Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Æ at the Delancey, NYC 3/8/10

Aurelia Shrenker had just graduated NYU earlier in the day; her musical cohort Eva Salina Primack looks about the same age. But their voices are the voices of old souls, wary, a little battlescarred, passionate with the knowledge that lack of passion equals death. Opening this week’s Small Beast gathering at the Delancey, the two women of Æ (pronounced “ash,” after the Saxon rune meaning “exactly two”) turned in a riveting, otherworldly performance of both Americana and exotic, bucolic songs from considerably further east of Appalachia. The two are like sisters – their camaraderie and shared intuition for tempos, harmonies and dynamics are as uncanny as the music they sing, strikingly evident from the first few slow swoops up the scale on the old Appalachian folk song Fly Away. Their voices are much the same as well – although the sound system tonight exaggerated the treble in Shrenker’s timbre while bringing out more of the lows in Primack’s register. Primack played accordion on a plaintive minor-key Balkan number from the band’s new album (recently reviewed here, enthusiastically); Shrenker strummed through the tricky changes on a handful of Georgian tunes – a genre she specializes in – on her panduri. She explained how she’d learned Across the Blue Mountains in the White River Junction, Vermont Greyhound bus station (for those who haven’t been there, it’s a place that quietly screams out for escape, just like the song). Primack did an intense a-capella version of a Yiddish ballad and swung it dramatically, even as she added all kinds of subtly luminous microtonal shades. They also steered their way through their trademark labyrinthine interpolations of Appalachian and Eastern European or Georgian folk tunes, an especially neat discovery since the two styles mingle far better harmonically than you might think.

Primack offered the insight that American singers who do as much foreign-language material as she does always look forward to the vocalese, because it’s there where a performer can express herself or himself most individually. Shrenker mused about living to see the day when one of their stark, rustic, obscure songs is one that everyone in New York knows. That’s a hope whose genuine audacity deserves to come true. Æ will be on Pacific Northwest tour for the rest of the month beginning on 3/15 at 8 PM at Cafe Solstice, 4116 University Way Northeast in Seattle, returning to NYC in April,watch this space for show dates.

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March 9, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Robin Aigner – Bandito

“I can sing a song about any damn thing,” boasts Robin Aigner on her new cd Bandito. The song also asserts that she cooks a good dinner. If she’s as good in the kitchen as she is on the mic, she ought to open a restaurant – it would be a four-star affair. This album, Aigner’s second solo effort, is well titled. Aigner is mysterious: she has a thing about mistresses and even more of a thing for innuendo. Like the artist she’s most likely to be compared to, Laura Cantrell, Aigner is known best for her voice: highly sought after as a singer on the oldtimey/Americana circuit, she toured with the Crooked Jades and seems at this point to be a charter member of Pinataland. Her knockout punch is nuance – she can wrench an album’s worth of intensity out of a split-second’s hesitation or a typically understated, seductive melisma to wrap up a phrase. Yet it’s her songwriting that takes centerstage on this album, her second, a feast of historically-imbued, out-of-the-box steampunk imagination. Aigner switches between acoustic guitar and banjo, judiciously accompanied by Flanks bassist Tom Mayer, Chicha Libre’s Josh Camp on spinet, Charles Burst on Rhodes and Dean Sharenow of Kill Henry Sugar on percussion.

The cd opens with the jaunty Pearl Polly Adler, a tribute to FDR’s [possible, unconfirmed, hee hee] mistress who “knows where he parks his car,” and makes sure to cover herself in case trouble ever comes her way. Delores from Florence tells the surreal tale of a globetrotting flapper who had to come up with an innovative solution to the problem of having “too many lovers.”And Annie and Irving imagines an anxious romance between Annie Moore (first immigrant to make it through customs on Ellis Island) and Irving Berlin, creeping around the shadows out in the Catskills.

The rest of the cd alternates hilarity with pensive intensity. A poignantly perplexed lament, See You Around features Aigner at her most haunting, over a sad tango melody. Mediocre Busker is one of those songs that needed to be written, and it’s a good thing Aigner was the one to do it: this guy turns out to be bad at everything else too. Aigner uses the equally tongue-in-cheek Found to do justice to both the crazy packrats and the lucky rest of us who have a thing for stuff others have left behind. Wrong Turn memorializes a couple of clueless northerners getting lost in the Bible Belt, while Get Me Home – a duet – amps up the seductive vibe with characteristic allusive charm. The album ends with Great Molasses Disaster, a vividly somber requiem for the day in January, 1919 when a giant industrial tank of molasses in Boston’s North End burst and unleashed a literal tsunami on the neighborhood, demolishing buildings, pitching a locomotive into Boston Harbor, leaving hundreds injured and 21 dead. Steampunks and Americana fans alike will be salivating over this (the album, not the molasses) for a long time. Aigner’s next gig is on Feb 26 at 7 PM at the cafe at the 92YTribeca with Brady Jenkins on piano.

February 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Ellen Foley at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 7/19/07

The most unlikely comeback of the decade is an improbable success. OK, maybe not the most unlikely comeback: who knew that Vashti Bunyan would hit the road again? But this wasn’t exactly expected. As Ellen Foley told it tonight, she was sitting on former Five Chinese Brothers bassist Paul Foglino’s couch, and he suggested that they write some songs together and do some shows. Fast forward to tonight: he wrote some songs, the band worked up some her of her older material and, blam, comeback in full effect.

In addition to her career as an actress, Foley had a successful run in Europe in the 80s as a top 40 singer. Here, she remains a generational footnote, musically at least, best known for her vocals on Meatloaf’s epic monstrosity Paradise By the Dashboard Light. You know, “Stop right theeeeeeeere, I gotta know right now!” But her great shining moment was as the singer on the great lost Clash album, her 1981 Sire release Spirit of St. Louis. If you have a turntable and see this kicking around the dollar bins, by all means, pick it up: it proves that Strummer and Jones (who was her boyfriend at the time) could write gorgeously orchestrated, politically charged ballads. Foley also sang lead on Hitsville UK, the Clash’s lone (and considerably successful) venture into Motown.

Tonight, she was at the top of her game, sounding better than ever – she’s got a big, somewhat showy voice with impressive range – and looking great. Backed by an inspired 4-piece unit including Foglino and Steve Antonakos (what band is he NOT in) on guitars, Steve Houghton on bass and Kevin Hangdog on drums, she delivered a mix of some of her European hits along with Foglino’s wry, bluesy, Americana-pop songs.

On the outro to What’s the Matter Baby, she improvised an explanation: “I was replaced on Night Court by Markie Post!” The audience loved her take of We Belong to the Night (which was a #1 hit for her in Holland before Pat Benetar’s iconically schlocky version). “This song is for…Ann Coulter,” she told the crowd as they launched into a fiery version of the Stones’ Stupid Girl. Foglino may have a thing for goofy songwriting (he’s the guy who wrote the college radio classic You’re Never too Drunk to Get Drunk), but he clearly gives a damn about this unit, tailoring his material to the nuances of Foley’s voice. On one slowly swaying new tune, she mined the verse with her beautifully quiet upper register for everything she could get out of it: “These dreams shine like diamonds/But I’m digging for…coal.”

Her first encore was written about her, she told the crowd, and then did a shambling, fun version of Should I Stay or Should I Go, Antonakos having fun making up some Spanglish in place of Mick Jones’ fractured espanol. They closed the show with a fragment of the big Meatloaf hit (probably to pre-empt the wiseass element in the audience), and it was impossible to leave without a smile on your face. Where Foley wants to go with this is anybody’s guess, but even if all she wants to do is play Lakeside on the random night, she’s more fun than 99% of the other singers out there. If you have fond memories of Europe in the 80s, a thing for brilliant obscurities from the bargain bins, or just enjoy hearing a great voice, you should go see her.

July 20, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 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