Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Champagne Francis – I Start to Daydream

Champagne Francis’ debut full-length cd came out last year and it’s stood the test of time: in fact, it’s one of the best albums of the decade, a gorgeous blend of catchy, jangly guitar, bass and drums. There’s literally not a bad song on this record. It’s ostensibly indie rock, but guitarist/frontman Brian Silverman’s playing is light-years ahead of most of his contemporaries. Armed with an ironclad sense of melody and a total inability to waste a single note, the songs here are finely crafted gems that will rattle around your mind when you least expect them. Imagine Guided by Voices at their most melodic, or the Lemonheads if they’d paid attention in college and actually learned something instead of posing for paparazzi.

The album opens auspiciously with Old Vampires, its supremely memorable break bursting out of the verse. The next track Waterskis is killer, with its inscrutable lyric about somebody who “can’t get out of the water.” This is the only song here where Silverman shows off his phenomenally fast guitar chops, and the result is a hilarious parody of a Steve Vai-style shredding solo.

Done So Secretly follows, with its percussive, fast 8th note new wave-ish bassline: Silverman adds a layer of distorted guitar after the second chorus. The title track continues in the same vein, building to another great chorus. The best cut on the cd is Burned to the Ground. Silverman’s deviously opaque lyrics are effective both in setting a mood and leaving you guessing and this is a prime example, told from the point of view of somebody watching the remains of a party from across the street:

Pissing in the bushes, passed out on the lawn
Cops showed up and busted anyone they could see
Burned to the ground, drunk and hanging round
Turned into stone, end of the day

There are layers and layers of textured overdubs on the break rather than an actual guitar solo: it’s one of the most memorable, hooky melodies of recent years.

Of the other tracks, Prize is more indie rock than anything else on the album, with lots of open chords which are usually the curse of the genre. But the vocal melody carries it here – and is that the solo from Two Tickets to Paradise?!? Photos of You picks up the pace with its sweet bent note intro. Once Only is fast and growly with insistent drums like early Versus. High Comedy is the loudest tune here, layers of distorted Fender guitars, wickedly catchy verse crescendoing into a chorus that’s just as good. Walter doesn’t get going til the chorus but then it’s brilliant, like the great lost pop song by the Church. Our Parents Had Money is a gently scathing tale of trendoids and the soft fate that awaits them:

Shopped in used clothes stores, favorite one’s the Salvation Army
We were the best dressed kids on our block down on Bedford St.[sic]
Everyone got this cause our parents had money

After they get sick of Williamsburg, they take their lame act out to the suburbs. This has to be one of the funniest and most apt New York songs in recent memory.

The rhythm section of Connie on bass and backing vocals and Nigel Rawles (of Scout and Rawles Balls fame) on drums is supertight and rolls this thing along like a motorcycle weaving effortlessly between rows of cars stalled on the interstate at rush hour. Silverman is a pro who teaches guitar and gets paid for playing, i.e. musicals and such, so this project has been pretty much on hiatus for awhile: we’ll keep you posted on any live shows, which are predictably terrific.

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July 18, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Tyranny of Dave – Vacations

Truth in advertising: the cd cover depicts David Wechsler, co-founder/accordionist of Brooklyn “historical orchestrette” Pinataland seated at a backhoe in a graveyard. This is a good headphone album, all longing and restlessness and inventively melodic songwriting, perfect for a rainy night if you’ve chosen to spend it at home in lieu of stomping through the puddles in search of revelry. A lot of this album sounds like Hem, but with a male singer and plenty of gravitas. Fans of Matt Keating’s recent, Americana-inflected material will love this. The album begins dark and wistful with Travelin, a minimal yet catchy, midtempo fingerpicked bluegrass tune, guitar by Wechsler (who plays most of the instruments here, impressively). The next track, Churchill starts with a storm of shortwave radio squeals and whines into dark washes of strings and piano, its blithely swinging beat in sharp contrast with the narrator’s angst:

I’ve been having dreams of half- heard broadcasts
And fragments of your voice come to my ears

Call me when you finally get to Dunkirk
Tell me not to worry…
I’ll call you when I hit the beach at Normandy
And tell you not to worry

Roman Road follows, a doo-wop melody on piano with pretty strings and a full band behind Wechsler. There’s a big crescendo on the chorus and nice harmonies from Royal Pine frontwoman Robin Aigner, who lights up every song she touches: “I’ll meet you someday on the Roman Road.” The next track Just Because blends quietly reverberating electric guitar with organ and a deliciously fluid organ solo: it’s a gorgeously evocative nocturne. After that, What You Want to Hear, flavored with Bob Hoffnar’s sweetly soaring pedal steel, is sardonic with a quiet anger like something like Melomane would do:

So let’s invade a country, I hear that Portugal is nice this time of year…
And if we take the city we’ll have a cappucino there

Other standout tracks on the album include West Texas Cold Front, with more Hoffnar pedal steel, a gorgeous 6/8 country ballad that winds up on a predictably eerie note: “That West Texas cold front just blew me away.” Golden Age is a boisterous gypsy rock number that wouldn’t be out of place on a Firewater album, opening with Penny Penniston’s foghorn trumpet:

This is the golden age of obscurity where no one remembers your name…
This is the golden age of infirmity where everyone around you is lame

Hallelujah is a fast old timey country song solo on guitar til finally Wechsler picks up the accordion toward to the end, Aigner doing a ghostly angelic choir for a bit. The album ends on a surprisingly optimistic, ebullient note with We’ve Finally Come Home. The porch swing may be broken and the plaster cracked, but “the front porch is clean, the backyard is mowed” and there seems to be something hopeful glimmering at the end of this long tunnel. Excellent album, the best thing Wechsler’s done to date. Four bagels with whatever you manage to sneak through customs: linguica, a drizzle of Provencal oil, kippers maybe?

July 18, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Rev. Vince Anderson at Black Betty, Brooklyn NY 7/16/07

People were dancing. Hardly worth mentioning, except for the fact that the venue is in the heart of Trendoid Central, where it is strictly verboten to crack a smile or, heaven help us, move your ass. A few weeks ago it was a mostly Israeli crowd here, testament to Rev. Vince Anderson’s ecumenical appeal (he’s a real ordained minister, with credentials from the Universal Life Church if memory serves right).

The Rev., as he’s best known, is something of a New York institution, a charismatic, frequently mesmerizing performer and keyboardist who surrounds himself with like-minded players. Tonight, in addition to the rhythm section from groovemeisters Chin Chin (including the redoubtable Torbitt Schwartz on drums), he had his usual main weapon Moist Paula Henderson (frontwoman of the excellent instrumental trio Moisturizer) on baritone sax, as well as trombonist Dave Smith and TV on the Radio guitarist Jaleel Bunton. With his gravelly voice, jumping around and wailing on his Nord Electro keyboard, the Rev. was in a particularly boisterous mood tonight. His newly svelte physique may come as something of a shock to those who haven’t seen him lately, but he hasn’t lost any of his usual energy.

One A-list New York rocker recently remarked that the Rev. and his band are something akin to Phish playing gospel, and that’s could be true in the sense that they jam the hell out of pretty much everything they play (although there’s absolutely nothing cutesy about them). They opened with a cover of Ben Harper’s Power of the Gospel, rearranged with percussive verses building to a slinky, jazzy chorus. They followed with a rousing, authentically vintage, 60s-sounding Come to the River, from his latest album 100% Jesus. The Rev. had just returned from his native California, where he’d baptized his new nephew and was clearly amped from the experience.

Since the Rev.’s shows are about more than just the music – he’s a preacher with an uncommonly strong social conscience – he took time to address the crowd as the band launched into the chords to a long, hypnotically psychedelic version of his song Deep in the Water. “We can talk about baptism and the healing power of water…and you know how hot it is in Fresno, when you get off the plane? It was 122 degrees when I got off the plane. I’m not exaggerating…not the misery index, it was fucking 122 degrees! Fresno used to be the agricultural capital of the world. This is where you got your fruits: you get that nectarine from the deli, and it says from California? It comes from Fresno. Raisins, Sunmaid raisins? Fresno. Asparagus, Fresno. Anything you want green or fruity comes from Fresno.”

Sensing the Rev. winding up a tribute to his hometown, the band picked it up for a second, but he brought them back down. He wasn’t finished. “Every time that I come back to Fresno, I see all this beautiful land of my childhood, these beautiful fig groves and orange groves, and I see an apricot field and a vineyard, and lately they’ve all been torn down to put up these cheap, cheap tract houses, and they name the tract of the house after the crop that used to be there. So there’s a tract of homes called Fig Garden, and a tract of homes called Orange Grove, and another tract of homes called Raisinville. And this year, I don’t like to be apocalyptic – I’m not an apocalyptic preacher – but I have to figure that pretty soon people are not gonna want to give water to Fresno anymore. And all these Raisinvilles are just gonna be ghost towns and then they’ll miss their water.”

From there, the song built to a hypnotic, warm vibe, something akin to the Stones’ Moonlight Mile with lots of Rhodes-y electric piano from the Rev. Using his tone controls, he gradually worked his way up to an eerie, distorted setting as the band went quiet and ended on a somber note. The next tune was a country gospel number with a swing beat, featuring solos around the horn: first trombone, then baritone sax, then piano, and predictably, the Rev. stole the show with some delicious honkytonk playing. Then they brought it down to just the bass.

Their deliberate, crescendoing take of the blues classic John the Revelator began with same minor key groove that the Rev. uses for his big audience hit Get Out of My Way, and became an audience singalong directed from the Rev.’s pulpit behind the keys. “When you say ‘John the Revelator,’ you can’t do it like this,” the Rev. instructed his parishioners, struggling to fasten the top button of his shirt and making a poindexter face. In a second, he’d undone the button and a couple below and roared the line at the audience. This time they got it and roared back. The first set of the evening came to an end with a jam into a fast, shambling version of Ease on Down the Road, from the Wiz soundtrack, the Rev. pounding out some nice Billy Preston-style funk fills. This guy raises the bar for live performers: when he’s on, it’s hard to imagine anything much more exhilarating. Tonight was a prime example.

July 18, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments