"The Shady Bear Sessions" Studio Recordings Are Here!

Listen to and download the new EP, After the Storms, here.

"...the combination of traditional blues with a contemporary sound that makes THP unique"

Friday, May 31, 2013

Everything Old Is New Again

This is pretty cool.

It's always nice to see the old pros fraternizing with the young 'uns.  Passing of torches, and all that.  And seriously, Booker T.?  That's a pretty bright durn torch.

The song itself is pleasant.  Not great, just pleasant--a nice little ditty in E (the birth place of the blues!) that drifts between the major and minor pentatonics.  As the interviewer says, it's "warm."  To which, Booker T. responds, "it's all feel," and that seems about right.

My one quibble is with the author's characterization of Gary Clark, Jr., as a "guitar phenom."  Fairly or not, I see blues/rock guitarists as falling into one of two categories--the technically gifted leads who made their name with flashy improvisation; and the solid, in-the-pocket rhythm guys who tend to have come up through the ranks by virtue of their songwriting chops.

The ne plus ultra of this analogy, for me, has always been Eric Clapton vs. Pete Townshend.  In Clapton, you have: excellent lead; terrible songwriting.  With Townshend: excellent songwriting built on rhythm, terrible lead playing--and believe me, I saw The Who recently at the Barclays Center so I'm not just saying that to be spiteful.  (Or if this comparison is too fuddy-duddy for the whippersnappers in the audience, I would cite John Mayer as representing the Claptons vs. Jack White, who is a Townshendian through-and-through.)

Gary Clark, Jr., very clearly lives in the Townshend camp.  Now, these kinda guys still make the 100 Greatest Guitarists lists (whatever those mean) and they still front bands--often, ostensibly as "lead" players--but "phenom" is the wrong word for what they do.  Hendrix was a phenom.  Johnny Winter was a phenom.  Hell, Jonny Lang was a phenom.  The word implies a certain amount of flash that I just haven't heard from the repeating pattern-loving Mr. Jr.

But that little niggle aside, it's just cool to hear Booker T. wax wistful about younger players keeping the blues alive.  Agreed, sir.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Our Babe(s)

All your babes are belong to us.  (No, but seriously, this is a pretty great vid of "My Babe" at Connolly's from last night).

"My Babe"
Live @ Connolly's Klub 45

Smooth Sailing

Well, last night at Connolly's was a blast.  Both Fist of Kindness and the Sweet Lee Trio showed up to play in a big way, the crowd was friendly, and getting to play on a stage live with Katie and John for the first time sent THP's energy through the roof.  To prove it, here's a video of Stormy Monday.  Enjoy!

"Stormy Monday"
Live @ Connolly's Klub 45

Friday, May 24, 2013

Original Insights

As you may have noticed, there has been a renewed push here at THP central to bring our original music to fruition.  In fact, we're debuting three new tunes at the gig tomorrow!  (C'mon by!)

I don't have many concrete thoughts on it yet, but focusing on our own compositions these last few weeks has just made me mindful of how much deeper your sense of a musical genre becomes when you actively create within its borders.  ("Borders" here used quite loosely.)  Obviously, playing other people's songs never stops being enjoyable or instructional--and for blues, not playing other people's songs would be hilariously un-blues man-like.  But attempting to build something that sounds like "blues" while also clearly reflecting THP's songwriting voice sure does put a person in a different relationship to the music.

No larger conclusions drawn yet, just expressing a general feeling I've had this last month or so...

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Connolly's Line-up Deepens

We've added two awesome bands to the proceedings at Connolly's this Saturday, the 25th: at 8p, Fist of Kindness will get the blood moving with some rootsy funk rock.  If they have you waving your hands in the air, FoK will care because that's cool.  Then at 9p, the Sweet Lee Trio will bring things down a bit with a little jazz.

And finally, at 10p, THP jumps up there with the kind of blues you've come to love and mostly know.  "Mostly" because we have some new stuff for you: we'll be showing off the two fresh talents of Katie McCreary and John Brian Evans for the first time, as well as debuting three THP original blues tunes, never before heard.

And as the cherry on top, we're headlining the night, so we'll be doing a full hour and fifteen minute set.  That's an extra half hour we'll get to luxuriate with you in Connolly's excellent sound system!  Come on down:

Connolly's Klub 45
121 W. 45th St., 3rd Floor
bet. 6th Ave. and Broadway in midtown

Friday, May 10, 2013

A Few Thoughts On "Alternative Blues"

While poking around the interwebs a while ago, I came across the term "alternative blues," and it got me thinking about the creative direction of blues in the modern American musical landscape.  Not that this high-mindedness was my first reaction.  My first reaction was more like "huh, that sounds like what THP has been up to lately with the originals."  But when I started to parse out why that moniker seemed right, the train of thought led me to a few other places, some of which have been on my mind for a while now in one form or another but had seemed previously unrelated.

For those, like me, who hadn't heard the term, alternative (alt) blues generally refers to an otherwise not easily described subgenre of standard, or classic, big-B Blues.  All the same elements are in play: 12-bar structure (often enough) if not a straight up 1-4-5 chord progression; typical blues instruments (guitar, vocals, bass, drums, keys, etc.); minor and major pentatonics; that kind of thing.  But the arrangement of all these known elements is often...tweaked, so that the resulting sound is stranger than what a person accustomed to classic blues (like Delta, say) might expect to hear.

If you read someone like Amiri Baraka, whose wonderful book, Blues People, gives a poignant overview of the historical arc of blues in America, you might be tempted to believe that field hollers grew into blues grew into jazz, and that anything that isn't moving further along that trajectory is somehow developmentally arrested or creatively barren.

But even as we witness the slow motion collapse of the record industry--and watch it devour the diversity and originality of mainstream American music in its death throes--new envelope pushers keep emerging, invariably rooted in blues.

Most recently, I'd point to the dependable, if not very flashy, Gary Clark, Jr., and his debut album Blak and Blu; Ben Harper's re-emergence with Charlie Musselwhite, whose latest songs have exposed even more of the blues bone that underlies the meat of his writing style; and the inventively raw chord progressions of Vintage Trouble.  There are, of course, more.

Not that this kind of thing hasn't been happening for decades.  Is there any better name than alternative blues for the ground Hendrix was exploring in songs like "Stone Free" or "Voodoo Chile (Slight Return)"?  Or for that matter, what Muddy Waters was doing with the album After the Rain?

Still, inasmuch as a term like "alt blues" serves as a quick way to communicate the general contours of an otherwise hard to describe musical subgenre ("grindcore," anyone?), it can only be useful if it's viewed as just that, a shorthand to describe a rough collection of trends rather than an unbending categorical designation.

Which had me thinking further: do these artists stand out as being of-the-moment and their art as still having life not because of their unbending dedication to their roots but rather because they take an unconventional approach to the larger style?  Indeed, their kind of reinvention stands in stark contrast to many blues musicians I've come across who are so orthodox in their view of what constitutes "blues" that their playing is boring, soulless--because there's none of them in their playing, only pre-approved riffs handed down by the guitar gods of yore.  It's a cultish attitude, as if these limited number of sounds were edicts from on high meant to mark the boundary of what can be considered "blues," and it's the enemy of playing music that grows and changes with the world around it.  (And here the old adage pops to mind, about how the wind can't break a tree that bends.)

This isn't at all to pooh-pooh the contributions of said guitar gods (or bass gods, or drum gods, or whatever deity you bow to when you throw on your favorite tunes)--how could I?--but rather to point out that these players set their stars in the musical firmament by expanding the blues vocabulary, not by piously toeing the accepted lines.

Admittedly, "alternative blues" is a pretty inelegant term.  "Alternative" to what?  English blues?  Rhythm-and-blues?  I suspect it was originally meant as an alternative to classic blues, but that seems misguided--a child is not an "alternative" to its parent.  What the term does seem to get at, in its own clumsy way, is the energy and resilience that manages to keep blues alive and kicking in these strange artistic times.