Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Cady Finlayson & Vita Tanga – Electric Green

Since summer has made its ferocious entrance, it’s time for party music. It’s too hot to think about anything serious here in New York except for how good it would feel to be in an airconditioned pub with a pint of Guinness and maybe something like what Cady Finlayson and Vita Tanga have put together here. Finlayson (her first name is pronounced “caddy” like the car) plays five-string fiddle; Tanga plays acoustic, electric and “percussive” guitar, meaning that he mutes the strings of his electric and then taps out a simple rhythm on them. This album has the feel of a demo put together to show interested publicans what the duo are capable of onstage, but it also makes a good listen for anyone who loves the diversity and emotional resonance of traditional Irish fiddle music.

Over the course of ten brief tracks, the two get a dance groove going, bring it down longingly and wistfully and then back up again. As expected, Finlayson handles the lead lines, with Tanga supplying terse, understated and surprisingly interesting guitar work, especially when he’s using his wah pedal. Most of the tracks here clock in at under two minutes, the most interesting one titled March Set, Finlayson taking a long, vibrant break while Tanga keeps the beat going; they wrap up the album with what they call “All Set for St. Pat’s,” a medley of Wearing of the Green, Sean South and Pumpkin’s Fancy, the latter with almost a reggae groove emanating from the wah-wah guitar pedal. It’s nothing if not imaginative, offering the impression that their live show is good craic. New York is jampacked with first-class Irish musicians: count Cady Finlayson and Vita Tanga among them. Their next listed live gig is for Make Music NY, at 3 PM at the New York Public Library Branch at 112 E 96th St. off Lexington Ave.

May 26, 2010 Posted by | irish music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Dolly Parton – Letter to Heaven

We strive for counterintuitivity: bet you never thought you’d see a Dolly Parton album here, let alone a country gospel record! Letter to Heaven is a reissue, most of its tracks recorded over a three-day span in 1970 and released on her Golden Streets of Glory album in 1971, included in its entirety here along with an outtake and a small handful of subsequent singles, some hits, some not. This is as pop as country ever got back then and yet it’s more country than most anything coming out of Nashville these days. As was the case back then, on many of these songs, by the time the last chorus rolls around, the only things left in the mix are vocals, orchestra and drums. But the changes, and the voice are pure country gospel: Carrie Underwood, eat your Philistine heart out. As with any Dolly Parton recording, she’s the star, although an allstar cast of Nashville studio veterans including pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins, the late pedal steel player Pete Drake and guitarist Chip Young all get to contribute memorably, if only for a bar or two at a time.

The test of spiritual music is how well it resonates outside the choir, and if there’s anyone capable of transcending that limitation, it’s Dolly Parton. You hear that brittle vibrato and you don’t realize what an explosive upper register she has – it’s amazing how little that voice has aged. Plaintive, longing and above all, humble, she probably had no idea how well this album would withstand the test of time – or maybe she did. She was a first-class songwriter in an age when women were not exactly encouraged (other than by Owen Bradley) to write their own material, and unsurprisingly it’s her own songs here that stand up the strongest. The best song on the album is, perhaps expectedly, the previously unreleased track, Would You Know Him If You Saw Him. Pretty and jangly with guitar and organ, it has Parton gently yet pointedly reminding us not to turn away from those in need: a test could be involved – or just the opportunity to do a mitzvah and feel good about it. Robbins gets to add some marvelous barrelhouse piano on Master’s Hand, which switches in a split second from a retelling of the story of the Flood to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago. Church is fun for this crew! The country gospel classic Wings of a Dove gets mariachi horns; Comin For to Carry Me Home, a country shuffle reworking of Swing Low Sweet Chariot gets a remarkable bounce courtesy of an uncredited bass player (they just ran ’em in and ran ’em out in those days – how little times have changed!). Daddy Was An Old Time Preacher Man, a duet with longtime harmony partner (and civil defendant) Porter Wagoner has a Johnny Cash feel to it. And the title track runs from schmaltzy to creepy in seconds flat – the little girl misses her dead mom, so she gets hit by a bus. Ostensibly the two are happy together again. By the time the last track, The Seeker (a #2 country hit in 1975) comes up, it’s striking how fast things have changed – the dirt has been scrubbed out of it and exchanged for a swamp-pop bass groove.

Dolly Parton’s latest initiative is typical: it’s called “Dolly Helps Nashville,” a campaign to aid survivors of the recent floods there. Details at her site at the link above. Bless her heart.

May 26, 2010 Posted by | country music, gospel music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Tito Gonzalez – Al Doblar La Esquina

For those who love oldschool latin music, this is a straight shot of rum. For those who discovered it via the Buena Vista Social Club, it’s…hmm…a good mojito. Cuban expat tres (Cuban guitar) player and singer Tito Gonzalez is a feel-good story: he got to see the world as a commercial fisherman, drove a cab, studied under Papi Oviedo of the Buena Vista Social Club and then with Cuban guitar legend Octavio Sanchez Cotán. Courtesy of the other musicians in his taxicab union, Gonzalea made his pro debut at 40 and finally made it to the US in 2000 where he became a fixture of the San Francisco Bay Area latin music scene. Backed by an absolutely dynamite, horn-heavy band, Gonzalez takes you back to the future not in a DeLorean but in a 1955 Nash Ambassador, to a time when Guantanamo meant gambling and girls rather than Geneva Convention violations.

Because that era wasn’t so far removed from a previous one without electricity, many of these songs show their folksong roots. Cuba being an island nation, a whole lot of diverse styles washed up onshore, many of them represented here. Traditional Cuban son is the framework for all the songs here, but there are also elements of rhumba, tango and especially bolero on the slower numbers. A vibrant call-and-response vibe is everywhere, whether between lead vocals and backing chorus, piano and horns, or, in too few places actually, Gonzalez’ spiky tres and the piano. The songs are a mix of party anthems and aching ballads, notably La Despedida (The Goodbye), a big, intense Machito-style three-minute masterpiece with a strikingly haunting horn chart. The slinky bolero-inflected ballad Aquel Viejo Amor (That Old Love), written for Gonzalez’ former wife, subtly works a bittersweet piano riff all the way through to a gorgeous, horn-driven crescendo at the end. The wistful Cancion Por Bonnie, another bolero-based tune is another standout track with some clever baton-passing among the horns. The album’s final track, Evocation is straight-up oldschool son with intense, percussive piano, Gonzalez finally wailing on his frets and joining the fun. It all makes for great summertime music – maybe it’s just as well we’re so far behind the eightball getting around to giving this delightful album a spin.

May 26, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/26/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #64:

Joy Division – No Love Lost

The transition from bouncy synth-and-bass dance tune to scorching punk rock literally takes your breath away. And it’s got one of Ian Curtis’ best vocals. It’s on one of the Substance anthologies, and if you can find a live version (the band rarely played it), it’s likely to be amazing. Turn it on.

May 26, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment