Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 7/16/10

Less than two weeks til our best 666 songs of alltime countdown reaches #1…and then we start with the 1000 best albums of alltime. Friday’s song is #13:

Phil Ochs – Another Age

“We were born in a revolution, and we died in a wasted war…if that was an election, I’m a Viet Cong,” Ochs rails in the hardest-rocking song he ever recorded. Bob Rafkin’s ferocious, melodic bassline is the centerpiece of the studio version on the death-obsessed Rehearsals for Retirement, 1969; the version on Live in Vancouver, released posthumously in the 90s, has a gentler janglerock feel.

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July 16, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, 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: 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

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