Lucid Culture


Concert Review: Maria Cangiano Sings Piazzolla at Drom, NYC 12/17/08

“We know nothing about classic tango here,” deadpanned Brooklyn-based chanteuse Maria Cangiano, and the crowd was instantly in on the joke. With her big, powerful contralto and a vibrato that she commanded with effortless ease, Cangiano was seemingly born to sing the Piazzolla songbook that she explores on her new cd. Wednesday night at Drom, she delivered a mix of iconic and obscure Piazzolla with dramatic intensity and a feel for the material that bordered on telepathic. But as much heavy lifting as there was going on, Cangiano saved her most dramatic flourishes, including a surprisingly impressive upper register, for those few moments where she had to take a crescendo and then deliver another one on top of that.


Cangiano’s inspired backing band changed shape as the show went on, with keyboards, bandoneon, violin, guitar, and upright bass in addition to two percussionists alternating between some of the songs. It didn’t take her long, just one song, before she left the world of tango for an obscure, straight-up pop ballad, airy, slow and somewhat skeletal as it built to a matter-of-factly eerie four-note coda. The following song dated from early in the great Argentinian composer’s career, morosely contemplating the thought of suicide at 6 AM after the party’s run its course.


The high point of the night was the haunting, anguished lament Ciudades (Cities), Cangiano insistent and imploring throughout its bitter refrain, love evaporating amid the inexorable passage of time and the immutability of the buildings towering overhead. She finally shook off the slinkiness of the earlier part of the set and took flight on a track from the 1965 collaboration album between Piazzolla and Jorge Luis Borges, the guitarist coloring the song with some warmly sparse acoustic slide work. Her version of El Sur (Going South) was perfectly paced, gently building from wistful and homesick to towering magnificence. They closed with a rare candombe given considerable fire and bounce by the two percussionists, the guitarist switching to electric and fueling the song with some swooping jazz lines.

Oddly, the only miss of the night was an instrumental, Libertango, the Piazzolla classic everybody knows, which sputtered along with exaggerated staccato. The song’s about freedom through dance, but this particular dance never found a place to stand and start to sway. Maria Cangiano’s next New York show is at half past noon at the Blue Note on Jan 25, two sets for the relatively low price of $25.


December 19, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Dixie Bee-Liners at le Poisson Rouge, NYC 12/14/08

The night opened on an auspicious note with a duo show by bluegrass siren Jen Larson and multi-instrumentalist Terry McGill, the brain trust behind excellent NYC-area act Straight Drive. With her signature, rustic wail, Larson induced more than a few goosebumps throughout a charming, low-key, intimate set – it was like being in her living room.


“We don’t usually play happy songs,” McGill cautioned the crowd.


“Uneasy listening,” added Larson.


Their version of Knoxville Girls hewed much closer to its even starker, Irish predecessor, Wexford Girl; the WWII-era dead-soldier lament That Star Belongs to Me was even darker. And Larson’s a-capella version of the old Scottish hymn The Lone Pilgrim gave her the chance to cut loose and summon a few ghosts. By contrast, their version of Worried Man Blues was bright and buoyant, and Larson delivered Blue Christmas with a warmly torchy subtlety.


Giving an opening slot to such a fine singer would make a show anticlimactic for a whole lot of vocalists, but not for Brandi Hart and Buddy Woodward’s  Dixie Bee-Liners. The Roots Music Association’s 2008 pick for bluegrass band of the year tore through their long set with a careening, propulsive fire, constantly threatening to go off the rails but always managing to rein themselves in when it counted. You’ll see this on the best-of list here in a few days. While the DBLs push the boundaries of where bluegrass can be taken, their oldtime spirit is pure: what they do that you can’t dance to will haunt you all the way home. Mixing originals, most of them from their second cd Ripe, along with a few choice covers, they started slowly and methodically with an instrumental, abruptly picking up the pace with a darkly bouncy version of their spiritual Lord, Lay Down My Ball and Chain. Striking a Pete Townshend-like stance, Woodward’s mandolin work was characteristically fiery (although he played his best solo of the night on guitar, a sarcastically intense, modal buildup on the Bible Belt noir haunter Lost in the Silence). Acoustic guitarist Jonathan Maness also fanned the flames into a conflagration at the end of the similarly haunting Why Do I Make You Cry.


But ultimately the night belonged to Hart. To find another song stylist whose intensity  matches her subtlety note for note, you have to go back to an earlier era for someone like Linda Thompson or even Patsy Cline. She still has the full-throttle Kentucky wail that characterized her earlier work, but at this show she stayed mostly in her lower register, toying with the phrasing with a playfulness that stopped just short of cruel. In the quietly sultry bend of a single note, or a phrase, Hart can say more than most can say in a whole album, and what’s more, it’s clear that she gets a kick out of never singing a song the same way twice. Arguably, the high point of the night was her casually but brutally nuanced, plaintive version of Roses Are Grey, the big, 6/8 alienation anthem that serves as the centerpiece of the latest cd. After mining the lyric for every bit of quietly stoic exasperation she could find, she finally cut loose at the end when redemption finally comes. Since the group’s fiddler Rachel Renee Johnson was unavailable for this gig, they’d scooped up Leah Calvert from the excellent Atlanta group the Dappled Grays, who nailed the songs’ often counterintuitive melodies and also provided warmly soaring, soul-stoked vocals (including a lead on the old Louvin Bros. classic My Baby’s Gone).


They wrapped up the show with a sizzling take of their amusingly lyrical character study Old Charlie Cross (he’s a big bullshitter, among other things) and closed with a rousing, bluesy version of the spiritual Working on the Building. The crowd wanted more, but the band, seemingly always on the road, had to get back to Philly. Awfully nice to see a band who cut their teeth in the NYC scene take it to the next level and get the recognition they deserve, that they never really got during their time here. The Dixie Bee-Liners’ next show is at on January 16 at 9 at Jack of the Wood, 95 Patton Avenue, Asheville, North Carolina for a mere pittance of $7.00

December 19, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Art Review: Pat Arnao at Chashama Gallery, NYC

“The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.” One of Pat Arnao’s favorite Faulkner quotes, imprinted on an overhanging beam at the Chashama space where her new exhibit runs through January 2, it fits her new work aptly. Titled simply The Black Paintings, they’re striking, indelibly urban black-on-white images, mostly acrylic and oil on paper. While this collection – a considerable departure for the often fiery (pun intended) artist – is minimalist in the sense that there’s no wasted energy, every stroke being integral to the piece, they’re not skeletal. Many of them pack a wallop. The ravages of time and neglect are inescapable here. There’s a three-quarter view of the boxy skeleton of a house which is either going up or coming down: it could be either one. A view of a telephone pole, seen from below is intense with the absence of any sky or background behind it (Arnao’s use of negative space here is masterful).


Two of the more haunting images illustrate a factory – or some other abandoned, warehouse-like space – with the roof caved in, or a ladder – a fire escape? – hanging precariously from the side of what’s left of the building. Arnao’s Boxes collection is also on display. According to the artist, it isn’t an Iraq War parable, although some viewers might see it that way. It’s a set of small, clear plexi boxes, each about half-full of sand, with various detritus atop each pile: body parts from toy cars (a front quarter panel, a bumper); tires and wheels from toy construction equipment; what looks like a miniature metal mesh blanket used for rock blasting; broken glass, and other gritty/menacing material. Fascinating and disturbing stuff.  


All of these pieces are up at Arnao’s site, although the little images on your computer screen necessarily don’t carry the visceral impact of the actual items: you owe it to yourself to see them in the flesh before the show ends. At Chashama Times Square Gallery, 112 West 44th St. through Jan 2 (closed Dec 24-25 and Jan 1).

December 19, 2008 Posted by | Art, Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 12/19/08

If you’re going out this weekend and wonder where our constantly updated NYC live music calendar went, it’s here. In the meantime our top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1. Friday’s is #586:

The Sea Devils – Viper

Truth in advertising: one of the great modern-day surf music classics, this ferocious minor-key instrumental has fangs. Sea Devils frontman/lead guitarist Andrew Wendel’s intent was to stitch its segments together much in the same way that his hero Duke Ellington composed, and a close listen validates the comparison. Available at the band’s myspace; there are also some live bootleg versions circulating around.

December 19, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , | Leave a comment