Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Two LJ Murphy Sightings in One Week: Banjo Jim’s and Passout Records

The great New York noir rocker, like a lot of his colleagues, has been limiting his hometown shows lately. And why not? With the depression, you’d think more people would be going out, especially if a show is free, but so far, not so much. So, last week was a pleasant change of pace. In addition to LJ Murphy’s gigs at Banjo Jim’s on the 14th and at Passout Records in Williamsburg a week later, he’d also squeezed in another, completely unadvertised show at a gallery in Bushwick. Which is the wave of the future: as the crowds in the usual expensive places dry up, we’re going to see new ways of the music following the people and vice versa.

 

The Banjo Jim’s gig was a duo show, Murphy on acoustic backed only by a new piano player, obviously classically trained, playing mostly rhythm which added a nice textural feel to Murphy’s darkly blues-based material, especially on a remarkably bleak version of the soulful yet snide Falling Backwards Up the Stairs. The Weimar blues Mad Within Reason – title track to his latest cd – also benefit from the format. He pulled out a new one, This Is Nothing Like Bliss and gave a vintage Ray Charles feel to its sardonic narrative of a pickup scene gone horribly awry: “Beware the wages of sin get under your skin, oh beware!”

 

Beyond all the double entendres, the fearlessness and the flat-out charisma that Murphy brings to every gig, another factor that makes him worth seeing more than once is that he’s a compulsive rearranger. Let’s see: this makes the third time he’s reworked the melody to the classic afterwork anthem Happy Hour (“About young Republicans getting their freak on,” he explained). Likewise, the once stomping Bovine Brothers – about older Republican types getting their freak on in an entirely different way – is now a slow 6/8 blues, trading energy for extra breathing room for the song’s caustic lyrics.

 

Passout Records was a solo acoustic show, completely different crowd (why do you think musicians do this, anyway? To play to the same people time and time again?). To those who haven’t discovered this place, it’s time you did. It’s on the block on Grand between Beford and Berry in Williamsburg, one that doesn’t get as much foot traffic as those to to the immediate south, with all the shi-shi bistros etc. Lots of vinyl, not all of it punk, either: some choice jazz stuff, a generously stuffed dollar bin and cds too. And zero pretense. So Murphy fit right in. Without taking off the black hat or the black wraparound shades, he burned through many of the same songs as at Banjo Jim’s. The big audience hit, no surprise, was the wistfully chilling 6/8 ballad Saturday’s Down (keep your eyes out for this one on our Alltime Top 666 Songs list), a late afternoon McCarren Park tableau that pans to “buzzing buzzers, ringing bells and twisting little knobs.” Nice to see him pull out another old crowd-pleaser, the straight-up Blue Silence, which may have been in the shop. At least this guy maintains his songs on a regular basis. Maybe that’s one of the reasons they sound so fresh.

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March 24, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 100 Best Tracks of 2009, 100 Best Songs of 2009, 100 Best Cuts of 2009, Whatever You Want to Call This

Some things you should know about this if you’re here for the first time:

1. This is not an attempt to list the bestselling or most popular stuff out there – it’s strictly for fun.

2. If you’re looking for Taylor Swift or Jason Mraz or anyone who’s ever been on American Idol, you are about as faraway from all that garbage as you can possibly be right now. Welcome to our world of incredibly good, fun songs that 99% of the world (ok, maybe not 99%) have never heard of!

3. Because our primary raison d’etre is our role as a New York live music blog, this is a very New York-centric list, with some welcome guests from around the world.

4. Because all of these songs are so good, there’s no real ranking here other than what’s sitting at the #1 position. Virtually all of these links will take you to each individual song. Enjoy!

If you’re interested, here’s our 50 Best Albums of 2009 list, our Best-of-2008 list and our Top 50 Albums of 2008. And we’re now working on the 100 Best Songs of 2010

1. Bobby Vacant & the Weary – Never Looking Back

Scary stuff, an anthem for anyone with a checkered past. From the new album out on Luxotone.

2. Bobby Vacant & the Weary – Tear Back the Night

The gleefully morbid title track.

3. The Brooklyn What – Planet’s So Lonely

A blues number, part Otis Rush, past Stooges, from the Brooklyn What for Borough President cd. Great guitar solo!

4. Dan Bryk – My Alleged Career

A funny, spot-on slap at major label stupidity from the killer new cd Pop Psychology.

5. Maynard & the Musties – Elvis Museum

Smartly metaphorical urban country. Ryan Adams (who produced) on piano. From their new cd So Many Funerals.

6. The Brooklyn What – Gentrification Rock

The Brooklyn band are possible the only group in town whose raison d’etre is to fight the waves of trendoids and tourists turning the city into a sterile, bland mall town, and the greedy developers destroying entire city blocks to make room for them. This is a furious, sarcastic punk rock dance number and the title track from their latest ep.

7. Dan Bryk – City Of

The most hilariously accurate view of the state of the music world, 2009. Also from Pop Psychology.

8. Jay Bennett – I’ll Decorate My Love

Haunting solo acoustic from the late Wilco virtuoso’s final album, Whatever Happened, I Apologize.

9. Jay Bennett – The Engines Are Idle

Even more haunting, also from Whatever Happened, I Apologize.

10. Daniel Bernstein – Joyless Now

The most gorgeously jangly depiction of madness ever written – once a staple of Bernstein’s old band the Larval Organs’ shows, he held the room riveted with this at Sidewalk last summer.

11. The Brooklyn What – The In-Crowd

“Is this the crowd, the crowd you wanna be in? Nah, nah nah nah, nah nah, nah nah!” From The Brooklyn What for Borough President.

12. The Brooklyn What – No Chords

A quiet, funny, brutally satirical number about gentrification and trendoids, also from the Brooklyn What for Borough President.

13. Curtis Eller’s American Circus – Sugar for the Horses

Aptly aphoristic, sardonically cynical oldtimey ragtime number from the excellent NYC banjoist/tunesmith. From his Wirewalkers & Assassins cd.

14. Botanica – How

Check their new live cd americanundone for this killer gypsy punk broadside. “How many idiots on the head of a pin?”

15. The Oxygen Ponies – Love Yr Way

Love in a time of choler – under the Bush regime. From their amazing new cd Harmony Handgrenade.

16. The Motion Sick – Some Lonely Day

With its snarling bass intro, funky bounce and haunting 60s psych-folk melody, it’s about the price you pay for being a nonconformist. From the winner of the Boston Phoenix’s 2009 Best Boston Band competition.

17. Jenifer Jackson – Maybe

Typically gorgeous, brooding art-pop song from this multistylistic rock goddess. Unreleased.

18. Elisa Flynn – Timber

Towering, majestic art-rock dirge from the NYC rocker’s excellent new cd Songs About Birds & Ghosts

19. Gillen and Turk – Dear Mr. President

Undoubtedly written during the Bush regime; doesn’t appear to have beeen released. The duo slayed with this at Beefstock upstate this past spring.

20. Jang Sa-ik – Wild Rose

Big Orbison-esque hit for the Korean crooner, soon to be a big world music crossover hit here in the US.He brought down the house with this at his show at NY City Center in April.

21. Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble – The Nod

Arguably the most charismatic frontwoman in rock, the ferocious, dramatic contralto chanteuse attacks this with gale force. It’s on her myspace.

22. McGinty and White – Knees

One of the great lyrics of the decade. “You can keep my heart, you bitch, just give me back my knees.” From their new cd McGinty & White Sing Selections from the McGinty &White Songbook.

23. Jenifer Jackson – Groundward

Dark, murky, minimalist fingerpicked dirge. Unreleased.

24. The Asylum Street Spankers – My Baby in the CIA

Hilarious, spot-on Bush-era commentary from the Texas oldtimey crew.

25. Livia Hoffman – All My Imaginary Children

Intense, casually sardonic ballad by one of the most under-the-radar songwriters out there.

26. Marty Willson-Piper – The Sniper

The ethics of assassination in about six understated riveting minutes from the great songwriter and twelve-string guitarist of the Church.

27. The Jazz Funeral – Goodnight (Is How I Say Goodbye)

Bitter, propulsive janglerock anthem from maybe the best band ever from Staten Island, NY. Free download.

28. Kelli Rae Powell – The Craggy Shuffle

The sultry oldtimey siren gets dark and apocalyptic here. “There’s nothing bad that can’t get worse.”

29. Marty Willson-Piper – Feed Your Mind

Margaritaville transposed to an unnamed tourist bar somewhere in western Europe – absolutely hilarious.

30. The Asylum Street Spankers – TV Party

Black Flag cover updated for the end of the zeros. Also hilarious.

31. System Noise – Untitled

This is a real departure for the NYC-based art/noise-rockers, a Jorma Kaukonen-style acoustic ballad with one of frontwoman Sarah Mucho’s most intense lyrics. Unreleased.

32. LJ Murphy – This Is Nothing Like Bliss

The NYC noir rock legend goes deep into vintage soul/R&B territory for this one. Unreleased.

33. Juliana Nash – Love Song for New York

“It’s 3 AM and I’m drunk again!” A fond evocation of a time before the trust fund set discovered New York. Unknown if this was ever released or not.

34. Carol Lipnik & Spookarama– Cuckoo Bird

Typical phantasmagorical noir cabaret from the 4-octave siren.

35. Paul Wallfisch – Swimming in the Ocean at Night

A solo version of his band Botanica’s menacing classic Botanica vs. the Truth Fish – it was pretty evil when he played it at Small Beast at the Delancey back in March.

36. Curtis Eller’s American Circus – John Wilkes Booth

A more sardonic, tongue-in-cheek version of #26. From the Taking Up Serpents cd.

37. Curtis Eller’s American Circus – Sweatshop Fire

Scorching, characteristically historically imbued banjo punk from the charismatic NY songwriter. Also from Wirewalkers & Assassins.

38. Steve Wynn – 405

An old Dream Syndicate song (a LA freeway reference) resurrected on Wynn’s sensational new live cd.

39. Steve Kilbey – Forever Lasts for Nothing

Sort of an update – melodically at least – on the Church classic Bel Air, with a more timely lyric. From his Painkiller cd.

40. Kerry Kennedy – One from the Mountain

Absolutely haunting southwestern gothic dirge from the James Jackson Toth catalog, resurrected by the NYC noir siren. It’s on her myspace.

41. Kerry Kennedy – Dive

This is a Kennedy original, a characteristically menacing anthem. Unreleased; look for a 2010 album.

42. Ivo Popasov – Dance of the Falcon

Adrenaline-fueled title track from the legendary Bulgarian gypsy clarinetist’s latest album Dance of the Falcon.

43. Ivo Papasov – Prayer from the Mountains

A more ornate, orchestral composition but still amazingly intense. Also from Dance of the Falcon.

44. Ten Pound Heads – All Hands on Deck

Dark brooding art-rock anthem from the Brooklyn band’s superb debut album.

45. Mostly Other People Do the Killing – Allentown

We won’t spoil the joke other than to describe this as a Billy Joel cover by the world’s funniest free jazz band, from This Is Our Moosic.

46. And the Wiremen – Sleep

Southwestern gothic in the tradition of Friends of Dean Martinez or Giant Sand, by this excellent, atmospheric Brooklyn crew.

47. Edison Woods – Dear Heaven

Typically wrenching, poignant lyrics and understated, amospheric beauty from frontwoman Julia Frodahl

48. Bobby Vacant & the Weary – Some Walk

Sardonic Bukowskiesque ballad: “Don’t look to tomorrow, just get through the day.” Also from Tear Back the Night.

49. Ian Hunter – Man Overboard

Big anguished 6/8 anthem, title track from Hunter’s superb new cd.

50. System Noise – Now We Know

Magnificent, Pink Floyd/Procol Harum style epic. The band has gone on hiatus, but expect a recording out sometime in 2010.

51. The Whiskey Daredevils – Stories About Texas

Spot-on, hilarious portrait of a guy who’s not exactly what he says he is, by the killer Cleveland roots rockers.

52. Jang Sa-ik – This Is Not It

The art-rock crooner is a superstar in South Korea, not yet known here outside the Korean community: this big carpe diem anthem could help change that.

53. Mark Steiner – Cigarettes

One of the great noir rocker’s signature songs, a towering, 6/8 tremolo-guitar anthem released on his Fallen Birds cd in 2007, he absolutely slayed at Cake Shop with this in August.

54. Amy Allison – The Needle Skips

A battered 45 as metaphor for life itself, bittersweet and poignant and funny too. From her new career-best cd Sheffield Streets.

55. Livia Hoffman – Infinite Jest

Big rocking anthem with a characteristically anguished lyric from the underground chanteuse.

56. The New Collisions – Caged Us Kids

A blast of furious fun by the Boston new wave revivalists. On their killer new ep.

57. Abby Travis – Now Was

The highly sought-after bassist is also a first-rate noir cabaret songwriter, and this is one of her best. She killed with this at the Delancey last winter.

58. Warsaw Village Band – Circle No. 1

Dark gypsy instrumental stuff from the Polish group’s excellent new cd out on Barbes Records.

59. The Snow – Undertow

Clever, sardonic art-rock from Melomane frontman Pierre de Gaillande’s latest project.

60. Ingrid Olava – It’s All Right, Ma, I’m Only Bleeding

Absolutely riveting, perfect cover of the Dylan classic. Unreleased – this was the high point of her show at the Delancey in NYC last winter.

61. Myles Turney – Nobody’s Prize

Scathing, dismissive anti-trendoid number by the excellent Americana/blues guitarist. It’s on his myspace.

62. Kelli Rae Powell – Some Bridges Are Good to Burn

Centerpiece to the oldtimey siren’s stupendously good, frequently bitter new cd New Words for Old Lullabies

63. Balthrop, Alabama – Bride of Frankenstein

Self-explanatory track from the Brooklyn rock behemoths’ viscerally menacing new ep.

64. Balthrop, Alabama – Prom Story

60s teen pulp redone with savage black humor. Also on the new ep.

65. Balthrop, Alabama – Red Hook Pool

This is the most New York-centric of the songs and has characteristically bite.

66. The Church – Anchorage

Savage, magnificent Steve Kilbey anthem – whether this is a mea culpa or a distribe about someone else, it packs a wallop. From their new one Untitled #23.

67. Chris Eminizer – Ashes to the Sun

Spot-on, artsy post-9/11 anthem from the New York-based songwriter.

68. Fishtank Ensemble – Spirit Prison

Careening, rocking gypsy stuff by the crazy Bay Area crew.

69. Fishtank Ensemble – Samurai Over Serbia

This blends the band’s gypsy feel with Asian influences.

70. Alpha Blondy – Wish You Were Here

Pink Floyd cover, maybe better than the iconic original, by the African reggae legend. High point of his show at Central Park Summerstage this past summer.

71. The Motion Sick – God Hates Kansas

Briskly incisive, insightful rocker from this excellent, lyrical Boston band.

72. Ward White – Getting Along Is Easy

Sardonic, bitter and wickedly lyrical stuff from the great underground NYC songwriter (and half of McGinty and White). From his new one Pulling Out.

73. Dan Bryk – Apologia

The Canadian-American rocker offers this hilariously tongue-in-cheek mea culpa from an imaginary record executive. From Bryk’s excellent new cd Pop Psychology.

74. The New Collisions – The Beautiful and Numb

Lush sweeping new wave-inflected apocalypse anthem, a perfect soundtrack piece for NYC’s Lower East Side. Figures it would take a Boston band to write it.

75. Dan Bryk – Street Team

Graham Parker’s Mercury Poisoning updated for the end of the zeros with much more deliciously funny detail. Also from the new cd Pop Psychology.

76. Amy Allison – Mardi Gras Moon

A typically witty, sardonic number, this one about drinking and popping pills: “I hear the distant music of the band/I’m losing all the feeling in my hands.”

77. The Asylum Street Spankers – Stick Magnetic Ribbons on Your SUV

The smartly political oldtimey band’s big late-Bush-era hit.

78. Joe Pug – One Thousand Men

Antiwar anthem that recasts a Jefferson quote as something that Stalin might have said. Confrontational, to say the least. From his new ep In the Meantime.

79. Kelli Rae Powell – Don’t Slow Down, Zachary

A road trip to hell – or away from hell? Wrenchingly poignant. Also from New Words for Old Lullabies.

80. The American String Quartet Robert Sirota: Tryptich

A haunting and evocative 9/11 composition; forthcoming on cd in 2010.

81. Spanking Charlene – Requiem

That’s obviously not the title – but that’s what it is. Unreleased; the version the fiery NYC punk/Americana rockers did at Lakeside this past July was majestic and heartwrenching.

82. The Ulrich/Ziegler Duo – Since Cincinnati

Written by Big Lazy frontman Steve Ulrich, this is a cinematic blue-sky theme featuring all kinds of gorgeous guitar. Unreleased – yet another great live moment from Small Beast at the Delancey.

83. Love Camp 7 – (Beware of) The Angry Driver (Yeah)

A tasty, jangly, brutally sarcastic number about sadistic city bus drivers in Brooklyn. From their equally catchy, jangly new cd Union Garage.

84. The Asylum Street Spankers – My Favorite Records

A hilarious theme for vinyl lovers (and fans of contrapuntal vocals) everywhere. From their killer live cd What? And Give Up Show Business?

85. The Oxygen Ponies – The War Is Over

Fiery, murderous Bush-era broadside from the excellent art-rockers’ new cd Harmony Handgrenade.

86. Jeff Zentner – Burning Season

Brilliantly metaphorical Nashville gothic, from the North Carolina songwriter’s new cd The Dying Days of Summer.

87. Little Annie – In the Sand

The noir cabaret chanteuse’s cute, catchy seaside resort ditty is actually a devastatingly funny anti-trendoid rant. Unreleased and due out in 2010; she killed with it at Galapagos in December.

88. The Motion Sick – Grace Kelly

Viciously metaphorical sendup of a drama queen by the Boston rockers, from the Her Brilliant Fifteen cd.

89. The Oxygen Ponies – Finger Trigger

More late Bush-era fury from Harmony Handgrenade.

90. The Oxygen Ponies – Villains

This one doesn’t name names, but it doesn’t need to. Raw power. Another one from Harmony Handgrenade.

91. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – Ayn Rand Sucks

This song needed to be wrtten and it’s a good thing this guy did it. And it’s hysterically funny. From his new, career-best cd The Ghost of Rock N Roll.

92. The Church – Deadman’s Hand

Murky, sweeping, angry Iraq war parable from the Australian art-rock legends’ latest Untitled #23.

93. McGinty and White – Rewrite

One of Ward White’s greatest lyrics – and he has dozens – this breaks every wall, fourth wall, convention, whatever you can think of. Surreal and also very funny in a mean way. From the duo’s brilliant new debut cd McGinty & White Sing Selections from the McGinty &White Songbook.

94. Dan Bryk – Treat of the Week

Savage blast of fury against record label blandness and corporate culture. Also from Pop Psychology.

95. Lenny Molotov – Devil’s Empire

Fiery and ultimately triumphant Woody Guthrie-style antifascist tirade. From the new cd Illuminated Blues.

96. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – White

Can the great Americana rocker do hip-hop too? You bet. As funny as anything else he’s ever done. Also from The Ghost of Rock & Roll.

97. Alice Texas – Oh, My Beautiful

NYC noir rock doesn’t get any more sweeping or beautiful than this towering anthem. Unreleased; the version she did at Small Beast at the Delancey in June was transcendent.

98. Lenny Molotov – Freedom Tower

A metaphor for life in a surveillance state, from the NYC Americana songwriter. This was supposed to be what the replacement for the World Trade Center was supposed to be called. But this one has helicopter gunships on the roof, and spycams everywhere…from Molotov’s new cd Illuminated Blues.

99. Liza & the WonderWheels – Cold Wind

Uncharacteristically chilly anthem by the usually psychedelic, catchy new wave rockers. Unreleased – the acoustic version they did at the Parkside Lounge this fall was amazing.

100. Post No Bills – GDDUMOA

One of the funnest things about youtube and myspace is the amateur stuff you find there. We stumbled across this hilarious acoustic song while looking for another band with the same name. The title is an acronym for God Damn Donut Under Mike Owens’s Ass. Apparently poor Mike Owens, whoever he is, needed an operation, and the recovery process included sitting on a glorified inner tube. “I’m the only cure for the hemorrhoid you got from a strap-on,” sings the inflatable ring in a lazy southern drawl. Until Mike Owens finds out about this and fires off an irate message to myspace to take the song down, here it is.

And just for fun (and to give some added perspective to this list), here are the #1 songs of the year for 2008 from this site and our predecessor e-zine going all the way back to its inception in 2000:

2008: Steve Wynn – I Don’t Deserve This

2007: Amy Allison – Turn Out the Lights

2006: System Noise – Daydreaming

2005: LJ Murphy – Pretty for the Parlor

2004: Botanica – Good

2003: The Wirebirds – This Green Hell

2002: Bob Dylan – Mississippi

2001: Mary Lee’s Corvette – Idiot Wind

2000: Ninth House – Put a Stake Right Through It

March 24, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , | 67 Comments

Top Ten Songs of the Week 3/23/09

Every Tuesday, in the spirit of Kasey Kasem, we try to mix it up with new and interesting stuff in a variety of styles along with the occasional rare, vintage gem. Some of these songs may appear on our Best 100 Songs of 2009 list which we’ll publish as we do every year sometime during the last week of December. All of the links below are for each individual song with the exception of #1 which is unreleased, you’ll have to come out tonight to see it live!  

 

1. Jenifer Jackson – Maybe

Gorgeous Burt Bacharach style 60s bossa nova-pop with noir overtones, from one of our era’s greatest songwriters. She’s at the Rockwood tonight (3/24) at 8.

 

2. For Feather – Love Field

Not a Costello cover  – this is a dark chamber rock song. Sounds a lot like This Reporter. They’re at Spikehill at midnight on 3/26

 

3. Avantango – Cachila

Eerie but soaring tango jazz from the pioneering combo led by bassist Pablo Aslan.

 

4. Sheila Cooper – In Love with the Night Mysterious

Canadian sax player/chanteuse. Gary Versace’s ominous piano gives this lounge jazz number an undercurrent of menace. Streaming at her site. 

 

5. The Havens – Gowanus Canal

The all-female bluegrass quartet’s deadpan tale about ganja that is, um,  not exactly organic. Yikes! They’re at Freddy’s on 3/28 at 11.

 

6. Clara Bellino – Potential Criminal

Edgy pop song. We’re all potential criminals.

 

7. Special Patrol Group – Black Clouds

Sounds a lot like Echobelly: counterintuitive chord changes, sultry vocals, intriguing lyrics. They’re at Arlene’s on 4/24.

 

8. Singing Sadie – Put Down the Carving Knife

Vaudevillian oldtimey chanteuse from Australia. Self-explanatory and fun.

 

9. ELO – Laredo Tornado

High-quality live youtube clip from British tv, 1974. Different lyrics than the classic album version on the Eldorado lp: “Towers of concrete, hellish go-round, are there to make you die!”

 

10. The Orange Monsoon – Like a Dildo on Viagra

Not much of a song, but a great title.

March 24, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment