WIB Listening Party #69: La Futura

featuring…

♫ ZZ Top, La Futura

🍺 Musa Blondie Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

If you’ve visited me before here at the Listening Party, you’ll know I occasionally use this platform to rant. You know, get things off my chest. I don’t run my mouth much in real life – until I get a few beers in me, then watch out! – and this is a nice, safe place for blowing off steam or expressing opinions that may be unpopular.

My first target today: St Patrick’s Day. I get it – if you’re Irish or Catholic or hold some other strong connection to the island nation. But I’m not into fake holidays or acting like something I’m not. Obviously, I have nothing against parties or drinking or I wouldn’t be here. But I refuse to wear green or put on a Leprechaun hat simply because it’s March 17th.  

So today, instead, I’m grabbing some other stuff I like. First, La Futura, the final studio album from ZZ Top. It’s a really cool, ballsy record. Maybe I’ll do a little ranting anyway.

On the sudsy side of the street, we’ve got Blondie Ale, a beer from Portugal. I’m going to have to trust my taste buds with this one, as everything printed on the label and written on the Cerveja Musa website is in … Portuguese, I guess?  

Friends, let’s do this.

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WIB Listening Party #67: Electric Church for the Spiritually Misguided

featuring…

♫ Dean Zucchero: Electric Church for the Spiritually Misguided

🍺 Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze IPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

OK, so what’s it’s been? Around four months? My previous Listening Party post was a farewell of sorts – my attempt to neatly wrap up the first 66 entries before going on hiatus indefinitely. Didn’t know when or if I’d be back at it. Even now I’m hesitant, as I can no longer knock these out at the steady pace I established in the Listening Party’s first year-plus of existence. 

But with summer now in the rear-view mirror and only some lingering warmth and sunlight keeping fall and winter at bay, it feels like the time has come. June to September often feels scattered and hectic, while the onset of autumn and gradually darkening days tends to guide me back to my desk and keyboard (where I write) and to my living room armchair or the rear balcony of my apartment (my preferred listening spots).

It’s a good time to contemplate an album and a beer.

We’ll leap back in with Electric Church for the Spiritually Misguided, a 2023 project spearheaded by New York native Dean Zucchero and featuring a cavalcade of guest artists.

To wash it down, we have an alluring 19.2-ounce tallboy of Voodoo Ranger Juicy Haze IPA.

I’m feeling pretty good about this combination.

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WIB Listening Party #66: Bones & the Spirit of 66

featuring…

♫ The Delta Saints: Bones

🍺 Spirit of 66 Blonde Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

When you hit your late 50s, memories of the past lose much of their clarity. That’s true even for a lifelong journal keeper like me. The times and places, people and faces blur. And the names! Please forgive me if I’ve ever given you a “hey, how’s it going?” after you greeted me by name. I’ve always been terrible with names.

The blurriness prevents me from pinpointing my first visit to Spirit of 66 in Verviers, Belgium.

It may well have been for the Jon Amor Blues Group, an erstwhile favorite of mine that never played in Germany during their brief existence but often toured the Benelux countries. Jon’s voice was shot that evening, but the foursome was as tight and as edgy as expected.

Spirit of 66 was also the site of a nerve-racking encounter with the Mississippi Mudbloods around the same time. The band’s road manager told me beforehand that drummer Cody Dickinson didn’t like talking to journalists. Gee, thanks. However, when we sat down prior to the show, Cody wound up taking over the interview, talking lots and turning his brother Luther and bandmates Ian Siegal and Alvin Youngblood Hart into little more than spectators.

Both those occasions are roughly a decade ago, and I’ve seen plenty of shows there since.

Spirit of 66 is a staple tour stop on the European club scene. The Hall of Fame on the venue’s website includes hundreds upon hundreds of acts that have played there since the doors opened in 1995. If Spirit of 66 was nearer than 120 kilometers from my home, I’d be a poor man today. Rich in musical memories, but flat broke.

You could always get a decent glass of beer there, because, let’s face it, Belgian blondes rock. Val-Dieu, La Chouffe, Leffe, all good. But only recently did a bottle bearing the venue’s name and logo begin showing up in the fridges behind the bar. I tried it, enjoyed it, and have since made it my beverage of choice whenever I attend a show: Spirit of 66 blonde ale.   

The Delta Saints is a band I’ve enjoyed over the years and seen countless times, just not at Spirit of 66, though they’ve played there as recently as 2018. They temporarily disbanded thereafter to devote themselves to family and other projects but are returning to Europe this fall – reason enough to enjoy some tracks from their killer 2015 release Bones.

I’m aiming for some kind of closure with this expanded edition of the Listening Party (more on that a bit later) which I’m calling “Bones and the Spirit of 66.”

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WIB Listening Party #65: Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails

featuring…

♫ The Baseball Project, Vol. 1: Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails

🍺 Brew Dog Curve Ball West Coast IPA / Cold Beer Pale Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

 

To paraphrase sixties rock’n’roll icons The Animals: It’s my blog and I’ll write what I want. It’s my mind and I’ll think what I want.

Today, on Opening Day, my favorite day of the year – better than Christmas, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July rolled into one – I am thinking and writing about baseball.

Depending on who you ask, baseball is either an excruciatingly slow and boring athletic competition that’s well past its sell-by date as America’s favorite pastime or the most beautiful, artistic, compelling and enjoyable sport on earth. I’m in the latter camp, so if you’re a hater, you may want to jump off here. 

I’m a sucker for anything baseball. Books, movies, ESPN docs about baseball heroes and history. Boxes of the baseball cards, programs, newspapers and other memorabilia I collected as a kid still reside at my mom’s home. And to this day, I can’t break the habit of following my favorite team, the Yankees (just lost a few more of you) on a day-in, day-out basis. I live in Germany. It often results in me staying up for games that start at 1:00 a.m. when I should be sleeping. I was born into a Yankee family in New York. It is simply in my blood.

So let’s throw a baseball-themed Listening Party, shall we?

Musically we’ve got tracks from Frozen Ropes & Dying Quails, originally released in 2008 on Yep Roc Records. It’s the first volume of songs by The Baseball Project, a sort of baseball nerd supergroup that has been chronicling the sport to music for a good 15 years now.

I’ve also got a couple of canned beers lined up for us courtesy of BrewDog: Curve Ball West Coast IPA and Cold Beer Pale Ale. In the spirit of Hall of Fame slugger Ernie Banks … let’s play two today!

Just don’t throw the empties on the field.

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WIB Listening Party #64: Stingray

featuring…

♫ Kenny Brown, Stingray

🍺 Two Chefs Funky Falcon Pale Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

 

2003’s Stingray is a classic example of a really good album that slipped through the cracks.

Recorded at The Money Shot in Water Valley, Mississippi and released on Fat Possum, it’s the work of singer and guitarist Kenny Brown. Best known as the musical sidekick to R.L. Burnside until the latter’s demise in 2005, Brown grew up in the North Mississippi tradition, apprenticing with local legends like Joe Callicott and Johnny Woods before hooking up with Burnside for a partnership that lasted roughly three decades. More recently, his guitar featured on The Black Keys’ Delta Kream, Robert Finley’s Sharecropper’s Son and Hank Williams Jr.’s Rich White Honky Tonk Blues. So he’s out there, still doing his thing.

I scooped up my CD copy of Stingray for a measly $3.95 at a second-hand book outlet in Nashville, Tennessee, following a string of unforeseen circumstances. More on that in a bit.

What we got greasing the wheels this time around?

That would be Funky Falcon Pale Ale from Two Chefs Brewing. Founded in 2012 by a pair of now-former chefs (duh), Two Chefs calls itself “Amsterdam’s Finest Craft Beer Brewery” and adorns its beers with bold, brash colors and characters, like the Dia de los Muertos Mariachi gracing its Mexican-style lager or the gunslinging cowboy on its Green Bullet IPA. I admit I’m a sucker for creative names and designs – undoubtably they’re a part of what makes craft beer fun. But it’s what’s inside that counts, right?

We’ll see what the Funky Falcon has to offer and dive into the Kenny Brown album on the other side.

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WIB Listening Party #63: A Celebration Of New Orleans Music

featuring…

♫ Various Artists, A Celebration Of New Orleans Music

🍺 Yankee & Kraut Maracujizzle Brombizzle

Words & photos (except where Indicated): Vincent Abbate

 

Something unusual happened this morning. My adopted hometown made CNN.

Cologne is a large German city of over a million. But it’s not London, Paris, Brussels or Berlin. So we don’t often see international camera teams wandering around town. But they were here yesterday, capturing the images that surprised me today at breakfast: thousands of locals in their clown suits, young and old, filling one of the main squares, smiling, singing, swaying, and having a ball.

The occasion was Cologne’s famous Carnival celebration. As in Rio and New Orleans, the people here like to blow off steam in a big way in the days prior to Ash Wednesday and the start of the Lenten season. They’ve been doing so for roughly 200 years. I’ve been here for the last 30 of those and confess I have never truly warmed up to the tradition. Sometimes I join in, often I don’t.

The Carnival societies with their meetings and weird Colonial officer-looking uniforms; the swarms of visitors from other towns and cities who come here to make merry, booze it up and piss all over the place; the local anthems, sung in a dialect I will never learn, endlessly singing the praises of the Stadt am Rhing. All of it leaves me feeling like an outsider and a killjoy.

Photo (c) Festkomittee Kölner Karneval

Now if the streets and pubs were full of the sounds heard on A Celebration Of New Orleans Music, well … it might be a different story.

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WIB Listening Party #62: Souls On Fire

featuring…

♫ The Neckbones, Souls On Fire

🍺 Everything Sucks DIPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

 

It’s okay to write about The Neckbones once every 20 years or so, right?

I mean, sure, the band only existed for a brief, intense period starting in the mid-90s, leaving behind a trio of discs: the self-released Pay The Rent, 1999’s The Lights Are Growing Dim and today’s featured album Souls On Fire, their 1997 Fat Possum Records debut. The Neckbones’ limited shelf life didn’t stop me from falling in love with them, though. Now, some 20 odd years down the road, I still find myself returning to those albums – usually when I’m out and about and need a jolt of youthful energy. The music they left behind is vicious and exciting, sounding like it sprung from the oil-stained garage of a low-rent house right next door to Richard Hell & The Voidoids and just down the block from where Chuck Berry parked his Cadillac.

The fiery and rebellious Souls On Fire will be served today with Everything Sucks, a Double New England IPA brewed with a wheat, barley and oat malt bill. It’s a collaboration between FrauGruber Brewing and Superfreunde, two young German brands with a flair for experimentation.

The name of the beer is as close as I’ll get to commenting on the state of the world. As promised!

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WIB Listening Party #61: Wild Again

featuring…

♫ The Proven Ones, Wild Again

🍺 Samuel Smith’s Nut Brown Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

First beer of a new year.

I’ve been at this for a while now. I’ve learned a thing or two about beer and quite a bit about myself. With any luck, the first 60 entries in the series will have reached a few eyes – the click counter on my website has registered more than 20,000 – and in the process, led beer and blues enthusiasts to albums they may have missed or beers they’d never heard of.

My original intention was to use the Listening Party to celebrate those two great passions.

But last year … I dunno … there was a lot of Weltschmerz mixed in with the beer and music. I wound up writing about war and politics and my disenchantment with social media. I’ve promised myself – and promise you, dear reader – to limit the amount of social commentary moving forward. Because, personally, I hate parties where the topic of conversation is how the world is on a downward spiral and we’re all doomed.

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WIB Listening Party #60: I Got Love

featuring…

♫ Albert Castiglia, I Got Love

🍺 Baladin POP American Pale Ale

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Pop goes 2022.

In this, the year’s final Listening Party, I’ll reflect on a challenging twelve months and the respite and release I experienced at a summertime blues festival. Together, we’ll open a gaudy can of POP – an American Pale Ale from Italy –, listen to some choice cuts from Albert Castiglia’s April release I Got Love and generally celebrate being alive.

I hope, when all is said and done, it will make some kind of sense.

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WIB Listening Party #59: Hey Joe

featuring…

♫ Various Artists, Hey Joe (One-Song-Edition)

🍺 Meantime Brewing London IPA

Words & photos: Vincent Abbate

Today’s the birthday of the great James Marshall “Jimi” Hendrix. Had he not joined the so-called 27 Club in 1970, but rather lived on for another 52 years, Hendrix would have turned 80 today. (Shows you just how short a life of 27 years is.) In other words, he’d be as old as Sir Paul McCartney, the Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson or blues vets Taj Mahal and Elvin Bishop. It’s given me occasion to raise a glass and write about a song I’ve grown to hate. “Hey Joe.”

Don’t get me wrong. It’s undeniably a good song if not one of Hendrix’s absolute best. What’s ruined “Hey Joe” for me is its fate as a go-to crowdpleaser for thousands of bluesrock bands who have nothing else to offer. If I’m at a show and I hear the opening guitar riff – this happens way too often – that’s my signal to head to the bar or take a bathroom break. No offence to listeners who haven’t tired of it, but for me, this tune is well past its sell-by date. It has become the ultimate yawn elicitor.       

I’m tempted to write that Hendrix already exhausted the song’s possibilities with the landmark version he recorded with the Jimi Hendrix Experience in 1966. In fact, several other worthwhile interpretations have emerged on record, mostly in the years immediately before and after. (Note: Hendrix was by no means first to record it: The song had been circulating for many years with various parties claiming authorship. Notable pre-Hendrix versions include those by the Leaves, the Standells and the Byrds.)

Today’s featured album Hey Joe (One-Song-Edition) compiles 20 different versions of varying quality. (Nineteen if you subtract the “Karaoke Playback” track at the end.) We’ll listen to some of the best as we crack open a bottle of Meantime Brewing’s London IPA in honor of the beloved guitar trailblazer.

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