Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

MotherMoon Turns Down the Lights

Don’t let MotherMoon frontwoman Ashley Selett’s vocal resemblance to Norah Jones scare you off – their new album Writing in the Sky is hardly elevator music. Selett’s torchy yet nuanced, soul-infused delivery understates the dark intensity of her songwriting. The songs here are remarkably intelligently and counterintuitively assembled: dynamics rise and fall, tempos shift in a split second, go doublespeed and then back again. Selett’s a terrific wordsmith as well. Pensive, brooding and metaphorically charged, her lyrics don’t shy away from the dark side.

The album opens with a pleasant, accessible, guitar-and-organ rock tune with clever psychedelic touches that contrast with the beaten-down anguish of the lyrics:

Although we fall down to the ground
Maybe it’s not what we wanted
Maybe the sun maybe the time
Was too unwarranted
…I guess just bring the hearse
In the heat of the night

The album’s second cut (essentially its title track) is a fragmentary, brooding Cat Power-ish minimalist number with a catchy chorus: “Why’s everybody looking at me like sadness is faux pas?” Selett wants to know. A simple soul guitar riff carries the captivating Quicker Quitter – it’s hard to tell if Selett is being cynical, or offering a warning to get out before everything falls apart.

Spilt Blood couples a 1920s-style hot swing tune to a fast swaying rock arrangement – here Selett reaches back for a post-Billie Holiday delivery more than she does anywhere else, delivering her vivid, imagistic, wounded lyric with a depleted, affectless weariness. The album winds up with a new wave rock tune with woozy, oscillating Dr. Dre synth. It’s an auspicious debut that leaves you wanting more. Selett’s current band includes brilliant Americana guitarist Myles Turney along with Joseph Colmenero on bass and Joel Arnow on percussion. MotherMoon play the cd release show for this one at Spike Hill on August 6 at 11 PM.

July 31, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Paula Carino – Open on Sunday

Spreading the word about good music is equal parts joy and responsibility. The joy is in the discovery, in this case that Paula Carino’s new cd Open on Sunday looks like a lock for best album of the year. The responsibility is in explaining why. Musically, this one expands on the catchy, Pretenders-inflected janglerock sound of her previous album Aquacade (look for that one on our 666 best albums of all time list coming in August), although it takes the volume and intensity up a notch courtesy of Ross Bonadonna’s fiery lead guitar work. Lyrically, it also takes the intensity up a notch – it’s a wry, bittersweet, brooding, Richard Thompson-esque masterpiece, Carino’s velvet voice occasionally leaping for a crescendo when she really wants to slam-dunk a felicitous phrase. Which is something new for her, a songwriter whose deadpan, stilletto wit would typically reside in the margins. On Aquacade, you had to listen closely for the best parts. Here, she’s more allusive than elusive, delivering them to you like the daughter in Mommy Dearest – the silver platter looks appetizing but you never know what’s underneath the lid.

The centerpiece of the album is Lucky in Love, a majestically crashing, angst-ridden 6/8 post-breakup ballad. Carino knows how to treat herself right, with “ice cream and beer at night,” yet the images of a woman trying to hold it together with steely resolve paint a completely different picture and it is impossible to turn away from. The gently swaying, rueful With the Bathwater adds illuminating detail: “It’s been raining since that day I threw your Nick Drake tapes away.” The Road to Hell perfectly captures the exasperation beforehand:

I said I’d live to aid and serve my crummy neighbors
And when I went unpaid for all my useless labors
I slacked on my promises
I know who Doubting Thomas is

And Saying Grace Before the Movie has Carino offering calm, wrenching understatement over a blithe rockabilly-inflected tune:

It never satisfies
The bad guy never dies
Just lives on in the sequel
And somehow I’m still surprised
His lines are stupid
And they always make me cry

Some novel variation of “Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye”

But not everything here is this bleak. The album’s defiant opening track gives a joyous shout-out to Maxwell’s, the legendary Hoboken club where Carino found teenage solace in punk rock. The time-warping Robots Helping Robots imagines a machine-made utopia – well, sort of: “Brain luminous, and numinous, and all this time they’ve been grooming us,” Carino winks, a theme echoed in the far more sinister The Others:

They’ll take you out on your own town
For a little lobster and some karaoke
Everybody’s covering James Brown
Did he just die or is it some viral-memey-hokey-pokey?

The upbeat, ridiculously catchy Great Depression spins the political as personal, fervently encouraging a sourpuss to lighten up. Bonadonna’s sarcastic carnival guitar lights up the cleverly labyrinthine Rough Guide, a trip to the outermost regions of a psyche that simply refuses to connect. And the darkly careening, bluesy, sarcastic Sir, You Have No Bucket might be the single most memorable tune on the cd. Put this in a mix with your favorite lyricists: Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson, Phil Ochs, Rachelle Garniez…now it’s Paula Carino’s turn. Paula Carino plays the Beefstock Festival on April 10.

April 8, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Patty Ocfemia – Heaven’s Best Guest

An astonishingly good, gripping album that instantly vaults to the top of our best debut albums of 2008 list. Patty Ocfemia is one of the great storytellers in music, setting vivid imagery and a vast array of characters to catchy, acoustic-based music. She sings in character, with a strangely beautiful, instantly recognizable voice. It’s sweet and somewhat breathy, but with a quirky edge that lends itself particularly well to the people she portrays. Like many of the best songwriters out there, she has a soft spot for the underdog and the underclass, but she writes with an uncommon subtlety. Ocfemia is a charter member of the “show, not tell” club: she lets her narratives speak for themselves. Producer Robert Burke Warren sets her tasteful guitar fingerpicking to imaginative arrangements occasionally spiced with mandolin, organ, upright bass and even vintage 80s synthesizer in one particularly amusing moment.

The album opens with the bouncy Margarita Sisters, a smartly crafted, funny but empathetic portrait of a small crew of women who always overdo it, told from the point of view of an exasperated bartender in the wee hours. The next cut, Heavyset Man is something akin to a Eudora Welty short story set to music, a rueful conversational tale between friends set to an upbeat, bluesy tune. The absolutely gorgeous, melancholy Barcelona is one of the album’s best cuts, Burke Warren’s soulful electric guitar solo after the bridge mingling with Ocfemia’s dexterous fingerpicking. It’s a song about being stood up on a blind date: the narrator is so convincing (and convinced she has to make excuses for the creep who’s doing it to her), that you just want to slap her. Women beating themselves up over bad choices is something of a recurrent theme in Ocfemia’s writing, as listeners will discover a few tracks later.

Sean Lugano is an equally haunting song, beginning with an ominous guitar intro evocative of the Stones’ Sister Morphine, recounting the sad days of the aftermath of 9/11 in New York, when there was a “missing” poster – in this case, for a NYC firefighter – in apartment house elevators all over town. The album ends on a tremendously powerful note with Ocfemia’s best song, the towering, majestic Misspent Youth. Burke Warren’s organ enters ominously behind the guitar even before the first verse starts in this big, bitter anthem about cutting old losses and starting all over again, a prospect the narrator has decided to embrace, but not without regrets. Ocfemia’s vocals match her lyrics, full of subtlety and nuance, but finally, after a whole album, she pulls out all the stops on the song’s final chorus, flames of rage bursting out from behind the smoke:

Not like old lovers
No permanent scars

No fixed agenda
No calendars
No heavy hand or privileged truth
No guilt or shame for my misspent youth

The last chorus drops down to just voice and Ocfemia’s guitar, followed by a pause, then the mandolin and organ come in and quickly fade. “I’m not giving up, I’m letting go,” Ocfemia asserts with quiet determination. Fans of pantheonic rock lyricists from Elvis Costello to Lucinda Williams to LJ Murphy will love this album. CD’s are available online; we’ll let you know when there’s a cd release show for this one. Like the album, it promises to be pretty intense.

February 6, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment