Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

John Paul Keith Plays Every Retro Rock Style Ever Invented

John Paul Keith’s backup band is called the One Four Fives. It’s a wryly accurate way of describing his music. The veteran Memphis singer/guitarist is an avatar of retro rock: he doesn’t seem to have met a roots-rock style that he can’t play with equal parts fun and virtuosity. He’s sort of a Memphis version of Simon Chardiet, emphasis more on serious songwriting than blazing guitars and punk-infused humor. It’s a sure bet that had many of these songs come out fifty years ago, they would have been huge. The production matches the period-perfect craftsmanship: many of these songs sound like live-in-the-studio two-track recordings from around 1965.

Keith’s new album is aptly titled The Man That Time Forgot. The opening track, Never Could Say No is Tex-Mex through the prism of 80s powerpop – it wouldn’t be out of place on a Willie Nile record. You Devil You evokes 50s rockabilly hitmakers like Charlie Gracie, with its carefree guitar tremolo-picking. With its slurry bass groove, Anyone Can Do It mines an Eddie Cochran/Bobby Fuller vein. The wry, doo-wop infused Songs for Sale is the closest thing to Chardiet here, along with the album’s best song, the amusingly scurrying noir shuffle I Work at Night.

Afraid to Look works a stomping British R&B hook straight out of the early Yardbirds or Pretty Things, while the honkytonk-flavored Dry County references the long stretches of road that every touring band dreads the most. I Think I Fell in Love Today slinks along on the swirling organ of Al Gamble, of another excellent Memphis band, retro soul groovemeisters the City Champs. They also evoke a vivid late 60s blue-eyed soul vibe with Somebody Ought to Write a Song About You. Keith goes back to a straight-up, rocking Bobby Fuller feel with the tongue-in-cheek Bad Luck Baby; the album winds up with a country song, The Last Last Call, which sounds like a big live favorite. Fans of roots rock from across the decades will have a blast with this. It’s out now on Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum.

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July 16, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Gerald Wilson Orchestra’s Legacy Does Justice to the Windy City

It’s been a great year for big band jazz releases and this is a particularly enjoyable one. The Gerald Wilson Orchestra’s new one, Legacy jazzes up the classics and celebrates nonagenarian composer/conductor Wilson’s Chicago home turf with dynamic charts that range from stark and suspenseful to lush and majestic. As you would expect from this guy, the band is monstrous, with up to 20 players, building from the A-list rhythm section of Renee Rosnes on piano, Peter Washington on bass and Lewis Nash on drums. A lot of the ideas here are very ambitious, but Wilson always cuts to the chase, with a why-didn’t-I-think-of-that logic and directness. Case in point: the opening Variations on a Theme by Stravinsky, which is less gritty eeriness than blazing intensity followed by a long swing passage with bright sax and trumpet solos. It’s a three-and-a-half minute hit. Who would have thought?

A mysterious bass pulse underpins the lushly melodic, warmly crescendoing Virgo, which they take up and back down methodically, swing it with a blithely spiraling Anthony Wilson guitar solo and later on intersperse some big swells with bright alto sax. They go out the way they came in. Variations on Claire de Lune starts as a slowly swinging piano blues, acknowledges the otherworldly theme and then goes doublespeed with jovial alto sax and gritty trumpet, and eventually a memorably slow fade. Likewise, Variations on a Theme by Puccini kicks off bluesily – it’s hard to find the classical tune here until it rears its wiggy head coming out of a deliciously tuneful baritone sax solo. September Sky, a warmly reflective, Hubert Laws-inflected indian summer flute tune gets an equally startling and effective doublespeed breakdown with the whole orchestra roaring, Rosnes bringing it back down in a heartbeat as the brass rises majestically in the distance against her wee-hours flourishes.

The rest of the album is a suite titled Yes Chicago Is… Referencing numerous famous Chicago venues and a well-known Dylan tune as well as the local sports franchises, it’s a very smartly crafted theme and variations, beginning with a pensive, nocturnal third-stream piano/bass motif. What comes after? Some striking chromatics; shapeshifting, melodic swing; a slyly insistent ballpark theme capped off by playful baritone sax; some nifty tradeoffs between swirling atmospherics and joyous trumpet; and a surprisingly serioso outro. Clearly, Wilson’s relationship to his hometown is a complex one – it beats the hell out of Sweet Home Chicago. There isn’t a single miss on this album, a real treat, which has been out since the end of last month on Mack Avenue.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/17/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #562:

The Modern Lovers’ first album

We’re trying hard not to duplicate the two best-known “best albums” lists on the web, but this one pretty much everybody agrees on. Recorded in 1972 (back when Jonathan Richman still had an edge, before he turned into a parody of himself), not released until 1976, enormously influential and still a great party album after all these years, it’s a mix of scurrying second-generation Velvets vamps and poppier janglerock. The iconic one here is Roadrunner (memorably butchered by the Sex Pistols). Richman may have held hippies in contempt (the hilarious bonus track I’m Straight), but he goes in that direction on Astral Plane. Otherwise, he’s cranky and defiantly retro on Old World and Modern World, hauntingly poignant on She Cracked and Hospital, LOL funny on their cover of John Cale’s Pablo Picasso (who really was an asshole), and only gets sappy on Someone I Care About. The early zeros reissue comes with a bunch of bonus tracks which include the Boston classic Government Center but otherwise aren’t up to the level of the John Cale-produced originals. Extra props to the band for contributing members to both the Talking Heads and Robin Lane & the Chartbusters. Here’s a random torrent.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 7/16/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #563:

Firewater – The Ponzi Scheme

A pre-millennial concept album about the deadly consequences of capitalist excess: the personal as political taken to a stunningly prophetic extreme. Fiery art-punks Firewater get extra props for spawning both Balkan Beat Box and Botanica, groups they heavily influenced. This 1998 release is intense and brilliantly lyrical all the way through, along with a couple of evilly cartoonish Balkan brass instrumental romps. The gypsy barroom rock of Green Light comments on the perils of chasing the almighty dollar, “going down like a pederast in a boys school;” Dropping Like Flies sounds like the Damned on a literate gypsy rampage. Caroline cruelly chronicles a girl who “starved herself of everything that money couldn’t buy,” while the noir piano boogie Whistling in the Dark reminds that you can only live on borrowed time for so long. There’s also Isle of Dogs, a snarling, spot-on hypocrite’s tale fueled by Oren Kaplan’s reverb guitar; the twisted tango Another Perfect Catastrophe; the savagely mocking So Long Superman, essentially a punk rock remake of Tainted Love; I Still Love You Judas, proof positive that there really is no honor among thieves; Knock Em Down, a savagely sarcastic noir cabaret tune, and the potent concluding song, Drunkard’s Lament, a searing look at the psychology of spectacles like reality tv a few years before it existed: “Misery loves company, that’s why everybody loves me.” Firewater frontman Tod A. has kept the band alive over the years with a shifting cast of characters, slowly moving further away from rock toward the East, with excellent results. The whole album is streaming at Spotify (you haven’t signed up for Spotify yet? You must – you get six months of unlimited streaming before the service turns into last.fm and becomes just another useless pay-radio site); here’s a random torrent via Cosmo Zebra.

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

Jolie Holland Draws a Pint of Blood

You know that Jolie Holland has a new album, right? Like everything else she’s done, her new one, Pint of Blood, is worth owning – and it’s quite a break with her earlier stuff. A collaboration with legendary downtown New York rhythm section guru and Marc Ribot sideman Shahzad Ismaily, this is her most straightforward, rock-oriented effort. But the rock here is graceful and slow, with lingering, sun-smitten atmospherics that occasionally shift back to the oldtime Americana she’s explored since the late 90s. A lot of this reminds of vintage Lucinda Williams. In her nuanced Texas drawl, Holland evokes emotions from bitterness to anguish to – once in awhile – understated joy. As with her previous work, this is a pretty dark album.

The opening cut, All Those Girls is a characteristically gemlike dig at an equal-opportunity backstabber, lit up with an echoey, hypnotic electric guitar solo. Remember, with its resolute Ticket to Ride sway, longs for escape, working a bird motif for all it’s worth. The pace picks up with the casually swinging, oldtimey groove of Tender Mirror, its warmly gospel-infused piano and organ and Ismaily’s judicious, counterintuitive bass accents. And then Holland dims the lights again with Gold and Yellow: “The night is over before it started,” she intones.

The real stunner here is June, a warily swinging oldschool Nashville noir tune with creepy, swooping ghost-bird violin and a gorgeous melody that’s over all too soon at barely two and a half minutes. With its oldschool soul overtones masking the lyrics’ dark undercurrent, Wreckage, would make a standout track on a Neko Case album. Then Holland flips the script with the unexpectedly bouncy, blithe, Grateful Dead-flavored folk-pop of Littlest Birds, winding out with one of Ismaily’s signature bass grooves. The Devil’s Sake, a sad, ominous 6/8 country ballad with gorgeous layers of s of acoustic, electric and steel guitars as well as reverberating Rhodes electric piano brings to mind Dina Rudeen’s most recent work. The album closes with Honey Girl, a companion piece to the opening track, and Rex’s Blues, a stark piano tune that’s part dustbowl ballad, part Mazzy Star.

In a year that’s been full of self-reinvention for Holland, she’s also started an absolutely killer new project with another oldtime music maven, Mamie Minch, who currently call themselves Midnight Hours. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Whispering Tree Rocks the Rockwood

Beautiful moment from last night: gentrifier girl wanders into the small room at Rockwood Music Hall. Perky and perfectly coiffed in an expensive mallstore way, like someone who was on the Disney Channel’s My Super Special Yuppie Puppie Prom Night around 2007. Meanwhile, onstage, the Whispering Tree’s Eleanor Kleiner raises her voice in a plaintive wail: “They left me here by the side of the road!” Gentrifier girl promptly scoots out the door and doesn’t come back. Any time a band can clear that element out of a New York club, that’s a victory. Meanwhile, the crowd who’d gathered for the four-piece band’s Friday night set was rapt: when they ended one song cold, mid-phrase, there was a stunned moment of silence before the whole band started grinning and then everybody belatedly burst into applause.

The Whispering Tree manage to be extremely accessible without compromising the intelligence of their music. To say that Kleiner sounds like an edgier version of Tift Merritt, or Shelby Lynne in a pensive, cosmopolitan moment, doesn’t do justice to the originality of her songwriting or her unaffected, disarmingly direct vocals. The band were amazing: they simply don’t waste notes, the guitarist hanging back tersely until it was time to deftly fade one early song up with hazy jangle and clang, or finally cutting loose with some slashing, smartly thought out blues on the evening’s final number. Likewise, the bassist chilled out in the pocket until he took a juicy, slipsliding solo on a radical reworking of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, reimagined as swinging, minor-key gypsy jazz. That Kleiner could wring genuine emotion out of “bluebirds can fly, why can’t I” was unexpected, and impressive to say the least.

But it was the originals that stood out the most. Kleiner played most of the set, including the eerie, apprehensive, minor-key Something Might Happen, on piano, with a brooding, gospel-infused style. The Trees, told from the point of view of one of them amidst the encroachment of city sprawl, took on a towering existential angst: like everyone else, trees long to be free, too. Likewise, they launched into Go Call the Captain, the title track from their most recent album (which received a rave review here last year), with a mighty thump – and yet, when it came to Kleiner going on the attack about how “false prophets, liars and thieves rule the world,” she didn’t go over the top. Instead, she let the lyrics speak for themselves (there’s more about the song on the band’s blog – mighty good stuff). They wound up the set with an unexpectedly fiery guitar-fueled rocker, No Love, a potently metaphorical, bitter anthem that wouldn’t be out of place on one of Penelope Houston’s albums from the 90s.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Bastille Day, Georges Brassens Style

To celebrate Bastille Day, last night at Barbes the Snow’s frontman Pierre de Gaillande and his Bad Reputation project played a richly lyrical, amusing yet often intense tribute to a dead French songwriter who is iconic on his home turf but little-known here. De Gaillande has been coming up with English translations and edgy chamber-pop arrangements of Georges Brassens songs for a couple of years now, many of them available on Bad Reputation’s album (which received a rave review here last year). Last night’s show included several of those numbers as well as new versions that hold up mightly alongside what de Gaillande has already reworked. Behind him, clarinetist David Spinley’s lines smoldered and gleamed with an often eerie gypsy tinge against the accordion swirls of Chicha Libre keyboardist Josh Camp and the jaunty pulse from Christian Bongers’ upright bass and the group’s new drummer, who was clearly psyched to be playing this gig. De Gaillande is also a much better guitarist than Brassens (a brilliant wordsmith but limited musician who actually wrote most of his songs on piano before transposing them to guitar).

Brassens’ songs are a goldmine of irony and black humor. He eulogizes people while they’re still alive, kvetches that the only people who won’t gleefully witness his execution will be the blind, and goes to bat for young lovers engaged in overt displays of PDA, only to remind them to enjoy their moment of bliss before it goes straight to hell. The band played each of those songs (including a stoic, nonchalantly intense version of Brassens’ signature song, Mauvaise Reputation, in the original French) along with sly versions of Penelope – which recasts the tragic Greek heroine as seduction object – as well as the Princess and the Troubadour, where a busy singer somewhat disingenuously resists the temptation to hook up with jailbait, and the absolutely hilarious Don Juan, a ribald yet subtle satire of wannabe-macho ladykillers. And the newer arrangements were just as fascinating. The original version of La Complainte des Filles de Joie is a coyly sympathetic look at the daily life of a hooker. De Gaillande’s translation cast the “filles de joie” as “ladies of leisure,” adding yet another, unexpectedly spot-on satirical element, right down to the “sons of vapid women” who frequent them: yuppies and whores, one and the same. He also led the group through swinging versions of a wry number about a guy who succeeds in seducing the wife of his neighbor, a lightning rod salesman, as well as the uneasy tale of an accordionist who’s gone off to the afterlife, lit up by a long, nicely ironic musette solo from Camp. By the time they got to The Pornographer – Brassens’ defiantly X-rated response to being banned from French radio – it was past midnight and nobody had left the room. Nice to see the songs of “the perverted son of the singalong” getting discovered by an audience he assuredly never would have expected to reach.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment