Jukebox: Grammy mood swings … a few hits, too many misses

Overcompensating is typical of most embarrassing of show-biz awards
Brantley Gilbert will perform at the Times Union Center on Saturday night.
Brantley Gilbert will perform at the Times Union Center on Saturday night.

I tried to watch the Grammys on Sunday. Really.

I had to bail after rapper Kendrick Lamar and a taiko drummer poured shiny, show-biz cheese (pyro, retina-roasting lights) through my TV, part of a kaleido-stylistic performance The New York Times praised. I dove to WMHT and saw Texas guitarists Jimmie Vaughan (66) and Gary Clarke Jr. (33) deliver more music, more feel, more real in two minutes on “Speakeasy” than that whole Grammy mess. They were just jukin’ the blues together on a bare stage, overloading their clip-on talk mikes by singing — doing it for real.

Let’s hear it for the real. Maybe the Grammys will go there one day. 

Meanwhile, they’ve finally discovered rap/hip-hop, just 38 years after the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” transformed pop music and R&B, and 34 years after Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five played the first big rap show here at Mayfest. (Paul Young and NRBQ also played that Albany freebie festival at then-SUNY Albany, and both played here last year, but I digress.)

All the Grammy nominees for Record of the Year boomed from the hip-hop end of the pop spectrum, plus all but one of the Album of the Year nominees and most of those for Song of the Year, Best New Artist and Pop Solo Performance.

Overcompensating is typical of the Grammys, the most embarrassing of show-biz awards. Culturally myopic (A Taste of Honey, Milli Vanilli), shuffling categories in confusion, often at least borderline racist and sexist, the Grammys overcorrect in wild pendulum swings. This year’s distortion never balances last year’s. Rewarding commerce rather than creativity — innovators make art, imitators do business and sell big — why not just pile Grammys on Billboard’s chart-toppers?

Sunday, they did, raining big on Bruno Mars. His Song of the Year winner “That’s What I Like” took eight writers to compose: either full-band credit-sharing or assembly-line “product.” Call it “That’s What WE Like” and sing of money.

In the show (I dropped back in some), props to Sting for trumping the immigration pissing contest with “Englishman in New York” — he sang “I’m an alien, I’m a legal alien, I’m an Englishman in New York” — and to Hilary Clinton and others for reading “Fire and Fury” excerpts, and to those who spoke or sang of pressing issues with more guts and smarts than Congress. Janelle Monae!

As to the awards, honoring Leonard Cohen for the deathbed farewell “You Want it Darker” has a shameful catch-up urgency to praise a venerable, overlooked artist; it’s also a great, grim, album, painfully real. The War on Drugs’ win for “A Deeper Understanding,” the sweep of Best American Roots Song and Best Americana Album by Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — at the Palace last night with James McMurtry — and the Rolling Stones’ win for Best Traditional Blues Album for “Blue & Lonesome,” and many of the jazz picks, seem right on the nose, if not the money … 


Hats off to Jon Batiste and Stay Human for rocking “Grazin’ in the Grass” on The Late Show in tribute to Hugh Masekela the night we heard Masekela had died. Masekela opened a big door at the Monterey International Pop Festival in June 1967. For me and for many, the South African trumpeter, singer and activist was the visa to what later became known as the Afro-pop department of world music. The music Masekela made that night was purer, harder and less Americanized than “Grazing” (which he added at the last minute to fill out his debut album, but I digress). Even watered down (as in “Grazing”), his music had fun beats with busy syncopation, uplifting declarative lyrics and happy, bright melodies. 


“Cute” and “formidable” seldom go together; but that’s pianist Joey Alexander. Last Saturday at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, he proved jazz is in good, young hands. Just 14 (bassist Charnet Moffett is 50, drummer Justin Faulkner 26), so tiny he could curl up in Moffet’s bass case, Alexander laid down such rock-steady rhythms that his sidemen (upgrades from his previous trio) played off him with total confidence and gleeful grins. Alexander led with melody also, except when Moffett soloed, as in “Space,” their earthiest number; and the trio is already a tight, closely listening and supportive band. Their sizzling stop-and-go in “Buzz,” their cheerful, dazzling opener, tested and proved their precise cohesion, on impressive display throughout their 90 minutes onstage before a big, awed crowd.

The show seemed faster, shorter, somehow, because the mood was so up, so happy, though nothing felt superficial. In ’Trane’s spry bebop “Moments Notice,” they went bluesy and deep, Faulkner’s solo exploding in 3, 4 and 5 at once and Alexander going all McCoy (Tyner) in an exposed solo coda. Like fellow piano prodigy Hiromi Uehara (now 38, she debuted here at the Van Dyck), Alexander stood to play at times, but he also settled in on ballads to inviting effect, making a caress of Monk’s “Round Midnight.”

Bali born, planetary in his talent and ambition, Alexander proved that jazz is world music in the most expansive sense, music that works anywhere in the world, and with all ages, too. A boy about 4 sat in his dad’s lap across the aisle from me, alongside his mom and brothers, but he listened. Good parents!


Georgian Brantley Gilbert serves country comfort food — party pop about dirt roads through small towns: “Kick It in the Sticks” — Saturday at the Times Union Center (51 S. Pearl St., Albany). He calls this “The Ones That Like Me” tour; and many do. His four albums — “Modern Day Prodigal Son” hit in 2009, “The Devil Don’t Sleep” last year — have spawned four No. 1 singles. Aaron Lewis and Josh Phillips open; all three wear ball-caps in their publicity photos. 7 p.m. $59.75, $45, $34.75, $29.75. 800-745-3000 www.timesunioncenter-albany.com


Only one woman won a Grammy, New Artist Alessia Cara, but three terrific women sing here this week.

Texas-to-Nashville indie/country singer-songwriter Lera Lynn plays Friday at the Massry Center at The College of Saint Rose (1002 Madison Ave., Albany). Her “Resistor” album (2016) frames her agile voice in folk-rock shuffles of surge and smarts; baritone guitar, too. 8 p.m. $35. 518-337-4871 www.massrycenter.org

Also Friday, Midwestern troubadour Lissie sings at WAMC’s The Linda (339 Central Ave., Albany) — another strong, pretty voice coupled with a clear artistic vision. She writes cool songs but also isn’t afraid to sing such iconic covers as Joni Mitchell’s “River.” Her new album “Castles” hits next month; she’ll likely bring those new songs to The Linda. 8 p.m. $12. 518-465-5233 www.thelinda.org

On Wednesday, soulful Memphis-born Valerie June sings and plays bluesy rock — spacey, funky and fun — at The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany). Her video for “Got Soul” earns its title: She sings in her high, clear voice and plays banjo under the Brooklyn Bridge: city and country, rock and soul, sweet and strong. 7:30 p.m. $35 $25. 518-473-1845 www.theegg.org


Good thing percussion ace Brian Melick lives nearby. He plays Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs) Friday and Saturday. (Don’t be surprised if he completes this musical hat-trick by joining Binghamton bluegrass modernists Driftwood tonight, just to get the ball rolling! 7 p.m. $22 advance, $24 door, $12 students and children

On Friday, Melick accompanies top area troubadour Kevin McKrell, who fired up Albany’s Women’s March like he fires up everywhere else, including the longtime holiday celebration at The Egg with the Mountain Snow Orchestra. McKrell and Melick are a hoot and a holler, the Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, the Abbott and Costello of folk; but seriously strong music makers, too — Irish ballads, a specialty. 8 p.m. $16 advance, $18 door, $9 students and children. 518-583-0022 www.caffelena.org

On Saturday, Melick goes old-school European with jazz combo Golfstrom: Sergei Nirenburg, accordion; Jonathan Greene, reeds; Bobby Kendall, bass; and singer Jeanine Ouderkirk Kopp. Think “Cabaret” minus the decadence. 8 p.m. $16 advance, $18, $16 door, $9 students and children


Want more accordions? The Accordion Virtuosi of Russia ensemble brings 11 of them to the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall (30 Second St.) on Wednesday, plus other instruments. Pavel Smirnov founded the group in 1943 during the Siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg). Now his grandson leads them in classical favorites, show tunes and pop. 7:30p.m. $34, $29. 518-273-0038 www.troymusichall.org

Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at [email protected].

Categories: Entertainment

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