John Hiatt, Robert Cray & James Carter
Paint the Big City Blue at Fourth Annual Music Festival
A Feature Article by Rich and Laura Lynch

The fourth annual Lowdown Hudson Blues Festival took place July 16 and 17, 2014 at the Waterfront Plaza at Brookfield Place (220 Vesey Street). This year's All-Star lineup featured Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Lake Street Dive, No BS! Brass Band on Wednesday night. Thursday showcased John Hiatt & The Combo, The Robert Cray Band and the James Carter Organ Trio. attended the second night of the event. The stage was next to the Hudson River in the shadow of One World Trade Center - a spectacular setting for an outdoor concert.

John Hiatt, Robert Cray & James Carter Paint the Big City Blue at Fourth Annual Music Festival
John Hiatt at the Fourth Annual Lowdown Hudson Blues Festival.

John Hiatt the renowned singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has had his songs covered by countless A-list artists yet he is a well respected performer in his own right. In fact, John Hiatt & The Combo will be on tour much of 2014 in support of John's new Terms of My Surrender record released on July 15, 2014.

With five Grammy Awards and millions of records sold, Robert Cray has become a blues-rock icon in part because his razor sharp guitar style goes beyond the genre. Robert's music runs the gamut from funk, gospel, jazz soul and rock. The Robert Cray Band is on the road in 2014 promoting In My Soul Robert's 17th studio album that came out in April of this year.

James Carter is an admired saxophonist. James' music embraces the past, present and future of jazz. Since his arrival in NYC in the early 1990's, Carter has been wowing audiences with his innovative approach to his instrument.

It was a picture perfect day as the James Carter Organ Trio took the stage around 6:00 p.m. The band featured a B3 organ, drums and James armed with 3 different types of saxophones. Carter greeted the crowd, giving us a run down of his setlist, which included Matthew Gee's "Oh Gee" and Brother Jack McDuff's "Walking the Dog". The first instrumental was jazzy with all three artists apt and animated on their instruments. James' fingers were flying over the keys of his horn to craft both tradition and other-worldly almost wailing sounds. Soon the drums and B3 were floating to the top of the mix as Carter caught his breath to enjoyed the cool grooves that his band mates were creating.

The trio continued their imaginative instrumentals. At one point the drummer played a fill that sound like fire crackers. The B3 ran the gamut from layered church music to more devilish progressions. Carter utilized all three saxes for an array of tones. As a ship blowing its horn passed by the stage Carter echoed the sound on the sax. The trio finished up with a swinging jazz jam.

The Robert Cray Band (RCB) was tight telling their tales of bad breakups, cheating and lost love. "Right Next Door (Because of Me)" captured the essence of these themes through expressive instrumentation. Robert's vocals along with an enticing guitar solo proved the point that he was a strong persuader as the story seductively slowed to its conclusion.

John Hiatt, Robert Cray & James Carter Paint the Big City Blue at Fourth Annual Music Festival
Robert Cray at the Fourth Annual Lowdown Hudson Blues Festival.

The RCB put their own tantalizing spin on "Sitting On Top of the World". It was bluesy and bold with Robert taking his time teasing us with his leads. The next instrumental fit Cray's introduction of "lowdown and funky". "Fine Yesterday" was a reflective look at a relationship with riveting riffs. "Great Big Old House" also had a serious tone paired with stirring instrumentation. "Hip Tight Onions" was a funky layered piece . The RCB closed their show with the saucy "You Move Me Baby".

"Thanks for hanging out for us," stated John as they took the stage. "Perfectly Good Guitars" had a smoky feel as the storytelling of stars smashing guitars unfolded. "Detroit Made" flowed on a feel of movement with a tale of a car and a girl On this song John was playing an electric guitar but he did switch back and forth to an acoustic during the concert.

"Crossing Muddy Water" was a hybrid of bluegrass and country with a mandolin combined with egg percussion used to emphasize those musical styles. Fans were clapping along to the snappy "Cry Love". Along with his classics John showcased songs from his new album such as "Nothin' I Love" a blues based piece of love and vices. Hiatt stated that he was glad that Bonnie Raitt had covered "Thing Called Love" as The Combo played the catchy hit with a bit of an edge. "Long Time Coming" also a new song had a more solemn tone paired with subtler instrumentation.

"Memphis in the Meantime" reflected the sounds of Memphis. The insightful "Have A Little Faith In Me" highlighted interesting vocal inflections from Hiatt. They closed with "Riding With The King" a tune popularized by Eric Clapton. The song featured dueling electric guitars as a fine tribute to BB & EC.

The Lowdown Hudson Blues Festival on Thursday was an electric mix of artists. The high caliber James Carter Organ Trio represented the jazz world. The Robert Cray Band was a bridge between classic and contemporary blues. John Hiatt & The Combo were a mix of different styles but well rooted in blues.

Brookfield Place host of the Lowdown Hudson Blues Festival is part of the on-going renewal of the Financial District in Lower Manhattan. Brookfield Place continues to expand its dining, entertainment and shopping experiences in its prime location along the Hudson River. Arts Brookfield the artistic arm of the firm presents world-class cultural events to hundreds of thousands of people for free each year in both indoor and outdoor locations at Brookfield's office properties around the world. From concerts, theater and dance to film screenings and art exhibitions, Arts Brookfield brings public spaces to life through art with the Lowdown Hudson Blues Festival remaining a summer time highlight for NYC.

John Hiatt, Robert Cray & James Carter Paint the Big City Blue at Fourth Annual Music Festival
James Carter at the Fourth Annual Lowdown Hudson Blues Festival.

Related Links: For more information on the LOWDOWN HUDSON BLUES FESTIVAL and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - Lowdown Hudson Blues Festival | John Hiatt | Robert Cray | James Carter | 2013 Festival Review | 2012 Festival Review

(Originally Published on July 22, 2014)




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