Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Sean Kershaw and the New Jack Ramblers – Coney Island Cowboy

Hard honkytonk doesn’t get any better than this. The band may be new jack but Sean Kershaw is definitely oldschool. One of the prime movers of the vibrant New York country/Americana scene, Kershaw led a fiery rockabilly band, the Blind Pharaohs back in the 90s and early zeros; this project grew out of an off-the-cuff jam session between some of the best players on the scene. Since they were always busy with gigs during the week, they could only get together on an off-day. But word spread and suddenly Sundays at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn was the place to be (free barbecue didn’t hurt). This is the band that sprang out of that jam, and it’s a damn good one: while Kershaw, true to form, performs live with a rotating cast of characters (he’s got a deep rolodex), this cd features the multistylistic Bob Hoffnar on pedal steel, the ubiquitous Homeboy Steve Antonakos on lead guitar plus a no-nonsense rhythm section of Jason Hogue on upright bass and Andrew Borger (of Norah Jones’ band) on drums. Recorded by the band’s longtime friend Rick Miller of Southern Culture on the Skids, most of this has a similar guitar-fueled burn, not to mention a sense of humor: some of these songs are hilarious, in a vintage 70s Moe Bandy way. Kershaw delivers them with a wink and a grin in a knowing, Johnny Cash-style baritone.

The funniest song on the album is The Trucker & the Tranny, ostensibly a true story – “Are you gonna tell him?” chuckles a friend at the bar as the two cavort. Or maybe it’s Bigshot of the Honkytonk, a downright vicious portrait of a bartender who’s a big fish in a little pond: “The jukebox plays his favorite song 25 times a night.” Crackerjack Delight echoes Orbison but with a surreal, contemporary edge, while Already Cheatin’ is a catchy shuffle: “There ain’t no fish scales underneath my fingernails, it must be the smell of cheating going on.” The Carl Perkins-inflected Moonlight Eyes -the Blind Pharaohs’ signature song – is redone here as a fetching duet between Kershaw and the golden-voiced Drina Seay. There’s also the eerie, completely noir, LJ Murphy-style Woke Up Dead, driven by a searing pedal steel solo; a western swing shuffle where Kershaw tries his hand at scatting, and actually pulls it off; a bizarre Split Lip Rayfield style number about doing battle with Satan; a SCOTS-style barn-burner with Miller guesting on guitar; and a remake of the folk song Old Hollow Tree, this one abruptly uprooted and transplanted to Brooklyn.

The title track is inadvertently sad, a vivid summertime oceanside scene populated with freaks and characters, complete with sound samples of the Cyclone rollercoaster. It’s a time capsule, and unfortunately the bumper cars aren’t bumpin’ to that crazy hip-hop beat anymore. The Astroland amusement park is gone, soon to be replaced by a parking lot since Mayor Bloomberg’s dream of driving out the blacks and Hispanics with casinos and “luxury” condos for rich white tourists doesn’t stand much of a chance these days – unless he funds it himself. Meanwhile, the neighborhood has pulled together and has been fighting it – unsurprisingly, when the band isn’t on the road they’ve been involved with the Save Coney Island movement, which deserves your support as well.

February 19, 2010 - Posted by | Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

7 Comments »

  1. I work in Coney Island and enjoyed this band when they played in Coney last summer and also enjoy your CD reviews. However your statement at the end that “The Astroland amusement park is gone, soon to be replaced by a parking lot etc…” is incorrect.

    The City was finally able to buy the former Astro site and 2 Boardwalk parcels from real estate speculator Thor Equities in Dec and issued an RFP for amusement operators. CAI, a division of Zamperla Rides, will bring in 19 brand new rides including roller coasters to their New Luna Park on Memorial day Weekend. In 2011, they’ll put high thrill rides in a Scream Zone on the other 2 parcels. News about the new Luna Park has been all over the news over the past week.

    Coney Island 40-plus rides, including the Cyclone Roller Coaster, Deno’s Wonder Wheel & Park, McCullough’s Kiddie Park, Eldorado Bumper Cars, Polar Express open for the 2010 season on March 28 2010 (Palm Sunday). See you on the Cyclone line!

    Comment by Tricia | February 20, 2010 | Reply

  2. As heartening as it is to hear that Coney Island will continue to have an amusement park, anything that Bloomberg endorses is bound to be suspect. Do we know what the prices for the rides will be, compared to Astroland? It’s hard to imagine that they’d be lower. To what degree is taxpayer money subsidizing the new concessionaire? Has there been any thought to rehiring any of the laid-off Astroland employees? Any outreach to the neighborhood as far as jobs are concerned? Bloomberg’s involvement in anything virtually always means whitewashing, whether by upscaling, gentrification or the implementation of Nazi gestapo security tactics. Will kids have to show ID proving they’re five feet tall in order to ride the bumper cars?

    Comment by the boss here | February 20, 2010 | Reply

  3. Hey Thanx for the great review but a couple corrections: I wrote “Old Hollow Tree” from scratch although I’m flattered you think it’s a traditional song . And “Bigshot of the Honkytonk ” is about a macho barfly; the barkeep is saying don’t worry he’s harmless.
    Funny about the title track, we just happened to release the CD right when Coney is undergoing a massive transition, for better or worse…hopefully the current lack of development money will actually help save it.
    Keep up the good work, somebody has to!

    Comment by Sean Kershaw | March 4, 2010 | Reply

  4. Thank you for a wonderful of the CD. In many ways you have captured the heart and soul of the CD when you write that Sean’s delivery is “with a wink and a grin in a knowing, Johnny Cash-style baritone”.

    He has kept me entertained for years, on stage as well as off. His stories, as portrayed in “Bigshot of the Honky Tonk” and “The Trucker and the Trannie” show his colorful, tongue- in- cheek take on life.

    But Sean does take his music seriously which is why this CD was long in the making. It’s a professional piece of work worthy of airplay, which it’s getting here & in countries across Europe.

    Comment by Blue StingRaye | March 4, 2010 | Reply

  5. Thanks guys. That guy must have been separated at birth from this one bartender I know. And by the way, that tree, if it’s across from the park I think it’s across from, is in Ft. Greene, not Williamsburg!

    Comment by the boss here | March 4, 2010 | Reply

  6. Haha I live in Ft Greene and there may be a similar tree there, but this one’s in Billyburg!

    Comment by Sean Kershaw | March 24, 2010 | Reply

  7. We love playing Sean Kershaw’s material on our eclectic rock / blues / punk / funk stream… His work is lively and entertaining.

    (program director @ Pluto Radio) Lee-

    Comment by Lee Crisman | September 27, 2010 | Reply


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