Listening Party #27: Missing Pieces

featuring…

Henrik Freischlader, Missing Pieces

🍺Mühlen Kölsch

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

So I’ve been thinking.

This is Listening Party #27. Alongside the variety of blues records I’ve featured until now, there have been lots of IPAs and lagers and porters and what not. That’s thanks to my friends at Bierlager, who have kept up a steady supply of tasty, exotic suds.

But how can I ignore the one beer I’ve drunk far more than any other during the past 25 years?

The one I’ve enjoyed at probably 80 or 90 percent of the blues shows I’ve attended during that time. And before the shows. And after.

I’m talking about Kölsch, of course.

Those of you who have visited my adopted home city, Cologne, will know Kölsch as a bright, smooth top-fermented ale served in tidy, cylindrical 200ml glasses known locally as Stangen. It’s a beer that’s often frowned upon in other regions of Germany – by the snooty Pils drinkers up north or the provincial Bavarians, who turn up their nose at any mug smaller than their one-liter Mass.

Those who have never traveled here may know it instead as a fancy schmancy “Kölsch-style ale,” a beer that appears to have caught on in international craft beer circles in recent years. The current ranking on RateBeer places exactly one brand of Kölsch actually brewed in Cologne in the top 50. One! The rest are from elsewhere. So, craft beer buffs … if you do come visit and go to a local Brauhaus, you might well hate it.

I’m not here to defend its merits, but merely to down a few glasses and listen to the blues.

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Listening Party #26: Blues & Ballads

featuring…

Lonnie Johnson (with Elmer Snowden), Blues & Ballads

🍺 Kona Gold Cliff IPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

I’m back. Vacation was fun (see Listening Party #24 and #25) and my newest book is just out. Hooray for that! It took roughly a year and half to complete it, so that’s definitely cause for celebration.

If I’m honest – and I try to be – finishing the book and sending it out into the world has left me a bit spent. So I’m going to wade back in slowly with this first post-publication Listening Party. I’ve got what promises to be a tasty brew, Kona’s Gold Cliff IPA, chilling in the fridge. I’m kind of anxious to drink it, truth be told.

As for this week’s album, I’m going with an undisputed classic that’s quieter and more intimate than most: Blues & Ballads, recorded in 1960 by guitar maestro Lonnie Johnson with an able assist from Elmer Snowden. It’s music suited less for an all-out bash than for a small gathering of friends. Are you with me?

I have a lot of memories and stories tied up with this record so let’s jump right on over to the other side …

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WIB Listening Party #25: Still On The Road

featuring…

Nathan James & Ben Hernandez, Hollerin’

🍺 Oedipus Gaia West Coast IPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

My three-week summer holiday in the Netherlands is winding down. If you missed the first Listening Party from the road, here it is. It’s been a cheery, beery time by and large – tinged with feelings of guilt. While I was here at the coast swimming and drinking and getting the deepest tan I’ve had in years, deadly flooding, the worst in decades, hit parts of Belgium, Holland and Germany. Hundreds of families close to where I live in Cologne, Germany, lost everything.

Beer-wise, the past three weeks have found me in an almost constant state of temptation. In every well-stocked supermarket in the region, there are dozens of fascinating beers on the shelves. You needn’t visit a specialty store to find craft beer. It’s everywhere. My oh my …

Today I’ll tell you about a few of the ones I’ve tried, including what may have been my absolute favorite: Gaia West Coast IPA from Amsterdam’s Oedipus Brewing.

At last week’s party, buzzed on a thunderous glass of Dubbel Wit, I found myself looking for music that would pick up where the old-timey Tarbox Ramblers left off. Hollerin’, a 2007 release from San Diego-based duo Nathan James & Ben Hernandez, came to mind. I let ‘er rip and – as so often over the past six months writing this blog feature – rediscovered a great album that has been sitting neglected on my CD shelf.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you our very colorful tag team for Listening Party #25.

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WIB Listening Party #24: On The Road

featuring…

Tarbox Ramblers, Tarbox Ramblers

🍺🍺🍺 Helderse Jongens Dubbel Wit, Tripel & Watertoren

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

It’s summer vacation and I’ve crossed the border from Germany into another great beer drinking and brewing nation: the Netherlands. The bottled beer section at the local DEEN supermarket, the one my wife and I shop at whenever we visit this part of the country, reveals the Dutch passion for suds: Alongside mass market brands like Heineken and Grolsch, there are dozens of intriguing alternatives ranging from traditional Belgian Trappist ales to hip new craft beers.

As we’re headquartering in Den Helder at the northwestern tip of Holland and this city has a worthy brewery of its own, the Stadsbrouwerij Helderse Jongens, I’ll be sampling several of its beers in this special “on the road” edition of the Listening Party.

Let’s make it a game of double-triple-quadruple: We’ll start with Helderse Jongens’ Dubbel Wit, followed by their Tripel and then onto Watertoren, a quadruple that clocks in at a robust 12% ABV.

After trying all three, I’ll pick a favorite.

And while beer is the focus this week, what’s a vacation without a little music? I’ll be rolling out some choice cuts from a Rounder Records gem: the self-titled Tarbox Ramblers, a standout release from Y2K.

Get ready for some foamy goodness …

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WIB Listening Party #23: Fit To Serve

featuring…

A.J. Croce, Fit To Serve

🍺 Bevog Nitro Coconut Porter

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Before Listening Party breaks for summer (I may post some entries from the road depending on how travel shapes up) I’ve got an admittedly odd pairing for you. Stay with me here.

My musical pick this week is Fit To Serve, a 1998 release by A.J. Croce. Not only is this a great album – I listened again, the magic is still there – it also allows me to share one of my favorite stories about how a musician can pick you up off the floor when you’re feeling like crap.

For the beer tasting, I’ve got a can of Bevog’s Nitro Coconut Porter chilled and ready to go. Color me curious.  

The story begins on a Friday night in 1998. I’m at the Moulin Blues festival in Holland with my best blues buddy at the time – the same guy I wrote about in Listening Party #5. This is my first big European festival and I am totally naïve about the challenges I’m about to be confronted with.

But I’m also very excited, because B.B. King is topping the bill that evening.

My friend parks his station wagon in the camping area, we lay out our respective sleeping bags in the back – there’s juuust enough room for both of us back there – and head toward the main tent with a supply of drink coupons in hand. Norwegian guitarist Vidar Busk opens the festival with a short, fiery set and we are feeling good.

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WIB Listening Party #22: Sweet Tea

featuring…

Buddy Guy, Sweet Tea

🍺 Riedenburger Dolden Hell

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Yeah, so it’s heating up quite a bit ‘round these parts now. No longer any need to summon summer. It’s here. And with it, a slower pace. Even in the city.

That’s one thing I really like about the American south. People take their time in almost everything they do. I’m tempted to say it’s so because of the heat, but I’m a New Yorker and New York also gets excruciatingly hot in the summer months. But we haven’t got that take it easy thing down. Not really. Not like southern folk.

The climate around JazzFest in New Orleans is just about perfect. Really, it’s my weather ideal. The festival traditionally kicks off the last weekend of April, running into early May. Temps are in the 80s. Warm enough to knock off the rust of winter but never oppressive. Some of my favorite memories are of lounging in front of the Congo Square stage at the festival grounds, listening to funk and Caribbean sounds, soaking in the sunlight, enjoying an adult beverage.

But Mississippi in July? Yes, I have made that mistake. I’ve even camped out in the unbearable mid-summer humidity, inescapable even at night. I went to movies just to bask in the air conditioning.

Oh, right, music. It’s got to be a steamy hot record this week, a Mississippi in July kind of record. So I’m going with Sweet Tea, a #1 Billboard Blues album for Buddy Guy following its release in 2001.

The perfect beverage would be the one mentioned in the title, but since this is about blues and beer, we’ll pour a glass of Riedenburger Dolden Hell, a tasty and refreshing helles from Bavaria.

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WIB Listening Party #21: Not The Same Old Blues Crap

featuring…

Various Artists, Not The Same Old Blues Crap Vol. 1

🍺 La Quince CRYOBOT IPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

That time from the mid-1990s on into the current millennium when Fat Possum Records was shaking up the blues world was actually pretty significant. Who among us had heard of R.L. Burnside before then? Junior Kimbrough? T-Model Ford? How many of us even knew there was such as thing as the North Mississippi Hill Country blues and that it was different from anything we’d heard before? Not many, I’d venture to guess.

And then suddenly, there it was. A weird, edgy, hypnotic, punky, groove-oriented sound, propagated by a tiny indie label operating from Oxford, Mississippi – a college town. Not coincidentally, perhaps, the music appealed to a twenty-something alternative audience who didn’t really know or care what the blues was. It didn’t matter that most of the musicians on the Fat Possum label were two or three times as old as The White Stripes. All that mattered – as the name of the label’s sampler series provocatively stated – was that it was Not The Same Old Blues Crap.

Today we’re going to give the first entry in that series a listen – an eleven-track album with cuts by Kimbrough, Ford, Burnside and several others.

To wash it down, we’ve got La Quince’s CRYOBOT IPA, a seasonal brew named for the Cryo Hops used in production and the futuristic bot on the label. As the late great Mr. Kimbrough once sang: I gotta try you girl.

So come on in … meet me in the city … ehh, enough of that …

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WIB Listening Party #20: Lost and Found

featuring…

Jimmy Scott, Lost and Found

🍺 Chimay Bleue Trappist Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

I like to jump around musically at the Listening Party, both within and without the blues genre. Now that we’ve reached another round number on the beer and blues hit parade, I intend to do some more jumping.

You see, I’ve never quite understood why blues fans – or diehard fans of any one style of music – are so intent upon listening only to that genre, or why they choose to define it so narrowly. It’s like loving basketball but hating all other sports, like reading police procedurals but no other kind of book. Doesn’t seem quite right, does it?

I’m devoting today’s Listening Party to Jimmy Scott and his album Lost and Found. It’s a reach, I guess, outside the blues into the realm of jazz. Scott – to my mind the greatest balladeer ever – is generally considered a jazz singer. But honestly, I can’t think of anyone bluesier.

Beer is also matter of taste. There are purists who stick to one type of beer or even a single brand throughout their lives. Others try different styles and flavors from all over the world, discovering loves, likes and dislikes along the way.

That’s what I’m doing here at Listening Party. Exploring the world of beer while presenting my favorite music. Today, while getting lost in the wonder and heartbreak of Jimmy Scott, we’ll partake of Chimay Bleue, a strong Trappist ale from Belgium. I honestly don’t know what to expect.

Let’s do it. Beer and blues, round 20.

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WIB Listening Party #19: Live at the Corner

featuring…

Ash Grunwald, Live at the Corner

🍺 Kona Longboard Island Lager

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

OK, I’ve had enough.

Obviously, I didn’t move to Germany for the weather. The Rhineland is not Bora Bora or the Côte d’Azur.

But generally, by mid-May, you can expect decent weather. Not this year. February, March and April were sprinkled with beautiful, sunny days. Right now, we’re in an interminably long stretch of gray, the temps are cool to tepid and summer is looking like it may never happen.

So my mission this week, for selfish reasons, is to paint the drabness around me in the reassuringly bright colors of summer. It gives me the chance to knock back a bottle of Kona Longboard Island Lager and write few lines about Australia’s Ash Grunwald.

Grunwald came instantly to mind because Kona brews on Hawaii’s Big Island and he’s an avid surfer. He even wrote a song about how a pod of guardian angel dolphins once saved him from a shark attack when he and a friend were out on their boards.

I honestly can’t think of a single blues artist from Hawaii. I’m sure there are some. I’ve just read that there are eight different climate zones on Hawaii and quite a bit of rain – but something tells me the landscape and vibe of the place might not be very conducive to the “blues feeling.”

So I’m going with Grunwald, the laid-back surfer dude who sometimes takes the stage in flip flops. That doesn’t scream “blues feeling” either, but he has it in spades. His early albums – including today’s pick Live at the Corner – contain excellent covers of Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf alongside his own knockout-punch originals. He’s since moved on to become one of the genre’s more progressive and experimental performers, but the raw intensity of the blues has always been there, particularly in his live shows.

I’m switching into shorts and a Hawaiian-style print shirt for this, even if I freeze my balls off.

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WIB Listening Party #18: All I Want

featuring…

John Mooney, All I Want

🍺 Welde / Himburgs Braukunstkeller Pepper Pils

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

All I want is …

Nah. Let’s not go there. The list is long and kind of depressing. Let’s talk about John Mooney instead.

John Mooney is a guy who projects both power and sensitivity, both darkness and light. In his playing and singing, you can hear how he went to school on one of the all-time greats, Son House, the former Baptist preacher and blues pioneer who was forever torn between the sacred and the secular. Mooney played alongside House as a teenager in upstate New York after Joe Beard introduced them in 1971. He possesses an uncanny feel for the sort of Delta blues House performed during his lifetime and has come up with a signature guitar tone that soars like a bird on the wing.

But he carried it a step further. He moved to New Orleans as a young man, hooked up with influential musicians like Professor Longhair and Snooks Eaglin and made that city’s famed second line rhythm his own. Mooney makes magic with those two basic ingredients, the Delta and the second line.

I love just about everything’s he done but have a special place in my heart for All I Want. The album’s energy is electric and Mooney’s playing is off the charts.

All I Want was his most current disc when I interviewed John before a club show in Bavaria in 2003. I think I was drinking Pyraser Landbier in half-liter mugs that night. Mmm. Today’s Listening Party pick has little in common with that Bavarian Helles, but it is German: Pepper Pils, which I chose for the simplest of reasons. I’m intrigued by what adding pepper does to beer.

Let’s crack open the bottle and let the music play.

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