May seems just made for me, with shows by favorite artists: Tom Russell, NRBQ and Davell Crawford this week; Alejandro Escovedo and Terrence Simien next week; Geoff Muldaur and Willie Nile later.
Tonight at the Eighth Step Underground (432 State St., Schenectady), Tom Russell celebrates two new CDs: “Folk Hotel” of new songs and “Old Songs Yet to Sing,” older tunes he re-recorded and feels he sings better now. A bard in a cowboy hat, Russell taught sociology, started singing in public in Vancouver strip joints, drove a New York City cab, won a Woody Guthrie songwriting competition and led bands, but mostly sings solo now. He paints and writes essays and novels, and hits for Johnny Cash, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, Ian Tyson and many more, even a country opera.
Rolling Stone calls Russell “the greatest living folk-country songwriter.” 7:30 p.m. $30 advance, $32 door, $50 front and center. 518-434-1703 www.8thstep.org
On Sunday, NRBQ rocks the Bearsville Theater (291 Tinker St., Woodstock). A human jukebox, they swing Duke, Monk or Sun Ra jazz; they rock the blues, soul or country and leap back to the ’40s or forward past the future. And they uncork originals made of fresh ingredients, tunes of fun-filled wonder. NRBQ is Terry Adams, keyboards; Scott Ligon, guitar; Casey McDonough, bass; John Perrin, drums. They recorded “We Travel the Spaceways” (2011) at the Bearsville Theater and they like the room. 8 p.m. doors 7. $25 advance, $30 on Sunday, $35 reserved balcony. 845-679-4406 www.bearsvilletheater.com
New Orleans piano prince Davell Crawford plays Wednesday at the Cock ’N Bull (5342 Parkis Mills Road, Galway). Crawford honored the late, great Fats Domino at Jazz Fest in his hometown last Saturday with Bonnie Raitt, Jon Batiste, Irma Thomas and others, then rocked clubs all over town that same week. Nobody plays Fats’ music better than Crawford. Dinner seating 5:30-6:45 p.m., showtime 7:30. $60 New Orleans-style three-course dinner and show, $25 show only. 518-882-6962 www.thecockandbull.com
Little Steven (Van Zandt) and the Disciples of Soul rock the Palace (19 Clinton Ave. at N. Pearl St., Albany) on Friday. The E Street Band guitarist, actor (“The Sopranos,” “Lillehammer”) and “Underground Garage” radio host/curator just released his second album, “Soulfire.” His BIG band features Troy-born bassist Jack Daley plus horns and singers. 8 p.m. $74.50, $59.50, $49.50, $39.50, $29.50. 518-465-4663 www.palacealbany.org
Soul man Ellis Hall sings Friday at Caffe Lena (47 Phila St., Saratoga Springs). Strong-voiced, sightless, he sang at Helen Keller’s funeral and for Nelson Mandela, won an Ovation Theater Award for “Gospel At Colonus” on Broadway and fronted the Oakland funk machine Tower of Power. 8 p.m. $22 advance, $25 door, $12.50 student and child — add $5.80 for the Caffe anniversary fund. 518-583-0022 www.caffelena.org
Singer-songwriter Todd Sheaffer — front man of folk-rock bands From Good Homes and Railroad Earth — starts the Caffe weekend tonight. 7 p.m. $20 advance, $22 door, $11 students and children
Trumpeter Chris Pasin’s Ornettiquette tribute to Ornette Coleman last Thursday filled the Spring Street Gallery in Saratoga — a cozy, jewel box of a room, a stage in one corner — with fiery free-jazz jubilation. It was spiky, sincere and strong. They played Coleman’s questing tunes, including a dizzying distension of “Out of Nowhere” (beautifully unrecognizable) and a bristling outburst in “Lonely Woman” (deliciously dissonant, but lyrical); also songs of similar vintage — they started with Albert Ayler’s forceful “Ghosts” — and originals in the spirit of similar post-bop power.
When Pasin and alto sax player Adam Siegel explored far out into the ozone, the New York City rhythm section of Michael Bisio (bass) and Harvey Sorgen (drums) laid down a pathway to bring everybody home. Pasin’s original “OC DC” had as much mystery and muscle as any Coleman number they recreated earlier. Imagine standing on a beach with the tide tugging the sand away under your feet while still feeling grounded in sea and sand and sky — absolutely thrilling.
In his return Sunday to the Eighth Step, troubadour John Gorka, playing solo, struck a calmer, quieter note than Ornettiquette; but so would an Airbus landing on your street. Gorka wrapped new songs from “True In Time” (his 14th album) around vintage fan faves (and his own) in a witty autobiography of talk and tunes. Inspired by the day-apart deaths of Carrie Fisher and Debbie Reynolds, and Paul Simon’s “Mother and Child Reunion,” the new album’s title track solemnly proclaimed, “The past is here, or close behind.” His chestnut “I’m From New Jersey” (“I don’t expect … too much”) stated, “If the world ended today, I would adjust,” but he punctuated this with a defiant finger poke and fatalistic shrug.
Gorky got some quiet sing-alongs going, but that’s a tough sell: Who’d want to sing over his magnificent voice?
New songs reached back poignantly to his Pennsylvania college days — “Nazarene Guitar” and “Mennonite Girl” — while others reached further back: “The Ballad of Iris & Pearl” wove a Zelig-like folklore fantasy. He said “Nazarene” was a request, but from two weeks ago, and dry whimsy spiced both song and speech. While he claimed only five of his hundreds of songs are positive — and he writes heartbreak really well — he served up hope in his encore: “Particle and Wave,” inspired by the March for Our Lives.
Nice uplift for a rainy, cold Sunday.
RIP CHARLES NEVILLE
Charles Neville died of cancer last week at 79 at home near Northampton, Mass. A pro by 15, he toured with blues giants, rocked in the house band at the Dew Drop Inn and added jazz sax spice to the Neville Brothers from 1976 to their 2012 split. He played on with brother Aaron, with bands featuring several sons and as guest with every jazz crew that played the Valley.
The Neville Brothers played my first Jazz Fest, in 2008, their first after Katrina. I marveled then and since: How can he play while smiling?