Dastardly play vaudevillian, theatrical, often darkly cynical indie rock disguised as Americana. Their latest album May You Never presents them as sort of a Chicago counterpart to Balthrop, Alabama. Like that band, they like big crescendos that jump out of nowhere, lush harmonies and a sometimes stagy sensibility. But their sound is unique. Lately there’s been an explosion of bands doing lame imitations of New Order (or even worse, Arcade Fire) with acoustic instruments, but Dastardly isn’t one of them.
The instant classic here is Middleground, a bouncy, scurrying country song that makes a great anthem for every self-doubting cool kid. The singer can’t deal with his lame local scene where he takes the stage while “these guys in tight jeans to the right are making weird noises incoherently, the crowd loves them – they don’t love me.” And the big guy in town who gets written up by all the papers and the blogs “just put out a song that’s about how much I suck..I’m not pretty enough for the mainstream/I’m not weird enough for the underground/Why isn’t my face on your video screen/I’m caught in the cracks and I can’t get out.”
They also have a surreal side. The opening cut, with its ominously sweet guy/girl harmonies, has the guy pondering whether or not he should save her from the oncoming train. Traffic explores the twisted world of someone who claims to have been born in traffic and therefore has an attraction to “slow-moving obstacles, empty bottles and prophylactics.” The band’s darker side comes through vividly on Creepy, an evilly nonchalant waltz that makes another solid outsider anthem: “I’m in the shadows so no one sees me, but I see them, they don’t even know that I’m even alive, that I kill to survive.” Like many of the other tracks here, this one gets a big bridge with noisy, distant reverb guitar and a big choir of voices. There’s also the slow Morning Blue, the most traditional number here – although the trick ending completely switches that up – and Exercises in Self Loathing, a pop song set to a brisk country beat. With their unpredictable arrangements and sense of humor, Dastardly sound like they’d be a lot of fun live. They’ll be at South by Southwest at March 19 at the Jackalope in Austin.
Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #897:
Balthrop, Alabama – Subway Songs
You heard it here first: someday this will be a cult classic. The sprawling Brooklyn band – consisting of as many as fifteen members, including horns, keyboards and backing vocalists – have been through several different incarnations from indie rock to classic country. On this brief 2008 masterpiece they mine a richly noir 60s psychedelic pop style along with many others, sometimes subtly and allusively, sometimes completely in your face, as with the opening track Subway Horns, a blistering World Inferno style gypsy punk stomp. The titular Bride of Frankenstein here has “the whole damn town standing in line;” Prom Story is a subtly satirical update on Leader of the Pack-style teen ghoul-pop with artful gospel tinges. Frontman Pascal Balthrop’s dramatic, stagy voice dashes the hopes of the doomed immigrants in the shipwreck anthem Ocean’s Arms; the women in the band deliver all the lovely deadpan creepiness they can muster on the suspenseful Red Hook Pool and the horn-driven My Way the Highway. This is one of those albums that’s too obscure to find at the usual torrent sites: the band have it as both a download and a cd at their site.
Constructive suggestion to artists who play Make Music NY or set up all-day events on the 21st: be aware of your spot’s sonic limitations. Don’t settle for just an ordinary busking location when this is the one day of the year that you have pretty much your choice of every desirable location in the entire city. Case in point: sure, there’s a lot of foot traffic under the Manhattan Bridge in Dumbo, but the trains crossing every thirty seconds or so render you absolutely inaudible – even if you’re the Bad Brains. The Threefifty Duo were there, outside the Dumbo Arts Center. Lovely stuff, fascinating interplay, a group you should see if acoustic guitar is your thing. But it was impossible to hear them except when there weren’t any trains overhead. An act this good deserves to be heard.
Balthrop, Alabama didn’t have any trouble being heard. A lot of acts were listed at the cube at Astor Place. Fortuituously, Joe’s Pub finagled the entire Astor Place block between Broadway and Lafayette and that’s where the band was along with their gas generator. The generator did double duty as power plant and extremely useful noise cancellation machine, drowning out the alarms of the buses ending their route a block away past the K-Mart. And the band was great. A lot of rock bands make great albums – Balthrop, Alabama’s deliciously macabre Subway Songs cd from last year is a genuine classic – but too few of them can replicate that kind of magic live. These guys did, and under a blistering sun (the poor drummer’s back was to the sun throughout their 45-minute set), no small achievement. They mine the same smart, retro 60s psychedelic pop territory as McGinty and White or the New Pornographers, but have the added advantage of being just as adept at 60s countrypolitan songs (think Patsy Cline with a good live band). That they have a baritone sax in the band gives them instant cred; add a soaring rhythm section, horns, sprightly electric keys, guitars, an artist drawing pictures of the crowd and the surroundings, and a frontman who does a more stagy, somewhat lower register take on what Phil Ochs was doing circa 1968, and you get the picture. They opened with the gypsy-rock smash Subway Horns, from that album, ran through a bunch of period-perfect songs from their Cowboy Songs album (simultaneously released with it) and closed with a casually plaintive, Beatlesque pop song that could easily have been a big hit for ELO in the late 70s or early 80s. Choruses mutated into strange and pleasantly unexpected passages, song structures shifted counterintuitively, and the lead guitar was terrific, in a Bakersfield, 1968 kind of way. And in the short time since 2009, frontman Pascal Balthrop has grown even better as a singer. When he cut loose with the line “What the fuck” in whitewashed yuppie puppie global warming era Bloomberg East Village New York hell, 2010, those three words made the entire trip over to the east side worthwhile.
Brooklyn’s reliably haunting, otherworldly Balkan vocal quartet Black Sea Hotel were next on the bill here, followed by the intriguing Pearl & the Beard, but we had ulterior motives. Namely, to find a place to lie down (our prime mover tweaked his back, badly – six hours playing outdoors over the weekend in the deathly heat on hard concrete, not moving around a lot, will do that to you), so the next stop was Dumbo. We don’t like rules around here, but we have a few of them for MMNY, one of them being that we have to limit ourselves to one single artist that we’ve seen before. After all, MMNY is all about discovering new and exciting stuff. So we went looking for Gamelan Son of Lion at Brooklyn Bridge Park. Funny how things repeat themselves – two years ago to the day, we went looking for New York’s own wonderful gamelan orchestra, Gamelan Dharma Swara, and found them. No such luck with these folks. If the late afternoon sun was simply too much and they decided against it, no disrespect to them. It was a miserable day, even by the water.
But in the process of trying to find out where in the hell Pier Nine in Brooklyn Bridge Park is, we discovered House of Waters. When three minutes of a band is enough to tell you that you want to hear an hour or more of them, you know they’re onto something good. Their frontman plays the hammered dulcimer like a Middle Eastern kanun, fast, furious and incisive, and the killer rhythm section behind him feeds off that energy. Add them to the list of bands we want to see again. Ditto Copal, whose lusciously hypnotic, Middle Eastern-tinged string-band instrumentals made any plan B an afterthought, drawing us to the steps of Galapagos from blocks away. Their bass player set a record for discipline: he’d hang patiently in the same key, keeping the groove pulsing along for minutes at a clip, once in awhile going up an octave and swooping down when the moment called for it. Their violinist started several songs with taqsims (improvisations), joined by their cellist (whose soulful washes are more responsible for this band’s mesmerizing vibe than anything else) on one later number. Their drummer played slinky, devious trip-hop beats with his brushes, joined by an ecstatic dumbek (goblet drum) player. The Middle Eastern vibe was sometimes matched by a dark Brazilian forro feel; at the end of their last number, they finally took it into overdrive and wailed, hard, on the outro.
By now it was six PM. Another thing you need to know about the MMNY schedule is that set times are just as fluid as locations. According to the master calendar, from which we quoted liberally here (sorry, folks), Jan Bell’s marvelous oldschool country band the Maybelles were scheduled to play at 68 Jay St. Bar. But they weren’t playing til 7:30, which was the scheduled start time for our one indulgence of the evening, LJ Murphy. So it was time to get over to Greenpoint (F to the G, crossing over to the other side after a detour to Damascus Bakery on Atlantic Ave. – best pitas in town) It was strange seeing the noir rocker in daylight outside the Brooklyn Reformed Church on Milton St., moreso without a mic, even moreso considering that he was competing with a generic white blues band barely a block and a half away – and a bus stop as well. Still, the debonair, black-suited songwriter was characteristically fun, contemplating the adjacent 1850 building, running through a solo acoustic set of hits as well as newer songs: the poignant disappearing-weekend scenario Saturday’s Down, the surreal, raucous 1930s vaudeville-house tableau Buffalo Red, the brutally depressed post-pickup scenario This Is Nothing Like Bliss and a bonafide classic, the mauvaise foi cautionary tale Geneva Conventional, a warning to anyone who “stood pat while their world was shaking.” Murphy was clearly impressed with some of the other acts on the bill, and while his imprimatur is worth a lot, a dorsal area that was edging closer and closer to David Wells territory (and which required Wells-like exercises – we looked online for some video but mystifyingly couldn’t find any) meant that it was time to head out – even though Cassis & the Sympathies, another band on our list – were playing Battery Park.
Nice to see the organizers of New York’s version of La Fete de la Musique get their own site going this year. We went through it and cherrypicked the best shows we could find, just for you, if you’re feeling up for a little wandering around town during lunch, or after work – or if you’re one of the legions of the unemployed here, why not make a day out of it? As far as we can tell (last year’s master calendar only listed a fraction of the day’s actual performances), these are your best bets for all the free shows happening Monday, June 21. Note that many ambitious acts offer you more than one chance to see them. As far as locations are concerned, Monday’s best lineup is at the cube at Astor Place starting at a quarter to one with the Xylopholks, Electric Junkyard Gamelan at 1:45, Balthrop Alabama at 3:30, Black Sea Hotel at 4:30 and then Pearl and the Beard at 5:15. Also worth checking out later: the country/blues night at 68 Jay St. Bar, the all-day funk extravaganza at Rose Bar and the reggae night at SOB’s. Fortuitously, you can also go to the Punk Island show and not miss a thing because that’s on Sunday starting at 10 AM (early arrival advised) and going til five with DOA, Blanks 77, Hub City Stompers and all kinds of other excellent bands.
At noon fun and innovative latin soul/bugalu revivalists Spanglish Fly plays outside Rose Bar; at 6 they’re at the park at 2nd Ave. and E 10th St.
At noon French reggae/dub crew Dub. Inc. play City Winery; at 8 they’re at SOB’s
At noon powerpop guitar god Pete Galub plays Society Coffee, 2104 Frederick Douglass Blvd in Harlem.
At half past noon five-string Celtic fiddler Cady Finlayson and guitarist Vita Tanga play Irish music at 40 Wall St.; they move to the NYPL branch at 112 E 96th St. at 3 PM
Starting at 1 PM avant garde composer Iannis Xenakis’ trancey, intense percussion piece Oresteia will be performed at the Swedish Marionette Cottage Theatre in Central Park, enter on the west side at 79th St and follow the signs (or the noise). His Persephassa will be performed at the lake in Central Park (enter on the west side, 72nd St.) at 3:30 and 5:30
12:45 PM furry-suited vibraphone ragtime swing outfit the Xylopholks play the cube at Astor Place.
1 PM the Famous Accordion Orchestra play Brooklyn Bridge Park, Plymouth and Main St. in Dumbo – note that this is a state park so be careful if you’re drinking alcohol.
1:45 PM Electric Junkyard Gamelan – who played one of the most amazing shows we’ve seen all year – at the cube at Astor Place.
2 PM popular synth-pop dance duo Hank and Cupcakes play at the Loving Cup Cafe, 93 N 6th St. in Williamsburg; they seem to be doublebooked with funk mob Turkuaz, who are also playing outside Rose Bar on Grand St. at 6.
2 PM Mission on Mars plays psychedelic acoustic raga/rock/jazz hybrid stuff at the great hill in Central Park, enter on the west side at 103rd St.
2 PM Sukari play reggae and ska at Hunts Point Park, Lafayette Ave. and Edgewater Road in the Bronx
3 PM torchy, no-nonsense jazz/pop pianist Jeanne Marie Boes plays at Cafe Bar, 32-90 36th St. in Astoria; at 6 PM she’s at Brick Cafe at 30-95 33rd St. in Astoria.
3 PM literate, Springsteen-ish blue collar songwriter Al Lee Wyer plays Battery Park
3:30 PM Balthrop, Alabama plays at the cube at Astor Place followed by the wonderful, otherworldly Balkan vocal quartet Black Sea Hotel at 4:30 and then bracingly smart cello rockers Pearl & the Beard at 5:15
4 PM klezmer jazz crew Talat at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine
4 PM Benny and the Ben-Ja-Min Band play reggae and ska at Beach 21st St. and the boardwalk in Far Rockaway; at 7 PM, they move to the Bushwick Project for the Arts, 304 Meserole St.
4 PM Chink Floyd at Tompkins Square Park – gotta love that name
4 PM violinist Karen Lee Larson and jam-oriented friends are at Society Coffee, 2104 Frederick Douglass Blvd in Harlem.
4:30 PM Gamelan Son of Lion plays Pier One at Brooklyn Bridge Park, Columbia Heights and Cranberry St. in Dumbo
5 PM the Hsu-Nami play ferocious, Asian-tinged metal/art-rock instrumentals with guitars and a Chinese erhu fiddle at the Peach Frog Companies (?), 136 N 10th St. in Williamsburg
6 PM tuneful, smart avant garde cellist/songwriter Jody Redhage & Fire in July at the Dumbo Arts Center, 30 Washington St. in Dumbo
7 PM the Voxare String Quartet at Bargemusic in Dumbo, program TBA
7 PM blazing, dark Balkan dance music from across the centuries with Raya Brass Band at Bubby’s at 1 Main St. in Dumbo
7 PM the satirical, playful, ageless Remy de Laroque plays Roosevelt Park in Chinatown, Houston and Christie.
7 PM artsy, clever accordion pop with Cassis & the Sympathies at Battery Park, moving to the Fulton Ferry Landing in Dumbo at 9
7 PM oldschool Brooklyn rock vet John Hovorka and his band at McGoldrick Park, Driggs Ave and Russell St. in Greenpoint
7 PM Num & Nu Afrika Project play roots reggae at Drastadub Studio, 58 W. 127th St.
7 PM the Old Rugged Sauce play deviously virtuosic guitar jazz standards at Mousey Brown Salon, 732 Lorimer St. in Williamsburg
7 PM punkish rockers Diabolique play Barretto Point Park, Tiffany St. and Viele Ave. in the Bronx – we saw them a couple of years ago and thought that by now they’d be even more interesting.
7:30 PM scathingly literate noir rocker LJ Murphy (completely mischaracterized on the MMNY site as “folk”) at 136 Milton St. in Greenpoint
7:30 PM Hungry March Band play Balkan brass music at Jackson Square, Horatio St. and 8th Ave. in the west village
8 PM lyrically dazzling, fiery art-rock band Changing Modes play Cafe Bar, 32-90 36th St. in Astoria
8 PM the phantasmagorical Carol Lipnik & Spookarama play the community garden at 346 E Houston between B and C
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Two brand-new eps from the multistylistic Brooklyn music mob. True to the band’s signature shtick (Balthrop, Alabama style themselves as a little Southern town relocated to the BK), a lot of people were involved with making these albums and in general they acquit themselves well. Perhaps because of the sheer number of contributors, the band’s ability to fluently channel a ridiculous number of styles from decades ago to the present day is uncanny, and spectacularly so. The first of the two, Subway Songs is delightfully gruesome, lushly and imaginatively produced with layers of vocals, horns, keys and a variety of rustic stringed instruments. It also doesn’t seem to have the slightest thing to do with subways. It opens with Subway Horns, theatrical gypsyish ska punk like World Inferno. Bride of Frankenstein, which follows, is southwestern gothic with some biting slide guitar in the style of Friends of Dean Martinez. Prom Story is an amusingly and musically spot-on spoof of early 60s girl group ghoul-pop; Ocean’s Arms adds a faux Irish tinge to an immigrant’s tale gone drastically awry.
Red Hook Pool is a fast, upbeat folk-rock number spiced with banjo, a dead ringer for a Phil Ochs pop hit from, say, Tape from California, 1967. It, too comes to a grisly conclusion after the rain starts, morphing strangely into a vintage style soul song after a long instrumental vamp. With its beautiful, soaring vocals, the 6/8 ballad My Way the Highway sounds like what Caithlin de Marrais might have done if she’d been alive in 1965. At least nobody seems to die in this one.
Cowboy Songs explores a satirical concept. Trouble is, between Ween’s Twelve Golden Country Greats album, the Inbreeds, and David Allan Coe, there isn’t much country music territory left to parody, and this doesn’t exactly add anything to the canon. The musicianship here is all first-rate, and in fact some of these songs are so period-perfect that they could be from Nashville in the mid-60s – but as b-sides. Old Cowboy Queer sounds like a ripoff of I Thought I Was Country Til I Found I Was Queer by fellow Brooklynites the Illbillies (now Maynard and the Musties), which achieved some notoriety about ten years ago. There are also thoughtful attempts at crafting a slowly swinging romantic ballad and an oldschool Ray Price-style shuffle. And then they end it on a tongue-in-cheek apocalyptic note. Balthrop, Alabama plays the cd release for these two at the 92YTribeca on 3/13 on an excellent bill with the Ukuladies and the Moonlighters starting at about 9:30 PM.
Because we didn’t give the ladies enough props last week we’ve packed this week’s Top Ten with beautiful voices. Except for #1 which is so good it doesn’t need a beautiful voice.
1. The Brooklyn What - Gentrification Rock
Oh yeahhhh babee the Brooklyn What at the top of the charts again. Someday all those the luxury housing sites turning into crackhouses and squats. This is a ferocious youtube clip from the show last summer that made our Top 20 NYC Area Concerts of the Year list. They’re at Don Pedro’s on 3/5.
2. The Blasting Company – Sinking Ships
Balkan noir cabaret from San Francisco that we discovered looking for a completely different band. Good stuff.
3. Black Sea Hotel - Makedonsko Devojche
Brooklyn‘s own all-female Balkan vocal quartet have an amazing debut cd coming out and this characteristically haunting number is one of them. Good guess is that the title means “Macedonian Girl.” They’re at Trophy Bar at 10 on 2/25
4. Hope DeBates & North Forty – Pink and Mean
This is a soul song, but the South Dakota expat also sings country. One of the most impressive voices to hit town in a long time, with a great band behind her. She does a marvelously deadpan-sultry cover of the Tom Petty AM radio monstrosity Breakdown
5. AE - Across the Blue Mountains
OK, even more beautiful voices. This an old Appalachian folk song, but the duo of Aurelia Lucy Shrenker and Eva Salina Primack are also part of the Balkan underground scene.
6. Balthrop Alabama - God Loves My Country
The Bush regime may be over but the memory lingers. Lest we forget, here’s something funny and spot-on.
7. Randi Russo – Swallow
This is a brand-new one, one of her quieter, hypnotic post-Velvets songs. Unrecorded, but she’s been doing it a lot live recently. Get well soon Randi!
8. Helen Reddy & ELO - Poor Little Fool
OK OK OK, this is the schlocky Aussie singer from the 70s responsible for the odious I Am Woman (written by a guy – figures, right?). But since she didn’t write any of her songs, once in awhile she’d do something good and this is a good example, a Jeff Lynne pop song, with what sounds like the band playing it behind her! Weird or what! Just discovered this on youtube…
9. The Ahn Trio - Dies Irae
Absolutely beautiful violin/cello/piano composition from this sister act playing Barbes on 3/7 at 8.
10. Soil & “Pimp” Sessions - Crush
Fast groove jazz with a wild sax and a tinge of hip-hop. From Japan. Fun stuff. From their new cd now up on itunes.
A frequently refreshing and irreverent bunch of brand-new Xmas songs from this motley crew of Brooklynites whose shtick is passing themselves off as the entire population of a small Alabama town. Many of them are here pseudonymously: “Georgiana Starlington” does a fetchingly oldtimey version of the Neill C. Furio classic Christmas in Jail; indie rocker Caithlin de Marrais offers a deadpan funny look at the holiday from the point of view of one media-saturated girl who just can’t get enough, and Andrew Vladeck provides a helpful, polite, politically correct way to extend holiday greetings to those whose holiday of choice might be difficult to discern. The mysterious Benton Whitehall suggests a very bovine replacement for an AWOL Santa on his retelling of the Tennessee Waltz; Luverne Dozier’s Island of Mis Fit Toys is gorgeously eerie, tongue-in-cheek noir cabaret, probably the best track on the cd. Some of this stuff is a little obvious, and there are a couple of nasal whiners here who will drive you to fast-forward in seconds flat, but overall it’s a pretty good time. Available for download here.