Misty Blues rock the juke joint with new CD
by Seth Rogovoy
(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., January 8, 2003) – By day she works in the admissions office and as the coach of the women’s rugby team at Williams College. But at night, Gina Coleman goes into a phone booth, changes her outfit, and comes out as a blues singer in the tradition of classic blues divas like Big Mama Thornton, Dinah Washington, Georgia White and Rosetta Tharpe.
Coleman didn’t always sing the blues. She performed in the region for the better part of a decade as lead singer of the rock group Cole-Connection. Then about four years ago, she played a gospel singer in a Williamstown Theatre Festival production of “Raisin in the Sun.” The actor Rubin Santiago-Hudson told her he thought her voice was suited to singing classic female blues. “He turned me on to some great female blues music collections,” says Coleman, “and I was hooked.”
For the last three years, Coleman has been the lead singer of Misty Blues, which celebrates the release of its first CD, “Electric Juke Joint,” tonight at Joga in North Adams at 9:30.
The recording features 11 smoking electric blues songs, rockers like “Key to the Highway” and “Who’s Been Talking” and ballads like “3 O’Clock Blues.” The album includes songs written by Lonnie Mack, B.B. King, Howlin’ Wolf and Willie Dixon.
Coleman is an expressive vocalist with a big low end and colorful upper register. She growls her way through “They Call Me Big Mama” and “Blow Top Blues” and purrs through “Men Are Like Streetcars” and “3 O’Clock Blues,” and she has enough sense of humor to pull off ribald numbers like “Hot Nuts” and “Wang Dang Doodle.”
“What drew me to these songs, especially the ones made popular by the female artists, was the strength and humor of the lyrics,” said Coleman. “These women got away with singing some of the bawdiest things ever mentioned in public without totally offending the masses.
“I can identify with these women because I came for a similar background as many of them. I was born into a poor black family in the South Bronx. I didn’t have an easy childhood, but I managed to do well for myself by working hard and having a
good sense of humor.”
But this isn’t just a singer’s album. Working with Coleman, a Williams alumna, are some of the Berkshires’ finest musicians, including guitarist/vocalist Jason Webster, bassist/vocalist Bill Patriquin, drummer Mike Basiliere, harmonica player Matthew Swanson and guitarist Jeff Dudziak. Together the sextet, which performs two or three times a month in North County, is a powerful, versatile ensemble, with Webster and Swanson particular standouts – they do a veritable dance on “Hot Nuts,” featuring a very twangy solo by Webster.
Part comedian, part poet, a serious piano player and one of the jazziest of jazz vocalists – this is Mose Allison all wrapped up in one. The singer – who performs at Club Helsinki tomorrow night at 9 for the third time in three years – is an American original, as talented as he is hard to pin down.
In an interviw with the Eagle in 2001, Allison, now 76, said that in spite of his renown, “I’m still waiting for people to really listen to the songs and pick up on all the inferences I went to a lot of trouble to put in there. A lot of it just goes right by them.”
Warming up the crowd for Allison tomorrow night is Miro Sprague, a 17-year-old jazz pianist and composer from the Pioneer Valley who regularly plays with the Sonya Kitchell Band -- which will play Sunday night at Club Helsinki. Sprague leads several groups of his own, including a piano-bass-drums trio called Trio Mission. The trio’s eponymous CD boasts several of Sprague’s original compositions and improvisations, and demonstrates him to be an accomplished musician well beyond his years.
DownBeat magazine recently honored Sprague with a first prize in jazz composition and second prize in performance in its national student music awards. Sprague studied jazz theory at Amherst College, and has worked with Dr. Billy Taylor and George Cables in the University of Massachusett’s Jazz in July program.
Hal Lefferts is best known to area music fans as the music director and host of the afternoon program on WKZE (98.1 FM) in Sharon, Conn. Lefferts is also a guitarist and singer/songwriter, however, who occasionally performs in the region. Lefferts is the featured artist at a house concert at the Off the Beat-n-Track recording studio in Southfield tomorrow at 8. The concert, which will be recorded and which will include a qeustion and answer session with the performer, is free and open to the public. For more info call 229-9939 or on visit www.offthebeat-n-track.com on the Web.
Fans of women’s folk music will flock to Memorial Hall in Shelburne tomorrow night for the powerhouse double-bill of feminist-folk icon Ferron and Boston singer-songwriter Deb Pasternak. Showtime is 7; (413) 625-2580 is the number to call for reservations.
[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on January 10, 2003. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2003. All rights reserved.]
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