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I seriously have no idea how many tiny NYC bars I've been in over the last 20 years to hear various musicians. Its one of the things I love the most about New York City -- whether its catching some well-known artist do a little gig while on a tour break or hearing some unknown singer totally captivate a room, there's no shortage of good music to be found.
Most of the time I end up going somewhere because of a recommendation or connection to some other musician I know and respect. That is how I ended up returning to my old stomping grounds to catch a set by guitarist/songwriter Billy Norris. I decided to check him out because Jeff Kazee is producing his new album ... and Mr. Kazee has never steered me wrong when it comes to music. side note: you Jovinuts may recognize him as the lead guitarist for Gavin DeGraw who opened for Bon Jovi at the rainy 2nd Giants show in May. Anyhoo, so off I went to Bar Nine.
After having been in the studio for most of the week (I think JK had said 37 songs in two days ... lordy!) I can imagine Billy and friends (Tony Tino on bass and Rodney Howard on drums) were all happy to just be out and playing for real, living, breathing people. LOL
Performing for just under two hours I think, the set was a mix of covers and original material. Though the covers were good (including a nice version of Sam Cooke's "Nothing Can Change This Love"), it was certainly the original material that really stood out (as it should!)
For me, the songs that caught my attention were "Hold On" (which is apparently the title track of the forthcoming album) and my personal favorite "I'm Alright." Both had that kind of chorus that really grab you (yes, the proverbial hook) but also showed off Billy's considerable guitar skills. Multi-talented, evidently Norris attended my other alma mater (the Manhattan School of Music) studying bass in the jazz department.
The set was a blend of musical styles (but not in that Kid Rock musical whiplash sort of way) with the highlight being a real rocker ... a tune called "Stones." I applaud the trio for trying to make it fun -- even including an audience participation clapping moment, which was a challenge given the small group of people in attendance (more a function of the early 7pm start time than anything else. Its NYC, nothing really gets started before 9ish haha.)
In any case, it was a great diversion for a Wednesday night and I look forward to hearing his debut album. FYI - You can follow him on Twitter at @billy_norris. Definitely check him out.
P.S. Oh, and the next time you're in NYC and don't know what you want to eat, head to Ninth Avenue. Its one of my favorite areas of Manhattan -- lived in that neighborhood for YEARS -- and you can find just about anything, from moussaka in the tiny courtyard out back at Uncle Nick's to killer mac-n-cheese at Vynl to a good ole greasy burger at Island Burger. Still bummed that my favorite Peruvian place closed though. :-(