James Mastro plays intense songs from upcoming album and more at City Winery

James Mastro concert review

CINDY STAGOFF

James Mastro performs at The Loft at City Winery in New York, July 18.

NEW YORK — It was a breathtaking feeling to attend my first indoor concert since the pandemic began, which I did on July 18, when James Mastro performed a rich set of well-crafted acoustic songs at The Loft at City Winery. He was opening for singer-songwriter Amy Speace, whom he also accompanied during her set.

Mastro is an outstanding storyteller, with clever lyrics and character portraits that make his songs fresh, and musicianship that make them fly.

Mastro took us on a journey by playing songs from earlier in his career, opening with two that he recorded with his ’90s band The Health & Happiness Show, “The Man Who Married the Moon” (Tonic, 1993) and “Find My Way Down” (Sad and Sexy, 1999).

His performance of “No One Has to Know,” from the 1983 album Nuts and Bolts, was astounding in its simplicity and emotive delivery. Nuts and Bolts was a collaborative album with one side featuring Mastro’s songs and the other, Richard Barone’s (both were members of The Bongos at the time). The song is poetic, sensual and stirring. Listen to the video below.

The cover of the “My God” single features a photo taken by James Mastro’s daughter, Lily Mastrodimos.

He played four songs from his upcoming solo album. They were dark, inventive and spiritual, revealing an emotional depth and intensity. One of them, “Virginia Prayers,” was inspired by a dream about Keith Richards.

A sacred space is created when artists invite you to connect with their thoughts and feelings. This feeling was in the room with Mastro’s stunning performance of “My God,” released as a single in May by Velvet Elk/One Records. As I wrote in a prior article, Mastro sings about “placing his faith in the power of love and in a nonsectarian ubiquitous God that reveres peace over war, is not gendered, and isn’t championing the ‘left or right.’ ” See his video for the song below.

In addition to playing with The Bongos, Ian Hunter’s Rant Band, Patti Smith and others, the Hoboken- and Jersey City- based musician has produced albums for Speace (2006’s Songs for Bright Street and 2009’s The Killer in Me), Jill Sobule, Julia Greenberg and others.

His songs should be picked up by radio, and should be hits. Let’s hope that post-pandemic live shows continue to create a space for his solo music to be heard.

For more on Mastro, visit his Facebook page.

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