Saturday, April 11, 2009

Valorie Miller at The Cave

Asheville-based singer-songwriter Valorie Miller will be performing at The Cave in Chapel Hill on Saturday, April 17, on the early bill (7:30-9:30 p.m.) with Rebecca Pronsky.
Miller grew up in Durham and eventually came to rest in Asheville following college in Colorado.
Miller's latest album, Autumn Eyes, is her fifth CD.

When asked about her recording process nowadays, Miller allowed that she's learned a great deal about how to get what she wants in the recording studio since she tracked her first album, Analog, in 1999.

"I feel like I'm at the top of my game," she said. "I feel like my songwriting has become way more focused and concise. Looking back on my first record, there were a couple of numbers there that I still think are among my best work, mixed in with a lot of rambling, unfocused stuff. I mean, I'd never made a record before.

"I have a lot more ideas these days about how I want things to sound, and production ideas and such. I don't think I was really in charge on that first record. The fellas I was working with in the studio had a lot of ideas that got mixed in. I'm pretty protective these days; I want the ideas to be mine. I'm open to everyone's input, of course, and I use it often, but I definitely don't get led down a path I'm not comfortable following."

Miller noted that some aspects of creating and dealing with a new album are not particularly enjoyable.
"When I made my first two albums, it was all about doing a fun art project. I never thought I'd make a living doing this. I just liked playing songs and being in the studio. Now there's more pressure to make songs radio friendly, which I freaking hate. I didn't have a thought in my head about that stuff when I made my first two records."

In fact, however, Miller does enjoy some airplay - college radio, XM radio, and internationally - and her fourth album (Folk Star, 2006) landed on the Americana chart.

Miller's new record, Autumn Eyes, is a strong collection of original tunes. Asked if she tracked a song on the new disc that proved to be a welcome surprise, Miller immediately mentioned "Marigolds."
She explained that, "That was a song that I made up the day I recorded it. I realized that I didn't have anything on the record with just me and my guitar. This album is, I guess, a little more produced than my last record, so I started to worry that I'd overproduced the thing. I just spontaneously recorded 'Marigolds,' and I think it came out really pretty."

In terms of favorite songs, Miller mentioned "Carolina Line" and "Old Boots," numbers she referred to as the "jazz trio" songs.
"I was working with stellar players (Mike Holstein and Bill Gerhardt), and it was so fun to be in the studio doing that all in the same room. 'Old Boots' is an old song," she noted. "I have a stockpile of material that I go through when I'm going to record. I call it my compost pile."

"Old Boots" and "Carolina Line" both benefit from fine lyrics and a jazzy vibe that feels very right.

Another choice tune from Autumn Eyes is "Sons-a-bitches."
"I almost didn't put that song on the album," Miller laughed. "I have quite a reputation for being a dark songwriter. What some people think is dark, however, I think is sort of uplifting in a strange way - in a sad, maudlin kind of way. The idea with this record was to show a different side of Valorie and not go quite so dark, but I really wanted to put 'Sons-a-bitches' on it. I just convinced myself that the point of the song is to say away from sons-a-bitches and move on from bad relationships.
"Women love the song," she added. No doubt.

Drop in to The Cave on April 17 and catch Valorie's act. She might even sell you a copy of Autumn Eyes.
You can also find her new album right here:

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mariza at UNC

On Tuesday, March 31, the Portuguese fadista Mariza will be performing at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Memorial Hall.

Mariza is one of the most celebrated fado singers in Portugal. A native of Mozambique, Mariza Nunes moved to Portugal with her parents while still a child. She grew up in the Modiera district of Lisbon, long known as the precinct where fado was born.

Mariza was singing as a pre-teen, and during her teenage years she developed a strong interest in Bossa Nova – strong enough that she relocated to Brazil to pursue this music in its native environs.

It was fado, however, that brought her back to Lisbon. Singing in fado houses led to the production and release of her first album, Fado em mim (Times Square, 2002). She has subsequently released five albums – all earning an avalanche of enthusiastic reviews – including her most recent record, Terra.

My review of Terra, published in Billboard’s February 7, 2009, issue:

Portuguese fadista Mariza has become a celebrated artist well beyond her father’s fado house in Lisbon. On her latest project, the choice of material mirrors Mariza’s burgeoning world audience. Mariza offers several gorgeous fado numbers, of course, and she reaches beyond her traditional repertoire. For those who fancy fado, “Ja Me Deixou” and “Rosa Branca” are straight from the traditional canon and performed here with bravura. Mariza also unearthed a never-published poem by David Mourae-Ferreira and has given it another life as a fado number – “Recurso.” Guest Chucho Valdes adds some Cuban flavor to the Portuguese folk piece “Fronteira,” and Mariza sings a wonderful arrangement of a Cape Verdean morna, “Beijo de Saudade,” with Tito Paris. Finally, we get a very pleasant surprise via a bonus track – Mariza reprises the Charlie Chaplin tune “Smile” in English, and she does so most elegantly.

The genre of fado music began, much as the tango, as a lower-class music performed in bars in the Alfama and Alcantra districts of Lisbon. The lyrical component of fado is quite poetic.

From my description of fado on the Nat Geo Music Web site:

The essence of this poetry is the quality of saudade – a word that does not readily translate into other languages. The difficulty stems from the fact that the word saudade expresses a range of emotions – loneliness, melancholy, longing, even a fatalistic view of loss. Saudade evokes love in ruins or a bittersweet nostalgia for persons or events lost in the past. Fado is a somber, sometimes mournful, music that, like the American blues, gives voice to heartache and disappointment. When sung well, it can be wonderfully emotive and moving.

For a more detailed discussion of fado, your link is:

For Mariza bio info:

Listen to the woman sing:

Having caught Mariza in concert a couple years ago at NCSU’s Stewart Theatre, I can promise that anyone who attends her March 31 concert at Memorial Hall will be amazed by the power and elegance of Mariza’s voice and her remarkable command of fado.

That’s Tuesday, March 31, 7:30 p.m., UNC-Chapel Hill, Memorial Hall. Tickets at: 919-843-3333, or online:

Thursday, February 26, 2009

India Rising

Putumayo Records has just released an outstanding compilation album titled India. The release of this CD coincides with the arrival of Putumayo's first publishing effort - an elaborately illustrated, well written book entitled India: A Cultural Journey.
For Putumayo the timing couldn't be auspicious, considering the high-profile triumph of Slumdog Millionaire at the recent Academy Awards.

The India compilation disc offers 10 tracks featuring a number of Indian musicians. A.R. Rahman's song "Tere Bina," from the film Guru, is included. Rahman earned two Oscars - Best Original Score and Best Song - for his work on Slumdog.
Bombay Jayashri, noted carnatic vocalist, is represented by her tune "Zara Zara," and bansuri flute master Deepak Ram works a beautiful instrumental piece, "Ganesha," with guitarist Eduardo Niebla.
Ghazal singer Swati Natekar performs Niraj Chag's lyrical "Khwaab." Chag is a U.K.-based composer who first achieved recognition as an Asian Underground artist. His credits now include Bollywood film work as well as U.S. TV.
Another player featured on the India compilation - Sanjay Divecha - is a grad of the Guitar Institute of Technology in L.A. who spent many years working as a session player in Los Angeles. He returned to India in 2003, getting back to his cultural roots, and tracked the album Full Circle in 2008. His song "Naino Sey," from Full Circle, is included on the India compilation. The tune, sung by Kailash Kher, is a compelling blending of Eastern and Western influences. The sound of Divecha's guitar is not something we often hear in Indian music

The book India: A Cultural Journey is a coffee-table tome that provides a sweeping panorama of India today. The photography, by Laurence Mouton and Sergio Ramazzotti, is absolutely stunning, and the photos are wall-to-wall. The textual commentary, by Catherine Bourzat, is secondary to the visuals, but it's well informed and frequently illuminating.
The book is divided into chapters, or sections, such as: India Pink and Saffron Yellow; Gods by the million; The taste of tea; Bazaars and markets; The consecration of water; and Private visits.
This is a superb piece of work, a virtual journey-by-book through the Indian subcontinent. The landscapes are breathtaking, the markets and bazaars are vivid, the Hindu temples are eye-popping, and the faces are fascinating.

Both the album India and the book India: A Cultural Journey are available on Putumayo's Web site:

Also note that a portion of the proceeds from the sale of the CD
India go to the India Foundation for the Arts.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Papa Mojo Radio

The Super-Bowl Sunday concert at Papa Mojo's Roadhouse, featuring Johnny Sansone and Mel Melton & the Wicked Mojos, will be broadcast on taint radio Friday, Feb 13, 10-12 p.m., and Sunday, Feb 15, 8-10 p.m.
If you weren't in the Roadhouse for the Super Bowl party, you still have two opportunities to catch the music that had the joint jumpin'.
For those unaware, taint radio is internet radio -

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse: Serving Up Live Music And Cajun Cooking

Down Highway 55 in southeast Durham county, in the general vicinity of Research Triangle Park, tucked away in a corner of Greenwood Commons shopping center, you will find Mel Melton’s restaurant/music venue, Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse. It’s the spot in the Triangle to taste authentic Cajun cooking and a gourmet mix of Zydeco, blues, and Cajun music.
Mel – a North Carolina native – learned his cooking and got well into his music in Louisiana. He’s been a professional chef for over 30 years, working his art in kitchens from Austin to Chicago to Durham. He can pretty much cook-up whatever needs cooking, but his forte is Cajun cuisine.
Mel has also pursued his other great passion – music – for decades. He started the band Bayou Rhythm with guitar wiz Sonny Landreth in the early 1980s. Zydeco artist C.J. Chenier was also a member of the band, which enjoyed a good deal of success through the mid-‘80s.
When Mel returned to North Carolina on a permanent basis in 1990, he continued cooking onstage and in the kitchen. He has fronted Mel Melton & the Wicked Mojos for a decade, releasing several albums along the way, including the outstanding 2005 album Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse.
Mel and I recently sat down in his restaurant, which celebrated its one-year anniversary last month, to talk about two of our favorite topics – food and music.
Mel explained that Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse actually got its start via a music video.
“About five years ago I was approached by the director of the film school at Piedmont Community College,” he recalled. “He lived up in Yanceyville and so did I. He’d heard my band a few times, and he offered to do a music video with the band for a summer project for his class.”
As it happened, Mel was working on a song about Papa Mojo, a figure from New Orleans voodoo lore. The song, “Papa Mojo,” became the subject of the music video.
“A couple years down the road I’d been in touch with Antonio Elmaleh, one of my old friends from college, and we decided to partner up on an idea of a cooking-music show,” Mel said. “He had had a production company in L.A., and he’d worked for the BBC for about seven years, and he thought a music-cooking show would be a good idea. We decided to call it Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse. That was the theme: You go in this roadhouse every week and I’d have a guest band or guest musician. We’d do some cooking and then play some music.
“We went out to Hollywood with it and pitched it around, and it just got more and more out of hand,” Mel laughed. “We ended up doing a pilot, however. We rented an old building in the woods around Yanceyville and we staged this thing there. We still have the video. We never sold it.”
Mel went on to explain that Antonio and he had contemplated the idea of an actual restaurant. They thought that perhaps once they’d sold their cooking-music show idea, the next logical step would be to create a real Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse. Of course, they never sold the show idea.
“Meanwhile, I decided to cut a record,” Mel continued. “I had an offer to do an album with Louisiana Red Hot Records down in New Orleans. We went down there and cut the record, and that was the album Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse.
“We’d sort of built up this whole mythical roadhouse theme with Papa Mojo attached to it over the years, but there were no longer any plans to build the restaurant. I had the idea on ice, you might say. I had the menu, I knew what I wanted to do with the place.”
The restaurant idea may have been on ice, but it thawed out pretty quickly when Mel learned that Fowler’s, a gourmet grocery store in Durham’s Brightleaf Square area, had closed.
“ I got in touch in with the man who owned the building and I called Antonio,” Mel said. “I told him it might be a good place for us to do the restaurant.
“We got into the place and it was about 6,000 square feet. It was really just too big. At that point we’d been turned on to everybody in Durham who was doing downtown development, so we continued looking around in downtown Durham, but I never really could find a place that I was convinced would work.”
The restaurant was, at this point, an idea without a landing zone, until an acquaintance who owned a restaurant brokerage business in Raleigh put Mel onto a space in Greenwood Commons – an Asian restaurant that wasn’t doing too well.
“I went out and shopped the place for about a month,” Mel explained. “I talked to the owners and drove all through the area, because I didn’t know much about southeast Durham. I thought if we did it right it might work. I figured we could do well at lunch because of the RTP folks, and we could do some catering as well. I also thought if we would start doing some stuff at night out here, we just might catch fire, and that’s what has happened – and it happened immediately.”
Most restaurants that do live music don’t do both convincingly, and beyond that, most club-sized music venues struggle initially, and many fail. Mel was quite aware of these dynamics.
“I’d assumed that we were going to have to coax the music out here at night,” he said. “In fact, the live music was the first thing that became popular and profitable right off the bat. Since then it’s done nothing but help the restaurant and enhance what we’re doing out here.
“I told my business partner that I’ve seen a lot of night clubs open, and if we want to do live music, we’re gonna have to stick with it until it works. We can’t go in there for eight or nine weeks, not draw the crowds, and pull the plug. We have to be one-hundred percent committed for six months.”
Mel has done well with his roadhouse thus far. The quality music has drawn crowds at night, and the food is straight from Cajun heaven.
“We’re getting Bob Margolin and Will McFarlane out here; we’ve had Sonny Landreth in here twice in a year,” Mel noted. “Cool John Ferguson has been in here and tore up the place, and John Dee Holeman opened for him. We’ve got Johnny Sansone coming in February. We’re also bringing in some indie-type bands.
“The deal here is that the menu is real and the music is real,” he observed. “Whether it’s rockabilly or blues or Zydeco, I’m trying to get authentic music, and I ‘m booking people who’ve put in the years learning how to play their form of music. It’s a lot like our menu. We work hard at it and I’m proud of our food.”
All the Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse information is online at

Eliane Elias: Bossa Nova Stories (Blue Note)
Brazil’s bossa nova celebrated a 50th birthday in 2008 – yet another measure of how quickly 50 years can fly by when one is having fun. Eliane Elias, an extraordinary jazz pianist and vocalist, and a notable daughter of Brazil, released an album in January of ’09 that is a most excellent tribute to the gifted founders of bossa nova. Elias collaborated with a stellar collection of musicians – Paulo Braga (drums), Oscar Castro-Neves (guitar), Ricardo Vogt (guitar), and Marc Johnson (bass) – as well as tracking several songs with an orchestra. The first song on the record should be first, given Elias’ subject matter – “The Girl From Ipanema.” She sings this classic in English and Portuguese, and her treatment is gorgeous. She also covers Tom Jobim’s “Desafinado” in memorable fashion. Elias takes on Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me” and Johnny Mercer’s “Too Marvelous For Words,” recasting them very effectively in a bossa nova mood. She does the same with Stevie Wonder’s “Superwoman,” achieving a bossa nova vibe so convincing that one might easily assume the song was originally written in this style. Elias was an accomplished pianist before she began singing, but it’s clear from this album and her 2008 release, Something for You, that her vocal work has become quite polished.

Quick Fix
Guy Davis: Sweetheart Like You (Red House)
Davis delivered a superb blues disc in ’06 with Skunkmello, and he’s done it again with Sweetheart Like You. Davis’ feel for country blues, and his ability to write in this style, is unique among today’s blues artists. This album is a sweetheart.