Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Revolver’s New Album: Chamber Pop with a Bullet

French trio Revolver’s new album Music for a While sounds like something straight out of the Rive Gauche, 1969 but with smoother, digital production, heavily accented English and period-perfect psychedelic pop songwriting and arrangements. But it’s anything but cheesy. Guitarists Ambroise Willaume and Christophe Musset and cellist Jérémie Arcache play pensive, catchy chamber-pop and folk-pop songs with occasional Beatlisms and blithe harmonies that conceal a frequently dark undercurrent. Don’t confuse this with Belle and Sebastian.

The opening track, Birds in D Minor sets the tone with its brooding folk-pop melody and doomed, crescendoing chorus with Velvets strings: “Birds in my mind, guns to your head, that is how I want to play.” The swaying kiss-off anthem Leave Me Alone maintains the tone, followed by the familiar minor-key ba-ba-ba pop of Balulalow, which wouldn’t be out of place in the Bedsit Poets catalog. Back to You is McCartneyesque with its tricky rhythm, its theme shifting agilely from guitar to piano. The blistering garage rock swing of the simply titled Untitled 1 evokes the great French-American art-rockers Melomane.

Do You Have a Gun is Jimmy Webb meets Donovan meets Jarvis Cocker, a wryly deadpan, mellotron-infused account of a pickup scenario gone down the chute. The carefree, country-tinged Luke Mike and John ups the satirical ante, a scathing travelogue whose crew of spoiled brats on the road hope to find “the dharma way of life.” A Song She Wrote shuffles stiffly on a faux-New Order indie beat until a very funny interlude; Get Around Town is a jaunty, biting minor-key garage rock number, possibly alluding to police brutality. The album winds up with the morosely bopping piano pop of Untitled 2 and the regret-tinged, cynically swinging It’s All Right. This one’s for both fans of the classics (the Zombies’ Odessey and Oracle) and the obscure (Damian Quinones).

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September 16, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Lianne Smith at Soundfix Lounge, Brooklyn NY 11/21/08

“This place used to be my closet,” Lianne Smith told the hushed crowd in the backroom bar in the old Beacon’s Closet space. “If I didn’t want to wear something anymore I could just come down here and trade it. Now they don’t take my clothes, I guess I’m not cool enough anymore!” she laughed. Coming from someone who represents some of the best that oldschool Williamsburg’s ever had to offer, that spoke volumes. “I go to the new place and I think to myself, I can’t believe they bought that!”

 

Fashionwise, Smith may go for classic East Village chic, but musically she defies categorization. The former teenage rockabilly siren and frequent Nada Surf collaborator blends Americana with indie rock and a little 80s new wave influence without fitting squarely into any of those genres, which is her saving grace: she’s nothing if not original. While her voice – a powerful, crystalline soprano that sometimes soars into the uppermost registers with spine-tingling intensity – has always been her drawing card, ultimately it’s her writing that separates her from the rest of the pack. Fun, and a counterintuitive sensibility define her. Fond of minutiae but not precious about it, a born storyteller but not a longwinded one, she can keep an audience in stitches if she’s in the mood. Last night was all about the music. Playing her Strat with a characteristic touch of reverb, she was backed by Greg Peterson, who delivered tightly uncoiling lead guitar as well as vocals on several songs, a mix of fan favorites and new ones.

 

The set started auspiciously with Thief, a knowing and ridiculously catchy country-flavored tune about cutting someone too much slack and paying the price. She followed with the best song of the night, Hit and Run, a gorgeously dark, intense, percussive minor-key tune that wouldn’t have been out of place on the first New Order album. By contrast, an older song, Marianne was all slowly glimmering ambience.

 

Peterson took over lead vocals on a stark version of the traditional English folksong Butcher Boy. The tongue-in-cheek kiss-off tune Bon Voyage, a big crowd favorite, was as playful as ever, followed by Weatherball, a hypnotic, somewhat Mazzy Star-flavored number in 6/8 time. They closed with a newer tune, Saturday, fast but equally hypnotic, Americana meets 80s Manchester. Persuaded by the enthusiastic crowd to take the stage for an encore, they pulled out a torchy version of the pop standard Again. 

 

Smith’s long-awaited recording project continues; in the meantime, you can hear her on the latest Nada Surf cd. The marvelous Bedsit Poets (playing again at Bowery Poetry Club on Dec 6 at 8 PM) were next on the bill, but we had places to go and things to do.

November 22, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Bedsit Poets – Rendezvous

Not what you might expect. The Bedsit Poets’ 2006 debut The Summer That Changed was a gorgeously summery collection of soaring, harmony-driven, Britfolk-flavored anthems and mellower pop numbers. By contrast, this is their autumn album, pensive, jazzier and more stylistically diverse. The charming harmonies of Amanda Thorpe and Edward Rogers (both of whom have released excellent solo cds this year) are still there, as are the virtuosic, thoughtful guitar of Mac Randall, and Nancy Polstein’s tasteful drums and percussion work. But this time the band looks outside Rogers’ and Thorpe’s native England for influences ranging from 60s French ye-ye pop to Norah Jones.

 

Standouts from among the cd’s fourteen tracks include a couple of deliciously melodic, classic Carnaby St. style 60s Britpop numbers: the rueful, revealing The Highs Can’t Beat the Lows, and NoTel Rendezvous, which picks up the pace as Thorpe and Rogers trade off jazzily on vocals. Daze for Love sets their harmonies sailing over a slinky bossa beat. The single best track on the cd is Hardened Ground, a stoic, atmospheric 6/8 lament featuring a beautifully restrained Thorpe vocal and lyric that could be about the destruction of New York by luxury condo developers, or could mean something else entirely: “What do you get by taking away/Building glass houses with nothing to say.” There’s also Top Shop, imaginatively blending bossa nova with Byrdsy twelve-string janglerock; the tersely melancholy New Year; and the blithely tongue-in-cheek Winson Green, a dead ringer for a vintage, comedic 60s hit by the Move or the Kinks, recounting the tale of a prisoner finally set free who decides that the outside world is a bit too threatening and that ultimately he’d prefer to remain behind bars. Fans of the first album are in for a bit of a surprise, but the elements that made it such a smashing success are still in place, voices and guitars ringing every bit as true as they did the first time around. The Bedsit Poets play the cd release show for this one on Tues Oct 21 at the Cutting Room. Rogers’ longtime collaborator George Usher opens the night with a solo set at 7:30 PM, and the Bedsit Poets’ labelmate Dave Rave follows with a set of his own at 9:30.

October 9, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Amanda Thorpe and Serena Jost at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 10/1/08

This show managed to be informal and off-the-cuff yet virtuosic, like what VH1 seems to be shooting for when they put together a stripped-down, acoustic “Live from Abbey Road” type program. They should have been on hand for this one, considering that Bedsit Poets frontwoman Amanda Thorpe and Serena Jost are two of New York’s top tunesmiths. Oops, they’re not on some huge corporate record label. Better to get Justin Timberlake and John Mayer instead. J-Ti (was that Lou Perlman’s pet name for the moppet?) can play Chopsticks while Mayer noodles innocuously in the background between commercials. All cynicism aside, Wednesday night the few who braved the rain and the construction work going on all the way down Avenue C were treated to a clinic in great songcrafting.

 

The two women traded off songs, each accompanying the other. Sometimes that meant Jost improvising a slinky bassline on her cello, or Thorpe doing the same on her guitar. Thorpe also played a small synth on one of Jost’s songs. They both sang gorgeous harmonies (even though Jost was under the weather and running on fumes), each lending something of her own personality to the other’s work. It was just beautiful to watch, plain and simple. British expat Thorpe is best known as a singer. Her writing is characteristically terse and direct and has considerable bite. When she sang “There is no mercy this time,” in what could have been the night’s best number, The River Song, a bitter heartbreak ballad, there could be no doubt that she meant exactly what she said. Jost, by contrast, is best known for her work as a sidewoman and multi-instrumentalist (she did an extended stretch in Rasputina). Her songwriting is more opaque, and felt the benefit of Thorpe’s clear, steely harmonies. Likewise, Jost’s playful flourishes added gleam and shimmer to the austere beauty of Thorpe’s songs.

 

Both women debuted new songs. Thorpe’s was a bouncy, upbeat bossa number. Jost reminded what a fine guitarist she’s becoming on yet another of her disarmingly complex art-pop songs, and did another accompanying herself with warm, loping runs that she plucked on her cello while Thorpe filled out the melody with spot-on harmonies. Jost also played piano on one song. The only thing missing was their pal Mary Lee Kortes, the Mary Lee’s Corvette mastermind who’s been playing with them recently. As fascinating as this show was to watch, one can only imagine how much another great songwriting voice would add to the equation.

 

Thorpe’s next show is at the Cutting Room on Oct 21 at 7:30 with the Bedsit Poets, playing the cd release to their remarkably multistylistic new one, Rendezvous. Powerpop legend George Usher opens, solo acoustic. Watch this space for Serena Jost’s next performance.

October 3, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Amanda Thorpe – Union Square

This could be the ultimate autumnal New York album, perfect for grey days with a chill in the air, winter’s hand tugging impatiently on the curtains. The songs on Union Square are gorgeously wistful and intensely poignant. What Linda Thompson was to the 70s and early 80s, Amanda Thorpe is to this era, another British expat steeped in traditional English folk, possessed of one of the most beautifully haunting voices you will ever hear. Thorpe is somewhat more diverse, however: she will give you eerie austerity and resigned melancholy, but she also has a seductive, torchy side with great nuance. This is the first solo release for Thorpe – who also fronts the supremely catchy Bedsit Poets – since her first album, Mass, in 2002, and it was well worth the wait.

By contrast to Mass, a lushly produced, smokily atmospheric effort, this one is remarkably terse and direct. Every note on this album counts. Thorpe is accompanied here by a choice crew of New York luminaries – co-producer Brad Albetta (also of Mary Lee’s Corvette) on bass, Bill Frisell sideman Tony Scherr on guitar and upright bass, Bob Perry on lapsteel and ex-Psychedelic Fur Joe McGinty on keys. The album kicks off with the sarcastic Life Is Great, a lament directed at a pillhead: “Life is great with a hole inside.” Perry adds layers of bluesy lapsteel over Thorpe’s understatedly frustrated vocals. Track two, Won’t You Let Me (a co-write with Phillip Shelley) is pure seduction set to a sweetly soaring Albetta bassline. The next track, River Song is arguably Thorpe’s finest hour as a songwriter, a vivid account of rejection and despair, here recast with something of a Madder Rose-style 90s trip-hop feel. After that, Next to Me makes a good segue, Thorpe holding up a red flag – albeit from a distance – to a would-be suitor.

Burn This House Down, spiced with juicy blues piano from McGinty, has Thorpe bringing the intensity up to redline as she pulls out all the stops and belts:

Though I still love you
The romance is dead
As you burn this house down

Then Scherr launches into a truly nasty slide guitar solo.

Other standout tracks on this album include the marvelously catchy You and Me in a Doorway (also a co-write with Shelley) with its lush bed of guitars and lapsteel; the hypnotic, pastoral Over the Sea (a Wirebirds soundalike); the beautifully melancholy title track, and the absolutely brilliant Show Me a Place. Thorpe’s voice longs for something transcending the ordinariness that she’s held on to with such a steely grip, until now. “As long as there were cigarettes and another glass of wine,” everything was ok. But now she sees “my own black silhouette reflect against the sky:” high time for a change. Perry’s layers of lapsteel punch at the melody like a string quartet. Few other singers in Thorpe’s league ever get to sing material this good; still fewer songwriters in Thorpe’s league can deliver it with as much passion, intensity and subtlety as she does. This ought to appeal to a very wide listenership encompassing the purist Richard & Linda Thompson contingent as well as fans of the current group of A-list chanteuses (Feist, Erica Smith, Rachelle Garniez et al.) and maybe even some of the less adventurous for whom Norah Jones is simply the greatest thing out there.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Bedsit Poets Live at Banjo Jims, NYC 2/6/08

This show validates our Rainy Day Theory, that the ideal time to go out is during a monsoon or a blizzard because there are hardly any crowds to compete with, and the musicians onstage, driven by anger and frustration at the skies, often turn in an incandescent show. Even minus the big stage and big powerful PA system that the Bedsit Poets are used to – and also minus their bass player – they still delivered a lush set full of sweeping grandeur and soaring three-part harmonies. Lead guitarist Mac Randall’s Fender clanged and sang like a Rickenbacker; drummer Nancy Polstein had absolute command of the room with her subtle, quietly nuanced rimshots and accents (and played piano on one song, impressively well), while singers Amanda Thorpe and Ed Rogers traded parts and jokes and dazzled with their voices. Both of these two British expats love their 60s rock – if there’s ever another Austin Powers movie, this band should do the soundtrack – and sing as if they were brought up on it, which perhaps they were. They opened with the catchy Simple Twist of Emotion, from their debut album The Summer That Changed (whose deliciously jangly title track they also played). On a new number, perhaps titled Misery, Rogers clearly enjoyed playing a raffish, underworldly character versus Thorpe’s straitlaced persona. After a beautiful, darkly jangly 6/8 ballad sung by Thorpe, they played a bossa song with lots of harmonies, everyone in the band’s frontline singing a different lyric at one point, Randall obviously reveling in the complexities of the melody (titled Every Day I Fall in Love with You Again, maybe?)

“This one Amanda wrote in five minutes,” said Rogers with a straight face, as the band launched into an impressively bluesy cover of Dylan’s You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine, Randall tossing off a few spot-on Bloomfield/Langhorne licks at the end. They ended the set with a big slow anthem evocative of the Church, its gorgeous, arpeggiated melody unfurling slowly and majestically, and closed with an original that Rogers said was a tribute to T Rex. What a treat to be able to hear such an inspiring, uplifting show in such an intimate setting.

February 7, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Amanda Thorpe/Randi Russo/Ninth House at Hank’s Saloon, Brooklyn NY 8/25/07

Amanda Thorpe has made a career out of joining bands that are ok and making them suddenly great. She did that with the Wirebirds, and recently with the Bedsit Poets. Tonight she showed how, with just her voice, her songs and her new Christian guitar (it’s a gospel model that New York musicians apparently love to play in the guitar store until they notice the big white cross on the headstock). She opened with a Richard Thompson song, a-capella.“That’s as close to Linda Thompson as I can get,” Thorpe sheepishly told the crowd, but what could have been pure hubris wasn’t. As a singer, British expat Thorpe is in the same league, with a similarly haunting, resigned delivery. But she can also belt and wail and has a very playful, jazzy side that she showed off tonight. If and when Norah Jones falls off the radar – not that she should – Thorpe could very well take her place.

She played a lot of material from her forthcoming cd Union Square, including its understatedly wistful, beautifully melancholy title track. Her Bedsit Poets bandmate Edward Rogers joined her onstage for a duet on the sad, knowing The Highs Can’t Beat the Lows. A couple of times, she tried to engage the audience in a singalong, but this fell flat: everybody was too busy listening. The crowd here drinks and gabs: that she got them to shut up pretty much says it all. Her best songs were an unreleased number called the River Song, a bitter tale of rejection and betrayal, and the morbid, 6/8 Bedsit Poets sea chantey Around and Around. She also did a marvelously nuanced version of Leonard Cohen’s Bird on a Wire, jazzed up the Mama Cass hit Dream a Little Dream of Me and closed with a breathtakingly powerful version of the Steve Wynn classic For All I Care, bringing out every ounce of the lyrics’ suicidal wrath.

The only complaint about Randi Russo’s show was that it was too quiet. Otherwise, she and her trio (minus her lead guitarist Lenny Molotov, who was out of town) played a set of some of her most powerful songs, including the hypnotic, pounding, Velvets-inflected One Track Mind (from her obscure Live at CB’s Gallery ep), the eerie, chromatic Adored, the towering, 6/8 alienation anthem Prey and the scathing minor-key dayjob-from-hell number Battle on the Periphery. She’s been playing lead guitar in the Oxygen Ponies lately, and the careening, noisy solo she took toward the end of the unreleased Hurt Me Now turned the atmospheric, melancholy song into a blazing rocker as the rhythm section channeled Joy Division. Tonight, for some reason, all the bands were quiet: at least this put her cutting lyrics and velvety vocals out front and center.

Ninth House frontman Mark Sinnis was celebrating his birthday, and they predictably packed the place. They’ve shuffled their lineup yet again, with a new guitarist. Despite not having had the chance to do much rehearsing, the Anti-Dave, as he calls himself attacked the songs with passion and imagination. Until very recently Ninth House had a very 80s dark anthemic feel, and while the majesty of the songs remains, there’s a newly bluesy, somewhat improvisatory feel to the music, particularly in the interplay between the keyboards and the guitar: an unexpected and very promising development. They burned their way through the swinging, country-inflected When the Sun Bows to the Moon and Mistaken for Love, found some new, bluesy energy in Injury Home (from their second cd Swim in the Silence) and closed with a blistering cover of Ghost Riders in the Sky.

We went to Superfine afterward and were reassured to find this place as good a choice of late-night hang as it’s always been: all the yuppies go home by 1 AM, and the crowd that remains is pretty much like any other crowd you’d find in what used to be New York, a motley crew that keeps to themselves and doesn’t annoy.

August 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Concert Review: The Bedsit Poets, Don Piper and the Oxygen Ponies at Luna Lounge, Brooklyn NY 6/3/07

The show probably would have sold out if not for the elements: torrential rain, umbrellas blown inside out, everyone in the house soaked to the bone. The marvelous Bedsit Poets opened. Their sound is totally late 60s/early 70s, windswept pastoral beauty in places, otherwise super catchy harmony-driven Britpop, the Kinks circa Arthur hanging out with the Fairport Convention crowd. Frontman Ed Rogers and rhythm guitarist/singer Amanda Thorpe blend voices beautifully. Both British expats, he has a classic pop delivery which pairs well with Thorpe’s soaring, passionate Britfolk style.

Thorpe was celebrating her birthday, and she held the audience in the palm of her hand, particularly on the sweeping, anthemic Reach for the Sky, from their well-received album The Summer That Changed (as in “changed our lives”). On the quiet, ethereal Chemical Day, Thorpe played a small keyboard that for a minute sounded as if it was producing some quiet, strategically placed layers of feedback. They closed their rousing 50-minute set with the title track from the album, a supremely catchy pop tune punctuated by lead guitarist Mac Randall’s swinging country licks. Rogers and Thorpe sang a round with each other at the end of the song: he launched into Mungo Jerry and she countered with Gershwin, the result being a typical Bedsit moment. They’re a very playful band. The audience wanted an encore but didn’t get one.

Singer/guitarist Don Piper and his band – including many of the people who would play later in the evening – followed with a painless set of slow-to-midtempo jangle and clang. At one point, guest guitarist Drew Glackin (who also plays with the Jack Grace Band and the Silos) took a slowly growling climb up the scale, turned around and came back down the way he went up. Against the steady wash of the two guitars behind him, it was almost as if it was 1984 and True West was onstage. But they never hit that peak again: Piper seems to be more interested in mood and atmosphere than saying anything specific. He doesn’t have the voice for rock – it’s a keening, high tenor – but to his credit he tackled a Curtis Mayfield number and absolutely nailed it. He has a real future as a soul singer if he wants it.

The Oxygen Ponies are basically songwriter Paul Megna and whoever he can rustle up for a show. Tonight he brought a whole herd, 11 musicians including a trio of backup singers, two guitarists in addition to Megna himself, lapsteel, rhythm section and two horn players. Megna comes from the gutter-poet school of songwriting, all bedraggled, depressed and chain-smoking. His melodies are contagiously catchy (think a less skeletal Leonard Cohen, or a more pop-oriented Nick Cave) and he can write a hell of a lyric, with a sometimes savagely cynical edge. And the band pushed him to project and sing, keeping his vocals at a safe distance from the dreaded cesspool of grunge. The band’s ability to hit a crescendo out of nowhere was literally breathtaking, especially on the final track from their new cd, The Quickest Way to Happiness.

What was perhaps most striking about their performance was that everyone onstage was clearly having a great time, and this carried over to the audience. What could have been dirges became anthems. The lead guitarist didn’t play much, but when he did, his slashing pyrotechnics never failed to ignite. The horns played in perfect unison with each other and the backup singers delivered joyous, heartfelt harmonies. Megna’s songs tend to go on for at least five minutes, sometimes much more, but they never dragged. And the sound system was crystal clear all night long. What fun.

June 9, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments