Leo Kottke: Jazz for the Inauguration?

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Leo Kottke (photo by Anthony Pepitone)

Though I’m sure this isn’t how jazz-guitar virtuoso Leo Kottke intended it, you could look at his performance coming up at Delray’s City Limits as your own inaugural ball.

Kottke has been performing since 1968 and has seen his career fly all over the place, as well as his style, which has gone from true picking to a classical hybrid.

He’s a heck of a guy to let yourself kick back and enjoy.

Please enjoy a live performance of “Little Martha”:

Alejandro Escovedo: True survivor. True original.

alejandroSome solo acts are truly singular — Neil Young, Kathleen Edwards, Warren Zevon. No one sounds quite like them.

Then there’s Alejandro Escovedo.

You’ve heard music sort of like his before — little tinges of country, rock, soul. But not quite this good. This well put together.

He’s had a long career — started out in the punk pioneering band Rank & File, formed True Believers with his brother, and has had a wonderful solo career.

He’s also a true survivor. We nearly lost him in 2006 to hepatitis C, but he has rebounded with a new, critically-acclaimed album called “Real Animal”.

He’s playing the Culture Room City Limits on Sunday — definitely worth a look.

And now, by request: “Castanets”

Choice concerts for July 27-Aug. 2

I’m going to start a new feature, mostly for the SoFla music fans, but also for those who are into good live music. I’m calling this Choice Concerts, where I pick the best show of the week — sometimes I’m going to be there, sometimes I can’t make it (hey, gotta pay the bills too). Anyway, here’s my choice this week:

Mark Knopfler, July 31, Fillmore Miami Beach

Those that know Mark Knopfler from his work in Dire Straits… well, you know that he is truly one of the legends of guitar. Some of his songs are true classics: “Sultans of Swing”, “Romeo and Juliet”, “Skateaway”, “Money for Nothing”, “So Far Away”, “Brothers In Arms”, “Walk of Life”.

While others were studying Jimi Hendrix’s pyrotechnics, Knopfler also included a more esoteric set of influences, such as Hank Marvin and Chet Atkins, and even reaching back to the guitar jazz of Django Reinhardt. Knopfler has always brought a sense of class to the rock guitar.

But he is so much more than that. He’s written film scores (Local Hero, The Princess Bride). He was a member of the more country-influenced Notting Hillbillies. He recorded a brilliant album with country legend Emmylou Harris, called All The Roadrunning.

And he’s continued his career long after quietly putting Dire Straits to rest in 1995. His fifth and most recent album, Kill To Get Crimson, shows a Celtic side to Knopfler’s music, and serves as a good quiet album.

Not that you should expect that at his show in Miami — expect hits, but also some interesting, more obscure choices. Don’t just take my word for it. Here’s a blog entry from someone who saw him on this tour at Philly’s Mann Arts Center.

Give a listen to: “Heart Full Of Holes”

Also coming this week: If you’re not quite into the heavy “Rockstar Energy Mayhem Festival” featuring such metal thunder boys as Mastodon and Disturbed on Wed., July 30 at West Palm’s Cruzan, may I suggest the Flobots show down at Lauderdale’s Culture Room. “Handlebars” is only the beginning for this Denver rap/rock combo. Also, a rap fest like no other is coming to Miami’s Bicentennial Park on Sat., Aug. 2. Called “Rock the Bells”, this is only part of the lineup: A Tribe Called Quest, Mos Def, De La Soul, Raekwon, Redman, Method Man, The Pharcyde, Santogold, The Cool Kids, Ghostface… man, it doesn’t get better than that.

Showtime!: Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers/Steve Winwood

Who knew that the highlights of a Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers show would be provided by Steve Winwood?

I mean, at first, it wasn’t looking that way. Winwood, the support act for Petty’s tour, was in the midst of a competent but at times dull hour-long Latin-flavored set at Sunrise’s BankAtlantic Center. His band’s best element to that point was Paul Booth, a standout multi-instrumentalist. The thing is, Booth had a couple of flute solos.

And the thing about flute players is….

 

… we tend to make fun of them.

But Booth acquitted himself on both those solos and his sax work.

Then Winwood’s group — usually a six-man percussion-heavy unit — whittled itself down to three, with Booth on keyboards and Richard Bailey on drums. And they kicked off “Mr. Fantasy”.

And that’s when Winwood became the king of the guitar for the night. Coaxing notes out of his Fender the way Eric Clapton — his showmate at one point this year — can, Winwood was blowing the roof off the place. The crowd seemed pleasantly surprised in its ovation.

Nor has Winwood lost an ounce of that remarkable voice that has held strong since his days as a teen lead singer in the Spencer Davis Group. Joining Petty and co. on stage for both “Can’t Find My Way Home” and “Gimme Some Lovin'”, Winwood actually lifted the show — already at a pretty high level — into the rafters.

Now, Petty was no slouch this night. He was in fine form, clearly enjoying being back in his home state of Florida, and with the crowd in the palm of his hand from “You Wreck Me”, he wheeled the Heartbreakers through a set of recent, classic and cover songs.

Me, I do also go to a Petty show to see two of my favorite musicians — guitarist Mike Campbell and keyboardist Benmont Tench. Campbell was his usual, remarkable self, never overly flashy, with a penchant for the economy of notes, whether it was the staccato of his “American Girl” solo or his always wild work on “Don’t Come Around Here No More”.

(A side note. Tom, sir, please consider reinstating the top hat for this song. It loses something without the top hat. I thank you.)

Few have as great an understanding of how keyboards — and especially piano — fit into rock songs as Tench. He knows what works for Petty, and yet somehow has a classically trained pianist’s sound. Never wonder why he’s constantly in demand for backup work.

Aside from the Winwood bits, the highlight of Petty’s show for me was actually his work on “Saving Grace”, his most recent single from “Highway Companion”. He’s shaped it into a tough, hard-nosed song that I simply can’t get out of my head. Surprised me — I’m a fan of his early stuff, but on this night, a new sound really worked.

My Music: Against Me!, “New Wave”

When, how acquired: 2008, iTunes

Why: Curiosity. Spin named New Wave its best album of 2007.

What do you think? Against Me! turned out to be nothing like what I expected. As they came out during the early part of this decade, I expected them to be either emo or I-hate-my-dad metal. Pays to do some research, Tully!

They started out as what someone called punk-folk (which to me sounds like contradictory styles, but…). This album, their first for a major label (Sire), is a very straight ahead rock record, one that really showcases two aspects of lead singer Tom Gabel’s talents — his songwriting and his powerful voice.

Against Me! dives into several different styles of song, from hard-hitting protest to contemplative. Highlights include the title track, the duet with Tegan Quin of Tegan & Sara called “Borne on the FM Waves of a Heart”, and the last song, “The Ocean.”

Rating: B+

Fate in your collection: Keeper

Watch this: “White People For Peace”

My Music: The Afghan Whigs, “Black Love”


When acquired: Not sure, but I think 2007 through Lala.com.

Why: Liked “Gentlemen”, thought it would be good too.

What do you think? I don’t know anyone who’s a fan of The Afghan Whigs. I have to wonder why. I mean, hipsters won’t like the fact that Greg Dulli has literary aspirations and is bold-faced about them in his lyrics. That he and his bandmates have no problem lowering themselves into the grit and nastiness of humanity if that’s what the song calls for. But to me, that’s what makes The Afghan Whigs so good. It’s the fact that Dulli isn’t writing the most appealing, sunshine-and-puppy-dogs songs in the world, that John Curley’s bass doesn’t mind kicking you in the teeth or that it’s just not very nice music. I mean, come on, folks, it can’t all be pretty.

Rating: B

Fate in your collection: Keeper

Listen to this: “Going To Town”