Self-styled dean of rock critics Robert Christgau — he writes the best record reviews going — calls Wussy “the best band in America,” A-rating all their albums. They rocked their 2014 Low Beat show onto my top 10; but it’s different this time.
Wussy’s main singer/writers Chuck Cleaver and Lisa Walker, plus the Cincinnati band’s utility man Mark Messerly, play the Low Beat (335 Central Ave., Albany) tonight, a trio round-robin showcase of solo albums and Wussy tunes.
Haven’t heard Walker’s “Magic Words” or Messerly’s “INERT” albums, but Cleaver’s “Send Aid” hits like another Wussy masterpiece. Each tough/sweet tune makes its point in less than four minutes.
Live, they’re righteous and raw, rocking with loud candor about agonizing breakups, cautiously optimistic make-ups and fuzzy futures. A vocal dumptruck, Cleaver roars big and carries a lot; Walker is all grace and grit. They hold back nothing, singing tough, emotional history. Their bold sound bristles with counter-melodies, welding syllables to beats for a tight, cohesive feel. They’re ferocious, uncompromising and exhilarating; workmanlike and vulnerable in the best blue-collar way. (Cleaver carves headstones, Walker waits tables.) Their gloriously human noise feels hard-earned but sweet, and they mean it in their bones. The Cleaver-Walker-Messerly Wussy distillation plays The Low Beat tonight. Cleaver and Walker play guitar, Messerly bass and keyboards. 7:30 p.m. $10. 518-432-6752 www.thelowbeat.com
Before and after the Tijuana Brass and Brasil 66, trumpeter Herb Alpert and singer-wife Lani Hall made straight-ahead jazz. They lead a jazz trio Sunday at The Egg (Empire State Plaza, Albany) in tunes from the Beatles to Irving Berlin. 7:30 p.m. $39.50. 518-473-1845 www.theegg.org
Detroit blues singer Thornetta Davis headlines Music Haven’s Summer Social Sunday. Recording since 1996, Davis has won 30 Detroit Music Awards and some Blues Foundation award nominations, scoring high-profile TV and tour credits. Local hero Tas Cru and his Tortured Souls open. The show is free; the pre-show Summer Social requires admission. www.musichavenstage.org — click on Summer Social. 7 p.m. Rain site: Proctors
Also Sunday, the Rebirth Brass Band from New Orleans plays the Skyloft (1 Crossgates Mall Road, Albany). Serenading Second Line parades, rocking Jazz Fest and every club or theater anywhere, Rebirth played the first music heard in “Treme” and delights fans here whenever they swing their brass-band punch. 8 p.m. $25 advance, $30 door. 518-869-5638 www.skyloftny.com
JAZZ ON JAY
Hit my first Jazz on Jay show of the season last week and caught young alto sax-man Awan Jenkins in a muscular combo co-starring keyboardist David Gleason whose expertise with Latin beats and harmonies leaped “Tico Tico” and “St. Thomas” over the Caribbean. The quartet’s straight-ahead post-bop spanned originals and chestnuts, including the spunky “Confirmation” and the apt “On the Sunny Side of Street.” Most fans sat on the shady side.
Jazz on Jay presents trumpeter Dylan Canterbury with his Quintet today at noon. Rain site: Robb Alley at Proctors
Leadership and balance powered superb shows last week by Our Native Daughters and the Huntertones. The conservatory-trained Huntertones played precise fun-funk, sparkplugged by trumpeter John Lampley’s energy, while Rhiannon Giddens orchestrated a chord of talent so her bandmates got to shine.
At Music Haven last Thursday, the Huntertones escaped obvious New Orleans brass-band expectations, distilling their sound at times to just Sousaphone, sax and beat-boxing in medleys of Stevie Wonder and Queen. They drove us to the “Camptown Races,” but this felt no more antique than original modern-funk workouts.
At full strength they were formidable; “Clutch” clutched a brass ring of beats and held on tight; “Togo” glided on Sousaphone blasts. Their honking, happy music made everybody happy, especially when Lampley exhorted the band in gleeful shout-outs or body-rocked the whole crew into dancing, as in “Bad David,” a delirious explosion of brassy exclamation.
Last Saturday at The Egg, Our Native Daughters staked a bold, beautiful “sisterhood-is-powerful” claim that black music is all music, a sonic saga of slavery, rape and lynching transmuted into glorious sound by fierce principle as much as musical strength.
Giddens, Amythyst Kiah, Layla McCalla and Allison Russell linked their own stories of Africa, of the Caribbean, of the south, of cities and farms, to harrowing history. They also lifted us on joyful wings of hard-won survival through durable family heritage and pride. In the first go-round, each played banjo while she sang lead; McCalla later played cello, Giddens doubled on violin and Russell played clarinet and uke while Kiah mainly played guitar.
But, oh, the voices!
All four eclipsed what we admire of their past solo singing by blending in moral meaning and musical force. Even crooning quietly, they churched us; but their ferocious feel of righteous rage and defiance blossomed best in call and response dialogue. To a litany of outrage in “Moon Meets the Sun,” they asserted survival: “We’re dancing.” Mourning a woman who killed her rapist (but was naively betrayed by her son) in “Mama’s Cryin’ Long,” Giddens raised a heartbroken (and -breaking) wail against doomy bass-drum and frantic handclaps while the others Greek-chorused a horrifying story.
The stage setup underlined their strength: four intrepid women weaving woe and wonder in front of three men musicians: Francesco Turrisi, piano and accordion; Jason Cypher, bass; and Jamie Dick, drums. So did their retelling of the John Henry legend: In “Polly Ann’s Hammer,” a woman finishes the chore that killed her man, then makes dinner.
Before the earned Gospel-y joy of “Up Above My Head” sent everyone home energized and at peace, they dragged us through hell, then sang us to hope.