Fringe Gift Guide, 1.0
FRINGE PRODUCTS EMPORIUM: Sadly, our appetite for NRBQ shows may go unsated, short of a trip to their Northeastern reunion gigs. This beloved American band retired from touring in 2004, after countless years of road duty. Thankfully, they played SOhO a couple of times before hanging up their travelin’ shoes.
NRBQ as a live, touring entity is dead: Long live Terry Adams. The band’s irrepressible keyboardist for these many years (the band started in 1967), he has released a fine, rollicking, and surprise-filled solo album, Rhythm Spell (Clang). The old Q magic is intact, plus extra winks and twists. Uniquely, Adams finds a through line among such figures as Jerry Lee Lewis, Thelonious Monk, James Booker, and Sun Ra. But that pesky list-making tendency does little justice to a pressing fact: Adams is his own invention, respected by many in the know, but not well enough known in the “outside world.”
Rhythm Spell chugs with the energy, the carefully tended musicality-often on his signature clavinet-and the rubbery humor we’ve come to expect from one of American music’s goofball geniuses. He frames the album with intro and ending ditties: “Howard Hughes” (“Howard Hughes? / Very fine, thank you :”) and the self-explanatory exit strategy tune “Outta’ Here.” Quirks sneak into the mix, like the brief, playful coda of “Nature’s Gonna Pay You Back”: “I’ve been told by the young and old that the streets of gold are lined with heaven.” The title song, “Rhythm Spell,” exploits the bouncy rhythm magic of bassist T-Bone Wolk and drummer Tom Ardolino (from the Q), but a few 2/4 bars sneak into the stew. For the pure pop sweetness Adams is also capable of, check out “Every Thing I Do,” with smart, Bacharach-esque chord changes coloring its ode to true love for a moment of romantic relief.
Adams will be 60 next year, but he maintains a blessedly childlike charm, no matter how the years add up. Time and the bleary parade of pop fashions got nothin’ on him. Word has it he’ll be touring out West come spring. A stop at SOhO, perchance?
HELMING BACK TO HEALTH: Speaking of solo work by members of great American bands, Levon Helm has released a marvelous new album called Dirt Farmer. Helm wraps his twangy voice around traditional songs like J.B. Lenoir’s classic “Feelin’ Good,” and more recent songs by Steve Earle and Buddy and Julie Miller, but he also stirs up reminders of his central role in The Band. (Is it possible they are the best “rock” band America has known or produced-despite having mostly dropped down from Canada? The answer is “yes.”)
Helm, also feelin’ good after licking cancer recently, is the last living member of The Band’s original trio of main singers, Rick Danko and Richard Manuel having passed on. Dirt Farmer, Helm’s first solo album in 25 years, was recorded in his studio in Woodstock, New York, and is a gutsy, rootsy jewel, one of the year’s bona fide prizes.
TO-DOINGS: Adventurous local listeners have their work cut out for them tonight-December 6-as three offbeat and recommended shows descend on the calendar. From the holiday-flavored end of the spectrum, we get a second annual local edition of New Yorker Phil Kline’s “Unsilent Night.” Anyone capable of propelling themselves down the street can show up at Contemporary Arts Forum at 6:30 p.m. (preferably on a bring-your-own-boombox basis) and become part of an alt-yuletide parade of dreamy, phase-shifting musical experience.
At Red’s at 8 p.m., the ambitious “Experimental Music Night” hosts a rare visit by famous/infamous, serious/wacky avant-Americana gadfly Eugene Chadbourne. Saxist Colter Frazier and drummer Rob Wallace, founders of the series, have just released an impressive and empathetic improvised CD on pfMENTUM, and they will open the show. Meanwhile, the UCSB-based Ensemble for Contemporary Music performs at Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall. On the menu is music by Ned Rorem, Charles Koechlin, and more. Have a hot, brainy time on the old town tonight.