Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 7/18/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #561:

The Hangdogs – Wallace ’48

These New York hellraisers got their start as sharply literate if drunken alt-country types in the late 90s. By 2003, when this final album came out, they’d gone in more of an Americana rock direction: imagine Jello Biafra fronting Social Distortion, and you’ll get some idea of what the Hangdogs were all about at the end. This is a slice of life from the early Bush era, a scathingly hilarious account of everyday people battling sadistic bosses, broke and too wasted on reality tv to realize how much closer to slaves they became every day. The title track is a bluegrass homage to perennial Socialist Party candidate George Wallace, followed by Waiting For the Stars To Fall, the towering, elegaic ballad that Oasis never wrote. Lots of funny country songs here: Memo from the Head Office, making sure that we max out our credit cards on the all shit we don’t need; Drink Yourself to Death, a spot-on satire of “new Nashville” music; the self-explanatory Alcohol of Fame, and Serious Guy, who’s somebody you hope you never work for. And just as many genuinely serious songs: the workingman’s lament Early to Bed; the plaintive She’s Leaving You; lead guitarist Texas Tex’s hallucinatory, somber Porch Swing; and the bitter band-on-the-road anthem Goodnight, Texas. Frontman Matthew Grimm would go on to equally good things as the leader of socially aware Iowa rockers the Red Smear later in the decade. Utterly impossible to find as a torrent; the usual pay sites have mp3s, and the whole thing is streaming at Spotify.

Advertisements

July 18, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

John Paul Keith Plays Every Retro Rock Style Ever Invented

John Paul Keith’s backup band is called the One Four Fives. It’s a wryly accurate way of describing his music. The veteran Memphis singer/guitarist is an avatar of retro rock: he doesn’t seem to have met a roots-rock style that he can’t play with equal parts fun and virtuosity. He’s sort of a Memphis version of Simon Chardiet, emphasis more on serious songwriting than blazing guitars and punk-infused humor. It’s a sure bet that had many of these songs come out fifty years ago, they would have been huge. The production matches the period-perfect craftsmanship: many of these songs sound like live-in-the-studio two-track recordings from around 1965.

Keith’s new album is aptly titled The Man That Time Forgot. The opening track, Never Could Say No is Tex-Mex through the prism of 80s powerpop – it wouldn’t be out of place on a Willie Nile record. You Devil You evokes 50s rockabilly hitmakers like Charlie Gracie, with its carefree guitar tremolo-picking. With its slurry bass groove, Anyone Can Do It mines an Eddie Cochran/Bobby Fuller vein. The wry, doo-wop infused Songs for Sale is the closest thing to Chardiet here, along with the album’s best song, the amusingly scurrying noir shuffle I Work at Night.

Afraid to Look works a stomping British R&B hook straight out of the early Yardbirds or Pretty Things, while the honkytonk-flavored Dry County references the long stretches of road that every touring band dreads the most. I Think I Fell in Love Today slinks along on the swirling organ of Al Gamble, of another excellent Memphis band, retro soul groovemeisters the City Champs. They also evoke a vivid late 60s blue-eyed soul vibe with Somebody Ought to Write a Song About You. Keith goes back to a straight-up, rocking Bobby Fuller feel with the tongue-in-cheek Bad Luck Baby; the album winds up with a country song, The Last Last Call, which sounds like a big live favorite. Fans of roots rock from across the decades will have a blast with this. It’s out now on Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Carly Jamison’s New Album Happened for a Reason

Carly Jamison is tough and fearless and funny as hell sometimes too. What a breath of fresh air – in a world of wussy waifs and wannabe Jersey Shore skanks, she’s a rare individual voice making smart, accessible, kick-ass Americana-flavored rock. Whether she’s pissed off, or daring you to do something, or cracking a joke, she sings low and confident, casual and conversational. The conversation might go something like this: “Don’t fuck with me.” Her new album Everything Happens for a Reason has to be one of the best driving albums of recent years – it’ll keep you awake on the way to work, and bring you back to life on the way home. It sounds like a vinyl record, like one of those great Georgia Satellites records from the 80s – that fat backbeat, that whiplash snare drum sound, the way the bass rises as the chorus kicks in and all that kick-ass Stonesy guitar. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Dan Baird of the Satellites (and the Yayhoos) plays guitar here, and he might be even better now than he was then.

The opening track, Bring It On sets the stage nonchalantly with scorching layers of guitar, Jamison coyly sliding up to her notes. As is the case throughout this album, the little touches mean a lot – the drum break just before the end, a slide up on the bass and some tremolo-picking from Baird in the distance as it fades. Doubt – as in “there ain’t no doubt” – works a John Fogerty swamp-blues hook and neat layers of acoustic and electric guitars, the first of several kiss-off anthems. “What doesn’t kill us makes me stronger, and I’ve been through many worse things than this,” Jamison asserts knowingly. The classic, a song that needed to be written, is Ask Me If I Give a Shit, the kiss-off song to end all kiss-off songs. “I’ll look into your eyes and tell you where to go,” Jamison sings practically in a murmur, and it just gets better and better from there. A string section with a woozy phaser effect kicks off The One with You, which might be a cheating song, or it could just be a regret song, Baird again putting the rubber to the road with those big, simple, turbocharged riffs.

The mostly acoustic Hills of Jericho chronicles teenage lust triumphing over conformity, with nice high harmonies by Joslyn Ford-Keel: “I once believed in all their stories, I once believed in all their lies,” Jamison admits, but she doesn’t anymore. Self-Consumed is another go-to-hell number, this one for a selfcentered jerk, anchored by some wry baritone guitar. A Stonesy stomp, Look Where It’s Coming From is a dis aimed at a big bullshitter; No Control Anymore starts out tense and acoustic, threatening to fly off the hinges at any second, and when the electric guitars kick in on the chorus it’s soooo satisfying.

After the reverb-drenched honkytonk blues This Big Old Bottle, the album ends with what should be the single, Dreaming, an Orbisonesque noir tremolo-pop song with some tasty violin textures as it builds. It’s simple enough to fool the programmers, real enough to sink its hooks into you and not let go. Maybe this can be Jamison’s sneak attack on country radio – country radio is rock now after all, and it’s overdue for an antidote to all those Shania Twain wannabes. A self-taught musician and songwriter based in New York, Jamison seems more of a creature of the studio than a live performer; here’s hoping this album gets her songs the exposure they deserve.

April 7, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kasey Anderson’s Heart of a Dog Has Lyrical Bite

Kasey Anderson’s most recent album, Nowhere Nights was one of the best of 2010. The “nowhere nights” theme continues on his new one Heart of a Dog, except with the guitars turned all the way up, pretty much all the way through. Steve Earle is still the obvious comparison – if you’ve ever heard Earle play Nirvana, that comes closer to describing what this sounds like. It’s lyrical rock: Anderson still scours the fringes with a merciless eye for detail and an ear for a catchy, purist guitar hook. His monster band the Honkies includes Andrew KcKeag on lead guitar plus Eric Corson (of the Long Winters) on bass and former Posie Mike Musburger on some of the most effectively loud rock drums in recent memory.

These songs are dark. The album gets off to a great start with The Wrong Light, a big crunchy bluesmetal number that works a Born Under a Bad Sign vibe, thematically if not tunewise. “I got a handful of powder and a wicked grin, open your eyes and let the wrong light in,” Anderson entices in a leering stage whisper. It’s the first of several launching pads for some searing, bluesy lead work by McKeag, who delivers a mean late 70s Ron Wood impression with a slide on the cynical, Stonesy rocker Mercy. Building from an ominous piano intro to a big anthem, Exit Ghost is a grim, completely unromanticized girlfriend-lost-to-drugs story. Your Side of Town might be the predecessor to that one, a bitter kiss-off anthem:

You kept my pockets empty, I was keeping my eyes wide
You were dealing pride and envy, I got my other fix on the side

Another big, fast Stonesy tune, Sirens & Thunder is cynical, but with an unrepentant smirk: the time with that girl may have been crazy and ultimately it might have been hell, but some of the craziest parts were a lot of fun. Kasey Anderson’s Dream offers a considerably louder apocalyptic garage rock update on Bob Dylan’s Honest with You, namechecking Sharon Jones and staring straight into the future: “You want a brave new world, well that can be arranged – the ship’s still sinking but the captain’s changed.” The rest of the tracks include more doomed Dylanesque imagery in Revisionist History Blues; the crushing lucidity of a hangover unfolding in the slow, brooding For Anyone; some delicious organ and accordion work in another regretful ballad, My Blues, My Love; the fast, Springsteenish My Baby’s a Wrecking Ball, and a blazing backbeat cover of the 1983 English Beat frathouse anthem Save It for Later that blows away the original. Pop a Mickey’s Big Mouth and crank this.

March 11, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 11/8/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #813:

Eric Ambel – Roscoe’s Gang

The original lead guitarist in Joan Jett’s Blackhearts, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel made a name for himself as a ferociously talented soloist in 80s Americana cult band the Del Lords (who have recently reunited after a 20-year hiatus). After that, he’d go on to serve for several years as Steve Earle’s lead guitarist when he wasn’t producing great albums by an endless succession of twangy rock acts over the past 20 years or so. This one could be found playing over the PA in every cool bar and club in New York in the summer of 1989; Ambel has since remastered and tweaked it. Here he’s backed by Springfield, Missouri highway rockers the Morells along with REM collaborator Peter Holsapple and Golden Palomino Syd Straw, along with several New York street musicians including sax player “Mr. Thing.” They rocket through a mix of tight, imaginative covers and originals, all of which are streaming at Ambel’s site. An insanely catchy, considerably altered version of Swamp Dogg’s Total Destruction to Your Mind was the New York party anthem of 1989; Ambel’s Del Lords bandmate Scott Kempner’s classic powerpop song Forever Came Today is as poignant now as it was 20 years ago. 30 Days in the Workhouse gets a stinging treatment that enhances the lyrics: “If I’d been a black man, they’d have given me thirty years.” There’s also the classic kiss-off anthem You Must Have Me Confused (With Someone Who Cares); Holsapple’s Everly Bros. soundalike Next to the Last Waltz; the macho Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend; and a well-oiled, impromptu live-in-the-studio version of Neil Young’s Vampire Blues that beats the original hands down (and cuts off mysteriously midway through the outro). For newcomers to Ambel’s music, it’s available attractively as a three-fer along with the bitter, stinging Loud and Lonesome and the more recent, frequently hilarious Knucklehead album.

November 8, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chip Robinson Is Back Like He Never Left

Chip Robinson got his start in the early 90s in careening Raleigh alt-country rockers the Backsliders, but he has not been dormant since. His new solo album Mylow is a lot different, a lot more diverse and it’s excellent all the way through. It’s sort of the missing link between Steve Earle and Richard Buckner, a mix of bruising, overdriven, twangy rock and rueful ballads. Robinson has an ear for a catchy hook, a memorable riff and a striking lyrical image to go along with a wry sense of humor. The rueful title track is definitely the best song ever written about a rabbit (it was an ex-girlfriend’s pet: she got custody). “Keep your chin up,” he tells the missing rodent, “I’ll keep my chin up too.” Another regret-tinged ballad admits that “The day I fell in love with you, I pissed off my wife and my girlfriend too.” The doomed romance of Story unwinds with two diverging points of view: he remembers whisking her across the dancefloor; she remembers him getting so loaded he couldn’t remember a thing. And the bizarrely compelling album intro, spoken word over oscillating distorted guitar noise, tells the tale of a guy who went down into a hole for “three long years” – but the drugs, and everything else, couldn’t kill him. And then it morphs into a faux-heroic tv theme type melody.

The rest of the album is a lot more serious and intense. Especially its best cut, Bee Sting, its battered narrator alternately distracted and smitten, “All my bridges burned just ashes in the wind, try to find the short way home.” Robinson works those images for all they’re worth over a fiery river of guitars, like something the Replacements might have done if they hadn’t been so sloppy all the time. The most Richard Buckner-ish track here is Wings, an alienation anthem with some hypnotic accordion work. Closer to the Light is a pretty ballad with the tasty layers of acoustic and electric guitars that you find on most everything Eric “Roscoe” Ambel produces (he also frequently plays shows with Robinson at Lakeside Lounge). That track has some distant Beatles allusions, which come front and center on the big ballad A Prayer Please, right down to a juicy George Harrison-esque guitar solo. The goodbye anthem Start is metaphorically loaded and vividly bitter; there are also a couple of roaring, Stonesy rock anthems here to pick up the pace, along with Mylow Sleeps, a lullaby for the missing bunny. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into here, lyrically and musically: an ipod album for sure, and one of 2010’s best, a welcome return to the studio from a guy who never went away but might have fallen off a few people’s radar in the years after the Backsliders broke up. Watch this space for upcoming NYC shows.

August 31, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/16/10

Here’s this week’s version of our hit parade, stuff that’s too cool for the Billboard charts and the corporations who rule them. We try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. It’s something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones -your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one: every link here except #2 (youtube link coming soon) will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1. Kasey Anderson – Bellingham Blues

Smalltown anomie as Springsteen only wishes he still understood it. Great track from the literate Americana rocker’s new album Nowhere Nights

2. The Brooklyn What – Hot Wine

Newly unveiled surreal punk rock Coney Island battle scenario by the late great Billy Cohen: coming soon to youtube and then album, we hope.

3. Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble – Delirium

Slightly restrained, anguished noir cabaret rock, a lament: “I should have held you, not repelled you.”

4. Khaled – Block

Not the Algerian rai star but a typically smart, bracing cut by the electic American Middle Eastern-tinged acoustic guitarist/songwriter.

5. Isle of Klezbos – Abrah

All-female klezmer intensity. Watch closely at 4:10 into this youtube clip.

6. My Education – Concentration Waltz

A punk Friends of Dean Martinez – drone menace with organ, guitars and viola.

7. The Vivisectors – Tsunamy Light in Stonewall Tavern

Russian noir surf rock – gotta love that title.

8. Bobby Vacant – Wild Wind Blows

Characteristically understated haunting, tuneful acoustic songwriting from the guy who gave us the song we picked for best of 2009.

9. Pintura Roja – Te Olvidaste De Mi

Classic, obscure, surprisingly Asian-flavored Peruvian pop from the early 70s: the roots of metal cumbia.

10. Courtney Yasmineh – Daydrunk

Joke song of the week to leave you with a smile on your face.

August 18, 2010 Posted by | lists, middle eastern music, Music, music, concert, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Another Great Album from the Whiskey Daredevils

The title of these Cleveland roots rockers’ new album, Introducing the Whiskey Daredevils, is characteristically tongue-in-cheek – it isn’t exactly their first. Over the last six years, they’ve put out one kick-ass album after another, all laced with their trademark sense of humor: they are simply one of the funniest bands on the planet. Some of their greatest hits (some but not all of which appear on their Greatest Hits album) include a tribute to Mickey’s Big Mouth malt liquor, a surreal chronicle about a road trip with a guy who can’t stop talking about Planet of the Apes, and the most hilarious song ever written about open mic nights for singer-songwriters. This album is their first with their new guitarist Gary Siperko, who brings a ferocious garage-punk intensity as well as a growling Stonesy edge and a solid handle on country sounds. Frontman Gary Miller’s deadpan, stoic delivery lets his surreal, absolutely spot-on narratives speak for themselves: he’s got a Hunter S. Thompson-class eye for twisted detail. Siperko – formerly of upstate New York surf rockers the Mofos, whose album Supercharged on Alcohol is a genuine classic – veers between an otherworldly reverb-drenched tone and gritty, vintage tube amp distortion while bassist Ken Miller and drummer Leo P. Love hold the beast to the rails.

The opening track, Never Saw Johnny Cash chronicles a series of missed once-in-a-lifetime opportunities from the point of view of a guy who always overdoes it: we all have somebody like that in our lives who likes to go to shows with us (or at least ride to shows with us). They follow that with an amped-up Bakersfield country song. With its sizzling, surfy ghoulabilly guitar, Left Me on a Train could be a Radio Birdman classic from 1979, a sound they bring down a little on the next track, Thicker Than Wine. Then they take it to the logical extreme with the garage-punk smash Drive: Murder City Nights, anybody?

As breakup songs go, the midtempo country ballad Last Guest List is a classic: “No more free stuff, no more free beer, I guess you are no longer with the band.” There’s also the predictably amusing, painfully hungover Me and My Black Eye; a southwestern gothic rock parody; the monster surf instrumental Railbender, which sounds like a Mofos classic; a Social Distortion-style country-punk number with a little Led Zep thrown in; and the album’s closing boogie, Empty Out the Shake, which is pretty self-explanatory, and as amusing as you’d think. The band’s best album? Maybe. The others are really good too. The Whiskey Daredevils’ next gig is August 6 at 10 PM at the Happy Dog, 5801 Detroit Ave. in Cleveland.

July 22, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear – The Ghost of Rock n Roll

This is hands-down the funniest album of the year. It might also be the best. Matthew Grimm is the populist that Springsteen probably wishes he still was – over a pummeling highway rock backdrop, one part Social Distortion stomp, one part turbocharged Bottle Rockets barroom roar, he drops one direct hit after another on religious fanatics, Wall Street swindlers and the system that allowed them to take power in the first place. If the Dead Kennedys had survived Tipper Gore’s assault and traded in the surf rock for Americana, they might sound something like this.

Like Stephen Colbert, Grimm’s satire knows no bounds. He’s been as formidable a social critic as songwriter since his days in the 90s and early zeros fronting twangy New York rockers the Hangdogs and this time out he spares no one, and despite the full-frontal assault he’s a lot subtler than it might seem. The first cut on the cd is typical, hardly the self-effacing narrative the title, My Girlfriend’s Way Too Hot for Me, might suggest: it’s a raised middle finger at the yuppie who has everything but the hot girlfriend and who just can’t seem to be able to buy the piece of ass who would complete his collection. Grimm makes it clear how aware he is that it’s always the smart guys who get the hottest girls (and vice versa). Lead guitarist Jason Berge mimics an air-raid siren as Grimm has a laugh or five at the expense of doomsday Christians on the next cut, the Bodeans-ish Wrath of God.

Hang Up and Drive is a late-period Hangdogs song, a deliciously unleashed barrage of invective against the kind of guy who doesn’t exactly need those three tons of steel and glass to chill out in the left lane at 60 MPH while he calls his wife. The even funnier and characteristically spot-on Ayn Rand Sucks explores the righteous world of a rich suburban girl who brags about her fondness for the “Nazi skank” on her Facebook page: “Mein Kampf by any other name is Mein Kampf.” If that realization doesn’t get you, you won’t get this album. The best song on the album – and maybe the best song of the decade – is a savage, anthemic kiss-off to George Bush titled 1/20/09. “I know you won’t be troubled with states of reflection/Still a cloistered and dull trust-fund kid,” Grimm rails. “But maybe one shiny day, we’ll see each other again in the Hague.” The album’s exhilaratingly optimistic final cut, One Big Union is just as catchy and just as fiery an anthem, and it’s been picked up by more than one political campaign as a theme song.

Even the less politically-charged tracks here have a remarkable social awareness. The title track does double duty as an evocative examination of working-class drudgery and how people somehow manage to make it through the day fueled by tunes from realms people who have never opened their ears have never seen. There’s also Cry, which manages to be sympathetic while reminding a heartbroken girl how much better off she is than the rest of the world, and the less sympathetic Cinderella, where Grimm turns both barrels on a woman looking for soap opera-style yuppie contentedness and ends it by hitting on her. And he also proves himself adept at hip-hop during the break on White, which might be a parody:

Who thinks Sarah Palin’s smart? Who still watches MTV?

Who thinks sitcoms are funny and reality shows are reality?

Who deducts hookers, cooks the books and burns the paper trail?

Grifted away your 401K, won’t ever spend a fuckin day in jail?

I don’t wanna be white anymore

Turning in my Amstel Light, my golf clubs and my gun…

Look for this one high at the top of our best albums of 2009 list at the end of the year. Iowa-based Grimm and his band’s next show is an acoustic gig at Tornado’s, 1400 3rd St. SE in Cedar Rapids on October 1, sharing the bill with Sarah Cram.

September 12, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Songs of the Day 7/17-18/09

Computer crisis at Lucid Culture HQ has curtailed all but the most basic functions. We have not been idle and will continue with news, reviews and a brand-new NYC live music calendar no later than August 1. Right now we can’t do much more than adding our daily song-of-the-day.  Sorry for the inconvenience – we should be back running on all cylinders by 7/20 or so.

Song of the Day 7/17/09:

376. Lucky Dube – Victims

The great roots reggae songwriter and keyboardist triumphantly lived through the dismantling of apartheid in his native South Africa, only to be murdered in 2007 in an attempted carjacking. Little would he know how eerily prophetic this heartbreaking tale of the aftereffects of violence – a mother grieving for her dead son and all the others like him – would be. Title track from the 1989 album.

and for 7/18/09

375. Bruce Springsteen – Independence Day

In this brilliantly elliptical, organ-fueled anthem, a son leaves home defiant but bitter, brutalized and only a step away from the violence he grew up with. Anyone who might confuse Springsteen’s art with the yahoos who make up so much of his fan base needs to hear this. From the River, 1980; mp3s abound, and the studio version is the best. Although the link above, an early live take from 1978, isn’t bad.

July 17, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment