Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Catching Up on the Albums of the Day

Since the entire east coast of the United States has been shut down in anticipation of the apocalypse, it’s likely that millions of people are hanging out at home, nursing their supplies of bottled water and dehydrated tofu, bored silly and surfing the web wondering how just a little sprinkle of rain could portend such a momentous event. Meanwhile, the entire populations of Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Haiti, the Dominican, Cuba, Barbados and the rest of the Caribbean are snickering as they watch the crisis unfold – or as it doesn’t unfold.

Hidden in an old building at the edge of one of the designated evacuation zones here in New York, we’re scrambling to play catchup. We knew that once our daily 1000 best albums of all time countdown started to fall behind, we’d have to get back on the horse quickly. Today is that day! Here’s albums #523 through #521 to bring us up to date through Saturday:

523. Woody Guthrie – The Complete Library of Congress Recordings

This isn’t all of them, but it was in 1940 when Alan Lomax recorded Woody solo, and as you would expect from Lomax, there’s an awful lot of traditional stuff – Rye Whiskey, Foggy Mountain Top and Going Down the Road Feeling Bad – along with the originals. While Guthrie was just as much an archivist as activist and performer, it’s his own songs that everybody wants, and this has most of the early classics. The 3-cd box set intersperses dust bowl ballads – Talking Dust Bowl Blues and Dust Bowl Refugee, to name just two – with less contemporaneous populist anthems like I Don’t Want Your Greenback Dollar, Hard Times and Pretty Boy Floyd along with modern day folk classics like So Long and a handful of instrumentals (Guthrie never would have been so popular if he hadn’t been such a great tunesmith, and a surprisingly good picker). The whole thing is streaming at grooveshark; here’s a random torrent via 0 Earth.

522. Quincy Jones – In the Heat of the Night: Original Soundtrack

This 1967 psychedelic soul classic is more of a collection of songs, some of them without words, than it is atmospheric mood pieces. Twenty tracks in all, many of them clocking in at barely two minutes apiece: detective Tibbs’ confrontation with the cops; a tense jail scene; and edgy, noirishly funky chase scenes galore. Ray Charles sings the title theme and Mama Caleba’s Blues. There’s also jaw-droppingly silly, satirical C&W from Glen Campbell and Boomer & Travis and Gil Bernal’s It Sure Is Groovy, which sounds like one of the Vampyros Lesbos tracks. Reissued in the 80s as a twofer with Jones’ soundtrack to the long-forgotten 1970 followup flick They Call Me Mr. Tibbs, here’s a random torrent via Banana Spliff.

521. The Violent Femmes’ first album

When Chrissie Hynde discovered these snotty acoustic punks in Milwaukee in 1983, little did anybody know that they’d be able to base an entire thirty-year career on this one album. The catchy intros to Blister in the Sun and Add It Up blare over sports stadium PA systems these days, which is especially amusing since the lyrics that always get faded out quickly are so filthy. Brilliant acoustic bass guitarist Brian Ritchie plays the leads behind Gordon Gano’s petulant, smirky whine as they move from post-Velvets angst (Please Do Not Go, Prove My Love and Good Feeling) to belligerence (Kiss Off) to bluesy pop (Gone Daddy Gone) to more menacing stuff like Promise, The Kill and Confessions that could be the real deal, or just a spoof. Still a great party record after all these years. Here’s a random torrent.

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August 27, 2011 Posted by | folk music, funk music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/21/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1.

Sunday’s album was #527:

Curtis Eller – Wirewalkers and Assassins

2009 was a particularly good year for music – if you’ve been following this space, you’ll see we’ve been mining it quite a bit lately. This is Curtis Eller’s latest and best album – he plays banjo and happens to be one of the finest lyrical songwriters of our time. His specialty is fiery, minor-key, bluesy songs full of historical references and punk energy. This one has his very best one, the apocalyptic After the Soil Fails; the New York-centric Sugar for the Horses; the grim party anthem Sweatshop Fire; the chillingly summery, hallucinatory Hartford Circus Fire; the sardonic Firing Squad; the gentle, blackly humorous country sway of the Plea of the Aerialist’s Wife, and the wrenchingly haunting, whispery Save Me Joe Louis, its title taken from what were reputedly the last words of the first man (who was probably wrongfully convicted) to be executed in the gas chamber. It hasn’t made it to the filesharing sites yet but it’s still available from Eller’s bandcamp, where you can hear the whole thing.

August 23, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 7/10/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #569:

Lenny Molotov – Illuminated Blues

A virtuoso guitarist equally adept at delta blues, vintage Appalachian folk, early jazz and rock, Lenny Molotov is also an acerbic, brutally perceptive songwriter and lyricist. This is his latest album, from 2010, an eclectic mix of all of those styles: if the Dead Kennedys had tried their hand at oldtimey music, it might have sounded something like this. Here he’s backed by a rustic, inspired string band including bass, drums, fiddle and blues harp. The early Dylanesque Wilderness Bound chronicles a symbolically-charged journey its narrator never wanted to make; Book of Splendor and the eerily hypnotic Ill Moon hark back to the delta, while Glorious evokes Woody Guthrie. The classic here is Freedom Tower, dating from the early days of the Bush regime, a witheringly sarcastic sendup of fascist architectural iconography (he says it much more simply and poetically than that). David Reddin’s Blues follows a similar tangent, a sardonic modern-day outlaw ballad, its killer on the run caught in an Orwellian snare. There’s also the swinging Faded Label Blues, a wryly bitter Jelly Roll Morton homage; the quietly defiant Devil’s Empire, and the bucolic waltz New Every Morning, which leaves no doubt where Molotov stands: “There’s just two kinds of music under the law/The real live blues, and zip-a-dee-doo-dah.” This one’s real hard to find, but still available at shows – or check the blues bin at your local used record store, if you have one.

July 10, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/12/11

OK, time to push the drinking songs down the page and replace them with something far more serious. Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #717:

The Larval Organs – Posthumous

This careening, intense New York punk/metal band put out a couple of lo-fi limited-edition ep’s during their brief 2004-06 lifetime and this is the better of the two. The original, long out of print, had just four amazing songs. The grand guignol dysfunctional holiday scenario Ziploc Torso and the explosively manic-depressive Devil Come Madness capture the band at their loudest. City Parks is a characteristically vivid portrait of angst and alienation; maybe ironically, the classic here is the uncharacteristically upbeat janglerock anthem Mansion of Your Skull, a rare example of a love song that doesn’t suck. The narrator’s “death machine rusts in the yard” while he reveals that “my heaven is a hall in the mansion of your skull that I wander through.” A recent reissue comes with welcome bonus tracks: the inscrutably bizarre, catchy anthem Israel, the hauntingly funny Wizard Gardenia, Heaven Is a Drag, and Close to the Bone. Frontman Daniel Bernstein a.k.a. Cockroach, a brilliant and prolific songwriter, would go on to front the equally assaultive Whisper Doll and then chamber-pop band Hearth before going solo, frequently collaborating with another brilliant, brooding songwriter, Erin Regan.

February 12, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/18/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s is #742:

Gillen & Turk – Backs to the Wall

Songwriter Fred Gillen Jr. appropriated Woody Guthrie’s “this guitar kills fascists” for his own six-string. This 2008 collaboration with first-class Americana multi-instrumentalist Matt Turk – whose performance on acoustic and electric guitars and mandolin here is as soulful as it is virtuosic – perfectly captures the zeitgeist of the final, tense months of the Bush regime, when nobody knew if Dick Cheney was going to cede power or had something even more apocalyptic up his sleeve. The songs here alternate between fiery and brooding: this album is the high-water mark for both artists up to this point. The centerpiece is the ferocious, prophetic Fall Down, a nightmare scenario where the blowback from the war comes back to haunt us much like Malcolm X predicted. They explore smalltown anomie with the gorgeously harmony-driven These Nameless Streets, inner city bleakness with the allusive fingerstyle blues Satchmo, love during wartime with the stark Takes Me Away and aptly make the connection between military service and a jail sentence on the brutal war veteran’s remembrance, Killing Machine. The eerie psychedelic jam Three resembles early Country Joe & the Fish. The lone cover here is a joyous, piano-drenched version of Steve Kirkman’s Peace Rant. Turk also contributes Peruvian-flavored political pop, Gillen a soaring, historically aware anthem about the Black Hills. The album ends optimistically with the Beatlesque title track and the mandolin-infused singalong This Town Is Our Song. Hard copies of this one quickly sold out, but it’s still available at cdbaby and itunes.

January 17, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Billy Cohen Memorial Concert

Some people fade from memory after they’re gone. Billy Cohen just gets more and more intriguing. Cruelly cut down by cancer at 23, Cohen still managed to leave a stunningly diverse body of work ranging from punk rock, to modern classical, to the avant garde: if there is any justice in the world, someday there’ll be a Billy Cohen album. Thursday night, Bowery Poetry Club was packed with a mix of family, friends, what looked like every cool kid from the Murrow High School class of ’05, and his surviving bandmates in the Brooklyn What. His younger sister Gabi Cohen had assembled a slideshow that played throughout the night (a favorite shot: Cohen way up in the nosebleed seats at Shea Stadium), a vivid tribute to the multi-instrumentalist composer who was as devoted to the Mets as he was to music.

Politically incorrect singer-songwriter Mickey PG opened, joined at the end by members of the Brooklyn What, their frontman Jamie Frey holding down the bass. He’s quirky and funny in a snotty, punk rock Dead Milkmen/Violent Femmes kind of way. Among his tunes: a not-so-sly, faux R&B seduction song; a funny one about stealing a girl away from her much taller boyfriend; an even funnier one parodying the silly, Jesse Jackson-style slogans that high school teachers use; and the most hilarious one of the night, Dumpster Diving. See, she’s got a Harvard degree, but the only job she can get with it is at Burger King. So she and her man get their gourmet experience out back of the restaurant: it’s all they can afford.

The duo of southpaw guitarist Jonathan Ruderfer (Cohen’s college-era bandmate in Savage Panda) and Cohen’s old college roomie, keyboardist Derek Blustein followed with a stunningly tight, eye-opening set of Cohen compositions along with a couple of originals and some favorite covers. They opened with a catchy powerpop anthem, like Coldplay if that band had real blood in their veins. They nimbly and amusingly tackled a couple of video game themes, a spot-on take of a tricky Radiohead number and an equally tricky, melodically artsy original by Blustein. He explained how they’d been forced to slow down a particularly challenging Cohen instrumental – which came across as a rapidfire amalgam of Louis Andriessen and Thom Yorke – to the point where it was physically possible for them to play it. A terrific, full-voiced singer named Megan then joined them for an equally challenging, operatically-tinged vocal number, on which she had to use every inch of a genuinely breathtaking vocal range.

Cohen would be proud of how good, and how amazingly tight the Brooklyn What have become. Joining them onstage were Ruderfer, Blustein and former Escarioka alto sax player Clayton Costelloe, whose smartly chosen, bracing fills gave the more punk-oriented songs, like a particularly intense version of Gentrification Rock, a scary ska feel. Cohen was a big Kinks fan, so they did a trio of amped-up Kinks covers, the most ecstatic of these being I’m Not Like Everybody Else – not surprising, considering that once he’d brought it into the band, it quickly became a concert favorite. In fact, with the three guitars going at once, it was almost as if Cohen was there. They pounced on Mongoloid by Devo and beat it speechless and burned through an inspired, smartly short version of Moonage Daydream by Bowie. But it was the originals that everybody had come to hear and they got all the Billy Cohen songs from the band’s debut The Brooklyn What for Borough President: blistering takes of the dissociative, Shellac-on-speed rap Soviet Guns, the uneasy, biting punk fury of Sunbeam Sunscream and the quiet disquiet of Summer Song. The high point of the night was another Cohen song, the unreleased Hot Wine, a characteristically surreal Coney Island scenario that went on a doublespeed rampage in the middle. They closed with a delirious singalong of their anthem We Are the Only Ones, written by the band, Frey explained, on Cohen’s little synthesizer in his bedroom. As the audience bobbed and swayed, hands and fists waving furiously on the beat, joining in on the last verse, “I’m not afraid of anything at all, divided we stand, UNITED THEY WILL FALL,” the Brooklyn What were, to paraphrase Frey, undeniably the biggest band in New York. Billy Cohen would have liked that. The Brooklyn What play Arlene’s at 9 this Friday the 20th.

August 17, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, concert, experimental music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Concert Review: Martin Bisi, Humanwine and Marissa Nadler at Union Pool, Brooklyn NY 7/2/10

It’s hard to think of a better dark rock triplebill anywhere else in New York this year. Martin Bisi came in with a blast of psychedelic guitar fury and ended quiet and creepy: in the middle, he and his band energized the crowd, leading them into a couple of bars of pure pandemonium during the break on the clever, satirical Goth Chick ’98 and getting them dancing to the pounding riff-rock of Mile High – Formaldehyde. Likewise, a new song, Fine Line (soon to be released as a split 7″ from Post Consumer Records with a Bisi remix of a Serena Maneesh track) mixed slinky Steve Wynn style noir rock with gypsy tinges, and a screaming crescendo at the end. Bisi’s bullshit detector is set to stun: introducing a pretty unhinged version of the trippy gothic anthem Rise Up Cowboy, he remarked how its cynical use-and-be-used ethos could be playing itself out anywhere in Williamsburg at that particular moment. He explained how the metaphorically charged sprawl of Sirens of the Apocalypse (title track from his excellent 2008 album) plays off gender-based stereotypes – bad men, like Hades, who abducts Persephone from a playground, and on the other side  the familiar Sirens: “It feels like home,” he commented dryly, adding that since he’d just invited Flaming Fire’s Justina Heckard onstage, the band now had a siren up there with them. She contributed vocals along with all kinds of acrobatics using an illuminated hula hoop.

Boston-area rockers Humanwine absolutely and colossally kicked ass. The noir cabaret crew’s frontwoman Holly Brewer is a dramatic, compelling presence – she was impossible to turn away from. With a sinister grace, she kept time by signalling along with the lyrics on many of the songs – sign language, maybe? Many of them seem to be set in an imaginary, pre-apocalyptic fascist state called Vinland, which is essentially America under the Bush regime. “Support your right to report…get it on tape!” she intoned sarcastically on their opening number – although that might have been an encouragement to watch the watchers. It built to a magnificent stomp out of a stately waltz rhythm. She and the band drove the point home, song after song, throughout a dusky southwestern gothic-tinged anthem and a tricky gypsy-ish number: they do not like living under a police state. “Cameras watching!” Brewer reminded yet again, following with a pregnant pause for anyone who might not have been paying attention. “It takes every one of us to bring them to their knees,” she insisted on a warmly wistful folk-tinged number. A Nashville gothic song emphasized the “paranoia rushing through your hands…can’t you feel the lockdown?” They wound up the set on with the deliriously triumphant bounce of a gypsy-rock anthem, sort of like the Dresden Dolls but done with Vera Beren-class menace. The audience reaction was explosive – now if only they’ll take those ideas home with them.

Confidently fingerpicking her acoustic guitar and laying down the occasional loop for an extra layer of melody, Marissa Nadler made as compelling a figure as Brewer did, but went at it the opposite way – she drew the audience in, warmly casual and conversational, sometimes in understatedly stark contrast to the anguished intensity of her songs. Many of her songs were new, and all of them were excellent – she’s on a roll. She’s also a lot more diverse than she used to be: there’s green and grey alongside the pitch black in her sonic palette now. Linda Draper is the obvious comparison: fast fingers, striking imagery and trouble around every corner. “Inside a room a cold wind blows; there are two of us in there.” The nonchalance was chilling. “The ghost has dreams, wants to leave – wind her up to speak,” Nadler sang gently on the next number. She switched guitars frequently, playing a twelve-string on a stately, brooding lament. A cover of Leonard Cohen’s Famous Blue Raincoat was as casually intense as the original; she closed the set on an insistent note. “Someone once called us a dying breed,” she mused, quietly but formidably unwilling to accept it.

July 6, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Katzenjammer – Le Pop

Katzenjammer’s new album Le Pop is pretty amazing, a strong contender for best of 2010. With their gorgeous harmonies, old-fashioned instrumentation and frequently lush production, the accordion-driven all-female Oslo quartet sound like the Dresden Dolls but better (more energetic, less cutesy and a whole lot darker as well). The self-styled “queens of sultry sound” balance an eerily rustic noir edge with tongue-in-cheek humor, and lyrics in English. On the new cd, multi-instrumentalist Solveig Heilo, accordionists Anne Marit Bergheim and Marianne Sveen and bassist Turid Jørgensen – who plays the largest four-string instrument in all of rock – bounce, scamper and blast their way through a mix of tempos and styles that evoke such diverse acts as the B-52s, Gruppo Sportivo and Gogol Bordello.

The album opens on a surprisingly pensive note with an instrumental “overture,” followed by the scurrying Keystone Kops vibe of A Bar in Amsterdam, which amusingly morphs into a Pat Benetar-style power ballad on the chorus. With its jaunty gypsy swing, Demon Kitty Rag evokes satirical New York trio the Debutante Hour. Tea with Cinnamon is an absolute delight, a vintage Toots and the Maytals-style rocksteady number with accordion and a surprisingly wistful lyric. The title track, a snidely exuberant Gruppo Sportivo-style satire of American corporate music is great fun, and the outro is absolutely priceless.

The darker material here is just as captivating. Hey Ho on the Devil’s Back sets charming harmonies and barrelhouse piano to a Nashville gothic arrangement with a funny but disquieting edge, and a series of trick endings. The big, anguished crescendo on the lushly orchestrated suicide anthem Wading in Deeper packs a visceral punch; the violin-driven To the Sea showcases the band’s harmonies at their most otherworldly, with an off-center, Icelandic vibe. There’s also the sternly tongue-in-cheek Mother Superior, with its eerie carnival organ; Der Kapitan, a macabre-tinged surf instrumental done oompah style; the coy country bounce of Play, My Darling; Ain’t No Thang, an oldtimey banjo tune; and Virginia Clemm, a sad, eerily atmospheric waltz. The depth and intelligence of the songs matches their good-time appeal: it’s been a long time since we discovered a band who could do that as consistently as Katzenjammer do. The group are currently on US tour (at Milwaukee’s Summerfest on July 3 and 4, opening for Elvis Costello), with a date at the Mercury Lounge on July 6.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 6/1/10

Happy summer! Brand-new June live music calendar coming momentarily. In the meantime, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s song is #58:

The Jam – That’s Entertainment

Paul Weller famously said that he wrote this in twenty minutes after coming home from the pub, pissed and pissed off. Too bad he hasn’t done that in the last twenty-five years. The best version of this one is the one with the organ and the horns on the 1983 Dig the New Breed album (although the studio recording with the acoustic guitar and all the backward masking isn’t bad either). The link above is a live acoustic British tv appearance from that era.

June 1, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Asylum Street Spankers – God’s Favorite Band

Things like this happen with bands who’ve been around awhile and have the good sense to record themselves in fortuitous circumstances. Back in 2006, the Asylum Street Spankers – the world’s smartest, most deliriously fun oldtimey Americana band – recorded some live performances at the Saxon Pub in their hometown of Austin. Among the songs were several traditional gospel tunes along with a handful of originals that wouldn’t be drastically out of place, musically at least, in a straight-up gospel set. It isn’t implausible to imagine the band hanging around the dressing room one night after a show after someone put these songs on a boombox, while a  joint made its way around the room. Suddenly percussionist/singer Wammo has an epiphany and turns in amazement to multi-instrumentalist/siren Christina Marrs: “Holy shit, we have a gospel album here!”

As improbable as it might seem at first thought for the Spankers to be doing a gospel album, it actually makes perfect sense when you consider how deep their knowledge of American roots music is. As sacriligeous as the band is, Marrs has an amazing set of pipes and pulls out all the stops here. Likewise, the band’s vocal harmonies are tight and inventive when they’re not being tight and absolutely period-perfect, as with their minstrel-esque version of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

An ancient-sounding  instrumental version of the Blind Willie Johnson blues Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground opens the cd and sets a rustic tone. The standards Each Day, Down by the Riverside, By and By and Wade in the Water each get a fervent, ecstatic treatment which rather than being camp reaffirms the band’s seemingly innate feel for these songs as universal expression of the human spirit that transcend any doctrinaire limitations. Then they do the same thing with a contemporary Christian song (yes, that’s what it is), the Violent Femmes’ Gordan Gano’s Jesus Walking on the Water.

But as expected it’s the originals that bring down the house. Wammo’s somewhat snide Right and Wrong has an ironclad Iraq War-era logic to go along with the stoner humor: “I ain’t got no problem with Buddha, ’cause he’s a huge Nirvana fan.” And his other song here, Volkswagen Thing reclaims a Nazi-era relic as vehicle for the divine. In case you don’t remember it, the Thing during its brief revival in the 70s was  one of the most unsafe cars ever built, a car so rear-heavy that it could pop a wheelie despite being ridiculously underpowered. Satan, on the other hand, drives his Mercedes like the pig he is – and he’s got a Hummer, too. The band closes out this raucous collection with a defiant version of Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So, a vivid reminder of where they’re really coming from for anyone who might not have been paying attention. Steampunks everywhere, not to mention fans of both traditional and secular gospel alike (the Lost Crusaders and Rev. Vince Anderson especially come to mind) will love this album. The Spankers made it to NYC a couple of times this year and they will doubtlessly be back (they recorded their sensational What? And Give Up Show Business? live cd here), watch this space for details.

November 8, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment