That “Walking In Memphis” Guy

My review of last night’s Marc Cohn concert can be seen in today’s paper, or right here. While the guy’s style is way too squeaky clean for my taste, he has an awfully rich voice, and his humble, intimate set was a pleasant thing. The opener, Kristina Train, showcased a voice of a special caliber – most of my thoughts on her set were cut for space reasons, so I’ll paste ’em here: “Cohn was preceded by the singer/songwriter/fiddle player Kristina Train, whose smart, soulful performance grabbed the crowd’s attention from note one. As the Savannah, Georgia, native delivered tunes off her debut record “Spilt Milk,” her honest, bluesy voice filled the room, sounding like Feist if she had a little Gladys Knight in her diet. And while the originals were good, Train’s rendition of Carolyn Franklin’s “If You Want Me” was the high point – a playful burst of genuine R&B.”

Please sir, may I have some Mo’?

Mom and dad,

I’ve been requested to post links to my Buffalo News reviews, as opposed to plopping the text in here. So here’s a link to my review of Keb’ Mo’s performance at the Seneca Niagara Casino this past Monday. I always knew the guy was talented, a true bluesman, but was surprised at how straight-up beautiful some of his songs can be. After seeing this show, the first thing I did was download “Life is Beautiful,” and it’s been on a loop all week long. Check it.

A shot of Teshtosterone


Mom and dad,

I saw John Tesh last Saturday, and it was as painful as live music gets. Remember when Uncle Mike sang “Brick House” in a speedo at the Sweeney Summer Picnic? This was worse.

A tsk-tsk night for tepid Tesh
October 11, 2009, edition of The Buffalo News

Saturday, Oct. 10, marked the birthdays of David Lee Roth, Brett Favre and Ben Vereen.

This is the kind of information you used to be able to get from John Tesh. Now, after leaving his gig as co-host of “Entertainment Tonight” for a wildly successful career writing and performing dentist’s office music—or instrumental pop or new age, whatever you prefer— Tesh has found fame in yet another arena, as the host of a hugely popular syndicated radio show.

Called “Intelligence for Your Life Radio,” the show combines self-help talking points, fun facts and music, and judging by its success—it’s on 300 stations nationwide—a lot of people believe they aren’t intelligent enough, and that John Tesh is the man to make them smarter.

His concert Saturday night in Buffalo State College’s Rockwell Hall was a mix of his radio show schtick and music. It opened with some little self-help nuggets projected on a screen that said watching the news before work will make us more likely to have a bad day, and that hugging our kids will stimulate their brain cells and make them smarter.

Then, Tesh took the stage backed by a three-piece group of considerable ability. And they started off with a bang (at least considering the context of what was to follow). “Barcelona” brought Tesh’s sound closer to the realm of prog-rock, pairing classical piano flourishes with big guitar licks and lots of stops and starts.

This was followed by the solo piano instrumental “Heart of the Sunrise,” a song that could be described as “pretty,” only because it’s a softly played mash-up of major scales that ends with a big, high-octave trill. Tesh knows and loves this genre of playing, and I don’t, so it’s a bit unfair to criticize his style. All I’ll say is, what it possessed in accuracy, it lacked in nuance. This is fine for background music, but for something under a spotlight?

Tesh’s set continued, with some nicely delivered personal stories and pieces of intelligence for our lives. It’s no coincidence that the guy has found massive success in multiple mediums — he’s charming, deep-voiced and sure of himself, and knows how to work a crowd. One of his intelligence bits included a listing of things that are full of germs that we can’t avoid touching — e. g. hotel room remotes, restaurant menus, elevator buttons. How this is going to help me, I’m not sure.

After giving a really good tutorial on the fretless bass, explaining why it’s both a difficult and freeing instrument, Tesh played “Garden City,” another vanilla instrumental.

A few songs later, we were treated to “Trading My Sorrows,” an abysmal attempt at Springsteen-ish pop that perpetuates the stereotype that all Christian rock stinks. As Tesh sang, “Yes, Lord!” over and over again, and a hip-hop dancer did his robotic moves on the side of the stage, I must admit I was confused. Maybe if my parents had hugged me more. . . .

My mustache is true

DSCN0488My wife and I saw Elvis Costello on Saturday night, down in the Chautauqua Institution. He, along with his percussion-less band The Sugarcanes, was riveting. The country & western bent of his unfortunately titled Sweet, Profane & Sugarcane was the order of the day, and the arrangements were worthy of a Grand Ole Opry showcase. Even when the mustachioed, purple-hatted Costello dipped into his back catalog, the mix of mandolin, fiddle, dobro, guitar and accordion felt natural (“Mystery Dance,” “Blame It On Cain” and “Indoor Fireworks” being highlights for me). And a bluegrassed-up rendition of the Velvet Underground’s “Femme Fatale” was surprisingly effective. Costello’s records aren’t quite what they used to be, but at 55 years old, he’s as endearing and talented a performer as ever.

Oh, and a memo to anybody that wants to stop for a drink at the Chautauqua Institution before a concert – you are Beezlebub himself. We sat down at a place called The Season Ticket, asked for a wine list and were treated like we had propositioned the waitress for sex. “Institution rules” state that you can’t buy an alcoholic beverage without also ordering food. And the menu listed cosmos, Bloody Marys and the like, but they all had an asterisk next to them. The corresponding asterisk let us know that all of these drinks were wine-based. A wine-based Bloody Mary? That’s just unholy.