“Diamond in the rough”–Super Diamond review

’15 Minutes’ and more: a roundup of some recent shows

Friday February 13, 2004

By Keith Spera
Music writer

Revisiting a clutch of recent shows . . .

The “15 Minutes Singer/Songwriter Night” second anniversary celebration Tuesday at The Parish of the House of Blues served up an engaging, eclectic and (mostly) acoustic procession of songwriters.

Susan Cowsill applied her open ache of a voice to “Snow,” a track dating to her tenure with the Continental Drifters, but mostly showcased fresh compositions, including one she finished minutes before the gig. With her husband, Russ Broussard, on drums, and Chris Knotts’ understated electric guitar leads complementing her acoustic, Cowsill again demonstrated how fluent she is in the forlorn.

Knotts then reunited with his former Flatware bandmate D.C. Harbold as Harbold chewed up the stage with one acoustic, honky-tonk-tinged statement of purpose after another. “How can I love someone else, when I gave all my love to you?” he sang, sounding like a man all too familiar with the question.

Singer/songwriter Jenn Howard, who as a teenager fronted the fondly remembered Project NIM, has kept a low profile of late, soaking in recordings by the likes of Etta James and Nina Simone. Her studies have paid off: Her voice, always a potent force, is now colored with shades of country and blues, and is all the richer for it. At the Parish, she sometimes overpowered the P.A. as she cut through and quieted the din in the room, accompanied only by simple strums on an acoustic. Her “Valiant Woman” trod familiar angst-ridden territory, but “Curly Girl,” an irresistibly sweet celebration of her 4-year-old sister, stamped an optimistic new spin on Howard’s songwriting.

Rockie returns

Early on Feb. 6 at the Mid-City Lanes, bandleader Rockie Charles presided over a series of deep blues ‘n’ soul grooves, backed by his like-minded Stax of Love band.

Decades ago, Charles set aside a fledgling career as a singer, guitarist and songwriter for more steady work as a tugboat captain on the Mississippi River. But his high-soaring voice and innate sense of groove are undiminished; neither is his knack for writing quirky, original songs, as evidenced by “Have You Seen My Uncle Steve,” the title track of his most recent CD.

Rockie Charles is back, stronger than ever.

Diamond in the rough

Later last Friday at the House of Blues, Super Diamond broke out sideburns, sparkling shirts and platform-soled shoes in tribute to Neil Diamond. Vocalist Surreal Neil oozed and crooned “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon”; his well-rehearsed band dug out the relatively obscure “Crunchy Granola Suite” to satisfy an audience request. “Soolaimon” segued smoothly into “Cracklin’ Rosie,” but all was not smooth.

“Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show” was not as explosive as it is in Diamond’s hands, and “America” was an anticlimactic encore. And the players’ shameless trawling for post-show companionship was a bit much.

But at their best, Super Diamond stuck to the Diamond blueprint even as improvisations spoke to the musicians’ comfort level with the canon. They successfully recast the ballad “Play Me” as an uptempo romp. “Sweet Caroline” morphed briefly into Guns N’ Roses’ “Sweet Child O’ Mine.”

But Neil was the man of the moment. “Don’t ever let anyone tell you,” Surreal Neil said, “that Neil Diamond doesn’t rock.” The same could be said of Super Diamond.

Sting still rocks

Debonair and rakish in a charcoal dress shirt with white cuffs and collar and black pinstripe slacks, Sting reasserted his status as the thinking woman’s sex symbol during a sold-out Jan. 28 show at the Saenger Theatre.

He tossed off one-liners that will doubtlessly be repeated throughout the long tour. In one anecdote, a fan approached him with, “Hey, man, I remember you from The Police.” His reply? “Nah, that was . . . my father.”

Sting front-loaded the show’s first hour with material from his current “Sacred Love” CD. At times, his well-rehearsed seven-piece ensemble crammed too much into tracks — world music, skittering dance-club beats and other exotica.

Less was more. Jazz trumpeter and opening act Chris Botti returned to the stage to color the playful stop-start of “Seven Days” with muted trumpet. For “Fragile,” Sting supplied the Spanish-style guitar, giving the arrangement room to breathe. “Fields of Gold” remains one of his most affecting solo compositions; it retained its quiet power onstage.

As if to prove he’s not too old, Sting and company stormed through the Police favorite “Synchronicity II” and restored “Roxanne,” rendered on past tours as a bossa nova, as a rocker. Late in the set, when the hits had finally liberated audience posteriors from seats, Sting sang, “This ain’t no time for doubting your power, this ain’t no time for hiding your care/You’re climbing down from an ivory tower, you’ve got a stake in the world we ought to share.”

He then put those lyrics from the disco remix of “Send Your Love” into practice, roaming to stage left and squaring off for a riotous encounter with a woman in the front row. He worked his bass onstage as she danced just below him, their eyes locked. At the song’s conclusion, Sting mouthed “thank you” to her, an indication that he still gets as much from his audience as he gives.

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