The Sparta Summer Concert Series presents an evening of great blues this Friday evening when the young rising star singer and guitarist Solomon Hicks comes to town.
Hicks says he grew up in Harlem “around a lot of great musicians.” His record “Harlem” is an 11-song salute to those roots, which the 26-year-old guitarist and singer has turned into his own fierce and distinctive style.
The set, produced by multiple Grammy Award winner Kirk Yano (Miles Davis, Public Enemy, Mariah Carey), showcases Hicks as a writer, player and interpreter. Originals such as the roadhouse ready “421 South Main,” the gospel shuffle of “Have Mercy on Me” and the aching instrumental “Riverside Drive” rub musical elbows with staples such as “Every Day I Sing the Blues” and “It’s Alright,” a Latin-tinged take on Blood, Sweat & Tears’ “I Love You More Than You Will Ever Know,” a funked-up romp through Gary Wright’s “Love is Alive” and a searing rendition of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help me” that closes the album.
Hicks’ playing and singing shine throughout “Harlem,” blending reverent familiar with vigorous fresh, the work of an artist deeply rooted in blues birthed decades before him but equally invested in finding his own way of playing it.
“This has been a long time coming,” Hicks said of his first major recording, “but I’m really happy with the sound and the way everybody played. This music is where I come from. It’s really special to be able to record these songs -- and really important to get ‘em right.”
Hicks has been steeped in music for as long as he can remember. Harlem, he says, “is not like New Orleans, where music is 24 hours a day — but it’s close.”
His father and mother played music at home constantly. His mother also took him, as a youth, to local nightspots such as the Lennox Lounge, Saint Nick’s, and the Cotton Club, where Hicks witnessed performances that made a significant impact on his outlet and ambitions.
“When you’re around good musicians, it gives you that spark — ‘I want to do what you do. I want to hold my own,’” said Hicks, who started playing guitar when he was six years old. “But being around those types of musicians also taught me to not be the fastest guitar player. I wanted to be the one who knew the most riffs and drew on a lot of knowledge so I could play anything, and with anyone.”
Hicks was on stage at the Cotton Club when he was 13, and during high school as part of a 15-piece band playing there three nights a week.
“It’s a lot of hard work and responsibility,” Hicks notes. “The older I get, it’s not just playing music just for me anymore. It’s playing music for people to feel good and enjoy themselves, maybe take their minds off their problems.”
Gladys and The Powertones
Opening the show is the group Gladys and The Powertones, a crowd pleasing, jump swinging, roots rocking band from Central Jersey. Their debut single “Day Drinkin’” was released last year, and their debut CD is in the works.
Founder and guitarist Mike Post had the vision of creating a unique sound for the band combining rockabilly, New Orleans and jump blues. He’s bringing a retro 50’s sound into the present day. Frontwoman Gladys contributes exciting and sultry vocals, and lays down the bass groove too.
Tony Sky, who collaborated with Mike in many projects over the years, lends his raw harmonica style to the project. Lifelong musician Chris Reardon is on the drum kit. The talented bassist Phil Butler plays upright bass for the group.
Bring lawn chairs to the 7 p.m. family friendly performance, which will be held rain or shine at the Nicholson Pavilion in Dykstra Park. Visit spartaarts.org for more information on the series and for weather updates.