Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 7/26/10

Our daily best 666 songs of alltime countdown is almost done. Thursday we’ll start with the 1000 best albums. Monday’s song is #3:

Mary Lee’s Corvette – Idiot Wind

Great lyrics don’t always get the benefit of a great voice to deliver them (and vice versa). Happily, Mary Lee Kortes and her band Mary Lee’s Corvette covered the entire Blood on the Tracks album live at New York’s Arlene Grocery in 2002 – and one of us was there. The show was transcendent. This is the high point: when Kortes, always at her best onstage, sings “You’ll never know the hurt I suffered, nor the pain I rise above,” she’ll give you chills.

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July 25, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/15/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #136:

Siouxsie & the Banshees – Nightshift

The version on the 1982 Juju album isn’t bad, but it’s the towering, macabre epic on the 1985 double live Nocturne album that’s the most horrific, Siouxsie at the peak of her powers as outraged witness, in this case a hooker who kills her prey. Steve Severin’s watery chorus-box bass chords underneath only enhance the ambience.

March 14, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, 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

CD Review: Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams – Snowblind

Erica Smith got her start as a bartender at the old Fast Folk Café singing sea chanteys and similar ancient folk material after hours, and her first album reflected that, just stark acoustic guitar and a voice that could draw blood from a stone. Friend or Foe, her next one, was a lushly orchestrated affair, but the material was still mostly covers. This time around, Smith sings mostly her own material, a vastly diverse mix of retro styles. This is her quantum leap, an album which firmly places her in the top echelon of current Americana sirens along with Neko Case, Eleni Mandell, Jenifer Jackson et al. It may be early in the year, but if this doesn’t turn out to be the best album of 2008, something very special will have to come along to unseat it.

Although most of the album is recent material, everything here sounds like it was written no later than 1980. Both of the jangly Merseybeat numbers, Easy Now and Amanda Carolyn have an authentically mid-60s feel, as does the slinky samba-pop number Tonight. The tantalizingly brief Firefly bounces along on an impossibly catchy Carnaby Street melody. Feel You Go is a vehicle for Smith’s dazzlingly powerful soul vocals, snaking along on a Booker T riff. The best song on the album, the gorgeously swaying, country-inflected The World Is Full of Pretty Girls could be the great lost track on American Beauty, guest steel player Jon Graboff playing soaring, haunting washes against lead guitarist Dann Baker’s steady jangle. And In Late July, with its pastoral, hypnotic layers of vocals and organ would fit well on an early 70s, pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd album.

The title track is an authentically retro, completely psychedelic cover of the obscure Judy Henske/Jerry Yester blues/metal song, originally recorded in 1969. This version gives Smith a chance to do some goosebump-inducing belting, and lets drummer Dave Campbell – who may just be the finest drummer in all of rock – show off his devious, remarkably musical sensibility with a solo simmering with all kinds of unexpected textures. Guest organist Matt Keating spices the obscure Blow This Nightclub classic Where or When with weird, early 80s synth organ, as the bass player slams out a riff nicked directly from the Cure, circa 1980. And Smith’s lone venture into Nashville gothic here, appropriately titled Nashville, Tennessee evokes Calexico or the Friends of Dean Martinez with its eerie, tremolo guitar and haunting minor-key melody. The final cut on the album, a Beach Boys cover, may not be to everyone’s taste, but that’s beside the point. Recorded in analog on two-inch tape, Smith’s production gives this album the feel of a vinyl record, drums comfortably in the back, vocals and guitars front and center. In a particularly impressive display of generosity, the band will be giving away copies of the album to everyone in attendance at the cd release show this Friday, Jan 25 at 8 PM at the Parkside.

January 23, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

CD Review: Linda Draper – Keepsake

Quietly and methodically, Linda Draper has been putting out consistently excellent albums. This one is her fifth. If she keeps this up, she’s got a one-way ticket to the Secret Rock N Roll Hall of Fame. This may or may not be her best – they’re all good – but it’s definitely her catchiest. It’s a sparse, impeccably tasteful acoustic affair: Draper plays most of the instruments except the drums and Rob Woodcock’s upright bass on a few songs. As a lyricist, Draper is unsurpassed. On this album, she’s reined in the wild, free-associative, rhythmically complex style that characterized her previous work, substituting wickedly smart, tersely crystallized, often symbolically-charged wordplay.

The album’s first track Shine begins with an insistent chordal figure. It’s an unabashed love song that actually works without turning all mushy:

I once mistook the clock for the moon
My eyes see things a little out of tune
The stars shine like turpentine
For you and me and nobody

The title track opens with eerie music box melody that Draper plays on toy xylophone, then she and her band launch into a swinging acoustic pop song. They sounds great: nobody overplays, nobody’s trying to be Clapton. Everybody’s there to support Draper’s great lyric:

Bird learn to fly
Do not wake me with your song
About how the day burns down the night
Snow falls like ashes from the starlight

It’s a rueful post-breakup song and it packs a punch, quietly. She follows it with the sardonic Cell Phone, a song that needed to be written and it’s a good thing Draper was the one to do it:

I still do not think I really need one
Even if this makes me a bit archaic

The following cut Too Late is driven by a wickedly catchy descending progression at the end of the chorus. The hits just keep coming with Traces Of, a fast 6/8 number where Draper is backed by the band again: it’s a beautifully ghostly, memorable song. After that, on Kissing the Ground, Draper offers some black humor for somebody down on his/her luck:

You were born to endure more than this
Your life thrives through pain and bliss
Because if you’re still around after you fall down
You’ll be kissing the ground
Just when you think the story ends

The following track, Sunburned is her best song, an excoriating vignette of a hellacious evening out:

Remember when we crashed that party full of
Those kiss-ass opportunists
They sat in a circle that was
Too tight to include us
So we stayed on the outside

Drank all of their beer
When there was none left I said
Let’s get out of here

It has an absolutely triumphant ending – it’s a strong candidate for best song of 2007.

The album concludes with the thoughtful, quizzical Among Every Stone That Has Been Cast, the nocturne Full Moon – flavored with Woodcock’s bowed bass – and then a Ricky Nelson album track from 1970, How Long. Bizarre choice of cover, but Draper makes it work with the flawless clarity of her voice and her dexterous fingerpicking: she’s always had a thing for melody, and with steady gigging and recording she’s become a fine player.

As with the Byrds Play Dylan, an electric rock band should do a cover album of her songs. The Shins Play Draper? Unlikely, but it would be a good fit and it would remind them a thing or two about the melody they’ve lost since their first album. What a treat that could be. And what a treat this is. Four everything bagels, buffet style, with anything on them that looks appetizing. Pesto with fresh basil maybe?

June 8, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment