Listening Post

MULE BLUES: At the age of 89, legendary bluesman Henry Townsend is still going strong, as those who attended his recent birthday celebration at BB's Jazz, Blues & Soups can attest. And to underscore his continuing vitality as a musician, Townsend has just released a new CD, The 88 Blues, on the Blueberry Hill label. The recording is Townsend's first release as a leader since 1980's Mule on Nighthawk Records. And it continues Townsend's amazing streak of being the only blues musician to record in every decade since the '20s, going back to 1929, when he cut his first sessions for the Columbia label.

The 15 tracks on The 88 Blues come from a variety of sources, ranging from a live performance by Townsend and guitarist Ron Edwards on KDHX (88.1 FM) in 1991 to a 1998 studio recording featuring Townsend playing with John May and Leroy Pierson. Nine additional tracks were recorded in a live performance at the Sheldon Concert Hall in July 1997 featuring May and Edwards, and the remaining four tracks were recorded in a studio in Falls Church, Va., that same year. Despite the variety of source recordings, the finished tracks on The 88 Blues blend well, and Townsend is in sturdy form throughout the sessions.

"Basically, the project started with the Sheldon recordings as a foundation," says Danny Thompson of Blue Sky Distribution. "But we needed more tracks, and Henry had the four tracks from Virginia. The person who produced that session never did anything with them, so we added them in as well. Then Ron Edwards recalled the 1991 recording from his KDHX show, and we added a final track featuring Henry playing with Leroy Pierson. And thanks to a great engineering job by Marcus Steinman at Discovery Studio, everything from these different recordings really came out sounding seamless on the CD." The 88 Blues does a fine job of capturing Townsend's unique improvisational composition style as well, Thompson says: "Henry doesn't just throw in an improvised take on one of his songs; basically, he writes each song on the fly, while he's performing it." This full-blown improvising approach puts pressure on Townsend's accompanying musicians, but May and Edwards have been working with Townsend for a while now, and that experience really pays off on the new recording. (TP)

THE DEATH OF THE (DEEP) COOL: Winter is a notoriously bad time for the bar industry, the weather providing an easy, if understandable, reason for people to not want to head out for a big night of clubbing.

But the attrition that was hinted at in the RFT about two months back ("The Hot Zone," RFT Nov. 18) is beginning to hit Washington Avenue in earnest. And it's not just the cold-weather doldrums causing the culling; it's simply an entertainment dollar stretched too far in a small amount of space.

Alexis Tucci's Fuel was the first to go, even before the RFT article hit; the short-lived club went up in flames over a lease dispute. The Living Room shuttered after a period of reformatting. And Deep Cool, the latest of Blake Brokaw's ventures on the strip, is now gone, too.

"Basically, when I opened it, there were four nightclubs in the city," Brokaw says of his club, which featured (alternately) pool, live jazz, DJs and an under-age room. "Now there's, like, 12, with two more to open. It's not just me, it's the Living Room. They're leaving; they're done with it. A lot of things are going on. It's turning into one big nightclub mall. I dunno -- you try to format something cool and the flash gets all the business, all the hype."

Deep Cool, a big, multileveled bar that formerly held the Green Room, was clearly in danger when the Cheetah (nee the Monkey Bar) opened in the fall.

"People are coming in who see the other places and want to jump on the bandwagon," Brokaw says. "Those wheels are going to break pretty soon. Think about it: We didn't have that many people coming out with four clubs. Now with 12, everyone's closing, reopening."

Brokaw says that he'll continue tinkering with the formats at Tangerine, his smaller, more workable room, including the vegetarian menu that's now in place, with an emphasis on non-dance-driven DJ spins at night. "It's a work in progress," he says. "It changes as my mood changes. It's doing very well. Sometimes there's a lot more you can do in 2,000 square feet than in 8,000.

"I just think it's funny. As much money as I lost in that space, I find it amusing. You have to keep your sense of humor about it. They will come and they will go. There's no permanence, as some will find out. I knew what I was getting into. I gave it a shot and it didn't work. I gave St. Louis what I thought it needed, and darned St. Louis didn't need it." (TC)

HIBERNATION REPRIEVE: Regional and local happenings galore take place this week around town, pumping life into the winter months. To wit: From 6-8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 14, is the second of a four-week stint for Sad Lewis at Euclid Records' Vinyl Shack, 7905 Big Bend in Webster. Sad Lewis comprises Darin Gray and Tim Garrigan of You Fantastic! and saxophonist Dave Stone. They'll play improvised music for an hour, then invite guests in to expand the music even further for another hour. It's a wonderful opportunity to witness three of the most adventuresome and thoughtful improvisers in the area create chaos out of chaos, or vice versa. If you can't check them out this Thursday, try catching them any other Thursday in January.

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