Amanda Shires, Lucero, and Portland, Oregon’s Waterfront Blues Festival
This week features a potpourri of sorts, combining upcoming releases by Amanda Shires and Lucero that I am excited about with a report and photos from Peter Dervin on Portland’s Waterfront Blues Festival. Most notable among his photos are those of the Mavericks. In Peter’s hands you feel the magnitude and the majesty of that formidable band. Those photos are placed together so you may get their full effect.
Amanda Shires – To the Sunset (Aug. 3)
Shires continues to defy expectations and, more significantly, refuses to be pigeonholed. That is evident from the album’s cover, an out-of-focus, overly saturated impressionist vision of herself. It continues in the opening seconds of the album’s first track, which sounds like musical static as you search for just the right radio station. While it’s been said that she’s a master of poetic storytelling, I think that is a bit of an understatement. As a visual artist she’s well aware of the numerous artistic movements. I see her songs as surrealistic journeys into the hearts of her varied inner selves, the real and the imagined, the perceived and the transfigured.
While the most intriguing song may well be the final one that devastatingly takes the air of of your lungs, “Wasn’t I Paying Attention,” the most insightful is “White Feather.” Its lyrics include, “In a field in Ohio I changed into a scarecrow’s clothes to learn some of the secret songs he knows” that evolves a few lines later into “I think you feel safer mumbling your payers to a god you don’t understand.” Such is the intricate, deliberate assurance that reverberates throughout the new album.
It’s also evident that she has expanded her palette via Jason Isbell and John Prine. From the former she’s absorbed an ability to stretch things out musically, and from the latter, even more conciseness in her lyrics. If, like me, you were moved by her previous releases, this one takes you to a whole new level.
American Songwriter premiered “Leave It Alone” here.
Lucero – Among the Ghosts (Aug. 3)
While the band celebrated the first half of its 20th anniversary in April with a marvelous block party in its hometown of Memphis, the second-half celebration is this new record. Ben Nichols’ ten new songs are vignettes steeped in the Southern gothic tradition, balancing nuance and grit, delicacy and intensity, that paradoxically exist in the same space. The album is aptly titled as many songs on it, typified by the title track, evoke the spirits of worlds that are long gone yet continue to inhabit the present, such as soldiers in the Civil War writing letters home in “To My Dearest Wife.” You could call the album William Faulkner-like.
Lucero also evokes a blue-collar ethos that is no better exemplified than in “Back to the Night.” The song features a haunting spoken word interlude by actor Michael Shannon channeling Travis Bickle (Taxi Driver), albeit more poetically. Overall, this a collection of haunting songs with a blues, rock, country gospel and R&B foundation that the band is well known for. Even though the songs are new, they feel lived in, comfortable, secure, like your favorite pair of 2o-year-old jeans. Provided, of course, they still fit. Mine do, and it’s obvious to me theirs do as well.
American Songwriter premiered “Cover Me” from album here.
Waterfront Blues Festival 2018 by Peter Dervin
For over three decades the Waterfront Blues Festival has taken place at the Tom McCall Waterfront Park in Downtown Portland, Oregon, bringing in thousands of music fans from around the world. This year’s festival (July 4-8) exemplified community love as the major corporate sponsors from the past moved on and the organizers went grassroots and pulled off an exceptional lineup of blues, zydeco, soul, and Americana music, most notably Robert Randolph & the Family Band, The Revivalists, The Mavericks, and George Thorogood & The Destroyers. Other favorites included Commander Cody & his Modern Day Airmen, Beth Hart, Nikki Hill, and Ruthie Foster.
I was able to catch two of the four days at the festival, and it was a jam-packed two days. Highlights for me were the sets by the Mavericks, Beth Hart, and Nikki Hill. Local favorites the Dusty 45s from Seattle and Curtis Salgado from Portland both bought the crowds in and had them dancing into the night. A real treat was hearing Kid Ramos and his band, checking out Johnny Rawls for the first time, and always having a blast with Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band.
My favorite moment of the festival came with the set from the Mavericks. Every time I see this band, they just really know how to get a crowd energized and on their feet. As I walked around and talked with folks, many had never heard of the Mavericks before as they don’t usually play the blues festival scene. All I can say is that many people came away as true believers in the Mavericks’ rock ‘n’ roll country swing.
Both Beth Hart and Nikki Hill, provided energetic and rockin’ blues sets to the fans that were simply amazing. Another artist who has become a huge favorite is Aki Kumar. Originally from Mumbai, India, Kumar brings a fresh approach to his worldbeat blues. I really enjoyed being able to see and hear Kid Ramos, a guy who’s been around the Southern California music scene for quite a while.
Another fun part of Waterfront Blues Festival is the Front Porch Stage and Crossroads Stage. At the Front Porch Stage, many of the zydeco/Cajun bands play in front of a huge dance floor where, throughout the day, dance lessons are given in various styles. Over at the Crossroads Stage, many up-and-coming and traditional blues artists play in a smaller and more intimate space.
What makes the Waterfront Blues Festival so special is the mix of blues, zydeco, funk, soul, Americana, and roots music. There really isn’t anything else like it on the West Coast and every year I get to see and hear an eclectic mix of great music.
Now take a look at Peter’s selection of photos, as well as those of Shires and Lucero by other ND photographers.