The Millers, Elliott & Alvin
Three acts that share a label--California's Hightone Records--but little else held the Birchmere stage for 3 1/2 hours on Wednesday night. Buddy and Julie Miller, who are quickly becoming alternative country's answer to George and Tammy, kicked off their too-brief opening set with "My Love Will Follow You." Julie, an amalgam of Cyndi Lauper and Emmylou Harris, sang alone on the title track to her new album, "Broken Things," an achy plea from someone who's been romantically poleaxed more than once ("You can have my heart/ If you don't mind broken things"). While his wife pounded in the background on a trash can purchased earlier in the day from a Comfort Inn, Buddy, who comes off as a less dysfunctional Steve Earle, added "Hole in My Head," whose three chords were assembled by him and friend Jim Lauderdale.
Ramblin' Jack Elliott, the old-school urban cowboy, went next. Though Elliott had trouble finding keys and chords throughout his set, the technical glitches couldn't obscure the beauty of his take on Tim Hardin's "Reason to Believe" or the power of Woody Guthrie's "Tom Joad." And with all he's seen in his 68 years, Elliott's between-song ramblings were at least as compelling as his musical offerings. His tales of encounters with an aging Woody Guthrie, Beat-generation New Yorkers, a very young Bob Dylan and countless empty bottles provided a primer on popular American folk music.
Closer Dave Alvin began by humbly confessing he didn't deserve to top a bill that also included the Millers and Elliott. Although the former Blaster had a few nice moments--"Fourth of July," the song he wrote for X, and "King of California"--his powerful baritone, which works occasional magic in a band setting, blasted away the subtlety of his ballads in the unplugged format. His opening confession never seemed inaccurate.
Eric Reed Trio
Jazz pianist Eric Reed has enough technique to whip through writhing passages at breakneck speed, but he also imbues his formidable excursions with persuasive musicality. Wednesday night at Blues Alley, Reed's mastery of suspense and sensation was matched by his charm as he engaged the audience by announcing song titles and cracking self-effacing jokes.
Completed by drummer Greg Hutchinson and bassist Barak Mori, Reed's trio alluded to magical orchestrations by Ahmad Jamal and Oscar Peterson. But as evident from his meditative reading of Sting's classic "Englishman in New York," Reed is firmly rooted in modern jazz. Performing a handful of songs from his latest album, "Manhattan Melodies," a collection of New York-related tunes, Reed thrilled his listeners as he unleashed quicksilver single-note passages.
On his shimmering retooling of "Autumn Leaves," Reed bantered with Hutchinson in a playful call-and-response that shifted among Afro-Latin, stride, funk and bebop rhythms. Mori succeeded in grounding Reed's more elaborate solos with a hearty resonating pulse or a spry walking bass line.
Reed also demonstrated his fondness for Thelonious Monk with a rousing medley of "Wee See," "Bye-Ya" and "Epistrophy." On his solo reading of Monk's "Think of One," he expanded the fragmented melody into a jigsaw puzzle while subtly layering Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon" on top. The performance proved to be not only the set's highlight, but also a true testament of Reed's interpretive prowess.
It was called the Resurrection Tour, but former new-wave hitmakers Mike Peters (formerly of the Alarm), Gene Loves Jezebel and the Mission U.K. couldn't revive their audiences of old Wednesday at the 9:30 club. A small but appreciative crowd, some dressed in lacy black dresses and trench coats that probably haven't been out of mothballs since the late '80s, witnessed alternative rock mediocrity.
Peters sang his earnest folk-rock songs accompanied by acoustic guitar, some prerecorded backing tracks and, later, three members of Jezebel and the Mission. The quartet proceeded to butcher some Alarm gems, such as "Spirit of '76," "Rescue Me," "Sixty Eight Guns" and "Blaze of Glory."
Gene Loves Jezebel was never very good to begin with and, save for the charmingly goofy stage presence of singer-guitarist Jay Aston, isn't very good now. Mixing gothic rock and heavy metal, the group played such college rock hits as "Desire" and "Josephina" as halfheartedly as when they were originally written.
The Mission U.K. brought some professionalism to the stage, and singer-guitarist Wayne Hussey achieved a solid rock-and-roll persona. The problem is that, except for "Deliverance" and "Tower of Strength," the Mission's brooding, atmospheric hard rock is generally unmemorable. Much like the Resurrection Tour.