Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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

Concert Review: New Madrid at Crash Mansion, NYC 4/3/10

New Madrid have really taken their live show to the next level. Entering to the thundering strains of a cd of Also Sprach Zarathustra, they hit a jarring chord in a completely unrelated key and then proceeded to pummel the audience with one darkly catchy, stomping anthem after another. There is no other New York band who sound like them which is probably because A) being a bilingual/rock-en-Espanol band, they’re the furthest thing from “indie” and B) they seem to draw more on European or Mexican influences. Their shtick is that their drummer stands and sings, and he welcomes the chance to come out from behind the kit. This time around he’d shut the band down for a pregnant pause, sticks between his teeth, waiting for a reaction (something he could do a little less frequently – or else this time he was just in a particularly boisterous mood). He’s a good player, too, going four on three during two jarring, extended crescendos during one of the set’s last songs. The guitarist is eerie and noisy, like Daniel Ash but with better chops, at one point taking a solo that sounded like Saul Hernandez trying to channel Beefheart. Their bassist has a tough job, as much a part of holding the runaway train to the rails as the drums, and he delivered, at one point carrying the song with boomy intensity while the drummer took an eerie suspense-film solo on the toms.

Most of the material in the set seemed new, other than the tensely staccato anthem Soberano (Sovereign). The best song of the night saw the guitarist employing the most macabre, watery effect you could imagine: on top of that, he’d bend the notes at the end of a phrase with his tremolo bar for even more sepulchral quaver and goosebumps. The big audience hit seemed to be a fairly simple, somewhat glamrock number entitled Kill; another new one, possibly titled Crazy Lady was aptly menacing, with a grittily noisy, offhandedly intense guitar solo out.

Another way to tell that New Madrid is on to something good is how they managed to clear the fratboys out of the room. Almost imperceptibly, a much more intelligent-looking, diverse and considerably less obvious crowd gathered at the front of the room as the khaki-and-poloshirt contingent stumbled back toward the bar. The only drawback about the show was that the club put them on over an hour and a half late. While the idea of putting rapper/accordionist Julz A and his guitarist pal on a second stage in the back was imaginative, and their songs were enjoyable, it didn’t help New Madrid or their crowd to be standing around aimlessly for minutes on end waiting for the signal to start.

April 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: The Disclaimers at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 1/2/10

Half past midnight Saturday night, Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, coldest night of the year. Even Anna Maria Pizza is practically empty. It’s an omen. This is our decade and this is part of the soundtrack. The Disclaimers are waiting onstage for the sound guy, who looks like he really knows what he’s doing, to finish checking all the mics. The hi-hat clutch has disappeared from the drum kit, then miraculously reappears. And they’re off.

It’s like being in college, seeing a favorite band for the first time. All the hits. The audience is pumped, old friends in the crowd materialize out of nowhere. Happy New Year, long time no see! The band starts with Stay out of My Nightmares which is in a way self-explanatory; no big violin buildup on the intro or outro like they usually do but that’s ok.

Under the Belly of the 7 Train is a behemoth, a careening surreal Syd Barrett style chromatic art-rock monstrosity alive with danger swirling around in the shadows beneath the ironwork.

An apprehensive backbeat-driven country anthem is a dead ringer for the Walkabouts. It’s relatively new. Kate Thomason does her best understated avenging angel impression on the mic, “Stranger in this stranger’s land.”

Lead guitarist Dan Sullivan sings Damage, all organ and jangly Dylan guitar and soul girl harmonies, cynical vintage r&b flavor, “Not even the damage gets done.”

Absolution has a casual sexy soulfulness on the verse, Naa Koshie Mills’ trombone leading into the anguish of the chorus, Kate’s wounded vocal – “Rips me apart!!”

Next is a big riff-rocker that sounds like X with blues harp – down to Andy Nelson’s growly bass groove, and then a cold ending.

“She’s going for sultry,” says drummer Phil McDonald who seems to be the band spokesman tonight. Naa Koshie nails a new song, an artsy, resigned, beautifully Beatlesque ballad. And another new one, an anthem, Tell Me What You Want, sweet major/minor changes.

Out of Sight, Out of Mind is an old garage rocker of theirs – “not again not again not again not again” – Dan sings this one.

Strat player Dylan Keeler sings Just Desserts. It sways along on Dan’s organ riffs -“If you’re gonna write a suicide note you should at least spell all the words right.”

Phil: “Love in the back seat.” Kate:”And ice cream.” The big soul ballad’s not quite as much a showstopper as it was the last time out but it’s still impossible to turn away from: “How can you give up something so sweet?” Kate won’t let it go without a fight.

Tiptoe is ferocious when it gets to Dan’s unhinged Leslie speaker solo – he breaks a string but keeps going. Actually he’s not using a Leslie, just a wah turned wide open for a chorus box effect.

They’ve got a theme song now! “We’re the Disclaimers!” Long build to a cold ending. Up front where the drums and the guitar hit you in the chest, the sound is intoxicating, this is why people come out in the cold in the wee hours. This is why we live here instead of somewhere else. Saturday night, ground zero in Williamsburg, and there’s not a single trendoid or tourist to be seen anywhere.

January 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Spanking Charlene – Dismissed with a Kiss

This band sounds almost exactly like X! Except with better vocals. Spanking Charlene’s frontwoman Charlene McPherson sings with a powerful, accusatory wail: her voice can be very pretty, and it is on a couple of the quiet songs on the album. But most of the time it’s fierce and intense, and really packs a wallop. The songs are gritty and slightly Stonesy: this could be the great lost X album, sandwiched between Under the Big Black Sun and More Fun in the New World. Although McPherson’s songs are more intentionally amusing, and she doesn’t try to be deliberately poetic like Exene: her lyrics rhyme, often very cleverly. “Beauty is subjective/And I know your objective,” McPherson taunts the guy trying to pick her up, in the in-your-face punk smash Pussy Is Pussy.

The other songs are a mix of short, roaring guitar tunes along with a couple of surprisingly thoughtful, quiet numbers. I Hate Girls catalogs the innumerable ways women can make each other miserable with catty behavior; When I Get Skinny is a sarcastic swipe at the multibillion-dollar business of making women insecure about their looks. “When I’m skinny maybe I’ll finally get myself that record deal” and “drink red red wine with every meal…the girls I see on MTV shake their ass and don’t look like me,” McPherson laments, speaking for every normal woman perplexed by the popularity of anorexics with implants.

Guitarist Mo Goldner sings the potently gritty, percussive Fidgety – “My dog is on that Prozac too!” – slamming out a series of licks straight out of the early Billy Zoom catalog. Red Rolling Papers is McPherson’s not-so-nostalgic look back at the hungover residue of late-night high school partying. The brief, lickety-split When Things Were New evokes X’s Year One, from Wild Gift. The gentle, introspective Easy to Be Sad and Behind (as in, leaving it all behind) prove McPherson isn’t just a one-trick pony, giving her the chance to show off her subtle, country-inflected side. On the album, bassist Keith Christopher (of Yayhoos notoriety) also shows off his versatility, keeping everything impressively simple and direct. Drummer Phil Cimino (from the Demolition String Band) proves he can play this hard fast stuff just as well as the more complicated material he’s used to. Eric Ambel’s production is spot-on, as usual: everything is dirty right where it needs to. Unsurprisingly, Spanking Charlene’s New York home base is Lakeside, where they play this coming February 16 at 10 PM. We reviewed one of their shows there last year [third most popular review in the history of this blog – Ed.] and it was as excellent as you would expect after hearing this fun, fiery album. Four bagels. With safety pins stuck through them.

January 11, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments