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Talk about bringing down the house before he plays so much as a lick: Red Bank-based blues/ reggae specialist (and bats-left guitarist) GARY WRIGHT has had to postpone his first full-length gig in several seasons this Friday night — scheduled for the historic Woman’s Club as the latest in a series of Reckless Steamy Nights — due to falling ceilings and other not-uncommon maladies benighting the life of a dedicated bluesman. (photo by Terri GO Seminoles Walliczek)
It was no less an old bluesman than John Lennon who said, “the blues is a chair, not a design for a chair or a better chair…it is a chair for sitting on, not for looking at. You sit on that music.”
Of course, when the person in the chair is someone with the skills and savvy of Gary Wright, that functional piece of furniture can be a throne of kings. The Red Bank-based singer and guitarist (who, just to clear things up, is not this Gary Wright) shares a love and a passion for the blues with a great many other veteran performers on the Shore soundscape — but in the hands of this southpaw stringbender, the legacy of the earliest blues recording artists comes alive. You hear the wise cat’s instinctive sizing up of the room and the audience; the troubador’s sense of social justice, and the crossroads at which the scholar’s pure research transmutes into joyous poetry.
Talking to the native of Syosset, Long Island, you also get to meet the supreme baseball fan — the kind who recalls every detail of a childhood trip to see the infamous 1962 Mets play the Mays-McCovey-Marichal era Giants at the old Polo Grounds. The kind who can rhapsodize for hours on the awesome 1970s era of Pete Rose, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson. The kind who actually got the opportunity to try out for the Yankees in 1984, as a lefthanded-hitting outfielder.
Boss Steinbrenner’s loss was ultimately the regional music scene’s gain, as Wright — a Red Banker for the past 28 years — would become known as co-fronter (with ex-wife Jennifer Wright on vocals) of Terraplane Blues, a band that released two CDs, played several major blues festivals, opened for some pretty legendary acts, and even made it to the finals of the 2000 International Blues Challenge in Memphis.
In the years since the Terraplane was permanently garaged, Wright has gigged extensively with reggae unit Predator Dub Assassins; sat in with his friend Chuck Lambert; produced the forthcoming CD by Richie Havens Band veteran Poppa John “Bug”; taken part in multi-artist benefits (such as a recent event in Asbury Park organized by the nonprofit Musicians on a Mission), and even showed up at the odd house party sort of affair — including, in the interest of full disclosure, a 2011 happening that took place at this correspondent’s digs inside the Stephen Crane House.
This Friday night, November 30, Gary Wright becomes the latest guest performer to join in the Shore’s longest-running house party — the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation’s monthly series of Reckless Steamy Nights at the Woman’s Club of Red Bank. If you’ve yet to attend one of these unique and intimate events inside the historic Anthony Reckless estate on Broad Street, you owe it to yourself to take in some fine and fascinating sounds, take a tour of the landmark house, and take a break for conversation and refreshment with likeminded music fans. UpperWETside went looking for Mr. Wright, in advance of what promises to be his first (and, hopefully, far from his last) full-band solo showcase.
Upstairs, Downstairs: In a career that presaged the whole Ameri-cousticana thing, Cowboy Junkies have had their share of…well, you know…but when they hit Monmouth U on Friday night, they’ll be bringing some delightful stylistic swerves from just this side of No-Mad’s Land…
It’s no exaggeration to suggest that it took an obscure band from Canada, recording with a single microphone in an old church, to chart a new course for American music in the new millennium. That the band was rather casually named Cowboy Junkies should never detract from the seriousness of the accomplishment.
Arriving as it did in the thick of a decade defined by synth drums, moussed hair and video playlists, 1988’s double platinum album The Trinity Session came as a breath of cool and refreshing air, from a place where “roots” didn’t necessarily refer to a problem for one’s stylist to address.
On Trinity, the Ontario-based Junkies — siblings Margo, Michael and Peter Timmins on vocals, guitar and drums respectively, plus Alan Anton on bass — brought a deceptively simple, quiet power to a set of originals and covers that ranged from Hank Williams and Patsy Cline to the Velvet Underground; propelling their next four albums to gold or platinum status, and helping to blaze a trail for the back-to-basics Americana musical movement of the 21st century.
Still together in its original lineup, the band has logged many miles on the road and issued many more releases on its own Latent Records label — including 2007’s Trinity Revisited, a new version of the breakthrough album recorded with guests that included Ryan Adams and Natalie Merchant. In 2010, the members of Cowboy Junkies embarked on an ambitious, four-album project entitled The Nomad Series — a cycle of self-released works that includes an entire set of songs by the late Vic Chesnutt (Demons) and the surprisingly hard-edged, electric Sing in My Meadow. Really, at a time when a new hypie generation trips over itself to come off Rootsier Than Thou, the folks who pretty much started this whole thing have taken a turn for the Sonic Youth side of the street.
Just days before the scheduled release of The Wilderness, the fourth and final entry in the series — the musical nomads from Toronto journey to the West Long Branch campus of Monmouth University, for an 8pm performance on the stage of the Pollak Theatre this Friday night, Feb the 24.
Presented by the Center for the Arts at Monmouth as part of the 2011-2012 Performing Arts series, the concert will showcase numbers from the new, all original set of songs; many of which have been part of the band’s live sets in recent years (and several of which are said to have been inspired by Marilynne Robinson’s novel Gilead).
With the core quartet joined by multi-instrumentalist Jeff Bird, audience members can expect an evening that runs the gamut from the folky intimacy of the band’s earliest efforts, to an always surprising selection of covers (Springsteen, Stones, Talking Heads, The Cure) to the “acid blues” and sonic experiments of recent seasons — although to be sure, delivering “the expected” has never been part of the Cowboy Junkies playbook. Pollak Theatre at Monmouth University, Cedar and Norwood Aves., West Long Branch • Friday 2/24 at 8pm/ $35 – $55
But why stop there? Flip the rekkid over for MORE picks toward the weekend ahead…