Arizona Acoustic Blues - MIM Music Theater - 8/13/2013
When Paris James took the stage Tuesday night at the Musical Instrument Museum's "I Am AZ Music" Acoustic Blues show, a collaboration with the Phoenix Blues Society, and bid everyone "good evening," the audience said "good evening" in turn with a tone that was more "peace be with you" than hearty hello.
Shows at museums can sometimes feel a little like church. Audiences are on their best behavior and are very polite. Too polite. This kind of atmosphere must be perfect for a performer, though, all hushed appreciation and concentrated attention. It's not always the best for an awkward audience member who's not sure if you're allowed to hoot and holler. Luckily the crowd loosened up as the blues marathon warmed up.
Six different Arizona blues acts performed: Jimmy Pines & Washboard Jerry, Paris James, Dirt Music Express, Leon J, Nina Curri, and Hans Olson and Chuck Hall closed the show together. That's a lot of blues! More than four hours of it to be precise.
Things got somewhat off track when Paris James played a little too long. Not a big deal, but there were four more acts following him. A snippy, "That's it" from behind the curtains ended Paris' set. The terse ending reminded this reviewer of Dave Chapelle's send up of Oscar-speech-ending music -- Chapelle created a "Wrap it up!" machine you could play when certain situations drug on too long. James just lost track of time, that's all.
Otherwise, James' set was great. He mostly played originals, adding standard covers such as Ma Rainey's "See See Rider" to fulfill the evening's billing. Most notable of James' songs was a retelling of original sin, turning Adam into a "rolling stone" after his first night with Eve. Jimmy Pines and Washboard Jerry's witty "The Perfect Woman" echoed the sentiment of John Prine's "In Spite of Ourselves" and provided even more levity to a show promising songs mostly about heartache and loss.
The Dirt Music Express is an excellent throwback trio. These guys work well together and channel old-time without going over the top and becoming a parody of themselves. Each player took turns at the mic, providing a diverse approach to their work. Harmonica player Keith Roger's dramatic Elmore James' "Talk to Me Baby" was offset by bassist Jeff Farias' Lurch-like baritone "Mother Earth" -- the dude is super tall... Scotty Spenner's slide guitar on Muddy Waters' "Honey Bee" is timeless -- or time-travelling depending on how you look at it. The Dirt Music Express is worth a listen wherever they play.