Upcoming Concert Reviews Of Eddie From Ohio, Melvin Sparks and More...

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Melvin Sparks



Eddie From Ohio

Thursday · Jack Quinn's

To most Indie Rock bands, the DIY ethic means recording their album in a basement studio, hand painting the cover art and delivering their still-drying discs to area record stores for consignment sales. For the past 15 years, the members of Eddie From Ohio have raised the DIY pursuit to an amazing level, with each member of the Virginia-based quartet fulfilling some purpose in the behind-the-scenes scenario, from promotional mailings to administering the band's Web site (efohio.com) to bookkeeping to maintenance of the EFO tour bus.

These duties (and many more) would be enough responsibility for a full-time team whose only focus was on the business aspect; it's almost beyond belief that the foursome (vocalist Julie Murphy Wells, guitarist Robbie Schaefer, multi-instrumentalist Michael Clem and drummer Eddie Hartness, whose name spawned the christening of the band) can accomplish all of their myriad chores and still find time to write and record.

EFO has written and recorded a fair amount since coalescing in 1991 when all four were students/alumnae from James Madison University and Virginia Tech. After a successful five-year run of local pubs and regional venues, EFO engaged a booking agent and began spreading their light-hearted Folk/Pop vibe to the wider world; thanks to the beauty of the Internet and the grassroots support of some of the most loyal fans in the business (Edheads, naturally), getting the word out about Eddie From Ohio was the easiest part of the equation.

Perhaps EFO's most impressive feat, apart from remaining intact for a decade and a half, has been the fact that the band has managed to remain completely independent, releasing all of their albums (including their seventh and arguably best album, This Is Me, in 2004) on their own Virginia Soul label, primarily through some of the most difficult double-duty action in the music business. So if you hit the Eddie From Ohio show, and wander up to the merch table afterwards, be nice to the T-shirt sellers: they might well be band members. (Brian Baker)

Melvin Sparks with Urban Music Development

Thursday · Stanley's Pub

Expert Gregory Beuthin dubs Acid Jazz as "groovy music that sometimes wants to make you move, sometimes wants to tell you what's going down, and sometimes just sits in the background as you bob your head, not quite knowing why you're feeling so funky."

That's dead-on to the Melvin Sparks experience.

Known as "The Originator of Soul Jazz, Old School Acid Jazz and Barbecue Funk," Sparks has been around for a few moons and spun alongside some stellar stars in his time.

Surrounded by music from day one, Sparks grew up in Houston hanging around his mom's juke joint, where she held Jazz jams on Monday nights for teens looking to play. At the age of 13, he found himself onstage with BB King at his annual Christmas show in Houston, playing King's guitar. A merry Christmas, I'd say.

After working some notches into his belt of experience, Sparks joined The Upsetters, which was the Soul and R&B backup band of the day. He funked it hard with Curtis Mayfield and James Brown while honing in on R&B with Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and Sam Cooke. Cutting deeper into the Jazz scene, Sparks hooked up with Jack McDuff, lined up with Miles Davis and Lou Donaldson and sinkered (down) with Grant Green and Dr. Lonnie Smith, not to mention his time as a session man for Blue Note and Prestige Records, which afforded him the opportunity to record with greats like Otis, Stevie and Aretha.

With the reemerging interest in Acid Jazz, Sparks continues on the Jazz track, hard and in the guitar-choppin' pocket, layering Be Bop melodies with Funk rhythm undercurrents. You can see this sparkling all over today's sea of innovative acid-jazzers such as Karl Denson and Robert Walter, while groove bands like Galactic and Soulive keep putting out a similar Funk. Sparks' new album, Groove On Up, is due out May 23, on the Savant imprint.

Melvin Sparks' scrapbook is priceless. Add to it and let him spark your soul. (Sara Beiting)

Marcia Ball with the Cincinnati Pops and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band

Friday, Saturday and Sunday · Music Hall

Despite the physical proximity, there is a distinct and discernible difference between the scorching Blues of East Texas and the Cajun Swamp Rock of western Louisiana. And while the region has spawned some legendary artists over the years, the Texans (the Winter brothers, Janis Joplin, Lonnie Brooks) have typically honored the Blues tradition while the Louisianans (Queen Ida, Zachary Richard) have just as typically presented their Cajun Zydeco heritage.

Pianist Marcia Ball is one of the rare examples of an artist that bridges that gap rather than choosing a side; perhaps it's a reflection of her East Texas birth and western Louisiana upbringing. Ball's musical education began at age 5 when she learned piano from a combination of her grandmother, her aunt and a structured piano teacher. She continued to play throughout her teenage years, and after she enrolled at Louisiana State University in the late '60s, she began playing with a psychedelic Rock band. In 1970, she was on cross-country trek to San Francisco when her car broke down in Austin, Tex., after she stopped to visit an old bandmate. Ball fell in love with the city's atmosphere and decided to stay; she's been based in the Texas capital ever since.

After more than a decade of perfecting her Boogie Woogie-meets-Zydeco piano style in local and regional clubs, Ball signed with Rounder Records and stayed their for 15 years, earning Grammy nods and a W.C. Handy Blues Award. Ball then signed with Alligator Records, Bruce Iglauer's renowned Chicago Blues label, and released her 2001 label debut, Presumed Innocent, and the soulful So Many Rivers in 2003. Last year, after nearly a quarter century into her recording career, Ball released her first live album, Down the Road, a rollicking, raucous documentation of Ball's incendiary live performances.

If you love the Blues in any form, Marcia Ball on stage is a delight; Jerry Lee Lewis used to set his piano on fire, but Marcia Ball's piano spontaneously combusts without a match in sight. Ball's appearance with the Pops this weekend is a part of the "Take Me to the River" program, featuring "the music of America's rivers." (BB)

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