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Elvis Costello Rattles the Orpheum Theatre
Some fourteen years ago, Elvis Costello endeared himself to many Memphians while in Mississippi to record The Delivery Man. Of course, his fans were already legion here, but this was when he had time to kill, and he killed it with many locals. I was a lucky hanger-on backstage at the old Hi-Tone, when the late, great B.B. Cunningham met with him and recalled their first encounter many years earlier. "Of course," said Cunningham, "we were both a little skinnier back then..."

"Oh that's all right, though," said Costello, beating his chest a little, "we're just getting up to fighting weight now!" It struck me then that this icon of gangly nerds the world over was actually pretty tough; I could easily picture him holding his own in a scrap down 'round the pub.

I thought of those days as he took to the stage with the Imposters once again last Monday night. The band threw us off briefly, with a feint in the direction of canned rhythm tracks as they took the stage; but soon they launched into a ferocious "This Year's Girl" and it was clear that the Imposters were fully engaged. And Elvis was clearly up to fighting weight, looking more nonchalant than in previous shows, but entirely committed once he approached the mic.

From the start, it was clear that the band (with Kitten Kuroi and Briana Lee on background vocals, Davey Faragher on bass, Steve Nieve on keys, and Pete Thomas on drums) would need every ounce of tenacity they had to overcome the audio mix. As many touring musicians know, live sound engineers are often fixated on the kick drum, and this night was a classic example. It was so loud and boomy in the mix that it muddied every other sound on stage, even to the point of obscuring the actual bass notes. This was a sticking point for many music-savvy Memphians, as I discovered in the days the followed. One man was escorted out of the hall for shouting at the sound engineer. Another claimed he was nearly moved to violence over it, noting the hundreds of dollars he and his wife had spent on a gala "date night" that, for them, was compromised.

But the band rose above the atrocious mix with road-seasoned professionalism, and Elvis' vocals punched through the booming crud of low frequencies. Though the machine-gun lyrics of some of his earlier songs were a challenge to keep up with, Costello never phoned it in. Every word was loaded with nuanced meanings, even more so than in his brutal youth.

Steve Nieve and Pete Thomas, with Costello for some forty years now, were also all-in. Nieve, surrounded with every conceivable keyboard, as if to compensate for his early years with only a Vox Continental organ, made his entire armory sparkle. "Clubland" shone with his brilliant piano work in a Cuban vein. All eras of music were up for grabs with this band.

This was especially clear when Costello stepped over to a vintage (looking) microphone for the quieter, slower ballads, somehow evoking his own father's tenure with the Joe Loss Orchestra. As Elvis the Storyteller emerged, many of these tunes were set up with a preamble of sorts. "Imagine a woman sitting there, wrapped in the fur of another animal..." he said before launching into "Don't Look Now," one of many he's penned with Burt Bacharach. "Sometimes you have to put people up on a pedestal, just to see them more clearly," he said, adding, "until, like a Confederate General, they come tumbling down." As an appreciative gasp of recognition went through the crowd, he quipped with faux coyness, "Aw, I didn't mean anything by it!"

Bacharach loomed large over the night, partly because the ballads were so strong, unhampered by the kick drum. But also because old songs were transformed in his image. As the band vamped in a quieter mode, Elvis freestyled lyrics from "The Look of Love," before launching into "Photographs Can Lie," another collaboration between the two. This in turn colored "Temptation," a number from Get Happy! that has aged well.

That was nothing compared to the next transformation. "I wrote this when I was 26," Elvis explained with a smile. "The world wasn't ready for it then, but I think I can safely say, you've all caught up. It's written on every tortured line on your faces." (Or something to that effect.) And then a somber reading of  Imperial Bedroom's "Tears Before Bedtime" emerged, with a stately, quiet power.

The set, ranging from such moments to ravers from his back catalog, was a roller coaster. The background singers, Kuroi and Lee, were phenomenal, especially on the ballads. To these ears, they may have been too much of a good thing on old rockers like "Mystery Dance," the essence of which lives in its stark raggedness. One longtime fan was more dismissive. "Elvis Costello and Dawn!" he quipped; but others were deeply moved by their powerful voices, which even graced the classic "Alison" with gospel-like melisma.

Such quibbles aside, Costello & company whipped the crowd into a frenzy by the night's end, pulling everyone out of their seats with set-closer "Pump It Up," and keeping them aloft through a generous ten-song encore that culminated in a rousing "What's So Funny About Peace, Love, and Understanding." "Thank you! We love you!" Elvis shouted. "Both individually and as a group!"

Set List:
This Year's Girl
Honey, Are You Straight or Are You Blind?
Don't Look Now
Burnt Sugar is So Bitter
Green Shirt
The Look of Love/Photographs Can Lie
Tears Before Bedtime
Moods for Moderns
Why Won't Heaven Help Me?
Either Side of the Same Town
Watching the Detectives
Deep Dark Truthful Mirror
He's Given Me Things
Mystery Dance
Waiting for the End of the World
Beyond Belief
Pump It Up

Every Day I Write the Book
The Judgement
I Can't Stand Up for Falling Down
High Fidelity
Unwanted Number
Suspect My Tears
I Don't Want to Go To Chelsea
Mr. and Mrs. Hush
What's So Funny About Peace, Love, & Understanding?

See the show via the eye of Jamie Harmon, in the slideshow below:
Acoustic Sunday Live presents Dave Bromberg and Others

Nestled between Memphis' many music festivals, Acoustic Sunday Live doesn't always get much attention. But don't let that lull you into indifference. For a quarter century, this labor of love has been bringing some serious talent to town, always to the benefit of local causes.

Bruce Newman, the founder and chief organizer of the series, describes its origins: "We started out about 24 years ago with a Woody Guthrie tribute. I had Richie Havens, Odetta, Ramblin' Jack Elliott, and Tom Paxton. And then, over the years, we've had Guy Clark, Gretchen Peters; last year, we did Kathy McCay and Tom Paxton again. Jonathan Edwards one year. Just acoustic artists."

Each show in the series is a benefit for a different local institution. "It's always for a cause," Newman notes. "Like last year's show at the Halloran Centre was for Indie Memphis."

The artists tend to be of the ilk featured on Newman's weekly radio show on WEVL, Folk Song Fiesta. And this year is no different, with this Sunday's concert featuring Dave Bromberg, Tom Chapin, Shemekia Copeland, Bobby Rush, and John Kilzer. The beneficiary will be Protect Our Aquifer, a nonprofit "dedicated to protecting and conserving the Memphis Sand Aquifer," the source of Memphis' drinking water.

Newman notes that this year's beneficiary is more "political" than most. "Even though," he adds, "I don't even see why it should be a political issue. It's our water, right? This is an asset that just has to be protected. Doesn't matter what side you're on."

One of Sunday's star performers is Dave Bromberg, who's no stranger to combining politics and music, being one of the most distinct voices to emerge from the New York folk scene of the 1960s. Still, that association doesn't quite sit right with Bromberg. "I don't know that I was ever really a folkie, past 1960, but I've always been accused of that," he says. "The term is very limiting, because there are many radio stations who have decided that's who I am."

Ironically, Bromberg's love of all things musical played a role in his leaving show business for an extended time. After writing and performing with the likes of George Harrison and Bob Dylan, among others, he notes, "I got really burnt out from performing too much. And at the point where I was really doing the most, and playing for the largest audiences, and getting the most radio play, I completely stopped playing for 22 years. All I knew was, when I wasn't on the road, I wasn't practicing, I wasn't jamming, and I wasn't writing. I questioned that and decided I didn't wanna be one of these guys who drags himself onto the stage, doing a bitter imitation of what he used to love." He changed course into work that he does to this day. "I decided I had to find another way to lead my life. What I wanted to learn was how to identify different violins. It's like art appraisal. You have to recognize not only the brush strokes but the chisel strokes to really get an idea of what's what."

In recent years, Bromberg has eased back into recording and performing. Two years ago he released The Blues, the Whole Blues, and Nothing But the Blues, which, with its full-band, Chicago-style jams, should break the "folkie" tag once and for all. Yet he remains a master of solo performance and plans to play acoustic versions of many of the album's tracks Sunday night. And as for the politics of our aquifer, Bromberg's only too happy to support the cause. "The water thing is only now beginning to be important," he notes. "It's gonna get a lot more important. We're almost over oil. But water, I don't know if there's a way past water."

The Concert to Protect Our Aquifer, Sunday, December 9th, 7–10 p.m., St. John's United Methodist Church, 1207 Peabody Ave.; Tickets, $50-$100.

Barbara Blue’s Latest Features Old School and New

Even Barbara Blue sounds a little surprised at the talent she gathered together for her latest album, Fish in Dirty H20. While it's true that the blues belter, a regular performer at Silky O'Sullivan's on Beale Street, has worked with some serious contenders in the past (including three albums with Taj Mahal's Phantom Blues Band in the 1990s), she couldn't have predicted that her latest effort would feature one of the greatest drummers in the history of jazz, funk, and soul: Bernard "Pretty" Purdie.

Purdie's work, of course, became legendary soon after he first made his mark drumming for Mickey and Sylvia in the New York scene of the early 1960s. It wasn't long before he was contributing to albums by James Brown, David "Fathead" Newman, Herbie Mann, B.B. King, Dizzy Gillespie, Robert Palmer's Insect Trust, and many others. Pop fans might be most familiar with his solid grooves on hits like "O-o-h Child" or Aretha Franklin's "Rock Steady" and "Day Dreaming," but he also chalked up a number of albums as a bandleader in his own right, now often sampled in hip-hop productions.

Cut to 2017, when both Purdie and Blue were performing at the Porretta Soul Festival in Italy. "Porretta is known for these little doughnuts they make over there," explains Blue. "They're halfway between a cookie and a doughnut. I'd take 'em to everybody, just to give 'em out. So when I saw Celia, Bernard's wife, I said 'Here, I found these, they're delicious.' She looked at me with tears in her eyes. She's Italian to the bone, from New York. She's got tears in her eyes and says, 'My nonni used to make these.' And we've been like family ever since."

She felt an immediate bond with Bernard as well, she adds, because "we have the same musical philosophy on a lot of things." Recruiting him to cut her latest album was a simple matter. It helped that she had secured time at a studio on Pickwick Lake operated by multi-platinum producer Jim Gaines, best known for his hits with Huey Lewis and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Gaines' approach to production suited Blue just fine. As he recently told Tape Op magazine, "I try to capture a little bit of live-ness to the music ... . I do it today with a lot of bands that work with me. I look at it as if you're going to see a live performance. That's the sound I want to hear, except with us in control."

And that's precisely what you get with Fish in Dirty H20. To hear Blue tell it, working with Purdie made live-tracking easy. "We drive each other, because we drive for perfection. We had nine one-take songs on this 13-track record. With Bernard, you get it the first time. But I had other great people in the studio. I had [former Stax and Enterprise keyboardist] Lester Snell, I had Dave Smith on bass, and most of the time I had Will McFarlane on guitar. Bernard is cerebral. We'd discuss it, and then we'd hit it. And we had a ball at it."

Overdubs of horns, background vocals, and other textures were added later. But one overdub in particular took the album in a direction unheard of on almost any blues record to date: a rap by one Al Kapone. "Al texted me and said, 'C'mon I wanna be on your record'," says Blue. "And I said, 'Funny you should say that ... ' So he sent me back a scratch track. I almost fell to the floor. So Jim's sitting at the computer, we're listening to it, and he says, 'Barbara, I love it. But I'm gonna tell ya, my professional friends are gonna think I lost my fucking mind!' The cool thing was, Jim had never seen anybody rap like this before. And Al knew exactly where he wanted to be."

The final product is a testament to Blue's hard-won life experience, and the gritty power of the blues to convey it. "I've been singing in bars since I was 13 years old. I've watched people come in who are trying to mend their marriage. I've watched people who are having affairs. I've watched people who are sending their kid overseas in a Navy uniform. And I can tell you: People don't always go there because they're happy."

In Memoriam: Patrick Mathé of New Rose & Last Call Records
(image) Today, the French journal Libération reports that Patrick Mathé, co-founder of New Rose Records and Last Call Records, has died. The details are not available at this time. He was 69.
The importance of both labels to Memphis music, and underground music in general, can scarcely be overstated. After working to import punk music to France, starting in 1976, Mathé opened the New Rose record store in Paris in 1980. Soon after, he and partner Louis Thévenon started the label of the same name.

Their first release, the Saints' Paralytic Tonight, Dublin Tomorrow, set the tone for a long track record of soulful garage rock, alternative, and punk music. Many Memphis-associated artists were eventually released on the label, including Alex Chilton, Tav Falco & His Unapproachable Panther Burns, the Hellcats, and the Country Rockers. Chilton, after releasing two Eps on Big Time, shored up his career revival in the mid-’80s with High Priest, Black List, and Clichés on New Rose. The label also released such Chilton-produced gems as the Gories' I Know You Fine But How You Doin'? and Les Lolitas' Fusée D'Amour.

Even renegade country groups like the Country Rockers or Our Favorite Band, some of the first artists recorded by Memphis' Doug Easley (who would doubtless be rejected by today's gatekeepers of Americana), were welcomed by New Rose, as were many other unclassifiable combos. Many of them were featured on compilations like the multi-band Everyday is a Holly Day, a tribute to Buddy Holly, as well as on albums under their own names. 
In the 90s, New Rose was put on ice, as Mathé launched Last Call Records with much the same aesthetic as its predecessor. Perhaps that label's greatest achievement, subjectively speaking, was the brilliant Cubist Blues, an improvised album by Alex Chilton, Ben Vaughn, and Alan Vega, released in 1996. It also re-released many older New Rose titles, and continued to operate well into the 21st Century. As Vaughn wrote in a Facebook post today, “He was the first true 'bon vivant' I ever met. A great music man. He will definitely be missed.”

Work by Natalie Eddings
Opening reception Friday, November 16, 5-7pm
Martha and Robert Fogelman Galleries of Contemporary Art
University of Memphis/Art & Communication Building/Department of Art Rooms 230 & 240

"Press," the first solo exhibition of University of Memphis alumna Natalie Eddings (BFA, 2018), is a vicarious navigation of intergenerational racial trauma and minority stress—where it comes from, what it looks like, and how, perhaps, we deal with it. The exhibition observes collisions of the term “press”—of the past and the present, formalized in the bodies and souls of oppressed peoples featured in Eddings’ layered photographic portraits. 

In the exhibition, Eddings creates a dichotomy of the word “press.” On one hand, she interprets it as the press, or media coverage, journalism, and the distribution of news. This understanding of “press” is described, in part, by the First Amendment of the Constitution. On the other hand, she considers “press” as a root word derived from the Latin "pressare" which means to press down, hold fast or hold down, cover, crowd, compress. This is the basis for such words as impress, depress, oppress, suppress, repress, and others. She ascribes this understanding of the word to the essential nature of oppressed peoples. 

Faculty in the UofM Department of Art selected Eddings from the Fall 2017 and Spring 2018 graduating Bachelor of Fine Arts classes for this prestigious solo exhibition. An annual tradition, this exhibition provides an outstanding graduate with the opportunity to present a body of work as well as develop and execute an exhibition concept with Fogelman Galleries staff.

Image: Natalie Eddings, "Ode to Ethiopianism," 2018. Giclée photographic print, 36 x 24 in. Courtesy of the artist.
Guitar Great Calvin Newborn Passes Away Suddenly
Calvin Edwin Newborn, phenomenal jazz and blues guitarist, son of bandleader Phineas Newborn, Sr. and Mama Rose Newborn, brother of pianist Phineas Newborn, Jr., passed away at his home in Jacksonville, Fla., on Saturday, December 1st, from respiratory failure. The Whiteville, Tenn. native lived and played in Memphis for much of his life, when not on the road, but moved to Jacksonville in 1999.

The Newborn family band, led by drummer Phineas, Sr., was renowned in the Mid-South and beyond in the 1940s and 50s, and gave the brothers, Phineas, Jr. and Calvin, their first experience on stage. Beyond that and early work on his brother's solo albums, Calvin went on to work with many legendary artists: Earl Hines, Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Forrest, Wild Bill Davis, Al Grey, Freddie Roach, Booker Little, George Coleman, Frank Strozier, Louis Smith, Sun Ra, Ray Charles, Count Basie, Hank Crawford, and David "Fathead" Newman.

For many years, he could be heard regularly in Memphis, often with Herman Green's Green Machine. He was a teacher and mentor to countless local musicians. 
His daughter, Jadene King, spoke to the Flyer Sunday about his recent life in Florida. “It's been an extremely tough time because it was not expected,” she noted. “He had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) from the years and years and years of smoking and drinking, and just living the jazz life, but he'd been sober and clean for over 35 years, and he was doing very, very well. Just in the end of October, the beginning of November, his oxygen levels just weren't what they needed to be, but it wasn't anything that impacted him. He just went from not having oxygen to wearing a little Inogen [portable oxygen] machine. And then toward the end of the month, that stopped giving him the levels that needed, and here we are.”

Now, she faces the daunting task of honoring his memory. “I'm trying to go through a million pictures to try and get the program printed. 'Cos I really want it to be something that's like a tribute," she said. "I want it to be like a keepsake for everyone. So I'm gonna take a lot of time, to make sure I can list every award daddy's received — oh my God! —and which ones I really need to highlight. And then all of these millions of pictures of his life, trying to figure out which ones are the best. I know in the past, when I've had to do anything on daddy, I would usually go to daddy. He was an amazing historian, and his mind was extremely sharp and keen up to the day he left, so I have never had to research or do anything, I just asked daddy. And he was a living, breathing book, on his and my uncle Phineas' life. But I will do my best. I'll probably have to pull out As Quiet As It's Kept!, his book, and then Robert Gordon did a book, Memphis Rent Party, where he did a really good job of pulling in information about daddy.”

Listen to this performance of "A Frame for the Blues" by Calvin Newborn with Herman Green, Tony Thomas, and Tom Lonardo, at the Levitt Shell in 2010:

The following services at The Citadel Church, 1057 Arlington Road, Jacksonville, Florida, are scheduled in Calvin Newborn's memory: Friday, Dec. 7 at 6:00 pm (Wake); and Saturday, Dec. 8 at 11:00 am (Celebration of a Legend).

Look for the Memphis Flyer's special tribute to Calvin Newborn's life in two weeks.
A $25k Question
(image) Incentives may bring niche music production to Memphis.

Music producers in Tennessee had much to be thankful for last week, especially with this announcement: "The Tennessee Entertainment Commission [TEC] Scoring Incentive Program offers a grant up to 25 percent on qualified Tennessee expenditures to companies producing original scores for film, television, animation, commercials, gaming, and multi-media projects within Tennessee."

For film producers to receive a rebate for hiring local soundtrack producers is a game changer for creatives in these fields. I sat down with Gebre Waddell and Jon Hornyak, president and senior executive director, respectively, of the Recording Academy's Memphis Chapter, to find out more about how this program came to be, and what it might bring in the future.

Memphis Flyer: I've heard about this being in the works for a few years now. What finally made it happen?

Hornyak: The central roadblock on this was the minimum spend. When we started working with [TEC executive director] Bob Raines, the minimum was $100,000, and it just wasn't gonna work for us. We couldn't support that. Bob kept working on getting it down, and it still wasn't down enough to make it work for us in Memphis.

Why was the minimum budget for scoring projects such an issue?

Waddell: With the TEC and the people that will have to administer the program, we're talking about just a few people that have a large workload to deal with. They have to have some kind of limitation so things can work for their staffing levels. And I know these people; they are very passionate people who work till late at night every night, and to put more on their plate was just impossible. So there had to be something to manage the administrative workload.

Was this always for scoring projects only, or music production in general?

JH: If it was for regular album production, the major labels in Nashville would gobble that up. So we were trying to look for a niche that could help the music industry in Nashville and Memphis, but not the typical recording of albums and such. The answer was music for video games and independent films. Nashville was already starting to make music for video games. And in Memphis, when you look at some of the things that Ward Archer's been doing at his studio or what Jonathan Kirkscey's done or what Scott Bomar's done, that niche would work here as well.

GW: The Recording Academy didn't want to support this legislation unless the threshold was gonna be $50K. But the problem was, that $50K level would have only helped Nashville. At a luncheon for this program, we asked all these music producers from Memphis, what's the maximum you've had for a scoring project? And there was a resounding answer in the room: If we did not lower the threshold to $25K, Memphis would see no benefit from this legislation.I talked to Bob Raines afterward and said we should consider having different thresholds. Just getting from $100K to $50K took years. To get it down to $25K across the board didn't seem like it was ever gonna happen. So I suggested one threshold for Nashville, and a different threshold for the rest of the state. And that one suggestion was like a Hail Mary pass. It sounds like a huge challenge, legislatively, but it made sense. There's a primary market, meaning Nashville, set at $50K, and a secondary one that's the rest of the state, set at $25K. That checks all the boxes for administrative concerns, and ultimately that's what was adopted.

JH: From the beginning, Raines felt it needed to help the entire state, not just Nashville, for this to work. And we feel good about how it ended up. Because Tennessee is in the incentives game: That's how Christmas at Graceland got made and how the Sun Records series got made. And this opens the door to future things we can do on a local level.

GW: It couldn't have happened without building a bridge between Memphis and Nashville. We're working together. It's a healing thing. And in this instance, we came together and did something for part of our shared culture, which is music.

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