Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 10/3/10

Happy birthday Alicia!

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #849:

Aimee Mann – Lost in Space

We’re trying to limit this list to one album per artist, so this was a really tough call. Aimee Mann is one of the few who’s literally never made a bad one. We picked this because it’s so consistently intense and tuneful, although you could say that about just about everything else she’s done other than the Christmas albums. The fans’ choice is the Magnolia soundtrack, a dynamite album; the critics’ pick tends to be her solo debut, Whatever, from 1993 (a solidly good effort, but one she’d quickly surpass – goes to show how much they know, huh?). Many other songwriters would have made this 2002 concept album about addiction and rehab mawkish and self-absorbed: not this woman. Mann sings the bitter anguish of the richly George Harrisonesque Humpty Dumpty, the savage cynicism of This Is How It Goes and Guys Like Me (Mann still venting at clueless corporate record label types after all these years) and the rich levels of Invisible Ink with a vivid, wounded nuance over seamless, carefully crafted, tersely played midtempo rock changes. It winds up just as intensely as it began with the venom of The Moth and the bitter, downcast It’s Not, reminding that after all this, all the perfect drugs and superheroes still won’t be enough to pull its narrator up from zero. Clinical depression has seldom been more evocatively or memorably portrayed. Here’s a random torrent.

October 3, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/27/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Tuesday’s song is #93:

John Lennon – Nobody Loves You When You’re Down and Out

“Everybody loves you when you’re six feet under the ground.” From Walls and Bridges, 1973.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/26/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #94:

Elvis Costello – Mouth Almighty

Bitter and unusually candid breakup song set to a sweet pop tune from Punch the Clock, 1983. Honesty gets the guy nothing but the boot, leaving him “without a soul to talk to or a hair out of place.”

April 26, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Mary Lee’s Corvette at Lakeside, NYC 4/2/10

Good things happening in the Lakeside family: Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s old band the Del Lords are back together (and recording!), while his wife Mary Lee Kortes’ old if considerably more recent band Mary Lee’s Corvette are back together again as well. The ‘Vette may have been more of rotating cast of characters, but it seems to have hinged on the availability of fiery guitarist Andy York. To say that York’s re-emergence has re-energized the group is an understatement. And York can play anything which is a good thing because Kortes can write anything. Her songs run the length of the emotional spectrum, and a lot of them are very dark, but the band’s sheer joy playing together again translated viscerally from the stage. This was a bassless version of the band, Kortes on acoustic guitar and percussion plus Joe Ciofalo on accordion and Konrad Meissner of the Silos on drums, but the absence of low frequencies didn’t matter.

Kortes’ work is defined by intensity, and this was a set list for fans who enjoy that intensity the most. They opened with the rustic Americana of The Nothing Song (as in “all I want is to want nothing from you”), York’s surgically precise minor-key blues licks underlining the dismissive lyric. They took it up with the casual garage rock snarl of Out from Under It and then brought it down again with Love in Another Language, York’s wide open, wobbly tremolo enhancing the hypnotic, psychedelic ambience. The hits kept coming: “This is about someone who really pissed me off,” Kortes informed the audience as they launched into a ferocious version of another dismissive kiss-off anthem, The Needy.

Why Don’t You Leave Him, the haunting, allusive tale of an abused woman (off the band’s classic True Lovers of Adventure cd from around ten years ago) was quietly riveting. When they reached the last chorus, they took it down to just Meissner’s ominous tom-tom and Kortes voice as she reached the line “he said he’d kill me, and I believed him.” The big show-stopping ballad 1000 Promises Later, also from that album juxtaposed intricately crafted vocal nuance with anguished drama – it was the big hit of the night with the crowd. But the most fascinating moments were two new versions of Beulah Rowley songs (more about her here later – watch this space). The first was a swinging, bluesy min0r-key number with a slightly noir cabaret early-1940s feel: “I was born a happy girl in an unhappy world,” its protagonist announces, and then proceeds to layer on one level of meaning after another. A swing tune, Big Things mined the same territory of the Moonlighters‘ Big Times but more darkly – this is an escape anthem more than an optimistic one. We’re overdue for a Beulah Rowley revival.

“A true story,” Kortes told the crowd, when they reached the encore. “You can’t come up with a name like that.” While the song they played is actually a compassionate look at a girl who can’t come out as a lesbian to her family, by the time the band reached the outro, everybody was laughing and singing along: “What’s the status with Gladys?”

Mary Lee Kortes’ next show is a songwriter summit of sorts with the April Blossoms, a trio with her NYC colleagues Amanda Thorpe and Serena Jost at 7ish on April 21, also at Lakeside.

April 3, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Rachelle Garniez – Melusine Years

Melusine translates from the French as water nymph or naiad (Rachelle Garniez is a Pisces, which may explain a few things). Nothing very watery about this album, though, unless you count the picture on the cd’s lyric booklet showing Garniez lounging on the Staten Island Ferry. To say that this is her best album to date may not seem like the staggering achievement that it is, until you realize that her last one, Luckyday remains one of the best albums of the decade. To surpass it was a Herculean feat, and Garniez has pulled it off, seemingly effortlessly. Simply put, there is no better singer, no better songwriter, no better keyboard player and – especially – no better live performer in all of rock than Rachelle Garniez. If you can call what she does rock.

Luckyday was a lush, ornately orchestrated blend of retro styles, and this one, while drawing from the same corners of vintage Americana, is somewhat more intimate. Garniez sings and dazzles on accordion, piano, bells and plays a little nylon-stringed guitar, accompanied by brilliant lead guitarist Matt Munisteri and low-frequencies expert Dave Hofstra, who plays upright bass and also tuba on one song. Garniez’ songs are timeless yet immutably rooted in the here-and-now. Most of what’s here has a blackly humorous, apocalyptic undercurrent: this is a loosely thematic concept album about fiddling while Rome burns.

It kicks off with After the Afterparty, an understatedly bitter midtempo piano ballad with an absolutely killer chorus gently illuminated by some expert Munisteri electric guitar fills. Garniez loves to vary her vocal delivery from a whisper to a roar – she sings in character, and she has a whole stable of them. But her voice here is plainspoken and sad, and it’s nothing short of riveting. This is a story of rejection. In the spirit of perhaps her best song (Quality Star, from Luckyday), it ends on a subtly vengeful note:

After the afterparty
You hailed me a taxi
And I buckled up for safety
Maybe I’ll live to be an old lady
With lots of big hats and jewelry

And an inscrutable air of mystery
And when questioned about my history
I’ll smile oh so sweetly
And whisper oh so discreetly
I can’t remember a thing

The following track, the bouncy, old-timey, accordion-driven Tourmaline brings the low-end gemstone to life in 6/8 time:

We all know you came in through the kitchen
Cause the floor sorta sticks to your feet
When you go better you use the back door
He’ll be waiting for you on the street
Oh he closes his eyes when he kicks you
For a cat cannot look at a queen
Realize when his memory tricks you
Oh he’s nothing but snow on your screen

After the amusingly brief Back in the Day (“When the saints came marching in/Nobody paid no mind so they marched right back out again”) and a sweetly soaring country song, Garniez reverts to her fondness for the underdog with Shoemaker’s Children, a Munisteri showcase. It has the feel of a Charley Patton classic, a haunting, rustic open-tuned blues for banjo and guitar, and it’s one of the more overtly ominous numbers on the cd:

‘Bout an hour before the flood
There’s nary a rat to be seen
And the people swarm the city to grab one last glimmer of green
Make way for the shoemaker’s children
Here they come marching down your street
Ten million strong they limp along on their twisted and broken feet

The next cut, Bed of Cherries is deliberately inscrutable: other than a possible reference to a cover album by the Church, this strange but beautifully played and sung catalog of unrelated objects seems to be more of a secret message than something written for the world. Then Garniez overdubs layers and layers of her own vocals to create an entire gospel choir on the rousing fragment Mama’s Got a Brand New Baby (which she uses as an intro for Tourmaline at live shows).

Lyrically, the album’s high point is the following track, People Like You. The sarcasm is brutal: over a blithe, finger-popping beat, Garniez does her best Rickie Lee Jones imitation. It’s arguably the most scathing, spot-on critique of the trendoids who have taken over New York that anyone’s written to date:

If you came here to make it big, well I wish you the best of luck
You can always head back out west if you ever get stuck
But if you came here to jerk my chain, I wish you the very worst
I don’t mean to be a pain but baby I got here first
And it’s people like you
Who don’t know pride from shame
And it’s people like you…
Who will never place a face before a name

Garniez toys with the “people like you” hook on the chorus, first accenting the “you,” then the “like.” The reason for the effect becomes clear at the end of the song when she starts going on about how everyone likes the newcomers: in fact, she ends up unable to resist them too. Yeah, and pigs can fly.

The cd continues with the macabrely amusing Pre-Post Apocalypse, something of a punk rock oompah song, followed by The Best Revenge, a sardonic yet stoically mournful account of living it up while temperatures rise, the poles melt and unspoiled children face a tough road ahead. As Garniez tells it, they rise to meet it, an unexpectedly hopeful end to an otherwise completely pessimistic song.

Like its predecessor, Melusine Years falls into a category that transcends any “best album of the year” designation [although it did make it to #1 on Lucid Culture’s Best Albums of 2007 list – Ed.] If the human race exists a hundred years from now, this album will be as revered a cautionary tale as George Orwell’s 1984. If not, it’s a fitting epitaph. In the case of the former, it ensures Garniez a permanent place in the pantheon of great American songwriters. Rachelle Garniez plays the cd release for Melusine Years at Joe’s Pub on December 22 at 9:30 PM.

December 18, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

CD Review: Richard Thompson – Sweet Warrior

This is Richard Thompson’s best, angriest, most lyrically rich and stylistically diverse studio album in ages, in fact since Industry, his 1997 collaboration with bassist Danny Thompson. Some of you may wonder why we’re reviewing someone so well-known here, and there’s a reason: he’s actually not that well known. He hasn’t had a label deal in years. He does, however have a rabid cult following, some of who go on the road with him like the Grateful Dead. Those fans insist that Thompson is both the best rock guitarist AND the best rock songwriter ever. They might be right.

He was already a dazzling player at 19 when he joined legendary psychedelic/Britfolk rockers Fairport Convention in the late 60s. He left that band a few years later and then put out several critically acclaimed semi-acoustic albums with his wife Linda Thompson. That collaboration culminated with their legendary 1982 record Shoot Out the Lights, a brutal blow-by-blow chronicle of the dissolution of their marriage that ends with what would become his signature song, The Wall of Death. It’s safe to say that it’s one of the greatest albums ever made. Since then, he’s released innumerable solo albums, both live and studio recordings, and virtually all of them are terrific. This ranks with the best of them.

The album’s centerpiece is a towering, seven-minute epic about violence. Its setting is Ireland, but its cast of dubious characters and their inevitable charge towards tragedy could could just as easily be in Iraq. Toward the end, we get a typically febrile Stratocaster solo from Thompson. He generally plays with a round, open tone without any distortion or effects, similar to Robert Cray. Here, he fires away a fusillade and then the instruments fall away one by one, with an understated, somber grace that perfectly matches the lyrics. Thompson is a master of matching melody to words, and this is a prime example.

There’s also a fiery anti-Iraq war number called Dad’s Gonna Kill Me, told from the point of view of a British soldier with his patrol, “sitting targets in the Wild West Show.” Dad is someone in command: he’s never named. It’s a tense, terrified, loping minor-key number that builds to an eerie, pointillistic guitar solo.

A lot of this album is electrified English jigs and reels, spiced with ominous guitar chromatics: Thompson loves those Middle Eastern tonalities. The sarcastic Mr. Stupid is directed at a greedy ex (ex-wife Linda, perhaps?) living off his royalties and tour earnings: “Clear the streets and book your seats, Mr. Stupid’s back in town.” She may despise him, but he’s quick to remind her that he’s still the one who writes the checks. The theme recurs in the album’s concluding number, Sunset Song, Thompson railing about being “up there on the cross where some say I belong.” He hasn’t been this angry at anyone – other than the Bush regime – in a long time.

Otherwise, there’s the excellent, sarcastic, defiantly fast I’ll Never Give It Up; Bad Monkey, another broadside aimed at an ex; Francesca, a rueful minor-key lament set to a surprisingly effective reggae beat, and the scorching, anti-Tony Blair song Sneaky Boy. And six other good ones, beautifully arranged with antique instrumentation: strings, krummhorn, mandolin, even uillean pipes on the tail end of the aptly metaphorical Too Late to Come Fishing. If you’re in the Thompson cult, you undoubtedly have this by now along with everything else; if he’s new to you, this is a fine way to become acquainted with a criminally underrated, astonishingly powerful rocker.

August 17, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment