Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Matt Keating at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 2/14/10

This could have been a savagely cynical alternative to the glut of lame Valentine’s shows – but that would have been easy, and predictable. Along with all the wit and the double entendres, there’s a bitterness in Matt Keating’s songwriting that often boils over into rage, sometimes repentant but sometimes not. Yet his Sunday evening show at the Rockwood wasn’t about that. Counterintuitively, backed by his wife Emily Spray on harmony vocals and the equally estimable Jon Graboff on pedal steel, Keating offered hope against hope. It made a good counterpart to the Chelsea Symphony’s alternative Valentine’s Day concert earlier in the day several blocks west.

The trio opened with the gorgeously sardonic anthem Candy Valentine, a big audience request that he doesn’t often play – it’s sort of his Saint Stephen (Grateful Dead fans will get the reference). Switching to piano, Keating evocatively painted an unromantic Jersey tableau in tribute to the late Danny Federici, the vastly underrated original organist in Springsteen’s E Street Band. Back on guitar, Keating threw out another pensive tableau, then picked up the pace with the decidedly unrepentant,upbeat country song Wrong Way Home. The high point of the night, and one of the few moments that actually wasn’t a surprise, was Lonely Blue. It built slowly, ambient Graboff versus incisive Keating guitar, Spray channeling Lucinda Williams but with twice the range and none of the alcohol – she was that good. The song’s unhinged alienation rose as the instruments built tensely to a sledgehammer crescendo that transcended the presence of just the two instruments and voices onstage – Keating is known for fiery, intense performances and this was characteristic. They brought it down after that, closing with the warily optimistic Louisiana, a standout track from Keating’s 2008 Quixotic album, as well as 2007’s Summer Tonight, pedal steel enhancing the song’s bucolic sway. Keating’s characters seldom get what they want – this time they got a little and the audience, silent and intent between songs, got a lot.

Advertisements

February 16, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Tyranny of Dave – Vacations

Truth in advertising: the cd cover depicts David Wechsler, co-founder/accordionist of Brooklyn “historical orchestrette” Pinataland seated at a backhoe in a graveyard. This is a good headphone album, all longing and restlessness and inventively melodic songwriting, perfect for a rainy night if you’ve chosen to spend it at home in lieu of stomping through the puddles in search of revelry. A lot of this album sounds like Hem, but with a male singer and plenty of gravitas. Fans of Matt Keating’s recent, Americana-inflected material will love this. The album begins dark and wistful with Travelin, a minimal yet catchy, midtempo fingerpicked bluegrass tune, guitar by Wechsler (who plays most of the instruments here, impressively). The next track, Churchill starts with a storm of shortwave radio squeals and whines into dark washes of strings and piano, its blithely swinging beat in sharp contrast with the narrator’s angst:

I’ve been having dreams of half- heard broadcasts
And fragments of your voice come to my ears

Call me when you finally get to Dunkirk
Tell me not to worry…
I’ll call you when I hit the beach at Normandy
And tell you not to worry

Roman Road follows, a doo-wop melody on piano with pretty strings and a full band behind Wechsler. There’s a big crescendo on the chorus and nice harmonies from Royal Pine frontwoman Robin Aigner, who lights up every song she touches: “I’ll meet you someday on the Roman Road.” The next track Just Because blends quietly reverberating electric guitar with organ and a deliciously fluid organ solo: it’s a gorgeously evocative nocturne. After that, What You Want to Hear, flavored with Bob Hoffnar’s sweetly soaring pedal steel, is sardonic with a quiet anger like something like Melomane would do:

So let’s invade a country, I hear that Portugal is nice this time of year…
And if we take the city we’ll have a cappucino there

Other standout tracks on the album include West Texas Cold Front, with more Hoffnar pedal steel, a gorgeous 6/8 country ballad that winds up on a predictably eerie note: “That West Texas cold front just blew me away.” Golden Age is a boisterous gypsy rock number that wouldn’t be out of place on a Firewater album, opening with Penny Penniston’s foghorn trumpet:

This is the golden age of obscurity where no one remembers your name…
This is the golden age of infirmity where everyone around you is lame

Hallelujah is a fast old timey country song solo on guitar til finally Wechsler picks up the accordion toward to the end, Aigner doing a ghostly angelic choir for a bit. The album ends on a surprisingly optimistic, ebullient note with We’ve Finally Come Home. The porch swing may be broken and the plaster cracked, but “the front porch is clean, the backyard is mowed” and there seems to be something hopeful glimmering at the end of this long tunnel. Excellent album, the best thing Wechsler’s done to date. Four bagels with whatever you manage to sneak through customs: linguica, a drizzle of Provencal oil, kippers maybe?

July 18, 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

CD Review: Dina Dean – 4 Songs

Her auspicious but all-too-brief debut. Always leave them wanting more, the saying goes and it’s never been more true here. Dina Dean is a lefthanded guitarist and in that tradition, she uses a lot of interesting, uniquely incisive licks and chordlets. She’s also a hell of a lyricist, a terrific storyteller with a fondness for weirdos and the down-and-out. And a hell of a singer with an alto delivery capable of minute yet very powerful subtleties. When she gets loud, which isn’t often, you know something’s up. These songs are all midtempo rock but draw deeply on classic 60s soul with a tinge of country here and there.

The album begins with Radio Song, a vivid late-night portrait of a neighborhood character who hangs out in the park with her radio amidst a whole lot of chaos

She’s counting down the top 10 from ‘65
When she should be counting sheep
Warming up some cold coffee
As she wonders why –
She can’t fall asleep

And then the chorus kicks in, driven by echoey Fender Rhodes piano, spiced with guitar and harmonica. The next track, Same Grace is a gospel-inflected tribute to street musicians everywhere:

Rivers rolling down your face
With an accent I could hardly trace
Singing about that Same Grace
That’s kept you here

Some of Them Days, with its swinging beat and soaring steel guitar has a warm, evocative summery feel. The cd’s final track Down in the Dust is a richly imagistic chronicle of an ancient dancer from the 1930s looking back on her trials and travails:

The queen madame of the minstrel
In my own travelin’ show
In the days of Silent Cal
And that no count Jim Crow
I was living high on the hog
In my ruby studded shoes
And went back to a hollow log
When jazz blew the fuse on the blues

Four songs, five bagels. Toasted with butter at some all-night joint. This cd is available for a ridiculously low price at shows.

June 5, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Lenny Molotov – Luminous Blues

The virtuoso guitarist steps up to the plate four times and hits three home runs on this tantalizingly brief ep. That’s a .750 batting average. Lenny Molotov, who fronts the impressively authentic delta blues outfit Elgin Movement and also plays lead in Randi Russo’s band, also happens to be a spectacularly good songwriter and lyricist as well as one of the best guitarists anywhere. An apt comparison would be Richard Thompson. Each draws deeply from traditional sources: in Thompson’s case, British folk; Molotov continues in the tradition of great bluesmen from Charley Patton to Robert Johnson, while adding contemporary lyrics. Like Thompson, Molotov is also a brilliant wordsmith, a master of symbolism, allusion and imagery: he doesn’t tell a story as much as show you a movie and let you figure out for yourself what’s going on.

The album opens with the innuendo-laden Ceiling Fan, a concert favorite that sounds something like a great lost track from Blonde on Blonde, except with much better guitar:

I could be Henry Miller and you could be Anais Nin
But you gotta let me know whether you want me out or in
I’m leaving now but you can gimme a call
When you’re ready to begin
Then we can both lay back and watch your ceiling fan spin

There’s a guitar break between the chorus and verse that sounds pretty much the same but a close listen reveals that it’s not: Molotov slowly changes it every go-round and by the time the song it’s over it’s become a macabre snake dance. It works perfectly, considering that this song is about cheating. After a routine popup, Molotov strides to batter’s box and hits another one into the upper deck with Love Train (not the O’Jays/Yayhoos hit). It riffs on pretty much every Manhattan subway line, a sardonic, open-tuned, fingerpicked blues about a relationship gone all the way out to Stillwell Avenue:

I cannot take the D train
Cause D it stands for dog
Cause that’s the animal I feel most like
When you were playing god
OOOh, stop this train…

It’s a classic New York song. The album concludes with the anthemic, crescendoing, vengeful Bottle Up and Go, which Molotov frequently uses to close his solo shows. Fans of current songwriters rooted in blues and Americana including Tom Waits, LJ Murphy and Rachelle Garniez – and the aforementioned Mr. Thompson – will love this stuff.

This is a hard album to find other than at shows. Four bagels, with whatever a bluesman would put on them. Which probably means hard salami and mustard – they both keep well. Molotov typically plays his own stuff on weekend nights at Sidewalk.

June 5, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Serena Jost, Brookland and Evan Schlansky at Pete’s Candy Store, Brooklyn NY 5/31/07

Serena Jost is a multi-instrumentalist whose main axe is the cello, and who spent awhile in the haunting, (formerly) all-female cello trio Rasputina. Accompanied by brilliant keyboardist Greta Gertler (who mostly played bells and a strange electronic contraption that looked like an autoharp but sounded like the full orchestra patch on a Fairlight synth) and drummer Alice Bierhorst, she played mostly acoustic guitar and impressed with the fluidity of her playing. As one of the editors here is quick to insist, if you know one stringed instrument well enough you can always pick up the others. Outside the little music room here, the crowd was loud and so was the music playing over the PA at the bar, which was a little disconcerting considering that this was a quiet, mostly acoustic show. But Jost won over the crowd with her impressive vocal range, the literate wit of her lyrics and brilliantly composed art-pop songs.

It is impossible not to like Brookland. Matt Singer is the guitarist, banjo player and low harmony singer who holds the unit to the rails. He makes the perfect foil for ebullient, radiant frontwoman Robin Aigner. Tonight she played mostly ukelele, singing lead on most of the songs. Their old-timey stuff – a mix of covers and originals – is contagiously fun and hard to resist singing along to. To their credit, two of their covers came from the most unlikely sources imaginable. Their Strokes cover revealed the awkward junior-high poetry of the original, but also redeemed the melody by giving it a catchy bounce. They then did a song by terminally constipated songwriter-du-jour Elvis Perkins (Tony’s kid), transforming it into a gypsyish number. Brookland have a thing for gypsy music, tackling two gypsy tunes and playing them perfectly. In many ways, they’re the quintessential Pete’s Candy Store act, with their harmonies, good cheer and acoustic instrumentation. Yet there is a complete absence of artifice, pretension or the sarcasm that the trendoids mistake for irony. They’re just plain fun.

Evan Schlansky was a good choice to headline, even if this time around he happened to be a last-minute replacement since Whisky Rebellion frontman Alex Battles had fallen victim to a booking mistake by the club. Schlansky comes across as someone who wouldn’t be likely to wake and bake unless there was a 9 AM meeting at his dayjob. He may be phoning it in with the suit-and-tie crowd, but he’s firing on all cylinders when it comes to life. A lot of his songs deal with bullshit: Schlansky has obviously seen a lot of it, doesn’t like it and calls it even when it might be his own. There’s no bullshit in his vocals either: along with his impressively dexterous, bluesy playing, he displayed a casual, twangy voice, without any phony accent or grungy slurring. He took requests from the crowd that was still in the house when he hit the stage with his sidekick, an impressively fluid lefty acoustic lead guitarist. Two of the highlights of his tantalizingly brief set were upbeat, major key, Dylanesque tunes: the ridiculously catchy Crocodile Tears, and the equally memorable I Took Your Plane Down, a metaphor-driven song that took on an unexpected and completely unintentional new meaning after 9/11 He ended the set with a song ostensibly about pot: “Maybe we should medicate them all,” he mused. But as with his other material, the song also raised the question of what life would be like without “medication.” Or, if, with “medication,” there is life at all. The terse simplicity of Schlansky’s melodies sometimes mask his songs’ lyrical depth, and this was a prime example. Audience members came and went as the night went on, but there was a considerable payoff for those with the time or the energy to sit through all three acts.

June 4, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment