If this was 1970 instead of 2000 and Mary Shaver's debut CD "No Time Like Now" hit the streets, Shaver would be a star. A powerful mix of blues, soul and rock, the CD reminds me of an Al Kooper recording session or something Janis Joplin might have done with Big Brother and the Holding Company if they'd been a tad more polished. It's a strong record, and Shaver says she's glad she recorded it because it might have staved off a midlife crisis.
"I just turned 40 a couple of weeks ago," Shaver says, "And knowing that was coming up definitely provided a little of the impetus to make the record. There were a lot of things in turmoil in my life, and through it all I knew I wanted to do the CD. The whole process kept me focused during some pretty rough stretches."
The title track is the last song on the CD and is the only one penned by Shaver (with some additional writing from producer and drummer Pete Ragusa). "The lyrics are very autobiographical," she admits. "I wrote them two years ago, when the idea of making the record was really growing in my head, and it's just me telling myself, `Do this!' " Shaver laughs and says, "But it's also me telling my lover, `Get off your ass!' "
In the late '80s and through most of the '90s, Shaver was the vocalist for the Prince George's County-based blues and southern-rock group One Thin Dime. Throughout her tenure with that band, WPFW-FM blues DJ Bill Wax kept telling Shaver not to underestimate herself. "Bill was a teacher of mine at Fairmont Heights High School, where I also met all the guys in One Thin Dime, and he really pushed me to think about a solo project. Finally I couldn't think of a reason not to make this record."
Shaver approached a musical hero, Nighthawks drummer Ragusa, and asked if he'd be interested in working with her. Ragusa had also grown up in Prince George's County and knew of Shaver and readily agreed to produce her record. "She came out to a Nighthawks show at Twist & Shout back in November of '97," remembers Ragusa, "and I had her sit in. Man, I gotta tell you, she just tore the place up. She's got that raw, honest thing going on that reminds people of Etta James and Lou Ann Barton." He laughs and says, "But to me, she sounds like P.G. County."
Ragusa and Shaver sifted through dozens of songs before going into the studio, including originals, compositions from friends in the blues-rock world, and cuts from records by the likes of Little Milton, Aretha Franklin, Slim Harpo and other musical groundbreakers. "The blues are not any easy thing to just jump into," says Shaver, "and I went backward to it through growing up and listening to WPGC in the '60s, hearing Motown and Philly soul. Then hearing Bonnie Raitt, Little Feat and especially Janis Joplin."
You can tell Shaver put in a lot of time listening to Joplin, and she admits that the Texas singer is her primary influence. But while she can evoke Joplin in her tone or her phrasing, there's something unique about Shaver's delivery that keeps her from being a copycat act.
On the CD, Shaver is backed by some of Washington's best blues players: Tommy Lepson, Paul Bell, Wade Matthews, Steve Wolf, Mark Wenner, Gary Crockett, Chris Battistone, Bruce Swaim, Big Joe Maher, John Ticktin, Brian McGregor and of course Ragusa. But to perform live, Shaver has put together a sharp trio of Ragusa, guitarist Keith Grimes and bassist Matthews. They're performing each Tuesday in January at Lewie's in Bethesda (301/652-1600).
"I really enjoyed recording the CD, but performing live is what I love," Shaver says. "It's not easy to get up there and bare your soul for people, but that's what you have to do. I try not to think about it, but just get up there and get into the music."
nTo hear a free Sound Bite from Mary Shaver, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8130. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)
HOT GUITAR DUO
So, last Friday, I'm sitting at the nice U-shaped bar at Coco Loco (810 Seventh St., NW; 202/289-2626), and next to me is Juan Laguna, though I don't know that yet. All I know is he's bopping on his bar stool, smiling through his thick mustache, clapping along to music being made by the Young & Rollins guitar duo, which on this night is actually a quartet.
Laguna turns back to his drink and says, "I love to hear such talented musicians." We exchange names ("Like Laguna Beach," he says). We chat. Laguna is from Venezuela and plays guitar as a hobby. He thinks Dan Young and Lawson Rollins are pretty hot.
Laguna is right. Young & Rollins are pretty hot, as are their accompanists this evening: bassist Leonardo Lucini and percussionist Alfredo Mojica Jr. "It's kind of a salsa flamenco with a little jazz thrown in," says Young, who's 24 and working on a degree in jazz studies. He and Rollins both play nylon-stringed guitars, and their fluid technique allows for both subtle nuance and rousing flourishes. "What [Lawson] knows is not what I know and vice versa," Young says. "And I think we complement each other pretty well."
Lawson, 29, moved from classical guitar studies to flamenco while in his teens but warns that people looking to hear traditional flamenco guitar won't find it in their performances. "We combine so many different elements, so at most I'd say we're flamenco influenced."
Young & Rollins perform mostly original compositions, works that combine the melodic strengths of Rollins with the chordal and rhythmic inventions of Young, and they say a debut CD should be out before summer. All this is pretty speedy work for a couple of guys who got together barely a year ago and didn't perform as a band until only eight months ago. The atmosphere of Coco Loco doesn't allow for a full drum kit, so you can hear Young & Rollins's full band (with Leonardo Lucini's brother Alejandro Lucini on drums) at State of the Union (202/588-8926) on the first Saturday of each month (including Feb. 5). Otherwise, catch the group (with Mojica on percussion) at Coco Loco most Fridays from 8:30 to 10:30 (but not Jan. 28).
nTo hear a free Sound Bite from Young & Rollins, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8131. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)
A group of men dissed two women at an Adams-Morgan nightclub last weekend. The women got their dates. There was a gun.
Minutes later, in the heavily used parking lot on 18th Street NW, two men were dead and another wounded.
Shockwaves from the killings have reverberated up and down the busy Adams-Morgan strip of restaurants and nightclubs. "What I think needs to be done is for the police to pay special attention to places where there's a concentration of nightlife," says Alan Popowsky, owner of the restaurant/club Felix. "Both to prevent anything from happening and to reassure the patrons of clubs and bars. When places let out at 2 or 3 in the morning, there's always the potential for trouble, but I can't believe that two people are dead because of an argument. It's tragic."
Join Popowsky, myself and Mary Abbajay (co-owner of the Adams-Morgan bar Toledo Lounge and president of the Adams-Morgan Business Association) live online Friday from 3 to 4 p.m. to discuss issues of nightlife safety and the community's reaction to the shootings. Click onto www.washingtonpost.com, then go to the "Live Online" area. You can also submit questions and comments in advance.