Lucid Culture


Christabel and the Jons Heat Up The Night

Knoxville, Tennessee’s Christabel and the Jons ran through one slinky, swaying swing shuffle at Banjo Jim’s last night. “I can feel the electricity in the air,” frontwoman/guitarist Christa DeCicco observed. She didn’t mean the dancers twirling  on what passes for a dance floor in front of the stage – she meant the cool autumn night. “I can tell some broken hearts are about to be mending.” Potent observations from someone whose songs celebrate romance in all its difficult, exasperating forms. Consider: in the summer, your brain is so fried it’s impossible to make the right choices. Fall, on the other hand, is snuggle weather: that, and a whole lot more. Not that there’s anything wrong with a fling: “Give me a room full of men like you, and I’ll get closer to you,” she sang on one particularly seductive track from the band’s most recent studio album Custom Made for You. But there’s a depth, and a bittersweetness to her songs that resonates just much as her sultry vocals.

The band was tight beyond belief, drummer Jon Whitlock switching between brushes and sticks when the pace picked up, locked in with the swinging rhythm of the upright bass and DeCicco’s acoustic guitar, multi-instrumentalist Seth Hopper moving expertly from violin, to trumpet, to mandolin and back again, sometimes in the same song. DeCicco announced that for the first time in her life, she’d successfully haggled with a street vendor. “It was a crack pipe,” cracked Whitlock. The audience riffed back and forth with the band: whatever she’d scored (probably something to wear) had cost her ten bucks.

A couple of songs pulsed along on a bossa beat, including a vivid bon vivant’s lament punctuated by a soaring trumpet solo. Back to Tennesee featured the band on deadpan, jump blues-style call-and-response vocals – what were they looking forward to when they get back from their 12-hour drive? “Black cherry ice cream.” DeCicco told the crowd that their forthcoming album was going to be all brooding ballads, resulting from a “dark night of the soul.” But a couple of cuts, one of them titled You’re Gonna Miss Me, Baby were as jaunty and irrepressible as the rest of the set. Even the somewhat sarcastic Boy Crazy, with its minor-key gypsy-jazz vibe, wouldn’t concede an inch. DeCicco’s voice has a tinge of smoke and a casual allure that goes straight back to Billie Holiday, but she’s got a somewhat defiant optimism that’s uniquely her own: this band isn’t one of those Snorah Jones wannabe projects. For those who can’t wait for the new studio cd, the band has an online-only live album available at their site.

October 4, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Christabel and the Jons – Custom Made for You

This album has a warm, summery feel – a New Yorker would call this Pete’s Candy Store music (after the popular Brooklyn bar). Knoxville oldtimey band Christabel and the Jons‘ new cd alternates between upbeat country shuffles, torchy, sophisticated, retro jazzy pop and occasional indie-folk with a playful yet terse backdrop of understated guitar lit up in places with accordion, trumpet and violin, propelled by a briskly tasteful rhythm section. Frontwoman Christa DeCicco has something of the Norah Jones jazz/pop style that’s been all the rage this decade but her voice is distinctively hers, and refreshingly casual: she can say an awful lot with just a little. There are distant echoes of Billie Holiday, but the smoke disappears when DeCicco sets her sights on something she wants and then she’s all business. Many of these songs have a seductiveness that’s completely off the charts.

The album kicks off with a jaunty yet resigned post-breakup number, its narrator sitting with a pillow between her knees, not particularly relishing being newly single. The tempo picks up even faster with the title track, a cajolement that turns downright sultry as the lights go down with the slinky seduction anthem Closer to You. “Give me a room full of men like you and I’ll get closer to you,” DeCicco adds with a knowing wink. Lady Gag, eat your heart out: this might be the sexiest song of the year. Nothing Is Wrong is a cheery, optimistic tune, looking forward to days at the beach after a long winter. A litttle later, they shuffle through the lonesome band-on-the-road song Last Night’s Dress with a nice smoky trumpet solo.

More Than Friends is a blissful cheating song set to a fast country dance tune – “There’s heat coming off you like a kerosene lamp,” DeCicco reminds, envisioning the guy’s car in the bar’s deserted parking lot after closing time. It’s followed by Back to Tennessee, a joyously swinging oldtimey blues tune with the band on devious deadpan backing vocals. The album’s secret track is a clever number with a Boswell Sisters feel updated for the end of the zeros (and the teens – we’re practically there). The whole thing is great fun and promises equally good things down the road. Awfully nice to see a group working in an oldtimey milieu yet with a sound all their own. Christabel and the Jons play the Jalopy on Oct 1 at 9 PM. The band’s other tourdates are below:

9/18: Canyons of the Blue Ridge, Blowing Rock, NC

9/20: KXL Swing Dance, Dance Dimensions, Knoxville, TN, 8 pm

9/23: O’Mainnin’s Pub, Bristol, TN, 10 pm

9/24: Purple Fiddle, Thomas, WV,  8 pm

9/25: Victorians Midnight Cafe, Columbus, OH, 8 pm

9/26: Howler’s Coyote Cafe, 8 pm

9/27: Bullfrog Brewery, Williamsport, PA, 9 pm

10/1: Jalopy Theater, Brooklyn, NY, 9 pm

10/2: Club Passim, Cambridge, MA, 9 pm

10/3: Salt Hill Pub, Lebanon, NH

September 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment