Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Fast Sails – The Wayside

An auspicious debut by these smart, irrepressible, uneasy Angelenos. Frontwoman Simone Snaith (actor Shane West’s younger sister) has a soaring, disarmingly direct voice that imbues the songs with an irresistibly unselfconscious, quirky charm, like Kate Bush at her most accessible. The Fast Sails’ songs look back fondly on artsy, ornately glossy retro 80s pop while adding a grittier modern rock edge. Imagine St. Vincent but without the affectations, a happier Bat for Lashes (an oxymoron, but try it anyway), or Amy Allison if she’d gotten stuck in an 80s time warp and picked up a DX7 instead of a guitar. Back in the day they used to call a lot of what’s on this album “good top 40.”

Time, the swooshy, thoughtful opening track works a catchy four-chord hook and one of those “oh, oh” Gwen Stefani melismas. The Line is a pensively sweeping art-pop ballad, chorus shooting a poison arrow through the heart of a faithless lover. The strongest track here is Wayside, stark and resolute with mandolin way up in the mix, adding an Americana edge to a melody that’s otherwise pure London, 1983. It’s a snarling look at dealing with greedy club owners:

So we need fifty in a crowd or
We don’t get paid, we aren’t allowed oh
I’ll play the sidewalk for free for as long as I can
I promise to get up and sing

It makes a good left coast counterpart to Tom Warnick’s classic anthem 40 People. The final track here is The City, adding surprising edge and bite to a coy Missing Persons-style new wave pop song: Snaith is quick on the trigger with anyone who would necessarily pigeonhole her adopted hometown as shallow and superficial. A lot of good rock has come out of LA over the years: count the Fast Sails at the forefront of this era’s crop.

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June 9, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Amy Allison at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 1/23/10

Amy Allison is all business tonight. She usually has a running conversation going with the audience by the second song of the show, but this time it’s all about those songs. That there’s as much talent in the crowd (a cellist, pianist and chanteuse all arriving within the span of about a minute) as there is onstage says a lot about the quality of the music: Allison’s biggest fans are her peers. Behind her are Lee Feldman on piano and Jon Graboff on acoustic guitar. Both are making up most of what they’re playing as they go along – jazz musicians do this all the time, but to see Allison’s wry, gemlike country and Americana-pop songs serve as a launching pad for this kind of interplay is pretty special. The two guys watch each other: Feldman hints at honkytonk but doesn’t really go there, landing instead on a richly chorded, somewhat noir early 60s pop style (what Roy Orbison would have done with that guy in the band, one can only wonder). Graboff has done stretches in Allison’s band and has some parts worked out – when he doesn’t, he’s adding a bassline as a countermelody when she goes up the scale, or weaves in between piano chords. With Allison playing rhythm guitar, it’s a textural feast.

The sound is great: she can relax and use every nuance, pull back a little and say a lot. And she does. The best song of the night is Dream World, beautiful, bittersweet and awfully dark. In the crowd, the cellist leans over and whispers to the adjacent bass player: “Half of her songs are about sleep!” Those songs are actually about escaping – and that’s what Allison is offering tonight, lots of solace, some knowing vocals and songs that the crowd can sing to themselves on the way home.

Craig Chesler has assembled seemingly half the talent on the Lower East Side to play his new album all the way through afterward. But we’ve already reviewed it – it’s good – and as claustrophobia sets in with every new arrival, it’s time to head west toward Lakeside.

January 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Craig Chesler’s New One

Craig Chesler’s main gig is rhythm guitarist in Tom Clark & the High Action Boys, one of the best roots-rock bands anywhere. He’s also been a fixture on the New York oldtimey scene for awhile. This cd gives him the chance to show off not only his clever, often tongue-in-cheek grasp of several Americana styles along with several richly evocative takes on 1960s British psychedelic pop: fans of second-generation bands like XTC, Love Camp 7 and Brian Jonestown Massacre ought to get the references. It reminds somewhat of a recent album by another A-list NYC sideman, Homeboy Steve Antonakis’ solo effort. In a way, this is sort of an audition reel that proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that this guy knows a whole bunch of different genres inside out and plays them with taste and a good sense of humor.

The best song on the album is the brisk Nothing Out of Something, sounding like an early 70s Ray Davies country song. Likewise, the wistful This Should Be My Summertime wouldn’t have been out of place on the Kinks’ Village Green. The one cover here is an aptly rapt version of Beautiful Night by Amy Allison. The rest of the cd includes – are you ready? – a shuffle like Wilco in an especially poppy mood; an oldtimey crooner song with ukelele and a string section; a similar one with more of a hillbilly feel; some shuffling 60s Britpop like the early Move; a stagy glampop song that could have been a radio hit for Queen; a bizarre, swinging piano pop song with a long break for solo ukelele; more proto-glampop; more oldtimey crooner stuff;and the rueful ballad with harmonies straight out of ELO that closes the album on a lushly pretty note.

Chesler plays the cd release show for this one at Banjo Jim’s on Jan 23 with Amy Allison opening the show at 8; seemingly half of the good musicians in town are on the bill with Chesler afterward. Memo to the musician re: the album title – dude, what were you thinking?

January 17, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

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

A Typical Beastly Monday

So good to be back at Small Beast after a few weeks’ absence. Nothing has changed – New York’s most unpredictably fun weekly musical event was as edgy as always. This time around, Pete Galub opened the night while Botanica keyboardist and Small Beast impresario Paul Wallfisch furiously wrote out charts for his show later in the evening with Sally Norvell. Most solo shows are boring to the extreme, but Galub had brought along a gorgeous hollowbody electric guitar and gave a clinic in powerpop songwriting – and when the time came, guitar solos, playing along methodically as if he had his usual band behind him. Galub gets props for his playing, and deservedly so, but his songs are every bit as clever as his work as a lead guitarist for a cavalcade of A-list writers: Amy Allison, Serena Jost and others. He opened with a sardonic, Big Star inflected number possibly titled Exclusive Guest, following that with a gorgeously poignant, minor-key, somewhat Neil Finn-esque tune, Crying Time. A cover of the late former LA Trash frontman Alan Andrews‘ big 6/8 ballad Undiscovered Life maintained the poignant tone while adding a tongue-in-cheek vibe, segueing into a nasty, noisy riff-rocker that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Kevin Salem catalog – complete with an offhandedly savage solo. And then a real surprise, a pensive and heartfelt version of Any Major Dude by Steely Dan. When Galub opened his set, he’d hinted that he might take a detour into the Dan catalog, and this was a typically counterintuitive choice. Most solo shows are a clinic in how to bore an audience: Galub reaffirmed that if you have the chops, the material and a sense of humor, you don’t necessarily need a band.

Guitarist Thomas Simon and his drummer cohort were next on the bill, with a long set of swirling, atmospheric, effects-laden numbers that took the shape of a suite as they segued into one another. “A Spacemen 3 kind of thing,” one of the cognoscenti in the crowd murmured – this set had remarkably more aggression than Simon’s previous appearance at the Beast in July (very favorably reviewed here).

For one reason or another the women who play Small Beast turn out to be the night’s biggest stars, and an Austin punk legend, former Gator Family and Norvells frontwoman Sally Norvell maintained the tradition, backed by Wallfisch and erstwhile Big Lazy bassist Paul Dugan on a few numbers. Norvell is best known as a menacing noir cabaret femme fatale, but this set was a showcase in stylistic diversity, masterful subtlety matched by wrenching, raw intensity. Norvell can belt with anyone, but it’s how she holds back, how she works whatever emotion the lyrics call for that makes her such a captivating presence – and one sorely missed, at least around these parts. A few years back, right around the time that her duo with Kid Congo Powers, Congo Norvell was pretty much finished, she put out an amazing, sparsely beautiful album, Choking Victim, backed just by Wallfisch and occasional minimalist percussion or guitar. They opened with one of the songs from that one, One Gentle Thing, replete with longing and regret, Wallfisch obviously in his element and relishing the moment from its first few stately chords. A creepy, swaying Congo Norvell song pulsed along with a steady, ominous eight-note pulse from the bass. And then noir cabaret personality Little Annie joined them for an understatedly anguished version of her big audience hit Because You’re Gone – the contrast of Annie’s bitter contralto and Norvell’s breathy soprano, and the counterpoint between the two, was absolutely transcendent and the two women made it seem effortless. And unaffectly intense – it brought Norvell to tears. The rest of the set could have been anticlimactic but it wasn’t – a brief, menacing Paul Bowles song (Wallfisch worked with him for a time), a sad minor ballad in 6/8, a gorgeously dark lament, and then Norvell finally cut loose with a soaring version of the old spiritual Trouble in the World, imbuing it with a nihilistic fury. “You can’t have an apocalypse without Jesus,” she grinned gleefully.

Keyboardist and Americana soul stylist Matt Kanelos and then another keyb guy, frequent Thalia Zedek collaborator M.G. Lederman were scheduled to follow, but there were places to go and things to do. Next week’s Beast is a beauty, with Julia Kent, Carol Lipnik and Rebecca Cherry in addition to Wallfisch doing his usual set solo at the piano – if you’re in New York this coming Monday you’d be crazy to miss it.

October 7, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The 50 Best Albums of 2009

You’ll notice that aside from the #1 spot here, these aren’t ranked in any kind of order: the difference, quality-wise between #1 and #50 is so slight as to make the idea of trying to sort out which might be “better” an exercise in futility. If you’re interested, here’s our 100 Best Songs of 2009 list.

1. The Brooklyn What – The Brooklyn What for Borough President

Like London Calling, it’s a diverse yet consistently ferocious, sometimes hilarious mix of styles imbued with punk energy and an edgy, quintessentially New York intensity. Time will probably judge this a classic.

2. Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll

The former Hangdogs frontman’s finest, funniest, most spot-on moment as a fearless, politically aware Americana rocker.

3. The Oxygen Ponies – Harmony Handgrenade

Dating from the waning days of the Bush regime, this is a murderously angry album about living under an enemy occupation: love in a time of choler?

4. The Beefstock Recipes anthology

A rich double album of some of New York’s best bands, with standout tracks from the Secrets, Paula Carino, Erica Smith, Skelter, Rebecca Turner and many more.

5. Dan Bryk – Pop Psychology

Arguably the most insightful – and most brutally funny – album ever written about the music industry. The tunes are great too.

6. Balthrop, Alabama – Subway Songs

The sprawling Brooklyn band go deep into 60s noir with this brilliantly morbid, phantasmagorical ep.

7. Bobby Vacant & the Weary – Tear Back the Night

In the spirit of Dark Side of the  Moon and Closer, this is a masterpiece of artsy existentialist rock. You’ll find several tracks on our Best Songs of 2009 list, including our #1 pick, Never Looking Back.

8. Botanica – americanundone

All the fearless fury and rage of a Botanica live show successfully captured at a show in Germany late last year.

9. Kelli Rae Powell – New Words for Old Lullabies

The amazingly lyrical oldtimey chanteuse alternates between sultry, devious romantic stylings and sheer unhinged anger.

10. McGinty & White Sing Selections from the McGinty & White Songbook

Ward White and Joe McGinty’s wickedly lyrical collaboration puts a fresh spin on retro 60s psychedelic pop.

11. The Church – Untitled #23

The Australian art-rock legends’ latest is yet another triumph of swirling atmospherics and intense lyricism.

12. Amy Allison – Sheffield Streets

Her best album – the New York song stylist has never been funnier or more acerbic. Includes a charming duet with Elvis Costello.

13. Steve Wynn and the Dragon Bridge Orchestra – Live in Brussels

A lush, majestic effort recorded with the stellar crew who played on his most recent studio album Crossing Dragon Bridge.

14. Elisa Flynn – Songs About Birds & Ghosts

Haunting and poignant but also cleverly amusing, the New York rocker has never written better or sung more affectingly.

15. The Jazz Funeral – s/t – free download

The best band ever to come out of Staten Island, New York, these janglerockers write excellent lyrics and have some very catchy Americana-inflected tunes.

16. Jay Bennett – Whatever Happened, I Apologize – free download

The last album the great Americana songwriter ever recorded, a harrowing chronicle of dissolution and despair.

17. Marty Willson-Piper – Nightjar

The Church’s iconic twelve-string guitarist’s finest work ever, a sweeping, majestic, multistylistic masterpiece.

18. Black Sea Hotel – s/t

New York’s own Bulgarian vocal choir’s debut is otherworldly, gorgeous and strikingly innovative.

19. Rupa & the April Fishes – Este Mundo

Latin meets noir cabaret meets acoustic gypsy punk on the Bay Area band’s sensational second album.

20. The JD Allen Trio – Shine!

The tenor saxophonist/composer goes straight for wherever the melody is, usually in four minutes or less, with one of the world’s great rhythm sections, Gregg August on bass and Rudy Royston on drums. Time may also judge this a classic.

21. The New Collisions – s/t

All the fun and edgy intensity of vintage 80s new wave reinvented for the next decade by platinum-haired frontwoman Sarah Guild and her killer backing band.

22. Ten Pound Heads – s/t

The great long lost Blue Oyster Cult album: relentlessly dark, edgy, occasionally noir art-rock songs with layers of great guitar.

23. Easy Star’s Lonely Hearts Dub Band

A hilariously woozy, fun romp through the songs from Sergeant Pepper, by the allstar NYC reggae crew who brought us Dub Side of the Moon and Radiodread.

24. Jeff Zentner – The Dying Days of Summer

Intense, memorable Nashville gothic songwriting from one of its finest practitioners.

25. Chris Eminizer – Twice the Animal

Cleverly lyrical art-rock songwriting with tinges of vintage Peter Gabriel from this first-rate New York rocker.

26. Tinariwen – Imidiwan: Companions

The Tuareg rockers’ most diverse, accessible album, as memorable as it is hypnotic.

27. Monika Jalili – Elan

Classic songs from Iran from the 60s and 70s, fondly and hauntingly delivered by the Iranian-American siren and her amazing backup band.

28. Ivo Papasov – Dance of the Falcon

The iconic Bulgarian clarinetist delivers maybe his most adrenalizing, intense album of gypsy music ever.

29. The Stagger Back Brass Band – s/t

The Spinal Tap of brass bands are as virtuosic and melodic as they are funny – which is a lot.

30. Eric Vloeimans‘ Fugimundi – Live at Yoshi’s

The Dutch trumpeter leads a trio through a particularly poignant, affecting mix of classically-tinged jazz.

31. The Asylum Street Spankers – What? And Give Up Show Business?

Recorded at the Barrow Street Theatre in New York last year, this is a boisterous, furious mix of hilarious skits and songs by the Dead Kennedys of the oldtimey scene.

32. Salaam – s/t

Sister-and-brother Dena and Amir El Saffar’s richly memorable, haunting seventh album of Middle Eastern instrumentals and ballads.

33. Fishtank Ensemble – Samurai over Serbia

Their shtick is that they add an Asian tinge to gypsy music, giving it an especially wild edge. The singing saw work on the album is pretty amazing too.

34. Charles Evans/Neil Shah – Live at Saint Stephens

An eerily glimmering, suspensefully minimalist masterpiece by the baritone sax player and pianist, recorded in a sonically exquisite old church earlier this year.

35. The Silk Road Ensemble – Off the Map

Their first one without Yo-yo Ma is also their most adventurous mix of Asian and Middle Eastern-themed compositions (by Osvaldo Golijov, Angel Lam, Evan Ziporyn and others), played by an allstar cast including Kayhan Kalhor, string quartet Brooklyn Rider, pipa pioneer Wu Man and a cast of dozens.

36. Linda Draper – Bridge and Tunnel

The NYC songwriter’s most straightforward, catchy yet also maybe her most lyrically edgy album yet – and she has several.

37. Darren Gaines and the Key Party – My Blacks Don’t Match

Wry, Tom Waits-inflected noir songs by this excellent NYC crew.

38. Love Camp 7 – Union Garage

A deliciously jangly followup to their classic 2007 album Sometimes Always Never.

39. The Komeda Project – Requiem

The New York jazz crew’s second collection of works by the Roman Polanski collaborator who died tragically in the 1960s is brooding, morbid, cinematic and Mingus-esque.  

40. Si Para Usted Vol. 2 – The Funky Beats of Revolutionary Cuba

Like the Roots of Chicha series, Waxing Deep’s second devious, danceable collection of genre-hopping obscure Latin funk from 1970s Cuba onward is packed with obscure gems.

41. Huun Huur Tu and Carmen Rizzo – Eternal

Ominous, windswept, atmospheric North Asian ambience produced with stately, understated power.

42. The Moonlighters – Enchanted

Another great album: gorgeous harmonies from Bliss Blood and Cindy Ball, charming retro 20s songwriting and incisive steel guitar from NYC’s best oldtimey band.

43. Minamo – Kuroi Kawa/Black River

Pianist Satoko Fujii and violinist Carla Kihlstedt share a telepathic chemistry in duo soundscapes ranging from clever and playful to downright macabre.

44. Robin O’Brien – The Apple in Man

The multistylistic chanteuse, legendary in the cassette underground, gets her haunting, intense, otherworldly vocals set to smart, terse new arrangements from dreampop to 70s style Britfolk to trance.

45. Devi – Get Free

Ferociously smart pychedelic power trio rock with one of the most interesting lead guitarists out there right now.

46. Obits – I Blame You

Dark, catchy, propulsive retro 60s garage rock with echoes of the Stooges and early Pink Floyd by this inspired Brooklyn band.

47. HuDost – Trapeze

Sweeping, sometimes hypnotic, artsy songs that move from Americana to gypsy to goth, with frontwoman Moksha Sommer’s graceful vocals.

48. Lenny Molotov – Illuminated Blues

Hauntingly visionary, provocative, politically aware songs set to gorgeously rustic, late 1920s blues, swing and hillbilly arrangements by the great Americana guitarist.

49. Chang Jui-Chuan – Exodus: Retrospective and Prospective 1999-2009

Fearless conscious bilingual hip-hop (in Taiwanese and English) from this international star.

50. Les Triaboliques – rivermudtwilight

A trio of old British punks – Justin Adams, Ben Mandelson and Lu Edmonds – combine to create a masterpiece of desert-inspired duskcore.

September 17, 2009 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Dan Bryk – Pop Psychology

A strong candidate for best album of the year. Dan Bryk‘s new cd is a triumph of intelligence and wit, an oasis in a world full of idiots. It’s Costelloesque in the best possible way: lush layers of glimmering guitar and keys, song structures with a vintage 60s pop feel – catchy hooks and anthemic choruses  – and murderously smart, corrosive lyrics. Bryk delivers them calmly and casually, only cutting loose when he really needs to drive a point home. Otherwise, the songs speak for themelves. Bryk does not suffer fools gladly: he knows that American Idol is theatre of cruelty (and he’s not above cruelty himself, uh uh), he can feel the surrounding air reaching boiling point and he’s sussed the powers that be for who they are, a bunch of boring, greedy bastards. That’s a very prosaic description that doesn’t do justice to Bryk’s powers of observation or his gift for explaining them and making connections. The album title, like most of the lyrics here, is a pun: this is a probably semi-fictitious, corruscatingly bitter, Aimee Mann-style narrative about a rocker who never made it. Bryk has nothing but contempt for the music business and the entertainment-industrial complex as a whole, fueled by the knowledge that by all rights, the tuneful pop songs he writes deserve to be on the radio. And he knows they won’t be, on American commercial radio, at least, until Clear Channel goes bankrupt [memo to Bryk – dude, you’re Canadian – the CBC mandates mega airplay for homegrown artists – that’s a start…]. Additional venom is reserved for the “artists” who buy into the system: one of them Bryk wants to electricute, the others he’d merely bludgeon.

This album doesn’t waste time getting started with Treat of the Week, a caustic look at a wannabe corporate pop star’s pathetic fifteen minutes of fame. It’s just as deliciously brutal as the Room’s classic Jackpot Jack:

The kids are sitting down hanging off each tortured word

…falling from your lips like polished turds

And you’re thinking the kids are all right

I say crank up the houselights

You’ve got nothing much to say but you say it really well

With your sad tales of irony and the love gone sour to sell

Now the spotlight falls slowly on the kid from Soft Rock Town

It’s the next stop on the gold train to become…Jackson Browne

Next up is Discount Store, a happy, bouncy, deadpan vintage Britpop style number sung from the point of view of a kid quizzically watching the depression set in:

…The clock needs punching, the man is watching and the union is gone for good

With all this freedom how come there’s no more fun left in the neighborhood?

The Next Best Thing, with its slow-burning crescendo, looks at people who’re content to settle: “I know you wish I’d be more patient, cute and quirky and more complacent,” Bryk rails, and he can’t resist another slap at the record labels: ” I know it’s not a public service, supplying the freakshow to the circus.” Apologia is a hilarious solo piano ballad, a label exec’s disingenuous kiss-off to a troublesome rocker who dared to buck the system.

The best song on the album, and maybe the best song of the year, is City Of… If there’s anyone alive fifty years from now, they’ll refer to this deceptively soaring anthem as the definitive look at what music was like in 2009. Ruthlessly, Bryk pans around a Toronto of the mind, sometime after dark and then begins shooting, first the indie kids at the Constantines show, then the rest:

In the back of the legion hall the Goofs are playing faster

Turning up after every song til their heads are iced with plaster

The soundtrack of subjugation to to our friendly foreign masters

Downstairs in the bar the laptop kids are mashing

Some ungodly medley of Morbidox and Eria Fachin

If I didn’t think they’d love it I’d give them twenty lashes

Street Team is a spot-on, Orwellian analysis of how marketers attempt to Balkanize music audiences, set to a clever, decidedly un-Magical Mystery Tour theme perfect for the end of the zeros. My Alleged Career is sort of like Phil Ochs’ My Life. Its recurrent theme of “Please go away” is both a scream – “Can I get some time alone?” Bryk seems to say – as well as succinct distillation of how his music’s been received in the corporate world. The rest of the cd includes a beautifully orchestrated number with watery Leslie speaker guitar; a very funny, stubborn song whose interminable outro turns out to be a very good joke, and the ironically titled closing cut, Whatever, a bitter piano ballad. “Whatever doesn’t kill me can still make you cry, ” Bryk warns. Fans of all the best songwriters from throughout the ages – Elvis Costello, Bryk’s labelmate Amy Allison, LJ Murphy, Aimee Mann, Paula Carino, Steve Kilbey, ad infinitum – are in for a treat. Look for this one somewhere at the top of our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year.

August 24, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Amy Allison – Sheffield Streets

Her best album. Amy Allison in many ways is the quintessential cult artist, possessed of a fan base that borders on rabid and an equally avid following among her fellow musicians, even if she never broke through to a mass audience. Which is somewhat mystifying until you consider the climate of the music business she grew up in (her now out-of-print albums with her 90s indie rock band Parlor James remain locked in a Warner warehouse somewhere). Allison already has a couple of genuine classic country albums to her credit, her debut The Maudlin Years and Sad Girl. This one is both musically and lyrically richer and considerably more diverse, ranging from characteristically gemlike, tersely metaphorical country songs to jangly pop to saloon jazz (including a duet with Elvis Costello on her dad Mose Allison’s wry, brooding classic Monsters of the Id, with the Sage himself on piano) And her voice has never sounded better – like all the best song stylists, she’s able to say more in a minute inflection than Kelly Clarkson could relate in an entire box set. Sheffield Streets is also notable for its purist sonics, producer and former Lone Justice drummer Don Heffington imbuing it with the warm feel of a 70s vinyl record.   

The title track (and its charming video) effectively captures a bittersweetness and yet a fearlessness, as happens to anyone with a sense of adventure caught in a drizzle on unfamiliar turf: “I found a bar and curled up like a cat/I wrote a song on a beer mat.” The gently matter-of-fact, commonsensical second cut, Calla Lily takes existential angst and replaces it with a striking logic and purposefulness. The Needle Skips is vintage Amy Allison, with its vividly metaphorical oldtimey feel: “It’s funny how we lived so many moments, in the minutes of a song that came and went,” Allison reminding that it’s the scratches on the album that give it character.

I Wrote a Song About You sardonically looks at rejection as a self-fulfilling prophecy, set to a swaying country backbeat. A duet with Dave Alvin on an older song, Everybody Ought to Know actually doesn’t work as a duet (Allison realized that with considerable amusement after recording it), but both singers are at the top of their game as honktonk crooners. Hate at First Sight is a juvenile delinquent take on Brill Building pop; Come, Sweet Evening is a flat-out gorgeous nocturne, welcoming the darkness rather than shying away. The single best cut on the album is Dream World, both its bruised, exhausted protagonist and the bums on the street outside looking for escape in dreams, Allison taking care to wish those less fortunate a similar good night. The album winds up with another equally brilliant number, Mardi Gras Moon, its narrator popping pills and drinking: “I hear the distant music of the band/I’m losing all the feeling in my hands,” wishing she hadn’t made the trip to New Orleans only to be jilted. Rich with layers of meaning, shades of emotion and understatedly beautiful playing, this is a classic. Let’s see – for Amy Allison, that makes three. She plays the cd release show for Sheffield Streets at Banjo Jim’s on July 19 at 7 PM

July 3, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Lucid Culture Interview: Amy Allison

As a songwriter, lyricist and singer, Amy Allison is esteemed by her peers and owns a devoted cult following throughout the US and Europe. Elvis Costello – who appears on her new cd Sheffield Streets, just out today – happens to be one of those fans. A charming, charismatic and very funny performer, she’s released four previous albums under her own name as well as two with her 90s indie rock band Parlor James. In a rare, candid interview, Allison reveals some of the secrets of her craft along with some surprising insights into her songs as well as herself: she’s a lot tougher than she looks.

 

Lucid Culture: In concert, you interact with your fans a lot. Yet you’re also hard to read, some might say inscrutable. Is this deliberate, maybe a function of having grown up as the daughter of someone famous [jazz piano great Mose Allison]?

 

Amy Allison: I have no idea. I don’t think anything I do is deliberate. I almost always feel like a fool. My father wasn’t famous in the usual sense. Nobody where I grew up knew who he was.

 

LC: You do a mean Lawn Guyland accent. Did you grow up there?

 

AA: Yes, I did. I’m good at a lot of accents though.

 

LC: Was that in the celebrity part of town?

 

AA: Very funny. I don’t know if Smithtown had a celebrity part of town but it wasn’t our neighborhood.

 

LC: I believe you’re the youngest of four children, is that right?

 

AA: No, I’m in the middle. I have a sister four years older and twins – a brother and sister – one  year younger.

 

LC: I imagine music was a big part of your childhood. Or did you rebel?

 

AA: Music was a big part. I played the piano and the flute and listened to lots of different types of stuff. It was definitely important to me.

 

LC: I get the impression you were something of a hellraiser when you were in your teens, is there any truth to that?

 

AA: No, I was way too chicken to raise hell but I was a bit of a clown. I could make my friends laugh. I was more rebellious in college.

 

LC: I also understand you don’t compose on the guitar, is that correct?

 

AA: Yes, I only started playing guitar to accompany myself in the last ten years or less. I always compose in my head.

 

LC: This is the parental question that any good musician probably hates, but I’ll ask it anyway. To what degree has your dad influenced you? I mean, the two of you have a very similar sense of humor, a finely honed sense of irony, you always go for the mot juste….

 

AA: I’m very flattered that you hear a similarity. His music is very “him” so I grew up with that humor and irony and pithiness. I think I’m influenced by him in many ways.

 

LC: Everybody knows that your dad is a big fan of yours – and obviously the feeling is mutual. Was it always like that?

 

AA: Yes, I would say so. I always thought he was great.

 

LC: You received a great deal of acclaim as a country songwriter, with your albums The Maudlin Years and Sad Girl. You were coming up just as alt-country was getting popular, in fact you managed to catch that wave as I recall. How did you first start listening to country, back when all the kids were listening to U2 and Bon Jovi?

 

AA: Well, I was far older than a kid when the kids were listening to those guys but I know what you mean. This is how it happened: I saw Loretta Lynn on TV when I was eleven or twelve on the Mike Douglas afternoon variety show. She was his co-host for a week. I loved her and started looking for her records which were very hard to find at the local Sam Goody. Also, my older sister used to buy Porter and Dolly and Tammy Wynette records. We thought their hair was hilarious and we loved the melodrama. I liked country from that time on and started writing country songs in college. I would find armed forces LP’s that had great stuff on them at the local library. I remember I loved Gary Stewart then, he was on the radio. I had written a lot of songs before I dreamed I could ever perform them. I was scared shitless at the idea of singing in public.

 

LC: The idiom you were writing in then was fairly simple, but your lyrics have always been very sophisticated. So what you were doing was urban country in a sense. Do you see that as an oxymoron?

 

AA: No, because great country writers are very sophisticated, what with their humor, wordplay and use of metaphor. But I think I do bring a more urban slant to it ’cause that’s my experience. I was also trying to be sad and funny at the same time.

 

LC: You still write country songs, but you’ve expanded your repertoire into straight-up rock and jazzy pop as well. Did that just evolve, or was that a deliberate choice on your part?

 

AA: It wasn’t really deliberate. I think it just evolved.  I was just listening to different things and I think you naturally want to branch out and write as many types of things as you can.There’s always some other side of yourself you’d like to express. I guess country was the linchpin, is that the right word? The idiom I started from. I never think “I’ll write such and such kind of song,” I don’t feel like I can control it, I’m just happy when I get an idea for any song. It’s really been a natural evolution, I guess.

 

LC: Like Elvis Costello, you love wordplay, double entendres and puns. How did he come across your work?

 

AA: Well, I think Jamie Kitman, They Might Be Giants’ manager, sent him a cassette a long time ago. Then when my first album The Maudlin Years came out a few years later it ended up on his Top 500 Albums of Alltime list in Vanity Fair, so then I knew he really liked the songs. He was a huge influence on me. One of my favorites. I remember finding out that he liked country music and it made so much sense.

 

LC: And what does he do on the new album? 

 

AA: He sings one of my father’s tunes, Monsters of the Id with me. We weren’t together though, he recorded it at Don Heffington’s – the producer’s – studio in LA. I couldn’t be there at that time so I missed him.

 

LC: Your two most recent albums, No Frills Friend and Everything and Nothing Too were both produced in Scotland, by Davie Scott of the Pearlfishers. How did you make that connection?

 

AA: Through Lindsay Hutton, my good friend in Scotland who wrote and suggested I open a few shows for Amy Rigby and I did. Davie who was based in Glasgow played guitar with Amy and with me. Then Lindsay suggested I come back the next summer and try recording with him. I barely knew him but had a good feeling about it. I went there and we did five songs and loved it. So I went back and finished No Frills Friend. I love Davie and so I went back and did Everything and Nothing Too with him as well a few years later.

 

LC: I’m curious about how your working process goes, as a songwriter. Many of your songs are thematic, or there’s a narrative there. I’m thinking everything from Garden State Mall, a shopping trip as a metaphor for something far deeper, or your signature song, The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter. How do you get started with a song? With a title, a hook, a chord progression?

 

AA: For me, it’s usually a line, it doesn’t always end up as the hook or the title but it’s a hook of sorts, for me anyway, something that satisfies me somehow and makes me want to write a song around it. Often it’s just a first line and I write from there. If I get a good one of those I know I’ll have a good song from it eventually. I always remember where I was when I got the “seed” for a song.

 

LC: Which comes first, words or melody?

 

AA: Usually a combination, even if the melody changes, the words usually come with some sort of melodic thing.

 

LC: You don’t have to answer this one if you don’t want to, but a lot of the songs are sung from the point of view of a sort of lovable klutz, who can’t seem to pull her life together. And there’s a bittersweetness to it. To what extent does that persona mirror your own life?

 

AA: Pretty much.

 

LC: You titled one of your albums Sad Girl. Yet you’re also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. Are you really a Sad Girl at heart?

 

AA: Yes, that’s why I have to be funny! It’s a coping mechanism!

 

LC: A lot of people don’t realize that dark music is actually a way to get through hard times, rather than just being depressing. Some of your songs are dark as hell, I’m thinking of two of my favorites, No Frills Friend which is sung from the point of view of a woman who’s so desperate for companionship that she’ll go out with a guy who won’t even say a word to her. And then there’s Turn out the Lights [Lucid Culture’s pick for best song of 2007], which as a metaphor is pretty self-explanatory. Has anybody ever come up to you and said, damn, No Frills Friend, that’s me! You saved my life! 

 

AA: It’s nice when people really feel like you captured something they’ve felt or experienced. I think my songs always have something positive, hope or humor or a prettiness to counter the dark. I think that’s most effective. By the way, I never thought of No Frills Friend as a romantic thing. It was just a friendship. and I think of it as just “I’m tired, you’re tired, life is lonely, being social is a strain, but you don’t need to put on a show for me, if you don’t feel like talking or you just wanna walk around I won’t demand more of you” and Turn Out the Lights is sort of my “I’m just in this for myself” anthem. I think I was thinking of the music business in a way. Of course it can be about anything. the suicide thing is sort of a joke, like, “I don’t care, I’m just gonna retreat into myself, I don’t need you.” It’s kinda defiant. And that’s why there’s a freedom and optimistic feel to it, in spite of itself, at least musically. Hey, I just thought of a song I loved as a kid, World Without Love by Peter and Gordon. Turn Out the Lights is kinda like that.

 

LC: As a singer, you’ve evolved into a song stylist: you can make a very dramatic statement with just a minute inflection in your voice. What singers do you admire most?

 

AA: Thank you, that’s hard ’cause there are so many. I always loved singers. All kinds. I loved a lot of the old country singers, Lefty Frizzell, Kitty Wells, etc. I loved Larry Kert from West Side Story when he sang Maria on the Broadway soundtrack album (not the movie), I loved Billie Holiday – in particular the early years, we had an album in the house of her with Teddy Wilson and Lester Young etc. from the 30’s. I loved Jeri Southern – another album we had in my house, called You Better Go Now was a favorite. Michael Jackson when he was a little boy. I’ll have to think and make a list. A million of them. I listen a lot to Dinah Washington lately, I don’t know why, I just like her. And this woman Ella Johnson who my father told me about who sang with her brother Buddy Johnson’s band in the 40’s and 50’s. Those records are great and I find her sound so refreshing ’cause it is unaffected and artless but so unique and full of personality. I heard a girl last year named Nicole Atkins on, of all things, a tv commercial, and I immediately checked her out. She has some really good songs and a lovely voice. I thought she was gonna be a big star. Maybe she sorta is, and I just don’t know it?

 

LC: I think the commercial worked against her. But I like her songs too. Now in addition to your own work, you’ve also sung with a number of other acts, the Silos and others. Where else can we hear that voice of yours?

 

AA: Christy McWilson and I did back-up on a Mudhoney record, but I don’t know how much you can hear me on that. I sang on the latest Last Town Chorus CD. I sang on They Might Be Giant’s records and on several Silos records. I did a beautiful song with Walter Salas-Humara on a Silos record called The Only Story I Tell. Some people tell me that’s how they first heard me and became a fan. And of course I had Parlor James with Ryan Hedgecock in the 90’s but those CD’s are locked in Sire’s vault. Oh, and Davie Scott and I are co-writing and singing an album together. We’re halfway done and very excited about that.

 

LC: Did it bother you when some of the media were less than kind about how you sing? I remember this or that magazine bitching about how they thought it was too nasal…

 

AA: Oh, I should start a collection. Nobody has a clue as to how to describe it. But nasal, yeah that’s a common one. It used to hurt me but people just don’t know how to listen to something that’s different. And natural. It’s just the way I sound. I was in a cab talking once and the cab driver said “Excuse me, are you Amy Allison?” It’s my real voice.

 

LC: Let’s talk about the new album Sheffield Streets. Who’s on it, can you name some songs, in fact it’s out today, June 16!

 

AA: It’s just out on the Urban Myth imprint I’m glad to say. This guy Dan Bryk who runs it is so nice and a great singer/songwriter. I did that song of my father’s with Elvis Costello and Dave Alvin sings on one of mine. I had great musicians on it, all based in LA. Don Heffington who produced it is a really great drummer and knows so many great players and they all love him. Some song titles: Calla Lily, The Needle Skips, I Wrote a Song About You, Mardi Gras Moon…..

 

LC: Is my new favorite Come Sweet Evening on it?

 

AA: Yes it is.

 

LC: How about Dream World?

 

AA: Yes, and Van Dyke Parks plays accordion on that!

 

LC: How about The Ballad of Amy Winehouse, which is up on your myspace?

 

AA: No, that was a joke. Don wanted to put it on as a bonus track. He says it sounds like an old field recording which I think was the idea.

 

LC: How did that song come about? Two girls drinking wine in the afternoon and then decide to write a funny song about smoking crack?

 

AA: Yes. How did you know it was the afternoon?

 

LC: I get the impression you got into the wine early…

 

AA : No wine was involved though. We were totally sober. My good friend Olivia who lives in Portland, Maine and I were in her house, and I was reading a Rolling Stone article about Amy Winehouse and I started screaming out “Blake Fielder-Civil, that’s her true love’s name, crack is wack and that’s a fact”……and we both started riffing on it in those voices and Olivia played guitar and we recorded it onto her laptop. We also did an Obama song. But we didn’t finish that one in time to record it.

 

LC: Do you ever get sick of people at your shows screaming out for songs you haven’t played in ages, for example, Drinking Thru Xmas, when it’s the middle of July in some hot club?

 

AA: No, I appreciate that. And I sing it no matter what time of year it is. I try and do all of them, and, as you know, I’m not afraid to screw up.

 

LC: Does the avidity of your fan base ever drive you crazy? Like, you can’t get a moment’s peace after you leave the stage?

 

AA: I don’t think it’s like that! I can handle it, believe me, I appreciate people coming up and saying nice things.

 

LC: Who are you listening to these days? Here’s a chance to big-up your favorite acts…

 

AA: I’m listening to the Urban Myth catalogue right now, and not just cause they took me into the fold. I love Lee Feldman, he’s been playing piano with me at shows and Chris Warren is great. I think they’re a fine group of artists. But truthfully I listen to mostly old stuff. Or nothing.

 

LC: I know you’ve done some touring in Europe, any plans to take the show on the road over there again?

 

AA: I wish. If I could afford it, I would.

 

LC: I know you lived in Sheffield in the UK, in fact the title track from the new album Sheffield Streets enumerates a whole list of streets there. Do you know Jarvis Cocker, or was this before Pulp got really big?

 

AA: No, I wish I knew Jarvis, I love him! And I love his songs, I’m a big fan. I think I was in Sheffield a little bit before Pulp got started. And I was just writing songs and keeping them to myself then. I married a guy from there  – we’ve been divorced for awhile – and we lived in an area called Nether Edge. The name of my album as you know is Sheffield Streets and the CD package has pictures on the inside that I took when I lived there.

 

LC: What’s your take on how the music business has evolved, with the death of the major labels, especially since you used to be on one? Is the Balkanization of the mass audience a blessing or a curse?

 

AA: I hope it’s a good thing. It sure needed to change. I guess the dinosaurs have to die off to make room for humanity, right? Ha, ha. I don’t know, I don’t really think on that scale. All I know is I get a rash when I talk to most people in the “industry”. 

 

LC: What’s next for Amy Allison, after the album comes out? What’s the next project? Would we ever get so lucky as to get a live album?

 

AA: I think that would be fun. But I’d probably screw it up and make a lot of mistakes.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | interview, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Amy Allison at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 5/30/09

In addition to being a great songwriter, Amy Allison is also one of the funniest performers around. Once she gets going it pretty much steamrolls from there, but this time out, playing solo for most of the show, she basically stuck to the set list without a lot of interplay with the crowd. Instead, it was a night of masterfully crafted, minute inflections that packed a wallop: she can say more with the careful twist of a phrase than most singers can in an album’s worth of songs. Most of the set was from her forthcoming, career-best cd Sheffield Streets (look for a review here toward the end of June when it comes out), including the title track. Allison lived in Sheffield, UK for a time when she was married, this particular number cataloguing some of the more amusing street names in the area: Spittle Hill and so forth. The song also sets up a joke, in that there are so many of them that they’re hard to remember. This time around (cheat sheet? – it was hard to see, there were so many people in the bar) she got through without a hitch.

Otherwise, it was a mix of styles: the rootsy, snidely cheery pop of Hate at First Sight; the gorgeously swaying country ballad Thank God for the Wine (what an appropriate song for the evening, from this perspective, anyway); an older tune, the catchy Everybody Ought to Know By Now, which she’d re-recorded for the new album as a duet with Dave Alvin, although she said wryly  that in retrospect, “It doesn’t work as a duet.”

 Toward the end of the set guitarist Rich Hinman of the Madison Square Gardeners, an occasional Allison sideman, came through the front door and immediately Allison did a doubletake. He’d been at one gig, he was about to play another, unbeknownst to the both of them, so he immediately plugged in his Telecaster, both she and the crowd immediately appreciative of his incisively thoughtful fills and a couple of brief solos. They ended with an audience request (Allison is always deluged with more than there’s time to play), her signature song, The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter, and with at least one member of her old band the Maudlins looking on, it was as fresh and funny as when she’d first debuted it some fifteen years ago. Watch this space for news of a cd release show somewhere.

June 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment