Those lines come from Willard Robison’s THE DEVIL IS AFRAID OF MUSIC, and the sum up the experience I — and a receptive audience — had last night at Barbes in Brooklyn, New York. Matt Munisteri sang and played both electric and acoustic guitars, aided by Danton Boller on string bass and Ben Perowsky on drums — with a late cameo appearance (two songs) by guitarist Julian Lage.
It was a lovely evening, and Matt both performed and reimagined a dozen of Robison’s songs perfectly — his singing a mix of tenderness and amusement, his playing a marvelous offering of textures: twangy notes and assertive dissonances, a rhythmic rocking whether the trio was in 2/4 or 4/4 — ranging from thunderous opening chords to lullabies. Danton Boller was a swinging foundation, every note a pleasure in itself, whether he was creating chiming harmonies or walking the pulse. And Perowsky was a perfect sound-receptor in the manner of Sonny Greer: what he heard, he echoed, he anticipated, he commented on — never losing the thread of the music.
I can’t wait for the Munisteri CD of Robisonia!
Last night, Matt began with one of Robison’s “syncopated sermons,” STILL RUNNIN’ ROUND IN THE WILDERNESS, which opened with minor-key vamping over Ben’s brushwork, then segued into a sweet but emphatic lesson about finding one’s life purpose by being aware of other people (always a pertinent message).
I’LL HAVE THE BLUES UNTIL I GET TO CALIFORNIA was a delicious mixture of optimism about the Golden State and a lover’s hope to be reunited.
Robison loved to quietly suggest to his listeners that they could find joy in being kinder human beings, but he had a satiric streak — one of his sly, naughty folktales is REVOLVING JONES (where one must listen very carefully to the verse to understand the chorus): Jones, before he dies, instructs his wife not to take a lover after he’s gone, or else he’ll turn over in his grave . . . and you can see where the song is headed. With a wink, Matt delivered the tale of infidelities to his Brooklyn hearers.
Another piece of sweet Nature-worship was I HEARD A MOCKINGBIRD SINGING IN CALIFORNIA . . . which (not for the first time) led me to wonder just how much of the folk-poetry Hoagy Carmichael and Johnny Mercer are justly celebrated for comes straight from Robison. MOONLIGHT, MISSISSIPPI had a couplet that Mercer would have been proud to write — describing the languorous cadences of speech in this “whistle-stop town,” the lyrics point out, “Like corn on the cob, it’s mighty sweet on the ear.”
Appeals for building funds never charmed me, but WE’LL HAVE A NEW HOME IN THE MORNING (anticipating Habitat for Humanity) was a rocking exhortation: we were ready to pick up hammer and nails and begin constructing something!
TRUTHFUL PARSON BROWN, the tale of a syncopating man of the cloth who swings the organ while telling his congregation what they need to know, “You’ll never get ahead if you try to keep your brother down,” was uplifting — and also reminiscent of music I’d never heard: Fats Waller said that his dream was to go out with a big band behind him and preach sermons. He would have grinned so happily at the music I heard last night.
Many evenings of improvised music hit a peak and then trail off: this one climbed and soared. Matt picked up his acoustic guitar for a solo trilogy (and I noted that Danton and Ben stayed there and listened admiringly) of three sweet songs I associate with Mildred Bailey: an instrumental chorus of OLD FOLKS, a deeply tender GUESS I’LL GO BACK HOME THIS SUMMER, and (what I think of as the evening’s masterpiece) a reading of LITTLE HIGH CHAIRMAN that was loving without being mawkish, amused without being in the least emotionally distant.
COUNTRY BOY BLUES was one of Robison’s satires — where the singer has been taken advantage of by an urban vamp, having let “a shoemaker’s daughter make a heel of me.”
Matt and Julian Lage had a good time with the closing songs — echoes of a Mississippi revival meeting in THE DEVIL IS AFRAID OF MUSIC and a reinvented T’AIN’T SO, HONEY, ‘T’AIN’T SO which began in funk territory before moving into the light.
It was a wonderful evening, with so much to admire in Robison: his earnestness and goodness of heart mixed with a Frishbergian sharpness and awareness of life’s little hypocrisies. And then there was Mr. Munisteri, humming along with his solos, rocking the blues, creating sweet music throughout. And he is a peerless singer, sincere or sly or both at the same time.
As I said, I can’t wait for the CD. You might want to investigate Matt’s recorded output while you’re waiting, though . . . !