Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 9/24/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #858:

Paula Carino – Aquacade

Seven years after her solo debut came out, the former frontwoman of popular indie rockers Regular Einstein remains a titan among New York rock songwriters. With her cool, nuanced voice like a spun silk umbrella on a windswept beach, her catchy, distantly Pretenders-inflected janglerock melodies and fiercely witty, literate lyrics, Carino ranks with Richard Thompson, Aimee Mann and Elvis Costello as one of the world’s great lyrical tunesmiths. She never met a pun or a double entendre she could resist, has a thing for odd time signatures and wields a stun-gun bullshit detector. This was one of the great albums of 2003 and it remains a classic. Pensive, watery miniatures like the title track lurk side by side with the mordantly metric cautionary tale Discovering Fire, the offhandedly savage Stockholm Syndrome and Guru Glut and the wistful, richly evocative sound-movie Summer’s Over. The symbolism goes deep and icy on the deceptively upbeat Tip of the Iceberg; Venus Records immortalizes a legendary New York used record store and remains the most charming love song to a prized vinyl album ever (that one’s loaded with symbolism too). The high point of the cd  is Paleoclimatology, a resolutely clanging masterpiece that will resonate with anyone longing to escape a past buried beneath “ancient snow that wrecked tyrannosaurus.” Carino’s 2010 album Open on Sunday is far darker yet still imbued with a similar wit: look for it high on our Best Albums of 2010 list at the end of the year. This one long since sold out its run of physical copies, although it’s still available online at emusic and all the other mp3 spots.

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September 23, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Universal Thump Makes a Big Splash

Pianist/composer Greta Gertler’s new band the Universal Thump play art-rock at its most richly, lushly beautiful. She’s no stranger to the style: her 2005 album Nervous Breakthroughs is a genuine classic of the genre. Their new album First Spout, available exclusively at the band’s bandcamp site, is a triumphant return to a warmly familiar sonic milieu following her unexpected but rousingly successful detour into an oldtimey/ragtime vein on her previous album Edible Restaurant. This is also work in progress, the first of three eps scheduled for release throughout 2010 and 2011 – where bands used to release singles one at a time, the Universal Thump are generously offering big slices of what looks right now to have the makings of an iconic full-length effort.

The opening track (available as a free download) is an absolute tour de force, an artsy pop epic with bouncy, staccato piano and horns, a baroque-inflected rondo between the string section and bassoon on the second verse, and a long, murky, absolutely psychedelic break midway through. The big 6/8 ballad Grasshoppers manages to be wary yet sultry, Gretler’s festive piano glissandos throwing the windows wide for the strings to sweep through, slowly and gracefully winding down and eventually fading out. Gertler has never sung better – as much as she still likes to go to the top of her practically supersonic range, Kate Bush style, she’s using her lower register more, a delightful new development.

They follow it with an austere, atmospheric, horizontally-inclined tone poem for strings. The two additional tracks mine a classic pop vein: a Jeff Lynne-style cover of the iconic new wave hit Reckless, by the Australian Crawl, complete with a devious portamento synth solo which actually manages not to be cheesy, which is quite an achievement. They wind it up with a new, bassoon-propelled, stripped down version of the bouncy, Elvis Costello-tinged pop hit Martin’s Big Night Out, from Nervous Breakthroughs. Although completely self-produced, it’s packed with the kind of subtle and playful symphonic touches more typically found on big-room productions from the 70s. Count this among the best albums of 2010, as is – not bad for a work that’s a long way from completion.

August 9, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Liza & the WonderWheels – Pavlov’s Garage

Their best album. Liza and the WonderWheels spun off of New York new wave/80s revivalists the Larch (who also have a career-defining new album out), and to a certain extent they mine a similar vibe: the songs here would have been huge hits in the 80s. Most of the numbers here work riffs and variations on those riffs – they’re singalongs, with an understated social awareness that hits you upside the head just like the melodies. Liza Garelik Roure (who also plays keys in the Larch with her husband, lead guitarist Ian Roure) leads this band on guitar, keys and vocals, anchored by the Plastic Beef rhythm section, Andy Mattina on bass and Joe Filosa on drums, who combine to create a sort of New York rock counterpart to Motown Records’ Funk Brothers. Liza’s always had ferocious vocal chops, but this is the first album they’ve done which fully utilizes them.

The opening cut After Last Night perfectly captures the vibe of being stuck at the dayjob but still resonating from the fun of the previous evening, a Standells stomp recast as sly new wave with a blazing guitar solo that quotes blithely from Reeling in the Years by Steely Dan. The catchy, riff-driven Where’s My Robot Maid sarcastically pokes fun at blind faith in technology, at a world where “Science will all make sense as we all eat such healthy foods.” Learning Lessons, a pounding girl-power anthem comes on like an edgier version of the Motels without all the drama – which is ironic because that’s what the song’s about. The backbeat anthem Straight to the Body evokes the Go Go’s with its snide lyric about gutless guys who won’t make a move on a girl, flying along on the wings of Mattina’s scurrying bass.

The two big live hits here are the ferociously sarcastic Petroleum: “Let’s go, oil barons, let’s go!” with Mattina leading the charge again, and No Exceptions, which rips the melody from Franklin’s Tower by the Grateful Dead for a subtly snarling anti-authoritarian anthem:

Your definitions should be doublechecked for accuracy…
Sometimes I feel our day has yet to dawn
To the end of the night we must journey on

There’s also The Hats, a scampering rocker that seems to be about a Chicago band that may or may not exist (although there is a British funk/blues act who go by that name); Smug Ugly which shifts the time back another ten years to the early 70s with a darkly psychedelic bluesy vibe, a strikingly thoughtful response to the too-cool-for-school affectations all the rage in New York music circles; and Take Us to the Stars, the only rock song to celebrate climbing Mount Rainier (although that could be purely metaphorical), a creepy, breathtaking art-rock epic driven by Ian’s magisterial, otherworldly bluesy guitar, and a showcase for Liza’s dramatic, operatic range. Count this among the best and most satisfying releases of 2010.

June 5, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Paula Carino and the Larch at Parkside, NYC 5/22/10

Paula Carino didn’t waste any time dedicating her set to Love Camp 7 and Erica Smith drummer Dave Campbell, whose unexpected death last Wednesday stunned the New York music scene – especially the crew who had come out to the Parkside fresh from a whiskey-fueled memorial get-together a few blocks away. Trying to play a show under these kind of circumstances can be a recipe for disaster – like pretty much everybody else, Carino was a friend of Campbell’s – yet she pulled herself together, delivering a calm, reassuring presence which by the end of her set had brought most of the crowd out of their shells. Which is something the gregarious Campbell would have wanted, being a fan of Carino’s catchy, lyrically dazzling janglerock songs.

Mixing cuts from her devastatingly good new album Open on Sunday with a handful of crowd-pleasers from years past, the high point of the set was the well-chosen Great Depression, a minefield of metaphors set to a characteristically propulsive, apprehensive minor-key melody anchored by a nasty descending progression from lead guitarist Ross Bonadonna. She resurrected a casually snarling old one from the 90s: “I’ve got nine mile legs to get away from you.” Another oldie, Discovering Fire was as tricky and vertiginous as always; on a warm, soaring version of Paleoclimatology, another metaphor-fest, she seemed to make up a new vocal line as she went along. She also did an unfamiliar but ridiculously catchy one that sounded straight out of the Liza Garelik Roure catalog and a brand-new riff-rocker pushed along with gusto from bassist Andy Mattina and drummer Tom Pope.

The Larch were celebrating the release of their latest album Larix Americana, which if this set is any indication, is also one of the year’s best. This clever, witty, 80s-inspired quartet has been a good band for a long time – they are a great one now. Frontman/lead guitarist Ian Roure was on fire, blasting through one supersonic yet remarkably terse solo after another. He’d give it maybe half a verse and then back away, leaving the crowd – particularly the guys on the bleachers in the back – hungry for more. With his wife Liza providing sultry harmonies along with alternately chirpy and atmospheric keyboards, Bonadonna on melodic and propulsive bass and Pope up there for another go-round behind the kit, they blasted through one psychedelic new wave rocker after another. The strikingly assaultive In the Name Of…, with its reverb-drenched acid wash of an outro, might have been the most arresting performance of the entire evening. The funnier, more sardonic numbers – a couple of them about “bad dayjobs,” as Roure put it – hit the spot, particularly the Elvis Costello-inflected Logical Enough, as well as the tongue-in-cheek Inside Hugh, another track from the new album. The rest of the set accentuated the diversity this band is capable of, from the ridiculously hummable, instant hitworthiness of The Strawberry Coast – a summer vacation classic if there ever was one – to the understated scorch of With Love from Region One (a DVD reference and a somewhat sideways but spot-on tribute to all good things American). Speaking of DVDs, somebody videoed this show – the band ought to make one out of it.

May 25, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: LJ Murphy at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 4/24/10

LJ Murphy’s set last night started out incisive and sometimes menacing, picked up the pace and ended on a defiantly ecstatic note, the crowd afterward murmuring bits and pieces of whatever song lingered most resonantly to them. Murphy’s signature style is a noir, literate blend of oldschool blues and soul with a punk rock edge, sometimes venturing into other shades of Americana as with the gorgeously sad, swaying country song Long Way to Lose. Audiences frequently mistake that one for a classic by Hank Williams or someone similar – this crowd didn’t because it was obviously all fans.

Like the old blues and jazz guys Murphy admires, he’s been playing with a rotating cast of musicians lately. This time out featured first-rate New Orleans pianist Willie Davis and a drummer supplying a mostly minimalist beat on kick drum and cymbal. They set the tone with the ominous Weimar march of Mad Within Reason, the surreal, apocalyptic title track to his classic 2005 cd, kept the cynical double entendres going with the fast soul shuffle of Imperfect Strangers and then went deep into vintage blues with a more recent one, Nothing Like Bliss, a bitter chronicle of seduction gone hopelessly wrong: “Now that your train’s left the station, you might as well go home,” he reflected. The high point of the evening, at least the early part was Fearful Town, a minor key East Village nightmare of tourists and trendoids displacing all the familiar haunts, Davis throwing off a casual trail of sparks with his solo as he’d do all night.

Happy Hour, a savage afterwork Wall Street chronicle of young Republicans getting their freak on, took the intensity up, then Murphy brought it down with a cover of Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue (he’d learned it from Ray Charles and Van Morrison, he said), then his biggest hit, the gorgeously brooding Saturday’s Down and then brought the volume up again with the ferocious bluespunk of Nowhere Now. He closed with a couple other equally ferocious blues numbers and encored with a singalong of Barbed Wire Playpen, yet another swipe at Wall Street, in this case a hedge fund type who visits his favorite dungeon one time too many. Murphy dedicated that one to Goldman Sachs. The worse the depression gets, the more relevant Murphy becomes – it’s hard to imagine a more catchy chronicler of life among those of us whose Christmas bonus is simply having any job at all.

April 25, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/22/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Thursday’s song is #98:

LJ Murphy – Happy Hour

Down in the wicked industries
That are so celebrated now
There’s a forever-smiling face
To which you must scrape and bow
Because you’re just one of many
In a parade of useless warts
With one eye on the secretary
And the other on the quarterly report

His best, most scathing song, and he has many. The New York noir rocker’s done this one a million different ways: as straight-up janglerock, as pulsing post-Velvets stomp, as a blues. We liked it best the first way. To date, it’s never been released, but frequently bootlegged especially circa 1999-2000.

April 22, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, 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: Las Rubias del Norte – Ziguala

The new cd by las Rubias del Norte would make a great Bunuel soundtrack. Otherworldly, surreal and frequently haunting bordering on macabre, it’s a characteristically eclectic, syncretic mix of old songs from around the world done as Veracruz’s best musicians might have imagined them circa 1964. Most of the melodies are in minor keys, the perfect backdrop for the sepulchrally soaring harmonies of the band’s two frontwomen, Allyssa Lamb (who’s also the band’s keyboardist) and Emily Hurst. Lamb and Hurst are a lot closer to Stile Antico than Shakira (or Jeanette, who sang the 1976 latin pop classic Porque Te Vas that the band turn into ghostly, organ-driven reggae to open the album). Which the two ought to be, considering that they met as members of the New York Choral Society. As the band’s website aptly points out, the album is more psychedelic rock than latin, “the opposite of Rock en Espanol,” even though most of the lyrics are in perfectly enunciated Spanish.

The title track is a Greek rembetika song with a bluesy, oldtimey gospel verse that gives way to a latinized chorus, followed by a clip-clop clave number a la Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, shuffling along with the muted strokes of Olivier Conan’s cuatro. A slyly levantine-inflected S.D. Burman Bollywood number lights up with Lamb’s eerily twinkling piano and the lushly brisk atmospherics of the Parker String Quartet, while a Brecht-Weill song gets an oversize margarita, a big sombrero and a balmy, slightly Jerry Garcia-ish electric guitar solo from Giancarlo Vulcano.

The rest of the album alternates psychedelia with stately, period-perfect angst and longing. A couple of the songs are dead ringers for Chicha Libre (with whom this band shares two members, Conan and percussionist Timothy Quigley). Navidad Negra turns a Caribbean big band number into cumbia noir, Lamb’s sultry organ passing the torch to Vulcano, who takes a surprisingly biting turn, while the traditional Viva La Fiesta becomes the theme to the saddest party ever. They close with hypnotic, classically inflected tropicalia that throws some welcome shade on the pitch-perfect brightness of the vocals, a Bizet cover bubbling with Lamb and Hurst’s contrapuntal sorcery and a downcast ballad, restrained melancholy over funeral-parlor organ. It’s gentle, scary and beautiful like just about everything else here. Look for this one high on our best albums of 2010 list at the end of December. Las Rubias del Norte play the cd release show for the album this Friday, March 12 at 7:30 PM at Joe’s Pub followed by a midwest tour.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/3/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #148:

Elisa FlynnTimber

Bleak, metaphorically loaded yet wry lyric set to a big, towering 6/8 minor-key anthem with wrenchingly beautiful vocals from the New York indie rock siren. From her breakout 2009 album Songs About Birds and Ghosts. The link in the title above is the video, an amusing Blair Witch parody.

March 3, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Monica Passin/Sean Kershaw and the New Jack Ramblers at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 4/24/08

It’s no secret that New York has one of the most vital, thriving country music scenes anywhere. Forget any snide commentary you may have overheard about urban musicians playing country: if anything, the music coming out of the New York country scene is far more traditionally-oriented than most anything Nashville is producing these days. Tonight’s bill paired two of the more popular country acts in town. Monica Passin, frontwoman of long-running Rodeo Bar honkytonkers L’il Mo and the Monicats played mostly solo acoustic, with occasional help from a couple of women who sang harmonies, and the New Jack Ramblers’ amazing lead guitarist. She’s pretty much everything you could want in a country singer: pretty voice, good songs, good taste in covers and backing musicians. Her best song was a minor-key rockabilly number – the first one in that style she’d ever written, she said – possibly titled This Cat. The lead player used Passin’s ominous chord changes as a springboard for a riveting, intense, jazz-inflected solo that drew roars of appreciation from the crowd. On the last song, Passin invited Lisa, the bar owner up to sing harmonies, and as it turned out she’s actually good! Not since the days when Juliana Nash ran the show at Pete’s Candy Store has there been a bar owner who’s been able to show off such a soaring, fearless voice. Bands in need of a frontwoman ought to stop by the bar: she won’t embarrass you, and if all else fails you’ll always have a place to play.

Sean Kershaw and the New Jack Ramblers aren’t exactly under the radar, maintaining a hectic gig schedule in addition to the regular Sunday night residency they’ve been playing at Hank’s for what seems forever. They’re a rotating crew of some of the best players in town: the weekly Sunday show originated out of necessity, as this was the only night everybody in the band didn’t have a gig. Tonight, backed by just lead guitar and upright bass (their awe-inspiring pedal steel player Bob Hoffnar wasn’t available, and you really don’t need drums in a small room like Banjo Jim’s), Kershaw ran through a mix of what sounded like covers but probably weren’t. The guy’s a hell of a songwriter, a prolific, versatile writer as comfortable with western swing as honkytonk, rockabilly or stark, Johnny Cash-inspired narratives. Tonight’s show was the western swing show, driven by lead guitarist Skip Krevens, whose ability to burn through a whole slew of styles was nothing short of spectacular, everything from jazz to rockabilly to blues. He made it seem effortless. They gamely ran through the old standard Smoke That Cigarette in addition to a bunch of originals, some recorded, some not, closing the first of their two sets with what has become Kershaw’s signature song, Moonlight Eyes. Originally recorded with his first band, the fiery, rockabilly unit the Blind Pharaohs, it’s a genuine classic, something that sounds like a Carl Perkins hit from 1956. Kershaw has played it a million times, but still manages to make it sound fresh, the ominous undercurrent beneath its blithe romantic sway more apparent than ever tonight, stripped down to just the basics.

And what was even more apparent was that both of the acts on this bill would probably be big stars in a smaller metropolis: here, they’re only part of a widespread, talented scene.

April 25, 2008 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment