Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 2/16/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #713:

Them – The Story of Them Featuring Van Morrison

We recently went on record as saying that for a moment in the early 60s, the best rock band in the world wasn’t the Beatles, and it sure as fuck wasn’t the Rolling Stones. And come to think of it, it might not have been the Yardbirds either. How about Them? Although they seem to have been the model for the Lyres – more turnover among band members than you can count – Ireland’s greatest contribution to rock music until the punk era put out one ecstatically good garage rock single after another. Arguably, Van Morrison’s best moments were as a member of this band. And as great as all their original albums with Van the Man are, we got greedy and picked this reissue because it has more songs. You want the best version of Simon & Garfunkel’s Richard Cory? It’s by Them, right down to that snarling bass hook. How about It’s All Over Now Baby Blue? Or Route 66, Turn On Your Lovelight, I Put a Spell on You, or even a MC5 cover? The originals have the same wild, out-of-control intensity: Gloria, Mystic Eyes, Don’t Start Crying Now, Friday’s Child and more. The rest of the fifty tracks on this double cd set include the considerably laid-back, soulful original of Here Comes the Night (with Jimmy Page on guitar) and the epic Story of Them as well as covers by Ray Charles, T-Bone Walker and Jimmy Reed. After Morrison split, the band continued but were never the same. Here’s a random torrent.

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February 16, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Formerly Whooping Crane, Now Strange Haze, Same Great Album

“You have to be stoned to listen to this” is usually an insult. We don’t ordinarily advocate for or against the use of one substance or another – that should be an individual choice, and a legal one. But if the phrase “strange haze” has any kind of special meaning for you, Strange Haze’s album Riffin’ for Rent is the kind that you really ought to hear after indulging. If your dad still gets stoned, smoke him up and then try to convince him that this band was around when he was doing it all the time. He just might believe you.

Strange Haze (formerly known as Whooping Crane) should have been the band in Almost Famous. Hilariously satirical, sometimes cruelly, sometimes fondly, the Brooklyn rockers’ stoner shtick works as well as it does because they’re such excellent musicians. When’s the last time you heard a metal band with a drummer who can swing like crazy? Everybody knows that you have to have chops to play metal really well, but these guys don’t just know their early 70s stoner music, they know soul, and Stones, and Sabbath, and Skynyrd, and probably a bunch of bands from that era who were quickly forgotten because they weren’t as good. That’s what Strange Haze sound like. They’ll riff on a single chord for what seems minutes on end, and yet there’s something fresh and unselfconsciously fun about it. They know every cliche in the book and aren’t afraid to employ them wherever they’d be the most ridiculous. Likewise, their lyrics, delivered in a deadpan, period perfect faux-bluesy drawl, are beyond hilarious.

The opening track is She’s a Knockout, which sounds like the MC5 as done by Grand Funk Railroad. It’s about a girl “who was born in the heart of the whooping crane,” with an irresistible multiple-tracked bluesmetal solo out. Track two, Tomm Tapp starts out as sludgy but swinging riff-metal in the Poobah vein and adds honking harmonica for, you know, that authentic bluesy feeling – and suddenly goes all starlit and rapt for a second before the bludgeoning begins again. “Can you see the fork in the road? Close your eyes before they explode!” They follow that with Hang Loose, six minutes of wah funk, Sabbath style with some woozy southern overtones: “Summer of love don’t tell no lies ’cause we’re underneath the firefly…smoking the kingsized ultralights, still looking kinda tight.”

One Hit Sally is a tribute to a girl convinced that her smoke-filled room is more interesting than anything that could possibly exist outside it, pulsing along on a Stax/Volt bass groove with grand guignol art-rock guitar flourishes. The perfectly titled Voomp! keeps the funky groove going (if you remember early 70s Texas “hard rock” band Bloodrock, this is that kind of thing). The funniest song on the album is Straight Dope, playfully taking a 60s soul riff, adding more of that honking harmonica and a priceless lyric:

Walked down to the marble garden with a buckskin bottle of wine
Sometimes I get so drunk I can sing just like a child

The bonus track that you can get from their bandcamp site is That’s More Like It, working both sides of the Atlantic for a riff-loaded hash buzz, then a skunkweed heartland metal vibe: “Make you crawl like an armadillo, armageddon in an armchair!” In addition to this one, Strange Haze will be on the Soda Shop’s upcoming free compilation coming out Feb 22.

February 16, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Red Molly’s Third Album Takes Americana Roots Music to New Places

One of the best-loved and smartest Americana roots bands, Red Molly pretty much live on the road. The seamless, soaring intensity of the harmonies and the chemistry between the musicians reflect it: these women are pros. The obvious comparison is the Dixie Chicks, another road-seasoned group, although Red Molly are lot more rootsy and less pop: they’re one of the few groups out there who can slide into an oldtime vernacular without sounding the least bit cliched or contrived. With their high lonesome harmonies, catchy bluegrass-inspired songwriting and incisive acoustic arrangements, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be any less popular than, say, Lady Antebellum (although in certain parts of the world, Red Molly are already more popular than Lady Antebellum). In case they’re new to you, the “Mollies” are Laurie MacAllister on bass, guitar and banjo, Abbie Gardner on dobro and guitar along with the newest addition to the band, Molly Venter (that’s her real name). Their latest album, James, holds to the high standard they set on their first two, while adding a slightly more propulsive edge which makes sense in that this is the first album they’ve done with drums.

The songs are a mix of light and dark. Gardner gets to show off her jazz chops on the western swing classic The End of the Line – Patsy Cline as done by the Moonlighters, maybe? – with some jaunty ragtime piano from her dad, Herb Gardner. The bitter Appalachian gothic lament Black Flowers could be a classic folk song, its narrator taking pains to explain how the only guy in town who’s doing well is the undertaker. The creepy You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive shatters any romantic notion you might have about Tennessee coal mining country, and Tear My Stillhouse Down wouldn’t be out of place on one of Dolly Parton’s bluegrass albums.

Falling In, a suspensefully lush, sultry ballad features some absolutely brilliant, understated drum and percussion work from Ben Wittman, who adds similarly clever contributions throughout the album. Gardner’s Jezebel imaginatively blends blues and gospel influences: beware, this girl’s a barracuda! Fred Gillen Jr. guests on Gulf Coast Highway, a warmhearted portrait of an old bluecollar Florida couple trying to hang on in the new depression. There’s also the slowly crescendoing Looking for Trouble, a cautionary tale for a big boozer; the hypnotic, bluesy Troubled Mind, featuring some memorable violin work from Jake Amerding; the swinging honkytonk blues I Can’t Let Go, a showcase for Gardner’s characteristically biting, edgy dobro; and a gorgeous a-cappella version of the old folk song Foreign Lander. Red Molly play the big room at the Rockwood on 2/24 at 7:30 PM; they’re also at the First Acoustics Coffeehouse in downtown Brooklyn with Pat Wictor on guitar on 3/19.

February 16, 2011 Posted by | country music, folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Frankenpine’s Crooked Mountain Beckons Ominously

Grim, lurid and gorgeously tuneful, Frankenpine’s new album The Crooked Mountain is definitely the darkest album of the year so far – and it might be the best. We’ll sort that stuff out at the end of the year. In the meantime, the dozen Appalachian gothic songs here will give you goosebumps. A hundred years ago, when the music that inspired this album was the soundtrack to daily life, that life was short and hard and these songs reflect that, even though all but one of them (John the Revelator, reinvented as lush acoustic psychedelia) are originals. To her credit, frontwoman/guitarist Kim Chase doesn’t drawl or otherwise try to countrify the songs: her casual, plaintive unease is plenty bracing. Banjo player Matthew Chase teams up with bassist Colin DeHond, creating a fluid underpinning for Ned P. Rauch’s resonator guitar and mandolin, Liz Bisbee’s violin and Andy Mullen’s accordion.

Inspired by Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales, the opening track, Texas Outlaw spins off the riff from the Stones’ Paint It Black, with some rich harmonies and tense, bluesy violin. One of the few lighthearted moments here, La Fee Verte is a tribute not to absinthe but to the kind of gypsy jazz hole-in-the-wall that might serve it. Prototypical undercover reporter Nellie Bly’s trip to a grisly 19th century New York insane asylum gets immortalized on the richly lyrical, absolutely macabre Blackwell Island, a song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Moonlighters’ catalog. And Faceless Weaver turns a catchy garage rock verse into bluegrass, with a starkly inscrutable lyric and some neat handoffs from one instrument to another.

Rauch sings the blistering, cynically resolute murder ballad Never Lie: “I’m gonna lie my way into heaven when I shoot my way to hell.” Over Your Bones paints a sad, ghostly wartime tableau that could be set in the south in 1864, or in Afghanistan right now. They follow the fiery minor-key instrumental Wolf at the Door with the rousing, Pogues-ish down-and-out chronicle Baltimore, and then Cold Water, which leaps abruptly from hypnotic ambience to rolling, rustic beauty. Convict Grade, a title track of sorts, has the kind of stoic optimism – or at least resolute conviction – that’s found throughout so many rustic tales of hard time. And the most gripping of all the tracks might be the eight-minute epic Eye of the Whale, a surreal, grisly seafaring narrative with a stunner of an ending. There are scores of Americana roots acts with great musical chops and harmonies, and plenty with good original songs and lyrics, but few who combine them with this kind of originality and singleminded intensity. O’Death fans will love this stuff. Frankenpine plays a “steam powered battle of the bands” at Theatre 80 St. Marks on Feb 19.

February 16, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 2/15/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #714:

Apache – Apache Ain’t Shit

Raw to the extreme, Apache’s only album, from 1994, is typical of so many promising hip-hop artists from the era: signed and then abruptly dumped when their labels realized how difficult it was to move serious weight – in terms of records, that is. And that was 17 years ago. The gleefully crude single that won him notoriety and made him a target of the goody-goody anti-rap crowd was Gangsta Bitch, ostensibly a prime example of hip-hop misogyny. Ironically, Apache generously gave some choice cameos on this album to female rapper Nikki D, including the tongue-in-cheek Tonto and the perversely amusing Who Freaked Who. Otherwise, he was a man of his time, whether with the irresistibly hilarious Blunted Snap Session, the street hustler numbers Make Money – a Biggie ripoff – Get Ya Weight Up and Ways of a Murderahh, the cynical Do Fa Self and the brutally sarcastic title track. There’s also a seventeen-second rant that earned him slightly less controversy when the right wingers branded him an anti-white racist – although it’s likely that he had more white fans than black ones. Apache died in 2010. Here’s a random torrent.

February 16, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rap music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment