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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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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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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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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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 literally dozens of fascinating bottles and cans 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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