Felix Cabrera: Reviews

Review: The Felix Cabrera Blues Band at the Murray Street Grill, NYC. May 4, 2007

by Kay Cordtz


Felix Cabrera can shout the blues and blow a mean harp. But the Cuban-born bandleader also has a knack for rolling with the punches. The day before this Friday night gig, Phil Butler, Cabrera’s bass player for the past 11 years, was injured in a car accident. Then Guitar ace Jimmy Vivino, a frequent and popular addition to the band, was called out of town with Conan O’Brien. But Cabrera was undeterred. He contacted bassist Ritt Henn, who played in his band twenty years ago and has filled in before. Fiery blues guitarist Jason Green, one of several local players who have rotated through Cabrera’s band, answered the call too. With longtime drummer Bill Schroeder and keyboardist Eddy Bishai, the subs rocked this small basement club and solidly showcased Cabrera’s Latin blues style.

The self-taught Cabrera, who left Cuba as a child and came to New York by way of Miami and Union City, NJ, calls Paul Butterfield his first influence. He saw the original Butterfield Blues Band at a New York City club in 1966 and almost always starts his show with their songs. “Driftin’ and Driftin’” featured Cabrera’s emotional vocals, crying guitar from Green and jazzy organ from Bishai. The band likes to stretch out and jam, and as they took turns riding the groove, the warm-up caught fire. The intensity on the bandstand continued to build until Cabrera took it down with a small hand gesture. Even with little or no rehearsal, he seemed to be in complete control.

They segued into “Born in Chicago,” which in Cabrera’s hands became “Born in Havana,” taking it fast and furious. They followed the Butterfield numbers with three songs from Cabrera’s 2004 CD For Green. The ballad “Cold Cold,” a fitting farewell to winter on this balmy night, slowed the pace, and led into a catchy and clever Cabrera original, “Self Argument in D Minor,” a tale of lost love to Latin beats with a lilting harp melody picked up by Bishai on the organ. Changing it up again, Cabrera was dancing from the first note of Henn’s funky bass riff announcing “Animalism.” Shouting, gesturing wildly, playing bongos, congas and unusual percussion instruments, he put his heart and soul into every note.

Cabrera kicked off the second set with Butterfield’s “Lovin’ Cup,” followed by Leiber And Stoller’s “I Keep Forgettin’,” pouring on more wrenching harmonica and heartbroken vocals. The whole band really cooked on “Got My Mojo Workin’.” but their leader kept raising the ante displaying his amazing energy and showmanship, screaming, mugging, prancing, only stopping long enough to blow a few hot bars. Let’s face it, Cabrera is a wild man, and it’s an integral part of his appeal.

All of the musicians in the band know a thing or two about showmanship. One of Cabrera’s early bands opened six shows for James Brown back in the 1980s. Green has toured with Big Jack Johnson and Schroeder once backed Louisiana Red. They know how to step up when the front man needs a breather but otherwise, they keep the groove going and just stay out of his way.

Another heartfelt Cabrera original, “She Told Me A Lie” from 2001’s Pressure Cooker, showed off Green’s dazzling guitar prowess, and Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” cooled things down a bit before the big blowout finale. Cabrera said the first R&B record he bought was Ray Charles’ “Hit The Road, Jack.” He ended the show with his own wild rendition featuring Bishai’s funky organ, showing how much excitement can be produced by an enthusiastic leader and a great semi-pickup band.

Felix Felix

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Felix Felix


3 1/2 Stars: "Cuba-born singer and harmonica player Cabrera has steadily turned up the burner on a bright talent over the course of three decades on the New York City blues scene. His strong personality takes over the mostly original songs on this his third album, from the romping Chuck Berry spin-off "Josephine" to the anguished charmer "Self Argument In D Minor" to the affecting slow lament "For Green". Most every word Cabrera sings sounds part of an urgent, soul-searching confessional and, aside from Jerry Portnoy and Annie Raines, no one in the Northeast ushers a Chicago-style harmonica into lyricism with such ease. Longtime compadre Arthur Neilson on guitar steps up and moves things along when the bandleaders voice falters, on Leiber & Stoller’s "I’m Forgettin’." Throughout the album, Cuban seasonings keep Cabrera’s personalized brand of blues continually interesting."

- by Frank John Hadley in Downbeat, reviewing "For Green"

"Harmonica player Felix Cabrera solidifies his place in the New York City blues world with his fourth solo release. On For Green (Si records), he teams with guitarist Arthur Neilson, Shemekia Copeland's bandleader. The minor-key ballad "Cold, Cold" finds Neilson and Cabrera effectively ornamenting the instrumental bed dominated by Melvin Davis's haunting organ. In spite of its title, "Un Moco Loco" is a straight-ahead shuffle, but elsewhere the Cuba native employs a strong Latin feel, most evident in "She put him on a diet," "Self Argument in D minor," and the polyrhythmic "Animalism." Covers of Dylan's "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window" (nice "Rolling Stone"/"Queen Jane Approximately" guitar) and Leiber & Stoller's "I Keep Forgettin'" expand Cabrera's stylistic sights."

- by Tom Hyslop in Blues Review, Dec-Jan 2005, reviewing "For Green"


Felix Cabrera's Blues With A Cuban Feeling

"The two biggest musical powerhouses of the last century were, without a doubt, Cuba and the United States. The popular music of the two countries has had a lasting impact on the way music is heard and made allover the world. The key to it all was African roots. In Cuba these roots are best heard in the son, the venerable sound that paved the way for everything from rumba to mambo to salsa. In the U.S., of course, we have the blues. But it's not often that you find a musician throroughly versed in both traditions. Enter Felix Cabrera.

Born in Havana's El Cerro neighborhood, Cabrera came to the States in 1961, eventually settling down in Union City, NJ just in time to experience the mid 60's blues revival taking place across the Hudson. "I've been a blues fan since '66" he recalls. Citing artists such as Paul Butterfield and James Cotton as inspirations. "I was hooked."

Cabrera taught himself the blues harp by playing along to the radio and formed his first band by 1968. But he didn't abandon his Latin roots. "The first time I blew a harp over Latin music was over (Eddie) Palmieri's "Azucar," he recalls. "It's the same music. The same slaves that landed in Cuba landed here too. So when it comes down to blowing a blues, I can do it over a chan-chan just as easily.

Indeed, Cabrera has had the opportunity to blow with some of the greats of Latin music over the years, and he's had years to perfect his craft, singing and playing in numerous bands including Ray Barretto, Conjunto Libre and Palmieri himself. But Cabrera's true love remains the blues, and he's had years to perfect his craft.

He's released a series of albums over the years, beginning with Felix and the Havana's 1989 disc NEXT, followed by '97's Cu-bops, Cu-blues with Jimmy Vivino and the Black Italians, and 2001's Pressure Cooker. Cabrera's latest release, For Green (2004, Si records), is a fresh blast of original blues rock with a slight latin tinge.

Tracks like "Josephine" and the Leiber/Stoller-penned "I Keep Forgettin'" offer chugging, roadhouse blues, while slow-burners lie "Cold, Cold" and "For Green" showcase Cabrera's reflective lyrics. Best of all, though are "Self Argument in D-minor," with its swinging Cuban melody line and the fiddle-and ?conga driven "Animalism" which recalls the swinging Latin psychedelic experimentalism of early 70's Ray Barretto or the Larry Harlow Orchestra.

As for Cabrera, he takes the philosphical approach of the journeyman. "There's really nothing else for me to do," he says with a laugh. "Playing the blues is all I ever wanted to do.""

- by Tom Pryor in Global Rhythm magazine, Dec 2004, reviewing "For Green"

Sweet Home Chicago, le rendez-vous des bluesmen du web chaque samedi de 13h à 15h !

Dear Felix;

Here's what gives the Babel Altavista translation of my review of "Pressure Cooker":

"Felix Cabrera for a long time left its native island, Cuba, for large apple. It knows Arthur Neilson and plays with him for a long time. Jimmy Vivino (Shemekia Copeland) also formed part of the distribution. This harmonicist/singer assimilated the bases of the Blues black-American well, but its work also reflects very strongly its Latin origins. A Blues exotic and ventilated, powerful and fresh, original and of excellent invoice. This CD shows us the multiple facets of its talent: slow blues, shuffle, but also blues-samba (yes that exists!), rates/rhythms latino... and its play of harmo unslung and free of any heavy influence. An excellent album, to listen stripped of very prejudged purist, for the pleasure of an alive music! This disc will be to gain on the site in June...

Does all that means anything? ;-) Marc Loison

".....Felix has a great voice and an excellent vocal technique, good projection and injects a lot of feeling into his vocals......."

- by Louise Peacock, MNBlues.com, September, 2001



"...'Cu-bops, Cu-blues' extends 1950's Latin-blues sounds, Cabrera kicks, piledrives, plays it cool and digs deep into heartbreak..."

- Blues Review 1997


".......A raw street side vibe pervades this rockin, rootsy, ragtag-but-real amalgam of blues, bop, rock and latin sounds. Cabrera, a Cuban-born singer and blue-harp blower is home with Butterfield and Blakey....."

- Gene Kalmbach, College Music Journal (CMJ) 1997


"....The New York based singer-harmonica player latches on to a song and wrings all he can from it.......Felix has all the moves, the energy and the pipes to carry both the lead vocals and harmonica chores...."

- Erick Shepard, Rockland Journal News, NY June 4, 1992


"...some of the best Blues Rock we've heard in ages.....""

- College Music Journal Jackpot Review of the CD 'NEXT' 1990

Felix Felix

".....The band's music ranges from the all-out harmonica attack of the instrumental "The Clipper" to more sophisticated, soulful cuts such as "She Told Me a Lie" and "If I Don't Have You" and a dynamite, scathing rendition of Muddy Water's "One More Mile."

- on Felix and the Havanas 1990

"...Quite likable style in interpreting Dylan and James Cotton's material, as well as his own..."

- David Hinckley, New York Daily News, 1989

"...Felix Cabrera is one of the new Blues talents in New York City and he showed fluent harmonica techniques on COMIN HOME BABY..."

- Andre Hobus, Blues Unlimited UK, 1976

""Felix Cabrera is one of them and being already a member of Spivey's A Train (Victoria Spivey), one of the next releases, showed fluent harmonica techniques by working more on instrumentals in a Charles Musselwhite vein, who he admires. Cabrera's Herbie Mann's "Comin' Home Baby" was a good example of how he could develop a sound by emphasizing the interplay between guitar and harmonica" "

- Andre Hobus, Blues Unlimited UK, July 1976 reviewing the A Train Blus Band at Max's Kansas City.

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