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Live From New York

The Carolina Chocolate Drops, Roomful Of Blues & Buckwheat Zydeco

By Published: February 15, 2011
Right before the encore, Giddens announced that this was to be Robinson's farewell show, as he's grown weary of touring rigors, and needs to devote more time to peaceful pursuits. It seems likely that he'll still pop up in a guest capacity, this being an amicable sundering. Fittingly, the remaining pair presented Robinson with a giant version of the hand-made clay jugs that the band sells to its fans. Finally, the trio sang an a capella version of the old gospel chestnut "Travelin' Shoes," to guide Robinson on his new path.

So, it turns out that Hubby Jenkins will be one of two replacements, the other prospective band member being human beatboxer Adam Matta. He's also from NYC, and works with the Luminescent Orchestrii, with whom the Drops have recently recorded a joint EP. The innate chemistry of the Drops will be altered, but hopefully a new combination will become equally potent over the coming months on the road.

Roomful Of Blues
B.B. King Blues Club
February 3, 2011

With Roomful of Blues, any changes arrive via slow evolution rather than radical stylistic swerving. For over four decades its stance has remained firm, with a zealous dedication to jumpin,' swingin,' jazzy, rock 'n' rollin' blues. If anything changes, it's the lineup, not the musical mission. So, even though these New Englanders play once or twice a year in NYC, this gig at B.B.'s provided a first opportunity to check out their new singer, and to relish the prospect (and contents) of yet another album, Hook, Line & Sinker (Alligator, 2011).

Guitarist Chris Vachon was a primordial force at the eight-piece combo's core, his roiling guitar solos always bullishly forcing themselves to stage-centre. The key to Roomful's strength was the way in which Vachon alternated with the horn section, providing the focus-of-the-moment. An acidic guitar break was invariably answered by either a solo saxophone or trumpet outburst, or maybe a joint slug of good-time reed/brass riffing. Singer Phil Pemberton might have looked like a restaurant manager, but he provided the personal face of the band, his voice reaching out to involve the audience. High soulful emotion was his specialty, rather than gruff blues brawling. It was eminently suitable for most of the Roomful's current repertoire. This is not a band that pauses for ballads. The closest the group came to a slowie during its 90 minute onslaught was Vachon's guitar feature, where the horns stepped off-stage for a break. This might have taken the pace down, creating more space in the sound, but it didn't relinquish any of the night's crackling energy.

Buckwheat Zydeco
B.B. King Blues Club
February 4, 2011

Another regular visitor to NYC, and B.B.'s, is Buckwheat Zydeco
Buckwheat Zydeco
Buckwheat Zydeco
, who always prefers to pack 'em in with two separate sets in one evening. This qualifies as unusual activity in this particular club. Upon arriving at 8pm, there was an unannounced opening act already in motion. Professor "Louie", from upstate Woodstock presented a rocked-up mulch of New Orleans influences, playing for around 15 minutes more, warming up the crowd for Buckwheat. After a short break, the headlining band came on, with their Lafayette leader not yet appearing. The opening numbers revolved around the blues, in high contrast to the anticipated zydeco. This part of the set was where the band's lead guitarist stung out with an alarmingly pointed attack. Eventually, Stanley Dural Jr. (aka Buckwheat) entered the fray, given a helping hand by his frottoir-playing son Reginald, who helped him strap on his accordion.

Now came the hard stuff: the earthily jumping zydeco, with blues remaining as an important ingredient, but taking a few steps into the background. This was now the time for accordion and frottoir (rubboard) to dominate, even if the Buckwheat style always includes a larger than usual degree of mainline New Orleans rock 'n' boogie. The set was hampered by a deep uncertainty that may (or may not) have sprung from technical problems, possibly even a lack of sound check. Once Buckwheat and his players settled into their springy groove, the results were positive, but this had to be one of the briefest sets known to mankind, with the leader himself barely onstage for thirty minutes. Whether weary or lazy, it's hard to establish, but it has to be hoped that the second set's crowd received a better deal.

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