Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Roulette Sisters’ New Album Is a Winner

Oldtimey harmony hellraisers the Roulette Sisters burst on the New York scene in the mid-zeros. They were one of the first groups to have a Saturday night residency at Barbes, put out a wickedly fun debut album, Nerve Medicine (which made our 1000 Best Albums of All Time list), and then went their separate ways for awhile. Resonator guitarist Mamie Minch made a career for herself as a solo artist, releasing her defiant solo debut, Razorburn Blues in 2008. Meanwhile, electric guitarist/banjo uke player Meg Reichardt joined forces with Kurt Hoffman in charming French chanson revivalists Les Chauds Lapins, washboard player Megan Burleyson kept busy in New York’s “hottest washboard swing ensemble,” the 4th St. Nite Owls, and violist Karen Waltuch maintained a career as a player and composer encompassing everything from klezmer, to country, to the avant garde. They reunited last year, and they’ve got a new album out, Introducing the Roulette Sisters, whose title makes sense in that this is Waltuch’s first full-length recording with the group

They open and close the album with lushly beautiful harmony-driven songs; a viscerally plaintive cover of A. P. Carter’s The Birds Were Singing of You, with a poignant guitar solo from Reichardt and lead vocal from Minch, and at the end a winsome version of Baby Please Loan Me Your Heart by Papa Charlie Jackson. Likewise, they take It Could’ve Been Sweet, by Leon Chase – of hilarious cowpunk band Uncle Leon & the Alibis – rearranging it into a shuffle that becomes a sad waltz on the chorus: “I’m not looking for a twenty year loan, just a little something extra to get me home.” The rest of the album is the innuendo-laden fun stuff that they’re best known for.

Your Biscuits Are Big Enough for Me, the Bo Carter novelty song, gets a female perspective. A Reichardt original, In the Shade of the Magnolia Tree, is an outdoor boudoir tune in a balmy Carolina setting. Burleyson does a pitch-perfect hot 20s bluesmama evocation on Hattie Hart’s I Let My Daddy Do That – as in getting her ashes hauled, i.e. opening the door to the coal chute. As funny as the vocals are, it’s one of the most musically rich moments here, a lush interweave of acoustic and electric guitars and viola – Waltuch’s pizzicato solo, like a koto playing the blues, is as much a showstopper as it is in concert.

Their version of Do Da Lee Do takes an old western swing standard and adds lyrics out of Reichardt’s collection of bawdy songs from over the years: “Roses are red and ready for plucking, I’m sixteen and ready for high school,” for example. Scuddling, by Frankie Half Pint Jaxon, is a “dance” you can do by yourself – which you could also do with someone else if they were willing – but definitely not in public. And Al Duvall’s Jake Leg Blues explores the legacy of Jamaica ginger, a Prohibition-era concoction whose side effects produced a whole lot of Eves without Adams: “In the garden I hang my head, I’m grabbing for apples now the snake is dead,” Minch snorts authoritatively. The album comes in a charming, old-fashioned sleeve handmade on an antique letterpress. There are hundreds of bands who mine the treasures of oldtime blues and Americana, few with the fearlessness and sass of the Roulette Sisters. As fun as it is to see them in small clubs in Brooklyn, where they really deserve to be is Lincoln Center, doing their vastly more entertaining version of a great American songbook.

January 19, 2011 Posted by | blues music, country music, folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

John Matthias’ and Nick Ryan’s Cortical Songs Get Nervous

Many of you have heard of this album because it contains a remix by Thom Yorke (which in this case is pretty inconsequential – he phoned it in). Be that what it may, John Matthias’ and Nick Ryan’s new Cortical Songs album, just out on the British Nonclassical label, is an intriguing and ambitious electroacoustic effort inspired by the most ancient instrument of them all, the human body. Matthias is an adept violinist and also a proficient singer, although he doesn’t contribute vocals on this album; Ryan is his laptop-toting sidekick. Together with the Trinity College of Music String Ensemble conducted by Nic Pendlebury, they’ve created an innovative suite based on the patterns of neurons firing in the brain. These “cortical songs” follow definable patterns – which makes sense, considering how much of human activity involves repetition – which lend themselves to musical interpretation. Matthias and Ryan don’t follow actual cortical patterns here, but instead a computer program that’s designed to replicate them. They’ve also added elements of improvisation via cues that add a sense of randomness: hence, this particular performance can never be exactly replicated. It’s an interesting mix of the baroque and the modern, emphasis on the modern, heavy on minimalism and horizontality.

It opens as pensive minuet, Matthias leading the procession, which quickly bulks up with layers of atmospherics and counterrythms that fades into and out of the wash of sound. The second movement is an insistently hypnotic tone poem with overtones wafting overhead, evoking the more ambient work of the great Iranian composer Kayhan Kalhor, up to a big sudden swell. The third fades up even more atmospherically, with minute suspenseful shifts against the wash that build until Matthias reenters pensively, leading to a bracing crescendo that fades down again to a quiet angst. The fourth reprises the opening minuet, then strips away the rhythm, leaving the motif to mutate and expand with considerable unease. It’s a compelling chamber work.

And that’s where it ends for us. A series of remixes of parts of the suite follows: one skips around ludicrously as if the recording program suddenly went haywire, and the engineer kept what was left because he’d been paid and had to turn in something. Toward the end there are a couple that allude to a familiarity with dub, or at least dubstep. What someone like Lee “Scratch” Perry could have done with this – with analog equipment, of course – one can only wonder.

January 19, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/19/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s is #741:

Tuatara – Trading with the Enemy

Best known for their 1997 debut Breaking the Ethers, postrock instrumentalists Tuatara take their name from a lizard native to New Zealand, but their sound blends Indonesian gamelan textures with rock and outsider jazz. This one from the following year is their loudest and most diverse album. With vibraphone, bells, sax and guitar from REM’s Peter Buck, they blend hypnotically ringing, shimmering nocturnes like The Streets of New Delhi, Smugglers Cove and the rustic Japanese folk feel of the Koto Song with more upbeat jazz-oriented stuff that sometimes takes on a cinematic feel, as with Night in the Emerald City. Fela the Conqueror introduces a Afrobeat rhythm; L’Espionnage de Pomme de Terre is as psychedelic as they get here. The best track is the long ska vamp that closes the album, PCH/Afterburner, a live showstopper. Here’s a random torrent via frekenblog – thanks for this!

January 19, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment