January proved to be an amazingly rich month of top-notch concerts. Living in Washington, D.C. has its perks for music lovers, with indie and soul artists regularly pushing through at the Black Cat, the Birchmere, Bohemian Caverns, the 9:30 Club and the legendary Blues Alley. Since, for the artists we love, live music is more of a boon than CD sales, we plan to try to devote monthly ink to concerts worthy of your time and chips.
Starting off the month was soul singer April Sampe who served up a sample platter of hot buttered soul with spicy jazz poppers to belly-warming effect. Fans may know April by a rather underwhelming debut project, Simple Things. But with a new, sonically improved sophomore project in the works, boasting crowd pleasing jams like "Eleven O'Clock," Ms. Sampe is bringing the nightclub act back with humor, panache and a healthy set of chops. While her set was liberally peppered with songs by Jill Scott, Erykah Badu, and Sampe's doppelganger, Ledisi, it was Sampe's original material and re-imagined jazz covers like "My Favorite Things" that carried the day with audiences' delighted to have braved the cold for this sumptuous treat. In the future, we're look forward to more April sans the soul sisters of yore: Trust the material, girl, you've got the goods.
I've often joked that Raheem DeVaughn is the hardest working man in show biz (though Jesse Boykins III may steal that mantle yet). In DC, DeVaughn is known for performing at the opening of an envelope, though admittedly with the gusto of an arena star. Sometimes, DeVaughn is a welcome sight, like when he opened for Jill Scott at Constitution Hall and literally scaled the rafters, hollerin' during performance. Other times, like say when he's pinch-hitting for a no-show D'Angelo at the "Dreams of My Father" American Scholars' Inaugural Ball, not so much. Watching a band yawn from the sidelines while a tuxedoed DeVaughn belts "Customer" to a DAT is only topped by realizing an hour later that your favorite dreamy-eyed soul recluse has no plans on showing up to an exclusive $500 ticket gala. Thank God I attended for free.
As usual, Eric Roberson rides to a music fan's rescue, but this time galloping with an amazing posse of talent in the form of The Revelations featuring TrÃ© Williams -- though the shady DC audience didn't always appreciate how hard Southern boyz Rell (yes, formerly of Rockafella Records) and TrÃ© Williams (yes, formerly of Nas's Ill Will Records) were busting a sweat trying to impress them with vocal prowess for days. Grit and gravel played nicely against a blaring brass section, particularly on uptempo jams like "Stay Free." Once the Revelations band understands the benefit of joining Rell on backgrounds, to help their lone little man out, theirs will be the show to beat.
In the meantime, Eric Roberson, an admitted favorite of mine and the city's, still proved to be the show to beat in all of indie soul. I don't know if this brother does a special show just for DC since he comes two or three times a year for crowds of 300-500 fans; all I know is regardless if the set list is the same, Roberson's approach to material is never, ever the same. This time, favorites from all five albums ("ha, ha" for those of you who missed the Vault 1.0) were given a rock and funk treatment that had the crowd hoarse from screaming and aching from dancing. All that Howard U. theater training was also put to good use as Eric played Obama locked out of the White House for a killer rendition of "Only For You" from Left. Roberson fans were delighted to hear the brother is six weeks shy of finishing his sixth album; expect it to be released around June. Those who check out Eric on tour may get a sample of that tasty new song he's trying out with the band for the next project. Oh, yeah, and whatever Erro is paying his M.D. and guitarist, Franklin Bridge's Curt Chambers, it's not enough-it could never be.
Other notable performances of the month, included: Andre Alexander at Bohemian Caverns, who graciously didn't kill me for my review of the mildly recommended Andre's World. Also at the Caverns was Tortured Soul, whose forthcoming album, Did You Miss Me, is a bonafide keeper in 2009; we can't ever have too much Christian Ulrich (formerly of Cooly's Hot Box), if you ask this fan.
Next Up: Lalah Hathaway, Rahsaan Patterson and Noel Gourdin for Lalah's annual Valentine's Day show at DAR Constitution Hall and the Labelle reunion tour, coming to Constitution Hall fresh off a show for the ages at the Apollo Theater in New York. If you wanna feel the magic with me check your local listings and artists' websites to see who's coming your way. Be there.
By L. Michael Gipson