Kind of Blue 

Sean Kelly’s new CD captures two years of musical memories

Fusing blues, jazz, folk, and funk, Live at Sean Kelly’s Vol. 1 aims to capture the essence of the live performance at one of downtown’s watering holes. Released the first of this month, this 12-track collection features local and visiting acts performing live within the 3,000 square foot confines of Sean Kelly’s.

Proprietor Kelly Leary never assumed the acoustics of his bar were optimal for recording live acts, but he saw an opportunity, he says, and he has been pleased with the final product. What began as a fundraising idea for Sunday night Celtic sessions has resulted in the packaging of a live musical experience. And if the first one is well-received, he notes, this may just be the first of many Sean Kelly’s releases.

Bluesy guitar, dual vocals and impressive blues harp performances comprise the take-off track, with local band Swizzle Grit (who have no prior recordings) covering the Rolling Stones’ “Spider and the Fly.” With “You Gotta Move,” Great Falls grade school teacher Erik “Fingers” Ray (also with no prior recordings) lends his Mississippi Delta blues and solo performing skills to boot. And Coloradan Ben Stevens fingerpicks “Let’s Get Together,” which bears resemblance to the guitar and vocal work of Hot Tuna’s Jorma Kaukonen.

Numerous lyrics-free jazz numbers accentuate the mood and make up a majority of the CD’s 70 minutes. Robert Walter’s 20th Congress present a sophisticated mixture of horns, guitar, drums and keyboards, marked by improvisational jams and psychedelic synthesizer work. A melange of rhapsodic percussion, rhythmic bass and distortion-pedal guitar highlights the Golden Garden Trio’s nine-minute effort in “Garden Jam,” making for some of the best jazz on the disc. Driftopia, a former Missoula band that have since moved on to Seattle, present the most out-of-control funk jam of the collection. Well-versed musical gurus will make the connection between Driftopia’s “Drifting Funk” track and the Beastie Boy’s instrumental “In 3’s” from their 1996 release, “TheInSoundfromWayOut.”

The strongest musical offering comes from Andre Floyd—who is also the disc’s producer—with Mood Iguana. Although the vocals come across as muffled, the music is vibrant and uplifting. “How Long Blues” gives the listener a dose of live art via David Griffith’s mandolin and the band’s unpredictable synergy.

Some will find the clanging of beer bottles and other background clatter a testament to the live experience that this CD manages to snare. But it also tends to slight some of the performances, with the crowd’s minimal applause and booze-fuelled hollering casting a taint on some of the tracks. Still, Live at Sean Kelly’s succeeds in capturing many of the pub’s musical memories on disc. It salutes the hard work of local bands at their finest, while giving them exposure with their first recordings.

Overall, the diversity of music—blues, jazz, folk, bluegrass—avoids the common hazard of coming across as confused and identity-starved. Rather, as producer Andre Floyd comments, it attempts to “open a door between the various genres. Those not really attached to jazz will be pleased, due to the arrangement of the various tracks. It’s a folk album for blues/jazz fans.”
Live at Sean Kelly’s Vol. 1 is now on sale at a music store near you.

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