Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 3/1/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #150:

McGinty & White – Rewrite

When he’s at the top of his game – and he usually is – there’s no better songwriter than Ward White. This is one of his more lyrically pyrotechnic efforts – breaking the fourth wall, loading on as many savage double entendres and puns as he can summon – from his excellent 2009 retro-60s psychedelic pop collaboration with keyboard genius Joe McGinty. The whole album is streaming at the link above.

March 1, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Clare & the Reasons – Arrow

This is one of the albums left over from late last year when Lucid Culture had sort of fallen into disrepair. Running all over the country, we were putting up new content in fits and gasps and had to temporarily abandon our most popular feature, the NYC live music calendar. Meanwhile, the albums kept piling up. When we got back up to speed last month, most of those albums had lost currency and had to be left behind. But not this one.

Clare & the Reasons’ new album Arrow sounds an awful lot like Greta Gertler. Frontwoman Clare Muldaur Manchon – daughter of 70s Americana multistylist Geoff Muldaur –  has a similarly high, girlish vocal range – where Gertler goes completely off the wall and devious and funny, Manchon goes sultry with a Norah Jones nouvelle-Billie Holliday feel. It’s smart, artsy orchestrated pop with an alternately Beatlesque and retro soul edge, in the same vein as Gertler, the Secret History or Mattison. This is a dreamscape of sorts with a neat false ending.

It opens blithe, optimistic and McCartneyesque with just pizzicato strings and vocals, “No trouble is our trouble now…yeah it’s our time,” setting a nocturnal tone for the rest of the album. Then they do like Sir Paul again with electric piano over jangly acoustic guitar and a lead guitar track straight of the White Album. Our Team Is Grand is breathily seductive, somewhat hypnotic with lush strings and a big Beatles crescendo, soulful trombone accents, strings climbing furiously and descending just as fast.

There are two tracks here titled You Getting Me, the first with a synth loop that gives way to austere strings, the second a hypnotic trip-hop number that brings in the strings again, this time lush and triumphant. They follow that with a resoundingly funny, horn-driven tongue-in-cheek cover of the Phil Collins-era Genesis hit That’s All; another original where dreampop gives way to sassy Britrock; the big 6/8 ballad Kyoto Nights, introducing an element of disquiet; a swirling, swaying psychedelic pop number and the quirky, hypnotic Perdue a Paris. The best song on the album makes a striking change from everything that preceded it: Murder, They Want Murder is a richly suspenseful noir ballad set in the suspicious small town of “Ditmasville,” Manchon’s voice soaring over a hypnotic, repetitive staccato piano lick, strings fluttering up and down at the end as trumpet twitters over the eerie mantra “They will talk about you.” The album reverts to a dreamy vibe, closing with Wake Up, You Sleepyhead, its trip-hop beat, gently breathy vocals and playful lyrics like something that would be perfectly at home in the Kate Mattison songbook. There’s a lot to enjoy here, after dark for maximum effect. By the way, the band’s upstart label Frog Stand Records has an enticing special offer, three albums for $19 including this one, Clare & the Reasons’ debut The Movie plus their digital Live in Paris recording, click the link above for info.

February 2, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Roulette Sisters at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 6/18/07

A deliriously fun, hot, sweaty show. It was late on a Monday night, but the place was packed. The crowd sang along, and when they weren’t singing, they were laughing at all the subtle and not-so-subtle double entendres the band was harmonizing on. Because (other than great musicianship and gorgeous 4-part harmonies and stone cold authentic acoustic blues playing), sex is what the Roulette Sisters are all about. Lou Pearlman couldn’t have come up with a better marketing concept: four attractive women singing innuendo-laden oldtime music – an impressively wide-ranging mix of blues, country and 1920s/30s pop – playing their own instruments, singing beautifully and writing a lot of their own material. They opened with Coney Island Washboard: guitarist Mamie Minch explained how it was an instrumental from the early 20s given lyrics by a popular pop group, the Mills Brothers, about ten years later. Lead guitarist Meg Reichardt (also of les Chauds Lapins) added a typically suggestive postscript, telling the audience about a co-worker who was walking around the office all day wearing something akin to the “brand new suit of easy breezes” in the song’s chorus. A little later they did another original, inspired by the Carter Family, that wouldn’t be out of place on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.

Minch had just asked her bandmates whether they should do a pretty song or a dirty song when she was suddenly interrupted. “Fuck!” She’d just gotten a jolt of electric current from her mic. Her bandmates grinned at each other, and the question was answered: they launched into the hokum blues classic Keep on Churnin’:

Keep on churning til the butter comes
Keep on pumping, let the butter flow
Wipe off the paddle and churn some more

The crowd roared for another in the same vein, so they obliged, with heir most popular original, Hottest Girl in Town. The song is a hoot: each band member takes a verse laden with Freudian imagery, some verging on X-rated, detailing how their boyfriends like to please them. Viola player Karen Waltuch, who played incisive, somewhat dark solos all night long, took her most intricate one of the evening after her verse and the crowd loved it.

Then was Reichardt’s turn to bring the house down with an outtake from Dolly Parton’s first album, a deliciously righteous tale of a jilted woman wanting to get even with the woman who married her man: “I feel like tying dynamite to her side of the car.” After that, Minch delivered an especially sly version of the Bessie Smith hit Sugar in My Bowl.

The excellent Al Duvall – who’s quite the master of thinly veiled dirty lyrics himself – accompanied them on banjo on their last four songs, ending with a brand-new composition about a sheet music plugger (plugger: get it?) which Minch sang off a lyric sheet. She began the song as a talking blues but by the end she’d written a vocal melody and had it down cold.

You heard it here first: this band is going places. Our predecessor e-zine picked their cd Nerve Medicine as best debut album of 2006. Good to see that prediction come true, with this fantastic band getting some real momentum.

June 19, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Concert Review: Melomane at Hank’s Saloon, Brooklyn NY 6/7/07

Living proof that epic grandeur can be synonymous with great fun. This well-established New York art-rock unit is part eerie 60s garage band, part meticulously orchestrated symphonic rock. As much as it was a little incongruous seeing them in these surroundings – Hank’s is a wonderfully inexpensive, friendly, old-school place that usually features country music – it was a blissfully good show. They bookended the set with a cover of the old Lou Reed chestnut We’re Going to Have a Real Good Time Together, the only song on which the band lacked tightness, and in fact the only really lighthearted moment of the night. Melomane translates loosely from the French as “passion for fun,” and there was no lack of either, although since 9/11 they’ve become a very dark band with a remarkable political awareness, even for an age where pretty much everybody is united against Bush & Corp. Foremost among the songs they played tonight were a trio from their ongoing “disaster song cycle,” as frontman/lead guitarist Pierre de Gaillande put it. One of them was a bouncy pop song about the Vesuvius eruption that essentially cast the Romans as a bunch of fascists. Another was about a meteorite. Their global warming song, possibly titled This Celestial Orb was the best of the bunch, a gorgeous, minor-key number that began with de Gaillande’s guitar playing fast, biting broken chords while keyboardist Frank Heer did the same. It built to a haunting chorus, “gravity reverses and the sea and sky trade places.” After a spur-of-the-moment interlude in 7/8 time, they tacked on a sarcastic, poppy finale with a tricky false ending that caught the audience completely off guard.

This is a talented group of musicians. Heer doubled on lead guitar, and at the end of a slowly unwinding, overtly political number, played a perfect dual guitar solo with Gaillande. To their credit, it sounded absolutely nothing like Hotel California. Keyboardist Quentin Jennings played haunting cello on several numbers. It was also good to see nimble, inventive bass player Daria Grace (also of the Jack Grace Band and the Prewar Ponies) singing harmonies again. There was a time when she’d pushed her voice too far, and it took a long time to come back. The good news is that it’s back and as bright as ever.

The biggest hit with the audience was a request, Going Places, a spot-on parody of trendoids:

Let’s get stressed out to impress and then let’s go out
You have the best high-fashion bedhead to go with your sleepy mind
And if the night should segregate us you go your way and I’ll go mine

The song went doublespeed after the second verse and by the time they wound it up, it was completely punked out, Gaillande screamingly hoarsely.

Otherwise, the band displayed a welcome gravitas, most powerfully evoked with the two keyboards going at once. They’re playing mostly in minor keys, and Gaillande has become an excellent lead guitarist. Melomane’s show tonight was a reminder yet again of the uncontestable fact that the most transcendent, powerful moments of live music in New York aren’t found at Madison Square Garden or Irving Plaza or for that matter even the Annex. The good stuff, the really great stuff is happening at cozy little neighborhood joints like Hank’s.

June 9, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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

Album Review: Ward White – Maybe but Probably Not

I don’t know what happened to this guy. He just snapped. Maybe it was the bad dayjob – that happens to a lot of people. Whatever the cause, the result was the first instant classic to come out last year, the high point so far in the career of the American Richard Thompson. Ward White is a virtual anomaly among US rock songwriters, a brutally cynical, dazzling wordsmith with equally spectacularly guitar chops and a straight-up rock sensibility. No solipsistic folkie whining here. No cheesy synthesizers or dated 90s trip-hop production. This album ROCKS….quietly. White’s tasteful, minimalist production sets his Bowie-inflected vocals soaring over tersely arranged acoustic and electric guitars and a string quartet. Chamber rock has never been so exhilarating. White’s back catalog, notably his previous release, Lovely Invalids demonstrates a sardonic wit and a wickedly playful, literate lyricism. He never met a pun he could resist (unless the boss asked for one) and employs devices including personification, metonymy and meta in ways that few English-language writers have done outside the covers of a book. Here, he succeeds at being clever without being too clever by half: the substance of this album matches its style, milligram for milligram. I believe that is how bile is measured.

The album opens with the psychopathological Things Kept Falling: “I’m not alone in this,” White taunts. As Mary Lee Kortes has noted, bad relationships are the gift that keeps on giving: and either this guy has had a spectacular streak of bad luck, or he’s a particularly gifted observer. Maybe both. On the album’s title track, he gleefully recounts to an ex how he “mined your broken heart for an album cut.” But no one escapes White’s minesweeper approach to hypocrisy. In the equally gleeful New York supremacist anthem L.A. Is Not the Answer, he takes a swipe at the trendoid lit crowd: “Tell Joe Henry to call me/I haven’t heard from Bill Vollmann in so long…” In Can You Lie?, he mines the irony of duplicitous actor types trying on roles for size for all it’s worth: “I want to know if you can lie convincingly to me/If you break character I’ll see/I will!”

Undertow, with its haunting minor-key chorus is pure symbolism, the booze ebbing back, yet all the while taunting the boozer that sooner or later he’ll fall off the wagon because “you were paralyzed and I set you free.” In the album’s concluding track, So Long, yet another ex will “Call me up, tell me about the weather, how everybody is so thin out there.” White’s terse response is, “I think I’ll extend my visa,” presumably in some distant foreign land.

The album’s centerpiece – and arguably the best song of the year – is Hole In the Head, a particularly timely take on deadend dayjob drudgery. It works equally well as Barbara Ehrenreich-style journalism, mise-en-scene piece and rock tune:

I can’t believe what you say
You’re a liar
Please don’t look so shocked
Hell, you could retire on all you stole
And I’m not gonna look anymore
Unless I’m buying
Tell you the truth, I’m tired of not trying to care in any way
I need this job like a hole in the head
I need a hole in my head to do this job
I need a head for some reason that escapes me now
There’s no escaping you

White’s two guitars and bass (he plays all the instruments) maintain the song’s claustrophobic intensity all the way though to its final ominous, ringing minor chord. Yet there’s more than just spleen here. White knows that banality of evil can sometimes be very funny, if in a blackly humorous way, and there are as many laugh-out-loud jokes on this album as there are instantly recognizable moments for anyone who’s ever been screwed in a relationship or struggled to refrain from decking an obnoxious boss.

Maybe But Probably Not ranks with Armed Forces by Elvis Costello, Mirror Blue by Richard Thompson and Mad Within Reason by LJ Murphy as one of the alltime great pissed-off lyrical rock records. It’s also a trenchant warning not to ever, ever mess with a songwriter. They always get even in the end. By the way, as an interesting bit of trivia, former Scout drummer Nigel Rawles overdubbed drums on many of the songs. For those of you who may be unaware, in modern recording it is customary to record drums before the rest of the band, which is logical enough since the band needs a beat to follow. It’s a credit to White that his timing was good enough for a drummer to follow without stumbling, and it’s a credit to both musicians that they could pull this off and make it sound like a seamless whole.

May 3, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments