Live Review

"Time Changes Everything: Bob Wills Night" - Lounge Ax (Chicago, IL)

on May 2, 1997

This show featured not only the songs of Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, but also an exhibit of Jon Langford's paintings and prints of Wills. Langford, a multi-talented artist and member of the Mekons and the Waco Brothers, assembled an outstanding cast of bandmates and friends for this incarnation of the Pine Valley Cosmonauts. The Wacos' Steve Goulding (drums) and Mark Durante (steel guitar) were joined by Tom Ray of the Bottle Rockets (standup bass), Poi Dog Pondering's Max Crawford (piano, trumpet) and Paul Mertens (clarinet, saxophone), and the Insiders' John Rice (guitar, fiddle).

Live Review

Black Country Showcase - Bluebird Cafe (Nashville, TN)

Various Artists on February 18, 1997

The night before what was simply called the first black country showcase, the performers assembled for rehearsal at a place called the Woodshed, on Nashville's East Side. You stand in one of the barren lots in that part of town and look back across the Cumberland River to the sparkle and glow of downtown and feel as lighthearted as a muddy Twinkie wrapper blown against a chain link fence. I guess the most accurate thing you can say about the East Side is it ain't the West End. This isn't what people think of when they think Country Music Capital of the World.

Live Review

Honey Ridge Creek Dippers - Ash Grove (Santa Monica, CA)

Honey Ridge Creek Dippers on March 1, 1997

After only three or four songs by the Honey Ridge Creek Dippers, one couple in the audience decided they'd had enough. No matter that they had great seats for what was being billed as the debut performance of the trio fronted by Victoria Williams and her recently reclusive, former-Jayhawk hubby Mark Olson; no matter that they shelled out 15 bucks a pop to be there. This musical trip before them just wasn't what they expected.

Live Review

Sleepy LaBeef - Horseshoe Tavern (Toronto, Ontario)

Sleepy LaBeef on April 3, 1997

Sleepy LaBeef is a man of his word. He's played every honky-tonk in every state, every province and country on the planet, twice. His repertoire has been estimated at somewhere between 3,000 and 6,000 songs. That's a hell of a collection, but of course, you can only hear so many in one night. Ultimately, what really makes Sleepy special is his singing. His voice booms from his 6-foot-6, 250-pound frame preaching a lesson in American roots music that won't soon be forgotten. And this is no nostalgia trip -- it's high energy rockabilly, swamp boogie, gospel and blues from the heart.

Live Review

Cigar Store Indians / Squirrel Nut Zippers - The Roxy (Boston, MA)

Cigar Store Indians on April 4, 1997

First of all, I have to explain the Roxy to you. It's very purple. Yeah, purple. Dark, too. Dark and purple. Which could only mean one thing: a Euro dance club! Yikes, is that carpeting!!?? I was half-expecting to see someone wearing a sequin suit or everybody walking around with glow-in-the-dark drinks. Hell, Prince played here a month or two ago!

Live Review

Blue Mountain / Nadine - Hi-Pointe (St. Louis, MO)

Blue Mountain on February 14, 1997

You can glimpse it when the set is done, that stray, spent feeling. The drummer leans against the wall, drifting away; the band quietly accepts compliments, avoiding eyes, and then quickly sets to hauling amps and dismantling drums. Rock 'n' roll is a catharsis that doesn't always reach the performers who pour themselves into the audience. And a fan can't return the intense engagement of their music. Their fingers and throats burn, their heads ring, and their spirit gets offered up. When the show's over, no matter how good, something blank and unfulfilled lingers over them.

Live Review

Gerald Duncan / Chip Robinson / Kenny Roby - Cup a Joe (Raleigh, NC)

Gerald Duncan on March 25, 1997

Everything in the heavens was in proper alignment on this warm night, resulting in a clear sky and a spectacular view of the Hale-Bopp comet. Offering even more evidence that the celestial machinery was firing on all cylinders, the frontmen of three of North Carolina's best bands -- Gerald Duncan of the recently resurrected Accelerators, Chip Robinson of the Backsliders, and Six String Drag's Kenny Roby -- were getting together to take turns playing some acoustic music to raise money for Danny Wrenn, a friend of Roby facing some huge bills after a bout with cancer.

Live Review

Shawn Colvin / Patty Griffin / Freedy Johnson - Roseland Theater (Portland, OR)

Shawn Colvin on April 3, 1997

It struck me during this fine three and a half hours of music by three compatible folk-rock artists how the connection between musician and audience can be made in very distinct manners. Shawn Colvin won the crowd over with her charm and beautiful singing. Freedy Johnston connected with his songs, which are among the most intelligent work in popular music. And I immediately sat up and paid rapt attention to newcomer Patty Griffin's emotional power and pure voice. My pre-show anticipation focused on Johnston.

Live Review

Tim O'Brien & The O'Boys - Abbey Pub (Chicago, IL)

Tim O'Brien on February 15, 1997

When bluegrass picker Tim O'Brien told his mother of his plans to record an album of Bob Dylan songs, she replied, "When did he die?" It's all right, ma, Dylan is still very much alive -- and his vast oeuvre continues to attract diverse musicians and fans, as evidenced by this gig. O'Brien opened with a loose version of "When I Paint My Masterpiece", from his all-Dylan-penned collection of last year, Red on Blonde. O'Brien occasionally elongated certain words in the song, a slight nod to Dylan's trademark vocal style.

Live Review

Bill Janovitz - Tin Angel (Philadelphia, PA)

Bill Janovitz on March 2, 1997

There are times when great wisdom can be extracted from cliches. For instance, I will now never underestimate the musical maxim that argues "you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with." Or maybe the adage "practice makes perfect" is more appropriate. Regardless, this particular evening was a bit on the messy side. Based on all the recorded evidence available, I would have pegged Bill Janovitz as a guy who places a high premium on musicianship and band chemistry.