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 #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 #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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WIB Listening Party #17: Time Bomb

featuring…

Sue Foley, Deborah Coleman & Roxanne Potvin, Time Bomb

🍺 Steamworks Pale Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Can we agree there’s too much product out there?

It’s how I feel and have felt for quite some time now. Everybody and his brother puts out a CD or DVD or digital-only release on a regular basis. For the consumer, trying to keep up with each new wave of recordings is a Sisyphean task that hinders the enjoyment of music. Long gone are the days when we would sit for weeks with a favorite LP, poring over the lyrics and attempting to decipher the secret meanings hidden in the whacked out cover art. Today, we listen quickly and superficially before it’s wham, bam, on to the next one.

What’s worse, the never-ending torrent of new product keeps us so busy that we rarely dive into the collection we’ve assembled, which is full of gems we probably didn’t spend enough time with in the first place. Like Time Bomb.

The album was recorded and released to coincide with the third edition of the Ruf Records Blues Caravan Tour, which featured Sue Foley and Roxanne Potvin alongside the late American guitarist and singer Deborah Coleman.

I want to go music-heavy as I explore this excellent record from 2007, keeping the blah blah to a minimum and giving each of the three talented ladies who contributed to the project their chance to shine. 

And of course we’ll do a little beer tasting along the way, indulging in our first Canadian brew in honor of Foley and Potvin, each of whom hails from the Great White North.

Let’s stop – take a deep breath – pour a cold glass of Steamworks Pale Ale and enjoy Time Bomb.

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