Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Willie Nile – House of a Thousand Guitars

This one makes a good segue with the just-reviewed Beefstock Recipes anthology. Willie Nile is New York through and through, having chronicled the darker side of this town from one end to the other in one memorable song after another over the last two decades and even before then. Onetime bearer of the curse of being “the next Dylan,” woefully misunderstood by a succession of big record labels who didn’t have the slightest idea of what to do with him, he resurrected his career in 1999 with his aptly titled Beautiful Wreck of the World cd and hasn’t looked back since. He may be a cult artist here, but in Europe he’s a star, consequently spending most of his road time there. House of a Thousand Guitars, his latest cd has everything he’s best known for: big anthemic hooks, smartly metaphor-laden lyrics, a socially aware worldview and the surrreal humor that finds its way into even his blackest, bleakest songs. Half of the cd was recorded with the ferocious live band who backed him for years and appeared on his most recent cd and dvd, Live from the Streets of New York; the other half features starker, often piano-based arrangements.

 

The title track makes a more upbeat take on what Leonard Cohen was doing with Tower of Song. Nile reminding that John Lee Hooker, alive or dead, will still kick your ass. He follows this with Run, a catchy powerpop anthem with characteristically searing, tasteful guitar from Mellencamp axeman Andy York. Track three, Doomsday Dance is laced with tongue-in-cheek black humor set to a fast backbeat

 

The inspiring, upbeat Love Is A Train is a feast of lush guitar textures, as is the next cut, Her Love Falls Like Rain, layers of acoustic and electric falling in beautifully jangly sheets. The piano ballad Now That the War Is Over is an older song that makes a welcome, apt addition here, a haunting, Richard Thompson-esque portrait of a damaged Iraq War veteran. It’s quite a contrast with the optimistic (and deliciously prophetic) riff-rocker Give Me Tomorrow, written right before the election, ablaze with surreal, metaphorical imagery.

 

The next track is another stomping riff-rocker, Magdalena, fondly known by some of Nile’s fan base as My Now-and-Later because back in the day – what was it, ten years ago? – when he debuted the song, that’s what the chorus sounded like (it actually has nothing to do with cheap candy). Other memorable tracks here include the big ballad Little Light (as in, “All I wanna see is a little light in this cold dark world), the elegiac Touch Me (a tribute in memory of Nile’s brother John) and what has become a requisite on every Willie Nile album, a big Irish ballad, this one titled The Midnight Rose, a fast number spiced with tasty barrelhouse piano. The cd wraps up with a characteristically indelible New York tableau, When The Last Light Goes Out On Broadway. In a year where it looks like New Yorkers are on the fast track to reclaiming the city from the hedge fund crowd and the gentrification that until the last few months or so threatened to destroy it, Nile couldn’t have timed this album any better.

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April 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Beefstock Recipes

Every few years, somebody tries to put out an anthology that captures a time and place in New York rock history. Too bad it never seems to work. The two Live at CBGB albums (which now sell for hundreds of dollars apiece) were perfect examples, forgettable songs by forgotten bands whose only claim to fame was playing a club that pretty much everybody else was playing too. While a definitive anthology of the best current New York bands would require a hefty, unwieldy box set, we finally have a collection, the improbably titled Beefstock Recipes, which succeeds brilliantly at capturing some of the most original and exciting New York bands of the here-and-now. All the artists represented on the cd have played the annual upstate Beefstock music festival at one time or another, many on multiple occasions. Originally conceived as a one-off memorial concert for bassist Darren Bohan, who was murdered when the Twin Towers were detonated on 9/11, the first show (put together by Brooklyn jam band Plastic Beef, hence the name), was so successful that they did another one the next year, and the next, and…voila. Beefstock Nine is scheduled for sometime in early spring 2010.

 

In the Beefstock tradition, the album is divided into two cds, titled Afternoon and Evening – typically, the quieter, acoustic acts and singer-songwriters play the festival during daylight hours, followed by the rock bands at night. It opens on an auspicious note with Brooklyn Is (So Big), Americana songwriter Rebecca Turner’s lilting tribute to the borough that spawned most of the bands here: “Brooklyn is so big, because it has to hold a lot of beautiful songs.” There’s a rare version of the Erica Smith classic The World Is Full of Pretty Girls with the chanteuse backed by Plastic Beef, doing it as straight-up country by comparison to the lush American Beauty-style take on her Snowblind album. Spindale contribute a catchy, fun dreampop number, followed by a rare, bizarre eco-anthem set to the tune of an old Lutheran hymn by 60s cult artist Brute Force.

 

Kirsten Williams, a rare American songwriter who’s equally capable of writing and singing in French, contributes the vividly wary, characteristically terse Arsenal. The most current of the cuts here, Paranoid Larry’s Stimulate THIS is an amusingly spot-on interpretation of Obama’s stimulus package: “They’re sitting in their castles while we’re rotting in debtors’ prison.” There’s also You-Shaped Hole in the Universe, Livia Hoffman’s haunting tribute to Bohan, her bandmate and close friend, and the aptly environmentalist Sunset by solar-powered band Solar Punch, winding up the first cd with some richly melodic work by bassist Andy Mattina.

 

But it’s disc two where things really heat up. The John Sharples Band’s ecstatic anthem Brooklyn sets it up for the Gun Club/Cramps-style noir garage intensity of Tom Warnick & World’s Fair’s Skull and Crossbones. Black Death’s Abandoned Cemetery is a rousing death-metal spoof; Liza & the WonderWheels’ Where’s My Robot Maid continues in a similar tongue-in-cheek vein, frontwoman Liza Garelik wondering in lush, rich tones about when her household deus ex machina is going to arrive. Skelter’s Dawn Marie is one of the most deliciously vengeful kiss-off anthems ever written, a mighty smack upside the memory of a treacherous girl who sprinkles her Apple Jacks with cocaine (?!?!?) and screws around. Road to Hell is a characteristically metaphorical, amusing number from jangerock siren Paula Carino, followed by Cell Phone or Schizo, a song that needed to be written and it’s a good thing that it’s new wave revivalists the Larch who’re responsible. The best cut on the entire album is the sadly defunct Secrets‘ obscure classic How to Be Good, a gorgeous, darkly downcast, jangly anthem set in a shadowy milieu that could only be New York. There’s also a smoldering powerpop gem by the Actual Facts and Love Camp 7’s Start from Nothing (a song covered better by its writer, playing on Erica Smith’s Snowblind). 

 

Both cds tail off about three-quarters of the way through, but Evening ends on an inspiring note with the “Tom Tom Warnick Club” i.e. a Tom Warnick & World’s Fair tribute band with vocal cameos from Paula Carino and others here doing a rousing take on one of his more straightforward songs, the soul-fueled My Troubles All Fall Apart. The official cd release show is June 13 at Freddy’s featuring Plastic Beef along with Warnick, Sharples, Liza Garelik and Ian Roure of the WonderWheels and the Larch and Baby Daddy. In the meantime, information on how to obtain one of these beautiful rarities can be found here.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The Rough Guide to Blues Revival

Every now and then we all go to a concert where the opening act blows the headliner off the stage. This is the cd equivalent of that experience. Forget for a moment that this is titled the Rough Guide to Blues Revival (a dubious concept from the get-go): what’s most exciting here is the free bonus cd by 40-year-old Malian bluesman Samba Toure, a protege of Ali Farka Toure. In a particularly smart marketing move, the compilers decided to sweeten the deal by including it in the package at no extra charge, and for fans of the desert blues pantheon (think Tinariwen, Boubacar Traore, Vieux Farka Toure et al.) it’s a treat, ten sun-baked, trance-inducing tracks of eerily snaking guitar enhanced by fiddle, bass and percussion. By comparison to his mentor (no relation), Samba Toure delivers his vocals in a low, growling style in his native dialect.

 

Stylistically, Malian desert blues most closely resembles the Mississippi hill country style with few if any chord changes, instead building dynamically with a typically hypnotic feel. To call this stuff blues is sometimes a stretch, although Ali Farka Toure was influenced by American electric guitarists, an effect that translates to a certain extent here. Here, the instruments swirl and whirl around each other, stark sheets of fiddle mingling with the staccato ring of the guitars, the occasional flight of a flute line and the ever-present, persistent eight-note beat of the percussion. One of the tracks is happy, upbeat, tersely produced Afrobeat pop; otherwise, the songs aptly evoke the “cameraderie of the cigarette,” as Tinariwen’s Ibrahim Ag Alhabib has characterized the casual but impoverished nomadic milieu, passing a single smoke around a circle of conversation. The best cut here is the last, Foda Diakaina (called an instrumental but it’s not), dizzying flute spinning around the guitar, bass eventually climbing to the heights with the rest of the band.

 

As far as the rest of the anthology goes, the selections here seem absolutely random, like the kind of cd that you find at the counter at the druggist or off-license for a fiver or less. For apparently no rhyme or reason (other than the label telling the compilers that if they want the rights to the hit, they’ll have to also take a couple of duds along with it to seal the deal), this mixes choice cuts by the Blind Boys of Alabama (You Gotta Move rearranged gospel-style), a quiet, Hendrix-inspired number by Deborah Coleman and tracks by Irma Thomas and Shemekia Copeland along with possibly well-intentioned but ultimately cold, cliched, stale stuff by baby boomer faves like Robben Ford, Eric Bibb, and Kim Simmonds & Savoy Brown. There’s also some more recent material including an utterly bizarre Pipeline ripoff by CC Adcock. The cd is out now worldwide except for the UK where it will be available May 5.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/22/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #462:

True WestMorning Light

Not the most interesting lyric, but what an exhilarating, beautiful song, with all those layers of gorgeous, jangling, twanging, roaring guitars. Along with the Slickee Boys, True West were the best of the “Paisley Underground” of early-mid 80s neo-psychedelic bands, driven by the frequently fiery interplay of Richard McGrath and Russ Tolman’s fretwork. From the classic Drifters album, 1984; there’s the cd reissue Hollywood Holiday Revisited out there as well. The link in the title above is to the stream at deezer.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment