Nels Cline and Marc Ribot

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I believe there was once a famous showtune written in the golden age of song, in which the chorus was “Don’t Believe The Hype”  which is a brilliant statement.  These days when the hype often overshadows the event itself, we must all be weary.

Last week, it was announced Nels Cline and Marc Ribot would play as a duo at Le Poisson Rouge in the West Village.  Thats like Picasso and Da Vinci getting together to do a little fingerpainting.  That’s like Steve Jobs and Eric Tarn getting together to build and internet.  The comparisons could go on and on.  Its no secret that I hold both of these musicians in high regard.  If you added Smokey Hormel to the mix, you would have the 3 greatest living guitar players.  So its no secret that I was quite excited to attend.

By complete coincidence, whilst strolling through the west village last weekend, Nels Cline appeared in front of me.  Caught off guard, i just said “Hey Nels!”  I guess when you see someone fairly often, they feel so familiar that a greeting is necessary.  Being the lovely fellow he is, he stopped and chatted with us for a bit, saying he had no idea what he and Ribot would play, which felt like a recipe for some fantastic guitar dueling.

When seeing either of these players on their own, you expect some fireworks.  And it inevitably happens.  Ribot could be playing a solo acoustic performance, but you know there will be that moment where he launches into orbit.  With Nels, its just his thing, he can’t help but be a highly evolved space alien, who carries a brain evaporating space gun with him at all times.

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The set started out very mellow, Nels on a Dobro, Ribot on an old Gibson acoustic.  The first few songs were spent feeling out some territory.  Very melodic, slightly haunting.  No shredding solos. Further into the set, Nels moved to lap steel, ribot played what sounded like a baritone electric, and things got crazy.

In this setting, with no additional instruments, no rehearsal, you can really see the true character of each musician.  Yes, they played a lot of notes, but no toes were stepped on.  It was not just shred for the sake of shred.  It was a conversation, all very tasteful.  Sure, the conversation was about things mere mortals such as us will never be capable of understanding, but a tasteful conversation nonetheless.  The lap steel portion bordered on country, spooky and western sounding.

The evening’s explosion came, as expected, when each musician moved to their most familiar instrument.  Nels to a Jazzmaster, and Ribot to what I think was an ES-125.  Their voice was immediately recognizable.  Ribot with the clangy edge to all his notes, and nels with a pure and focused tone, even when covered in all sorts of distortion.

In the end, it wasn’t a pissing match of epic proportion, or a chops display.  Really, none of us should have expected something like that from musicians of this caliber.  Lets hope somehow this was recorded, or leads to more collaborations like it.  On the other hand, the selfish elitist in me hopes this was a one off, so in 30 years, I can look back and say “yep, I was totally there, young child who now plays all music on a futuristic tablet like device, people used to play wooden boxes with strings on them!”

There’s Nothing Wrong With Norah Jones

Lets talk about Norah Jones.  There are lots of opinions floating around out there about Miss Jones.  Yes, she’s easy to dislike.  Probably because your mom owns Come Away With Me, and you’ve straight up gotten sick of it.  She’s easy to dismiss as elevator jazz, watered down pop, whatever.  But I am here to fight you on this.  And I will do so to the death.  Well, maybe not to the death, but at least until we both get thrown out of whatever venue we are in at the time.

I did not like Come Away With Me.  I don’t know, I just didn’t get it.  And also some family members played it constantly on repeat, which put it out of the question.  In college, while working for the school’s radio station i got a copy of Feels Like Home, and again, I just didn’t get it.  I don’t know, it didn’t really connect with me.  Sure, Levon Helm and Garth Hudson of The Band played on a track, but i was not blown away.  This relationship continued for a while.  I tried to keep an open mind, I didn’t actively dislike her, maybe she just seemed like a nice person, I don’t know.  It changed definitively one night when I accidentally saw her perform.

Ryan “I’m Most Likely Completely Out Of My Mind But Have Flashes Of Genius” Adams was doing 3 nights at Town Hall, and I chose the 2nd.  For good old Ry’, this was not the night to attend.  He wore platform moon boots, had a little pony tail on the top of his head, and played strictly recent material.  The surprise of the evening was an unannounced band called The Little Willies.  This group consists of a few New York songwriters, playing old country tunes, notably Willie Nelson songs.  Leading the group was none other than Miss Jones.  I maintained an open mind, thinking maybe things would change…they certainly did.

To say her voice was like an angel coming down and cooking you dinner while giving you a back massage would be putting it lightly. I doubt there has ever been a more beautiful voice on earth.  Town Hall is renown for its beautiful acoustics, you could hear her actual voice, rather than simply the PA recreating the sound, so there was no sonic trickery going on.  As we know, I love for an opening band to surpass the headliner, and this was one such case.  I was hooked from here on out.  This was intensified after I learned the track “The Long Way Home”  on her Feels Like Home record was written and suggested to her by none other than Tom Waits.  They don’t sell cred like that at Wall-Mart.

Again though, her Not Too Late album just didn’t connect with me.  There was a definite Waits inspired track, “Sinkin’ Soon” but it was no “Long Way Home”.  Last year I heard of another group called Puss N Boots, playing the Mercury Lounge, opening for Mikael Jorgenson of Wilco.  This group was just a trio of girls, 2 guitars and a Bass, featuring Norah, Sasha Dobson and Catherine Popper (who played bass with Crazy Ry Adams.)  So, i figured, why not.  Maybe Town Hall was just all acoustics, and nothing to back it up.  Well, I was proven wrong dear Norah.  They played a few country group vocal covers to start, Jones on electric guitar, not too exciting.  As soon as they broke into “Cry Cry Cry” by Johnny cash, and she took a lead vocal, it was apparent that the business was serious.  If she tried out for American Idol, she would get through the thousands of rounds and win hands down.  (god, I’m sorry for that Idol reference, but its just the truth)  They then covered “Jesus Etc” by Wilco, and my heart was officially won.

Norah Jones at the Mercury Lounge
Norah Jones at the Mercury Lounge

Anyhoo, some word was floating round the ol interwebs about the new Norah Jones album being inspired by Mule Variations- Tom Waits epic masterpiece from the late 90’s.  Now, these are serious accusations being thrown around.  She hired the same engineer and producer, a cast of the same musicians (including my 2 favorite guitar players, ironically mentioned in the last post, Marc Ribot and Smokey Hormel)  In addition to studio ace drummer Joey Waronker (Beck, Air) to even out the crew.  Now Norah, you’re just playing with my emotions.  The real key is….how does it sound?  Well, I just watched this clip from Letterman, thats none other than Smokey Hormel on guitar, and correct me if I’m wrong, but is that Joey Waronker on drums?

Its got some indie sounds happening.  Less pop, more drive, so far….I think our ‘In Person Only’ relationship may be on its way out?  I’m going to buy the album tonight when I get home, and we will continue this discussion further.