Best Shows of the Week
Five best shows include Reigning Sound, John Prine and the Milk Carton Kids.
Week’s Top Show: Reigning Sound, Cactus Club, Tuesday, October 28
Here’s a good question from 1968:
In a more serious form—that is, with a couple key words switched ‘round—the question of whether whites can sing the blues has fomented debates about music since long before 1968. Artists from Bix Beiderbecke to Eminem have faced it, as have many of their fans.
At the junction of rock and soul, the question comes up just as often as it does anywhere else. Greg Cartwright’s indirect answer has emerged from the output of numerous bands, including the Oblivians, the Compulsive Gamblers, and Reigning Sound.
The last has offered his strongest and longest answer, Reigning Sound having lasted 13 years through myriad lineup changes and at least one major move (from Memphis, Tennessee to Asheville, North Carolina).
Cartwright seems to have poured those experiences into Shattered, the latest Reigning Sound long-player, which maybe makes the best use not just of his knowledge, or of his voluminous record collection, but also of his gifts.
Evident to listeners more by accumulated exposure than by sudden revelation, those gifts include a voice with Dylanesque drawled phrasing, a nearly instinctual sense of balance between music and lyrics, and a skilled craftsman’s ability to do the best he can with the tools at hand.
Then again, Cartwright has one of his sharpest RS lineups and the Daptone studio in Brooklyn (where Miss Sharon Jones, the neo-soul queen, has often laid down scorching tracks with the Dap-Kings), so he’s not exactly ice-skating uphill.
He’s not coasting, either, and with Shattered he and Reigning Sound burn their affirmative response to that blues-and-whites question right into the grooves.
Thursday, October 30: Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness at the Rave
In May 2005, Andrew McMahon was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia; in December 2005, he was playing shows again, gradually. Such is the energy and will of the singer, songwriter and pianist who, in August of the same year, put out Everything in Transit, shifting from the on-hiatus band Something Corporate to the solo project Jack’s Mannequin.
Recently, McMahon issued Andrew McMahon in the Wilderness, the debut full-length of a more overtly solo undertaking that is perhaps his biggest, tightest embrace so far of mainstream, melodramatic pop and rock. His live appearances are truly performances: theatrical, exaggerated and, yes, energetic.
Friday, October 31: The Milk Carton Kids and Sarah Jarosz at Pabst Theater
The Milk Carton Kids are modern Americana’s closest echo of the Everly Brothers, although Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan are not related. Since the California songwriters joined together around 2011, they’ve created warm, welcoming, fraternal vocal connections that recall Simon & Garfunkel as well as Phil and Don.
At this show they will also harmonize with Sarah Jarosz, a Texan prodigy who got a record deal when she was 16. Now 23, Jarosz is an immensely talented mandolin player, singer and songwriter; her latest album, 2013’s Build Me Up From Bones, would be intimidatingly mature if it weren’t so lovely.
She and the Kids ought to make interesting microphone partners.
Saturday, November 1: Burning Palms and Blackstone Rangers at Cactus Club
When guitarist and singer Simone Stopford moved from Sydney, Australia to the Arizona desert, Burning Palms turned from bedroom venture into proper band. With Julia Deconcini as vocal foil and percussionist, and with three other members, Stopford creates psychedelic rock that reverberates as if inside a desert oasis. The band’s self-titled introductory LP came out two weeks ago.
Blackstone Rangers (or “Rngrs”) hail from Dallas, Texas, but sound as if they could be breathing the same air—and taking the same hallucinogens—as Burning Palms. A 2012 EP, Into the Sea, established a dynamic somewhere between dream and nightmare, and this year’s Descendant refines the woozy pleasure.
Saturday, November 1: John Prine at Pabst Theater
Among major, living American songwriters, there might be no one less currently productive than John Prine. Of the records he’s released in the last 15 years, only one, 2005’s Fair & Square, features mostly new and original material. His most recent record, period, is 2011’s The Singing Mailman Delivers, a compilation of early versions of mostly familiar stuff.
Still, when the Illinois native emerged from the Chicago folk scene in 1971, his deceptively simple lyrics and Midwestern stoicism impressed guys like Kris Kristofferson and Bob Dylan. And while Prine’s output has slowed considerably, his best songs have, not unlike his narrators, held up against age and heavy weather.
This one goes back to 1971: