Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Rudy Lu
“The soundman said, ‘Can your voice go lower than mine?’” Alexis P. Suter told the totally rapt crowd at The Linda in Albany. Then she did something truly amazing: She lowered her voice! “I don’t know… Maybe?”
You have to understand: This Brooklyn-born blueswoman wields a bass/baritone that would send most opera singers scurrying into the nearest corner so they could cower better. You can’t compare Suter to contemporaries like Shemekia Copeland or Katie Webster, and even the late great Koko Taylor couldn’t match Suter’s lower range. The closest comparison would be to John Lee Hooker, another long-gone blues legend. But you pair up that range with the muscle-car power and unyielding control Suter puts behind her vocals, and the results are so unbelievably good, you just have to hold your head.
With her big top hat and all-black Moshood Creations outfit, Suter resembled an executioner as she slowly stepped onstage after her band’s opening instrumental number. The temptation to say she slayed us with her towering version of “Didn’t It Rain” is way too huge, but the fact is that anyone who hadn’t been exposed to the combination of Suter’s singular vocals and her death-defying back-up band got nailed to the wall like a butterfly in an entomologist’s lab. I know my jaw was on the floor during Suter’s awesome re-telling of The Flood, and it stayed there for most of the first four numbers.
“How many here are seeing us for the very first time,” Suter asked after “Get Me Out of This Hole,” a devastating ode to victims of the 1-percent economy. When over half the crowd raised their hands (mine included), Suter’s eyes nearly popped out. “WOW,” she declared, a huge smile on her face.
“Virgins,” back-up singer/co-producer Vicki Bell whispered lasciviously into her mic.
“We love virgins,” Suter laughed. “You can MAUL them and make them like you!”
Between Suter’s crackling originals (some of them coming from an upcoming release that should drop sometime this July) and her sensational covers of Lennon & McCartney’s “Let It Be” and Pete Townshend’s “Love, Reign O’er Me” you can consider this crowd – and this correspondent – duly mauled. The sorrow in the latter cover was monumental, and without the synth & strings of the original recording, you really felt how alone Townshend’s protagonist Jimmy really felt. Suter felt that loneliness; indeed, she feels the emotions in every tune right down to her toes, and you do, too. “Get Me Out of This Hole” nearly drove Suter to tears, and “Let It Be” finally did the job.
On the flip side, Suter’s got a wicked, bawdy sense of humor that she has no problem showing, particularly when it comes to her sizable girth. (“In New York, if you take up more than one seat on the subway, you get a summons! Ask me how I know!”) She dedicated “Built For Comfort” to “all the fluffy people in the house! If you can pinch more than an inch, you are definitely down with the crew!” But then she immediately flipped the message from humorous to positive. “Love every bit of you! Love every bit of you! In the winter, you’re heat… In the summer, you’re shade!” Suter also made it very clear that she is definitely a sexual being on “Comfort,” on the Boyfriend From Hell tune “All Over Again,” and on the delicious GTFO anthem “You Don’t Move Me No More.”
It’s probably unfair to call Bell a back-up singer, because she completes Suter in so many ways. When Suter’s bass/baritone and Bell’s stinging alto fly formation on lyrics and choruses, the harmonic is utterly devilish, and the lyrics open up even more. Then you have to factor in Suter’s backup band, which (in the words of the late Donald “Duck” Dunn) could turn goat piss into gasoline. Jimmy Bennett is to Suter what Bob Margolin was to Muddy Waters – a guitarslinger who puts the T in “nasty.” His slide licks on “Hole” and his own vocal piece “Crazy Mama” were epic, while drummer Ray Grappone and bassist Peter Bennett’s rebar-strong foundation never faltered. We all had to stand and dance for Suter’s wonderfully brutal closing version of Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips,” and when I say “had to,” I mean Suter downright demanded it. None of us even gave denying her a first thought, let alone a second one. That’s blues power, baby!
After the various recommendations I’d been given, Tas Cru’s kick-ass opening set was no surprise. The award-winning educator mixes sharp lyrics and a great voice with an exceptional mix of acoustic guitar and electric foundation that still provides power without sacrificing intimacy. (That mix also saves the crowd – and the band – from being hit over the head with blaring electric guitar, energizing you rather than enervating you.) No, the REAL surprise was drummer Sonny Rock’s partner in rhythm, bassist Steve Kirsty. Three years ago, Kirsty contributed some pretty nasty saxophone to Charles Cornell’s solid opening Sunday set at Lake George Jazz Weekend. Since then, Kirsty did some time in William Paterson University’s vaunted music program, but he’s also honed his chops (on bass and sax) the old-fashioned way: On the road with the pros! He’s got a nice phat tone on that bass, too… though if he ever puts down his reeds for good, he’ll have ME to answer to!