Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Bobtown’s Harmonies Enchant and Deliver Some Chills

Bobtown’s debut album is a blast from the past yet completely original – they really know their roots, but they put an irresistibly unique spin on them. This is dark, vivid, sometimes lurid southern Americana, not the G-rated, sanitized version you hear in folkie clubs in the Yankee states. Their sound revolves around their three terrific lead singers, each of whom contribute songs as well as alternately lush and stark layers of harmonies to the album. Multi-instrumentalist Katherine Etzel holds down the midrange, taking the lead on the rustic Take Me Down, a 19th century-style chain gang song redone as stark suicide anthem with her voice sailing warily over Gary Keenan’s dobro. She also handles lead vocals on the gorgeous banjo-driven country gospel tune When Shall I Go and another swaying chain gang-style number, Boomer’s Blues, alongside guest Paul Pettit’s creepy funeral organ.

Jen McDearman handles the highest registers and excels at quirky, charmingly creepy songs. Black Dog could be cute and chirpy if it wasn’t about the monster in everybody’s dreams. The sad country waltz Don’t Wake It Up, a cautionary tale, warns that some sleeping dogs (metaphorical, this time) should be left alone. And her bouncy country gospel song My Soul is a showcase for the band’s rich four-part harmonies. Guitarist Karen Dahlstrom harmonizes with a finely nuanced alto voice that’s sultry yet plaintive on the old folk song Short Life of Trouble, then soars defiant and bluesy on her kiss-off anthem Hell and Gone. The best song on the album, by bassist Fred Stesney, is We Will Bury You, a genuine Nashville gothic classic that reaches a stirring but disquieting crescendo with all those beautiful harmonies going full blast. He also contributes the bluegrass hellraising anthem Little Bit of Living Before I Die and the cheery traveler’s tale Shadow of the Mountain, which has a tongue-in-cheek video up on the band’s site. Whether on dobro, mandolin or banjo, Keenan plays with a tersely tuneful fire. There literally isn’t a bad song on the album – without question, this is one of the year’s best. Bobtown are just as good live as they are in the studio – they’re at Union Hall at 9:30 on Oct 18.

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September 2, 2010 Posted by | country music, folk music, gospel music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/2/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #880:

The Louvin Bros. – Tragic Songs of Life

Best known for their 1960 album Satan Is Real (and its campy fire-and-brimstone cover image), Charlie and Ira Louvin were a popular country gospel group until Ira’s death in a 1965 car accident (ostensibly running from the law – he was wanted on a drunk driving warrant). They’re also the group responsible for one of the earliest nuclear apocalypse anthems, The Great Atomic Power. This album gets the nod over the rest of their catalog because it’s more accessible, minus all the proselytizing that a lot of people find off-putting. A lot of these songs were already country/bluegrass standards when the album was issued in 1956 – and they’re not all as gloomy as the title might indicate. The Louvins play to the crowd with the home-state anthems Alabama and Kentucky (the latter a delicious mandolin-and-guitar picking party), get maudlin with a seven-year-old who misses his sweetheart on A Tiny Broken Heart, and go back in time with the traditional Mary of the Wild Moor, Let Her Go, God Bless Her and the gold-digger cautionary tale What Is Home Without Love. But their versions of In the Pines, My Brother’s Will, Take the News to Mother and the murder ballad Knoxville Girl (a big hit for the Blue Sky Boys in 1937) are as grim and evocative as any rural music ever recorded. The album was reissued in 2007 as a twofer along with Satan Is Real, easily downloaded. Here’s a random torrent.

September 2, 2010 Posted by | country music, folk music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magnifico Gives Gypsy Punk a Kick in the Pants

Slovenian dance music maven Magnifico sounds a lot like Eugene Hutz from Gogol Bordello, right down to the intentionally fractured English, the crazy beats and the more-subtle-than-you-think satire. A lot of his new album Magnification is completely over the top, but some of it isn’t. On the more disco-oriented songs here, he affects a lounge lizard persona that gets old pretty fast. But the rest of the album has a sarcastic, even savage punk edge. A lot of his lyrics are in English, yet one of the best, and most overtly hostile songs here, is a parody of corporate American pop – and those in the former Eastern Bloc who mindlessly imitate it. “Giv mi mani,” he asserts, phonetically, “And I will call you khhhhhoney.” As much as he tries, he can’t get the English aspirate “H” out.

Along with the insistent Balkan horns and the dancefloor beats, Magnifico blends in spaghetti western reverb guitar as well as train-whistle C&W pedal steel for extra menace – or for an extra satirical edge. The most iconoclastic song here is a cover of House of the Rising Sun done spaghetti western style, substituting the former Yugoslavia for the whorehouse in the original. The most striking one is a big orchestrated ballad, Ljuba, whose crescendoing chorus is suspiciously intense – like so much of what’s here, it could be a parody of a dramatic Balkan standard from the 1950s. Bosangero Nero, which seems to have political overtones, slinks along on a Mexican groove with surfy reverb guitar; the somewhat obvious yet irresistibly amusing Emily riffs on American girls and features a theremin solo. There’s also a warped country song taken straight to the Balkans; a bouncy song in Slovenian with a soca beat, bachata guitar and weepy pedal steel; a mystifying trip-hop song where the narrator seems to be saying that you can do anything to him except insult him (but maybe not); and a menacing, completely unrecognizable guitar-noir cover of the cheesy 1950s hit That’s Amore. Because this is dance music, these tracks go on for a long time: it’s a long album, fifteen tracks in all, something that gypsy punk fans around the world – and pretty much anybody looking for a good beat and a good time – will have fun with.

September 2, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment