Assaf Spector

Take You Out Dancing by Derek James

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I’ve written about Derek James a number of times (here’s the most recent one). For the lazy among you (I know, you’re too lazy to even raise your hands, right?), here’s the opening paragraph:

Derek James has magical powers (at least over me). I am a very happy person, nearly 100% of the time. So, lifting my spirits seems like a silly thing to say, since they’re always pretty high (metaphorically speaking). Yet, every time I see Derek James perform (last night, at Rockwood Music Hall, was the fifth time), he does indeed lift my spirits even higher (and I was coming in with a wonderful frozen margarita high, so he had some work to do!). Winking smile

Ever since Derek mentioned that he was recording a new CD, I have been waiting (not so patiently!) to capture the magic so I can trot it out whenever I want to (not just when Derek has time to play a show). That day is now here (sort-of, not quite officially). You can stream the upcoming CD in it’s entirety at http://derekjames.bandcamp.com/. You can also read the lyrics for every song there as well.

On September 15th, 2011, Derek will be performing a CD Release Show at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2, 7:30pm (ticketed show). We won’t be in NYC that day, so sadly, we’ll miss the party. Go in my stead and report back here in the comments if it was as awesome as I know it will be!

There are two ways to consider this album:

  1. From the perspective of someone who loves the live shows
  2. From the perspective of a newcomer to Derek James

#1 should be judged by whether the album captures the magic. Does it transport you instantly to that happy place? Unequivocally yes! (It’s not the same as the live show and I’ll have more to say about that in a minute.)

#2 should be judged by two criteria (independently): 1) Do you badly want to see a live show after listening? and 2) Do you want to put the CD on repeat, even if you never see Derek live?

Obviously, not being able to un-see a live show, I can’t really answer #2 honestly, though I’m impressed enough to believe that the answer to both 1) and 2) will be yes as well. Since you can stream it for free, let me know in the comments how it grabs you, whether you’ve seen Derek live or not.

There’s a strong visual component to a Derek James and The Lovely Fools show that (obviously) can’t be duplicated on a CD. The other difference is that in a live show, there’s a little more freedom to take leads (in particular on the guitar) and experiment. When you’re recording, you throw out all of the experimentation (save one specific take) and you shorten everything to package it up for a more mass audience taste/expectation.

I’ve listened to the album five times now. I like it more with each listen. The very first listen sounded a bit “rounded at the edges” for me, but I realize after the fact that I had the volume down just a bit too much. Now, at the right level, with good headphones, I can’t stop listening.

As much as I enjoy the lyrics, they’re mostly fun, not earth-shaking. You won’t find yourself writing them down, bringing them to your philosophy professor to debate the meaning of life. That said, listen carefully, because there are gems sprinkled here and there. He’s an example (from She Goes Far Away):

I don’t know but I’ve been told before
The less you get you love ‘em even more

Who hasn’t been there before? Winking smile (that should probably have been a sad face, to more appropriately reflect the feeling we’ve had when we were in that state!)

Do you know someone who needs their mood lifted? Send them to the link to listen to this album. Do they still need a pick-me-up? Take them to a show!

You can see the major credits on the Bandcamp page, but I bumped into Derek at the Bowery Ballroom show on Tuesday and asked him to email me any additional credits for me to reproduce here. This is a more complete list (it duplicates all of what is on the web as well):

all lyrics and music by Derek James
all songs (c) Derek James (ASCAP)
Publishing: Derek James Music (ASCAP)

additional music by Assaf Spector & Roy Gurel (tracks 2, 3, 6, 7, 8, 9)
additional lyrics by Assaf Spector (track 1)

Bright Days* co-written by Andrea Tonon – (Andrea is an Italian I met living in France and we had a band of French musicians we used to busk together in the streets .. this song was inspired by the gypsy musicians of Europe and European life in the quaint cobblestone streets of their charming cities)

DEREK JAMES vox, acoustic guitars, percussion, kazoo, harmonica, & keys

ASSAF SPECTOR bass, drums, percussion, b.vox, programming

ROY GUREL electric guitars, percussion, & b.vox

RYAN VAUGHN percussion

MATTHEW ISELIN Main Keys

BAILEY (my dog, also on cover) b.vox

ADAM CHRISTGAU drums (tracks 4, 6, 12)

JANEL ELIZABETH b.vox (track 10)

JAMIE ALEGRE drums (track 5)

GLENN CHOCKY b.vox (track 4)

FARA D’AGUILAR b.vox (track 9)

produced by Assaf Spector, Roy Gurel & Derek James

recorded and engineered by Assaf Spector & Roy Gurel from May to August 2010 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on North 12th and Kent – big oil/gas factory building converted to studio spaces

mixed by Assaf Spector

mastered by Adrian Morgan at Timeless Mastering, Williamsburg, Brooklyn

Photography – (c) Glenn Chocky (cover, back cover, inside left)& Maxine Nienow (inside right)

Art Direction & Design – (c) Glenn Chocky & Derek James

It’s so fantastic when something you’ve looked forward to for so long hits the mark. I will be purchasing this CD the minute it’s available. In the meantime, I’ll be listening to it over-and-over. You should too!

Derek James and the Lovely Fool with New Band Members at Rockwood Music Hall

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Last night was my fourth time seeing Derek James and the Lovely Fools. Each setup was different (last night was no exception) and only one of them was disappointing (hint: not last night). The show was at Rockwood Music Hall.

There are many bands that create a party atmosphere. In many cases, it depends on the circumstances (the audience, venue, mood of the band, etc.).  Then there are bands where the music itself is a party! Derek James and the Lovely Fools are at the head of the class in that regard.

DerekJamesSmiling

In less than 10 notes (seriously), it’s nearly impossible to avoid: smiling, tapping your foot, bobbing your head and swaying your body. I dare you to show up when they play and prove me wrong!

Derek will be releasing a new CD this fall. I am praying that at least 20% of this magic can be bottled, so that I can party at will just by turning on my iPod. I’m hopeful! I can wager a ton that even if it’s perfect, it can’t match a live show. There is so much visual fun going on that simply can’t be reproduced on a CD. So, get the CD when it’s available, but get yourself to a show as often as you can, it will never get tiresome (that’s another promise I can safely make).

I’ll run through the band and mention what was different this time, then wrap up with a few complaints (which only means it could have been better, not that it wasn’t great!).

Derek James on vocals, acoustic guitar and kazoo. What can I say, Derek is obviously Mayor of Funtown. A winning/impish smile, fast rhythm guitar, very tasty leads (usually in 100% unison with the bass, lead guitar or both!) and a southern twang on his vocals (I don’t think he talks like that) that can charm your pants off (well, if I wasn’t taken they could). Winking smile Derek didn’t play the ukulele last night. It wasn’t missing, but it was still somewhat missed.

DerekJamesGuitar

Roy Gurel on electric guitar and vocals.  Roy was in Israel for over six months. He was not at the last show, which largely accounted for the only disappointing effort. While Derek was Derek that night, the Lovely Fools were talented, but not so Lovely. Roy is an exceptional guitarist. The last time I saw him, I described him as my second favorite local guitarist behind Greg Mayo.

RoyGurelTuning

Last night Roy was wonderful, but not quite as good as he’s been in the past. I’m not complaining, but since I’m ranking people anyway (for my own memory) I’ll say that he’s now third, behind Greg and John Kaiteris of Live Society. Roy could work his way back up a notch, but I am doubtful (on his behalf) that he will be able to top Greg. Here’s hoping he takes up the challenge! Winking smile

RoyGurelLeadGuitar

Assaf Spector (Assie) on electric bass, vocals and kazoo. Assie also missed the last show, make a clean sweep of me missing the truly Lovely Fools. Last night Assie was spot on, in every respect, back to a typical Derek James show. In addition to his incredible bass playing, wonderful background vocals and all around fun attitude on stage, he added a kazoo to the mix. Derek always plays a kazoo, but having two of them played on stage at the same time added to the carnival atmosphere.

AssafSpectorDerekJamesAssafSpectorSingingHarmony

Now to the additions (re-read the title!):

Greg Mayo on keyboards (I only heard electronic/organ ones, but he was sitting at the grand piano, so some of the piano-ish sounds might have come from that). I don’t know if Greg sang, since he was blocked by Derek the entire set from where I was sitting. I admit to feeling a little guilty noting that Roy’s play slipped a drop while realizing that Greg was sitting two feet behind him. I hope I get over it. Winking smile

GregMayo

Greg took a few very tasty leads, but they were extremely short (more like quick riffs than real leads). I’m guessing/hoping that he’s new to the band, and if he plays with them more, they’ll work on arrangements (and visual cues to each other) to have him play a bigger role. This was the first time we’ve seen keyboards added to a Derek James set.

Kenny Shaw on drums. It seems that we see Kenny more often in the past few months than any other drummer. That’s fine, he’s great. But, as with Abby Payne’s set last week, if the band plays really loud (and they did), Kenny can match them, making the drums a bit too loud as well.

KennyShaw

The show was fantastic, so you can stop reading now if you don’t want some negativity in your lives.

I’m coming to the (very unfortunate) conclusion that Rockwood 1 is simply not a good place for a highly amplified set (though I admit that I’ve seen a number of shows where it wasn’t a problem, including last week’s Greg Mayo set). In addition to the electronic keyboards being amplified (obviously), there were three separate amps on stage (Roy’s electric guitar, Derek’s acoustic guitar and Assie’s bass). That’s what caused Kenny to strike the drums really hard.

It’s not entirely the sound guy’s fault, since the amps are controlled directly by the players. Someone in the audience called out that Derek needed to turn up his vocals. They may have tried, but it didn’t make a difference. Derek responded that it’s hard to tone down the volume when the band is 1/2 deaf. He added that even if Roy crawled inside his own amp, it wouldn’t be loud enough for Roy’s taste. Winking smile

That said, all of the vocals could be heard reasonably well (as instruments), but on the faster/louder numbers (the majority), the lyrics were really hard to make out (unless you know the song well). From a party point of view, no biggie, the party was just as much fun. From a “Derek might be singing something interesting” point of view, not so much…

So, no one instrument overwhelmed the others (the sound was nicely balanced), but together they were all too loud (not painfully so!).

Let’s finish by repeating the more important points: great show, great new additions to the band, awesome to have the original Lovely Fools back! Smile

Derek James at Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2

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We first saw Derek James and The Lovely Fools at Flux Studios in July. We went to see Ian Axel and left as big fans of Derek James as well, an unexpected side-effect of chasing Ian wherever he plays. I wrote about that night in this post.

Derek has played a number of shows since then that we were unable to attend. Last night he was scheduled to play Rockwood Music Hall Stage 2 (one of our favorite venues) at 10:30pm. While a little late for us old folk, it was better than his recent 11:30pm and midnight shows there. 🙂

Since we had come back early to see Delta Rae anyway, we were determined to see Derek last night. Unfortunately, after running around all morning in the heat, Lois wasn’t feeling well last night. Feeling a bit guilty (through no fault of Lois, who encouraged me to go), I decided to abandon her at 10pm and head down to Rockwood to see the show myself.

Here’s how I described Derek’s music in my last post:

It’s probably easy (for some) to describe Derek’s style, but I am having trouble finding the right words. It’s some kind of blend of up-tempo bluesy/rock, tinged with some cajun-infused country, all delivered with gusto. There’s a super-charged energy that had me swaying throughout the set, even though it was sleepy time for us.

I’d like to update and simplify that. Derek James’ music is fun, through and through! You would have thought I had restless leg syndrome if you saw might right leg bouncing up and down non-stop throughout their set!

Derek played the guitar, ukulele, kazoo and sang, all wonderfully. He even threw in a slide-whistle for 5 seconds at the end.

DerekJamesGuitar DerekJamesUkulele2

I couldn’t help recalling the following when Derek picked up the ukulele (an instrument we really love). I follow a lot of musicians on Twitter. One of them is the awesome Matt Nathanson. Just a week ago, on August 27th, Matt tweeted the following:

i’m calling for a ukulele moratorium. please. god. #wegetityouarebookishandcute #killme

I’m sure it was all in good fun. The next day, he had a very cute exchange with the band Guster:

the moratorium started yesterday, so ur good. plus, u guys r sexy. #soitsdifferent RT @guster uh oh. #ukeeverywhereonthenewrecord #goddammit

Derek and Ian, keep the uke in the shows, please! 🙂

DerekJamesUkulele1

There were two big differences last night from the show at Flux Studios. The Flux show was acoustic (except for the electric bass). Last night the lead guitar was electric and a full drum set was added to the mix. That didn’t change the quality of the experience, but it was quite different nonetheless.

Roy Gurel (again, no good individual link) is the lead guitarist and backup vocals as well. Last night was electric, Flux was acoustic. He’s an amazing guitarist, and I’d go out to see him without Derek as well. He seemed to have to work harder on the acoustic than he did last night, but both efforts were fantastic.

RoyGurel

Derek mentioned that they really wanted to get on the Rockwood calendar for last night because Roy is heading back to Israel for a while (hopefully not too long for us music fans’ sake!). This was really a sendoff for Roy, and it was a might fine one!

I’m going to miss Roy at future shows, but I bet that any number of top-notch guitar players would jump at the chance to play with Derek and Assie.

Assaf Spector (Assie) on the electric bass and backup vocals (and Kazoo on one number). He’s absolutely wonderful on the bass, his vocals are solid, and he’s simply fun to watch (like Chris Anderson at an Ian show, but totally different at the same time).

AssafSpector

Jamie Alegre on drums (no good individual link). He was a real treat as an addition to the Flux sound. In addition to being spot on throughout the set, he was highlighted during the last two numbers quite a bit, holding down a 1940’s style big band beat. It was a ton of fun to watch him (there’s that fun word again).

JamieAlegre

I was so glad that I decided to go and just as sad that Lois missed it, since she’s just as big a Derek James fan as I am. It was very good that she didn’t push herself to go though. The person that was on before Derek continued to play well past Derek’s announced starting time. I don’t know if he started late, or if he just wanted to deliver more to his fans (they were screaming for him to keep playing). Either way, Rockwood didn’t stop him (which was unusual).

So, with 20 minutes to set up after the stage was cleared, Derek didn’t start playing until 11:10pm (40 minutes late). That was the only hitch in an otherwise wonderful night out. I was home by 12:15am and my leg was still restless. 🙂

P.S. Lois normally takes all of the photos in this blog. She handed me her camera as I left yesterday, so any complaints about the quality of the photos is entirely my fault in this one!

Ian Axel and Derek James at Rebel Spirit Music Flux Studios

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Rebel Spirit Music is a wonderful organization. Created to help musicians navigate the new world order, they put on a showcase of talent every month. Many (most/all?) are also benefits for very worthy causes. Last night was for the benefit of Doctors Without Borders, for Haiti relief.

While Rebel Spirit Music has done a number of showcases at Rockwood Music Hall, they are currently partnering with Flux Studios to put on the monthly shows, including last night’s performances.

Because Flux is small (at least the recording studio itself is small) these events are now RSVP only (even though they are still free). We were thankful and lucky to respond early enough to be included in last night’s guest list.

We went to see Ian Axel, so I’ll cover him first, even though he was sandwiched in the middle of the lineup.

I’ve written about Ian so many times, that you might think I’d run out of things to say, and simply point you to my past reviews. Wrong. 🙂

Flux Studios has an intimate feel that even teeny tiny Rockwood can’t create (though it comes close). We’ve seen Ian do an acoustic set (no band) at Rockwood, but this was even more special. The room is barely bigger than a suburban living room (actually, many suburban living rooms are larger). Everyone stood (with one exception), in reasonably tight quarters, but you could hear a pin drop whenever Ian had a dramatic pause in any song.

Different than being in someone’s living room, surrounded by respectful music lovers, this is a professional studio, with professional equipment. I’d hazard a guess that the microphone Ian was singing into is way higher quality than most clubs use for their vocals. The difference didn’t stop just at the electronics.

Ian commented that the grand piano he was playing was built in 1895! He has a personal affinity for pianos with storied histories. The sound was gorgeous even though the outside of the piano was beyond weathered.

IanAxelPiano

He opened with Waltz, and played Gone, Girl I Got a Thing and Afterglow, solo on the piano (perhaps one or two more, just trying to give his fans a sense).

When he played Girl I Got a Thing, his buddy Chocky came up to “do his thing” (including the tambourine part, which he’s so expert at!). The only thing missing was Chocky’s drink. We need to get him back to Rockwood for the full experience! 😉

Then he performed a very special number, Say Something on the ukulele. In fact, on a new ukulele.

IanAxelUkulele

Sorry that @HappyBee3 missed it, she was forced to spend a hapless night listening to Wide Spread Panic at Radio City Music Hall (poor HappyBee). 😉 I’ve written before that both HappyBee and I love Say Something on the piano, but since we heard it first on the ukulele, it always tugs at our heartstrings a bit more and it’s been a while since Ian has played it on the uke. Thanks Ian! 🙂

Chad Vaccarino joined Ian for two numbers. First their brand new You’ll Be OK. Awesome! Next was the never-get-enough-of This is the New Year!

ChadVaccarino

If you’ve watched the video of that song then you know that there’s a big dog in it. That dog attended Ian’s show last night, and was leaning on my leg during this song. There’s no doubt that he recognized it as the one he starred in. As an aside, he’s an awesome dog. 🙂

IanAxelWithDog

I was secretly hoping that Ian would go one song over his limit, and invite Mike Campbell to join he and Chad for an acoustic version of Shorty Don’t Wait (Mike was in the audience, and I chatted with him briefly before the show started). Unfortunately, the evening was run extremely professionally (something I always appreciate, so I’m not complaining!), and everyone started and ended on time!

Derek James closed the show. I know that Lois would have loved to leave before he started, given that it was already 10:30pm. I had heard of Derek (but was completely unfamiliar with his music), recalling that I had an interest in checking out one of his shows at Joe’s Pub (still our favorite venue). Lois could feel how badly I wanted to hang around, so she readily agreed.

I mentioned above that there was only one exception to the “everyone was standing” comment. Thankfully, that was Lois, who spotted the one engineer’s stool early on. That made it slightly easier to convince her to stay.

We were both blown away by Derek James (and his band). I can’t believe that we could have easily walked out and missed his incredible set.

DerekJamesGuitar

It’s probably easy (for some) to describe Derek’s style, but I am having trouble finding the right words. It’s some kind of blend of up-tempo bluesy/rock, tinged with some cajun-infused country, all delivered with gusto. There’s a super-charged energy that had me swaying throughout the set, even though it was sleepy time for us.

Derek sings wonderfully (and writes really cool songs) and plays the guitar very well. He also played the ukulele on two songs, which immediately endeared him even more to us, for obvious reasons. 😉

DerekJamesUkulele

He has a relaxed style and banters well, making me chuckle quite a number of times. He was accompanied by two very talented people:

Roy Gurel (no good individual links, but you can easily find him as a band member on a few MySpace profiles). He played acoustic guitar, mostly lead and sang harmony. He is a fantastic guitarist and had all of us itching to hear more, even after long leads. Derek highlights Roy a lot, all well deserved. Harmonies were spot on as well.

RoyGurel

Assaf Spector (Assie) on the electric bass and harmony. Excellent bass playing (including one very tasty lead). His high-energy bass playing reminded me of one of our favorites, Chris Anderson. He sang excellent harmony as well.

AssafSpector

One of the things that stood out for me was that their harmonies were fun and fit in with the spirit of the song, rather than just being “beautiful” (not that there’s anything wrong with that!). 😉

We are now instant fans of Derek James (and his band) and encourage all of you to check him out. He’s playing in Brooklyn this coming Tuesday evening (7/27/2010) at the Brooklyn Bowl, but unfortunately for us, I don’t think we can swing it.

Not announced on the bill, but sandwiched in-between Ian and Derek were two guys who played one incredibly fun new song. I’m waiting to hear back on their names. I heard them introduced as “Solo and Shakespeare” and referred to as “Solo and Shake”. But, both words in any combination yield useless searches on Google, even if I heard it correctly.

Update: I just heard back. They’re known as “Shakespeare and Solo”. Solo is Jon Solo.

SoloAndShakespeare

Jon Solo played the piano and sang. He is excellent on the piano and sings terrifically. Shakespeare sang a bit with him, but mostly rapped in-between verses/chorus that Jon sang. The entire song was wonderful, fun, upbeat, delivered really well. I look forward to catching them (individually and together) in the near future.

Findlay Brown opened the show. He played the acoustic guitar and sang. He finger-picks really well and has a very nice voice. The crowd liked him a lot.

FindlayBrown1 FindlayBrown2

For his last number, Findlay brought up Rob Gentry to accompany him on the piano.

RobGentry

While it’s clear he’s very talented, I found his songs a little too similar to one another, and super-mellow as well. For a crowd that was standing shoulder-to-shoulder, it didn’t feel like a good fit of music/style/space (though from their reaction, I could have been the only one thinking that).

That said, people whose musical taste I respect, really like him a ton, so I’d give him another shot in another setting without hesitation.

Another great night out, already looking forward to the next one!