Gary Lucas   reviews  
NRC Handelsblad (Netherlands), Review of Gary Lucas and Najma Akhtar's Paradiso show, September 28, 2010

Gary Lucas and Najma Akhtar, with Sirish Manji on tabla, 26th of September 2010, Paradiso, Amsterdam

by René van Peer

An edgy, nervy guitar and sensual undulating vocals seem 2 different phenomena very hard to reconcile. The American guitarist Gary Lucas and the Brittish-Indian singer Najma Akhtar didn't make it easy for themselves in Paradiso. Not only do they come from different musical backgrounds, they each work in a personal style with a strong individual character. Akhtar covered an area from Bollywood to light classical Indian singing, filled with glowing tones that she accentuated with fluent movements of her arms and hands. Lucas was rooted in the music of the American hinterland like delta blues and bluegrass.

Guitar and vocals were combined together in songs in which the mutual contrasts were given free reign. The guitarist was doing powerful fingerpicking. Barrages of notes and chords were used to fire up the tension, while Akhtar wrapped her sensual voice around his hot swinging sounds without losing her composure.

Together they bridged the distances between various eras of time. With his slide Lucas made his guitar exuberantly glow up and down in parallel to Akhtar's singing. The singer used sharp vocal sounds to equal the guitar player in eagerness. More then once she let herself be pushed up to a state of rare high tension.

At these moments the modest tabla player Sirish Manji dared to come more to the forefront with playing that can be compared with the fireworks of a Chinese New Year. The version of Skip James' Special Rider Blues was special. Akthar bent the 'blue notes' a little bit further then they are done in the original.

5 STARS *****

NRC Handelsblad (Netherlands), Review of Gary Lucas and Najma Akhtar's Paradiso show, September 28, 2010

Sensueel versus Hoekig

by René van Peer

Recensie | Dinsdag 28-09-2010 | Sectie: Kunst | Pagina: 09

Een hoekige, nerveuze gitaar en sensueel golvende zang lijken lastig te verenigen grootheden. De Amerikaanse gitarist Gary Lucas en de Brits-Indiase zangeres Najma Akhtar hadden het zichzelf in Paradiso niet gemakkelijk gemaakt. Niet alleen schenen ze vanuit tegengestelde hoeken te vertrekken, ze werkten elk in een stijl met een sterk eigen karakter. Akhtar bestreek een terrein dat zich uitstrekte van Bollywood tot licht klassieke Indiase zang, vol gedurfde glijtonen die ze accentueerde met vloeiende bewegingen van armen en handen. Lucas had zich genesteld in de muziek van het Amerikaanse achterland, waarin hij zowel de deltablues aandeed als de bluegrass.

Gitaar en zang schoven ineen tot liederen waarin de onderlinge contrasten ruim baan kregen. De gitarist ging zich te buiten aan een krachtig 'fingerpicking'. Barrages van noten en akkoorden joegen de spanning op, terwijl Akhtar haar stem sensueel rond zijn verhitte klanken slingerde zonder haar kalmte te verliezen.

Samen overbrugden ze de onderlinge afstand van tijd tot tijd. Met een slide liet Lucas zijn gitaar uitbundig op en neer glijden in navolging van Akhtars zang. De zangeres scandeerde puntige klanken waarin ze de gitarist in felheid naar de kroon leek te steken. Verschillende keren liet ze zich door Lucas opstuwen naar een staat van hoogspanning.

Toen trad de bescheiden opererende tablaspeler Shirish Manji ook meer op de voorgrond, met roffels die niet onderdeden voor duizendklappers van het Chinese nieuwjaar. De versie van Skip James' Special Rider Blues was bijzonder. Akhtar boog de 'blue notes' uit het origineel nog net wat verder door. Info: Gary Lucas en Najma Akhtar, met Shirish Manji op tabla's. 26/9 Paradiso, Amsterdam. *****

fRoots, Review of Chase the Devil - Gary Lucas and Dean Bowman, June 2010

Chase The Devil Knitting Factory KFR-1100

Well, now. Predicting Gary Lucas’s next move is akin to expecting to win the National Lottery without buying a ticket, and this time he’s taken another swerve by hitching up with blues/jazz vocalist Dean Bowman for an album of Judeao-Christian spiritual musics of all kinds – mark you, Bowman’s stint with The Screaming Headless Torsos should have alerted one that a union might be likely…and a fruitful union it is. Two originals by the pair kick things off, with the intense dotted rhythms and wild blues licks of Nobody’s House giving note of the album’s intentions, allied as they are to Bowman’s dark but expressive vocals. ‘Hallelujah! We are rollin’ like the Holy Rollers!’ introduces God Is A Good God, where matters get interesting: Bowman wails and shouts like one possessed, while Lucas goes quite bananas on two insane electric guitar parts – one of the great and characteristic features of his playing is his willingness to fingerpick a Strat and combine this with tremolo and delay. Gary Davis’s Twelve Gates To The City shows this off to good effect, while Bowman recovers his poise for a lovely rendition, and then the duo pay respect to Blind Willie Johnson’s amazing Dark Was the Night, Cold Was The Ground with wordless moans against a tad of electronica and icy slide guitar.

Halfway through, the Jewish Hinay Ma T’ov, from the singing of cantor Shlomo Carlebach, provides a moment of delicacy before returning to Gary Davis and a heartfelt Children of Zion. Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence is visited next, and then here comes the Episcopalian tradition with In Christ There Is No East Or West, Lucas paying homage to John Fahey’s classic rendering and Bowman singing it straight. Jerusalem (yes, that one) pits reverential vocals against what can only be described as traditional Chinese electric guitar (a hint of Lucas’s The Edge Of Heaven here), then a deeply quirky Let My People Go, with the slide trying to peel away into the sky and being held down by the Paul Robeson-style vocals, lead to Rosetta Tharpe and Up Above My Head, a contemplative finish to an extraordinary album. From blues drones to stately cadences, from screaming vibed-up electric guitar to hushed vocals, little is left unexplored in this joyous tribute to sacred music. Quite wonderful (and oh so twisted).

—Ian Kearey