WIB Listening Party #34: Giving Thanks

featuring…

Fishbone, In Your Face

🍺 Sierra Nevada Fantastic Haze Imperial IPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

It’s Thanksgiving week and I’m using that as an occasion to veer from the usual Listening Party format. At the risk of getting overly sentimental, I’ll use this space to give thanks for three things that have not only helped me survive the past year-plus of the corona pandemic, but several decades of life in general.

Those three “things” are friends, family and music.

Along the way, I’ll share a story of what was probably my most memorable Thanksgiving. It’s a while back and foggy in my memory, but I’ll do my best. The music in that story was supplied by Los Angeles, California’s Fishbone, so that’s the music you’ll hear this time around, taken from their 1986 album In Your Face.

If you’re unfamiliar with Fishbone or turning up your nose because it’s not blues – imagine the great band leader Louis Jordan had been a young man in the 1980s. I’d venture to say his music might have sounded like this.

And since no Listening Party is ever complete without a delicious beverage, we will be cracking open a Sierra Nevada Fantastic Haze Imperial IPA.

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WIB Listening Party #33 1/3: The Specialty Story Vol. 1

featuring…

Various Artists, The Specialty Story Vol. 1

🍺 Bevog Rudeen Black IPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Entry #33 in the Listening Party series. That number – inevitably calling to mind the rotational speed of a long-playing record – sent me back to the shelves that hold my modest collection of vinyl LPs. (At least the ones I’ve acquired in Germany; the 500+ albums of my youth reside in a walk-in closet in upstate New York.) There, I settled upon The Specialty Story Vol. 1 – a flea market find from the mid-1990s. I recall putting a few standout cuts from this record on a mixtape back when spending hours punching buttons on a tape deck was something I took pleasure in. Also, I had the time for it. Where have those days gone?

Some 25 years later my favorite songs off the album haven’t changed and I’ll be featuring them here today.

Over on the beer side of things, we’ve got something deep, dark and Austrian to dive into – Rudeen Black IPA from Bevog, the inventive brewer we first came across in Listening Party #14.

I’m not feeling especially deep or philosophical today, so this one will be a straightforward mix of historical facts and upbeat tunes infused with the rock’n’roll spirit.

Blues had a baby, remember?

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WIB Listening Party #32: Break The Chain

featuring…

Doug MacLeod, Break The Chain

🍺 Lowlander Cool Earth Lager

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Riffing on the environment, drinking the environmentally-friendly Cool Earth Lager, revisiting Doug MacLeod’s 2018 gem Break The Chain. Welcome to Listening Party #32.

This morning I was watching CNN’s ongoing coverage of COP26. If you’re reading this in the year 2050, it means this particular summit meeting – “The United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties” is the official title – wasn’t all for naught and that Planet Earth is still inhabitable. Hooray for that!

But I’m doubtful. Even as they put on a good show and say all the right things, I question our leaders’ willingness to put the long-term good of the natural environment ahead of economics and their own addiction to power and personal gain. 

Today’s news included promises to reduce methane emissions and a deal by 100 heads of state to end and reverse deforestation by 2030. Well, OK.

Then CNN brought in a representative of an anti-poverty organisation who put a damper on things. He pointed out how Britain was actually doubling down on fossil fuels while doing the climate change dance at the COP26 conference. Greta Thunberg also chimed in, calling out politicians for their hypocrisy and shouting about how we cannot entrust the fate of the planet to corporations and governments. In true revolutionary spirit, she said climate change would have to come from “the people.”

Next came an almost too-painful-to-watch report from Afghanistan showing impoverished parents in the act of selling their daughters in order to survive. Selling their daughters.

My main takeaway: humanity sucks. The systems we’ve created are unjust. Given that situations like this exist – circumstances so desperate that mothers and fathers would make the soul-killing decision to sell their children – is there really any hope that we can pull together as a race and reverse the seemingly irreversible downward climatic spiral?

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WIB Listening Party #31: The Sea Saint Sessions

featuring…

Tab Benoit, The Sea Saint Sessions

🍺 BrewDog Silk Road Hazy IPA &

Double Hazy New England IPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

I spent quite a while skimming through my CD collection, trying on various records, before I settled upon the right music for this week’s beer-and-blues jamboree. In the process, I came to a realization: I have a lot of CDs. A lot. Somewhere between 1000 and 2000, I’d estimate.

Mind you, many of them were sent to me as promos – a fringe benefit that makes up for the miserable pay that comes with being a music writer. Even if labels and magazines have long since stopped sending out physical promos and I’ve sold off some of the excess in my collection, I’ve still got shelves, storage boxes and countless nooks and crannies filled with all the silver discs I’ve bought or been given, housed in jewel cases, digipaks, paper sleeves or nothing at all.

And let’s face it. They’re more or less obsolete. Most people listen on streaming services these days. It’s practical. Hoity toity audiophiles and collectors, on the other hand, tend to go for vinyl. CDs are still hanging around, but except in rare cases – like if they’ve been autographed – no one feels particularly sentimental about them. Do you?

But CDs are good for skimming. And today’s somewhat dusty skimming activities eventually led me to an excellent album released on Telarc in 2003: Tab Benoit’s The Sea Saint Sessions. Three choice cuts will give you an idea of the record’s stripped-down, bluesy southern energy and the prodigious talent of an artist who’s been criminally underrated.

As I mentioned last week though, my focus is more on beer this time around. I’ll be sampling not one but two different hazy IPAs from BrewDog: the Double Hazy New England IPA and Silk Road Hazy IPA flavored with lychee and mango.

Here they are, all lined up and ready to go …

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WIB Listening Party #30: Reconsider Baby

featuring…

Elvis Presley, Reconsider Baby

🍺 BrewDog Elvis Juice

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Loyal readers … for Listening Party #30, I’ve chosen to return to the flourishing Scottish-founded brewer I introduced in Listening Party #2: BrewDog. This entry will serve merely as a preamble to a kind of “BrewDog special” I have in mind for next week on the heels of a satisfying interaction with the company’s customer service department. I’ll expound on that when the time comes.

As for now, we’ll be sampling one of BrewDog’s most hip sounding offerings, a grapefruit-infused IPA they call Elvis Juice. Frankly I’d have thought an Elvis Presley-inspired beer would be flavored with peanut butter and banana. Whatevs. If you google “Elvis Juice,” as I just did, you’ll find that legal battles have been waged between BrewDog and Elvis Presley Enterprises over BrewDog’s attempts to trademark the beer. At this writing, though, Elvis Juice is the name on the can.

Our accompanying musical selection is Reconsider Baby, which has Presley singing the blues in a variety of settings – from a previously unreleased master of the Lonnie Johnson hit “Tomorrow Night” from 1954 (or 1955) to a recording of “Merry Christmas Baby,” a song made famous by Charles Brown, from May of 1971. The compilation originally appeared in the mid-1980s as part of the Elvis 50th Anniversary series – including the blue vinyl edition I was lucky to get my hands on through a roommate who worked for RCA at the time.

So it’s Elvis times two. Are you ready for this?

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WIB Listening Party #29: Blues From The Delta

featuring…

Skip James, Blues From The Delta

🍺 Chinook Red Indian Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Are you ready to get way down low?

I just dug out my CD copy of the Skip James album Blues From The Delta, thinking it might be a worthy Listening Party candidate. It’s been a while since this one found its way into the CD player tray. The purple and violet-tinged Vanguard Records release combines nine tracks from 1966’s Today! with an additional nine cuts from 1968’s Devil Got My Woman. Two previously unreleased recordings bring the total to 20. As my favorite baseball broadcaster might say when noting a player’s stats: That’s just bookkeeping.

Then I skim listened, starting with James’s most enduring title “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues.” Goose bumps. “Special Rider Blues.” Goose bumps. James’s sorrowful moan set my hair on end the first time I heard it and it still does today.

If you’re unfamiliar with the originator of the so-called “Bentonia School” of blues (James was raised on a plantation near Bentonia, Mississippi), this 1998 Vanguard compilation is the place to start, as opposed to the hissy, scratchy relics he recorded for Paramount in 1931 – undeniably great but considerably less accessible.

Over on the beer side of things, we’ll be unscientifically enjoying a bottle of Kraftbierwerkstatt’s Chinook Red Indian Ale. Let’s be clear: I did not choose this beer on the strength of its name. I suppose I could have not chosen it on that basis. Were it brewed and bottled in the US instead of the southern German city of Böblingen, the marketing people at Kraftbierwerkstatt surely would have thought twice about the Red Indian moniker. Just ask the owners of the baseball franchise now called the Cleveland Guardians or the NFL’s Washington Football Club, who are still looking for a new name.

Issues of racial insensitivity aside: The album and beer look great together.

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WIB Listening Party #28: Believe What I Say

featuring…

James Hunter, Believe What I Say

🍺 Crew Republic Drunken Sailor IPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Before sitting down to write this Listening Party entry, I went on one of those online “quotes” sites and entered: “looking back.” I was hoping to find something I could use here, some profound words about the importance of reflection. Something to help reign in the urge I, like most of us, have to constantly move forward. But I came up empty. The quotes listed were all about goal setting and achievement and leaving the past behind.

What I’m finding as I write this series, however, is that revisiting the past can be a valuable exercise in slowing down. As music lovers, we’re consumers. If we allow ourselves to be dragged along by media’s omnipresent tether – through Facebook, Instagram, or more traditional sources like magazines and radio – then music becomes disposable. There, it’s all about the latest releases and who’s currently in the charts and when a certain artist will be going on tour again.

But what about the 500 LPs we have resting on our shelves at home? The 1,500 CDs? All the music stored on our hard drives and mobile devices? If an album resides somewhere in our collection, it suggests it once meant something to us. Perhaps it became a favorite for a time. Maybe it is connected to a past relationship, an apartment once lived in, a trip, a car, a concert.

Isn’t that what makes us what we are – the sum of our experiences?

This week’s album is Believe What I Say, the 1996 Ace Records release that signalled Englishman James Hunter’s initial breakout to a broader international audience. It was my introduction to the man who’s been called the UK’s greatest soul singer and recalls our first encounter in a jazz club in Cologne, Germany.

While letting faint memories bubble up and take on sharper contours, I’ll sample the award-winning Drunken Sailor India Pale Ale from Crew Republic, an independent brewery launched by two young men from Munich in 2011.

The music and the beer are set up. Let’s do this.

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WIB 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 to sample our beer of choice, 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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WIB 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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The Interviews: Blues encounters 2000-2020 (Who Is Blues Vol. 2)

“Most of what [people] hear ain’t for real. They’re used to some phony shit. This ain’t no phony thing.”  – Bobby Rush

Fifteen interviews. Two decades of blues.

The Interviews: Blues Encounters 2000-2020 is a collection of candid uncut conversations with blues musicians past and present. Some, like B.B. King, are household names. Others – including blues harp master Paul deLay and Clarksdale, Mississippi’s “dark genius” Watermelon Slim – have been widely overlooked. The 265-page paperback gives readers the inside story in the artists’ own words, helping to enrich and deepen our understanding of the blues.

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