Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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

Song of the Day 6/29/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is #394:

Mary Lee’s Corvette – Redemption Day

The dark, sparse, haunting version released on the NYC Americana rockers’ 2004 cd 700 Miles is excellent, but it’s the ferocious riff-rock version that the band – then featuring Mellencamp lead guitar god Andy York – was doing circa 2000-01 that’s the best, blasting out of the gates with a massing Ziggy Stardust-style hook and frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes’ literally redemptive lyrics. Look around – bootlegs exist.

June 29, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Willie Nile – Live at the Turning Point

Most acoustic albums by rock bands suck. If you can’t wait for Poison Live and Unplugged, better stop while you’re ahead. This cd, by contrast, is the rare exception. Hot on the heels of Willie Nile’s career-best 2006 album Streets of NYC, the veteran NYC rocker shares the secret to his success. It’s called kicking ass. Backed by drummer Rich Pagano and tv gabfest studio guitarist Jimmy Vivino in an upstate New York yuppie folk club, the trio sledgehammer their way through a mix of songs from Nile’s latest studio cd as well as a few choice cuts from throughout his career. Don’t let the presence of Vivino scare you off – he plays mandolin and acoustic rhythm guitar here and does so competently, even passionately. Nile somehow managed to get him into the harness without completely muzzling him, and the results are impressive.

The set opens with two cuts from Streets of NYC, Welcome To My Head and Asking Annie Out. Nile has always been a hookmeister, and stripped to the chassis, these songs remain as instantly hummable as their original versions. Then they play Nile’s classic from way back in 1981, Vagabond Moon as if it was the single they’d just released. It’s sort of Nile’s Aqualung or The Thrill Is Gone: everybody wants to hear it, he’s played it a million times but he still usually manages to fit it into the set. How he manages to keep it fresh is the operative question: maybe because it’s so damn catchy and builds to such killer crescendos.

The following cut is another early one, Les Champs Elysees, and the version on Nile’s Archive Alive album is pretty forgettable: “Anybody like to do the twist?” he asks, and it sounds rote. Not this version, with its uncommonly nice acoustic intro. After that, we get what’s surprisingly the best song on the album, the coruscating, gorgeously lyrical Irish ballad The Day I Saw Bo Diddley In Washington Square. As with Nile’s best work, it’s a sprawling, Bruegelesque tableau set in a New York now pretty much buried under suburban chain restaurants and towering Lego condominiums selling for multimillions of dollars. Nile’s boast that “everyone will say they were there” on that vivid afternoon rings defiantly true.

The band also runs through a couple of hook-driven anthems, That’s Enough For Me and On Some Rainy Day, as well as Cell Phones Ringing (In The Pockets Of The Dead), another one from Streets of NYC. That’s the one cut here that misses the pyrotechnic Andy York electric guitar work that makes the studio version so unforgettable. But it’s still a good lyric and a good song, even if it doesn’t evoke the Madrid train bombings as well. The band recasts the following tune When One Stands as more of a swinging countryish song, as opposed to the blazing reggae take they made in the studio, but it works.

There’s also a surprise, Hard Times In America, the title track from Nile’s little-noticed ep from the 90s, brilliantly recast as an ominous, skeletal delta blues as it builds into the verse. Nile virtually never plays it live: this version alone is worth the price of the album. Streets of New York, with Nile on piano is uncharacteristically quiet, with a good build to the conclusion. The album winds up with mostly covers, including a blistering, stomping version of the Dylan classic It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue: what seems to be a pretty clueless, sedate yuppie audience is suddenly adrenalized and roaring along with the band. Nile and his cohorts also tackle the Who classic Substitute as well as a Ramones song.

For devoted fans, this is a must-own. It’s also a good introduction to the artist, a suitable present for fans of rock songwriters ranging from Springsteen to Richard Thompson. Caveat: the Willie Nile catalog is highly addictive. After hearing this you will probably want the rest of his albums.

June 4, 2007 Posted by | Music, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album Review: Willie Nile – Streets of New York

His best album. Some critics have called it his London Calling: a better reference point would be Sandinista, given how New York-obsessed the Clash were on their final masterpiece. This cd – Willie Nile’s sixth full-length album, released midway through last year – finds the NY underground rock eminence grise at the top of his game and the peak of his career, 25 years after he started, when Vagabond Moon was the #1 song of the year in Norway. Yeah, Norway. The folks stateside got it for awhile – just listen to the audience on Nile’s Archive Alive album, recorded in front of thousands in Central Park in 1981– but the corporations didn’t. No great surprise.

 

Nile’s trademark is the Big Rock Anthem, filled with Big Catchy Hooks, and this album is replete with them. It’s two-guitar, four-on-the-floor meat-and-potatoes R&R, with a nod to the Who, a wink to Dylan and a big high-five to vintage, Darkness on the Edge of Town-era Springsteen, seen through the skewed prism of early 80s new wave.  Good stuff. Mellencamp (and Mary Lee’s Corvette) lead guitarist Andy York is Nile’s not-so-secret weapon here, leading the jackhammer assault with an uncommon mastery of tones and textures – Twin Turbine fans will dig this record. The rhythm section of Brad Albetta (also of Mary Lee’s Corvette) on bass and Rich Pagano on drums kicks ass; the melody guy and the rhythm guy lock in and push this sleek, powerful vehicle to the limit.

 

The cd kicks off with the stomping Welcome to My Head, a surreal blast of West Village imagery. The album’s most obvious choice for a radio hit is Game Of Fools, which sounds like the Wallflowers. Ridiculously catchy, the lyrics of the verse firing like a Gatling gun right up to Nile’s trademark killer chorus. Nile’s requisite long Irish ballad (he has a fondness for these) is The Day I Saw Bo Diddley in Washington Square, featuring none other than Jakob Dylan on harmony vocals. The sad, towering anthem Fading Flower of Broadway reportedly brought York to tears when Nile first played it for the band: it’s a ruefully gorgeous Times Square mise-en-scene, set in an era before Disney came through and wiped it off the map.

 

Another standout track is Cell Phones Ringing (In The Pockets Of The Dead), lyrically the most Dylanesque of all of them. With its cleverly phased noise guitar solo and tricky false ending, it reminds of the explosive, percussive power of Nile’s 1980 FM radio hit Old Men Sleeping on the Bowery. The last 30 metal-melting seconds of this song, a scorching evocation of the Madrid train bombings, alone justify the price of the album (although the same could be said for the paint-peeling vindictiveness of The Best Friends Money Can Buy, a delirious blast of derision at the trust fund crowd).

 

It’s also nice to hear Nile – who began his career as a keyboardist and remains a potent player – featured on piano here, especially on the overtly Blonde on Blonde-inflected piano/organ shuffle Back Home and on the album’s title track, a Jungleland-esque ballad that closes the album on a gorgeously climactic note. For not only is this a great rock record, it’s a piece of history: the places Nile immortalizes here will soon be gone. Mamoun’s Falafel? Soon to be replaced by a Starbuck’s and luxury condos upstairs, no doubt. That is if they don’t raze the whole building. Get this album if you have any affection whatsoever for this city and what it used to be or know anyone who does. CD’s are available in better record stores, online and at shows. Nile is no dummy: he doesn’t play that many live shows in NYC anymore, so there’s always a full house when he does, watch this space.

May 1, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments