Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Pistolera’s New Album: Catchy Yet Deep

Simple and catchy yet often profoundly poetic, New York janglerock-en-Español band Pistolera’s new album El Desierto y La Ciudad is divided up into an A-side and B-side. Without being polemical, frontwoman/guitarist Sandra Lilia Velasquez contemplates the situation facing immigrants in America, first literally tracing their steps in the desert, then their struggles (and their joy) in New York. Her viewpoint may be Mexican-American, but her songs are universal. The terse, edgy band alongside her includes Maria Elena on accordion and piano, Inca B. Satz on bass and Sebastian Guerrero on drums, with Cordero’s Ani Cordero taking over behind the kit on the hardest-rocking songs.

An often unspoken irony abounds here. It’s front and center on the album’s most confrontational number, the catchy reggaeton-influenced singalong Escucha (Listen). Who’s illegal, Velasquez wants to know. You, me and everybody else, it seems. “Who takes care of your kids? Who cooks your food?…The hypocrisy is killing me,” she sings, in Spanish. The fieriest song here, Todo Se Cae (Everything Falls Down) alludes to the 2008 economic collapse and the current depression; it’s a cautionary tale to seize the moment, hold onto what you have as the foundations are shaking. The bustling subway anthem Laberinto (Labyrinth) projects an unspoken unease – “welcome to the underground life” – but also celebrates a city where there are parks and beaches everywhere, and a train to take you there. And the swaying, reggae-tinged Ponle Frenos (Put on the Brakes) ponders when a hardworking woman, or man, can get some time alone – with an incessant “beep beep beep” chorus.

The “desert side” of the album sets up all this drama artfully: the pensive, syncopated ranchera-rock of Polvo, apprehensively evoking the vastness of the desert and all that it represents; the imaginatively dub-flavored title track, and the mournful diptych that winds up memorably with David Bailis’ potently elegaic, ringing lead guitar, the immigrant knowing that it’s time to leave, that everything good comes to an end. The albums ends with Floating, a pretty, ethereal acoustic anthem and the only English-language track here. With a hallucinatory, dusky vibe, it echoes the Julee Cruise song : “I could walk a hundred miles and still not get there,” Velasquez muses. Not only is this a great listen, this album ought to be mandatory in Spanish classes in American schools. Velasquez’s crystalline, subtly nuanced vocals are easy to understand, the tunes are fun to sing along to – and her lyrics pack a wallop. No doubt you’ll be seeing this on a lot of “best albums of the year” lists by the end of 2011. Pistolera plays the cd release show for this one on July 29 at around 9 at Drom, with excellent country/Brazilian band Nation Beat opening the night at 8. Tickets are ridiculously cheap at $10.

July 17, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Las Rubias Del Norte, Cordero, Hazmat Modine, Karsh Kale and Slavic Soul Party at 92YTribeca, NYC 1/9/09

In a nice diversion from the blizzardy conditions outside, this was a whole summer festival compressed into an evening featuring relatively brief sets from some of the creme de la creme of the New York scene, put together for the booking agents’ convention by upstart Brooklyn label Barbes Records and adventurous San Francisco booking agency Trouble Worldwide.

 

With the angelic, effortlessly graceful harmonies of frontwomen Allyssa Lamb and Emily Hurst, las Rubias del Norte’s all-too-brief set was uncommonly dark and haunting, playing most of their material in minor keys. The band has been characterized here before as the latin Moonlighters, which is true both in the sense that both groups share an effervescent, romantic sensibility defined by their harmonies and a love of diverse styles from earlier eras. Las Rubias used what time they had onstage to explore several of them: bouncy cumbias from Colombia, romantic Mexican baladas and an eerie number that made frequent use of the Asian scale, propelled by Hurst’s agile work on bells. They closed the set with a fast, scurrying Mexican traditional number in 6/8 time.

 

Cordero frontwoman Ani Cordero has an impressively diverse resume, ranging from surf music to the dark atmospherics of Bee & Flower, the ranchera rock of Pistolera and this, her main project, a warmly melodic, catchy rock en Espanol quartet. She’s also become a terrifically compelling singer: the strength and sultry insistence of her low register was particularly striking in contrast with her characteristically warm, airy high notes. Playing her Strat without any effects and just a hint of natural distortion, she led the group through an eight-song set of terse, smartly crafted, upbeat, major-key janglerock with an incisive, thoughtful lyricism. On a couple of tunes she put down her guitar and played tom-tom while the group’s organist provided a minimalist dance groove, which actually got some bodies in the crowd twirling.

 

With so many bands scheduled to fill a relatively brief block of time, it was perhaps inevitable that one of the bands would get shafted and that band turned out to be Hazmat Modine. Which was too bad: in three songs and less than 25 minutes, they actually managed to energize the crowd. Frontman Wade Schuman – one of the most charismatic bandleaders around – began the show with a harmonica solo, then stopped cold. “You came here to hear music, didn’t you,” he reminded the chatty, restless audience, and suddenly got everyone’s attention. Schuman then resumed his solo, using an effects pedal for an organ tone, perhaps as a nod to the great blues harpist Carey Bell who typically played through a Leslie speaker from a Hammond organ. Then the band – this time including Pete Smith and Michael Gomez on guitars along with Fearless Dreamer’s Pam Fleming on trumpet plus sax, tuba and drums – launched into the fat reggae groove of So Glad, Fleming taking the intensity to redline in a matter of seconds with one of her trademark instant crescendos.

 

Their second song was a hypnotic one-chord oldtimey-style blues that they’d recorded with Tuvan throat singers Huun Huur Tu, a showcase for interplay between the wind instruments and then the guitars, Gomez and Smith interlocking like the gears in some infernal machine, gnashing and grinding everything in their path. The band closed with a surprisingly fast take of the title track to their most recent cd Bahamut, a surreal, calypso-flavored epic featuring a lot of agile baton-passing as the band members each took a brief solo turn. World music personality Karsh Kale’s set was also brief, and happily so: his qawwali-rock hybrid started snoozy, then became oppressive with pointlessly garish heavy metal guitar.

 

Slavic Soul Party’s upcoming Carnegie Hall gig has been sold out for quite awhile, and the nine-piece brass band left no doubt as to why, opening their wild, intense set with a march through the audience, pounding the drums and blasting out a fiery Balkan melody. Their first song onstage was a blistering instrumental romp through a two-chord, chromatically-fueled jam, accordion and then trumpet each taking deftly jazzy solos. The next number started suspensefully, building on a single chord to a march, and then a dance beat, the best solo of the entire evening delivered with unleashed, murderous fury by sax player Greg Squared (who also fronts the terrific pan-Balkan group Ansambl Mastika). They then brought up guest singer Eva Salina Primack, who added dramatic, contralto lead vocals along with plenty of ominous, wailing vocalese. They wrapped up the evening with the title track to their cd Teknochek Collision, an amusing spoof of computerized dance music that bore more than a little resemblance to similarly devious instrumentalists Brooklyn instrumentalists Moisturizer, tuba and horns working in lockstep staccato to mimic the cliched, broken-cd effect so widely used in electronica. Since time was up, the band played their encore the way they’d come in, marching off the stage and back through the crowd with plenty of stops along the way to make sure the party wasn’t over until they were really through. They’ve been playing Barbes every Tuesday at around 9 since god knows when; now’s the time to catch them while they’re still there.

January 11, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Pistolera – En Este Camino

One of the best debuts of 2008, a bracingly catchy, smart, politically aware all-female rock en Espanol band blending upbeat accordion-driven Mexican banda music with jangly guitar rock. Pistolera means “gunslinger” in Spanish: the title of the cd is “this way.” Augmented by a horn section in places, the production is superb, vocals, guitar and accordion out front, drums in the back where they belong.  The optimistic Nuevos Ojos (New Eyes) begins with a reggaeish, clip-clop beat (that’s Ani Cordero, frontwoman of the excellent Cordero back behind the kit), frontwoman/guitarist Sandra Lilia Velasquez’ casually soulful vocals joined by the band on the chorus as is the case on many of the songs here. Piloto (Pilot), set to the same beat, features an amusing, upper-register Dr. Dre-style synth patch blending nicely with the accordion.Vieja (Old Lady) is a haunting, swaying, somewhat stately number with a long accordion intro.

 

The band add clarinet and tuba to the bouncy yet pensive oldtimey ballad Un Momento. Sarcastically set to a jump-rope melody, the lyrics to Policia recount the true story of Velasquez’ nasty encounter with airport police, who wanted to confiscate her newly acquired bullet belt:

 

Senor policia le digo la verdad

Si soy peligrosa pero no por les armas

Dejeme libre y jamas me va a ver

Uno de mis talentos es desaparecer.

(Mr. Policeman I’m telling you the truth

If I’m dangerous it’s not because of my weapons

Let me go and you’ll never see me again

One of my talents is disappearing)

 

 

The punchy, rustic, acoustic Inquieta (Nervous) is a strikingly terse, poetic look at the restless unease of immigrant life. The theme continues, picking up the pace with Extranero (Foreigner), a timely reminder that ultimately we’re all strangers somewhere and that we’d better not forget it. The rest of the cd includes the catchy, mariachi-inflected love song Eres Tu (It’ll Be You); the contemplative, piano-driven tango Reina (If I Was Queen), and Guerra (War), a timely remake of the Bob Marley hit that references Iraq, Afghanistan and Chiapas. What a good band, and what a fun album. And you don’t have to speak Spanish to enjoy it (although Spanish speakers will appreciate Velasquez’ excellent lyrics). Watch this space for New York area shows; Pistolera’s next gigs are Oct 17 and 18 at the Lake Eden Arts Festival in Black Mountain, NC.

October 14, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , | Leave a comment