Bluesman Albert Cummings Rocks the (happy) House, Wyld Blu Opens
Each concert venue reopening in this second plague year brings its own particular joy – a general feeling of relief and reunion, but spiced with its own particular atmosphere and energy.
At Music Haven in Schenectady’s Central Park Sunday night, it was diversity, dancing and an almost dizzying uplift of shared exultation. We were together again, in a well-loved place. I met folks I hadn’t seen since the last show there, two summers ago.
Before Wyld Blu started the music, impresario Mona Golub started the feeling. She issued a happy welcome, thanked the series sponsors, encouraged raffle-ticket buying and announced this was her birthday party. Also mine, but I digress. Her father Neil interrupted in the best possible way, presenting her a bouquet and birthday wishes, there at the mic – but the show was a gift to all of us.
Shrugging off some opening-night nerves, Wyld Blu set the table with a feast of mostly mid-tempo shuffles. They played blues as good time tunes, revved to blow away bad times with rocking riffs.
The quartet twice represented our region at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis and was Blues Artist of the Year at the 2019 Eddy Awards (when I won as Music Journalist of the Year, but I digress). So they hit the stage with growing confidence in their original tunes, sturdy songs welded together of familiar elements in western boogie, big-city R&B and crunchy power glide grooves.
Alana Wyld sang center stage in tall boots, wyld (excuse me) hair and fuzzy scarf behind a guitar she kept busy with spiky solos and supportive chording under Rick Surrano’s harp honks and wails. Longtime drummer Phil Nestor locked on the one with (new) bassist Mike Persico. “Set Me Free” peaked their 45-minute opener, simmering from an easy amble, slower than most of their tunes and with a good Wyld guitar solo. But then an upshift into their more customary shuffle tempo brought an even better one.
By his second song, sweat gleamed in the V of headliner Cummings’s western shirt, and he sang without words as if the feel out-ran his lyrics. While Wyld Blu played things fairly short to introduce as many original songs as possible, Cummings put the stretch on.
Looking like a beefier Woody Harrelson under a black stingy-brim, he took his tunes to the gym and worked them hard. Like Wyld Blu, he built his songs of time-tested materials. And he declared his intentions right up front, in the blistering blast of “I’ve Got Feelings Too.” Like the essential paradox that singing the blues makes you feel less blue, this statement of vulnerability was as much muscle as misery. And his solo speared into outer space, past the half moon peaking through the clouds.
Cummings also made moves to engage the (very big) crowd. He rewarded an impromptu singalong in his opening number with a second solo that soared higher than the first, gas on the fire.
“Barrel-House Blues” rolled and rolled, stretching so fast and far it seemed to cause doubt for a minute. “You guys OK with this?” he asked. Again, he took spark from his fans’ applause, climbing behind the wheel of “500 Miles” to drive and drive, singing of a hoped-for reunion.
Drummer Warren Grant really revved here, coiling on his stool like a cobra, grinning in incandescent glee that powered shoulder-high snare shots. Bassist Scott Sutherland played less flashy all night, maybe one note for every five, or fifty, Cummings blasted into the night; but they were the right notes. Son Zak recognized before I did when Cummings solo drifted out of his lane like an over-excited trucker into Peter Frampton’s “Do You Feel Like I Do.” Cummings explained he’d been recording at Frampton’s Nashville studio.
For all the happy anticipation of “500 Miles” and the jokey moment of “Feel,” Cummings sang most often of betrayal, of love shaken by disillusionment.
Things got fierce in “Cry Me a River” and “Up Your Sleeve.” In these (and other) tunes, Cummings steered closest to the aggressive open-road Texas styles of Freddie King (the “Texas Cannonball”), Stevie Ray Vaughan (whose debut album was “Texas Flood”) and ZZ Top (self-styled “Lil’ Ol’ Band from Texas”). Cummings clearly likes those hot-pavement highways and this helped carry everybody with him.
Cummings hailed Glenville-based blues journalism giant Don Wilcock (first editor I ever wrote for, but I digress), crediting him for early career support and encouragement. Check Don’s review of the show on http://www.nippertown.com.
As usual, mega-fan Steve Nover was among the first to filter up front through the crowd to dance among the photographers clustered below the stage. Soon others joined in, alone, in pairs and clusters. By the time Cummings closed with the obvious but compelling declaration “Blues Make Me Feel So Good,” folks filled the space between stage and seats.
He sent us home hoping he’d given us “something to take home that you can keep.” This seemed to work just fine as happy people picked up chairs and remnants of picnics and headed home through the cool dark.
Liraz Charhi, who performs as Liraz, continues the Music Haven concert series on Sunday, Aug. 22. The Iranian (by way of Israel) singer-actress combines the musics of both homelands on two albums; “Zan” (Persian for “women”) is the latest. On these projects she collaborated with Iranian musicians clandestinely, as they are barred from working with Israelis. The Palestinian instrumentalist Firas Zreik, now based in Brooklyn, opens. He plays the many-stringed harp- or dulcimer-like kanun.