Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Debutante Hour Cover Up For Once

Musicians know that if you really want to keep an audience’s attention with a cover song, you have to find a way to make it different from the original. Usually the more you change it, the funnier it gets. The Debutante Hour’s new album Follow Me is all cover songs: hip-hop, new wave pop, bluegrass, Phil Spector and indie rock done oldtimey style with accordion, cello and percussion. Is the band being silly? Sarcastic? Serious? With the Debutante Hour, you never know. Accordionist Maria Sonevytsky, cellist Mia Pixley and multi-instrumentalist Susan Hwang’s stagewear may not leave much to the imagination, but their songs do the opposite: their deadpan surrealism isn’t always easy to figure out. Which is what makes them so appealing – aside from their perfectly charming three-part harmonies. And the outfits of course. They definitely were serious about putting the album together, with crystalline production from World Inferno’s Franz Nicolay.

The first song is No Scrubs, originally done by TLC, recast here as a ukelele shuffle. The original was mildly funny and this is funnier (live, it’s absolutely hilarious). When it comes time for the bridge, Baltimore hip-hop diva TK Wonder reminds that girl in the song isn’t a gold digger, she’s just sick of getting hit on by scuzzy guys – beeyatch!

Just What I Needed by the Cars is a horrible song, one cliche after another, absolutely unredeemable unless maybe as death metal or industrial. Here it’s reinvented as a tongue-in-cheek accordion tune, as the Main Squeeze Orchestra might have done it. When Nicolay comes in with his banjo, that’s when it gets really funny.

The third track is an acoustic hip-hop hit by popular Ukrainian duo 5’Nizza (whose name is a Russian pun, meaning “Friday”). It seems to be a come-on (the hook seems to mean something along the lines of “I’m not like that”). To a non-Ukrainian speaker, it comes across as catchy, innocuous trip-hop. The first serious song here is an unselfconsciously beautiful version of the Stanley Bros.’ If That’s the Way You Feel, evocative of the Roulette Sisters. Another serious one is Be My Baby, where they take the generic white doo-wop hit burned out by oldies radio decades ago and make it downright sultry. They close with the Flaming Lips’ Do You Realize. If you missed the original, it’s Brian Jonestown Massacre-style nouveau psychedelia, in this case a third-rate John Lennon imitation with really awful (and kind of morbid) lyrics. The Debutante Hour’s version plays down the death fixation and plays up the pretty tune. They’re at Joe’s Pub on 3/25 at 7 PM.

Since now we know that the Debutante Hour’s covers are as fun and interesting as their originals, here’s some other cover ideas: John Sheppard or Thomas Tallis’ death-fixated sixteenth-century plainchant with intricate harmonies that scream out gothically for a reinterpretation by the Debutante Hour! How about Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, which is so idiotic that it wouldn’t be hard to have a little fun with – maybe bring back TK Wonder for that one? Gogol Bordello’s Start Wearing Purple, which pretty much everybody knows, and could use some harmonies? Camay by Ghostface Killah? The Girl’s Guide to the Modern Diva by Black Box Recorder? Vladimir Vysotksky’s acoustic gypsy-punk revolutionary anthem Okhata Na Volkov (The Wolf Hunt)? Just brainstorming here…

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March 13, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jayme Stone’s Banjo Travels Around the World

Jayme Stone’s new Room of Wonders is his dance album. Taking a page out of Bach’s French Dance Suite (which he plays here as an energetic, practically punk duo with bowed bass), the virtuoso banjo player and an inspired cast of characters romp through some imaginative new arrangements of traditional dances from around the world. Stone wanted to get jazz-quality players and put them together, but not as soloists, to see what kind of sparks would fly. The main group here consists of Casey Driessen of Abigail Washburn’s quartet on violin, Grant Gordy from Dave Grisman’s band on acoustic guitar and Greg Garrison on bass.

They open with the surprisingly pensive Krasavaska Ruchenitsr, a tricky Bulgarian tune in 7/8 time. Ever wonder what a banjo sounds like playing a horn line? You can find out here. Driessen follows Stone and counterintuitively takes it down rather than hitting a crescendo. Next they tackle a couple of Irish dances, the first darkly bristling, the next one more cheery. Vinicius, a shout-out to Vincius Cantuaria, mines the same kind of suspenseful restraint, with a tasty, buoyant trumpet solo from Kevin Turcotte, drummer  Nick Fraser holding down a samba beat when the song isn’t going off into the clouds for an extended, atmospheric break.

Moresca Nuziale, an original wedding theme, keeps the wary, apprehensive vibe going – it’s the last thing most people would want at a wedding, which might make sense since the couple whose wedding the song debuted at broke up six months later. They follow that with Andrea Berget, a stately, wistful Norwegian tune that’s ostensibly a polka, then the Bach, then Stone’s captivating, Tunisian-inspired title track, lit up with some understatedly dramatic cymbal work from Fraser and a jazzy guitar solo. The rest of the album includes a spirited take on Bill Monroe’s Ways of the World, another Bulgarian tune with Driessen contributing cello-like tones on low octave fiddle, and the upbeat Troll King Dom Polska, featuring Vasen’s Olov Johansson on the autoharp-like nyckelharpa. Eclectic? Yeah, you could call it that. Stone will be at le Poisson Rouge on 3/16 at 7 PM opening for the reliably awesome, frequently haunting Las Rubias del Norte.

March 12, 2011 Posted by | classical music, country music, folk music, gypsy music, irish music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/17/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #712:

Jim & Jesse & the Virginia Boys – Bluegrass Classics

You may have heard the story about a teenage Jerry Garcia rushing to his motel room to audiotape a tv show featuring these guys so he could pilfer their licks. By the time this 1964 collection came out, Jim and Jesse McReynolds (guitar and mandolin, respectively) were past their peak as stars of the Bible Belt, even if musically they’d never been better. Like all country bands of the era, they were singles artists; as an introduction, this compilation is as good as any. It’s more virtuosic than fiery; like a lot of roots acts, they were better onstage. It’s a mix of nostalgia, longing, cheating and kiss-off songs: Las Cassas Tennessee, When My Blue Moon Turns to Gold Again, Drifting and Dreaming of You, I Wonder Where You Are Tonight, The Violet and the Rose, Take My Ring from Your Finger and a bristling version of Nine Pound Hammer among the ten tracks here. Jim drank himself to death just a couple of years after this came out; Jesse, now in his eighties, still performs and hasn’t lost a step, most recently recording an album of Dead covers. Here’s a random torrent.

February 17, 2011 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Red Molly’s Third Album Takes Americana Roots Music to New Places

One of the best-loved and smartest Americana roots bands, Red Molly pretty much live on the road. The seamless, soaring intensity of the harmonies and the chemistry between the musicians reflect it: these women are pros. The obvious comparison is the Dixie Chicks, another road-seasoned group, although Red Molly are lot more rootsy and less pop: they’re one of the few groups out there who can slide into an oldtime vernacular without sounding the least bit cliched or contrived. With their high lonesome harmonies, catchy bluegrass-inspired songwriting and incisive acoustic arrangements, there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be any less popular than, say, Lady Antebellum (although in certain parts of the world, Red Molly are already more popular than Lady Antebellum). In case they’re new to you, the “Mollies” are Laurie MacAllister on bass, guitar and banjo, Abbie Gardner on dobro and guitar along with the newest addition to the band, Molly Venter (that’s her real name). Their latest album, James, holds to the high standard they set on their first two, while adding a slightly more propulsive edge which makes sense in that this is the first album they’ve done with drums.

The songs are a mix of light and dark. Gardner gets to show off her jazz chops on the western swing classic The End of the Line – Patsy Cline as done by the Moonlighters, maybe? – with some jaunty ragtime piano from her dad, Herb Gardner. The bitter Appalachian gothic lament Black Flowers could be a classic folk song, its narrator taking pains to explain how the only guy in town who’s doing well is the undertaker. The creepy You’ll Never Leave Harlan Alive shatters any romantic notion you might have about Tennessee coal mining country, and Tear My Stillhouse Down wouldn’t be out of place on one of Dolly Parton’s bluegrass albums.

Falling In, a suspensefully lush, sultry ballad features some absolutely brilliant, understated drum and percussion work from Ben Wittman, who adds similarly clever contributions throughout the album. Gardner’s Jezebel imaginatively blends blues and gospel influences: beware, this girl’s a barracuda! Fred Gillen Jr. guests on Gulf Coast Highway, a warmhearted portrait of an old bluecollar Florida couple trying to hang on in the new depression. There’s also the slowly crescendoing Looking for Trouble, a cautionary tale for a big boozer; the hypnotic, bluesy Troubled Mind, featuring some memorable violin work from Jake Amerding; the swinging honkytonk blues I Can’t Let Go, a showcase for Gardner’s characteristically biting, edgy dobro; and a gorgeous a-cappella version of the old folk song Foreign Lander. Red Molly play the big room at the Rockwood on 2/24 at 7:30 PM; they’re also at the First Acoustics Coffeehouse in downtown Brooklyn with Pat Wictor on guitar on 3/19.

February 16, 2011 Posted by | country music, folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Frankenpine’s Crooked Mountain Beckons Ominously

Grim, lurid and gorgeously tuneful, Frankenpine’s new album The Crooked Mountain is definitely the darkest album of the year so far – and it might be the best. We’ll sort that stuff out at the end of the year. In the meantime, the dozen Appalachian gothic songs here will give you goosebumps. A hundred years ago, when the music that inspired this album was the soundtrack to daily life, that life was short and hard and these songs reflect that, even though all but one of them (John the Revelator, reinvented as lush acoustic psychedelia) are originals. To her credit, frontwoman/guitarist Kim Chase doesn’t drawl or otherwise try to countrify the songs: her casual, plaintive unease is plenty bracing. Banjo player Matthew Chase teams up with bassist Colin DeHond, creating a fluid underpinning for Ned P. Rauch’s resonator guitar and mandolin, Liz Bisbee’s violin and Andy Mullen’s accordion.

Inspired by Clint Eastwood’s The Outlaw Josey Wales, the opening track, Texas Outlaw spins off the riff from the Stones’ Paint It Black, with some rich harmonies and tense, bluesy violin. One of the few lighthearted moments here, La Fee Verte is a tribute not to absinthe but to the kind of gypsy jazz hole-in-the-wall that might serve it. Prototypical undercover reporter Nellie Bly’s trip to a grisly 19th century New York insane asylum gets immortalized on the richly lyrical, absolutely macabre Blackwell Island, a song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Moonlighters’ catalog. And Faceless Weaver turns a catchy garage rock verse into bluegrass, with a starkly inscrutable lyric and some neat handoffs from one instrument to another.

Rauch sings the blistering, cynically resolute murder ballad Never Lie: “I’m gonna lie my way into heaven when I shoot my way to hell.” Over Your Bones paints a sad, ghostly wartime tableau that could be set in the south in 1864, or in Afghanistan right now. They follow the fiery minor-key instrumental Wolf at the Door with the rousing, Pogues-ish down-and-out chronicle Baltimore, and then Cold Water, which leaps abruptly from hypnotic ambience to rolling, rustic beauty. Convict Grade, a title track of sorts, has the kind of stoic optimism – or at least resolute conviction – that’s found throughout so many rustic tales of hard time. And the most gripping of all the tracks might be the eight-minute epic Eye of the Whale, a surreal, grisly seafaring narrative with a stunner of an ending. There are scores of Americana roots acts with great musical chops and harmonies, and plenty with good original songs and lyrics, but few who combine them with this kind of originality and singleminded intensity. O’Death fans will love this stuff. Frankenpine plays a “steam powered battle of the bands” at Theatre 80 St. Marks on Feb 19.

February 16, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Another Triumphant Homecoming for the Dixie Bee-Liners

The last stop on a whirlwind Northeast tour for Virginia’s Dixie Bee-Liners appeared to be a last-minute booking, late on a Sunday night in relatively remote Red Hook. But it didn’t matter: they packed the Jalopy and delivered a set that ranged from downright creepy to deliriously fun. Which perfectly capsulizes the appeal of bluegrass music, and how the band’s songwriters Brandi Hart and Buddy Woodward draw on its roots while taking it places it’s never been before. From the git-go, this band has pushed the envelope, and this new edition is the best yet. Bassist Sav Sankaran gave Woodward a run for his money both with his wiseass sense of humor, and his unselfconsciously soaring, high lonesome vocals when he wasn’t taking solos that drew the loudest applause of the night. Violinist Sara Needham led the band through a slinky version of Trouble in Mind that was absolutely psychedelic, her sister Leah adding edge and bite with her lean dobro lines alongside Zachary Mongan’s banjo, Woodward’s mandolin and Hart’s guitar.

Hart switched to electric dulcimer for a roaring wash of sound on Heavy, a characteristically brooding track from the band’s most recent album Susanville, a noir-tinged concept album that explores the more surreal side of highway travel. The best song of the night was Restless, another one of Hart’s, menacingly hypnotic Steve Wynn-style LA noir riff-rock done with bluegrass instrumentation. It would make a perfect segue with one of Wynn’s macabre freeway numbers like Sunset to the Sea or Southern California Line. Woodward called another hypnotic tune, Yellow Haired Girl, “a cross between Erskine Caldwell and H.P. Lovecraft,” yet the audience couldn’t resist clapping along. The rest of the show had a nonstop element of surprise, band members swapping licks, sharing solos and switching off parts with the effortless grace of a jazz combo and the understated fire of a good rock band. Woodward’s eerily amusing Truck Stop Baby contrasted with Hart’s bitter, defeated version of I Never Will Marry; likewise, she moved from the infectious Virginia bluegrass trailmap Down on the Crooked Road, to the sad, dreamily haunting Lost in the Silence, and then back again with the irresistible, quirkily scurrying charm of The Bugs in the Basement. When they finally closed the show at almost midnight with a careening singalong of I’ve Been Working on the Building, they gave hope to the scores of other New York roots music groups who’re all working on their own buildings, hoping to someday approximate this kind of brilliance and earn a following who’ll pack a club late on a work night in the middle of winter (the DBLs got their start in New York). Bluegrass fans here can look forward to seeing the Dixie Bee-Liners at Grey Fox again this summer.

February 15, 2011 Posted by | concert, country music, folk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/30/10

Here we are back in Babylon, where the mayor only wants the streets free of snow in the white neighborhoods: and guess where we are. Anybody feel like shoveling? In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues as it does every day, all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #761:

Jim & Jennie & the Pinetops – One More in the Cabin

By the time this Brooklyn/Pennsylvania bluegrass band (formerly the Pine Barons) put out this album, their third, in 2002, they’d honed their period-perfect oldtime sound to a high lonesome wail, in the process helping to jumpstart an already nascent New York country music scene. Unlike so many other bluegrass traditionalists, Jim Krewson and Jennie Benford write their own songs, and they hit hard: these folks are throwbacks to a harsh, bucolic era, which they hardly romanticize. Poverty and unwanted pregnancy (the title track’s theme) are just as likely to make an appearance in their songs as lost love and homesickness. This isn’t polished music – although it is extremely well-played – and its spirit has a lot more in common with punk rock than it does with jam bands. Maybe for that reason, Neko Case got them to back her on a live album, and they quickly outgrew the small club scene that they’d played so ecstatically and memorably for years. The fourteen mostly upbeat tracks here are packed with inspired picking and fiddling; google it for a torrent if you’re short on cash (the band would understand). If you’re not, we highly recommend the independent band’s smartly-produced cd for party music, for waking up and getting out of the house and for long road trips.

December 30, 2010 Posted by | country music, folk music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Sometime Boys’ Debut: Excellent All the Way Through

With its layers of great guitar and smart Americana roots songwriting, the Sometime Boys’ album Any Day Now makes a good segue with the Hendrix box set reviewed here yesterday. It’s a lot more rustic and low-key but just as intense as frontwoman Sarah Mucho and guitarist Kurt Leege’s main project, the wildly powerful, cerebral art/funk/noiserock band System Noise. Mucho is a legitimate star in the New York cabaret world (she won a MAC award), best known for her unearthly, powerful wail. Here, she offers frequently chilling proof that she’s every bit as potent a stylist when she brings down the lights. Likewise, Leege’s electric playing is equal parts passion and virtuosity: here, his nimble, funky, soulful acoustic work is just as gripping if somewhat quieter than his usual unhinged, wailing tremolo-bar howl. The band here is rounded out by Pete O’Connell on bass, David Tuss on violin and eclectic drummer/percussionist Andy Blanco.

The album opens with Pretty Town, a slinky, smoldering acoustic version of a funk song by System Noise’s predecessor band Noxes Pond, Blanco’s lush cymbal washes mingling atmospherically with its understated angst and tersely edgy guitar solo. The bitter, backbeat-driven bluegrass number Master Misery is a gem, Mucho delivering its torrents of lyrics with a wounded grace: “There are no answers, just suggestions, and most folks don’t bother with the truth,” she posits. There’s a deft, ELO-style handoff as the solo moves from guitar to violin; in the end, Mucho’s tortured soul chooses solitude. The catchy Non Believers is a clinic in vocal subtlety and lyrical depth, Mucho gently railing at those who cluelessly accept the world around them at face value; Painted Bones, with its hypnotic verse building matter-of-factly to its big chorus hook, has more of a gothic, Siouxsie-esque undercurrent. With its rich layers of acoustic guitar, the title track manages to be both brisk and lush. The album winds up with a gorgeously allusive, understatedly suspenseful 6/8 Tom Waits country number about a house that may or may not be haunted, in every possible sense of the word; the band also reinvents Aimee Mann’s Wise Up as edgy funk. What a treat this is, all the way through: you’ll see this on our Best Albums of 2010 page when we finally put it up in the next week or so.

December 23, 2010 Posted by | country music, funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/5/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #786:

Jimmy Martin – 20 Greatest Hits

As chronicled in the 2003 documentary film King of Bluegrass, Jimmy Martin was a tragic character – a mean drunk, a bad bandmate, a micromanager as a bandleader – and one of the greatest figures in the history of the music. He got his start as a harmony singer and guitarist in Bill Monroe’s band in the late 40s, then hit with his Sunny Mountain Boys in the 50s and continued to tour festivals until he died in 2005. His high lonesome vocals and biting, no-nonsense guitar picking continue to influence bluegrass bands from coast to coast. This reissue from the late 80s mixes standards (Blue Moon of Kentucky, Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms, Foggy Mountain Breakdown and Knoxville Girl, to name a few) with hits, many from the peak of his career. Martin was the first to do Truck Drivin’ Man and followed up the success of that one with another eighteen-wheeler standby, Widow Maker. Some of these songs play up his reputation as hard to deal with, notably his first big hit, Freeborn Man, Honey, You Don’t Know My Mind and the bitter Who’s Calling You Sweetheart Tonight. The only duds here are the ones about his hunting dogs, and if the sheer number of these that he wrote throughout his career are to be taken at face value, he went through as many hounds as bandmates. For spirited live versions of many of these songs, check out the 1973 double live album Bean Blossom: Home Again in Indiana featuring Martin along with Jim & Jesse & the Virginia Boys, Flatt & Scruggs and Bill Monroe and his band. Here’s a random torrent.

December 5, 2010 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/1/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #790:

Dolly Parton – Little Sparrow

If you’ve followed this list as we’ve been rolling it out (or as it’s been unraveling, as somebody here put it), you’ve probably noticed an absence of classic country albums. That’s because so many great country artists were singles artists. Their albums tend to have a few good cuts surrounded by lots of filler: songs written on the fly by the producer, or included as a favor to the producer’s out-of-work friends, that kind of thing. Here’s one that’s not. Dolly Parton had written a ton of good songs by the time she put this one out in 2001, the second in a series of extremely successful acoustic albums that saw her return to her bluegrass roots. It’s a loosely thematic Nashville gothic album of sorts with a supernatural theme, its centerpiece the whispery witch’s tale Mountain Angel, followed by the winsome, compelling Marry Me. She’s always been known for wacky covers (she’d do Led Zep the next time out); this one has an actually excellent, unrecognizable version of Shine by Collective Soul (featuring Nickel Creek), and a surprisingly effective cover of Cole Porter’s I Get a Kick Out of You. There’s also the soaring, plaintive title track and a lickety-split Seven Bridges Road; a version of I Don’t Believe You’ve Met My Baby that’s even bouncier than the original; the ballads A Tender Lie and The Beautiful Lie (thematic, you see); the Irish traditional song Down from Dover, and the country gospel mainstay In the Sweet Bye and Bye to wrap it up. Dolly sings her heart out and the energy is contagious: the band sound like they’re about to jump out of their shoes with joy in places. Here’s a random torrent.

December 1, 2010 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments