If you came of age in the rock and roll years of the 1960s and were into music you knew of Danny Kalb and the band he created The Blues Project. Often referred to as New York City’s “Jewish Beatles,” the group was at first managed by Sid Bernstein, the same man who ran the Fab Four’s New York City tours. You might have heard them at the Paramount Theater in Times Square, where a new group, Eric Clapton and Cream, opened for them. Or you might have heard them play at Palisades Park Amusement Park, at one of Murray the K’s (the most well-known NYC DJ) weekend programs at the park. Most likely, however, you went to hear them at the Café Au Go Go in Greenwich Village, the place for folk, rock and blues.
Now, after years of living in the shadows, Kalb has come out with a masterful two-disc of his most recent work, and is starting to receive major reviews. The latest for his new album Moving in Blue appears in The Morton Report, a major pop-culture review, and is written by its music critic, Bill Bentley. Calling Kalb “one of that decade’s musical linchpins,” Bentley writes that,
“his playing crossed blues with folk, rock, country and even jazz over the course of their albums, and before that he was one of the young white bluesmen who found nirvana in the music of Robert Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin’ Hopkins and other originators, and honored their creation with dedication and deep spirit.”
“The Blues Project,” he says, “spread waves far and wide.” In the new album, Kalb sets out to let you hear all the various musical directions he has absorbed into one unique style. You will hear songs by Muddy Waters, Tim Hardin, Bob Dylan, Hank Williams, a few of his own compositions, and some glorious blues licks and the kind of incredible, finger-picking magic on the guitar of which only he is capable. Kalb finds, as Bentley writes, an “inner beauty in everything he touches.” His home, he concludes, “is a musical rainbow inside us all.”
Another additional treat is the insightful and beautifully written liner notes by historian and musicologist Sean Wilentz — yes, that same Wilentz who is a historian at Princeton University, most well-known for his books on American history, as well as his meditation on our greatest singer-songwriter, Bob Dylan in America. Kalb, whom he says “looks like a Jewish lumberjack Buddha,” is “more like Mandrake” once he starts playing. He says that Kalb stomps with “soulful joy through one genre after another.” He plays such tunes as Son House’s “Death Letter Blues,” the Muddy Waters classic “I Got My Mojo Working,” Leadbelly’s “Leaving Blues,” John Lee Hooker’s “Louise,” and Big Joe Williams “Baby Please Don’t Go.” Many will agree with Wilentz that his version of the traditional “Death Comes Creeping,” sung by many from Dylan to Mance Lipscomb, is done alone on acoustic guitar “more movingly” than interpretations by other past singers.
Accompanying Kalb on the album: his brother Jonathan (himself a fine blues musician) on slide guitar and harmonica, his drummer from The Blues Project Roy Blumenfeld, bass player Jesse Williams and Lenny Nelson, and Sojourn Records co-founder, the label of Kalb’s CD, drummer Mark Ambrosino. There is, as listeners will find, some incredible keyboard and organ work by someone whose name does not appear, but who aficionados will think sounds suspiciously like the famous Blues Project keyboard man, founder of “Blood, Sweat and Tears,” and sideman for most of Dylan’s earlier hits, Al Kooper. The absence of any credit for whomever is playing those awesome keyboards on the CD is rather, I must say, inexplicable. The man deserves credit!
So, go take a break from the TV, stop fretting over the world situation, and enjoy some heartfelt powerful music. Bring some joy into your life. You deserve it, and Danny Kalb deserves to be heard and listened to.