Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 10/16/08

Counting ‘em down from #666 all the way to the best one ever. The full list, growing at the rate of one a day, is at the top of the page. Today’s song is #649:

Iggy Pop – Rock N Roll Party

An obscure treasure, the only remotely good cut on an otherwise dreadful 1981 album.  When the Igster gleefully poses the immortal question, “Where we gonna go tonight?” he speaks for a generation of drunks and degenerates. Former Patti Smith sideman Ivan Kral’s chord work toward the end of the song is ferociously intense. The album version (didn’t see any live takes) is available wherever mp3s are found.

 

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October 15, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Terakaft – Akh Issudar

Terakaft means caravan in the West African Tamashek language. Of all the desert blues bands to spring from Mali and the surrounding area in recent years, Terakaft – a Tinariwen spinoff – are the most rocking and accessible. While the concept of changing chords didn’t originate in the west – Asian music had them centuries before the major and minor scale as we know them today came into use in Europe – chord changes aren’t a part of traditional West African melodies. As with Indian ragas, traditional Tuareg nomad songs stay in the same key while the lyrics change, choruses add or subtract members, the tempo shifts and the music swells or diminishes. For that reason, Terakaft – and Tinariwen as well – are something of a paradigm shift (it figures that the nomadic Tuareg people, from the war-torn desert and exposed to more cultures than most of their compatriots, would be pushing the envelope).

 

While not rock music in the conventional sense of the word, Terakaft’s songs on this debut cd are all about the guitars: clanging, jangling, plinking, often lushly and richly overdubbed, frequently over a swinging beat with lots of triplets. The two guitarists, Tinariwen alumni Kedou Ag Ossad and Liya Ag Ablil, typically play straight through their amps without effects save for some occasional wah-wah, or using the wah pedal as a flange to add a phaser effect. The resulting textures harken back to 1960s psychedelic rock, trebly and reverberating without a lot of sustain.

 

The first song on the cd and a couple of others stay in the same key and let the voices and the rhythm section handle the dynamics. A handful of others have changes that would be perfectly at home in a dark, minor-key Irish ballad. Still more, with the twangy, trebly sound of the guitars playing off each other, resemble nothing less than the meandering, pensive Mississippi hill country blues of Junior Kimbrough. But nothing is predictable: the guitars often jump out of character. The cd’s second song contains a darkly noisy passage straight out of the Thalia Zedek indie rock songbook circa 1992; its tenth delves into screechy, overtone-laden noise like Keith Levene would play in Public Image Ltd. The songs’ common link is that they’re all more or less hypnotic, with lyrics that touch on subjects ranging from homesickness to daily life along the desert trail. Fans of psychedelic rock, jam bands and the Fat Possum blues catalog would all do well to check out these groundbreaking rockers.

October 15, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Deborah Crooks – Water to the Ashes

The impressive full-length debut by Bay Area songwriter Deborah Crooks, backed here by a full electric band playing a mix of mostly pensive, slow-to-midtempo rock with subtlety and good taste. Crooks’ voice evokes Chrissie Hynde’s late period, able to shift from a gentle, knowing murmur to a soaring wail in a split-second. The music defies association with any era other than perhaps this one: no 70s folkie-blues clichés, no 80s synthesizer schlock, no boring 90s trip-hop or silly samples. The production may be lush, but the overall feeling is consistently raw and emotional. There’s a lot of longing, regret and angst here, but it’s all familiar: pretty much anybody can relate to the catalog of disappointments and dashed hopes that Crooks chronicles.  The cd kicks with its title track, a characteristically pensive ballad. The cd’s second cut, Living Proof is a stark, haunting minor key tale of living on the fringes, with spooky violin accents that join with the guitar, building to a long, screaming crescendo on the last verse before literally falling off the edge. Anchored by somber Hammond organ, St. Anthony is a viscerally wrenching requiem:

 

Mountains crumble underfoot

And glaciers creak and moan

Songbirds sing the same song a whole lot

Pray and we’ll make it home

Ain’t that the way love is?

You torched the fields

And you wait for all that grass to grow back

The brief, fragmentary Little Girl is as hopeful a song as there is here, picking up the pace doublespeed at the end with some nicely bracing slide guitar. The 6/8 ballad Where You’re Going clangs along on a pretty 12-string melody: “Here come those clouds, it’s gonna pour again,” Crooks laments. Big Wide Ocean, from her previous ep Turn It All Red, is a slow soulful ballad featuring more vivid, incisive lead guitar. Of all the cuts here, Roll Back Time most closely evokes the Pretenders, albeit in quiet ballad mode with its echoey violin and fingerpicked guitar. The rest of the cd reveals the band adept at upbeat, Cajun-inflected rock and minimalist soul balladry but not country. That’s a minor quibble, though: give this to someone you know who detests singer/songwriters and you will change their mind, if only for one album. “Put me on your ipod,” it murmurs, bleak but resonant. Deborah Crooks doesn’t have any NYC area gigs scheduled at this point; her next San Francisco show is Mon Oct 20 at 8 at the On the Corner Café, 359 Divisadero at Oak

October 15, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Jenifer Jackson at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 10/14/08

We’ve covered several of Jenifer Jackson’s shows here before: in case you remember them, this one was characteristically good, yet different (see our index for the full list of ‘em). Moving to Austin seems to have been the right decision for her: she’s always been a captivating performer, but she seems more carefree now onstage and that ironically gives her the opportunity to really let loose the darkness in her songs. Not everything she does is dark: she loves tropicalia and bossa nova and consequently much of her ever-growing repertoire is sunny and summery, but there’s also a substantial portion that’s stormy, or pensive, or downright white-knuckle intense. Last night’s show was a mix of everything. Lots of new material. She made it a point of prefacing one of the unrecorded numbers: “I don’t ordinarily tell what a song is about. I let the audience figure it out,” she explained in characteristically inscrutable fashion, then played a very pretty, plaintive 6/8 number, The Beauty in the Emptying. It could mark the end of an affair, but as she’d explained, it was actually about clearing out all the junk at her old East Village apartment before the move.

 

High point of the night: “Here’s an old one,” she laughed, launching into the somewhat hypnotic, 6/8, countryish ballad After the Fall, from her 2002 cd Birds:

 

Love is an ocean

Love is a stone

Love is a wish that

You make on your own

If all of these ghosts would just

Leave me alone

I know that I would be free

 

She’d brought along her main man Billy Doughty, who played drums smartly and tersely on a single floor tom before switching to piano on one song. Then she brought up Matt Kanelos – who hadn’t played with her in a few years – to take over the keys. He played as well as Doughty had, with an equally pointed incisiveness. Their first song together was another new one, Let the Good Times Roll (NOT the old blues standard), an apprehensive, backbeat-driven anthem set off by a tasty descending series of chords. “The sign says, baby, let the good times roll,” Jackson sang, but it was with one eye looking over her shoulder: disappointment could be just around the corner. Then she changed things up with the blithe, upbeat ballad In Spring, the first of several that Kanelos had never played with the band and he absolutely nailed it. But that song is pretty intuitive: the next one, Breathe, wasn’t, but he nailed that one too, choosing his spots amidst the nooks and crannies of Jackson’s expansive guitar chords.

 

While she was in New York, Jackson maintained a busy schedule, playing several times a month, ironically making it easy to take her for granted. Now that she’s gone, every time she comes back is a special occasion. Moral of the story: don’t miss your favorite performers, they too may be gone before you know it. No telling when Jackson’s back in town (she’s made it back every few months since leaving); Kanelos plays a set of his own stuff at the Rockwood on Nov 7 at 7 PM.

October 15, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 10/15/08

Counting ‘em down from #666 all the way to the best one ever. The full list, growing at the rate of one a day, is at the top of the page. Today’s song is #650:

The Sloe Guns – Dillon

From the first few notes of lead player Mick Izzo’s slide guitar soaring over gorgeous Hammond organ, this beautifully crescendoing outlaw ballad just grabs you and won’t let go. Built around one of the great hooks in rock history, it has the same kind of melancholic grandeur as the Wallflowers’ Sixth Avenue Heartache. Not available on any of the file-trading sites, but the band’s debut cd Loaded, from 2000, is still in print and available at shows.

October 15, 2008 Posted by | Music | Leave a comment