Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 8/1/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #547:

The Wirebirds – Past and Gone

By the time this 2003 album came out, the great New York Britfolk band was finished: they did one final show that year, and that was the end. With three first-rate songwriters – frontwoman Amanda Thorpe, guitarists Will Dial and Peter Stuart – they alternated between lush, Richard Thompson-inflected anthems and more stark, bucolic material. This album is pretty much their entire catalog. The album opens with a blast of twelve-string guitar a la the Church with the big, sweeping Can You, winds through a bunch of warily apprehensive ballads before they hit their high point with Dial’s towering, apocalyptic This Green Hell (our predecessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2003). Stuart’s catchy, lusciously jangly, rueful One Way Ticket would have been the big radio hit in a smarter universe, a vibe he takes to the next level with Time Stands Still.  Fourteen tracks in all, including a biting cover of the English folksong Three Ravens, all with soaring three-part harmonies and layer upon layer of jangling, roaring, crashing guitar. Thorpe would go on to reach equally intense heights as a solo artist, and then with the Bedsit Poets. Strangely absent from the sharelockers, the whole thing is streaming at Spotify, and it’s still available from cdbaby.

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August 1, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 9/20/10

This is sort of our weekly, Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast. Every week, we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. We’ve designed this as something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones – your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these songs, you can always go on to the next one: every link here (except for #1 this week) will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Klezwoods – Cuperlika

Centerpiece of the Balkan/klezmer/Middle Eastern band’s titanicallly good new cd Oy Yeah. Put it up on the web somewhere guys, you’ll sell a lot more records!

2. Serena Jost – Stay

Characteristically stark and compelling solo cello art-rock song from her forthcoming cd.

3. Band of Outsiders – Graveyard

Absolutely off the hook post-Velvets guitar madness, live at the Parkside this year. They’re at Bowery Electric on 9/23 at 10 opening for Richard Lloyd.

4. Ninth House – Down Beneath

Frontman Mark Sinnis was making this video in a cemetery in upstate New York when he noticed that the seemingly random grave he’d chosen to lie on belonged to one Mary Ann Larson, who died on Sinnis’ birthday in 1853. Coincidence? The band play the cd release show for their new one on 9/24 at at UC 87 Lounge, 87 Ludlow St. at 11.

5. Amy Bezunartea – Doubles

Hang with this – it’s worth your 3 minutes. Not your average girl with acoustic guitar, described by her label (Jennifer O’Connor’s project Kiam) as “kind of Joni meets Magnetic Fields” but better. Free download.

6. Zikrayat – Ish-Showq Mihayyarni

Classic obscure 50s Egyptian film music from the movie ‘Aziza’ starring Naima Akif, live at Galapagos last year. The song starts about 1:20 into the clip. They’re at Moustache (Lex and 102nd) at 8 PM on 9/24.

7. The Poludaktulos Orchestra – Rajkos

Brass band intensity – the missing link between Greece and Serbia, with Klezwoods’ amazing guitarist.

8. Gertrude Michael – Sweet Marijuana

Via night of the purple moon – precode movie music from 1934.

9. Amanda Thorpe – River Song

The dodgy sound reflects the crappy venue this was recorded at, but Thorpe’s voice transcends it – a classic that sounds as good as it did a couple of years ago.

10. Los Incas Modernos – Terremoto

An early Peruvian surf band – you can get lost in this stuff on youtube.

September 21, 2010 Posted by | funk music, latin music, lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Mary Lee’s Corvette at Lakeside, NYC 4/2/10

Good things happening in the Lakeside family: Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s old band the Del Lords are back together (and recording!), while his wife Mary Lee Kortes’ old if considerably more recent band Mary Lee’s Corvette are back together again as well. The ‘Vette may have been more of rotating cast of characters, but it seems to have hinged on the availability of fiery guitarist Andy York. To say that York’s re-emergence has re-energized the group is an understatement. And York can play anything which is a good thing because Kortes can write anything. Her songs run the length of the emotional spectrum, and a lot of them are very dark, but the band’s sheer joy playing together again translated viscerally from the stage. This was a bassless version of the band, Kortes on acoustic guitar and percussion plus Joe Ciofalo on accordion and Konrad Meissner of the Silos on drums, but the absence of low frequencies didn’t matter.

Kortes’ work is defined by intensity, and this was a set list for fans who enjoy that intensity the most. They opened with the rustic Americana of The Nothing Song (as in “all I want is to want nothing from you”), York’s surgically precise minor-key blues licks underlining the dismissive lyric. They took it up with the casual garage rock snarl of Out from Under It and then brought it down again with Love in Another Language, York’s wide open, wobbly tremolo enhancing the hypnotic, psychedelic ambience. The hits kept coming: “This is about someone who really pissed me off,” Kortes informed the audience as they launched into a ferocious version of another dismissive kiss-off anthem, The Needy.

Why Don’t You Leave Him, the haunting, allusive tale of an abused woman (off the band’s classic True Lovers of Adventure cd from around ten years ago) was quietly riveting. When they reached the last chorus, they took it down to just Meissner’s ominous tom-tom and Kortes voice as she reached the line “he said he’d kill me, and I believed him.” The big show-stopping ballad 1000 Promises Later, also from that album juxtaposed intricately crafted vocal nuance with anguished drama – it was the big hit of the night with the crowd. But the most fascinating moments were two new versions of Beulah Rowley songs (more about her here later – watch this space). The first was a swinging, bluesy min0r-key number with a slightly noir cabaret early-1940s feel: “I was born a happy girl in an unhappy world,” its protagonist announces, and then proceeds to layer on one level of meaning after another. A swing tune, Big Things mined the same territory of the Moonlighters‘ Big Times but more darkly – this is an escape anthem more than an optimistic one. We’re overdue for a Beulah Rowley revival.

“A true story,” Kortes told the crowd, when they reached the encore. “You can’t come up with a name like that.” While the song they played is actually a compassionate look at a girl who can’t come out as a lesbian to her family, by the time the band reached the outro, everybody was laughing and singing along: “What’s the status with Gladys?”

Mary Lee Kortes’ next show is a songwriter summit of sorts with the April Blossoms, a trio with her NYC colleagues Amanda Thorpe and Serena Jost at 7ish on April 21, also at Lakeside.

April 3, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Mike Rimbaud and Serena Jost at the Delancey, NYC 3/29/10

“There’s Passover and there’s true spirituality,” Small Beast impresario and Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch reassured the assembled multitudes at Monday’s episode of his weekly residency/salon/talentfest. Whatever your feelings about missing a big holiday might be, there was a lot of soul on this particular bill. It seems that Wallfisch’s early 90s pal Mike Rimbaud was ill-fated to be coming up right when Graham Parker and Elvis Costello were at the peak of their popularity. Twenty years later, just like those songwriting icons, Rimbaud remains an equally vital force. Throughout his 45-minute set, Rimbaud particularly evoked Parker with his catchy, soul-influenced tunes, sardonically aware, pun-laden, aphoristic lyrics and rakish delivery. “Stimulate me, baby,” he railed, sarcastically referencing Obama’s trickle-down economics while the percussionist behind him rattled a museum’s worth of bangable objects from around the globe. His guitar running through a dense fog of reverb, Rimbaud shuffled his way through a couple of catchy new wave soul numbers possibly titled Dirty Little Bomb and Pretty Green Baby, the latter a sendup of “fashion fascists.” Diva in a Dive Bar was pretty self-explanatory; Mother Was a Punk was bracing, to say the least: “She had a mouth like a peanut and an ass like a rattlesnake.” One Way Ticket to a Vicious Circle might well have been an allusion to his career on a major label. By now, Rimbaud’s guitar had gone just enough out of tune to add a menacing edge. The rest of the set ran from bitterly hostile – a chronicle about somebody who’s “famous in Japan” – to doggedly persistent – the most Parkeresque number of the night, I’ll Follow Your Sidewalks – to unabashedly romantic.

Serena Jost has gotten a lot of ink here, not only because she manages to find herself in a lot of good places, but because in a lot of ways she exemplifies what we stand for, the idea that great art can be perfectly accessible to a mass audience. She’s been playing a lot lately with Amanda Thorpe, whose torchy intensity is unrivalled, and this time Jost pulled out some of her own with an absolutely sultry cover of Doris Fisher’s Whispering Grass, talking her way through the last chorus: “It’s no secret anymore – whispering grass, don’t tell the trees ’cause the trees don’t need to know.” Jost usually approaches a song a lot more obliquely – mystery is her thing, and she works it – so this was a welcome change. Julian Maile’s potently allusive electric guitar gave the lyrics a chance to resonate, a mode he’d remain in for the evening.

Jost went back behind the curtain, metaphorically speaking, for most of the rest of the show. Although she did throw in a mean glissando down the piano keys at the end of a particularly upbeat version of her impossibly catchy, bouncy pop hit Vertical World. She played guitar on a couple of upbeat, equally catchy janglerock numbers, switching to cello for the more pensive ones, including several new tunes. A nocturne worked minimalistic triplet arpeggios against Maile’s otherworldly flange voicings; another took on a southwestern gothic feel (this woman can write anything). They encored with a stately, enigmatic chamber-pop track from Jost’s latest album Closer Than Far.

Wallfisch was next on the bill. It used to be that a solo show by this guy was a rare treat – now it’s a frequent one. And since one of the nearby uptown trains was scheduled to turn into a pumpkin at midnight, it was time to exit into the mist and look forward to next week’s episode. Paul Wallfisch plays pretty much weekly at around ten PM at Small Beast; Serena Jost plays Lakeside on April 21 at 7 PM in a trio show with Amanda Thorpe and Mary Lee Kortes.

March 31, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 666 Best Songs of Alltime Continues All The Way Through the End of the Zeros

As regular readers remember, for over a year we counted down the 666 best songs of all time, one a day, until the end of this past September when Lucid Culture went halfspeed. As we get into December, we’re still at halfspeed but we’ll be back with new stuff on a daily basis here in just a couple of weeks. Which gives us plenty of time to say good riddance to the decade of the Zeros and welcome in the Teens – til then, here are the songs on the list which will take us up to the first of the new year. Enjoy!

237. Randi Russo – So It Must Be True

Careening, otherworldly, somewhat flamenco-inflected epic from this era’s greatest writer of outsider anthems. The studio version on the classic 2001 Solar Bipolar album is great, but it can’t quite match the out-of-control intensity of the live version from Russo’s 2000 Live at CB’s Gallery cd.

236. Erica Smith – Pine Box

The multistylistic New York rock goddess has been off on a sultry jazz tangent lately, but five years ago she was writing lusciously jangly Americana rock and this is a prime example, ecstatically crescedoing yet dark and brooding as the title would imply. Recorded and leaked on a few bootlegs, but officially unreleased as of now.

235. The Electric Light Orchestra – From the Sun to the World

You can hear echoes of this clattering, frenetic suite in a lot of obscure art-rock and indie rock from the last thirty years. Jeff Lynne’s scary, out-of-focus apocalypse anthem kicks off with a Grieg-like morning theme, followed by a warped boogie and then an unhinged noise-rock outro that falls apart once it’s clear that it’s unsalvageable. From ELO II, 1972; mp3s are everywhere.

234. X – Nausea

The combination of Ray Manzarek’s organ swirling dizzyingly under Billy Zoom’s growling guitar and Exene’s thisclose-to-passing-out vocals is nothing if not evocative. From Los Angeles, 1980; mp3s are everywhere.

233. Stiff Little Fingers – Piccadilly Circus

Big punk rock epic about an Irish guy who gets the stuffing knocked out of him by a bunch of knuckleheads on his first night in London. From Go For It, 1981; there are also a million live versions out there, official releases and bootlegs and most of them are pretty awesome too.

232. The Wallflowers – Sixth Avenue Heartache

Elegiac slide guitar and organ carry this surprise 1996 top 40 hit’s magnificent eight-bar hook, the best song the band ever did and the only standout track on their disappointing sophomore effort Bringing Down the Horse. Mp3s are everywhere.

231. Bruce Springsteen – The Promised Land

This backbeat anthem makes a killer (literally) opening track on the Boss’ 1977 Darkness on the Edge of Town lp, perfectly capturing the anomie and despair of smalltown American life. In the end, the song’s protagonist speeds away into the path of a tornado. A million versions out there, most of them live, but it’s actually the album track that’s the best.

230. The Moody Blues – Driftwood

Towering powerpop anthem from the band’s 1977 “comeback” lp Octave, opening with a big whooosh of cymbals and lush layers of acoustic guitar. And Justin Hayward’s long electric guitar solo out, over the atmospheric wash of the strings, is a delicious study in contrasts. Many different versions out there, some of them live, and they’re all good (the link above is the studio track).

229. David Bowie – Diamond Dogs

Surreal, Stonesy apocalyptic anthem from the Thin White Duke’s vastly underrated 1974 lp. Did you know that’s Bowie on all the guitars – and the saxes too?

228. Mary Lee’s Corvette – 1000 Promises Later

Centerpiece of the NYC Americana rockers’ classic True Lovers of Adventure album, 1999-ish, this was a live showstopper for frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes and her steely, soaring, multiple-octave voice for several years afterward. It’s a rueful breakup anthem sung with typical counterintuitive verve from the villain’s point of view.

227. New Model Army – Luhrstaap

Written right as the Berlin Wall came down, this ominous, bass-driven, Middle Eastern-inflected art-rock anthem accurately foretold what would happen once East Germany tasted western capitalism: “You can buy a crown, it doesn’t make you king/Beware the trinkets that we bring.” From Impurity, 1989; the live version on 1992’s double live Raw Melody Men cd is even better (the link above is the studio version).

226. David Bowie – Life on Mars

Soaring epic grandeur for anyone who’s ever felt like an alien, from Hunky Dory, 1971. Ward  White’s live Losers Lounge version (click on the link and scroll down) is equally intense.

225. Telephone – Ce Soir Est Ce Soir

Absolutely creepy, methodical epic nocturne that wraps up the legendary French rockers’ 1982 Dure Limite lp on a particularly angst-ridden note. “Ce soir est ce soir/J’ai besoin d’espoir [Tonight’s the night/I need some hope].”

224. Al Stewart – Bedsitter Images

The live acoustic track in the link above only hints at the lush, orchestrated original, a big radio hit for the British songwriter in 1969, Rick Wakeman doing his best Scarlatti impression on piano. It’s a masterpiece of angsted existentialist songwriting, the song’s narrator slowly and surreally losing it, all by himself in his little flat.

223. LJ Murphy – Pretty for the Parlor

Our precedessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2005, this blithely jangly yet absolutely sinister murder anthem perfectly captures the twistedness lurking beneath suburban complacency. Unreleased, but still a staple of the New York noir rock legend’s live show.

222. Wall of Voodoo – Lost Weekend

Creepy, hauntingly ambient new wave string synthesizer ballad from the band’s best album, 1982’s Call of the West, a couple gone completely off the wheels yet still on the road to somewhere. In the years afterward, frontman Stan Ridgway has soldiered on as an occasionally compelling if sometimes annoyingly dorky LA noir songwriter.

221. Randi Russo – House on the Hill

One of the New York noir rocker’s most hauntingly opaque lyrics – is she alive or dead? In the house or homeless? – set to an absolutely gorgeous, uncharacteristically bright janglerock melody. Frequently bootlegged, but the version on her 2005 Live at Sin-e cd remains the best out there.

220. The Wirebirds – This Green Hell

Our predecessor e-zine’s pick for best song of 2003 is this towering janglerock anthem, sort of a global warming nightmare epic as the Church might have done it but with amazing harmonies by songwriter Will Dial and the band’s frontwoman, Amanda Thorpe.

219. The Psychedelic Furs – House

“This day is not my life,” Richard Butler insists on this pounding, insistent, anguished anthem from the band’s best album, 2000’s Book of Days, the only post Joy Division album to effectively replicate that band’s unleashed, horrified existentialist angst. Mp3s are out there, as are copies of the vinyl album; check the bargain bins for a cheap treat.

218. X – See How We Are

The link above is the mediocre original album version; the best version of this offhandedly savage anti-yuppie, anti-complacency diatribe is the semi-acoustic take on the live Unclogged cd from 1995.

217. The Sex Pistols – EMI

Gleefully defiant anti-record label diatribe from back in the day when all the majors lined up at Malcolm McLaren’s knee. How times have changed. “Unlimited supply,” ha!

216. Amy Allison – No Frills Friend

As chilling as this casually swaying midtempo country ballad might seem, it’s actually not about a woman who’s so alienated that she’s willing to put up with someone who won’t even talk to her. It just seems that way – Allison is actually being optimistic here. Which is just part of the beauty of her songwriting – you never know exactly where she’s coming from. Title track from the excellent 2002 cd.

215. X – Johny Hit & Run Paulene

One of the greatest punkabilly songs ever, nightmare sex criminal out on a drug-fueled, Burroughs-esque bender that won’t stop. From Los Angeles, 1980; mp3s, both live and studio, are out there.

214. The Sex Pistols – Belsen Was a Gas

Arguably the most tasteless song ever written – it’s absolutely fearless. The lp version from the 1978 Great Rock N Roll Swindle soundtrack lp features its writer, Sid Vicious along with British train robber Ronnie Biggs. There are also numerous live versions out there and most of them are choice. Here’s one from Texas and one from San Francisco.

213. Randi Russo – Battle on the Periphery

Russo is the absolute master of the outsider anthem, and this might be her best, defiant and ominous over a slinky minor-key funk melody anchored by Lenny Molotov’s macabre, Middle Eastern guitar. From Shout Like a Lady, 2006.  

212. The Dead Kennedys – Holiday in Cambodia

True story: Pepsi wanted to license this song for a commercial despite its savage anti-imperialist message. Jello Biafra said no way – which might have planted the seed that spawned his bandmates’ ultimately successful if dubiously lawful suit against him. So sad – when these guys were on top of their game they were the best American band ever. From Fresh Fruit for Rotting Vegetables, 1980.

211. X – Los Angeles

One of the great punk rock hooks of all time, title track to the 1980 album, a perfect backdrop for Exene’s snide anti-El Lay diatribe. Ice-T and Body Count would sneak it into their notorious Cop Killer twelve years later.

210. The Sex Pistols – Anarchy in the UK

Yeah, you know this one, but our list wouldn’t be complete without it. As lame as the rhyme in the song’s first two lines is (Johnny Rotten has pretty much disowned them), this might be the most influential song of all time. If not, it definitely had the most beneficial effect. Go download Never Mind the Bollocks if you haven’t already: the band isn’t getting any royalties.

December 2, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Bedsit Poets – Rendezvous

Not what you might expect. The Bedsit Poets’ 2006 debut The Summer That Changed was a gorgeously summery collection of soaring, harmony-driven, Britfolk-flavored anthems and mellower pop numbers. By contrast, this is their autumn album, pensive, jazzier and more stylistically diverse. The charming harmonies of Amanda Thorpe and Edward Rogers (both of whom have released excellent solo cds this year) are still there, as are the virtuosic, thoughtful guitar of Mac Randall, and Nancy Polstein’s tasteful drums and percussion work. But this time the band looks outside Rogers’ and Thorpe’s native England for influences ranging from 60s French ye-ye pop to Norah Jones.

 

Standouts from among the cd’s fourteen tracks include a couple of deliciously melodic, classic Carnaby St. style 60s Britpop numbers: the rueful, revealing The Highs Can’t Beat the Lows, and NoTel Rendezvous, which picks up the pace as Thorpe and Rogers trade off jazzily on vocals. Daze for Love sets their harmonies sailing over a slinky bossa beat. The single best track on the cd is Hardened Ground, a stoic, atmospheric 6/8 lament featuring a beautifully restrained Thorpe vocal and lyric that could be about the destruction of New York by luxury condo developers, or could mean something else entirely: “What do you get by taking away/Building glass houses with nothing to say.” There’s also Top Shop, imaginatively blending bossa nova with Byrdsy twelve-string janglerock; the tersely melancholy New Year; and the blithely tongue-in-cheek Winson Green, a dead ringer for a vintage, comedic 60s hit by the Move or the Kinks, recounting the tale of a prisoner finally set free who decides that the outside world is a bit too threatening and that ultimately he’d prefer to remain behind bars. Fans of the first album are in for a bit of a surprise, but the elements that made it such a smashing success are still in place, voices and guitars ringing every bit as true as they did the first time around. The Bedsit Poets play the cd release show for this one on Tues Oct 21 at the Cutting Room. Rogers’ longtime collaborator George Usher opens the night with a solo set at 7:30 PM, and the Bedsit Poets’ labelmate Dave Rave follows with a set of his own at 9:30.

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Amanda Thorpe and Serena Jost at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 10/1/08

This show managed to be informal and off-the-cuff yet virtuosic, like what VH1 seems to be shooting for when they put together a stripped-down, acoustic “Live from Abbey Road” type program. They should have been on hand for this one, considering that Bedsit Poets frontwoman Amanda Thorpe and Serena Jost are two of New York’s top tunesmiths. Oops, they’re not on some huge corporate record label. Better to get Justin Timberlake and John Mayer instead. J-Ti (was that Lou Perlman’s pet name for the moppet?) can play Chopsticks while Mayer noodles innocuously in the background between commercials. All cynicism aside, Wednesday night the few who braved the rain and the construction work going on all the way down Avenue C were treated to a clinic in great songcrafting.

 

The two women traded off songs, each accompanying the other. Sometimes that meant Jost improvising a slinky bassline on her cello, or Thorpe doing the same on her guitar. Thorpe also played a small synth on one of Jost’s songs. They both sang gorgeous harmonies (even though Jost was under the weather and running on fumes), each lending something of her own personality to the other’s work. It was just beautiful to watch, plain and simple. British expat Thorpe is best known as a singer. Her writing is characteristically terse and direct and has considerable bite. When she sang “There is no mercy this time,” in what could have been the night’s best number, The River Song, a bitter heartbreak ballad, there could be no doubt that she meant exactly what she said. Jost, by contrast, is best known for her work as a sidewoman and multi-instrumentalist (she did an extended stretch in Rasputina). Her songwriting is more opaque, and felt the benefit of Thorpe’s clear, steely harmonies. Likewise, Jost’s playful flourishes added gleam and shimmer to the austere beauty of Thorpe’s songs.

 

Both women debuted new songs. Thorpe’s was a bouncy, upbeat bossa number. Jost reminded what a fine guitarist she’s becoming on yet another of her disarmingly complex art-pop songs, and did another accompanying herself with warm, loping runs that she plucked on her cello while Thorpe filled out the melody with spot-on harmonies. Jost also played piano on one song. The only thing missing was their pal Mary Lee Kortes, the Mary Lee’s Corvette mastermind who’s been playing with them recently. As fascinating as this show was to watch, one can only imagine how much another great songwriting voice would add to the equation.

 

Thorpe’s next show is at the Cutting Room on Oct 21 at 7:30 with the Bedsit Poets, playing the cd release to their remarkably multistylistic new one, Rendezvous. Powerpop legend George Usher opens, solo acoustic. Watch this space for Serena Jost’s next performance.

October 3, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Amanda Thorpe – Union Square

This could be the ultimate autumnal New York album, perfect for grey days with a chill in the air, winter’s hand tugging impatiently on the curtains. The songs on Union Square are gorgeously wistful and intensely poignant. What Linda Thompson was to the 70s and early 80s, Amanda Thorpe is to this era, another British expat steeped in traditional English folk, possessed of one of the most beautifully haunting voices you will ever hear. Thorpe is somewhat more diverse, however: she will give you eerie austerity and resigned melancholy, but she also has a seductive, torchy side with great nuance. This is the first solo release for Thorpe – who also fronts the supremely catchy Bedsit Poets – since her first album, Mass, in 2002, and it was well worth the wait.

By contrast to Mass, a lushly produced, smokily atmospheric effort, this one is remarkably terse and direct. Every note on this album counts. Thorpe is accompanied here by a choice crew of New York luminaries – co-producer Brad Albetta (also of Mary Lee’s Corvette) on bass, Bill Frisell sideman Tony Scherr on guitar and upright bass, Bob Perry on lapsteel and ex-Psychedelic Fur Joe McGinty on keys. The album kicks off with the sarcastic Life Is Great, a lament directed at a pillhead: “Life is great with a hole inside.” Perry adds layers of bluesy lapsteel over Thorpe’s understatedly frustrated vocals. Track two, Won’t You Let Me (a co-write with Phillip Shelley) is pure seduction set to a sweetly soaring Albetta bassline. The next track, River Song is arguably Thorpe’s finest hour as a songwriter, a vivid account of rejection and despair, here recast with something of a Madder Rose-style 90s trip-hop feel. After that, Next to Me makes a good segue, Thorpe holding up a red flag – albeit from a distance – to a would-be suitor.

Burn This House Down, spiced with juicy blues piano from McGinty, has Thorpe bringing the intensity up to redline as she pulls out all the stops and belts:

Though I still love you
The romance is dead
As you burn this house down

Then Scherr launches into a truly nasty slide guitar solo.

Other standout tracks on this album include the marvelously catchy You and Me in a Doorway (also a co-write with Shelley) with its lush bed of guitars and lapsteel; the hypnotic, pastoral Over the Sea (a Wirebirds soundalike); the beautifully melancholy title track, and the absolutely brilliant Show Me a Place. Thorpe’s voice longs for something transcending the ordinariness that she’s held on to with such a steely grip, until now. “As long as there were cigarettes and another glass of wine,” everything was ok. But now she sees “my own black silhouette reflect against the sky:” high time for a change. Perry’s layers of lapsteel punch at the melody like a string quartet. Few other singers in Thorpe’s league ever get to sing material this good; still fewer songwriters in Thorpe’s league can deliver it with as much passion, intensity and subtlety as she does. This ought to appeal to a very wide listenership encompassing the purist Richard & Linda Thompson contingent as well as fans of the current group of A-list chanteuses (Feist, Erica Smith, Rachelle Garniez et al.) and maybe even some of the less adventurous for whom Norah Jones is simply the greatest thing out there.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Bedsit Poets Live at Banjo Jims, NYC 2/6/08

This show validates our Rainy Day Theory, that the ideal time to go out is during a monsoon or a blizzard because there are hardly any crowds to compete with, and the musicians onstage, driven by anger and frustration at the skies, often turn in an incandescent show. Even minus the big stage and big powerful PA system that the Bedsit Poets are used to – and also minus their bass player – they still delivered a lush set full of sweeping grandeur and soaring three-part harmonies. Lead guitarist Mac Randall’s Fender clanged and sang like a Rickenbacker; drummer Nancy Polstein had absolute command of the room with her subtle, quietly nuanced rimshots and accents (and played piano on one song, impressively well), while singers Amanda Thorpe and Ed Rogers traded parts and jokes and dazzled with their voices. Both of these two British expats love their 60s rock – if there’s ever another Austin Powers movie, this band should do the soundtrack – and sing as if they were brought up on it, which perhaps they were. They opened with the catchy Simple Twist of Emotion, from their debut album The Summer That Changed (whose deliciously jangly title track they also played). On a new number, perhaps titled Misery, Rogers clearly enjoyed playing a raffish, underworldly character versus Thorpe’s straitlaced persona. After a beautiful, darkly jangly 6/8 ballad sung by Thorpe, they played a bossa song with lots of harmonies, everyone in the band’s frontline singing a different lyric at one point, Randall obviously reveling in the complexities of the melody (titled Every Day I Fall in Love with You Again, maybe?)

“This one Amanda wrote in five minutes,” said Rogers with a straight face, as the band launched into an impressively bluesy cover of Dylan’s You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine, Randall tossing off a few spot-on Bloomfield/Langhorne licks at the end. They ended the set with a big slow anthem evocative of the Church, its gorgeous, arpeggiated melody unfurling slowly and majestically, and closed with an original that Rogers said was a tribute to T Rex. What a treat to be able to hear such an inspiring, uplifting show in such an intimate setting.

February 7, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Smallz and Dwight & Nicole Live at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 1/24/08

The game plan was high-concept:  to review two New York sirens at the absolute peak of their powers. But like so many high concepts it backfired, courtesy of a lack of contingency for late trains, and the fact that Amanda Thorpe had started her solo set on time and didn’t play for very long. At the end, she indulged the audience with a request, the title track to her new cd Songs from Union Square – which you’ll be reading about, very soon – and held the audience in the palm of her hand, as usual. She hadn’t rehearsed the song for this show, and when she came to the chorus, she stopped playing and did it a-capella. Just hearing that soaring, starkly emotional voice by itself made the whole ordeal of getting to the club worthwhile.

Keyboardist/singer Greta Gertler’s new band the Smallz (which may be a shortlived name, considering that Edmonton punks the Smalls are something of a legend in the Great White North) was next. Gertler – whose song Edible Restaurant, the title track to her new cd, was NPR’s song of the day last week – is nothing if not imaginative, and this unit is clearly her fun project. It gives her a chance to be as devious as she can be, which is extremely. Sharing the stage were Groove Collective bassist Jonathan Maron, who plays his instrument like a great lead guitarist, and multi-instrumentalist Rob DiPietro who doubled on drums and guitar, sometimes playing both at once, guitar in hand and foot on his kick pedal. Maron stole the show tonight with several solos, one which ran for about five minutes during an instrumental late in the set, filled with chords, bent notes and finally a searing, incisive run where he hit his octave and distortion pedals to perfectly recreate a guitar sound. From what they played tonight, DiPietro’s thing appears to be ruminative, slightly jazz-tinged pop songs (which he played on guitar). With tongue planted firmly in cheek and a frequent smirk on her face, Gertler was clearly reveling in the chance to go wild with her space echo effect and play some real funk, neither of which she gets to do much in her regular band, which has been off on a terrifically authentic oldtimey tangent lately. They closed with a delightful number driven by Gertler octaves which could have been a spot-on parody of early 80s synth new wave, or it could have been an actual hit from the era: imagine Kim Wilde’s Kids in America with some actual substance and a real long, psychedelic outro. Maron went up and down on his octave pedal for a siren effect at the end. Shows like this bring back fond memories of the days when there was a pot dealer on every corner of Avenue C, from Houston up to 14th. With this band, there was no need for drugs: they were the drug. Let’s hope they keep this unit together and find a name that sticks.

Add Dwight & Nicole to your list of must-see acts: if you like real, passionate, old-fashioned soul music that works on your mind as much as your heart, you owe it to yourself to discover them. The obvious comparison is Ike & Tina Turner, but beyond the fact that the duo is a brilliant guitarist and equally brilliant soul singer, it doesn’t go any further than that. Tastefully and subtly fingerpicking his Gibson Flying V guitar, Dwight Ritcher showed off his impeccable, purist feel for vintage soul and blues, which Nelson shares. With a voice like maple sugar, sweet but crystal clear, her subtle phrasing reveals her jazz background. Their myspace page likens them to Ella and Jimmy Rushing: it would be interesting to hear them dive into that repertoire (they have a Blue Note show coming up in the spring – why not?). Dimes to dollars they’ll nail it. Tonight they played an absolutely riveting set of mostly originals. Their best song of the night, Johnny Gets High – basically a one-chord vamp that sounded straight out of the Bill Withers songbook – slowly built tension until an explosion of gorgeous harmonies on the verse, chronicling the tribulations of a guy who wants to keep his life together but can’t resist the pipe, or the needle, or whatever it is he does. A little later they did a completely unselfconsciously romantic take on the old Slim Harpo classic Hip Shake, Ritcher’s nimble, walking bass contrasting with Nelson’s warm, summery Sunday afternoon vocals. Nelson’s tribute to her grandmother, an impatient soul who just wanted to get off Staten Island and get away, was a honeyed, straight-up pop song. They closed with another original that evoked Little Wing, Nelson crooning over Ritcher’s gentle, sparsely Hendrixian chordal work. The two were followed by Gary Wright, who thankfully didn’t do Dream Weaver (sorry, Gary, we know you hear this all the time). Of course, it wasn’t the Spooky Tooth guy: this Wright is infinitely better, a lefty guitarist who contributed tasty blues licks on a Dwight and Nicole song and later did a set of his own, solo, eventually running through a long cover of what is arguably Bob Marley’s best song, Burning and Looting, a spot-on critique of how the persecuted beat up on each other rather than taking out their frustrations on those who persecute them. Ritcher played piano on that one, revealing that roots reggae is possibly the only style of music he doesn’t know like the back of his hand. Dwight & Nicole will be at Banjo Jim’s starting around 9 every Thursday, giving them a chance to build up the fan base here that they so much deserve.

January 26, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment