Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Edgy Songwriters Bare Their Fangs at the Parkside

Songwriters in the round. No, wait, don’t click off the page, it was like that but it wasn’t. From the first few seconds of the night, the three women onstage at the Parkside on Thursday made it clear that this would not be a G-rated evening of terminally pretty voices singing terminally pretty songs. Given a chance to not only sing but also discuss their material at length, Rebecca Turner, Paula Carino and Erica Smith vented about the thankless side of their profession: clueless audiences, backhanded compliments, and the sheer expense of it all. Why do they do it? Because they can’t imagine not doing it – which was encouraging to hear. Carino is a wordsmith who can’t resist a catchy hook. Turner is a specialist, one of the finest, most indelibly original voices in Americana rock; Smith, the star of Beefstock 2010, is the eclectic one: she can write anything. Asked to explain how it feels to be a performer, Carino responded that it was much like police work: “Hours of boredom, moments of sheer terror.” Smith saved her derision for clueless listeners, the kind of morons who say things like “That’s a pretty song – who wrote it?” Turner explained that she’d come to grips with dumb crowds, especially since she’s been playing more covers at a lot of New Jersey gigs lately (she hastened to add that there’s also a considerable audience for quality original music there). Here on their home turf, the four fed off each others’ energy and banter and turned in a fascinating show.

Solo on electric guitar, Carino jangled her way through a bunch of rare gems that she seldom plays live: Readers Digest, which uses bulimia as a metaphor for a host of other ills; the angst-ridden existentialist lament Waiting for You (“Then the river froze and I started skating/Of course I’d rather swim but I’m tired of waiting”), and Sensitive Skin, a metaphorically loaded “public service announcement for people not to get involved with people who are too sensitive.” She explained that she’d changed the gender of the song’s central character to a woman: if the guy with the bathroom full of extra-sensitive formula lotions knows it, he’s undoubtedly grateful she did.

The night’s most exhilarating vocal moment belonged, unsurprisingly, to Turner. As the third verse of her big crowd-pleaser Tough Crowd (a little irony there) kicked in, she took it up as far as she could, which is a long way. She’d explained how each of the verses tackles a different subject: friends, then family, then an audience, deftly linking how absurd it can be to try to communicate with any of them sometimes. As warmly memorable as her melodies are, there’s also usually an undercurrent of unease, most strikingly apparent on Knocks, a chronicle of a trip to Maine circa 2004: “Go on, grey sky, open up,” she sang, as much a dare as resignation to an unwanted fate.

Smith pulled out a lot of new material: she’s never written better. “I lost my job and wanted to write a song about how good freedom is,” she explained defiantly and then launched into a catchy Americana-pop number: “If you’re lucky you’ll never work again in this town.” The last verse of another new one, River King, she explained, came to her in a dream, ostensibly written by Adam Cooper and her lead guitarist, Dann Baker. For whatever reason, that’s where central character, on vacation and miserable, gets dressed up in her lacy things and goes down to the waterfront bar. She clarified that it’s probably the last thing either of those two would ever be likely to write. And another new one, a garage rock number, turned out to be a bittersweet but encouraging tribute to enduring friendships – that’s why acoustic shows can be so interesting sometimes, since the lyrics are audible. Watch this space for future shows by these artists, very possibly as a trio again.

August 1, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Razia – Zebu Nation

Malagasy songwriter/chanteuse Razia Said is on a mission: to raise consciousness worldwide about global warming, specifically the devastation it’s brought to her native land. The zebu of the album title – a member of the horse family – is only one of thousands of species in Madagascar who are in danger of extinction. An extraordinarily successful blend of polemic and music, this is a lush, hypnotic, frequently beautiful album, grounded in reality but at the same time transcending it. Said sings in several dialects, as well as one song in English, with a compellingly world-weary, highly nuanced voice that’s been compared to Sade but gentler and airier. On several of the tracks here, the somewhat more energetic but less subtle singer Abena Koomson handles the vocals, along with the rest of a first-rate band: noted jazz drummer Obed Calvaire, bassist Michael Oletuja, Malagasy guitarist Dozzy Njava and accordionist Rabesiaka Jean Medicis. Said’s songwriting mixes traditional tsapiky and salegy music along with elements of American soul and Mediterranean balladry.

Said’s story is something of a triumph: growing up in the Comores Islands with her grandmother, she never knew who her real mother was until she was already in grade school. Her first exposure to music was the salegy songs of the Comores; while still a gradeschooler, she began singing French pop hits and then rock. She moved to Gabon and then France, earned a doctorate in pharmacology and eventually landed in New York where she flirted with several pop styles, unsatisfyingly. This is a return to her roots. The album kicks off with the clip-clop Babonao, a love song (available for free download from Cumbancha), followed by the absolutely gorgeous, wary minor-key ballad Omama, a tribute to motherhood. The band follows that with a lickety-split antiwar song and then the celebratory Salamalama Aby. The best song on the album is the understatedly magnificent epic NY Alantsika (Nature Laments), the first of the numbers sung by Said herself: with its stately 6/8 rhythm and lush atmospherics, it’s a call to action, a gently, compellingly persuasive one.

The hypnotic Slash and Burn takes on a south Indian feel with its circular rhythms and sitar, another gentle but insistent broadside, this one about deforestation: “I heard that the hills were burned away,” muses Said. Koomson and Njava join voices on the distantly melancholy Tsy Tara: “It’s not a malediction, but an urgent call; let’s react now so we won’t regret,” is the translation in the album’s meticulously detailed liner notes. The album winds up with a gentle acoustic guitar ballad, a requiem for an area that once was not a desert; the most Sade-esque number here, Tiaka Ro, a plea to the earth not to unleash disasters on us, and the slinky, West African-inflected wah-guitar anthem Mifohaza (Wake Up). The Clash used to make relevant, topical albums like this: Zebu Nation is considerably quieter but no less timely and important.

July 12, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Pretty Babies at Lakeside Lounge, NYC, Halloween 2009

by Heather M. Raphael

Halloween is by far my favorite holiday.  I don’t create wonderful and elaborate costumes myself, but I love to look at other peoples’ creative intoxications.  I was not let down by the Pretty Babies (insurgent comedienne/chanteuse Tammy Faye Starlite’s latest project) as Blondie, presenting the Parallel Lines album at Lakeside Lounge in the East Village on Halloween night.  We even had attendance by the current age Debbie Harry herself!  Was it really her or just a fabulous costume?  Unless she’s able to be in two places at once, the real Debbie Harry’s doppelganger had front row seats at our venue, while the real Blondie was playing Halifax, Nova Scotia.

My best laid plans for Halloween this year came crumbling down as the hours ticked away and my escape out of the city to a friend’s Halloween party was foiled by my love/hate relationship with technology.  Luckily a singer/songwriter friend came to my rescue, inviting me into her plans where we met up with some friends at the Lakeside.  It was empty and we scored a table right by the stage.  That’s when I learned about Tammy Fay Starlite and Linda Wynn, aka Linda Pitmon, one of the great female drummers (and also one of the great drummers, end of story).  We got to chat with Linda – very down-to-earth, instantly likeable – during set-up from our strategically placed table.

The Lakeside Lounge quickly packed in a crowd, some costumed, some not, as showtime was upon us.  Tammy…I mean, Debbie…I mean Blondie…oh whatever, gave several shout-outs to Steve Wynn, well known musician since the 1980’s for alternative and classic rock, who was there to see his lovely wife rock the drums.  And she kicked some butt up on that stage!  Not even an uncooperative snare could slow her down.  I’ve never been so mesmerized.  But let’s not forget the rest of the band that pulled this show together.  On bass was Sit n’ Spin’s Mony Falcone; on electric guitars were her bandmate Heidi Lieb and Jill Richmond of the Aquanettas; on keyboards was Bibi Farber; all dressed in black pants, white suit shirts and black skinny ties to boot.

The spot we had was perfect for viewing and listening.  Although Tammy’s mic could have been balanced louder, it did fit with how I always remember Blondie songs – missing half of the Debbie Harry vocals, whenever she sang in her lower, alto range.  At least it was authentic and a great ride down memory lane.  I don’t how the acoustics were for those on the side and and back to the bar: I can’t imagine they could see anything and since the visual aspects were as important as the music, those back there may not have gotten as much out of it.  Tammy Faye Starlite put on a fabulous performance, even getting up on a chair to reach out to her audience in back.  From what I hear, she is a crowd-pleaser, and was no less of one this night.

November 2, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Linda Draper at Cake Shop, NYC 5/26/07

Linda Draper played the cd release show for her latest and fifth effort, Keepsake. Playing solo on acoustic guitar as she virtually always does, she fingerpicked with imagination and agility and made it look effortless. She still sings with the bell-like clarity of a chorister, which she once was, but she’s utilizing her lower register more and it suits her material. As a lyricist, Draper is unsurpassed. While her new material backs away from the intricate rhyme schemes and deliciously off-the-wall metrics that were all over her last couple of albums, she hasn’t lost the ability to deliver a knockout double or triple entendre. As much as her songs tend to be melancholy, she writes mostly in major keys, and serves them up with considerable humor, even on the haunting, ghostly Traces Of, from the new album. She’s also reverted to the catchy pop sensibility of her first album, as opposed to the hypnotic fingerpicking style that she’d been mining until recently: you can hum her stuff for hours after hearing it. Despite this being Memorial Day weekend, the house was full, the audience was ecstatic and wouldn’t let her leave without an encore.

 

Kat Heyman and her rhythm section opened the show with a soporific set of generically narcissistic, tuneless Lilith fare.

May 30, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment