Lucid Culture


Real Live Bluegrass in New York City? Yee Ha!

All you out-of-towners might be shocked to know that there’s a vibrant bluegrass scene in New York. The Dixie Bee-Liners, whose new album just hit #1 on the Roots Music Report got their start here. Since they left town, the best band around these parts is Straight Drive, whose gorgeously soulful performance of old-time, old school style bluegrass at Banjo Jim’s Saturday night would have made Bill Monroe proud. A lot of new bluegrass bands give off a coldly sterile, fussily technical vibe, but not this crew. Fiddle player Ronnie Feinberg made his marvelously precise runs look effortless. Banjo player Terry McGill was even more impressive when not soloing than when he was. He has great technique and a terrific way of building to a crescendo, but when he plays rhythm, he doesn’t just comp chords: he uses the whole fretboard, toying expertly with the melody. He threw everybody for a surprise by ending one song with a couple of high chromatics, and then bent the neck of his banjo ever so slightly to raise the pitch. Their new mandolinist is a vast improvement over the guy he replaced, the bass player pushed the beat along and frontwoman Jen Larson was brilliant as usual. Incongruous as it may seem, the most striking and haunting voice in maybe all of bluegrass belongs not to someone south of the Mason-Dixon line, but to this casually captivating architecture historian originally from Boxford, Massachusetts.

But she didn’t do the haunting thing tonight. This was Straight Drive’s fun set. This crew knows that a lot of bluegrass is dance music, and while they didn’t get the crowd on their feet, everybody except the trio of trendoids in the corner yakking away, oblivious to the music, were swaying back and forth and clapping along. Their version of Bill Monroe’s (Why Put Off Til Tomorrow) What You Can Do Today had fire and bounce; their cover of Hank Williams’ Blue Love was nothing short of sultry. The best of the vocal numbers, which they interspersed among the instrumentals, was a warmly swaying 6/8 number written by Larson that wouldn’t be out of place on a Dolly Parton record from the mid-sixties. Larson can give you chills but tonight’s show proved she can also make you smile and keep your head bobbing in time with the melody. Like most of the best New York bands, they don’t do a lot of shows here because the money is on the road, where audiences are used to lousy cover bands, and a show by a group like Straight Drive is a special treat that you can’t just see any old day.

February 11, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Art Review: More Good Stuff in Chelsea

One of these days, sooner than later, we have to get to galleryland right when the doors open and go for broke til the eyes get jaded just as they will if you try to do the entire Met in a single day. So much good stuff here. Our latest discovery is at Kathryn Markel Fine Arts where there is a particularly timely exhibit of Louisiana artists running through March 8. Jacqueline Bishop has a series of intensely gripping surrealist oils on display. Everything is caught in a net, as if behind barbwire. Fishes, birds and plants are trapped together, some wide-eyed as if startled to be snared so easily. In one particularly disturbing painting, a fetus and a fetal pig lie side by side on what could be hay. Or it could be something far more menacing.

Raine Bedsole has a fixation with boats, and her big, oblong oil depicting a big barge through the mist gives the viewer pause: is it on the ocean, or did it wash up during the hurricane? Mary Jane Parker also has some very captivating work here, encaustic on panel, juxtaposing green, young twigs, buds and flowers against a shadowy background to create an eerie sense of enclosure.

The Allen Sheppard Gallery moved down here from a side street in the Flower District a few years ago and since then  has really taken it to the next level: a stop here is an absolute must if you’re in the neighborhood. Right now there’s a haunting, stormy cloudscape from Zaria Forman’s Cloud Series, a particularly apropos work for the era of global warming. Grace Mitchell has a few excellent, luminous, nebulously blue and green-tinged glazed oils, perhaps a mountaintop through mist. And there are two pointillistically-enhanced acrylics from Elizabeth Knowles, on which the crew here is divided. Our rigorously art-schooled, working painter thinks they’re blatant Pollock ripoffs, the visual equivalent of Britney Spears; our low-frequency music guy, who can’t draw to save his life, thinks they’re fun and playful. You be the judge.

And as always, Jim Kempner has an abundance of excellent work on display in the current group show, “People,” which runs through February 23 and will alternately make you laugh and scowl. Or scream. On the top floor, there’s a series of hilarious, politically charged, black-and-white mugshots – we’re not going to give away the joke – along with a very funny portrait of Monica Lewinsky. There’s also a laugh-out-loud cartoon depicting Christo’s recent Central Park exhibit, with viewer commentary. On the gallery’s lower level, there are two narrative paintings containing eyewitness accounts of the conditions at Abu Graib prison from innocent Iraqis who ended up there, something every American should be required to see.

February 11, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | 1 Comment

Art Review: Something Wicked This Way Comes – Drawings by Kevin Bourgeois

Bourgeois is on to something, not particularly subtle, but sometimes you have to hit people between the eyes to make a point. This collection of graphite drawings demonstrates superb technique and an impressive political awareness. For anyone who believes that being politically aware is a sine qua non among artists, we have two words for you: Jeff Koons.

In the same vein as Tom Tomorrow or Winston Smith’s collages, Bourgeois takes 1950s graphic iconography and twists it into some disturbingly familiar images. The best is a parable of pill-popping, a couple of laboratory beakers filled with trompe l’oeil pills layered one on top of the other, “up” arrows at the mouth of the glass. These serve as the bodies for the heads above themn, a vast array of pipes and tubing in the background a la the movie Brazil.

There’s another one which essentially parodies the pre-Renaissance painted religious icon. This woman is wearing an actual face mask (true to life, it’s dirty and dusty) and a battery motor where her heart should be, an inset picturing a pair of hands balled into fists, bound and stymied. And as you walk in the door, there’s another showing a woman actually popping a pill, chemistry equations and a lab diagram off to the side. Suffice it to say that it doesn’t appear that any of this was created while under the influence of Prozac. We need to see more of this artist. At Ch’i Contemporary Fine Art, 293 Grand St., Williamsburg, Weds-Sun 11 AM-7 PM, through March 10.

Something we assuredly do NOT need to see more of is on display at the Like the Spice Gallery. Rachel Beach and Nora Herting have a series of photos called “Flip:” the flyer for the show says it “features the work of two artists working with contradiction and ambiguity.” There’s absolutely nothing ambiguous here: it’s color shots of cheerleaders, all of whom seem to have their skirts around their waists and their legs spread. There’s nothing erotic about it – these are children, all of them prepubescent and all seemingly unaware that they were being photographed. And this isn’t silly stuff in the spirit of a giggling eight-year-old exclaiming, “Look, Mommy, you can see my hoo-hoo!” Could this be a graphic depiction of how women are objectified and exploited, starting in early childhood? Doubtful. If two men put on this very same show, they’d be pilloried. This is as “artistic” as Jock Sturges. Shame on them.


Marisa at Like the Spice Gallery responds:

” I came across your review today. I will in no way attempt to
change your view of the show but there are several factual errors in
your review I would like you to be aware of.
“Flip” is the exhibition’s title and not the name of the photographic
series of cheerleaders which is entitled “Spirit”.

The “Spirit” series is solely the production of Nora Herting; Rachel
Beach has a separate body of work in the show.

The “Spirit” series is comprised solely of photographs taken candidly
at cheerleading competitions.  Both the subjects and their parents were
fully aware  that they were being photographed by the artist (and
others) during the routines that they choreographed and wearing
costumes that they selected.

If you would like to read further on this, feel free to read the show’s
press release at

February 11, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | 2 Comments