Shanna Zell

Jeff Litman at Rockwood Music Hall

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It’s been 3.5 months since we last saw Jeff Litman headline a set at Rockwood Music Hall, so we were due. The band was the same (a very good thing considering their skills), including the same guest keyboard player. There were two additional guests, taking Jeff’s always excellent performances up a notch.


A quick recap about Jeff (I’ve written about him a number of times now, so if you want more details, find any one of those posts on this site).

Jeff is an excellent songwriter. He plays the guitar really well (both electric and acoustic). He happens to be a very good bass player too, but that’s not the instrument he plays in his own band. He sings well.

Most importantly, he surrounds himself with top musicians and delivers an upbeat show that is hard to resist (so we don’t bother trying).

The first of the two special guests spent much of the set on stage, starting on the very first song.

Maddy Wyatt sang harmony on roughly 2/3’s of the songs. On one number she also played the flute, beautifully, an instrument that is sorely lacking at Rockwood.


The other guest was Shanna Zell (who headlines her own sets, as well as being a member of The Ramblers, another of my favorite groups). Shanna was slated to sing on Back to You, the third song on the set.


Jeff announced that Shanna’s bus was running late and he was going to push that song down the list. What he didn’t know was that I personally arranged for Shanna’s bus to be late, not because I didn’t want to hear her, but because I wanted to move the fourth song up one notch, happily listening to Shanna a few songs later.


My evil plan worked! Winking smile

When I tell you above that Jeff is an excellent songwriter, I mean it across the board. That doesn’t mean that one song doesn’t stand out (for me personally). In my case, that song is Maine. Jeff knows it, I know it, anyone who reads this blog knows it (and for sure, the Lord knows it).

It’s been great every time, but last night was a real treat. On the CD (Postscript), Jeff sings the entire song harmonizing with a female voice (Kelly Jones). Since this was the first of Jeff’s shows where he had a female guest, it was the first time that he was able to perform the song as it is on the CD. Maddy was invited back up (while we waited for Shanna’s bus, bwahaha) to sing with him.

Thanks Jeff and Maddy. I should mention (for those that didn’t read the other posts) that Jeff switches to acoustic guitar on Maine and plays the harmonica as well.

Later in the set Jeff played a new song (he’s getting very close to releasing a brand new CD!) that he also played acoustic guitar on. The band took a break and Maddy sang with him (I think it might have been the song that Maddy played flute on as well). Wow. Maine may get some competition from this new CD (this song, or likely others that I haven’t heard yet). Very exciting.


The superb band, left-to-right on the stage:

Bryan Dunn on electric and acoustic guitars and vocals. Bryan is good at everything he does (at least the things he does on stage). Winking smile For most of the set he played acoustic guitar while Jeff played electric. When they switch, Bryan shows off his considerable skills playing lead. He sings extremely well, though he deferred to Maddy more than he does during a more typical Jeff Litman set.


Matt Basile on electric bass. Matt is excellent, making bass play seem effortless (while keeping the sound just right).


Elliot Jacobson on drums. It was a treat to see Elliot for a second time in four days (he supported Bess Rogers on Thursday night for her CD Release Show). He’s excellent no matter who he’s supporting, but Jeff’s music is generally so upbeat, that Elliot’s precision, speed, stamina and notorious hard-hitting style are so perfectly suited to it. The rest of the band needs to nail every song because Elliot sets a demanding example.


Jason Wexler once again was a guest keyboard player (grand piano and electronic). He joined for the last two numbers and was an integral part of both, in particular the only cover of the night, the closing number, Pump it Up.


We couldn’t have been happier with the set. Thanks Jeff, Bryan, Matt, Elliot, Maddy, Shanna and Jason.

The Ramblers at The Living Room Again

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Last night posed a significant problem. We had seen only three songs of a special set by The Ramblers at The Living Room on January 29th, 2011. Here’s part of what I wrote about that set:

Then they started playing. Excellent. Definitely my kind of music. Actually, since they had so many guests, I don’t know how I would react to a normal The Ramblers set, but I’m willing to find out.

This was our next opportunity to find out, since they were playing without any guests. We had committed to coming out and were happy with that decision, until we (accidentally) started watching a 2-hour set at Rockwood Music Hall at 9pm. It was so good that leaving was a little painful. I’ve changed plans mid-stream before (that’s how we discovered Ian Axel!), but my gut told me to stick with the plan this time.

I am grateful that my instincts please me more often than they fail me, and last night was another case of making the right choice. Not because I wouldn’t have enjoyed the second hour of Richard Julian’s set, but rather because it would have taken me that much longer (perhaps months) to discover how much I like The Ramblers! Now I know that I need to see both groups. That’s just fine with me. Smile

With the guests (two fiddles and a mandolin), The Ramblers struck me as a big-sounding bluegrass band. I assumed I’d have a more stripped down experience, but similar in style, without the guests. Wrong!

While there is a hint of rootsiness (is that a word?), The Ramblers are way more Rock ‘N Roll than bluegrass. In fact, all I could think about throughout their set (every single number) was that I was hearing a modern version of The Band. Imagine my surprise when I just now read that they actually opened for Levon Helm.

There are a few reasons they remind me of The Band (sound-wise, clearly, they are not a cover band!). At the top of the list is the fact that keyboards and guitar are both central, and there are two male lead vocalist (who also harmonize with each other).

The set was fantastic from start to finish. Each member of The Ramblers deserves a shout out. Left-to-right on the stage (excuse the photos, our angle of the stage was severe):

Scott Stein on keyboards (electronic and organ) and vocals. Scott was amazing on the keyboards. On his own electronic ones, he played close to a piano sound. He would swing back and forth between that and the organ that is a permanent fixture at The Living Room. He’s one of the main reasons they sound so much like The Band.


Scott sings well (both lead and harmony).

Jeremiah Birnbaum on electric guitar and vocals. Jeremiah stands center stage, giving the impression that he’s the front man. To an extent, that’s likely true, but Scott certainly comes across as a partner on this journey, equal or otherwise.


Jeremiah plays the electric guitar really well (with and without the slide). He sings really well, and has a relaxed style on stage.

Shanna Zell on vocals and tambourine. Shanna sang beautifully on every number (except the two that she stepped off stage for, when she sat at our table!). She sang lead on one song and harmony on the rest. Her voice blends really well with Jeremiah’s and Scott’s.


In the back row, behind Jeremiah and Shanna:

Steve Purcell on drums. We had just seen three excellent drummers (the fourth set didn’t have one). Steve was equal to the task of ensuring that our night didn’t have a second’s disappointment in the drumming category. If you think The Band, and recall that I mentioned Levon Helm above, you’ll understand how critical the drums are to this kind of sound. Steve nailed every song.


He looks like he could be 15, so card him before you buy him a drink. Winking smile But, if he’s over 21, by all means, let’s everyone buy him a drink, because the boy can wield those sticks with the best of them!

Shawn Setaro on electric bass. We were 4 for 4 on previous bass players last night. Now, make that 5 for 5. Shawn was excellent on every number. While all four were excellent, the last guy (Tim Luntzel) blew me away. Shawn could have disappointed me just in comparison, even if he did a superb job. Nope, he impressed throughout the set.


I’m so happy I made it to see The Ramblers. It could have worked out much differently, because that was our last NYC musical event for the next two weeks. If it hadn’t been as good as it was, I could have been licking my musical wounds for too long. Instead, I’m already looking forward to catching them again! Smile

Here’s their set list:


They had five copies left of their Getting There CD from the first pressing. We purchased one and I listened to it twice while writing the blogs tonight. I got to savor some of last night’s moments again. Nice!