Jim Infantino’s super big ego
by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., April 2, 2002) – On a five-year-old song called “Ahead of the Curve,” rock singer-songwriter Jim Infantino pokes fun at trendiness, especially those who cultivate it obsessively. Fans of Infantino – the frontman and visionary of the trio Jim’s Big Ego, which performs at Club Helsinki next Thursday, April 11 -- know that the song is something of an inside joke, however, because the fact is Infantino has been ahead of the curve several times over the past decade.

At least since Jim’s Big Ego’s 1996 album, More Songs About Me, Infantino has been crossing a new-folk singer-songwriter-type outlook (he was named Artist of the Year in 1995 by the National Academy of Songwriters) with a hip-hop attitude, much like contemporaries Beck and Ani DiFranco. At some of his late-‘90s shows, he came across as a one-man version of the Beastie Boys.

Infantino also was an early adopter of looping technology, allowing himself to perform, in effect, backed up by himself – now so commonplace in live performance it’s become something of a cliché. A self-described “geek wannabe,” Infantino designed his first website in 1996, and since then has won several awards for the design and implementation of his website. He was a pioneer in making his recordings available for download via the internet, and several of his recordings are multimedia or “enhanced” CDs. Along with Beck and Moby, Infantino was one of the first artists to create original “Shockwave Singles,” animated music videos using Macromedia Flash software.

But Infantino’s greatest genius has always been as a songwriter and recording artist, as heard on his latest CD, Noplace Like Nowhere ( “Stress” is an updated version of his mid-‘90s ode to the Starbucks generation. “Angry White Guy” fits G-d for the title role; “You Piss Me Off” finds the missing link between Revolver-era Beatles and Nirvana-era grunge (Kurt Cobain has long been an obsession of Infantino’s). “Boston Band” is a funny yet tender send-up of the sometimes tediously competitive Boston music scene.

For reservations to Jim’s Big Ego at Club Helsinki, call 413-528-3394.

Guy Davis’s new album, Give in Kind (Red House), isn’t even due out until next Friday, but already it is garnering acclaim as one of Davis’s best. Like previous efforts, Davis’s latest is a relaxed journey through the blues, an intimate affair in which it sounds like Davis is seated across from the listener singing good-hearted love songs, tragic story songs and a few raunchy celebrations of humanity, all in vintage, Delta blues and country blues arrangements.

Davis, who returns to Club Helsinki on Friday, April 5, at 9, wrote most of the 16 songs on Give in Kind, but he pays tribute to legends like Bill Broonzy, Fred McDowell and Leroy Carr by recording some of their tunes. While the album is mostly an acoustic guitar, bass and drums affair, a few tunes are spiced with electric guitar courtesy of W’ali Muhammad and keyboards by Keith Slattery. Davis takes a turn on didgeridoo on one number, and Zoe B. Zak lays some accordion down on another, lending the album an ethnic flair.

The son of actor/activists Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, Davis is a veteran of the stage as well as the concert hall. He made his Broadway debut in 1991 in the Zora Neale Hurston/Langston Hughes collaboration, “Mulebone,” which featured the music of Taj Mahal, whom Davis credits with pointing him toward the blues.

Other theatrical efforts have included the role of the legendary bluesman in an Off-Broadway run of “Robert Johnson: Trick the Devil,” for which he won the Blues Foundation’s W.C. Handy “Keeping the Blues Alive Award.” Davis’s self-penned, one-man show, “In Bed with the Blues: The Adventures of Fishy Waters,” garnered raves when it opened in New York in 1994, as did his appearance on stage with his parents the next year in “Two Hah Hahs and a Homeboy.”

On Turning Pages, his third CD, environmental engineer-turned-singer-songwriter Andrew McKnight’s warbly tenor variously recalls Don McLean, Acoustic Junction lead singer Reed Foehl, and new-folk singer Richard Shindell. McKnight’s rural-based acoustic music and story-songs reflect his Shenandoah Valley background – the singer lives in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Middleburg, Va.

Songs on Turning Pages variously address the relationship between Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings (“Diary”), the allure of performance (“Stardust”), life in a company town (“Company Town”) and contemporary bachelorhood (“Riley’s Life”). McKnight and Josh Lamkin of Asheville, N.C., perform at the Railway Café in North Adams on Saturday, April 6, at 8. Call 664-6393 for reservations.

The Williamstown Jazz Festival heads into high gear this weekend, beginning on Friday night with a salsa dance concert by trombonist Jimmy Bosch and his orchestra at Mass MoCA in North Adams at 8. Bosch is musical director for Latin pop sensation Marc Anthony, and a leader in the “salsa dura,” or hard salsa movement, bringing the music back to its roots while simultaneously updating it with influences from contemporary r&b and rock.

On Saturday night the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, festival headliners, will perform at Chapin Hall at Williams College (not at Smith College, as the group’s website claims) at 8:30, culminating two full days of the Intercollegiate Jazz Band competition being held at Chapin Hall today and tomorrow. The CHJO was formerly resident jazz orchestra for the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Drummer Jeff Hamilton, one of band’s three leaders, has been touring recently with singer/pianist Diana Krall.


Various Artists

Mississippi Blues (Putumayo)

Blues means different things to different people, as this sampler of vintage and modern tracks makes clear. There’s the riotous, minor-key, death-haunted wailing of Luther Allison’s “Part Time Love,” the slow, subtle build and piercing falsetto of harmonica ace Junior Wells’s “Come on in This House,” the proto-rockabilly of Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup’s “Mean Ol’ Frisco,” the soulful, sultry, suggestive duetting between vocalist Tina Turner and husband/guitarist Ike Turner on “3 O’Clock in the Morning Blues,” the mariachi horn-drenched “St. James Infirmary” of Bobby Bland, and the jaunty, acoustic fingerpicking of Mississippi John Hurt. Also included on this always entertaining and eclectic blues sampler are cuts by John Lee Hooker, Memphis Minnie and Memphis Slim.[4/7/02]

Various Artists

Any Woman’s Blues (Rounder Heritage)

This CD collects 14 previously-released tracks by female blues and r&b singers from Rounder’s 30-year-old catalog. The music ranges from the deeply funky r&b of Miki Honeycutt’s “Soul Deep” to the more controlled, jazz-blues fusion of Michelle Willson’s “Half Past the Blues” to Tracy Nelson’s update of Bessie Smith’s ragtime-blues classic “Send Me to the ‘Lectric Chair” to Irma Thomas’s gutsy remake of the Aretha Franklin classic, “Dr. Feelgood.” It’s all about women’s voices, and with Ruth Brown, Rory Block, Maria Muldaur, Ann Peebles and Marcia Ball also represented on the 16 tracks collected here, it’s a virtual festival of contemporary female blues talent.
[ 4/7/02 ]

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on April 5, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

To send a message to Seth Rogovoy
content management programming and web design