Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 6/24/11

The Lucid Culture office is closed since the core crew here is on the road. What kind of crazy stuff will they come up with in the next few days? Stay tuned. In the meantime, every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #585:

Loretta Lynn – Greatest Hits

As we’ve put together this list, one aspect that’s frustrated us is how hard it’s been to find country albums that are solid all the way through: there’s always a dud, an obligatory halfhearted country gospel tune, a favor to a friend of the producer that always takes the album down a notch or two. As a result, we’ve had to go to the well for greatest-hits collections like this one, a 1968 compilation that’s a solidly good representation of the fearless country siren and songwriter (who wrote her own stuff, and insisted on playing it instead of songs that had been selected for her, paving the way for dozens of other self-directed women artists) during her peak years as a honkytonk singer. It’s got her first big hit, Don’t Come Home A ‘Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ On Your Mind); the rustic Blue Kentucky Girl (redone famously by Emmylou Harris); the accusatory Before I’m Over You, and You Ain’t Woman Enough. The real stunners here are Dear Uncle Sam, a plaintive Vietnam-era antiwar number imploring the Johnson administration to end the war, and Success, the much more subtle, equally sad number, now a country classic, powerfully underscoring the fact that money doesn’t equal happiness. Here’s a random torrent.

June 23, 2011 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/23/11

Lucid Culture’s offices will be closed through July 5: our core crew will be on vacation. We will continue the daily 1000 best albums of all time countdown along with as much content as we can muster: stay tuned. Thursday’s album is #586:

Manfred Hubler and Siegfried Schwab – Vampyros Lesbos Sexadelic Dance Party

One of the iconic psychedelic remnants from the late 60s, this late 90s anthology assembles a bunch of obscure soundtrack cuts from some truly terrible German B movies. But the music is as inspired, and as trippy, as the dialogue and everything else about those flicks was awful. The two composers approach psychedelic rock with a mix of classical rigor and joy about being freed from that rigor: the brightly staggering faux jazz of Droge CX9; the fuzztone menace of The Lions & the Cucumber; the psychedelic piano theme There’s No Satisfaction; the lavish, funky Dedicated to Love; the noir bedroom theme The Message; Shindai Lovers, which inspired a million 90s downtempo themes; and the absolutely macabre, trippy Necronomania among the sixteen off-the-wall instrumentals here. Electric harpsichords, reverb guitars, fake Indian and soul music grooves: pre-internet syncretism taken to a deliriously entertaining extreme. Here’s a random torrent via Devo MK.

June 22, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Make Music NY 2011: Saved by Heavy Metal

When La Fête de la Musique (the annual French busk-a-thon that spurred a worldwide day of outdoor music) originated, global warming was still in its early stages. Even now, France is more temperate than New York in late June. In the weeks leading up to this year’s Make Music NY festival, what was most obvious was that most of the performers who played it last time around were not doing it this year. And most of those who played in previous years have not done it since. This is true for both acoustic acts along with performers who require electricity and bear the additional responsibility of generating or acquiring it.

At this point, in the wake of the fifth annual MMNY, it’s become obvious that June is simply not a viable month for the festival. Consider: Central Park on Make Music NY day. It should be a beehive of activity. Yet within view of the 72nd St. path, from the east side to the west side, there was one single performance going on in mid-afternoon. In Tompkins Square Park a little later, absolutely nothing. McCarren Park in Williamsburg? Ditto. Clearly, New York musicians have had enough of sweating it out on June 21. So let’s move Make Music NY to a Saturday in late October. The actual date can change year by year, so both performers and concertgoers won’t have to miss a day of work. It’ll make performing less physically taxing, it’ll boost participation, and losing the solstice aspect will have the added benefit of losing the “namaste” crowd.

If you’re immune to heat, or feel like braving the sauna like we did, how do you best experience MMNY? Not by trying to track down the music: you have to let it come to you. That means just walking around, or even just walking to the train and then home, leaving open the possibility of a great random discovery. This time around, for us, there was a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but that rainbow took forever to get past. Our most successful tour of MMNY was 2008, simply because there happened to be an excellent afternoon’s worth of shows all within walking distance. This time around, the game plan was to start out uptown and then work our way down, which turned out to be much easier said than done. The reggae band on the calendar for noon was nowhere in sight – although out in front of the beauty parlor at 128th and Lenox, doing gospel karaoke, was Pastor Murthlene Sampson. And she’s good! She growls, she purrs, she wails, she knows what she’s doing and she gets around: she was scheduled for two other performances yesterday. She’s leading a gospel choir of over fifty voices on June 25th at Miracle Temple Ministries, 965 Boyland St. in Bed-Stuy at 6 PM for $20 and if they’re anything like she is, it’ll be worth it.

Next stop was Naumburg Bandshell, where classical pianist Taka Kigawa was scheduled. But there was no pianist, and for that matter, no piano. What happened in many cases this year is that performers would reserve space for a block of time, some of them hoping to find like-minded musicians to fill the early hours, others simply waiting til later in the day to play. And that’s fine – MMNY is all about freedom to play, rather than having to adhere to a venue’s strict schedule for load in, soundcheck and then stage time. Our first discovery was on the way from the deserted bandshell to the train, where toward the edge of the park the Dirty Urchins were playing beautifully low-key, all-acoustic Americana, party country, part jazz, part low-key rock. The quartet – two acoustic guitars, tenor sax, upright bass and girl/guy vocals – did two excellent songs before they took an obviously well-deserved break. Bandleader Julia Haltigan sang the first, Homesick for the Moon, with a casual, warmly jazzy lilt. Ever see a band, play along with them in your head and then witness one of the musicians play the exact same lick you’d been imagining? The sax player did that, bluesy and laid-back – it was a beautifully validating moment in a day that had been full of disappoinments up to this point. Guitarist Freddie Stevenson sang the second song, Spare Me, a gorgeous shuffle tune. They’ve got three albums out, and play with the authority, tightness and chemistry that comes with working up a lot of material together.

Running around downtown turned out to be a fiasco, so we made a quick trip back to the office, then over to Williamsburg, where the reggae band scheduled for 4 PM was just starting to unpack the truck. At this point, worn out, dehydrated, we figured that we’d make one last stop on the hunch that it would save the day, and it did. The concept was heavy metal under the BQE. Pure genius. It was cool down there, with a breeze! And all but one of the bands were so loud that they drowned out a recurrent car alarm, which is not nearly as easy as it seems. The first group we caught was Krystaleen. They have two wickedly fast, eclectically skilled lead guitarists and a tight and pummeling rhythm section with a bassist whose rapidfire fingerpicking was straight out of the Steve Harris school of intensity. Their songs were anthemic, ornate, smartly put together and had some surprising dynamics, the guy who took most of the solos wailing with an unexpectedly gentle, mournful unease during a quieter interlude. It was impossible to hear the vocals, although their frontman was clearly doing everything he could under the circumstances.

Exemption were next, a three-piece with an even more eclectic style that frequently took flight into jazz territory, through thickets of tricky rhythms and several moments with a genuinely funky slink. The nimble, melodic bassist played his Hofner with a pick and sang. Their guitarist’s deep bag of tricks includes noiserock and bluesmetal among other things – it wouldn’t come as a surprise to find out that he’s had conservatory training. The last band of the night, at least for us, was the SOS, a furious, unstoppable beast with a UK Subs/Motorhead punk/metal edge. Several times, the guitarist would sneak around the corner, get his strings humming and then suddenly turn up all the way as he reappeared with an otherworldly meteor storm of overtones. In two solid hours with barely a minute’s worth of changeover between bands, they didn’t play a single bad song. Pretty amazing for a random day when you never know what you’ll run into.

A far as Make Music NY is concerned, at least in terms of covering it as a daylong event, we’re done with it. Next year, we might pick a single show that we know for absolutely certain is happening, and we’ll be there. Or maybe we’ll go somewhere else that night – or we won’t go out at all. Unless there’s more metal under the BQE: in that case you may find us there.

June 22, 2011 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Brave New and Old Works by the Knights in Central Park

Transcending any kind of “indie classical” typecasting, symphony orchestra the Knights tackled a tremendously ambitious program Monday night at the Naumburg Bandshell in Central Park and pulled it off mightily. Composer Lisa Bielawa introduced the world premiere of her Templehof Etude, taking care to explain how it was an etude for her, not the orchestra. In addition to her substantial body of work for orchestra and smaller ensembles, Bielawa is a pioneer in the use of outdoor sonics and settings for classical and new-music ensembles. She’s orchestrated surreal conversations overheard on the street, and explored the possibilities created between roving audiences – and sometimes roving musicians – in public spaces. This particular piece is a prototype for Bielawa’s most ambitious project yet, a grand-scale work scheduled to debut in the fall of 2012 on the grounds of the Berlin park that was once the Templehof airport, the Berlin Wall airlift’s final destination [she explains this with typical diligence and grace in this New York Times piece].

And it didn’t sound anything like a typical etude, either. Knowing the backstory helped. Conductor Colin Jacobsen led the ensemble through a memorably direct, bright, brassy DID YOU SEE THAT exchange across a runway that took on a staggered echo effect with the strings and timpani whirling in – airlift to the rescue? Rich with suspense, a bracing passage of horror-film atmospherics playfully pushed aside by a bassoon, hypnotic counterpoint and a blustery, crescendoing overture, it was as catchy as it was lushly arranged.

The orchestra brought it down from there with a Morton Feldman piece dedicated to his late piano teacher. Quietly ambient atonal layers shifted slowly behind an incessant cuckoo motif that seemed to be an inside joke: was his teacher a cuckoo fan? Did she have a favorite clock, maybe?

Then they played Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Jacobsen explained unassumingly to emcee Midge Woolsey that he’d always wanted to conduct it: its humanity, he said, was what strikes him the most. How do you tackle something so iconic, something that’s become part of so many classical music fans’ DNA…and a potential minefield for performers? The Knights did it fast, and precisely, and guilelessly, letting the joy resound, crisply: this was party music. And if the piece is part of your DNA, how do you experience it as an audience member? Pondering how the sonics of the birdcalls all around and airplanes overhead might fit with the music? By watching the shadowplay of the musicians on the bandshell’s back wall, or the bird overhead on its way home to the roof? Could its wings have been keeping time with the music? No. A strong bloody mary came in useful here. There should be a Beethoven’s Fifth drinking game: drink for every false ending, chug every time the meter changes.

Beethoven probably came up with da-da-da-DA in 1804, a long time before his most paradigm-shifting stuff. Knowing the backstory, it’s easy to close your eyes and imagine it’s Haydn in the courtly second movement. But when the endless series of conclusions kicks in, it could only be Beethoven, and this time you’re at the bar, and he’s needling you. And he’s having fun too. And it’s impossible not to smile back.

Special thanks to Martha Sullivan, singer and composer of symphonic music for organ, and to Gail Wein, bassoonist and impresario to the stars, for their insight and good company.

June 22, 2011 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/22/10

Upcoming: a new spin on an old standard in Central Park; impressions of Make Music NY 2011. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #587:

Larry Young – Unity

Hammond B3 organist Young pushed the envelope with this hot, wickedly tuneful, inspired and cerebral 1965 session with trumpeter Woody Shaw, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and drummer Elvin Jones pushing the juggernaut with characteristic intensity. It’s a lot more than just funky Jimmy Smith-style shuffles – melodic jazz doesn’t get any more interesting than this. The artful horn overlays on Zoltan, the shapeshifting version of Monk’s Dream, Shaw’s brisk Moontrane blaze along before the suspenseful If and Softly As in the Morning Sunrise, then the album picks up again, the whole band pushing each other, on the aptly titled Beyond All Limits. Young doesn’t get enough credit as one of the great organists of all time – this is our shout-out. Here’s a random torrent via Jazzgrita.

June 21, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bang on a Can Marathon 2011: A Marathon Account

Bang on a Can is a good place to go for weird music that doesn’t fit into any category…that falls through the cracks,” explained co-founder/composer David Lang between a couple of acts late Sunday afternoon at the World Financial Center. This year’s annual Bang on a Can Marathon there was typical in that sense. The scope of the music and parade of performers was less global than in recent years, although Italy and Denmark represented themselves strongly. Consequence of the depression? Maybe. But what was most impressive about this year’s marathon was the extremely high ratio of good music versus bullshit, and the enduring strength of the founding composers themselves. Even as the genre-busting music that Bang on a Can has championed since 1987 has achieved broader recognition, the core crew – Lang, Michael Gordon and Julia Wolfe – have never sold out. In fact, two of the trio’s works – Gordon’s Exalted and Wolfe’s Cruel Sister – were arguably the marathon’s biggest hits.

Gordon’s piece, performed by the Young Peoples’ Chorus of New York City with the Jack Quartet, came first. It was the first piece he wrote in the wake of his father’s death, and it was as intense as you can possibly imagine. The choir interpolated the first four words of the Kaddish, in Aramaic, sort of a clinic in minimalism with a max ensemble. A repetitive sliding cello note against a staccato pedal motif from the rest of the quartet was mimicked by the choir, a desperation move that made its way through the voices (if you’re sitting Shiva, everybody eventually shows up whether you like it or not). A wild violin metal solo against hypnotic insistence gave wings to an anguished, hopeful prayer. The crowd, stunned, exploded afterward.

The high point of the marathon was Wolfe’s Cruel Sister (available as a dynamite Cantaloupe recording by Ensemble Resonanz), performed here by the strings of Ensemble Signal conducted by Brad Lubman. It follows the arc of a surreal medieval murder ballad Wolfe discovered via a recording by 70s British folk-rockers Pentangle. A riveting series of suspenseful crescendos and ebbs, the opening tone poem grows frantic and then back down, a brutally tough job of maintaining the rhythm for cellist Kevin McFarland, but his iron right hand wouldn’t let up. Polyrhythms, a ghastly murder scene and a body floating on the water led to a forest of pizzicato, violin coming in plaintively and finally a chilling, possibly karmically fulfilling drone spotlighting the cruel sister who didn’t get to enjoy what her big sister did.

Lang’s contribution was more playful, Philip Glass-style, a subtly shifting mathrock theme for two guitars played with deadpan insouciance by Dither Quartet’s Taylor Levine and James Moore. The fun factor went up another notch later in the night with the Sun Ra Arkestra, 87-year-old bandleader Marshall Allen leading the massive surrealistic swing band through a diverse and tantalizingly short set that moved from hot post-Basie swing to in-your-face hot calypso to a long walk-off where Allen put down the hybrid theremin/melodica he’d been playing in exchange for his alto sax, stunning the crowd with a single mighty wail in front of the stage as the band paraded its way to the middle of the atrium and entertained the crowd there.

Another stunner that deserves special mention was the Prism Saxophone Quartet’s version of Roshanne Etezady’s Keen. A marvelously dark, cinematic horror/suspense film score of sorts, the composer explained that she wrote it on a theme of mourning or grief, “a bereft affect.” Wary explorations against a central tone, an apprehensively tense, Robert Paterson-esque fanfare and relentless unease made it hard to forget.

As much as the marathon is free and easy to get in and out of, there were strikingly few moments where anyone would want to do that, considering the quality of the music. A little before noon, early arrivals got to witness two segments from innovative bagpiper Matthew Welch’s The Self and Other Mirrors, played by the Queens College Percussion Ensemble with Amanda Accardi’s quietly composed intensity on piano and Michael Lipsey on the podium: a stately, pleasant, catchy and smartly textured first movement followed by blithe, hypnotic ripples. Flutist Alejandro Escuer followed, playing Gabriela Ortiz’ Codigos Secretos, not particularly secretive if warmly atmospheric and consonant.

Anthony Gatto’s Portrait of American painter Eva Hesse, done jointly by the Queens Percussion Ensemble in the middle of the space, trading off with the Itkus Ensemble onstage, rumbled eerily close to the World Trade Center site, raising the volume close to painfully loud. Hesse must have been a hell of a presence. The Jack Quartet followed with three US premieres of Richard Ayres’ 3 Small Pieces for String Quartet: small is not the word. They were magnificent. The first featured the cello in percussive, catchy, terse, seemingly Kayhan Kalhor-influenced mode; the second raised the menace, the third shifting to a vigorous dance. The Prism Saxophone Quartet took over the stage after that with Kati Ogocs’ Hymn, warm atmospherics building up with a shriek.

Former Ethel violin powerhouse Todd Reynolds did his hypnotic yet lively Transamerica, a memorably energetic theme whose power was sapped by useless electronics. The Prism Quartet then returned with a tight, energetic, overtone-packed, limit-pushing version of Iannis Xenakis’ Xas – from 1987, the first year of Bang on a Can – a blippy, warped canon juxtaposed with tensely free passages featuring shifting combinations of the ensemble.

Italian group Sentieri Selvaggi got a total of five pieces: a gleeful, circular excerpt from Michael Nyman’s opera Love Always Counts; Michael Daugherty’s coy Sinatra Shag, a ripoff of These Boots Were Made for Walking with some cool oscillating textures toward the end; Filippo Del Corno’s Risvegliatevi (Italian for Wake Up!), replete with Pink Floyd-esque mechanical/industrial sonics (literally Bang on a Can!); Mauro Montalbetti’s Brightness, Emily Dickinson-inspired, hypnotically bubbling color alternating with stillness; and finally their conductor Carlo Boccadoro’s Zingiber (Ginger in Italian), rusticity giving way memorably to an abrasive low-versus-high battle.

Bang on a Can’s latest gimmick, the Asphalt Orchestra marching band, energized the crowd with several numbers: Annie Clark and David Byrne’s Balkan/Afrobeat hybrid Two Ships, a swirling, imaginative arrangement of Bjork’s Hyper Ballad and a thunderous Goran Bregovic dancefloor hit done as a fiery overture, being the best of the bunch.

As the cruel sun moved slowly out of view, Danish composer Poul Ruders’ Song and Rhapsodies were performed by the Athelas Wind Quintet with Frode Andersen on accordion. It’s a tremendously captivating suite: an austere overtone-laden tone poem, a creepy twisted waltz, a baroque rondo, a weird, blithe accordion solo, swelling adventurous cinematic theme a la Gil Evans, ending with a weird, bubbly tone poem.

The big draw of the night – at least from this point of view – was Philip Glass, playing a deliciously precise, impromptu version of his hypnotic, neoromantic Impromptu #4 solo on piano to kick off his mini-set with the Bang on a Can All-Stars. Glass’ potency as a pianist gets overshadowed by the applause for his compositions: there’s no doubt that he can play even his most demanding, persistently rhythmic works easily, as he did in an almost shockingly straight-up rendition of Music in Circular Motion, a relatively early work that typically allows for a certain amount of DIY, at least rhythmically, on the part of the players. Their closing piece featured Glass and pianist Vicky Chow in eerily perfect sync with each other against the band’s dizzying yet perfectly cantabile ambience.

By nine in the evening, for those who had stuck around since the early hours and had been awoken from brain coma by the Sun Ra folks, a payoff was in order, and Evan Ziporyn delivered, playing bass clarinet alongside Michael Lowenstern, with Joshua Rubin and Carol McGonnell on clarinets, through his richly vivid, cleverly entertaining Hive. McGonnell got all the queen bee licks and made the most of them, whether sizzling glissandos or mournful lead lines. Fluttering, creating a droll stereo effect and moving through utterly psychedelic passages where it was impossible to figure out who was playing what, it was the perfect mind melt for the moment.

There were other performances not worth mentioning – bullshit factor being as low as it was, there were a few moments when a trip to the spicy Pakistani steam-table place on Church St. made more sense than watching what was onstage. A Yoko Ono piece opened; Glenn Branca headlined. Idolized by many, known by everyone who was around for the first Bangs on the Can, it made sense that he’d top this oldschool bill. But the prospect of bad trains (more on that later – getting to the Gowanus Saturday night was sheer hell) was enough to make the choice of an early exit outweight anything blasting from the Marshall stacks onstage. Does taking the field midway through the first inning and sticking around til the eighteenth quality as a complete game? The Bang on a Can people aren’t counting. It was nice to hear debate emerging in random conversations throughout the space: new jacks grousing about seeing the same old faces; the oldschool contingent bitching about the trendy shallowness of the newbies’ electroacoustic stuff. Whatever your preference, a word to the wise: show up early for BOAC 2012.

June 21, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/21/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #588:

Art Tatum – The Chronological Classics 1932-34

If Sergei Rachmaninoff’s favorite pianist did a lot of composing, the historical record doesn’t reflect it: his favorite pastime was shredding his way through the hits of the day. Which he did with equal amounts precision and power: don’t listen to this if you have a weak heart. Most of his recordings are solo, no wonder since there were few players out there who could keep up with him. The genius of all this is that Tatum wasn’t all cold and mathematical: this digitized singles collection is a Depression-era party album. The number that raises the bar for every historically aware hotshot keyboardist is Tiger Rag; the purist favorites here are St. Louis Blues, Bessie Smith’s After You’ve Gone and Hoagy Carmichael’s Stardust. But Tatum also ratchets up the adrenaline with ballads like Strange As It Seems, I’ll Never Be the Same, a surprisingly visceral Tea for Two, Emaline and I Would Do Anything for You among the 25 brief, barely three-minute tracks here. Here’s a random torrent via Paging Mr. Volstead.

June 20, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

James McMurtry Rocks the Bell House

Saturday night at the Bell House, James McMurtry kept switching guitars and then retuning them. More often than not, he didn’t bother to hit his pedal to find the right pitch: he didn’t have to. Although he played a lot of songs on acoustic guitar, this was the rock set. It was just as much about the tunes as the endless torrents of lyrics chronicling the disenfranchised Americans hanging over the line between blue-collar poverty and complete destitution. Forget for a minute how vivid his narratives are, or how memorably he’s captured the silent majority’s endless struggle to claw their way out of the poverty trap: he’s also a mighty interesting guitarist. After several rapidfire verses of Choctaw Bingo, a characteristic, offhandedly savage chronicle of the Oklahoma crystal meth economy, McMurtry and his band left behind the bluesy, Come Together-ish shuffle and let the tune explode in a blast of raw guitar fury straight out of R.L. Burnside. Childish Things swung with a snarling, sour mash-fueled groove, part Stones, part Steve Earle. Too Long in the Wasteland took on a careening desperation. And his best-known song, We Can’t Make It Here, stomped with a hypnotic desert-rock vibe complete with a flange guitar solo before the last chorus. “We were gonna drop this from the set list, but it’s still relevant – which sucks for everybody but us,” McMurtry dryly told the crowd. He was being sarcastic of course: in better times a songwriter of his caliber could fill Madison Square Garden. He’s played the song a million times, yet he doesn’t seem to be sick of it, maybe because the most potent chronicle of the economic devastation left behind by the Bush regime resonates as powerfully today as did five years ago. McMurtry drew a line in the sand and dared any Bush-apologist CEO to cross it:

Some have maxed out all their credit cards
Some are working two jobs and living in cars
Minimum wage won’t pay for a roof
It won’t pay for a drink and you gotta have proof…
Take a part time job at one of your stores
Bet you can’t make it here anymore

The stories, obviously, are what the crowd came out for, and McMurtry gave them plenty. His characters will squeeze a discarded soft pack in the case that the person who tossed it away might not have noticed that there was still a smoke or two inside. They regret the choices they’ve made, the kids they shouldn’t have had, they drink too much and do too many drugs, they think about giving up completely but they never do. Ultimately, McMurtry and his endless parade of the debt-ridden and the angst-ridden are optimists, if only because the idea of doing anything other than carrying on is impossible to imagine. Surprisingly, one of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the night was one of the most subtle, the disarmingly allusive Restless. Other songs went for the jugular: Levelland, with its cruel, almost caricaturish tableau of Midwestern anomie, satellite tv dishes and cover bands playing Smoke on the Water. Ruby and Carlos, done solo acoustic, kept the suspense going all the way through to the end, where the shellshocked veteran from the first gulf war lets the land line ring and misses the call from his long-lost, now-injured ex. And The Lights of Cheyenne glimmered distantly, capturing the casual, occasionally dramatic cruelty of life in small western highwayside towns, and the temptations to throw it all away in a futile shot at escape.

And it was good to kick off the night early with a show by another literate rocker whose narratives are just as vivid and intense. LJ Murphy’s songs chronicle the same parade of characters, albeit in a more urban milieu. At Banjo Jim’s, he and his band ran through a similarly bluesy set full of “cops on horseback, sleeping drunks and men who work three jobs” in a pre-condo era McCarren Park, pink-collar happy hour crowds too clueless to realize how exploited they are, CEOs getting a hard time from the dominatrixes they love so much, and imperfect strangers who never fail to drive away anyone who gets too close.

June 20, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/20/11

Upcoming: James McMurtry at the Bell House, and a whole day’s worth of the crazy, annual Bang on a Can Marathon. Stay tuned. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #589:

Jolie Holland – Springtime Can Kill You

From 2006, this is the Texas Americana roots songwriter/chanteuse’s masterpiece so far. “My sullen songs have taken me far down this darkened road,” she drawls in the characteristically brooding Stubborn Beast, an insight that pretty much capsulizes her career. Setting wryly gloomy, often death-obsessed imagery to rustic, terse arrangements with resonator guitar, piano and sometimes strings, she evokes a way, way after-hours speakeasy of the mind. Crush in the Ghetto reminds that the boondocks are also ghettos; the jazzy title track’s offhandedness only raises the menace factor. There’s also the defiant waltz You’re Not Satisfied; C.R. Avery’s surreal, tormented Crazy Dreams; the austere Mehitibell’s Blues; the creepy piano waltz Don’t Tell’ Em; Moonshiner, a sultry, seductive blues; the whispery, nuanced Ghostly Girl; and the pensive nocturne Mexican Blue among the twelve tracks. Lately Holland has joined forces with similarly talented oldtimey siren Mamie Minch in the harmony trio Midnight Hours. Here’s a random torrent.

June 20, 2011 Posted by | blues music, country music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/19/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #590:

Jean Shepard – Best By Request

Along with Kitty Wells, Jean Shepard was one of the few women who achieved genuine stardom in Nashville in the 1950s. This 1970 compilation of mostly 1950s hits often plays up the bad-girl persona she cultivated, with considerable relish – it may seem tame now, but it wasn’t then. Backed tersely and inspiredly by some of the era’s top honkytonk players, she can be coy one moment, vengeful the next, as I Learned It All from You, I’d Rather Die Young and Why Did You Wait. Uncharacteristically, her biggest hit was the considerably less downbeat A Satisfied Mind, since covered by a million country artists. Under Suspicion and Don’t Fall In Love with a Married Man are typically characteristic themes for her, and she nails them. She’s still around and well-loved for her sardonic sense of humor on frequent CMT appearances. Here’s a random torrent via El Rancho 1.

June 19, 2011 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment