At an American Songbook show, one should expect some backstory to the music. As Foreigner have been performing without co-founder Lou Gramm for over a decade now, the onus of sharing tidbits from the band’s history fell to Mick Jones. Jones described how the band recorded some of their songs nearby and their record label was a block or two over, above where Starbucks is now. On the other hand, Kelly Hansen, the vocalist/replacement for Gramm, shared more recent stories of the band, including an acoustic show in Europe, and ribbed Jones for forgetting to introduce him. Both were ecstatic to be playing in the Appel Room, with it’s huge windows overlooking Columbus Circle and Central Park.
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The Cactus Blossoms are two brothers from Minneapolis, Jack Torrey and Page Burkum, whose rich harmonies and early country sound are reminiscent of the Everly Brothers. Their voices blend into a pastiche of nostalgia but the band incorporates modern elements into their songs and stories. Just take a listen to the lyrics for “Stoplight Kisses”, the first song off their new album You’re Dreaming. People in the audience who had seen the duo before were pleased to see the addition of upright bassist Andy Carroll and drummer Chris Hepola (left-handed they noted) to the ensemble. The Cactus Blossoms’ set included a few classic covers as well as their own material. The Bowery Presents noted, “The Cactus Blossoms dipped expertly into Hank Williams (“Your Cheatin’ Heart”), Waylon Jennings (“Only Daddy That’ll Walk the Line”) and others, but let many of their own tunes carry the night, from “A Sad Day to Be You” and “You’re Dreaming” to “Powder Blue” and “Stoplight Kisses”. But he standout may have been “Queen of Them All”, a swooning ballad that turned into a deeply felt romantic declaration with a happy ending.
One year ago, before the proper release of his biggest album yet Delilah, Anderson East played the Bowery Ballroom solo opening for Sturgill Simpson. One year and one day later, many of those passed by on the road including at least three other shows in New York City, East returned to the Bowery stage as the headliner with his full band in tow. The Nashville based artist has seen his star continue to rise and this show was sold out well in advance. And after seeing him several times before, East proved himself to be a capable and versatile headliner. Another Nashville based artist, Andrew Combs opened for East and his set was well-received by the Americana and country loving audience. Combs performed tracks off his two albums, Worried Man and All These Dreams, with the title track from the latter being a particular highlight of his set. Combs then went down to sign autographs for his newly minted fans.
Violinist Dr. L Subramaniam presented his Lakshminarayana Global Music Festival, in collaboration with the World Music Institute, in New York at the 92Y on 5 February 2016. It was a rare US performance, his first here since 2006, for the classically and traditionally trained virtuoso. The crowd at the Y was markedly different from that at a typical event—a sea of brown faces, including mine, turned up (and I believe security seemed heavier than normal inside and with at least one police officer positioned outside the venue).
L. Subramaniam was accompanied by a small group for a mesmerizing Carnatic performance that went over ninety minutes. Seated on the Dr.‘s left was his son, Ambi Subramaniam, an acclaimed violinist in his own right. To the side of the father and son were Mahesh Krishnamurthy on mridangam and Ravi Balasubramaniam slapping the ghatam (essentially a clay pot). The elder Subramaniam introduced each of his pieces, the ragas, explaining the time signatures and the key changes. The first raga was Varnam and it began with him solo, then transitioned into a violin call and response with his son before the percussion joined in. Time flew by during the performance as the rich sonics resonated in the auditorium.
As one of PopMatters’ “Musical Hopes to Break Out in 2016”, Julien Baker is unsurprisingly a very talented artist. What might be surprising to some is that her music is regularly somber and occasionally devastating emotionally. Her sparse debut album Sprained Ankle, released in October 2015, has tough songs that deal with loneliness and depression. This winter, Baker has been generating a lot of buzz on the back of her emotional solo performances.