Monday, January 30, 2006

Live Wire: Paul Curreri Live at The Gravity Lounge Session 1.

There is no worse thing you could say about a singer songwriter than that they're the next Dylan. Really. The fact that Bob Dylan is not dead or retired aside, it seems to be career poison. Every couple of years a really great young singer songwriter comes along and blows us away, and the critics have to go out and lay the D word on 'em. David Grey around his Live at the Point concert comes to mind. What tends to happen shortly afterwards is that the artist either fades into obscurity as a one-album-wonder or loses all trace of that initial quality that made them so attractive.

That said, I expect Paul will be receiving a lot of comparisons in future reviews for his move to electric for his upcoming live album. It's simply too obvious to ignore. From what I've heard so far this is looking to be a great album for fans of Dylan's Bootleg Series vol. 4 and 5, let alone of Paul. There was more than one tune that reminded me of Dylan's early electric arrangements of his acoustic classics, and on a few passing occasions the slight gravel that snuck in Paul's voice echoed songs like Isis from Dylan's Rolling Thunder days. A cover of Baby Let Me Follow You Down would have sealed the deal, but this show was more than that. Paul wasn't trying to be Dylan. He was sounding like him in the best sense of the words. Paul is playing good solid rock and roll with poetic lyrics at a steady pace. It's not a gimmick, and it's not going to matter what reviewers say about him. He's making great music just like he always has.

For me, the rendition of Bees was a particular stand out that showed their similarity. Much like Dylan's Rolling Thunder version of A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, the music started intriguingly with almost no indication of what song he was playing. Then as he began to sing the lyrics, I was shocked. Bees is one of my favorite songs by Paul, and the approach seemed so different that I thought it couldn't possibly work. The song is too good to mess with and should be left alone I almost mumbled. Like with Hard Rain, I was proven wrong. By the end I loved the take (though I hope he continues to play the original as well).

I caught at least two new songs in the mix. One seemed vary tailored to this electric sound. It sounded leaner lyrically than most of his work but sounded great and if I've learned one thing about Paul's music, it's that one listen is never enough. Surrealistic enigmas can turn completely coherent in their narrative, while the simplest song can be as deceptive as a gray bog on a fall evening at Lake Drummond.
The other song he described as being inspired by a friend getting into Greek music and some Greek islands that are so small that only one artist gets to play each kind of instrument at the local gigs and everyone has to wait for them die in order to get their chance at it. The song sounded wonderful and is exactly the kind of thing I think a lot of fans will want to hear from him. It's a very assuring song when one considers the theme of - or at least leading up to - his last album, The Spirit of the Staircase (which is a fantastic work beyond summery). This sounded very much like a songwriter that wants to write songs and loves writing them.

Paul is one of C-ville's finest acoustic guitar players (at least that also sings). His transition will probably be a surprise to many that have yet to see and hear it. He's always been an intense performer with a distinct voice capable of snapping from cozy recliner notes to sincere unbridled blues hollering like the flick of knife... only to turn around and then parody himself in the next tune (if not the same tune) with all the charm of someone not merely singing on The Muppet Show, but actually embodying the entire show. Now all that energy can be seen standing up and moving around with a fine band to back. He's completely at home on electric, rocking out with admirable skill while never succumbing to the long showy solos that so many blues rockers seem to feel essential to prove that they're good. He handles the balance quite well, avoiding also the other extreme of hit and run. Though he did seem at times nervous, it was perfectly normal when one realizes that most live albums are the compiled best songs of several performances. This show was the fitting round. Approaching it as a concert for critique might even be folly (early on he told a funny story about a friend recording a live album and applause tracks), but nonetheless it was a good show. So a few songs were stopped a little ways in due to confusion of chords or tempo and the occasional lyrical stumble did occur. It has always amazed me that Paul can make a guitar sound like two guitars and sing his wonderful tricky lyrics without his brain exploding at one of his normal shows anyway. Several very solid songs came out of the show and will surly make the cut, and now that he's gone through the motions, I'm fully confident that the lucky folks that can make it out Tuesday night will be in for an even greater treat. I can't recommend this show enough. I had a wonderful time and can't wait to get this when it comes out.

Good Job Paul.

For info on tickets for Session 2, go to The Gravity Lounge's website.

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