PARIS – That above headline is very long for what I am hoping will be a very short post. It’s just to say that I went to two open mics in Paris the other day – Tuesday – and found that the month of August was ALMOST over – despite it being the 6th or so of Sept. – and I had not been to an open mic in Paris for a month. And I found that the thing that really struck me was how everything about an open mic night depends on the people. So I met some good friends at the Féline open mic, played some songs, listened to some songs, but had to run off to meet another friend at the Café Oz open mic, as he was passing through just for one night. Turned out to be an amazing, amazing evening. And that was thanks to the conversation all round, and especially mixed with that, the music.
At the Oz, there were some mighty talented people, including of all places, the woman behind the bar. Suddenly, as one of the finer performers of the night was doing a song the barwoman recognized, she began to sing along. And he had the presence of mind and sense to let HER sing, while he took the backseat. That was Ash Orphan on the guitar – and the barwoman of the Oz. Check out that video. Ant Henson’s fabulous antiwar protest song
And for me, the high moment of the night, musically, was Ant Henson, from England, passing through Paris after a long trip around this part of Europe and North Africa. His anti-war song, his protest song, that he had just written on the first part of the trip – or just before – is absolutely fabulous. He sang it on his first swing through five or six weeks ago. And he did it even better on Tuesday night. Just a fabulous song, a fabulous delivery, and I really wish he could record this protest song – for me, it speaks for his generation. And to me. He also did another new song, which was really great too – but the anti-war one had grown on me already. Check it out in my video here on this page. Singing barwoman at the Café Oz
Well, there it is, the highs and highs of an open mic night in Paris, thanks to the participants. Oh, I really enjoyed myself when I did a couple of songs at the Oz too, and particularly when Ant Henson backed me up on “I Won’t Back Down,” on his harmonica. Jules at the Feline
For my 11th “Morning Exercise Rundown,” – the 10th of which ran on 29th December 2015 – I have, fittingly, 11 CDs to talk about, all of which were received from musicians I have met in open mics over the last few months. (Although I have known some of them for a few years.) No, wait, I’m wrong. There is one of them that I received from a friend in England, who is a friend of one of the musicians, and we kind of did a trade of our CDs, mine for theirs. And you could not get two different sounds! Back to that in a second.
The Morning Exercise Music Philosophy
First, as a reminder, the idea behind this regular – but occasional – column is that for most of my life I avoided classic daily physical exercise because I felt I was able to do without it and it bored me to death. In recent years, I had a kind of flash of aged wisdom and realized that I might bore myself to death if I DON’T exercise. (No time in life for exercise? No! No time in life to NOT exercise!) That did not, however, alleviate the boredom of doing it. So when not doing my nighttime exercise of riding my unicycle around the neighborhood – which does NOT bore me – or jogging – which does bore me to a degree – or riding the apartment cycle in front of the TV, which staves off the boredom – I do my exercises in the morning (sit ups, push ups, etc.) while listening to new (and old) CDs that I acquire from musicians at open mics (and including EPs on SoundCloud or other sites) or from any other source.
I do not pretend to be a music critic, but simply to talk about and describe, and give my impressions of the music I listen to during my morning exercises. Keep in mind that my impressions and opinions, therefore, will have been formed while straining to reach a record number of push ups, sit ups, couch ups, deep knee bends, stretch downs and simply catching my breath. So maybe my opinion will be warped.
The Haunting Cello Suites from Kirk Brandon, with Sam Sansbury
This is the one CD that I did not receive directly from the hands of the musician at an open mic, as I have never met Kirk Brandon. Brandon was the leading member of the post punk, new wave band Theatre of Hate, and then the more mainstream, Spear of Destiny. We’re talking early 1980s Britain, with the former group’s Westworld album rising to 17th position in the British charts. He has had a long, varied and sometimes controversial (can it be any other way for a former punk?) career, including playing in the supergroup Dead Men Walking. I was given this CD, Cello Suites, by a friend in England who knows the cello player, Sam Sansbury, who accompanies Brandon’s guitar and vocals, in a very haunting, minimalistic style of music that holds together from the beginning of the album to the end in an original concept of darkness and light. What the hell do I mean by that? Well, with Brandon’s poetic, but also sometimes outrageous lyrics and declamatory style, you sometimes don’t know whether to laugh, cry or fly. In fact, you do a little bit of all of that. And the CD, although it will never be to everyone’s taste, really invited me to want to listen to it again and again to figure out what it all meant. Ultimately, it’s a unique Kirk Brandon voice and world – definitely cool.
Rusty Golden and His Sober Musical Tour de Force
Rusty Golden – Sober
I discovered Rusty Golden in Bahrain of all places. He was playing keyboards and singing as well as accompanying another singer, at a place fittingly called, Big Texas BBQ & Waffle House. And yet the last thing I expected to find was Rusty Golden, an American musician of the illustrious country and gospel family, his father being a member of The Oak Ridge Boys, a Country Music Hall of Fame band the name of which any music lover in the U.S. knows. Even less did I expect to see that Rusty, after a long and illustrious career with disparate bands, and solo efforts since the early 1970s handed me an album that I found spine-tingling bona fide music that I would first call Rusty Golden, then situate somewhere in the folk-rock, country, pop area. In fact, I kept thinking even of The Band. There’s something about Rusty’s deep down-home vocals, and strong emotional grounding. Did I say “grounding?” This CD is all about recovery, thus the name. And while that’s a theme that you might think you could get tired of over the 13 songs of this album, the answer to that is no way. Working with Scott Baggett as producer, and with some great Nashville musicians – including the legendary bass player, David Hood from Muscle Shoals Rhythm Section, who has played with everyone from Cat Stevens to Paul Simon to Traffic, Boz Scaggs and Etta James, this CD is lyrically, emotionally and musically first rate. I wished I could have spent more time in Bahrain listening to more of his stuff live, and learning stuff….
Greg Sherrod’s Mighty Blues, Soul and Rocknroll
Greg Sherrod Album
I met this blues, rock, soul singer on his first night in Paris on a bit of a European tour he was doing. He had found an open mic – Some Girls, on the rue de Lappe – through my blog, and we immediately hit it off, enjoying each other’s company, and sets behind the mic. We also exchanged CDs. When I went home and then played this CD, I found a whole new world, or rather, three worlds: As the album’s title says, it is Blues, it is Soul and it is Rock ‘n’ Roll. The album is set up, in fact, with those three categories covered section by section. And of course there is crossover amongst the sections. Some people might define some of the blues as rock, etc. One thing is sure: Greg Sherrod has his own voice, and his own world. But he works well within the traditions, and the whole production is first class. Too bad I could never see him with his band in his home area of Connecticut, amongst his fans…who, by the way, paid for this CD in a very successful crowdfunding operation. Thank goodness! Thank them!
Yann Destal’s Ethereal Vocals and Sounds
I met Yann Destal several years ago at the restaurant of the Bus Palladium venue in Paris, and I was immediately captivated by the purity of his vocals and emotional delivery. He’s also an exceptional multi instrumentalist, and one of the few French singers I have ever heard who seems not to have an accent in his English delivery. I quickly learned that he might be playing in an unassuming way in an interesting, but far from massive venue, but he had in fact as a very young man had a worldwide hit in the year 2000: Lady, from his band called Modjo. Since that time, he has gone on a solo career, releasing most recently the album, “Let me be mine,” which I received from him while we were both performing at an open mic in Paris called Mammalia. The album actually dates from 2013, but it is fabulous, haunting production, with his airy vocals, and lyrics and almost a concept feel to this. And if Yann plays mostly cover songs in places like that open mic, or the restaurant of the Bus Palladium, the album consists of 13 of his songs, plus the very original take on The Beatles song, “Oh! Darling,” which is so original that at first you don’t recognize it – then you go, brilliant!
Wrapping Up With Vincent Lafleur, Velasco, Florian Gasquet, Ant Henson, Claudio Zanetti, Tsipora and DTSQ
And so I come to the round up area at the end of this morning exercise report. I’m not rounding up these final CDs because they are in any way lesser in my heart, but because, holy crap, if I don’t get this page out there tonight, who knows how much longer I’ll be sitting on it before I finish it! It has already been so many months!
As I write these words, I’m pretty sure that Vincent Lafleur is directing the music orchestra on his piano at the crazy Soirée Buzz, in Paris. Vincent is an accomplished pianist, and I have known him for a few years now hosting one open mic or another, and doing the music behind the Soirée Buzz. But until he gave me a copy of his new CD – Mr. Lafleur, “Des racines, Et…” – I had no idea that he was writing his own songs too. And most importantly, where he may sing in English during most of the open mics, here he has written songs in his own language: French. What did not surprise me was that they were written – and sung by him – in the medium in which he seems to feel most at home: Soul. And if Van Morrison can do Irish soul, why not Mr. Lafleur doing French soul! Ok, Mr. Soul, thanks for the CD and 13 songs to savour….
When I showed up at the open mic of the Féline bar the other day I was told I had just missed an incredible electro pop band from South Korea called DTSQ. But I went out front of the place and found them talking to some musicians and I joined in, and together we shared stories of the various bars and venues where they play in South Korea, since I had gone and played there annually for about four years. We knew of some of the same places. I then offered them my CD, and they offered me theirs. Electro, yes indeed, and shocking. Rhythmic would be the word above all others. They gave me both their latest 2015 CD as well as their tour CD of live stuff. I loved how the former was full of fabulously produced electro static, hard stuff and then suddenly, the final track was this somewhat primitively recorded song with the accompaniment of what sounds like a crappy acoustic guitar from the back of some bar somewhere. It was done on purpose as a contrast, no doubt, and it worked wonders.
Ant Henson I met at the open mic at the Noctambules last year that I helped to found and host. He lives in England but came visiting for a while. His CD, “57,” has as its opening song the clever and catchy, “57 Stars,” and that sets the tone for a wonderful collection of 10 songs that Ant told me he had been putting together for years, including something to do with “teenage angst.” Well, the angst was there, but I couldn’t find the “teenage.” It was very catchy CD most of the way through, with the bopping, lively approach that he gets across in his live performances shining through no problem at all.
Now, I said at the beginning of this post that I had 11 CDs, but I think the list grew from when I began to write it, and today when I finished it and post it. I don’t care! I don’t want to count up the number of titles. Suffice it to say that I have four more to talk about, and keep finding myself going into so much detail! So here’s something I’ll try to shorten:
I met Tsipora at the open mic of the Café Jean in Pars, and found her to have a lively, cool voice full of energy and inventiveness. This was clearly confirmed by her CD, “Mes rêves, mes envies,” which again, like Lafleur’s had the lyrics all in French…and was nicely recorded.
Claudio Zaretti’s CD, “Deux Diamants,” let me know what Zanetti was all about after I’ve seen him many times in live performances around Paris, mostly at the old and now defunct “Le Baroc” open mic. Zaretti has crystal clear lyric writing skills, and melodies that place one right in a French tradition that reminds me of people like Michel Delpeche, although I may be totally wrong on that! Zaretti had a small career a few decades ago, and as I understood it, returned fairly recently to music – this is the result – fabulously recorded and produced.
And speaking of French traditions, this CD called “D” by Florian Gasquet, whom I met at the short-lived Zebre Rouge open mic, for me falls right into the tradition of the French chansonnier who focuses so much on the lyrics, story-telling and word painting…. He’s a good guitar player, too. Five songs on this EP, that will take you right into Gasquet’s world.
And now, it is always necessary to have a case of “last but not least,” right? In fact, I really really enjoyed this CD by Velasco, an Italian who lives in Paris, and whom I have met on several occasions mostly at the Some Girls open mic near the Bastille. But I did also happen to bump into him in the park in the Place Vendome recently as we were both picnicking! In any case, this CD, called, “Just Begun,” did not really surprise me for its excellent vocals, solid rock backing, and very lively, moving four songs. All in English, we have here a guy like Yann Destal, who has no problem singing or writing in the language of Shakespeare….
Well, that rounds that up. Another morning exercise crop of CDs and SoundClouds, my 11th edition since I started doing this in April of 2013….