their anniversary – danced to early in their relationship.

The stripped-down format (no lead guitar or extra keyboards, usually handled by her two brothers) specially showcased “Papa” Cheadle’s talents. He not only handles the keyboards, but also adds the bass textures to the music. He is an incredibly talented artist, but I do think that he would sound even better if Laura Cheadle added a bass player to her ensemble. Quite a few years ago she did have a bassist, but apparently things didn’t work out, and since Mr. Cheadle does handle the low frequencies on his keys (as The Doors did) I guess they probably decided that it was best to keep things that way.

Laura Cheadle is a highly gifted singer and songwriter with fantastic rapport with the audience. She is one of the few artists I have seen who integrates her family into the entire picture, acknowledging not only her father and musical director but all of those who have helped make who she has become.