A Boys Night Out

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A fellow music aficionado from my corporate headquarters came to town yesterday. He tends to favor the blues and particularly live music. As opportunistic hosts, several co-workers and I developed A PLAN.

The evening began in Little Five Points, an almost legendary "alternative" area of Atlanta. Having first emboldened one of our group with java fro Aurora Coffee, we ventured to Criminal Records, sorting through new and used CDs, which share space with comic books, vinyl records, DVDs, and magazines. The store had a fairly modest selection, but quality prevailed, if tailored to either the alt-trendy or the timeless.

We then ventured past the Vortex, several vintage clothing stores, Wax'n'Facts, and a tattoo parlor to arrive at A Cappella Books, who seem to cater to serious readers. The quote that best described Little Five Points, as I remember it anyway, was from our guest: "I thought places like this existed only in books."

We'd hardly started. Off we go to The Book House Pub, which was described to me as a "gastro-pub." This description was equally disconcerting as it was potentially rewarding. Immediately upon entering, it had a great feel to it, with a grand bar dominating the space. Neti, our bartender, remembered our names, extolled the virtues of several selections of beer, and even explained the Persian myth inked on her arm. We all took the plunge on her recommendation, Mother's Little Yellow Pill. There's no need for a drug test; this was a limited edition, draft only, Czech Pilsner from Oskar Blues Brewery in Colorado, from which great beers reportedly flow.

As for the "gastro" part of it, it can be said that they make collard green egg rolls taste as good as possible (as a Southerner, I'm at a loss to explain my distaste; it is what it is), and their Angus Burgers, served on Ciabatta bread, rock. You put the gastro and the pub together, and... it works. The flavor of the burger bubbled up throughout the evening. In a good way.

And, finally, we come to what might be considered musical therapy. I'm certain much has been written on the subject; I'm too lazy to read whatever there is, and what others think in this regard doesn't particularly matter to me.

There are some things in life that cannot be solved. A light bulb burns out; you replace it. Problem solved. But often there is emotional baggage that we carry, either openly or suppressed. When we recognize what we're feeling, it's fairly easy to find music that works. We dance, tap our feet, clap our hands, raise fists, whatever, to the degree of extroversion to which we are comfortable.

Or, conversely, our emotion is less palpable, and we find its expression in a song that brings it to the fore. Rage. Disappointment. Guilt. Frustration. Fill in your own blanks of things that often lie suppressed, either unknowingly or set aside for a more convenient time to process. Music (well, music that I like...) resonates with something within me, and it has for a very long time. It's as if the emotion of the artist (words, song structure, instruments used, tones, solos, etc.) seeks things laid deep and puts them in a more recognizable context.

A song has a beginning and an end. An emotion has a cause, but not necessarily a timely conclusion. But if we are to take a leap and suggest that music heals, then there must be some resolution of the way we feel without other inputs. Without venturing into the workings of brain synapses, I confess I don't really care about the how. I'm just thankful that it is, and I'm just as thankful that people have talents to make music that in any degree, matters.

The last stop of the evening was a place where such things are capable of happening. That is Blind Willie's, a bar in the Virginia-Highlands area, named after a fairly famous Georgia blues artist, Blind Willie McTell. With further encouragement from breweries Stone and Sweetwater, we listened to a blues based trio play their emotions for us and another 20 or so gathered. This was The Tommy Talton Band, meaning that for this performance, it was Talton on acoustic and electric guitar accompanied by a tenor/soprano saxophonist and a keyboardist. No drums. No bass. Neither needed.

Often, emotions are put into the development of what comes to the listener as a studio performance, and, in concert, is often repeated to the note. That's fine. It communicates. But it's even better when musicians have the freedom and ability to tap a mood spontaneously and create. Sometimes, it's difficult to hear the difference. But in blues and jazz, more often than not, what you're hearing is not recitation but experiential... of the moment.

What resulted last night was a fairly jazzy blues set from a group that appeared very much in tune with what they were playing. The music fit the words. The words fit the music. The crowd and the band fit each other. Each musician played from a very cool, centered place that served each of the songs well. As the songs were written mostly by Talton, I doubt that most in the bar were familiar with them. All came expecting to experience something new, finding relationship between the music and their own lives. Was it the best music ever? No. But there was a truthfulness to it in spirit.

And, I might add, it was entirely refreshing to pay $8 without any accompanying Ticketmaster fees, and sit within 5' of a band with an unobstructed view. There's some envy there, as I couldn't help but be jealous of the locals who simply walk to and from Blind Willie's. Score one for urban living over the 'burbs.

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