Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Gabriel Sullivan – By the Dirt

Gabriel Sullivan knows a lot of styles and he’s adept at them. More specifically, his new cd By the Dirt runs through a whole bunch of stylized genres, pretty successfully – the playing is generally good, he’s got a good sense of melody and a feel for vintage Americana styles. Mixed by Craig Schumacher of Calexico and Friends of Dean Martinez renown, Sullivan’s going for a dusky southwestern gothic feel (a concept made clear by the cd cover, the songwriter posed sullenly against a photoshopped backdrop of a battered piano in the sagebrush), although the sound is more straight-up southern in a lot of places.

The album’s opening number reminds of Reid Paley, kind of a stripped-down ghoulabilly blues with banjo and harp. The title track is a swinging, memorable, Waitsh-ish tune: “We all live and die by the dirt,” Sullivan reminds ominously. Track three, the snide, defiant Life Is Fine has Sullivan affirming that “You ain’t never gonna see me die.”

How to Treat a Man reminds of Steve Wynn’s legendary Dream Syndicate with its slide guitar-driven, bluesy stomp. By contrast, Me & the Dog is ghostly, lowlit by some sweetly phosphorescent singing saw work. Of the country songs here, by far the most interesting and original is the metaphor-laden, nocturnal ballad The Gardens, its protagonist aching for some peace. There’s also a clanking noir blues, a Waits-style outlaw ballad and then more and more Waits, it seems – by this point, Sullivan seems to have run out of ideas of his own, and the overlong, pointless guitar solo out of the last number does nothing to change that. In terms of the three stages of artistry – imitation, emulation and originality – Sullivan’s passed the first and has command of the second – and there’s nothing wrong with having the ability to synthesize or move smoothly from one oldtime style to another, as he does effortlessly here. It’ll be interesting to see how his writing develops as he grows as a songwriter. In the meantime, fans of dark Americana rock and all the other retro styles he tackles here will enjoy most of this. Keep your eye on this guy – he knows what he’s doing, even if he could be confused with a whole lot of other people on some of the tracks here.

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November 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Rupa & the April Fishes – Este Mundo

It’s hard to imagine a sexier album – or a smarter one – released this year. Over the course of fifteen first-class tracks – there’s not a single substandard song on this cd – Rupa & the April Fishes come off like a better-traveled Eleni Mandell backed by an acoustic Gogol Bordello. Alternating between wild gypsy dances, ska, noir cabaret, Mexican border ballads, Colombian folk, tango, klezmer and reggae, this is without question the most triumphantly multistylistic tour de force of 2009.

Frontwoman/guitarist/physician Rupa Marya is a Franco-American globetrotter of Indian ancestry. Whether singing in English, French or Spanish, her lyrics are as evocative as they are provocative (the album is a tribute to and defense of immigrants risking their lives around the world). Her breathy vocals are equally nuanced, as capable of conjuring a sultry late-night ambience as much as nonplussed outrage, backed by an acoustic rhythm section along with cello, trumpet, and accordion as well as horns and flute on several tracks. They stay in moody minor keys until the next-to-last track, a surprisingly breezy number combining a Mexican folk feel with reggae, a lament that could be told from an immigrant’s viewpoint…or just a woman missing a lover.

Before that, there’s a brief, haunting violin theme; a swinging noir tango with an incisive trumpet solo at the end; a playful, fun gypsy dance that goes out on a boomy bass solo; a dark, violin-driven reggae number; a gypsy-inflected, slinky ska tune; a defiant gypsy waltz with echoes of New York vintage latin revivalists las Rubias del Norte; a sad, mariachiesque trumpet tune; a dark Mexican shuffle; a scary, Middle-Eastern-inflected gypsy dance that builds from a stately hora-style intro; a jaunty, bluesy ragtime song with a big dixieland raveup at the end; and a bouncy cumbia featuring a characteristically intense rap interlude by the greatest English-language lyricist of our time, Boots Riley of Oakland hip-hop legends the Coup (who has an intriguing new collaboration with Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Street Sweeper Social Club).

Part of this album is a great dance mix; what’s not danceable makes great makeout music. Socially aware, sometimes surreal and invariably inspired, this is one of the best albums of the year, yet another reason why we’re not going to finalize our Best Albums of 2009 list until the end of December. Rupa & the April Fishes play the Bell House along with another excellent, multistylistic, danceable band, Nation Beat on November 13 at 8 PM.

November 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment