Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Robin O’Brien – Eye and Storm

“It’s nice when people say a song of mine makes them cry, but I’d much rather it make them vomit their feelings,” Robin O’Brien once told Interview Magazine. However much the chanteuse might want to induce such a visceral reaction, the most she’s going to evince from of anyone with this album, her second on Chicago label Luxotone Records, is tears – buckets of them. Both O’Brien’s lyrics and her musical sensibility are remarkably terse and crystallized, often imbued with a white-knuckle intensity, but it’s her voice that elevates her above most other singers out there. It’s a powerful, soaring vehicle, equally honed to gospel elation, fiery Siouxsie-esque accusatory tones and a soulful belt that vividly echoes Laura Nyro. This is a thematic cd, a requiem for something. Taken at face value, it could be a breakup album, but it’s obviously much more than that – there’s a subtext here, a longing in the face of loss, less the lament of a lover than of a dreamer.

 

The hypnotic, almost tribal opening track, Waiting for Daniel (One) sets the tone, the narrator sharing a Chelsea memory with considerable anguish:

 

Inside the room where all my music dies

Where all my tears can’t make it come alive

 

By contrast, the second song, Mobile, with its layers of vocals is pure joie de vivre, an update on Joni Mitchell’s Clouds-period style: “We got an energy and a will to last forever!” The fierce, accusatory Monday comes as close to having a modern commercial feel as there ever is here, producer George Reisch coloring it with characteristically tasteful, warmly sparse electric guitar. O’Brien most closely evokes Laura Nyro on the blue-eyed soul standout Body Run Down, then her anxious anticipation turning to the horror of abandonment on the hypnotic, ragaesque When You’re Talking.

 

Looking for Daniel (Two) picks up the pace, feeling like a great lost track from the Velvets’ third album. The next track, L.O.V.E. Love is the album’s anguished centerpiece, the narrator realizing she’s reached a dead end, meticulously arranged layers of vocals swirling around: “This part is over/Party’s over.” From there, it’s a return to the cd’s earlier, hypnotic feel, and then Maysong, a showcase for O’Brien to air out her voice, backed only by acoustic guitar. Accented with a stark string arrangement, Walking Through You aches for a hope that will never be realized; then, on 10th Avenue, O’Brien shows off her powerful gospel pipes for all they’re worth. From there, the lights darken quickly, from the angst-driven lost-love ballad So Good, the jazzy Joni-isms of If You and the rivetingly resigned, Linda Thompson-inflected Britfolk feel of the cd’s concluding cut, I Can’t Make You. It would not be an overstatement to rank Eye and Storm on the same level as Joni Mitchell’s Blue, or with a lament by Mary Lee’s Corvette or Neko Case. Anyone with the strength – or the need – for the purity and intensity O’Brien offers on this album will find layers and layers of it here.

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April 8, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The Warsaw Village Band – Infinity

The band name is sardonic since Warsaw isn’t exactly a little village. In recent days the group’s press has stressed how many modern western influences there are on this cd, but most of them don’t really show. With lyrics in Polish, layers of otherworldly vocal harmonies and a haunting, alternately lush and rustic wash of violins and cello tastefully augmented by dulcimer, accordion and percussion, Warsaw Village Band’s new cd on upstart Brooklyn label Barbes Records has the same darkly minor-key, atmospheric feel as much of their previous work. Better put, they sound like what John Cale was trying to do on Venus in Furs and might have been able to pull off if he’d had any idea what Balkan music was all about. This album is scary-good in the purest sense of the phrase.

 

The intensity kicks in right off the bat with the cd’s first track, Wise Kid Song, set to a fast 6/8 beat, the group’s three women harmonizing over a catchy descending progression driven by staccato strings. At the end (western influence!) they run the strings through a phaser, 60s psychedelic style. Track two, 1,5H rides a hypnotic, suspenseful pulse with layers of sepulchral, contrapuntal vocals, big cymbal crash at the end to wind it up. Then they bring it down with Over the Forest, with a little bit of a hip-hop rhythm but with the sparsest drumming imaginable. Of all the tracks here, the next cut, the catchy Skip Funk is the only one that makes much of a nod to current commerciality with turntable scratching and an Afrobeat feel.

 

The rest of the cd is mostly a black angel’s death song. Is Anybody In There is simply a hypnotic chant over a martial drumbeat; Heartbeat sounds like a Polish amalgam of Black Sea Hotel and Carol Lipnik, darkly dramatic vocals over a hypnotic, bluesy melody. Polska Fran Polska has the violin echoing the Anitra’s Dance theme by Grieg over a stately, anthemic one-chord drone that jumps to life like a golem when the dulcimer comes in, then falls away at the end, down to just pizzicato violins. After that, two more ominous, incantatory one-chord jams, another march, a Weimar blues and a partita beginning with a swirling gypsy dance that slows down and gets all ambient before picking up at the end with the drums. Not something you want to put on late at night and fall asleep to unless you are a brave soul (and recommended for brave souls everywhere, regardless of whether you speak Polish – we can’t vouch for the lyrics one way or another). Since they’re on Barbes Records, a New York date – at least at their home base – shouldn’t be out of the question, watch this space for updates.

April 8, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Song of the Day 4/8/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #476:

Bruce Springsteen – Adam Raised a Cain

With the Walmart debacle, most of the blogosphere considers this guy a complete hypocrite, no better than the Eagles or AC/DC. Still, we should always distinguish the art from the artist. To his credit, Da Boss has a long and distinguished career of anti-fascist activism and charity work that predates that one offhand decision to give Walmart an exclusive on a cheap greatest-hits compilation. Here’s a number completely in touch with his working-class roots, from his raging late 70s peak, Darkness on the Edge of Town, 1977, a study in violence getting passed down through the generations: “You’re born into this life paying for the sins of somebody else’s past.” The best version out there is actually the ferocious live take from the multi-lp set, 1985. Good luck finding it online – there’s probably as much Bruce as Dead floating around limewire. The link above is a decent live take from Boston, 1999.

April 8, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment