Roots Report: Don’t Miss Aztec Two-Step

Okee dokee folks… A few weeks ago I played my first house concert. A house concert is basically a party built around a performance by a musical guest. They can be as simple as a performer sitting around and playing songs sans amplification, or as involved as setting up a sound system and lighting. I have even been to a house concert where the homeowners had a stage, lighting and sound built into their living room. As for performer compensation, that also varies from maybe a meal and/or lodging to pre-sales of tickets, though most of the time it is a “pass the hat” method. In theory, anyone could present a house concert. It depends on whether you want to open your home up to that kind of situation. You would need to know how many people you want/expect to attend and can fit. The house concert that I played had about 50 people. I went to one last week and there were about 25 people, three dogs and a cat. I really liked that one! You don’t need an especially large area and often the guests listen from adjoining rooms. It’s a cozy and laid-back atmosphere, and for the most part, anything goes. The house concert last week featured a bagpiper, in full regalia, performing “Amazing Grace” as the opening to the show. House concerts used to rely on  word of mouth promotion, but now social media and house concert organizations aid in the presentation of such events. You kind of have to know the right someone to be able to attend a house concert. A lot of times the concerts are promoted through the performer, and you can get the info on the secret location by RSVPing to the event. We are in RI, the “I know a guy” state, so either you know someone or someone you know knows someone who might host one. If you are interested in house concerts, keep your ear to the ground or your eyes on Facebook. These shows are out there, very fun to attend and a great way to enjoy music in an intimate setting. Read on…

It is no secret that the duo Aztec Two-Step is one of my all-time favorite acts and one of my biggest musical influences. Over the many years of seeing them perform and sharing the stage with them, we became friends. Aztec Two-Step began in the early 1970s and now Rex and Neal are in their ’70s. They are releasing their 16th and newest CD, Naked, and will be holding a celebratory concert at the Odeum in East Greenwich on Saturday, Nov 18.

Naked is a bit of a departure from the typical ATS CD. It includes lots of lush instrumentation and back-up singing from additional singers and musicians. The songs were written primarily by Rex Fowler, but Neal Shulman has a couple included as well. Fowler’s title track, “Naked,” is definitely the stand out of the CD. It is a timely tune of hope and inspiration. The verse “So deeply saddened by this disconnect, Blame our politicians blame the internet, Our morning papers our nightly news, ‘What the world needs now, is love sweet love,’ Has never been more true, We got a world of trouble at our front door, Nowhere to run to hide or ignore, Our fractured families fatherless sons, Religious thugs, deniers that Mother Earth’s on fire, Four hundred million guns” may seem a bit despondent, but the chorus is more hopeful: “We’re all born Naked with wings to soar, Then we learn to fake it when we’re scared or bored, Sometimes what breaks us can make us new, With a little push and shove and a lotta peace and love, Maybe we’ll break through.” If you are used to the simple sound of the vocals and acoustic guitars of ATS you may be a little put off at first. The full band production is a bit of a different sound for the duo. In a way, it reminds me of their more commercialized albums such as Adjoining Suites. The album’s songs deal with subjects such as family, being on the road, nostalgia, NYC and Little Richard. One of the other strong songs on the disc is “A World Without Walls.” I first heard this song about 30 years ago by the trio Devonsquare. Back then I saw ATS at the Last Call Saloon and Devonsquare was their opening act. I loved their sound and wanted a record (yes, a record, it was the ORIGINAL vinyl days), but I had no money left. One of Devonsquare’s members, Tom Dean, gave me the record and told me to send him a check, but I don’t think he thought I really would send it. To his surprise, I actually sent him the money! That album, Walking On Ice, included the song “A World Without Walls,” which was written by Rex, Tom and the other two members of Devonsquare, Alana McDonald and Herb Ludwig. The song has a jazzy feel and a message of unity, which was relevant then and is still today. The ATS version features Tom Dean, of Devonsquare, adding guitar and mandola to the tune. The 11-song recording wraps with Shulman’s ode to New York City titled “Long Black Lincoln,” where he sings of “Pretty black lady pushing little white babies” and “the bars still close at four in the morning, The way the good Lord meant it to be.”

Aztec Two-Step is one of the most enduring duos of all time. They have been at it for more than 45 years and still have a lot of music to play for us. Every show that they play is a treasure. Their music and personable humor are a treat. At Michelle Malone’s show last week, she spoke of how it’s hard for folks to get up off the couch and get out to a concert. She even went as far as to print up shirts that read “I got off the couch to see Michelle Malone.” My mother bought one because she literally got off the couch to see her. This statement works here, too. Get off the couch, and get out to see Aztec Two-Step. I hate to say this, but Rex and Neal are older than Tom Petty and we all see how that turned out for Tom. I’m sorry, Rex and Neal, I don’t mean to say that you two are going to kick the bucket anytime soon, but folks really need to get out and enjoy the great music that is around now! What is filling the void when the greats go away isn’t quite the same. For more about Aztec Two-Step and the new CD, “Cockroach Cacophony” to For more about the show, “Velvet Elvis” to

That’s it for now. Thanks for reading.

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