The hits kept coming at the Mountain Music Club last weekend in the Adirondacks — the annual dead-of-winter gathering when a handful of old friends meet up to listen, talk, eat, drink and wander in the snowy woods. We shared old hits, new hits, hits we decided were hits by listening, talking.
“That’s a work of art,” said visiting musician-friend Michael Davis (drummer, from Atlanta), as I slid Fleetwood Mac’s “Bare Trees” into a WAMC tote full of music. (The guys would later agree.) That’s what we were going for: works of art.
Our host, Stephen, had recently discovered early Fleetwood Mac (guitarist Peter Green’s visionary blues band), so I packed five albums, including vinyl of “The Pious Bird of Good Omen” that I’d bought in Tokyo, with a cover photo of a pregnant nun holding a dodo. C’mon! It was still the ’60s!
I also packed music new this year, and things I just wanted to hear on Stephen’s killer stereo in the rustic, remote house he shares, along with a museum exhibit design business, with his wife.
Our plan: Listen with intensity and intent, concentration and conversation. We started on the road. Motoring up past Paul Smiths, Dennis (a real estate legacy consultant from Northampton, and my Jazz Fest accomplice), Dan (a freelance writer from Newburyport) and I listened to New Orleans jazz-funk god Trombone Shorty and the too-little known Dillard & Clark (Gene Clark from the Byrds, Doug Dillard from the Dillards) — perfect mountain road tunes.
After arriving and lamenting the lack of skiable snow, the late, great New Orleans bluesman Johnny Adams etched the ceiling with his falsetto as we chowed down on chili. Sitting between the speakers and facing the fireplace that first (Friday) night, Rosanne Cash’s “The River and the Thread” hit big. Usually we play a track then decide to continue or change albums: Rosanne won instant thumbs-up consensus.
Daft Punk hit like lightweight fun, audio sorbet to cleanse the palate, then parallel Southern strands wove through the night.
From country: Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell, Jason Isbell — his “Elephant” mourning a cancer-stricken barfly was the most devastating tune all night — Vince Gill & Paul Franklin rocking Bakersfield style. From soul and funk: Al Green, Bill Withers, Dayna Kurtz, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band — “Tootie Ma is a Big Fine Thing”! — and the post-Katrina all-star fundraiser “Sing Us Back Home.” Fred Hersch’s solo piano on “The Wee Small Hours of the Morning” was our coda, just past 2.
An eclectic mix
Post-hike-in-the-icy-woods, the New Orleans style lunch of muffalettas (meat, cheese and olive relish sandwiches) from Perreca’s proved prophetic on Saturday. An eclectic mix early — bluesy Fleetwood Mac, political Annabelle Chvostek (ex-Wailing Jennys), folkies Oscar Lopez and James Keelaghan — gave way to Big Easy stalwarts the Meters (live at Jazz Fest), Zachary Richard and John Boutte (he sings the theme on “Treme,” and anything else he wants to).
As Saturday’s swan song, I played Syd Straw’s “Almost Magic” and Stephen reminded us we’d listened to that same stunning song in our first meeting, in 1994. It was almost 3 a.m., we had some bourbon left, but our ears were tired.
More early Fleetwood Mac hit first on Sunday night, then we toggled between old and new: Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite’s “Get Up!” — a young blues man with an old one.
The 1996 Irma Thomas, Tracy Nelson and Marcia Ball trio “Sing It!” had a narrower generational span but the same unity behind a tradition: Southern R&B. A Moby Grape compilation assembled by Bob Irwin reached back further, to San Francisco psychedelic pre-Americana, then Cheryl Wheeler’s right-now sweetness offered perfect contrast. Otis Taylor’s trance-blues didn’t work as well as I’d hoped; neither did Joe Henry later. But Robert Randolph’s heavenly pedal steel did.
Hot new sounds
In between, I DJ’ed this year’s hot sounds: Laura Mvula, Arcade Fire, The Lone Bellow and Vampire Weekend. Listening and talking about them with the guys, I heard for the first time the enormous debt that Vampire Weekend owe Paul Simon.
The guys’ open ears admired these tracks, but when the Lone Bellow’s harmonized sincerity exploded out of the speakers, they became the instant hit discovery of the weekend. Thanks to my friend Meredith for recommending them! We let that one play to the end.
On our last night, knowing we didn’t have time for everything we brought, how could we choose? And, how to follow something that knocked us out, as “The Lone Bellow” did? Dennis answered that one by putting on a wonderful surprise: the Claude Bolling/Jean-Pierre Rampal collaboration. Their piano and flute, respectively, had breathtakingly detailed beauty on Stephen’s big Bang and Olufsen speakers.
Stephen followed with more flute: Debussy’s “Syrinx” played by jazzman Hubert Laws, then Laws’ arrangement of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” A Keith Jarrett piano solo on “I’m Through With Love” was our last song.
Early Monday, driving in a snow squall, jazz guitarist Johnny A carried us past the High Peaks, onto the Northway and home.
For all the range our ears and musical memories and tastes reach, New Orleans remains a dominant flavor — especially the Meters’ raw funk, Boutte’s elegant expression, Dayna Kurtz’s “riot grrrl on the Delta” growl, Richard’s earthiness, Thomas’ suave soulfulness, the swagger of Trombone Shorty and Johnny Adams’ falsetto. Oh, yeah — and the hilarious “Tootie Ma is a Big Fine Thing” by the Preservation Hall guys.
The pristine but swinging Bolling/Rampal music — we all knew it, the stuff was ubiquitous once — sounded amazingly fresh through the detail and impact of that fine sound system.
“The Lone Bellow” filled everybody with hope as much as awe. This music made by Brooklynites young enough to be our kids delivered encouraging news about the endless renewal of music by new talent coming up — “doing it for real,” as Bob Dylan says in the best line of Martin Scorsese’s biopic.
Rediscovering early Fleetwood Mac reminded us the past can be as rich as the future, that memory may fade but good songs stay good.
On the road
Trombone Shorty “Say That to Say This” *
“The Fantastic Expedition of Dillard & Clark” *
Johnny Adams “Reconsider Me”
“The Best of Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac”
Rosanne Cash “The River and the Thread” *
Daft Punk “Get Lucky” from “Random Access Memories”
Al Green “Greatest Hits” and “Let’s Stay Together”
Bill Withers “Greatest Hits”
Janis Ian “This Train” from “Sing it Sister” (Rosetta Tharpe tribute)
Preservation Hall Jazz Band “Tootie Ma is a Big Fine Thing,” others from “That’s It!”
Jason Isbell “Elephant,” others from “Southeastern”
Trombone Shorty “Say That to Say This”
Dayna Kurtz “Secret Canon Vol. 1”
Vince Gill and Paul Franklin “Bakersfield”
“Sing Us Back Home”
Emmylou Harris & Rodney Crowell “Old Yellow Moon” *
Fred Hersch “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” from “Alone at the Village Vanguard”
Fleetwood Mac “The Pious Bird of Good Omen”
Oscar Lopez & James Keelaghan “Compadres” *
Annabelle Chvostek (ex-Wailin’ Jennys) *
The Original Meters “Live at Jazz Fest” with impresario Quint Davis’ bombastic intro
Zachary Richard “Last Kiss” *
John Boutte “All About Everything” *
Syd Straw “Almost Magic” from “Surprise”
Fleetwood Mac “Bare Trees”
Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite “Get It!”
Irma Thomas, Marcia Ball & Tracy Nelson “Sing It!”
Moby Grape “Vintage” (compilation)
Cheryl Wheeler “Northern Girl,” others from “Circles and Arrows”
Otis Taylor “Below the Fold”
Bill Frisell & Vinicius Cantuaria “Lagrimas Mexicanas”
Robert Randolph, John Medeski & the North Mississippi All Stars “The Word”
Laura Mvula “Green Garden” from “Sing to the Moon”
Arcade Fire “Reflektor” title track
“The Lone Bellow” *!!!!
Vampire Weekend “Modern Vampires of the City”
Joe Henry “Civilians”
Claude Bolling & Jean-Pierre Rampal “Suite for Flute & Jazz Piano Trio”
Hubert Laws “Syrinx” (Debussy) and “The Rite of Spring” (Stravinsky)
Keith Jarrett “I Loves You Porgy” and “I’m Through With Love” from “The Melody at Night, With You”
Note: * = Played all the way through; selections, otherwise.
Reach Gazette columnist Michael Hochanadel at firstname.lastname@example.org.