Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 11/1/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #820:

Percy Mayfield – His Tangerine and Atlantic Sides

One of bluesman Percy Mayfield’s albums from the late 1950s is called My Heart Is Always Singing Sad Songs, and it perfectly captures his esthetic. Ironically, it’s not those songs that he’s best remembered for: his first big hit was Please Send Me Someone to Love. A few years later later he wrote Hit the Road Jack, iconically covered by Ray Charles. In 1969, Elvis covered Stranger in My Own Hometown; twenty years later, Mose Allison did a killer version of that one. But Mayfield, an old soul if there ever was one, was the best interpreter of his own material. A star of the West Coast blues circuit in the early 50s, he narrowly survived a 1954 car accident that left him disfigured for life, with a sizeable crater in his forehead (the inspiration for Stranger in My Own Home Town). This is a 2003 reissue of 1962-74 recordings. Mayfield always sounded older than he was: among the 28 tracks here are the shuffling R&B of Never No More; the lushly orchestrated piano blues Memory Pain; the even lusher, far more modern-sounding River’s Invitation; the slow, brooding My Jug and I; the funky, psychedelic Nothing Stays the Same Forever and the Louis Jordan-esque Life Is Suicide. The titles pretty much speak for themselves: it’s some of the most wrenching stuff ever recorded. Mayfield’s stuff from the 50s is equally good: other albums worth checking out are his Specialty Singles compilation as well as the Poet Of the Blues, Memory Pain and Two Years of Torture anthologies. Here’s a random torrent.

November 1, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/5/10

OK, we missed a day (up at Graceland North celebrating Labor Day). But our daily countdown of the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1 continues. Sunday’s album was #877:

Jimmy Reed – At Carnegie Hall

This 1961 album is neither live nor was it recorded at Carnegie Hall, but it is the great bluesman at the peak of his sly, seductive, sleepy power. It’s a bedroom album right up there with anything Al Green or Sade ever recorded, a dusky, nocturnal tour de force. Reed was a big hit with the ladies but also with the guys for his wry sense of humor and his confident subtlety: he doesn’t beg, he beckons. This one gets the nod over the others in his catalog because it’s a double album with more tracks. It’s got all the big hits: Bright Lights, Big City; Baby What You Want Me to Do; Big Boss Man; Going to New York; Take Out Some Insurance, and Ain’t That Loving You Baby. And who’s that laid-back, terrifically interesting, counterintuitive drummer? Believe it or not, that’s Albert King. Extra props to Reed for helping launch that guy’s career. Here’s a random torrent.

September 6, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: LJ Murphy at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 4/24/10

LJ Murphy’s set last night started out incisive and sometimes menacing, picked up the pace and ended on a defiantly ecstatic note, the crowd afterward murmuring bits and pieces of whatever song lingered most resonantly to them. Murphy’s signature style is a noir, literate blend of oldschool blues and soul with a punk rock edge, sometimes venturing into other shades of Americana as with the gorgeously sad, swaying country song Long Way to Lose. Audiences frequently mistake that one for a classic by Hank Williams or someone similar – this crowd didn’t because it was obviously all fans.

Like the old blues and jazz guys Murphy admires, he’s been playing with a rotating cast of musicians lately. This time out featured first-rate New Orleans pianist Willie Davis and a drummer supplying a mostly minimalist beat on kick drum and cymbal. They set the tone with the ominous Weimar march of Mad Within Reason, the surreal, apocalyptic title track to his classic 2005 cd, kept the cynical double entendres going with the fast soul shuffle of Imperfect Strangers and then went deep into vintage blues with a more recent one, Nothing Like Bliss, a bitter chronicle of seduction gone hopelessly wrong: “Now that your train’s left the station, you might as well go home,” he reflected. The high point of the evening, at least the early part was Fearful Town, a minor key East Village nightmare of tourists and trendoids displacing all the familiar haunts, Davis throwing off a casual trail of sparks with his solo as he’d do all night.

Happy Hour, a savage afterwork Wall Street chronicle of young Republicans getting their freak on, took the intensity up, then Murphy brought it down with a cover of Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue (he’d learned it from Ray Charles and Van Morrison, he said), then his biggest hit, the gorgeously brooding Saturday’s Down and then brought the volume up again with the ferocious bluespunk of Nowhere Now. He closed with a couple other equally ferocious blues numbers and encored with a singalong of Barbed Wire Playpen, yet another swipe at Wall Street, in this case a hedge fund type who visits his favorite dungeon one time too many. Murphy dedicated that one to Goldman Sachs. The worse the depression gets, the more relevant Murphy becomes – it’s hard to imagine a more catchy chronicler of life among those of us whose Christmas bonus is simply having any job at all.

April 25, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/14/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #106:

Otis Rush – Double Trouble

The original 1956 Willie Dixon-produced single with a big horn band might be the eeriest noir blues song ever. Yet in the decades that followed, the lefty guitar legend has outdone himself at every turn – a ten-minute live version from Chicago Blues in New York as recently as 2000 (which we had the good fortune to get our hands on) is transcendent, as are probably hundreds of other bootlegs. Look ’em up.

April 14, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

LJ Murphy and Myles Turney Live at Trash Bar, Brooklyn NY 1/23/08

I once dragged an acquaintance – I wouldn’t call him a friend – to see one of the great songwriters of our time. She was playing solo acoustic at a dingy little place, and even though the sound was lousy, she was great. I asked him afterward what he thought and he replied, “Yeah, one time I went to see a girl at a coffeehouse.” Obviously, he didn’t get it.

When producer Eric Ambel makes an album for someone, he doesn’t want to hear fancy, highly produced demos. All he wants to hear is voice and guitar. His reason is that if the song sounds good in its most basic, simple form, it’ll sound great once he builds something more complex around it. The reverse is true. And because of that, a lot of people shy away from acoustic shows, which is can be a mistake. The LJ Murphy fans who didn’t brave the cold tonight because, “oh, it’s just an acoustic show,” made a big mistake. The man wailed, as usual, even if it was just him and his guitar.

The best thing about acoustic shows is that you can hear all the lyrics. Murphy’s gruff baritone is a powerful instrument, but with the band roaring behind him it’s not always possible to make everything out, and with this guy, that’s what you want to do because that’s what he’s all about. Murphy has a vision: a dark, contrarian, stubbornly defiant vision. It’s often very funny, but it’s all about the here and now. There are other lyricists who will leave behind a chronicle of our time, should there be future generations, but it’s hard to think of anyone who paints a clearer, more concise picture than Murphy. Tonight, over an ominous E minor blues tune, he offered a look at the state of the nation from the point of view of an average working stiff:

Days of work and nights of fun
Shade your red eyes from the sun
Was it all a joke or were you mistaken
You stood pat while the world was shaken
Welcome to the golden age
Time to turn another page
Dreaming of the bells and towers
Pass the hat and send the flowers
When your life’s Geneva Conventional
From the hot bed to the confessional
Kiss the ground, dry your tears

See what’s come of your best years

Murphy wrote that a few years before 9/11, making it all the more prescient. Later he did a vividly surreal new number, Another Lesson I Never Learned, set to a deceptively simple, potently crescendoing post-Velvets melody:

The indiscretions of pillow talk
They don’t erase like limestone chalk
The broken wisdom was perfectly slurred
It wasn’t just your vision that blurred
Like the manuscript that refused to burn
Here’s another lesson I never learned

He also did the gorgeous, sad ballad Saturday’s Down, a requiem for the death of half the weekend (and for Williamsburg’s McCarren Park, soon to be surrounded by “luxury” towers made of plastic and sheetrock); the bouncy crowd-pleaser Midnight Espresso; the fiery blues Nowhere Now, and a newly reworked, 6/8 version of one of his most apt cautionary tales, Bovine Brothers:

The young girls and their brothers drink to victory in the bars
And a sermon blares out all night from the roof of a radio car
Now who’ll be left to be afraid when everyone’s so damn brave
Jump headlong into their graves, beware these bovine brothers

Since most clubs – this one included – usually don’t have a clue what the word “segue” means, most New York audiences reflexively get up and leave after the act they came to see leaves the stage. Which can be a big mistake (how do you think we discovered half the acts we’ve profiled here for the better part of a year?). Trash Bar is usually a rock venue, but tonight they were having acoustic performers. The sound was excellent as it always is here, but the following player had a hard act to follow in Murphy. And he absolutely kicked ass. Myles Turney played a passionate, virtuosic mix of acoustic delta blues along with a few choice Hank Williams covers, rearranged for slide and open tunings. Vocally, he’s not exactly overwhelming, but he’s a hell of a guitarist. Some players approach old Robert Johnson songs and the like tentatively, as if they’re in a museum, but Turney lit into them with absolute delight. All those old blues guys wrote those songs as dance tunes, and Turney completely understands that. Nobody left the room til he was done playing. As it turns out, he’s a guitar teacher: it’s not hard to imagine that his students have as much fun as he does.

January 24, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Will Scott Live at 68 Jay Street Bar, Brooklyn NY 1/16/08

Will Scott is a real find, with a very high ceiling. He’s been playing Wednesdays at around 8:30 at this remarkably comfortable little corner bar for awhile now. His stock in trade is Mississippi hill country blues, which doesn’t sound much like blues from the Delta: it’s deceptively simple and usually very hypnotic, often set to a fast 2/4 dance beat. Because there aren’t many (if any) chord changes, players color the music with subtle changes in the rhythm, accents and passing tones on the guitar. Scott has masterful command of the style. For an artist playing idiomatic music, to say that it’s hard to tell the difference between his originals and his covers is high praise, and sometimes it was hard to tell. Other times it wasn’t, because Scott uses the style as a springboard for his writing and adds a lot more chords (and a lot more tunefulness). Running his acoustic through a little Ampeg amp and backed by an excellent drummer with an equally good feel for this kind of music, if you closed your eyes, it was as if T-Model Ford and his sidekick Spam were holding down the beat in some rundown Mississippi shotgun shack. Except that it was really cold outside.

Scott opened with what sounded like a tribute to Junior Kimbrough, thoughtful and meandering but with considerable minor-key bite, in the late, lamented bluesman’s trademark style. Most of the songs he played afterward – again, it was difficult to tell what were his and what weren’t – were short and fast. Scott’s fingerpicking was fiery, fast and effortless, and so were his vocals. He sings with a drawl, but like his playing, it sounds effortless and authentic, not like the legions of trust-fund children from New Jersey playing Pete’s Candy Store, pretending they’re from the deep South. Maybe it works for Scott because his voice is strong: he’s not exactly afraid of the mic. “In case you were wondering, this show was brought to you by whiskey,” he joked. He was already working on his second glass of Jameson’s by the third song of his set. “It’s a multinational corporation.”

It’s not often that we run across someone who under today’s circumstances might actually be able to reach a national audience. At this point, even most indie labels are keeping nonconformist musicians at arm’s length. But there always seems to be an audience for the blues, even if it barely qualifies as blues and it’s played by beerbellied fifty-year-olds from Westchester who think Eric Clapton is a bluesman. Being white, Scott could probably make a living introducing sedate suburban audiences to the music he loves so much, for $25 a ticket, at places too fearful to book someone like, say, R.L. Burnside. He’d be perfect on that bill coming up at the Town Hall next month: he’s a whole lot more interesting than Cephas and Wiggins. When he moves on to that sort of thing, let’s hope he doesn’t forget he got his start in New York playing a midweek residency at a tiny, laid-back little place in Dumbo. That’s where he is for the moment. You should see him sometime.

January 16, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

Concert Review From the Archives: Albert King at Tramps, NYC 4/24/92

[editor’s note: we were going to review the Moisturizer show last night at BPM, but something got in the way. From the looks of it, about five charter buses full of fresh-faced white kids looking like they came straight from the prom. There was literally a line around the block. I’ve never seen that many people waiting outside a small club in my life. Maybe someone spotted one of the Olsen twins, texted their whole IM list, and what we saw was the resulting flashmob. It would be heartening to believe that they’d all showed up to see the band, but Moisturizer’s dazzling musicianship and Satie-esque wit don’t exactly fit into corporatized suburban “culture.”

It was quickly obvious that those who weren’t already inside the club were never going to get in, but nobody seemed to mind. To complicate matters, there had just been a stabbing, obviously a white person since there were police cruisers speeding up and down the surrounding streets and a couple of helicopters overhead. So we went over to a friend’s place instead. In lieu of a full review of Moisturizer, we’ve pulled one out of the archives: legendary southpaw guitarist Albert King at Tramps in April of 1992]:

We rushed up here after an interesting and inspiring day at the Socialist Scholars’ Conference downtown on Chambers St. The club was crowded, but, happily, not ridiculously oversold and jampacked like it usually is. This was an incredibly moving show, perhaps the best blues concert I’ve ever seen. His band opened with two instrumentals: the rhythm guitarist played an unreal, lightining-fast, bone-chilling solo in the second. Albert King then took the stage: “Are you ready? I’m not,” warmed up with Every Day I Have the Blues (which he took slowly) and then launched into a brilliant set. Maybe the best song selection I’ve ever seen at a show like this. The anguished, screaming power of Elmore James’ The Sky Is Crying was overwhelming. A swinging Born Under a Bad Sign, an upbeat Crosscut Saw and a driven Stormy Monday were crowd-pleasers, as the band took turns soloing around the horn: first King, then the rhythm player (who got to showcase his jazz chops), and the keyboardist, whose talents unfortunately didn’t measure up to the rest of the band. It seemed he only knew one flashy descending riff, which he played on the cheesiest setting available. But even this could not detract from the power of King’s guitar playing and singing, which were, for lack of a better word, deep. With his guitar, he can say more in the microtones of a single bent note than most people could say in a whole album, and his vocals are the very definition of soul.

As much as King loves minor keys and slowly smoldering crescendos, he was in an upbeat mood tonight. Maybe the ever-present wine glass was part of it. “Ain’t nothing like a glass of red wine,” he mused. The best of many highlights was when the band went into an ominous, slow 6/8 minor-key groove, the keyboardist hit that unexpected major chord and King began to dedicate the song, “From the album Born Under a Bad Sign, As the Years Go Passing By.” He was rudely interrupted by a fan during his second solo, when some asshole handed him a piece of paper (a request? why not wait til he finished?). Later, they also did Robert Cray’s Phone Booth (which King popularized a few years before Cray hit it big). In a word, exhilarating.

[postscript: This was Albert King’s last New York show. He died less than eight months later.]

June 23, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment