Lucid Culture


Chrissie Hynde Plays Rockwood Music Hall

Chrissie Hynde’s new band made their US debut, playing their first-ever full-length concert at Rockwood Music Hall last night. To say that JP, Chrissie and the Fairground Boys are the best project she’s taken on in over twenty years is not the compliment it could be, but she proved that she’s still got a way with a catchy hook and a spine-tingling vocal style that just keeps getting more and more exquisite. Hynde has never sung better: what a voice, what subtlety and nuance. She said more in just the minute inflection of a blue note, or those little melismas that she lets fall away, wounded but graceful, than most singers can relate over the course of a whole album. Yet what was most inspiring about the show – which went on for over an hour – was that much of the material was up to the level of that voice. Alongside Hynde, her boyfriend JP Jones (formerly of tuneful, anthemic British rockers Grace) and lead guitarist Patrick Murdoch switched back and forth between acoustic and electric guitar: when all three were playing, they frequently evoked the swampy Americana of Moby Grape, the 1960s Bay Area band they credit as a primary inspiration.

The best song of the night was Hynde’s, a slow, jangly lament possibly titled Misty Valley, blending the counterintuitive chordal structure of the Pretenders with a more traditional Americana vibe. Another even more vividly evoked her main band circa 1980 with its deluge of rapidfire, angst-tinged but disdainful lyrics. Other songs tinted the ramshackle jangle and clang with shades of powerpop, blues or, on one number where Jones hung on his open strings, indie rock. As much as this is clearly Hynde’s project, Jones impressed with a big, swaying, unhinged anti-trendoid anthem possibly titled Portobello, about the spoiled, aimless milieu of the former slum that’s now the London equivalent of Williamsburg: “You burn up money, you think it’s funny, you can laugh til you die,” he railed, after which Murdoch launched into a fiercely flailing minor-key solo.

But some of the songs were simply too much information. Beyond the obvious: he likes a drink, she likes a smoke (and has her California medical marijuana card – or did, anyway, before she lost it), two or three songs were simply uncomfortable to hear. Chrissie Hynde can do what she feels like at this point in her career, but hardly anyone in the demographic she most appeals to knows what couplecore is (or should, really, other than it’s a genre to avoid). This was most obvious when the duo tried to wring some humor out of all the gratuitous references to their May-December romance: several times throughout the set, the otherwise very friendly crowd couldn’t help roaring with laughter at some of their couplets. And watching Jones play straight man to Hynde on a song about a couple of misfits in love was nothing short of cringe-inducing, evoking Tina Turner turning to Ike onstage and trying to channel some semblance of devotion: “Yes, love.”

To the Rockwood’s considerable credit, the room was sold out, but not oversold: the club could have squeezed a few dozen others in on top of the standing-room crowd and would have gotten away with it, but they didn’t succumb to that kind of greed. And the sound was superb as always: they even sent one of the crew into the thicket of bodies to make sure that the vocal levels were up to snuff.

Afterward, a trip down the block and around the corner to Small Beast at the Delancey (our usual Monday night haunt) offered an intriguing reminder that different versions of the edgy female-fronted rock that Hynde made her mark in are still very much alive, in vividly intense sets by guitar/cello noir rock duo Nihla and the fearless grand guignol sway of Vera Beren’s Gothic Chamber Blues Ensemble.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Kelly Richey – Carry the Light

Admired by her fellow musicians and blues fans around the world, singer/guitarist Kelly Richey and her band live on the road, playing a punishing schedule throughout mostly the midwest and south. Like a lot of great blues guitarists, this immaculately produced studio cd only hints at the intensity she can generate onstage, although her playing here is supremely tasteful. She gets a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan comparisons, but her style is considerably more terse than his ever was, a lot closer to the more thoughtful side of both Freddie King and Jimi Hendrix (think Little Wing and Castles Made of Sand). Richey also happens to be a terrific singer, a song stylist with the same kind of subtle command and inflections as late-period Chrissie Hynde. This latest cd is more of a rock album – the blues here tend to have more of a modern feel. But that’s ok. Like any other style of music that’s still being played, the blues are bound to evolve. Richey manages to carry the torch, doing justice to her influences while putting her own unique stamp on it.


The cd opens with Leave the Blues Behind, a fast soul song in a Robert Cray vein with terse chorus-box guitar, beautifully modulated vocals and an equally terse, tasteful solo. The following cut, I Want You is not a Dylan cover – it’s darkly creeping late 60s/early 70s style riff-rock a la Cries from the Midnight Circus by the Pretty Things with a tasteful Freddie King-inflected solo. What in the World reminds of a cross between gentle, pensive Hendrix and vintage Tracy Chapman. After Carry the Light – a Texas boogie with some sly Billy Gibbons-style guitar – there’s Angela’s Song with its gospel-fueled southern soul groove.


With its layers of guitar sustain and vocal harmonies, Jericho Road is a slowly swaying, sunbaked minor-key haunter building to an impressively big, whirling outro. The next track, Run Like Hell isn’t a Floyd cover: it’s a return to late 60s style riff-rock. When All Is Said and Done starts out something of a Little Wing ripoff, growing more stately and anthemic with its atmospheric, David Gilmour-esque layers of guitar. The cd ends with a couple of boozy, Led Zep inflected riff-rockers and then another big ballad, Time for a Change, equal parts Henrix and Allmans with some of the most beautiful vocals on the album. Fans of the current crop of blues guitar hotshots – Johnny Lang, Mike Welch and the rest won’t be disappointed. Or if you like the idea of John Mayer but can’t stand the Lite FM sound of his albums – or if you like Bonnie Raitt in concert but can’t stand the Lite FM sound of her albums either – this is for you. Or sneak this into the mix at a Clapton fan’s barbecue and watch the jaws drop: “Who’s that playing guitar? Oh, that’s her. She’s good!”

March 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Light, Shade and Everything in Between – Turn It All Red by Deborah Crooks

Turn It All Red is the title of the excellent new janglerock album from Bay Area songwriter Deborah Crooks. Backed by a tight three-piece band, singer/guitarist Crooks opens the album with the catchy, bouncy title track. It’s about pulling out all the stops: “pull out your purple heart and turn it all red,” she cajoles. And what a fine song stylist she is, sounding like Chrissie Hynde at her late 80s peak as a vocalist on the next track, the beautifully pensive Land’s End. In a highly nuanced, subtly soul-inflected delivery, she retraces the steps of someone who’s finally come into her own, finally ready to stop burning her bridges. She maintains that feel on the next track, Raising Cain, whose narrator is simply trying to find her way through the storm while maintaining her sanity:

You can raise a nation, and birth a son
But where does a daughter get to stand
Who’s eaten that apple
So bittersweet
Gleaned from this poisoned land

“Rock the cradle all the way to the grave,” Crooks sings with not a little bittersweetness at the end of the chorus. The ep concludes on the same upbeat note where it began with another catchy, bouncing pop-rock tune, Café la Vie. The only complaint about this album is that there aren’t more songs on it. What a nice surprise to get this in the mail!

March 24, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment