Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 3/25/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #676:

Barbara Brousal – Pose While It Pops

One of the great voices of the last fifteen years or so, Barbara Brousal can pull more emotion out of a thoughtfully bent note than most people can with a whole album. A professional musician from Boston via Brooklyn, her background is Americana, and that’s one element among many in this diverse and intensely lyrical 2000 album, her second. The real classic here is the opening track The Human Arrow, a bitter and brilliantly metaphorical portrayal of love as a circus act. The slow, angst-driven country ballad Take These Tears wouldn’t be out of place on a Dolly Parton album from the late 60s; the carefree sway of Soap and Water contrasts with the stiletto dismissiveness of the lyric. Charm Bracelet and Picture Booth are offhandedly brooding without being maudlin; there’s also the irresistibly catchy, lyrical Throwing Bones, the hypnotic chamber-pop of Lay Down Your Soul and the long, intensely crescendoing Breathing Down Your Neck. Brousal’s excellent band here includes David Poe and Kevin Salem on guitars, John Abbey on bass and Jane Scarpantoni on cello. Awfully hard to find in hard copy form but still available from the usual download merchants, and myspace has several of her tracks streaming. If you like this one you might also enjoy her 2002 collection Almost Perfect, a collection of demos that frequently reaches the heights this one does.

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March 25, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Serena Jost and Jennifer O’Connor at the Delancey, NYC 3/5/09

A clinic in good songwriting from two of the best. Serena Jost has gotten a lot of ink here since Lucid Culture’s inception, and deservedly so. A virtuoso cellist who did time in Rasputina, her artsy, classically-inflected songs are often imbued with an old-world stateliness that takes on an even greater poignancy when she sings, in a cautious, wary, highly nuanced delivery. Yet she’s just as likely to break the mold and launch into a playful pop song that suddenly and unexpectedly morphs into something else – think rustic, early ELO-era Jeff Lynne. Both styles were in abundance last night. Starting out on guitar and accompanied by her longtime lead guitarist Julian Maile, the two ran through a swirling, catchy janglepop song and then the noirish, 6/8 ballad Falling Down. Switching to cello, she tackled another 6/8 ballad, the brand-new Blue Flowers with its surprise-laden Moonlight Sonata-ish broken chords. Almost Nothing, from her excellent, most recent cd Closer Than Far featured some eerily dexterous tremolo-picking from Maile, more Daniel Ash than Dick Dale. They closed with the ridiculously catchy, multi-part Reasons and Lies, Maile’s trebly twang interpolated beautifully amidst Jost’s stark cello textures.

 

Believe everything good you’ve ever heard about Jennifer O’Connor. Though signed to Matador, there’s nothing remotely indie about her. Setting brooding, gemlike, angst-ridden lyrics to tersely melodic, occasionally Americana-inflected rock tunes, she delivered a seemingly effortless, forty-minute set backed by just an excellent bassist and a woman singing harmonies (and playing soulful harmonica on one song), validating pretty much any claim that’s been made about her. From a listener’s point of view, it was a tantalizing glimpse of what it would be like to see O’Connor leading a good electric band, with her on lead guitar.

 

This being the Delancey’s weekly Thursday Small Beast extravaganza, there was the usual A-list of New York musicians in the house. When asked whose music she thought O’Connor’s resembles, one of the great songwriters of our time weighed the question. “Barbara Brousal,” she replied, which makes sense if you subtract the Brooklyn chanteuse’s tropicalia fixation: Brousal can really rock out when she’s in the mood, as does O’Connor. Someone else mentioned Steve Wynn, a particularly apt comparison during the best parts of the show where O’Connor resolutely swung her way through two deliriously catchy, darkly garage-inflected songs. There’s a striking, offhand strength and intensity to both her playing and her vocals, her big, often counterintuitive chords rich and sustained as she reflected on relationships gone wrong or hopelessly doomed. She’s spent a lot of time on the road lately, and the night’s best song (one of the Steve Wynn-esque numbers) seemed to echo that: “When I close my eyes, I see the highway/When I go, I go to sleep.”

 

The next song maintained a sense of longing despite the hopeful tone of the lyrics: “It will be easy for me,” she sang uneasily, wailing up and down on her acoustic to end the song on a fiery note. Another number saw her projecting in a powerful contralto for an entire verse before sailing to the upper ranges for the second, immediately bringing the intensity to redline. By contrast, the title track to her new cd Here with Me revealed itself as a surprisingly gentle, optimistic song with a catchy 60s pop feel. She closed the set returning to plaintive, haunting mode with a midtempo tune that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Matt Keating songbook: “I have a hard time of hiding everything,” she lamented.

 

Jennifer O’Connor’s next New York gig is April 3 at Cake Shop; Serena Jost and her full band play an auspiciously long 90-minute set at Barbes on Mar 12 at 8.

March 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Marykate O’Neil – mkULTRA

Truth in advertising. The cd cover pictures a deadpan Marykate O’Neil in shirt and tie with old-fashioned 1950s glasses, holding a bottle of a suspicious, possibly mind-altering and tortuous substance designated for some poor unfortunate prisoner of the CIA. Onstage, O’Neil typically relies on a subtle wit to get her melodic, purist songs across, but this is one dark album. Needless to say, this isn’t your typical singer/songwriter fare.

 

Switching evocatively from Boston to a New York milieu, O’Neil’s vocals on the cd’s opening lament Green Street have Barbara Brousal-class subtlety and a lyric glistening with little gems:

 

The last time I saw you on Storrow Drive

You were walking your three-speed Huffy bike…

Dropping a nickel on the dime

 

Set to an imaginative acoustic trip-hop arrangement, Man manages to straddle the line between sensuality and frustration: “How did I get so fucked up,” O’Neil wails. On the bleak, depressed 6/8 ballad Nothing I Say or Do, layers of synth make their way in like a draft under the door. 

 

With its stately, eerily reverberating 6/8 guitar and insistent backing vocals leading up to the end of the verse, Trouble evokes Erika Simonian at her most angst-ridden, all the way up to the top of a towering, roaring crescendo, a vivid East Village tale that namechecks the Lakeside Lounge (yay!). 

 

The way the cd closes testifies to O’Neil’s fondness for classic pop songs. A stark take of Without You surpasses the Randy Newman original but falls short of the transcendent, bass-driven version that made the top 40 for Manfred Mann. The concluding cut, Happy, steals the eerie riff from Walking in the Rain (more evocative of the Flash & the Pan original than the Grace Jones version). “All I wanna be is happy,” is the anguished mantra O’Neil repeats over and over, making it clear that she’s a long way from there as the guitars burn and the percussion reaches a breakneck pace. Intense, powerful stuff. Marykate O’Neil plays Kenny’s Castaways at 8:30 PM on Nov 7; her December 8 show at Maxwell’s is sold out.

November 4, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment