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.

Advertisements

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

Concert Review: Tris McCall at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 3/30/10

Tris McCall was psyched to be playing the Rockwood, not only because of the great sound but because performers at the Rockwood don’t have to go through a metal detector. That’s what musicians and audience alike have to do at the Hudson County (NJ) Courthouse, where he’s played several times. McCall wears his New Jersey affiliation proudly on his sleeve; like most every other artist from there, his feelings for his home state are mixed. “I’m going to play a lot of wordy songs,” he warned the audience, but he held them rapt. McCall is just as good solo on piano as he is with a band, maybe even better, since his lyrics have more of a chance to cut through. And they cut and slashed with a wit and a poignancy on par with the one artist McCall covered, Elvis Costello (he snuck in a casually brilliant cover of All the Rage toward the end of the set).

As much as New Jersey is notoriously weird, dark, haunted and corrupt, McCall invariably sympathizes with his downtrodden characters, none of whom ever seem to be able to get out – his songs have a Ray Davies-class populism. The Ballad of Frank Vinieri recounted the sad end of a would-be housing preservationist’s political career, brought down in a witch hunt by greedy developers. An earlier song, We Don’t Talk About Teddy was a hauntingly allusive look at a convict abandoned in the prison-industrial complex, told from the point of view of his hopelessly scarred parents. “Ten different channels of cop shows to choose from, I’m gonna lock it up!” the father finally rages – meaning the tv.

The centerpiece of the show was the centerpiece of McCall’s new album Let the Night Fall (best album we’ve reviewed this year so far, by the way), the epic First World, Third Rate, a casually harrowing narrative of depersonalized stripmall hell. But McCall ended it on a passionately upbeat note: the mallrat at the center of the song isn’t about to go down with everything around him. By contrast, a ballad giving a glorious shout-out to “Hudson County by the sea” was not nearly that optimistic, its protagonist having “bartered away” his life in his own darkness on the edge of town.

Not everything in the set was that bleak. Musically, McCall mixed it up from his usual big, dramatic block-chord arrangements with a sarcastic state-of-the-economy minor-key blues, the joyous sixties soul of Baltimore (sort of an alternative to the Randy Newman song) and a vividly jazzy number about a housing inspector. And the song he soundchecked with, a deadpan, vaudevillian tribute to (or parody of) the New Jersey Department of Public Works made it impossible not to smile. McCall’s next gig is at Bruar Falls on April 1 – no joke – with his indie powerpop supergroup of sorts, Overlord.

In a welcome return to New York, Irish songwriter Andy White followed with a boisterous, tuneful set featuring some lushly processed twelve-string guitar work and White’s characteristically smart social awareness, best exemplified by his global-warning cautionary tale Last Long Night on the Planet.

March 31, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Tris McCall – Let the Night Fall

As a tunesmith, keyboardist/songwriter Tris McCall (who also plays with Kerry Kennedy in indie powerpop supergroup Overlord) knows a catchy hook when he hears one. As a wordsmith, he is unsurpassed, on the same level as Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann or Paula Carino. If there’s anybody who knows the difference between sarcasm and irony, it’s this guy. There are loads of both here. His previous album was a refreshingly jaundiced excursion through trendoid indie Williamsburg; this time out, McCall turns an unsparing yet sometimes wistful gaze on the place he knows best, the state that actually once spawned a movement to make Born to Run its official anthem (death trap, suicide rap, we gotta get out, etc. – it happened). Springsteen hovers at the edge of the parking lot here, a distantly anthemic presence. Otherwise, the songs evoke Fountains of Wayne but with balls (hard to imagine, but try it), a defiant populism and much better tunes, McCall’s vocals casual, unaffected, often surprisingly cheery considering the underlying grimness.

The opening cut, WFMU builds from catchy trip-hop to a blazing chorus metaphorically loaded with unease, one rapidfire mot juste or double entendre after another. “The radio’s damnable when it’s programmable” is the keystone. At the end, McCall sends out friendly shout-outs not only to the long-running independent New Jersey station but also to WSOU (who knew?), WBGO, WFUV and even distant WPRN, halfway to Cape May. The Throwaway – “cut my neck and I bleed gasoline” – wonders why the neighborhood emo kids won’t accept him as one of their own, considering that all of them should have had the sense to get out, while The Ballad of Frank Vinieri harrowingly memorializes an up-and-coming populist ground down by the gentrifiers of Jungleland. Sugar Nobody Wants, an atmospheric nocturne, pays homage to the age-old anomie-driven sport of trespassing. The title track, an 80s-inflected powerpop stomp, paints a snide Fourth of July tableau set “where minutemen jump back and feign surprise when they get the tax bill.”

The centerpiece of the album, First World, Third Rate is a majestic, metaphorically charged kiss-off from a mallrat stuck working some ineffable fast-food salad bar. The poor kid’s life has been so barren that the best things he’s managed to live to eulogize are a Thomas Wolfe-esque litany of scuzzy chain restaurants – as the faux-Meatloaf arrangement grows more and more bombastic, an exuberant choir yells out their names in perfect time. It makes even more sense in the context of the next cut, You’re Dead After School, a creepy new wave-ish reminiscence of close encounters with pedophiles. Midnight (Now Approaching) follows with its guitars blasting, sort of a Meeting Across the River in reverse (this one’s actually set on the Staten Island Ferry), electric with both excitement and maybe imminent doom.

A gentle country song on the surface, Mountainside has the hometown folks contemplating a prodigal son’s return with bated breath – and cemetery plot ready, while We Could Be Killers layers one vintage synth patch over another in a big Pulp-style pop end-of-the-world epic. The album closes, coming full circle, with a hallucinatory early-morning roadside tableau. This one’s going to show up on a lot of best-of lists at the end of the year, including here. Tris McCall plays the Rockwood at 7 PM solo on piano on March 30, a good place for him to run through the album’s lone instrumental, a clever baroque-rock interlude.

March 25, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment