California Guitar Trio

Bill Cooley CDs

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In this post about Kathy Mattea at Joe’s Pub, I mentioned that I thought that Bill Cooley was possibly the best acoustic guitarist I have ever heard. I’m glad I said possibly, because only four days later, I saw California Guitar Trio at BB King, and as my post on that concert attests, all three of them are amazing as well. I haven’t changed my mind on Bill, I’m just glad I allowed for others to be in his league, by adding possibly. 😉

So, as I reported, I immediately ordered both of Bill’s CDs. I was lucky enough to have Bill himself respond to my email, and he informed me that his first CD, Unravel’d, was officially out of print. He offered to burn a copy for me, and he also had the original artwork for the CD cover, so I would be getting nearly the same experience as purchasing the original CD. (Yes, folks, I paid for that, so don’t think Bill is or should be giving anything away!).

I ordered two sets of each CD, so that we could give one away as a gift should the urge hit us.

Both CDs just showed up a little while ago, and I was like a kid at Christmas unwrapping them. Having the burned CD is an extra treat, because Bill hand wrote the title of the CD and his name, and on one of the two, it’s more like a signature, so I have a signed copy of his original CD, which I would not have had if I had bought a shrink-wrapped original. Cool!

The range of music on Unravel’d is impressive, and his playing is exceptional throughout. As the styles change, so do the variety of instruments that accompany him, including horns, flutes, harmonica, drums, etc. Bill picks, strums, uses a slide, sometimes all at once (no, I’m not kidding), and it’s simply gorgeous. I’ll be listening to this CD over and over, it’s a real treat!

The newer CD is A Turn In The Road. The first song Butter Fingers is really cool, and is a nice double entendre. Obviously, Bill is anthing but a Butter Fingers in the classical sense of that meaning. Of course, his fingers are as smooth and rich as butter, so that part applies. 😉

On the second track, Uno Tuno, there is both a really good electric guitar playing, as well as a superb acoustic one, so I’m not sure if the song is dubbed, and he plays both, or if someone is accompanying him on the electric guitar.

The third track, The Voice Of The Wind is in a more classical guitar style (and you know how much I love that!), accompanied only by violins (or some other strings, cello, etc.). OK, OK, I’ll stop describing each individual song.

Obviously, even though there were seven years between the release of these CDs, Bill didn’t lose his touch. A Turn In The Road is gorgeous as well!

According to Bill, his third CD will be coming out in 2008. I for one, can’t wait!

I checked the Tour Dates section of Bill’s site, and nothing in the near future can really be worked into our schedule. That said, one show in particular really intrigued me, and I’ll mention it here, since I have a number of buddies who live in Minneapolis.

Kathy Mattea (and therefore Bill!) are performing with the Minneapolis Orchestra on December 21st, in a Christmas Concert. Aside from an opportunity to see Bill live, this sounds like a special opportunity to see Kathy perform her magic as well. If you can be in Minneapolis on December 21st, you should lock in your tickets now! 🙂

Anyway, you just have to love it when you look forward to something as much as I was looking forward to getting Bill’s CDs, and not being disappointed when the day finally arrives! 🙂

California Guitar Trio at BB King

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If you don’t know how we came to see California Guitar Trio (CGT), you didn’t read my previous post.

Last night was a typical evening for us at BB King’s. We had excellent seats, and thoroughly enjoyed our meals, including a fabulous chocolate martini for me too. Yummy.

CGT is three guitarists who are each individually amazing, but together, are mind-bogglingly good! Paul Richards (whose diary mentions BB King and he posts some really good photos of the group as well), Bert Lams and Hideyo Moriya. Each of them (by default) has a very different sound for their amplified acoustic guitars, so you can close you eyes and still distinguish which one of them is playing.

As Paul’s diary notes, last night they had Tony Levin sitting in with them. Paul congratulated Tony for winning Bass Players Magazine award for Best Bass Player just the night before! If you read the string of bands that Tony has played with in the first paragraph of this entry, including many of my favorite groups, you won’t be surprised! He is amazing, and he sat in for the majority of the numbers they played.

While there is a similarity to Acoustic Alchemy, which drew me to wanting to hear them, they really aren’t all that similar. Acoustic Alchemy is all Jazz, all the time. They are also more than just guitars (though that’s their calling card!), as they have many more instruments accompanying them. They also tend to be more consistent in being melodic.

CGT is more creative in some ways (in this sense Acoustic Alchemy is more commercial). They also play many more styles of music. Without changing guitars, but definitely by changing the electronics on the amplifiers, they perform hard rock, classical, jazz, etc., and all of the styles, brilliantly. In addition, they are just plain fun when they are performing, and it’s contagious.

They played their own arrangement of Beethoven’s Pastoral, gorgeous beyond description. They also did a version of Beethoven’s Fifth, which was funky, and really cool.

In addition to the different default sounds that they each produce, they also all play in different styles. Individually, each style is fantastic. Blended, it’s simply unreal (in the good sense). 😉

When they said “Thanks and goodnight”, the crowd went crazy (us included) and all instantly shot up in the air for a standing ovation. We all stood until they came back out. They played one terrific song, and then said that they would finally play the single most requested guitar song in history, that they never used to play.

They then proceeded to play Freebird by Lynyrd Skynyrd (those of you who read my post about Treble, will now understand the small world nature of hearing two different groups, on the same day, in different venues, covering two of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s famous songs, one a cappella, and one only instrumental!).

They started out playing it in a funky reggae style. It was cute and fun, but as my regular readers already know, I’m not typically crazy for fooling around with classics. However, after building up the momentum, they hit their electronics, and wailed as brilliantly (on acoustic guitars!) as the original version by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Simply amazing, and they brought the house down.

So, now they say goodnight again, and the crowd gives them another rousing standing ovation. They unplug their guitars, and start to head off again, when they stop, and Paul says that we should all be extremely quiet, as they are going to try another experiment. He tells us that all three of their guitars are really soft-sounding, so we’ll have to huddle up because they are going to play one final song, unplugged.

They stepped out to the very edge of the stage, and played Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen. Lead guitar replaced the voice. You really had to listen closely, but it was one of the most gorgeous and amazing things I’ve ever heard. Mystical, magical, perfect, etc. At least once, we all missed a few notes when they did something clever, and most of the crowd couldn’t help but chuckle together.

Now, if you thought that was the end of the amazement, you were wrong. 😉

They then announce that they’ve been recording the concert live, in real-time, and that they have a high-speed CD duplicator there, and that if we want, we can wait 10-15 minutes, and purchase a CD of tonight’s show. Of course, we (and most of the crowd!) couldn’t resist such an offer.

I bought ours after a brief wait on a long line (I was near the front, thankfully), and bought four additional CD’s. Three were CGT and the fourth was Bert Lams doing Bach Preludes on the Steel Guitar (recall that I recently mentioned that classical guitar is my favorite!). I’ve listened to a little of Bert’s CD today, and it’s fantastic! All three of them signed our Live CD.

A night we will never forget, with a group that I now count way up among my favorites!

P.S. The obligatory mention of Girlyman isn’t as easy in this post, given that I wove it in so politically correctly in the last one. I even forgot to put it in last night, even though I tagged the post with Girlyman. I’m adding this mention after the fact. Whew…

Treble at Joes Pub

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When we saw Charlie Daniels Band on Saturday, October 20th, 2007 at BB King, I noticed that the following Sunday (8 days later), a group called California Guitar Trio (CGT) would be playing at BB’s. I didn’t link any of the above, because this posting isn’t really about any of them, but they’re responsible for this post… 🙂

I had never heard about CGT, so I looked them up on the web, and listened to some samples. They reminded me a lot of Acoustic Alchemy (my favorite Jazz group), so I had an interest in seeing them live. That said, we were planning on coming up to the house for the weekend, after finishing up our long-lost friends week.

I mentioned this to Lois, and she suggested that we get the tickets, and either spend the weekend in NYC, or come in and return on Sunday. I was reluctant, but Lois pressed me to get the tickets. So, when we walked to Wicked on Tuesday, we stopped in at BB King’s, and bought tickets for Sunday night.

The next day, Lois firmly decided that we would spend the weekend in NYC. Once that was decided, I remembered that I noticed something intriguing in the Joe’s Pub newsletter. They had a Sunday Brunch concert with an all-female a cappella group named Treble. While we were waiting on line to see Kathy Mattea the next day, I ran in and bought two tickets to see Treble for Sunday at noon.

This was our first time for brunch at Joe’s Pub. They do a very nice job, as they do for dinner as well. We each had different paninis, and both enjoyed them.

Finally, the music. Treble is nine women who sing a cappella. They rotate the lead singer in most songs. The remaining women either harmonize (on occasion) with the lead, or create sounds that mimic different instruments (including drums, bass, horns, cymbals, etc.).

They are very talented. We thoroughly enjoyed the experience. That said, we were left feeling that they could be so much more than they actually are. There are a number of problems (all in our opinion, obviously):

  • They are too egalitarian. While they all sing very well, a number of them are simply not lead material. It’s socially nice that they give each of them a whirl at the mic, but in the end, they aren’t doing the group a favor.
  • Their selection for the performance could stand improvement. I’ll have a little more to say on this subject below.
  • Their arrangements could also stand some improvement in a number of cases. This is highly related to the next point, which is perhaps the most important complaint (of ours).
  • They spend way too much energy (and talent!) mimicking instruments (in particular drums and cymbals). There is way too little actual harmony, for such talented a group of singers, and so many of them to boot!

Backing up for a second, Joe’s Pub was somewhere between 1/2 to 2/3’s full. We were both reasonably impressed that a group like this could draw that much of a crowd (even though Joe’s is a very small venue) on a Sunday at noon. That said, we had the overwhelming sense that we were either the only, or two of a handful of people who weren’t specifically friends or family of the members of the group.

We had no problem with that, but we’re pointing it out to say that it would have been really hard for a group like this to get a nice-sized crowd for a Sunday brunch concert.

We weren’t going to buy their CD (which they were selling there) for a few reasons which I won’t mention. But, there was one song that they did, Time, which simply blew us away. It turns out that it’s a song by Chantal Kreviazuk. We didn’t know that until we looked it up today. Lois went up to talk to the person selling the CD, and in the end, decided to buy it.

We’re very glad we did. In addition to a stunning recording of Time, there are a number of nice tracks on the CD that they didn’t do in the live show. That’s one of the reasons that I mentioned that their selection wasn’t that great at the show, clearly, they have better material.

Basically, they need to decide what they want to be when they grow up. 😉

This time, the Girlyman reference will be really easy to work in. They should pay Doris Muramatsu whatever she would demand in order to create harmonies for them. She’s a certifiable genius, and we can’t even imagine what she could do with more than the three voices that she arranges with Girlyman. It’s OK if on occasion, they show off their ability to mimic instruments, but if they highlighted their harmonies, they could be something extremely special!

I’m too lazy to listen to them all now (sorry), but there is one song on the album that has very little instrumentation and it’s very beautiful.

At the other end of the spectrum, if they don’t want specialized harmonies, they should spend a lot of time listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, and go for that kind of sound. Both Doris and the Choir came to my mind while I was listening to Treble.

While driving home late last night, Lois says to me (unprompted): “You know, Treble should hire Doris to write their harmonies for them!”. I told her that I already intended to write that, and that she was stealing my line. To which she replied: “Or, they should study the Mormon Tabernacle Choir!”. Ouch, we are way too similar. Frightening actually…

So, if you like a cappella, and perhaps even enjoy the mimicking of instruments with human voices, you should really enjoy their CD immensely. We’re glad we saw them, and glad we bought the CD, but really hope that they decide to become more professional and make it as a result.

Finally, one of the better songs that they performed was Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd (it’s not on the album). This will only become slightly interesting if you read my next post on CGT. 😉