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Hello, Heraldonians and let’s spring right into summer and my latest Alice-Through-The-Looking-Glass adventures! This month we’ll keep it short ‘n sweet, saying hello to some old friends and a classic old-school pop/rock diva – and then turning you onto a bit of exciting new music by a friend I sometimes play music with myself!

Rita Coolidge – Yoshi’s SF – March 13, 2013

Remember hearing those smooth pop ditties on the radio by that honey-toned singer from the late ‘70s: Grammy-winning covers of Jackie Wilson’s “Higher And Higher”, The Temptations “The Way You Do The Things You Do” and hometown hero Boz Scaggs’ “We’re All Alone” to name just a few?  If you’re a baby boomer, or even over 40, you probably know they belonged to former background singer to rock legends like Leon Russell, Delaney & Bonnie, and Eric Clapton - the lovely Rita Coolidge. “The Delta Lady”, as she was known, was just as well known for her high profile marriage and duets with revered and awarded bad boy singer/songwriter Kris Kristofferson. Not to mention (but I will!) liaisons with David Crosby, Stephen Stills (her leaving Stills for Nash was rumored to have fueled the initial break-up of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young), Joe Cocker, Eric Clapton, and Leon Russell, among others.  It is “suggested” she gave Leon Russell and Delaney & Bonnie the inspiration to write the groupie’s dream theme “Superstar”, recorded by many artists including The Carpenters and Luther Vandross. It sure sounds like she should have gotten a writing credit – and she certainly has made the most of it as a singer both then and now.

My dear LA pal and longtime superstar talented collaborator/guitar player/bandleader John McDuffie has played with this class act chanteuse since 1998 and been her musical director since 2005. Another fine musical friend, drummer/singer/showman Lynn Coulter is also in her band, so it was with great anticipation I finally got the opportunity to witness it all enfold live and in color at one of my fave music venues, Yoshi’s SF.

Drummer Lynn Coulter did the honors of introducing Ms. Coolidge in grand fashion and she took the stage like royalty descending upon her musical court. Time has not taken a thing away from her ‘70s period beauty: she still sports the long, straight dark hair and was dressed head to toe in a shiny cocoa top and long-skirt ensemble.  Opening with the lovely “Come Rain Or Come Shine”, Rita peppered her easy, breezy set with other jazz standards like Peggy Lee’s “Fever”, in between fascinating stories of life on the road and the afore-mentioned road to “Superstar”, Kris Kristofferson, who she affectionately referred to as “my favorite ex-husband”, and those ear candy radio hits her fans came to hear. Her warm, sweet alto has remained intact, although it was apparent toward the end of the set that she was fighting off some hoarseness due to a nagging cold. But even a few rough edges couldn’t diminish her comfortable appeal and the crowd let her know it with a standing ovation at the end of the closer “Higher and Higher”. She returned the love with an encore of one of my favorite old school R&B songs, Ann Peebles’ “I Can’t Stand The Rain”.

The musicianship was superb throughout, and it was thrilling to witness my bud John McDuffie deftly lead the band, provide strong background vocals, and lay down some killer solos, particularly on “Born Under A Bad Sign”. Go Johnny, go! Piano player Mary Ekler and bass player Randy Landas provided ample support. But the biggest bang for my buck belonged to drummer Lynn Coulter for his triple threat of animated and innovative drumming/percussion style, lead singer caliber voice, and that irresistible enthusiasm he can’t help but exude. He’s like a long, tall drink of fun water! The high point of the night came when Lynn stepped off the drums mid-set and came out front and center to sing a flirtatious and cozy duet with Rita of “Baby It’s Cold Outside” off of her latest record A Rita Coolidge Christmas (co-produced by John McDuffie!). Their chemistry was so undeniable and adorable it left all of us saying, “Please sir, may I have some more?!”

After the show, The Delta Lady graciously signed CDs and took pictures with her adoring fans. I was lucky to be among them and she was as sweet and warm as that queen bee honey voice of hers. Higher and higher, indeed!

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Drummer Lynn Coulter, guitar player/MD John McDuffie, Ms. Rita Coolidge, and moi’!

CD review: Carousel – The Stages of Sleep

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I first met drummer Steven Horgan when he was playing with another artist who I’ve written about in this column and performed with, the charismatic Bray. I was so drawn in by Steven’s creative and versatile approach after watching him perform an acoustic set with Bray, that I asked him to join me on several of my acoustic gigs over the years, most recently at my Sunday Brunch shows at Social Kitchen & Brewery in SF. It was there that Steven excitedly told me about his new musical baby and asked if I would give it a listen and write about it. Knowing firsthand what a consummate musician and cool guy Steven is, I was happy to oblige. Little did I know what I was getting myself into and how deep I would need to go…

The first thing I want to say about this band and record is there’s so much going on at once, one barely knows where to start…and that’s a good thing. So completely innovative and multi-leveled in its approach to blend several genres of classical, cultural, theatrical and popular alternative musical genres, The Stages Of Sleep’s Carousel is practically indescribably delicious.  One minute they are reminiscent of the Gipsy Kings with their flamenco Spanish troubadour leanings, the next they take a German cabaret-esque Kurt Weill turn, and then they are powerfully rocking out ala Green Day – with intense lyrics and themes about the journey from troubled childhood to painful adolescence to love and loss and scathingly soul-searching adulthood that rival Pink Floyd in tone and dynamics – at times all in the same song. If it sounds complicated, it is - and probably makes for one of the most exciting and unpredictable stage shows in the world. Upon several listenings, I can’t wait to add the visual to this sonic masterpiece. With titles like “A Dagger, A Thorn, And A Splinter”, one can just begin to grasp all the twists and turns Carousel takes you on.

The Stages Of Sleep is a San Francisco Bay Area labor of love first conjured up by longtime friends Seth Paris and Jason Ardiles. Paris returned from musical studies in Ghana in 2008 and Ardiles was ripe and ready to forge this uncharted territory which knew no bounds. They joined forces with other childhood pals (percussionist/mixing engineer Max Savage and the afore-mentioned drummer Steven Horgan), and eventually drew in collaborators, session musicians, and band members across the geographic and musical board including The Quartet Rouge of the Green Day Tony award-winning musical American Idiot and trumpet/French horn player Kelly Pratt of the band Beirut. The end result is Carousel, released at the end of 2012,  gaining a loyal fan base and garnering critical praise that is swiftly growing. Performing locally now, The Stages Of Sleep are preparing for a cross-country tour to bring their tour-de-force to the masses. This is a not snack food, it’s a full course, multi-ethnic and layered feast - and well worth the investment of mind, body and spirit. Take the plunge and dig in:

Well, that’s all for now, folks. Have a fantabulous summer and see ya in the Fall! ###

All contents © 2011 by Gene Mahoney