Best of 2019: Fred Rudofsky’s Top Concerts of the Year
1) Scotty Mac and the Rockin’ Bonnevilles at the Troy Dinosaur BBQ (Oct. 18). Ostensibly a send off to Ted Hennessy, lead singer and blues harp player extraordinaire headed to a new life and new wife on the Left Coast, the show featured everything great about this remarkable quartet. Two and a half hours later–one set, to be exact–there were smiles all around the venue.
2) Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives at The Egg (Nov. 16). The evening show was sold out, as was the one at 3pm, which I luckily got to attend. An acoustic show for the ages, it also featured insightful and often funny between song stories by Stuart about how 1999’s The Pilgrim, his marked break from the cookie-cutter demands of Nashville, came into being.
3) Hamell on Trial at The Low Beat (Nov. 27). Armed with classics dating back to Big as Life and new classics yet to be released, Ed Hamell and his trusty Martin guitar cut through the fog of our fractious times through like a Cadillac with its high beams on. Worth it just to hear Hamell’s spot-on prayer to say at Thanksgiving if one is surrounded by a family polarized by the Commander in Tweet.
4) Toronzo Cannon and the Chicago Way with special guests Nite Train at Skyloft (Nov. 23). “Right on, this is blues for grownups!” What followed was over ninety minutes of songs about infidelity, succumbing to a hilarious yet all too real mid-life crisis, the perils of health insurance coverage, and gritty life snapshots of the Second City from a bus driver’s perspective. I cannot say enough about Cannon, a powerful vocalist and guitarist, leading a talented band and telling some of the funniest stories this side of Bernie Mac. Local group Nite Train impressed many during a short opening set.
5) Our Native Daughters at The Egg (July 26). The Highwomen may be the ones getting the attention this year, but they are no match for Our Native Daughters, who brought powerful harmonies and star turns to songs that charted the depth and range of the African American experience. Smithsonian Folkways, by the way, filmed the concert.
6) Ali Jean, The Televisionaries, and The Wild Weeds at The Hangar on the Hudson (Sept. 20). The opening two bands from out of town played decent sets, but the real reason The Hangar was buzzing was for local favorite Alison “Ali Jean” Jacobs, whose live shows have been infrequent. Headlining an all-star band featuring Graham Tichy, Kevin Maul, Ritz Carlton, and Chris Osborn, Ali Jean bopped the blues in grand rockabilly fashion. May she play many shows in 2020 and record a followup to 2006’s classic 50fifty.
7) Los Lobos at Skyloft (Sept. 12). A short (90 minutes) yet raucous set by the legendary band from East LA; the songs ranged from deliriously intricate acoustic picking (“La Pistola y Corazon”) to sonic boom (“Mas y Mas”).
8) Chandler Travis 3.0 at The Ale House (June 7). Every time this group of virtuoso musicians drops into town, it’s guaranteed magic.
9) Sarah Borges and the Broken Singles with special guests The Bottle Rockets at The Hangar on the Hudson (June 6). One of the best double bills of this or any year: The Bottle Rockets played a generous sampling from last year’s gem Bit Logic while Borges won the hearts and ears of many with songs from her formidable catalog, all given an extra punch by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s incisive lead guitar. Borges would return again on Nov. 8 to deliver another kick-ass show.
10) Dumpstaphunk at Skyloft (June 28). Led by Ivan Neville, the New Orleans funk was on and never let up, to the delight of those dancing. The band played a knockout tribute to the recently deceased Dr. John, too. Look for a new album by the group in the new year with a very special guest on guitar, as bassist Tony Hall told me.
11) Kinky Friedman with special guests Greezy Wheels and Brian Molnar at Caffe Lena (Nov. 9) . Molnar played a commendable solo set; Greezy Wheels’ founders–husband and wife Cleve Hattersely (vocals and slide guitar) and Sweet Mary (world class fiddle)– won instant fans; and the legendary Kinkster beguiled a sold out crowd with politically incorrect (but not mean spirited) jokes, colorful stories, and superlative songs from his new album Redemption–the evocative title cut, an elegy to those departed and an ode to life on the road, left no dry eyes.
12) The Lawn Sausages with special guests Super 400 at The Hangar on the Hudson (June 14). Is there a better trio than Super 400? Is there a band of misfits (all over 50?!) that can rival the mayhem of The Lawn Sausages? I rest my case.
13) X at Skyloft (May 24). Though their set list could have been from 1985, X rocked the new Albany night club’s opening weekend showcase with gusto. A sold out crowd got their money’s worth, including a surprisingly cool jazz saxophone turn by lead guitarist Billy Zoom.
14) Samantha Fish at the Green River Festival (July 13). True to its track record, this eclectic festival introduces somebody that you know will be headlining events in the near future. Fish, a young Kansas City-based blues rocker, was a mid-afternoon stunner leading a band attuned to her every move.
15) Coal Palace Kings at the Albany Elk’s Lodge (Oct. 5). Howard Glassman and his band for over two hours hit the sweet spot of roots rock and power pop, and mixed in a few upstate tales of ennui, lust, and inebriation.
16) North Mississippi Allstars at The Cohoes Music Hall (Nov. 16). Nearly three hours of greasy, gritty blues-rock that approached but never fell into jam band excesses.
17) Rebirth Brass Band at Skyloft (August 4). Got to give it up for this venue, it has an affinity for New Orleans bands, and bringing this venerable group in was right on the money.
18) Southern Culture on the Skids with special guests Split Squad at Skyloft (Sept. 21). How’s that for alliteration? Oh, and they both rocked the rafters and a eight-piece box was last seen flying off the stage to an adoring crowd in the closing moments of the SCOTS’ set.
19) Buddy Guy with special guest the Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band at The Palace (Nov. 19). I would have rated this concert by one of my all-time heroes much, much higher if *the insufferable SRV-wannabe Shepherd had not been the opener
*Guy, who was singing superbly and playing otherworldly guitar, had played more of his own songs (he has released several excellent albums in this century alone) instead of relying on old warhorses by Muddy Waters and Cream (“Strange Brew” was especially an odd choice for an extended jam given his monologues about how the Brits had received more credit and revenue than their African-American inspirations).
20) Special shut out to Dave Alvin, whose seven-song cameo fronting the Reverend Horton Heat at Skyloft on December 8 was rock and roll–“So Long Baby Goodbye”, “Marie Marie” and “Dry River” to cite a few– at its finest.