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The depths of a shallow cool


It certainly has been the winter of my discontent so far: slim pickins for shows. I'm getting a little stir crazy.

The last month was peppered with a few musical highlights. Jazz chanteuse Jane Monheit warbled in front of two sold-out crowds and in front of a killer band whose drummer (Monheit's ball and chain) drove the whole operation with a delicious bompa chic. The gal can really, really sing and exuded plenty of energy and emotion --- I especially liked her "I shoulda had a V-8" slaps to the forehead.

But enough of this great American songbook crap. It's been done... and done... and done. Monheit's enough of a talent to pen her own gems. I know she can. OK, so maybe the Joni Mitchell cover threw me off a little, and that was pretty cool.

The following Tuesday at Milestones and it was Wammo. Have no fear, Hunter's dead, but Wammo's here. This Austin, Texas (moving to Iron City), beatnik raged, blew his harp, recited, incited, cracked wise, and cracked up all over the Milestones stage. The man is a genius plain and simple and he apologizes for nothing. Next time I want to know anything, I'm not gonna Google it, I'm gonna Wammo it.

And of course Cincinnati's (where they put cinnamon in their chili) The Shams rocked powerfully, methodically, and mid-tempo another Saturday night at the Bug Jar, but had a hard time after The Lost Marbles mopped the stage with everyone. Even with the girlfriend cheering-section wreaking havoc up front, this new addition to Rochester's garage scene (who says there're too many garage bands?) rocked. A must see.

Recently got to plumb the depths of my shallow cool and sing "A Different Bob" with The Margaret Explosion as part of a Colorblind James tribute album that's in the works.

Taking a break from my recent 35mm skin quest, I caught Jim Bianco & His Band at The Derby in Hollywood. The comparisons I'd heard folks make to Tom Waits and Nick Cave weren't far off as I heard Bianco bark throaty lyrics like "My Goodness, spaghetti straps on a marinara dress" amidst a lazy shag of trumpet, saxophone, accordion, guitar, and piano. He'll be in NYC this spring and I'll try and talk him into heading a little west for a day or two and give us what for.

Got to dig The Ramones movie, End Of The Century, in glorious surround sound in Dick The Dancing Record's lair. Saw it again at the Little Theatre where they should've blasted the sound a whole lot louder as far as I'm concerned. It was great flick with an underlying sadness and finality: It's really over.

I've been catching The White Hots on a regular basis now to ease my winter blues. Harp honker Tom Hanney makes it look so easy. And since he's willing to surrender some trade secrets, it's only gonna get easier. This could be the cough medicine talking, but I think someone should start a harmonica marching band.

Anyway, Hanney's tip this week: An echo harmonica can sound like an accordion, letting players play some of the coolest music ever --- zydeco and polkas.

Social Distortion's Mike Ness lost his voice so last weekend's Niagara Falls show was 86'd, leaving The Backyard Babies with nowhere to go. So folks around here scrambled, got them a gig at The Bug Jar; they drove down and then decided the stage was too small. Too small?! I mean Jucifer's stuff fit, for chrissakes.

Buffalo's The Juliet Dagger fit on the stage no problem. I caught the band's last two tunes, where the drummer threatened to bulldoze the other two in the group with his speed. A new and improved Bee Eater closed the night and sounded the best I've ever heard them. The new guitar player is a monster. And yes I am partial to cats in cowboy shirts who sling archtops, but the guy has got some serious bang in his repertoire.

I've always dug the late Joe Williams big time, especially when he belted in front of Count Basie (whose band is coming to town April 11) but had never heard him subdued in more of a jazz context. Havin' A Good Time is a new disc showcasing Williams with sax legend Ben Webster live at a Rhode Island nightclub in 1964. Williams' big baritone is suave and soothing in this casual setting, while Webster's big horn blows wide and mellow. You can hear the man breathing life into each note.

Havin' A Good Time is graceful and elegant but still maintains a certain raw vitality that bristles and swings on tunes like "Kansas City Blues" and Fat's Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin." These two legends remind us that jazz and blues aren't as different as we think. Come to think of it, neither are we.