Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 1/8/10

We’re going to head out today for a little R&R to celebrate Elvis’ birthday after an exhausting but transcendent evening running around Bleecker Street to catch a bunch of Winter Jazzfest shows (by the way, the festival continues tonight and is not sold out). If the force is with us we’ll put up something about it in a few hours. In the meantime, as we do every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Saturday’s is #752:

Albert Collins – Live 92-93

One of the most powerful musicians ever to pick up a guitar, Texas blues legend Albert Collins died barely three months after recording the last tracks on this 1995 album. You would never know it. Running his Telecaster through an amp custom-made to get the icy, reverb-drenched “cool” sound that defined his playing, he blasted through one lightning-fast interlude after another, nonstop. And for a guy who played so many notes, no one has made so many count for so much: fast he as he was, he didn’t waste any. And while his guitar playing has a snide, sarcastic edge (he played almost exclusively in minor keys), his songs are fun and frequently amusing. The party anthem that earned him an audience of college kids in the late 80s is I Ain’t Drunk (I’m Just Drinking), done here with a hilarious bridge where his guitar imitates a belligerent conversation between three drunks in a tavern. There was nobody more adrenalizing at Texas shuffles than Collins (he originally wanted to be an organist, but when his car broke down on the highway, he went off to find a tow truck and someone made off with the brand new Hammond B3 in the trailer that he was pulling, he decided he’d stick with guitar). There are a bunch of them here, all of them absolutely kick-ass: Iceman; the funky Put the Shoe on the Other Foot, and T-Bone Shuffle. There’s also the sarcastic Lights Are On but Nobody’s Home, his lickety-split signature instrumental Frosty, a romp through the standard Travellin’ South and a scorching version of Black Cat Bone. Pretty much everything Collins ever did from the early 80s onwards, even his hastily produced studio albums on Alligator, is worth owning. RIP. Here’s a random torrent.

January 8, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/19/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #101:

Richard Thompson – Can’t Win

Arguably Thompson’s most ferocious song, among many, is this scathing, nine-minute anti-conformity, anti-fascist epic. “The nerve of some people!” The studio version on the 1987 Amnesia album is fine (see the link above), but it’s a live showstopper. Look for a bootleg, the longer the better because the guitar solo will be especially intense.

April 19, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Duke Robillard at Wagner Park, NYC 7/17/08

Duke Robillard has made a reputation as one of the few blues guitarists who can indulge in a lot of pyrotechnics without overplaying. Tonight, the former Roomful of Blues lead player turned in an almost shockingly terse set: has he lost a step, or was he just in a minimalist mood? Those who came out expecting to hear mile-a-minute solos and wild, frenetic wailing doubtlessly came away disappointed, but for those who think long guitar solos are overkill, this was a show to see. The crowd was weird: in addition to the usual contingent of old stoner guys in Pink Floyd t-shirts, there were tons of rugrats, and a young woman who looked like the actress in Carnival of Souls clinging tightly to a pillow-sized stuffed animal that she wouldn’t let go of, even when her boyfriend showed up. There was also a mobster and the muscular, tattoed guy who appeared to be his enforcer, arguing over a favor the enforcer wanted. Whenever the conversation got really heated, they went closer to the stage to keep their discussion private. No dummies, those guys.

Robillard had an excellent band behind him, a saxist who doubled on harp, keyboardist and rhythm section. Robillard’s always been more of a swing jazz guy than a straight-up blues player, but it was mostly all the latter tonight. Robillard’s remarkably chordal aproach has always distinguished him from similar flashy players, and unsurprisingly, it was that material that stuck out from the rest of the songs in the set, particularly a straight-up, Stonesy rock song possibly titled She’s a Live Wire. Early in the set, Robillard tried taking flight a couple of times but couldn’t get off the runway, so he held back the rest of the way. He started playing his usual big, beautiful Gibson hollowbody, then switched to Telecaster and immediately found his groove. Then, surprisingly, he put it down and sang a cheesy old 50s hit, which didn’t exactly work out because nobody comes out to hear Robillard sing: he’s one of those guys who sounds like he has a frog in his throat. He then picked up the Tele again for a couple of cuts from his new album Swing Session, a jump blues and a slow ballad, then picked up another Fender that he said somebody had handed him and asked him to play, and complied. And played his most interesting solos of the night. With the same charmed guitar, he then tackled a T-Bone Walker number (now there’s a jazzcat playing blues!) and began it with some classic T-Bone style 4-on-3 playing, before closing with a long, almost Grateful Dead-style one-chord jam to close the set.

To answer a question recently posed, why would anyone want to see a blues show? Well, you can dance to it – the kids definitely were. It’s fun, and if the band is good and doesn’t overdo it the soloing and interplay between musicians is very cool (translation: it’s great stoner music). And the blues cats keep dropping like flies: someday you or your children may not get to hear any of this anywhere but on a recording.

July 17, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Champagne Francis – I Start to Daydream

Champagne Francis’ debut full-length cd came out last year and it’s stood the test of time: in fact, it’s one of the best albums of the decade, a gorgeous blend of catchy, jangly guitar, bass and drums. There’s literally not a bad song on this record. It’s ostensibly indie rock, but guitarist/frontman Brian Silverman’s playing is light-years ahead of most of his contemporaries. Armed with an ironclad sense of melody and a total inability to waste a single note, the songs here are finely crafted gems that will rattle around your mind when you least expect them. Imagine Guided by Voices at their most melodic, or the Lemonheads if they’d paid attention in college and actually learned something instead of posing for paparazzi.

The album opens auspiciously with Old Vampires, its supremely memorable break bursting out of the verse. The next track Waterskis is killer, with its inscrutable lyric about somebody who “can’t get out of the water.” This is the only song here where Silverman shows off his phenomenally fast guitar chops, and the result is a hilarious parody of a Steve Vai-style shredding solo.

Done So Secretly follows, with its percussive, fast 8th note new wave-ish bassline: Silverman adds a layer of distorted guitar after the second chorus. The title track continues in the same vein, building to another great chorus. The best cut on the cd is Burned to the Ground. Silverman’s deviously opaque lyrics are effective both in setting a mood and leaving you guessing and this is a prime example, told from the point of view of somebody watching the remains of a party from across the street:

Pissing in the bushes, passed out on the lawn
Cops showed up and busted anyone they could see
Burned to the ground, drunk and hanging round
Turned into stone, end of the day

There are layers and layers of textured overdubs on the break rather than an actual guitar solo: it’s one of the most memorable, hooky melodies of recent years.

Of the other tracks, Prize is more indie rock than anything else on the album, with lots of open chords which are usually the curse of the genre. But the vocal melody carries it here – and is that the solo from Two Tickets to Paradise?!? Photos of You picks up the pace with its sweet bent note intro. Once Only is fast and growly with insistent drums like early Versus. High Comedy is the loudest tune here, layers of distorted Fender guitars, wickedly catchy verse crescendoing into a chorus that’s just as good. Walter doesn’t get going til the chorus but then it’s brilliant, like the great lost pop song by the Church. Our Parents Had Money is a gently scathing tale of trendoids and the soft fate that awaits them:

Shopped in used clothes stores, favorite one’s the Salvation Army
We were the best dressed kids on our block down on Bedford St.[sic]
Everyone got this cause our parents had money

After they get sick of Williamsburg, they take their lame act out to the suburbs. This has to be one of the funniest and most apt New York songs in recent memory.

The rhythm section of Connie on bass and backing vocals and Nigel Rawles (of Scout and Rawles Balls fame) on drums is supertight and rolls this thing along like a motorcycle weaving effortlessly between rows of cars stalled on the interstate at rush hour. Silverman is a pro who teaches guitar and gets paid for playing, i.e. musicals and such, so this project has been pretty much on hiatus for awhile: we’ll keep you posted on any live shows, which are predictably terrific.

July 18, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Big Lazy – Postcards from X

Their most cinematic album, on which the most mesmerizing instrumental band on the planet broaden their sonic palette from the usual charcoal and grey to include, perhaps, burnt ochre and dark olive. The album cover looks like a poster for a 60s spy film, with the shadow of a woman running with a briefcase. The case opens to show the woman’s ankle and the briefcase, but it’s not clear if she’s running alongside a wall covered with dying ivy…or if she’s lying on a path in the woods. The visuals couldn’t be more appropriate.

Big Lazy’s first two releases were all menace and suspense, conjuring up images of black-clad figures slipping in and out of the shadows in a 4 AM industrial wasteland, the pavement cold and luminous with late autumn rain. This one, their fourth, is much more diverse. Big Lazy unsurprisingly get a lot of film soundtrack work, and the songs on this album may well be destined for Sundance or Hollywood. Several of them begin menacingly and end on a sunny note, or vice versa, with innumerable twists and turns in between. The album opens with Thy Name Is Woman, virtuoso guitarist Steve Ulrich playing with distortion instead of his usual oceans of reverb. Essentially, it’s a 6/8 blues, propelled by brilliant bassist Paul Dugan’s staccato arpeggios. The next cut, by Dugan, is Walk It Off, opening with bowed bass playing the ominous melody as Ulrich plays the bassline on guitar. All of a sudden, on the second verse, Ulrich launches into some noir jazz as guest keyboardist Ed Pastorini’s Hammond organ kicks in. It’s very 60s. The following cut Glitter Gulch begins with a sexy bassline, like The Fever, with dark, quietly booming drum flourishes and eerie organ. Then it morphs into a Morricone-esque spaghetti western theme. After that, Ulrich returns with more guitar distortion on the brief, skronky Drug Czar.

The cd’s next track, France, is a very funny song, something akin to how Serge Gainsbourg’s 60s backing band might have covered Big Lazy. It’s an uncharacteristically bouncy number with just enough moments of incisive reverb guitar to give the listener pause. Drummer Tamir Muskat (ex-Gogol Bordello) spices the following cut, His Brother’s Wife, with all kinds of metallic percussive effects, with Ulrich and Dugan reverting to the dark, New York noir sound of their previous work until a country-inflected chorus with soaring lapsteel. After that, on Postcard from X, bowed bass carries the melody over plinky, ragtimish guitar. It’s an unusually wistful, pretty song, evocative of the great Southwestern gothic band Friends of Dean Martinez as the lapsteel flies in at the end of the song.

The best song on the album is the lickety-split, minor-key punkabilly theme To Hell in a Handbasket, another Dugan composition. Los Straitjackets or Rev. Horton Heat only wish they wrote something this adrenalizing. After Dugan and Ulrich play their fingers off for a couple of minutes, there’s a brief bass solo and then a gently happy ending. The lone cover on the album is an Astor Piazzolla classic, Pulsacion #4, which most closely resembles Big Lazy’s early work, all macabre chromatics and scary reverb. The cd’s next tune Naked begins with Dugan pedaling a single note over a suspenseful, steady beat, evoking a movie scene where the hero may be having second thoughts. You want to tell him (or her), don’t go back in the house, don’t get in the car with that guy and whatever you do, stay inside the tent. But they don’t, and all hell breaks loose. The album concludes with The Confidence Man, a total 60s spy movie theme, jazzy with staccato bass and tinny organ, its menace building gently at the end of the verse, then breaking through the door when the chorus kicks in.

If this album can reach the people who blast the Vampiros Lesbos soundtrack at parties, that’s where it needs to be. Inevitably, it’ll be a cult classic for decades to come. Be the first person on your block or in your dorm room to turn your friends on to this amazing band. And if you think the occasional lightheartedness of this album might mean that Big Lazy has lost any of the white-knuckle intensity of their live shows, not to worry: check our reviews page for a glimpse of the best show we’ve seen this year, Big Lazy’s cd release at Luna Lounge last month. Classic album, an instant contender (along with Jenifer Jackson’s new one) for best of the year. Five bagels. Pumpernickel (because that’s the darkest kind available).

June 6, 2007 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

CD Review: Lenny Molotov – Luminous Blues

The virtuoso guitarist steps up to the plate four times and hits three home runs on this tantalizingly brief ep. That’s a .750 batting average. Lenny Molotov, who fronts the impressively authentic delta blues outfit Elgin Movement and also plays lead in Randi Russo’s band, also happens to be a spectacularly good songwriter and lyricist as well as one of the best guitarists anywhere. An apt comparison would be Richard Thompson. Each draws deeply from traditional sources: in Thompson’s case, British folk; Molotov continues in the tradition of great bluesmen from Charley Patton to Robert Johnson, while adding contemporary lyrics. Like Thompson, Molotov is also a brilliant wordsmith, a master of symbolism, allusion and imagery: he doesn’t tell a story as much as show you a movie and let you figure out for yourself what’s going on.

The album opens with the innuendo-laden Ceiling Fan, a concert favorite that sounds something like a great lost track from Blonde on Blonde, except with much better guitar:

I could be Henry Miller and you could be Anais Nin
But you gotta let me know whether you want me out or in
I’m leaving now but you can gimme a call
When you’re ready to begin
Then we can both lay back and watch your ceiling fan spin

There’s a guitar break between the chorus and verse that sounds pretty much the same but a close listen reveals that it’s not: Molotov slowly changes it every go-round and by the time the song it’s over it’s become a macabre snake dance. It works perfectly, considering that this song is about cheating. After a routine popup, Molotov strides to batter’s box and hits another one into the upper deck with Love Train (not the O’Jays/Yayhoos hit). It riffs on pretty much every Manhattan subway line, a sardonic, open-tuned, fingerpicked blues about a relationship gone all the way out to Stillwell Avenue:

I cannot take the D train
Cause D it stands for dog
Cause that’s the animal I feel most like
When you were playing god
OOOh, stop this train…

It’s a classic New York song. The album concludes with the anthemic, crescendoing, vengeful Bottle Up and Go, which Molotov frequently uses to close his solo shows. Fans of current songwriters rooted in blues and Americana including Tom Waits, LJ Murphy and Rachelle Garniez – and the aforementioned Mr. Thompson – will love this stuff.

This is a hard album to find other than at shows. Four bagels, with whatever a bluesman would put on them. Which probably means hard salami and mustard – they both keep well. Molotov typically plays his own stuff on weekend nights at Sidewalk.

June 5, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments