Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Maynard and the Musties – So Many Funerals

Nouveau outlaw country songwriter and Nashville expat Joe Maynard does double duty as a rare book dealer, hence the tongue-in-cheek band name. On this cd – his first with this particular crew – he comes across as sort of a hybrid of Townes Van Zandt, Tom Waits and David Allan Coe. Maynard built a reputation for gut-bustingly funny songs with his previous bands, the upbeat Illbillies and then the more traditionally oriented Millerite Redeemers. On this cd, he’s as surreal as always but considerably more somber, and the jokes are darker as well. Musically, it rocks pretty hard in places: Ryan Adams’ production is terse and imaginative on both the upbeat stuff and the quieter numbers. The album’s best song, Elvis Museum is a prime example, Adams’ piano quiet and determined over a swaying backbeat, and it’s a genuine classic. It’s quintessential Maynard: the museum in question turns out to be a pretty pathetic excuse for one, the King’s portrait between “a sinkful of dishes and a toilet stall,” but this offhandedly savage satire of celebrity worship still manages to be sympathetic. Likewise, the opening track, Pine Box, a body in a coffin taking a sarcastic view of the preacher and the pageantry outside. After a gentle, rustic beginning lit up with some vivid violin from Naa Koshie Mills (also of the Disclaimers, and the musical star of the album), lead guitarist Mo Botton rips out a nasty garage rock solo.

Maynard hails from Brooklyn these days and uses that milieu for several of the songs, including the surreal Cowboys of St. Bartholomew – about a gay street couple – and the deadpan, reverb-drenched Rocky and Bessie, an ominously bizarre tale of a couple of stray dogs in Fort Greene. He also sets the poem Shallow Water Warning – a drowning recalled by the victim – by legendary outsider poet Helen Adam to a swaying Tex-Mex-inflected tune. Otherwise, the titular redneck girl of the big bluesy raveup isn’t exactly what she seems, the drugs bid a fond farewell to the body they ravaged in the lullaby Dear Addict, and the rest of the world hides and surfs the web while the world burns – literally – on the Velvets-esque apocalypse anthem It’s Been a Great Life, Botton adding some aptly furious Sterling Morrison chord-chopping on the outro. The cd closes with a heartfelt tribute to Maynard’s lapsteel player and flatmate, the late, great Drew Glackin (also of Tandy, the Jack Grace Band, Silos and numerous other A-list Americana bands). The whole thing is a richly lyrical, fearlessly good time, darkness notwithstanding. The band is also impressively good live. Maynard and the Musties play Sidewalk on Dec 4 at 8 PM.

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Chang Jui-Chuan – Exodus: Retrospective and Prospective 1999-2009

Global hip-hop doesn’t get much better than this. Rapper/college professor Chang Jui-Chuan is a bonafide star of the hip-hop underground in his native Taiwan, and this collection – largely culled from a 2006 release – has him poised to cross over to an English-speaking audience. A gifted, frequently ferocious bilingual lyricist in his native language, Hokkien and also English, he delivers his English raps in a menacing, slurred Taiwanese-accented drawl. This is conscious hip-hop raised to a power: people have been executed for tackling the topics he addresses. He has little use for globalization:

You say free trade gets us out of poverty and hunger

Free trade saves my family from pistol triggers

Free trade assures good drugs for my son’s cancer

Then tell me why we’re dying faster than ever…

Exploitation disguised as freedom and democracy

Global corporations feed Third World Dictators

Paying less than one dollar per month for child workers…

He fearlessly takes the stand for dissidents who risk their lives around the globe, especially those who dare stand up to the mainland Chinese regime:

…when I’m placing an order on this free-speech website

It’s taken over by the interface in Chinese Simplified

Propaganda’s never simplified, can only be vandalized

I orchestrate lyrical drive-bys

The most potent lyric here is in Hokkien, titled Hey Kid, a scathing account of Chang Kai-shek’s invasion of Taiwan, the February 27, 1947 massacre of Taiwanese nationalist freedom fighters, and the subsequent terror that lasted decades and left tens of thousands of innocent civilians dead. He also addresses spiritual concerns without coming across as doctrinaire (he’s a Christian) and the need to preserve indigenous cultures in the face of western cultural imperialism. The backing tracks here deserve mention too because they’re excellent, ranging from spacy psychedelic funk, to roots reggae (Chang sings respectably well), to ominous, chromatically-charged funk-metal played by a live band rather than sampled. Fans of the best conscious American hip-hop acts: Immortal Technique, the Coup and Dead Prez are in for a treat here. Or maybe this guy can hook up with the Hsu-nami and we can get a real Taiwanese-American crossover.

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

CD Review: Cesaria Evora – Nha Sentimento

Arguably Cesaria Evora’s best album. If this is her September song, it’s a hot September. Then again, the legendary Cape Verde chanteuse has been singing September songs for the past 25 years – she’s had plenty of practice. As with Portuguese fado, the mornas of her native land off the coast of Africa traditionally have a sad undercurrent, but there’s another level of melancholy here since her childhood friend and longtime songwriter Manuel de Novas died earlier this year after providing her with a few last songs, which are represented here. As Evora’s publicist memorably observed, Cape Verde is a “melting pot on a Bunsen burner.” Like other ports, its music has been enriched by generations of seafarers and the cultures they brought with them, perhaps explaining why Evora’s most recent work has been so widely traveled as well – previous albums have blended Cuban, Brazilian and African sounds into her signature ballads. This time around, she and her producers enlisted a crew of Egyptian musicians on several tracks, which, rather than Arabizing the music, adds the intriguingly ominous textures of oud and kanun (Arabic zither) along with ney flute and a string section. Vocally, Evora brings her signature style, resolute and understated with a tinge of smoke. She’s been called the Billie Holiday of Cape Verde and while stylistically the two singers don’t have much in common, neither ever had to turn up the volume to make a point.

Most of the songs here have a brooding minor-key melancholy. De Novas’ compositions typically favor latin melodies and rhythms, the first fast and swirling with almost a soca beat; another lit up by a simple, percussive electric guitar solo; and a warmly evocative, blues-inflected wee-hours piano ballad with a tricky false ending. The songs with the Egyptian orchestra share a stark intensity, especially the plaintive title track with the strings taking a graceful but ominous cascade down the chromatic scale and the stately tango Vento de sueste (Southeast Wind) with its reverberating kanun and violin.Ironically, Evora’s darkest vocal – and the one place on the album where she shows her age – is on the gorgeous Noiva de Ceu (Girlfriend from the Sky) with its lush bed of acoustic and electric guitars and vivid violin intro/outro. The rest of the album includes an upbeat, Afrobeat-inflected number, a couple of haunting, continental-flavored, accordion-driven tunes and a song that could almost pass as merengue. After all these years, Cesaria Evora is still pushing the envelope.

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Some More Songs For You Until We Get Back to Doing This on a Daily Basis

Back when we started Lucid Culture – if you don’t remember our infancy, so much the better, infancy is always messy – we promised you a new post every day, a reason to keep you coming back again and again. Lately we’ve been doing it more in fits and spurts than usual  – although if you count up everything we’ve put up since we went bicoastal at the end of September, we’re only about a week behind. Loyal readers will remember how we used to put up a new song from our 666 Best Songs of Alltime list every day, counting them down one at a time on the way to #1. We fully intend to resume that countdown, and in the meantime, here’s a bunch that might wet your whistle or get you humming along, that take the countdown up to November 19, to be precise:

268. The Velvet Underground – After Hours

Listen closely: this is a twisted Broadway song. A very subtle parody, maybe? Just imagine if Maureen Tucker’s unforgettably stoic, off-key vocals had been replaced by, say, Streisand. Of course, then the song’s wrenching, understated angst would have been lost. “People look well in the dark.” Don’t we.

267. REM – South Central Rain

Wherein Peter Buck strapped on his Vox Teardrop and played one of his most hauntingly beautiful hooks while Mike Mills’ bass soared over the poignancy of the jangle and clang. The link above is the original video – for some reason, Buck is playing what looks like a hollowbody Gretsch. From Reckoning, 1984; mp3s are everywhere.

266. The Moody Blues – I Know You’re Out There Somewhere

This song is about losing your muse, or your voice, and then rediscovering it. The original 1988 single is a shitshow of glossy studio electronics, but onstage the band ripped this big, jangly, crescendoing anthem to shreds, Justin Hayward slamming out those big guitar chords for all they’re worth. The version on the 1992 Live at Red Rocks cd (see the link above) isn’t bad, and there are even better bootleg takes floating around. The Moody Blues continue to tour and with all of the original band members well into their sixties, are reputedly still vital.

265. Son Volt – Tear Stained Eye

This plaintive, twangy escape anthem is one of the great moments in alt-country: “Saints don’t bother with a tear stained eye.” The studio version on what is probably the best; the link above is from the 1998 live album recorded at Irving Plaza in New York.

264. Radio Birdman – Aloha Steve & Danno

This riff-rock smash interpolates the Hawaii 5-0 theme within the chorus, a fan favorite and one of the surfiest things the legendary Australian garage punks ever did. From the 1979 classic Radios Appear; there are also a million live takes out there and virtually all of them are pretty amazing as well. The link above is a vintage 1978 live take; here’s one from a recent reunion tour.

263. Queen – 39

From the last band you’d ever expect to be capable of poignancy, here’s a stunningly sad, evocative, country-flavored time travel ballad, once a staple of classic rock radio: spaceman returns home only to find the place is completely different and everyone he knew is dead. The layers of Brian May’s acoustic guitar against John Deacon’s upright bass are exquisite. From A Night at the Opera, 1976 (yup – the one with Bohemian Rhapsody on it).   

262. The Move – Blackberry Way

One of the most haunting pop songs ever written, Roy Wood’s 1968 orchestrated rock lament was the band’s only #1 UK hit – strangely, the band never reached anything more than cult status stateside. After going even deeper into loungey pop, frontman Carl Wayne would leave the band to pursue its darker, louder side on the excellent albums Looking On and Message from the Country. But this foreshadows what lay even further ahead in ELO.

261. The Boomtown Rats – Living in an Island

Gleefully morbid existentialist new wave hit, fiery reggae-rock lit up by Garry Roberts’ guitar over Pete Briquette’s ominous descending bassline. From the classic 1978 lp A Tonic for the Troops.

260. Jethro Tull – Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day

With their tricky time signatures, artsy flourishes, electrified Scottish jigs and often impenetrably weird or pretentious lyrics, Jethro Tull were the last band you’d ever expect to have a radio hit. Yet back in the 70s they had several. This was once a big FM radio standard, a bitingly surreal, lushly jangly, bracingly existentialist lament. From the otherwise disappointing 1974 Warchild lp; mp3s are everywhere.

259. Bob Dylan – Visions of Johanna

This song is one big ellipse: who is Johanna, and why is she missing? And what’s up with Louise? It also happens to be one of the most evocative songs ever written: in the deathly stillness of the organ and the mesh of the acoustic guitar, the wintertime ambience where “the heat pipes just cough” could not be more vivid. From Blonde on Blonde, 1966; mp3s are everywhere.

258. Richard Thompson – Yankee Go Home

The iconic guitarist/songwriter defiantly resisted the vogue of Americanizing his music back when British artists were doing that in order to court an American audience, and he’s never held back from criticizing the US, particularly during the Bush regime. This gorgeously catchy broadside dates from his 1987 Amnesia lp, telling Reagan to get his troops the hell out of the UK.  

257. The Clash – London’s Burning

Best song on the band’s first album, a volcanic bedlam of guitars half-drowning Joe Strummer’s snarling lyrics: “London’s burning with boredom now.” Killer ending, too. Download away – nobody’s getting any royalties from this.

256. The Rolling Stones – Just My Imagination

Alongside the Sex Pistols’ version of My Way, this ranks as one of the great cover songs ever, adding hypnotically ringing guitar fury to the Temptations’ pretty but tame top 40 hit. As great as the 1977 version from Some Girls is, there are plenty of intriguing live takes from the era which are just as good: peek around.

255. Bruce Springsteen – Darkness on the Edge of Town

The vivid chronicle of a compulsive gambler slowly and inexorably losing it – when it comes to verisimilitude, Tom Waits has nothing on this. Title track from the 1977 album, which isn’t bad, but the Byrdsy janglefest on the 1985 live box set is completely different, somewhat more understated and therefore in its own strange way even more menacing. There are a million versions out there, most of them live, some good, some less so. Have fun digging around.

254. Pink Floyd – Us & Them

Arguably the band’s best and most definitive song, Roger Waters’ visionary antiwar lyric set to Rick Wright’s hypnotic, fluidly symphonic, Beatlesque melody: “Forward he cried from the rear, and the front rank died.” Interestingly, it remained a staple of classic rock radio throughout the Bush years – apparently, even a fascist in office can’t stop corporate radio from giving audiences the Floyd they know and love so well.

253. Bruce Springsteen – Point Blank

When Springsteen wasn’t mythmaking, there are few other songwriters who’ve had such a handle on life on the impoverished fringes, or such compassion for the people who live there. This is an anguished gutter ballad from the River, 1980: guy watches his druggie ghetto girlfriend slip away despite his best efforts. The late Danny Federici’s organ swirling like a cauldron behind Roy Bittan’s poignantly incisive, minimalist piano is one of the band’s alltime high points. A million versions of this out there, good luck: the studio track is unbeatable.

252. Erica Smith – The World Is Full of Pretty Girls

This could be the great lost track from American Beauty, the NYC Americana chanteuse at the absolute top of her game as understatedly charismatic siren and haunting lyricist. Behind her, Jon Graboff’s pedal steel tones mingle with Dann Baker’s understatedly resolute Jazzmaster lines as the bass rises with a melody all its own. From her classic 2008 cd Snowblind.

251. Bruce Springsteen – Stolen Car

The tension on this song is so tight you could cut it with a knife, Max Weinberg’s kettle drum reverberating hauntingly in the background as the Boss calmly, fatalistically narrates his protagonist’s descent into what would justifiably be called madness. Arguably the best cut on the River, 1980, the studio version remains unbeatable.

250. Big Lazy – Theme from Headtrader

This haunting, noir Mingus-meets-Morricone reverb guitar instrumental takes its title from the episode of the network tv detective drama where it first aired. Released on the band’s classic 1996 debut, back when they were called Lazy Boy (the furniture manufacturer threatened to sue, causing them to adopt the sarcastic new name), this has guitarist/composer Steve Ulrich, bassist Paul Dugan and then-drummer Willie Martinez at the absolute peak of their macabre powers.

 

November 13, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | 3 Comments

Willie Nile’s Landmark 1980 Live Central Park Album Back in Print

Reissue of the year: janglerock pioneer Willie Nile and his band were fresh off opening for the Who on tour when they recorded this one live in Central Park. The show wasn’t released until 1994 on the Archive Alive label, and has been out of print for the past fifteen years. What you get is a careening three-guitar juggernaut more wired and weary from the road than they are tight, but the energy is through the roof: the cd cover shot of Nile leaping a couple of feet in the air, guitar in outstretched arms like an offering to a cruel god, says it all. The version of Nile’s signature song, Vagabond Moon (the #1 song of the year in Finland that year) is as fresh as the day they first recorded it. Old Men Sleeping on the Bowery, an evocative period piece if there ever was one, makes you hunger for the days when its title rang true with a blast of guitar fury. Riff-rockers like I’m Not Waiting and It’s All Over stomp along on an irrepressible backbeat. The show’s highlight is a characteristically volcanic take of Sing Me a Song, the ferocious anthem that winds up Nile’s debut studio lp (nine of the cuts on that record are represented here) Even the secondary, b-side tunes rise to a level where they have to be reckoned with. Basically, what this cd offers – other than a delicious blast from the past – is proof that Nile has not been faking it for the last thirty years. He’s always been like this. There’s a limited run of 2500 copies of the reissue and who knows how many more, if any. after that: you can paypal it or send a check for $15 plus $3 for postage (multiple copies $15 plus $7 flat rate for shipping) to  GB Music Ltd., 494 Greenwich Street, NY, NY 10013. Snooze and you might lose.

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment