Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 4/2/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #668:

Mascott – Art Project

Here’s one that’s short and sweet. One of the most irresistibly tuneful bands of recent years, Mascott is the project of indie pop mavens Kendall Jane Meade (formerly of Juicy) and Margaret White. In December of 2008, we called this gem “pure concentrated sunshine,” and two years later that holds true. Meade’s warm, matter-of-fact vocals are a perfect match for the catchy mix of acoustic and electric guitar textures underneath, sometimes dreamy, sometimes jaunty. The video for Fourth of July, set in a now-vanished Coney Island milieu, perfectly captures the feeling of the song; the chimingly gorgeous Opposite is a high-water mark in indie pop craftsmanship. There’s also the brief, bustling Dream Another Day, the charming, harmony-driven Nite Owl, the surprisingly brooding breakup ballad Letting Go of the Sun and a campfire singalong of Wildwood Flower. Tragically obscure, even good old Captain Crawl didn’t turn up any torrents, although many of the songs are still streaming at the band’s myspace, and tracks are up at all the usual online merchants.

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April 2, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lorraine Leckie’s Martini Eyes Are Bloodshot and Sinister

For the better part of the last ten years, Lorraine Leckie has been writing dark, deadpan songs that owe as much to punk – at least the spirit of punk – as they do Americana. Her new album Martini Eyes is deliciously ghoulish, and it’s her best one yet. It’s her Nebraska: simple, spare arrangements, most of them with just vocals and acoustic guitar or piano. If Patti Smith had gone Nashville gothic instead of punk, she might have sounded something like this

The real gem here is Don’t Giggle at the Corpse. It might sound funny, but it’s not, at all: it’s a blackly cynical depiction of a funeral. “Take a sip of wine…here we go, it’s time for the show, don’t giggle at the corpse,” Leckie warns, completely serious, perfectly capturing the temporary insanity that comes with grief. “I wish this town would burn to the ground – I loved him a lot, show him what we’ve got,” she muses out loud. It’s a profound theme for a year that’s had too many funerals.

Leckie follows that with a couple of distantly Tom Waits-ish ones. Trouble is a stark, witchy blues: things die and summer turns to winter wherever this girl goes. “Crazy girls are easy to love/By morning you’ve had enough,” the off-center narrator of Red Light intones – she’s written her paramour’s name on her walls in lipstick, and crayon, and god knows what, and what makes it poignant is that she’s just sane enough to know she’s crazy. And the 6/8 murder ballad Hillbilly will strike a nerve with anyone who’s survived the gentrification that’s blighted New York, or anywhere: girl from the sticks comes to town, wants to be a star, blithely steals another girl’s guy…and gets what’s coming to her.

The unexpectedly hilarious track here is I Met a Man, a simple, cabaret-ish piano tune about scoring drugs all over the world. “Coppers all around me like rain,” sings Leckie – and then runs off to Amsterdam to score again. The album winds up with Listen to the Girl, a stark yet encouraging theme for brooding individualists, and the off-kilter title track, laden with regret for a lost love who might or might not have left under his own power. One of Leckie’s greatest strengths as a songwriter is what she leaves out, and this is a prime example. Count this as a late addition to the rapidly closing list of the best albums of 2010.

December 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Left on Red Bring Their Catchy Songs Out of the Underground

While the badge-wearing offspring of suburban wealth flounced from club to club on the east side Wednesday night – it’s Colossal Musical Joke time again – a far more polyglot crowd enjoyed an hourlong set by edgy acoustic harmony band Left on Red at the Bitter End. And while this show was actually a CMJ gig, the audience was as casually diverse as you’d find on the subway. Which is no surprise since that’s where Liah Alonso and Kelly Halloran play most of the time. All those hours in less than sonically ideal surroundings has given their music a captivating chemistry and tightness – having a bassist and drummer behind them was a nice touch, and it filled out the sound, but it was almost as if they didn’t really need the extra rhythm since theirs is so solid.

The set started out pleasantly catchy and got really really good, really really fast. Alonso alternated between acoustic guitar, tenor guitar and Strat; Halloran started out on violin, playing some acerbic, spot-on blues licks before switching to Strat and then acoustic, taking a couple of lead vocals herself at the end of the show. The reaction to the early material was a vivid reminder how much of an audience there is for accessible pop music that’s not stupid. The duo started out with a couple of bouncy, blues-tinged numbers, a train song that took on a funny tinge and then a gorgeously jangly if lyrically perplexing 1960s style psychedelic pop song called Way of the Zebra. Then they ratcheted the intensity up a few notches with the big college radio hit Jack and Jill. “I lost my halo and wings when I escaped from hell,” Alonso sang triumphantly, “This angel never fit me too well.” It spoke for a nation of millions who’ve held back from asserting that themselves.

Another briskly catchy, anthemic number vividly and tersely portrayed the destructive effects of gentrification: musicians and students forced to triple and quadruple up in crumbling, squalid conditions while the yuppies in their suits make it clear that they’re no longer welcome in their own town. “We’re gonna be ok, two cute girls can always find a place to stay,” Alonso sang sardonically, the implication being that those who aren’t so cute might find it somewhat harder.

“Some people thank you for your time – like telemarketers and stuff – but we really mean it,” explained Alonso before doing exactly that, ending the set with an optimistic tune about gaining strength from adversity that wound up with a breakneck, doublespeed violin breakdown. The audience screamed for an encore: several people hollered for Two Drinks Away from Gay, a big crowd-pleaser, which they didn’t play (they’ll do it at their next gig, they said), instead substituting a triumphant escape anthem. “I come from a place where dreams go to die…where hope comes to crawl,” went the lyric, but there was a happy ending, the two women trading a series of music box-tinged, beautifully interlocking, jangly guitar riffs, one after the other. It was the most beautiful moment in a night full of many. In addition to busking (usually in stations on the 1 and the 2 line), Left on Red play frequently for hospitalized veterans and for causes ranging from peace activism to fair trade.

October 22, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 8/26/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #887:

Amy Allison – Sheffield Streets

The best album by one of the best-loved cult artists in Americana music. For awhile back in the 90s, Allison could do no wrong: her wry, tersely and often wickedly lyrical alt-country albums The Maudlin Years and Sad Girl are both genuine classics, but this 2009 gem outdoes them since it’s a lot more stylistically diverse. And Allison’s finely nuanced voice is at the peak of its quirkily charming power here. There’s a duet with Elvis Costello on her dad Mose Allison’s wry, brooding jazz classic Monsters of the Id, with the Sage himself on piano; the clever litany of bizarre street names in the title track; the metaphorically loaded, wistful When the Needle Skips (a tribute to vintage vinyl, among other things); the genuinely haunting Dream World, with its down-and-out milieu; and the bitterly evocative Mardi Gras Moon, its jilted narrator high on pills and booze, losing the feeling in her hands on a night which is unseasonably cold in every possible way.

August 26, 2010 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 6/17/10

Every day, for the next six weeks anyway, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s song is #42:

Elvis Costello – Withered & Died

This Richard Thompson song was originally sung by Linda Thompson on I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight in 1974. Solo acoustic, Costello is even more haunting: his version is the “secret” bonus track on the 1990s Rhino reissue of the underrated 1985 Goodbye Cruel World album.

June 17, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Carolann Solebello – Glass of Desire

Carolann Solebello is one of the three women in well-loved Americana-folk band Red Molly. One of the reasons for Red Molly’s popularity may be the way they skirt cliches – their unselfconscious, refreshingly down-to-earth sensibility is all too seldom seen in the ostensibly “poetic” world of folk music and singer-songwriters. As with her main band, Solebello relies on comfortable, familiar chords and changes on this cd (her first solo effort in nine years), but with a potent, metaphorically loaded lyrical style and that soaring voice that frequently evokes another extraordinary Americana singer, Mary Lee Kortes of Mary Lee’s Corvette. The production is rustic and oldschool, a tastily melodic mesh of acoustic and electric guitar textures.

All That I’ve Done Right is a perfect example of how Solebello works. It’s a straight-up country song, a mother addressing her daughter. But it’s not mawkish or sentimental, in fact in its own characteristically understated way it’s kind of harrowing, a “faded chorus girl” looking for a grain of hope in her kid and coming up with it – sort of. Likewise, Michigan, a nimbly fingerpicked tale of a would-be New York expatriate who’s “sick of living underground, sick of being tightly wound.” It has a trick ending, one that’s as sadly universal as it is funny. Another first-class track here is Behind the Door, images tumbling in a vivid evocation of how to walk away from the past – or is it possible to do that at all, Solebello ponders?

The rest of the album mixes shades of light and dark. The opening track, Home, is a memorably uneasy traveling song:

Said goodnight to my soul
Jesus went in that great big hole
Throwing rocks but still I roll

Shibboleth is a teeth-gnashing anthem, Steve Kirkman’s reverb-drenched lapsteel sheets matching Solebello’s angst note for note. The pensive Dance with Me features producer Fred Gillen Jr. sitting in on mandolin. And on Michael, an old lover tries to reconnect with her – while she may be “clinging to an oar in a sea of memories” she wisely decides against it as Kirkman’s deliciously evocative electric guitar ending seals the deal. The album winds up with the Gillian Welch-inflected Ties That Bind and a subdued ballad, Long Time Gone. The whole album is as smart as it is accessible – just like Solebello’s other project. And it’s a clinic in how to write a good folk-pop song: other songwriters should get their hands on this to see how it’s done.

March 12, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Shivering in the Moon: After 36 Years, Mark Fry Makes Another Album

Mark Fry is the latest British folkie on the comeback trail. His new cd, Shooting the Moon is only his second recording. Thirty-six years have come and gone since RCA Italy released his only other album, Dreaming with Alice in 1972. Out of print for decades (although recently reissued on cd by Sunbeam), it’s a strange yet compelling blend of British folk and psychedelia, perhaps a British counterpart to Judy Henske and Jerry Yester’s utterly bizarre yet sometimes entrancing Farewell Aldebaran. In the years that passed, Fry never abandoned music, though his public performances became very infrequent while he pursued what would become a far more successful career as a painter, with several solo exibitions in the UK over the past few years.

This album, while hardly a follow-up, reveals that Fry hasn’t lost his utterly unique and somewhat disquieting vision. This album has a striking and also somewhat baffling resemblance to David J’s solo work, musically at least, right down to the darkly attractive, major-key chordal work, vocal phrasing, guitar tunings and sparse arrangements typical of the Bauhaus bassist’s quieter, more stark, late 80s/early 90s songs. But one can only wonder if the two even know each other exist. In any event, they’d make a great double bill! Fry’s acoustic guitar and casually bright vocals are backed in places by tasteful pedal steel, piano, violin and occasionally a rhythm section: it’s all very pretty and best when it takes on a nocturnal feel, which is often. The songwriting here is saturnine and somewhat woozy from time to time, precisely what one would expect from someone who lived through the sixties (insert amnesiac punchline here). The album’s opening track, Under the Milky Way (NOT the Church’s 1988 cocaine anthem) has the narrator perplexed, thinking the sky’s about to fall on him. As it turns out, it’s only the clouds messing around. One can only wonder what prompted that observation (definitely not cocaine). The same rings true for many of the other songs, like the following track, Big Silver Jet:

It’s slipping through my fingers
Like the rays of the sunset
It’s slipping through my radar
Like a big silver jet

As with the rest of the instruments, Fry’s fingerstyle acoustic and electric guitar work is understated but fluid, particularly the warm, lushly overdubbed You Make It Easy. But on the rest of the album, there’s a chill in the air, regrets over not having done one thing or another, and a pervasive sense of unease everywhere. “You’re like a box of chocolates that melts in the sun,” Fry wryly tells a lover.

The album’s most memorable – and concluding – cut, the brief, upbeat, gently swaying title track, is set in a junkyard, its residents raising a quiet racket by the light of the moon:

You can hear them dancing like soldiers
To their lost parade
Dancing to the junkyard serenade
We’re all shooting the moon tonight

But if you’re not paying attention, it sounds like Fry is singing “we’re all shivering in the moon tonight,” which probably isn’t intentional but perfectly capsulizes what he’s done here. For fans of eerie singer-songwriters everywhere, from Nick Drake to the aforementioned David J or even Syd Barrett.

March 28, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Secretary Feat. Big Boss/Nina Nastasia & Jim White at Mercury Lounge, NYC 10/3/07

Secretary is Moisturizer frontwoman and baritone sax player Paula Henderson’s Hollywood soundtrack side project. Or at least that’s what it sounded like tonight, like Angelo Badalamenti covering Moisturizer. Hollywood would do well to seek her out. As she made a point of reminding the audience, everything she writes is a true story. The resulting compositions, whether the utterly unique dance-rock that she plays with Moisturizer or the quieter, more atmospheric works she played tonight, all have a narrative feel, and it’s often very compelling. Or very funny. Or both simultaneously.

 

Although for Secretary gigs she hides behind a pair of spectacles and a vintage secretary suit, Henderson didn’t bother trying to shed the slightly coy, deviously witty Moist Paula persona that she assumes at Moisturizer shows. Maybe that’s just who she really is. Big Boss is a new addition, a sharp-dressed man busily multitasking on a laptop and mixer, occasionally contributing trombone, keyboards and even turntable scratching on one song. Although Moisturizer is defined by playfulness and fun, and that sensibility isn’t lost here, the quieter, more downtempo tunes Henderson does in this project afford her a chance to explore more thoughtful, pensive terrain. Tonight she played lead lines on her bari sax as Big Boss ran the tracks, most of which are on the excellent debut Secretary album. They opened with a sultry, jazzy, unreleased number perhaps titled 37 Again, Henderson’s achingly torchy, jazzy melody playing against a dense mix of textures created by playing sax through a bunch of garageband patches and then mixing everything. Later she did the balmy, ambient South Carolina Holiday, the long, playful Mouse (which is actually about chasing a mouse around the apartment), the catchy Latin dance tune Mofongo Raincheck and a somewhat classically-inflected fanfare, live sax playing call-and-response with harmonies using several different textures. Toward the end of the set, she did a lively new number called Mushrooms with Strangers that wouldn’t be out of place at a Moisturizer show. The evening’s most amusing moment was another new one called The Perfect Boss. Henderson played repetitive, staccato riffs while the computer run a shrieking, metallic wash of noise that sounded like Suicide or something from Metal Machine Music. If that’s the perfect boss, one can only wonder what the boss from hell sounds like.

 

Nina Nastasia sold out the room. It had been ten years since she’d played here, she said, “When I was…18.”

 

“Not,” she said under her breath, barely audible. She may wield an acoustic guitar but she hardly fits the singer-songwriter mold. You’ll never hear a Nina Nastasia song in a credit card commercial. Tonight she played mostly new material from her album with Dirty Three bandleader/drummer Jim White, her only backing musician. He was amazing: no wonder everyone wants to work with him. Using a flurry of rimshots, cymbal splashes and boomy tom-tom cascades, he orchestrated her often grimly minimalistic songs with both precision and abandon. Often he’d leave Nastasia to hold the rhythm as he’d accelerate or slow down, or play deftly off the beat. There are only a few drummers in rock who are in his league, perhaps Dave Campbell of Love Camp 7/Erica Smith renown or Linda Pitmon from Smack Dab and Steve Wynn’s band.

 

In the years since she first played here, Nastasia has developed a seemingly effortless fingerpicking style on the guitar. Hearing the new songs stripped down to just the guitar and drums was a revelation: it was instantly clear where the melodies for all the layers of strings and keyboards on her albums come from. I found myself playing orchestrator, imagining violin, viola and cello parts. One of the great keyboardists of our time was in the audience and was overheard raving about how good the piano on the new album is.

 

Nastasia has also become an excellent singer. That creepy little voice she had when she put out her landmark 1999 debut, Dogs (whose title track she played tonight, to much applause) is still there when it needs to be, but in the intervening years she’s learned how to belt. And project, with an anguished wail that serves her songs, particularly the new ones, spectacularly well. Her earlier material was typically noir urban tableaux; now, she’s taking on more abstract, universal emotional territory, though her vision remains the same, as bleak, angst-driven, desperate and sometimes exasperated as it’s always been. The dark glimmer has become a gleam. If this show is any indication, the new album is a must-own.

 

The only problem tonight (one hopes uncharacteristically) was the sound. The sound guy was playing annoying, effeminate computer-disco over the PA before Secretary went on, and predictably mixed the backing tracks from the laptop louder than Henderson’s sax. Bad mistake. Then Nastasia’s guitar started to generate a lot of low feedback, perhaps because it needed to be amped high in the mix and she didn’t have one of those little rubber thingys that fits into the sound hole. Where was Freddie Katz when we needed him.

October 8, 2007 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments