Willy DeVille

In Berlin

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Even though the same love of '50s and '60s music courses through the blood of Willy DeVille on this live stripped-down acoustic show from Berlin (with eight bonus tracks from a gig in Stockholm with a predominantly different band to flesh out the second disc) in the early 2000s, this is very different from anything the singer recorded with his Mink DeVille group two decades earlier. He is more blues-oriented here, covering everyone from Robert Johnson to Little Willie John and Champion Jack Dupree. He's lived a bumpy life, both personally and professionally, which is evident in his ragged but soulful and instantly identifiable vocals. The bulk of the double-CD set is recorded in Berlin with a backing duo featuring the stunning piano work of Seth Farber. The pianist is the primary instrumentalist with DeVille's strummed guitar appearing only occasionally throughout the hour-and-a-half Berlin section. It's a loose, intimate performance with Willy delivering stirring renditions of ballads such as "Spanish Harlem" (the only recorded version of a song perfectly suited for him), "Let It Be Me," and his own "Storybook Love." He dives into New Orleans second-line boogie-woogie with a roughed-up "Hound Dog" and rescues his lovely "Night Falls" from 1987's unjustly ignored Miracle album. The gorgeous "Heaven Stood Still," one of the only selections from his Mink days, is another highlight. Disc two closes the Berlin section with Jerry Lee Lewis and Joe Turner rockers as pianist Farber takes the spotlight to showcase his rollicking lines and lead vocals as DeVille assists. The Stockholm show rounds out the second CD with a 12-song, 40-minute set that equals and at times bests the longer Berlin segment. Here DeVille is joined by a larger band that includes percussion, a pair of female backing vocalists, and a full-time guitarist to expand the sound. A sprightly mix of covers from Warren Zevon, Bob Dylan, Johnny Burnette, and Mississippi Fred McDowell testifies to DeVille's wide-ranging tastes, but it's his own percussive "Bamboo Road" that practically steals the show on this consistently entertaining, and often even revelatory, two-hour package.

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