Vienna, VA 2/15/2010
On a cold night that promised more snow for the blizzard weary Washington DC area, a pair of bands took the stage at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, VA and provided warm food for the musical soul. The Jamie McLean Band opened for Eric Lindell, a couple of veteran song writers and guitarists that put on a nice showcase of skillful songwriting.
Jammin’ Java is a small dark club with a dimly lit stage that creates a theatrical atmosphere, leaving little distraction from the music. A well built stage housed a very good PA system, allowing you to easily hear the subtleties of what the bands were doing.Jamie McLean took the stage first, he writes that slow, grindy kind of R&B that shows off the influence of his time spent in New Orleans as the pioneering guitarist with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. His songs had simple, clean lines and melodies, that showed off the song, rather than heavy playing, until the solo sections, where McLean could really begin to stretch out. Accompanying McLean was drummer Brian Griffin and bassist Ben Mars. Both musicians did a good job with background vocals and harmony behind the solid lead vocals of McLean. I was impressed at how Ben Mars showed restraint in his bass lines, especially for a young player, helping to pare down the songs to just their essentials. Ben told me he graduated from the New School, in New York City, last May, giving his senior recital one day, and going out on tour with the Jamie McLean Band the next.
The set of music performed by the Jamie McLean Band was made up largely from their latest album, American Heartache, with some other numbers from their upcoming album Completely, and a really nice cover of the Beatles’ She Said. All in all I was left impressed by the room filling sound of this trio and would not pass up a chance to see them again.
The back end of the night featured the headliner, Eric Lindell. Eric has an intangible quality, that “It” factor in his voice and guitar playing that cultivates a dedicated following. About to release his fourth album, Between Motion and Rest, Lindell brought an all-star band with him to deliver his newest material alongside neatly revamped versions of his older stuff. Jimmy Carpenter was on saxophone, the very widely recorded Jon Carroll on keyboards, Chris Arenas on bass, and Eddie Christmas on drums. These musicians have been pros for a long time and represent the kind of mature playing that only years of work can produce. Eddie Christmas played a two piece kit, snare and kick drum only, with a high hat, ride cymbal and a crash cymbal. Yet his amazing syncopation drove the band rhythmically, laying down a traditional New Orleans funky foundation for everyone else to build on. Jimmy Carpenter was simply stunning on saxophone. Like Eric himself, Carpenter relies on melodic statements in his playing, sprinkled with blistering runs and powerful climaxes to his solos. Jimmy is also very adept at playing sympathetic lines behind Lindell’s vocals or guitar solos, creating a musical conversation that lasted all night.
Eric Lindell has a sweet voice, with just enough gravel in it. He sold what he was singing hard to a group of fans very familiar to the material. His songs encompassed a great mix of blues, rhythm and blues, funk and Americana. Eric’s vocals and guitar solos were all very melodic and rhythmic, telling stories through the music as well as the lyrics. Jon and Jimmy lent terrific harmonies to support Eric’s voice and the night meandered on with an array of danceable songs, riddled with big hooks at every turn. Eric would occasionally stop and bring the audience into the show by asking for, and playing their requests.
For me, the night was a very satisfying mix of savvy song writing and first rate musicianship. I would recommend you catch both these acts whenever you can.