Altercation took the summer off, but here’s some stuff:

My most recent column is called “What Candidates Talk About When They Talk About Equality.” Before that, I wrote “What Roger Ailes Really Thinks of Donald Trump” and This Is the Real Battle for the Soul of the Democratic Party.


I saw Brian Stokes Mitchell at the Café Carlyle recently, opening the season and making his debut there. The show, which runs through September 26, is called Plays With Music, and is a mixture of Broadway tunes, standards and some unexpected, rearranged gems. I wasn’t familiar with Stokes’ voice and it’s so big the small room could hardly contain it. But his voice, while powerful, shows a lot a sensitivity based on the the material. The band, Teddy Firth on piano, Gary Hasse on bass and Mark McLean on drums were given room to move as Stokes ranged from a quiet “There’s No Business Like Show Business” to an unusually moving “The Water is Wide.” “Hello Young Lovers” was slow and sweet (and brave, given Sinatra’s owning of that song, while “The Windmills of Our Mind” sounded profound, however briefly. Stokes is nothing if not a convincing, compelling entertainer and the crowd rose to its feet to give him a standing ovation for a peformance that was more than satisfying to everyone in that small but utterly charming room. (I don’t quite get why Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” is his favorite song. I think it’s a total turkey, not even in Louis’ top 100. I saw the setlist and I thought it was going to be Sam Cooke’s “What a Wonderful World.” Just a suggestion…)

Saturday night I was lucky enough to see David Bromberg celebrate his “Bucket List Birthday Bash” at The Town Hall with his Big Band and special guests Jerry Jeff Walker, Tom Rush, Jonathan Edwards, Jeff Daniels, and John Fullbright.

John Fullbright is a guy from Oklahoma who’s a pretty good singer/songwriter and plays a nice piano. Jeff Daniels is the actor and a pretty clever folkie songwriter and not at all a bad acoustic guitarist. Kind of annoying I’d say, in a Tim Robbins/Kevin Bacon-sort of way. Jonathan Edwards had a hit about forty years ago and sings barefoot. His new songs are the kind of songs a barefoot guy would sing. Tom Rush is still wonderful—he did an awesome “Whom Do You Love”—I was so pleased with the grammatical correction. Each of those guys got 15 minutes before Bromberg came out and played for a half hour with Jerry Jeff, closing with a too-short “Bojangles.” A nice, short break later, the Big Band came out and and while the set was less expansive than previous Bromberg shows at Town Hall given the time, it was no less instructive in how to play blues/jazz/bluegrass/folk and rock n’ roll all at the same time with both virtuosity, soul and cleverness. David Bromberg ain’t much to look at and his voice is a long way from pretty. But many, what a band. Smart, moving, powerful and honest music. He took a few years off but came back seven or eight years better than ever. Here’s hoping for plenty more.

Since I took the summer off, I haven’t done a great job of keeping up with them, but, late as I am, I want to recommend the following, depending on taste of course:

* The deluxe editions of Led Zeppelin’s final three studio albums: PresenceIn Through the Out Door, and Coda are much better than I recall them. I thought the band basically lost it after Physical Graffiti, but they had an awful lot left, and apparently a great deal of it was left off the original albums. These are a great deal. Coda is three CDs, the other two are two; the albums and a bunch of other stuff.

* Miles Davis at Newport 1955-1975: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4 is four CDs of twenty years of performances. Two of them are great if you love early Miles. People who love late Miles love all four. It’s an extremely generous collection and of course Miles brought incredible bands with him every time. 

* Sly and the Family Stone Live at the Fillmore East, October 4 and 5, 1968 was recently rediscovered and while the performances are energetic and the sound quality surprisingly good, I find it a bit too early in Sly’s career to be satisfying. The four CDs are pretty much the same songs and while many are great, there aren’t enough songs or enough variety in the performances to justify its length. Two CDs of this would have been plenty. A later show would have been a better choice, though of course, this was what was available.

Other releases to which I cannot remotely do justice include:

Branford Marsalis Quartet, Coltrane’s A Love Supreme Live in Amsterdam, which is on both CD and DVD,

Jazz@Linclon Center Orchestra, Live in Cuba on their new Blue Engine record label, and

The Faces, You Can Make Me Dance, Sing Or Anything (1970-1975) … which is a collection of all of their albums, plus a cd of rarities, some, but not all of which appeared on 5 Guys Walk into a Bar…

Also, Eagle Rock, the DVD/Blu-ray company, has three releases I’m especially enjoying:

The Rolling Stones, From the Vault—The Marquee—Live in 1971, which is a short, but sweet, set of mostly Sticky Fingers and it’s the best live Stones on video I’ve ever seen. (The package is a CD/DVD.) They also put out a documentary that’s been around for a long time called From the Vault: Hyde Park Live 1969, which was their first show after Brian Jones’s death and their first with Mick Taylor. It’s OK, mostly of historical interest. Much more exciting is the performance we get from The Who Live at Shea Stadium 1982 on Blu-Ray (no doubt inspired by the Clash’s opening set). Kenny Jones was on drums but I don’t see any problem with that. The band is as powerful as ever—as far as I can tell. And funny that they do “I Saw Her Standing There.”

I also need to mention some recent collections from my friends at the Library of America, including:

Women Crime Writers: Eight Suspense Novels of the 1940s & 50s (Box set)

Edith Wharton, Four Novels of the 1920s, edited by Hermione Lee

The American Revolution: Writings from the Pamphlet Debate, 1764-1776 (boxed set), edited by Gordon Wood

I hope to have more to say about those in the future, when it come time for a gift-buying guide. but if you want to buy yourself a gift, well, go to it… I’m sure happy to have them.