Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Songs of the Day for Thanksgiving and 11/28/08

The top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1. Beyond the brazenness of coming up with one of those crazy “best-of” lists that seem to boost traffic no matter where they appear on the web, our top 666 list does double duty as cheap excuse for the new frontpage post here, every day, no matter what, that we promised you when we started this site. With Thanksgiving bearing down on us like a ten-wheeler on the interstate along the Mexican border, we’re going to race across before it hits us, hope the INS isn’t on the other side and then call it quits til we’re back in town on Friday night, probably too drunk at that point to put up anything meaningful. So here’s the songs for Thanksgiving and Friday:

 

607. The Leaving Trains – Creeping Coastline of Lights

Like Cortez the Killer, for awhile this song was all the rage as a cover version for indie bands circa 1993 or so. This LA band’s 1984 original from the early indie era is vastly superior to any other version, the song’s beautifully contrapuntal, minor-key janglerock melody perfectly capturing the glimmer of the title. Check your favorite mp3 site but make sure it’s the original; good luck finding the vinyl album, long out of print. And note that the version on the band’s myspace is also a lousy live take.  

 

606. Paula Carino – Lucky in Love

The New York janglerock siren’s greatest shining moment, so far. This is an uncharacteristically quiet, rivetingly haunting 6/8 ballad with one of Carino’s trademark, wickedly metaphorical lyrics, not about the kind of luck the title would imply. Highly recommended for people who like ice cream and beer. Unreleased, although there are bootleg versions kicking around.

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November 26, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Steve Wynn – Crossing Dragon Bridge

Like his colleagues Richard Thompson and Elvis Costello, Steve Wynn has a richly prolific body of work, dating to the early 80s and the pioneering noise-rock band the Dream Syndicate. Although Wynn rocks harder than those other two artists, he’s equally competent at darkly gentle acoustic stylings and slashingly lyrical songwriting. Whenever he puts out a new cd (almost every year, it seems), it’s always amusing to read the reviews: everything seems to be Wynn’s best in a long, long time. Well, his most recent solo studio cd before this one was …tick…tick…tick (reviewed here in our earliest days last year) and that one was killer. So is this. While not everything Wynn touches – from Danny and Dusty, his wildly carousing duo project with Green on Red founder Dan Stuart, or the Baseball Project band he has with Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey – is visionary, this cd is. It seems that every great songwriter eventually ends up playing orchestrated rock, and Wynn’s first venture into this kind of uncharted territory ranks with his finest work. Time may judge this a classic.

 

In a drastic departure from Wynn’s usual MO in the studio, producer Chris Eckman (leader of another extraordinary, long-running band, the Walkabouts) was insistent on getting Wynn to play as many instruments as he could by himself, rather than utilizing the skills of his snarling backup band the Miracle 3). The result here blends lot of acoustic guitar and some electric piano with lush, epic string arrangements that take Wynn’s dark, frequently ominous songs to new levels of majestic grandeur. Perhaps in keeping with the time-honored tradition of 70s art-rock, the cd begins and ends with a “Slovenian Rhapsody.” “On my own again, haunted by the rain,” is the opening line of its second part, encapsulating Wynn’s signature style with characteristically terse understatement.

 

The first full-length song on the cd is Manhattan Fault Line, a false start of sorts: it’s an attempt to transpose the ever-present LA earthquake threat to the opposite coast, and ultimately it sinks under its own gravitas. The rest of the cd, however, is another story. Driven by a relentless minor-key groove, Love Me Anyway gets thisclose to desperation without falling over the edge. Then there’s a subdued cover by a Slovenian folksinger that sounds like something Wynn could have written in his early post Dream Syndicate days, and the strikingly optimistic When We Talk About Forever, a big acoustic ballad in 6/8 with those gorgeous strings. Wynn’s vocals have never been stronger than they are on this cd, and this song resonates confidence, yet with apprehension lurking in the background.

 

The next track, Annie & Me is just acoustic guitar and drum machine, sort of Kooks by Bowie updated for an older couple a decade or three later. The noir cabaret number Wait Until You Get to Know Me is Wynn at his menacing best, the leering tale of a sinister would-be ladykiller who won’t take no for an answer. The levels come down a bit after that but the darkness remains with Punching Holes in the Sky, sparse minor-key acoustic guitar playing against the orchestra:

 

Strip away the mystery

Lash out at the night

Strip away the storyline

But can I make it right?

 

Wynn picks up the pace after that with the equally menacing, somewhat hallucinatory Bring the Magic and the strange God Doesn’t Like It (is the song’s bullying narrator to be taken at face value, or is this satire?), then brings it down again with the somewhat breathless, plainspoken nonconformist anthem Believe in Yourself. As Wynn frequently does, he saves the best for last here with I Don’t Deserve This, a big, brooding, absolutely sinister epic building from eerie tremolo guitar and electric piano to mammoth proportions. It’s a bitter, anguished tale of being unable to get away from the enemy, whoever that may be, literal or figurative, and it’s simply one of the three or four most exhilarating, resonant songs released this year. “Violence tricks my ears,” Wynn notes matter-of-factly as the second Slovenian Rhapsody brings the cd to a close.

 

Like most New York-based artists, Wynn’s shows here in town have become infrequent: like everybody else, he makes his money on the road. For those in LA this weekend, Steve Wynn plays the Cinema Bar, 3967 Sepulveda Blvd. in Culver City, 310-390-1328 on Nov 29. 

November 26, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Gamelan Dharma Swara’s 2008 Fall Show

For those new to the concept, gamelans are the community-based bell-and-percussion orchestras common throughout the Indonesian archipelago. Sunday afternoon, Gamelan Dharma Swara, New York’s very own Balinese-style gamelan treated a standing-room-only crowd to a performance that was as beautifully hypnotic as it was bracing. In keeping with tradition, this group is a community organization, holding an open workshop on December 7 for anyone interested in joining. True to form, this group of 24 musicians plus dancers is multi-ethnic and represents a wide range of ages including a young guy who is their star performer and looks about 12. Musicians from a wide range of completely unrelated styles have found a home in this group, including the bass player from Chicha Libre, one of the singer/arrangers from Brooklyn Balkan folk choir Black Sea Hotel and noted Chinese guzheng player Wu Fei.

 

Bell players in a gamelan typically play a set of four. Because the bells have so much sustain, half the work involves muting them, requiring both split-second timing and impeccably precise teamwork. This group excels at it. Their percussion includes hand drums as well as a boomy one-piece tom-tom played with a single stick, and a set of two massive gongs that produce resonant, echoey low bass tones. Perhaps also in keeping with tradition, everyone in this group multitasks: dancers play, players dance, percussionists switch to flute or bells and vice versa. Each of eight pieces they played featured a different crew, but regardeless of who was doing what, the result was equally captivating. The most intricate, lush pieces of the afternoon opened and closed the show, the first featuring a quartet of dancers who closed by pelting the crowd with flower petals, the second illustrating a mythical battle between brothers (one ends up killing the other – but then he gets up and starts dancing again) featuring some remarkable call-and-response between the flutes and percussion. To the eyes of one not versed in traditional Indonesian dance, the dancers seem to blend a herky-jerky, googly-eyed eeriness with slowly undulating grace, and to the group’s credit, they made it look perfectly natural.

 

The rest of the program was a mix of hypnotic lushness and percussive fire, frequently in the same piece. The quietest and most captivating featured a trio of bell players set up in the middle of the stage doing a traditional gender wayang piece typically used as a musical backdrop to Balinese shadowplay theatre. The most intense and percussive piece was in the barong style, in its loudest moments something like a more mellow, less chaotic Chinese New Year celebration, the group’s young star dressed in a strikingly elaborate, oversize dragon costume, keeping perfect time as he clacked the creature’s big wooden jaws together. Unlike Western music, the gamelan repertoire doesn’t utilize chords per se, although a couple of the pieces the group played actually did have chord changes along with some dizzyingly repetitive melodic hooks: one that kept coming back again and again was a 1-3-4-3 progression (for those who don’t play an instrument, that’s the intro to Add It Up by the Violent Femmes – catchy, huh?). In addition to a set of program notes handed out before the show, the group’s spokesman would often entertainingly explain the mechanics and stylistic differences of the various pieces.

 

One unexpected if very auspicious development was to see how popular this group has become, and not simply among the expat population: the crowd was every bit as polyglot as the crew onstage. Adventurous listeners interested in Gamelan Dharma Swara’s next show should plan on getting tickets the minute they go onsale, considering how quickly both this past weekend’s concerts sold out. 

November 26, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Song of the Day 11/26/08

The top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1. Wednesday’s is #608:

Iron Maiden – Only the Good Die Young

Uncharacteristically terse (four-minute), snarling, absolutely macabre reverb-guitar anthem galloping along on one of the band’s mightiest sledgehammer hooks. Sure, the vox may be totally Dungeons and Dragons, but the tune and especially the end of the song are scrumptious. At all the usual mp3 sites. Because the original’s sonics are so delicious, it’s worth seeking out the 1988 album Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, available cheap at pretty much any used vinyl place

November 26, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , , | Leave a comment