Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 12/17/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #774:

The Viper Mad Blues anthology

This compilation features old songs from the late 20s through the 40s about smoking pot, and occasionally, snorting coke. This old jazz and country shizzit is more punk than the Ramones and more gangsta than L’il Wayne ever dreamed of, and although it was banned from the radio it was wildly popular in its day. The coolest thing about the 25 tracks here is that only two of them, Cab Calloway’s 1935 hit Kicking the Gong Around (which is actually about smoking opium), and a gleefully adrenalized version of Leadbelly’s coke anthem Take a Whiff on Me, are really obvious. The others have proliferated thanks to youtube and file sharing, but when the compilation came out in 1989, it was a tremendous achievement…for those who like funny songs about drugs, at least. If ragtime guitar star Luke Jordan’s Cocaine Blues (not the version you’re thinking of) is to be believed, that stuff was a staple of hillbilly life back in 1927. Some other highlights: Larry Adler’s hilarious 1938 hit Smoking Reefers; Cleo Brown’s deadpan The Stuff Is Here and It’s Mellow; Champion Jack Dupree’s Junker’s Blues, a kick-ass piano boogie from 1944; Baron Lee & the Blue Rhythm Band’s 1935 tribute to their dealer, Reefer Man; and Fats Waller’s Reefer Song: “Hey, cat, it’s 4 o’clock in the morning, here we are in Harlem, everybody’s here but the police and they’ll be here in a minute. It’s high time, so here it is…” Here’s a random torrent.

December 17, 2010 Posted by | country music, jazz, lists | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Boston Band Unearths Long-Lost Esquivel Big Band Charts: Why?

Now we go from the sublime to the ridiculous. Back in Mexico in the 1950s, Juan Garcia Esquivel must have been smoking some seriously generalissimo-grade pot. Like him or not, there’s no denying the psychedelic aspect of his music. The question is, was it any good? Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica – an Either/Orchestra spinoff – offers one possible answer. On their new, period-perfect The Unforgettable Sounds of Esquivel, a collection of newly rediscovered big-band arrangements by the crazed, vaudevillian Mad Men era bandleader, they’re obviously having a great time. Which on one level is understandable: from a musician’s point of view, any time you get to use a bass marimba, or punctuate a big band chart with a pedal steel cadenza, it’s nothing if not a jolt to the senses. But some of this is so cheesy that it calls into question whether or not Esquivel actually liked these songs – or if he even liked jazz, or music, at all.

It’s important not to confuse an artist or their work with their fan base. It makes no more sense to associate Esquivel with the first-wave trendoids who fueled his blip of a resurgence in the early 90s than it does to blame Radiohead for the pitchfork/stereogum contingent who worship them. Yet it makes sense that trendoids would fall in love with Esquivel’s “bachelor pad” stylings. Much as Esquivel’s production was cutting-edge, with all those crazy sound effects, all too often it’s style over substance, something that dovetails perfectly with a trendoid esthetic (if you buy the argument that the words “trendoid” and “esthetic” belong in the same sentence). There are moments here that are painfully kitschy – again, the hallmark of a trendoid being an embrace of all things shallow and stupid. But lurking beneath these songs’ whizbang, Keystone Kops vibe is a snotty cynicism that borders on punk. Esquivel’s arrangements are such complete bastardizations that they’re practically hostile. Would Esquivel have preferred ranchera ballads, or norteno accordion music? Or anything other than popular 50s jazz themes? At times, it would seem so. Taken as satire, much of this is irresistibly funny.

Andalucia barrels along at a breakneck pace with snarky little piano glissandos and a kettledrum roll out. Night and Day features a brief fugue between blazing brass and the steel guitar of Tim Obetz, with random bits of lyrics that predate Lee “Scratch” Perry and dub by twenty years. The barely two-minute version of Take the A Train, like much else here, owes a debt to Spike Jones with its tribal percussion and barking horns that winds down into jungly ambience fueled by Rusty Scott’s organ. Boulevard of Broken Dreams is reinvented as a cartoonish cha-cha, slinking along with the scrape of a guacharaca, doot-doot-doot vocals and finally an exuberant Yaure Muniz trumpet solo followed by a surprisingly subdued one on piano by Mr. Ho himself. With its absurdly garish horn chart, Music Makers has gruff baritone sax trading riffs impishly with the steel. And the girlie chorus on Frenesi are clearly unable to keep a straight face as they doot-doot-doot amidst the crazed doublestops of the high brass.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag. Sentimental Journey is simply unlistenable, and Mini Skirt, a familiar theme for surf music fans, hasn’t aged well – in the Cee-Lo Green era, those wolf-whistles are annoyingly cutesy. The three remaining tracks, Let’s Dance, Dancing in the Dark and the surprisingly straight-up, genially bluesy Street Scene are more good-naturedly amusing: lose the steel guitar, the funeral parlor organ and those ridiculous, blaring brass crescendos and what you’d be left with is just plain good big band jazz. Whether the rest of this is jazz, or what it is, is up to you to figure out. Maybe it’s best not to: like Sartre said, once you name something, you kill it.

December 5, 2010 Posted by | jazz, latin music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 9/11/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #871:

Tammy Faye Starlite – Used Country Female

Today, the corporate media would have you believe that the entire world is wrapped up in a dour display of nationalism and anti-Muslim fervor to rival anything Hitler ever came up with. We know better. In honor of 9/11 we give you comic relief in the form of one of the most subversive performers to ever hit the stage. An actress and dramatist who got her start in Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatre, T. Debra Lang’s best-loved alter ego is Tammy Faye Starlite, a washed-up, drug-addled country singer who, in a desperate attempt to get back into the limelight, becomes a born-again. Her improv lampoons rightwingers, bigots, Christian extremists and pretty much everything you see on Fox News more entertainingly than you could possibly imagine. There are two Tammy Faye Starlite albums – the first, On My Knees, is straight-up country and contains Did I Shave My Vagina For This, the funniest feminist anthem ever written. This one, her second, from 2003, is a boisterous, twangy alt-country record expertly produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel and is a lot more diverse. The humor is all based in innuendo, and much of it is hysterical: the faux gospel of I’ve Got Jesus Looking Out for Me; the Doorsy highway anthem Highway 69; Ride the Cotton Pony, which is about menstruation; The Jim Rob Song, about a good Christian man who likes other Christian men (and boys too); and a sex-crazed cover of the bluegrass standard Hear Jerusalem Moan. Tammy Faye Starlite also fronts three irresistibly funny cover bands: the Mike Hunt Band, who do the Stones; the Stay-at-Homes, who do the Runaways; and most recently, the Pretty Babies, a Blondie spoof.

September 11, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Top Ten Songs of the Week 9/6/10

This is sort of our weekly, Kasey Kasem-inspired luddite DIY version of a podcast. Every week, we try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. We’ve designed this as something you can do on your lunch break if you work at a computer (and you have headphones – your boss won’t approve of a lot of this stuff). If you don’t like one of these songs, you can always go on to the next one: every link here will take you to each individual song. As always, the #1 song here will appear on our Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of the year.

1.Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair – No Longer Gage

From his new album The Great Escape, this is the lurid, creepy tale of 1800s Vermont railroadman Phineas Gage, who took a blasting rod through the skull and lived – but was never the same. The song relates what happened.

2. Serena Jost – Great Conclusions

Characteristically smart, majestic art-rock from the New York cellist/chanteuse. She has a kickstarter campaign going on in case you feel like assuaging your bourgeois guilt and contributing to the fund for her next album.

3. Clinic – I’m Aware

Free download – 60s psychedelic chamber pop from their shockingly mellow forthcoming album Bubblegum

4. Bobtown – Shadow of the Mountain

Click on the video with the vinyl record for a fun oldtimey treat.

5. LJ Murphy – Nowhere Now

Casually intense live version of a standout track from his classic 2006 album Mad Within Reason. He’s at Theatre 86 St. Mark’s at 7 on Friday the 10th.

6. The Snow – Handle Your Weapon

A soul song for a would-be suicide from this magnificent art-rock crew’s latest album I Die Every Night.

7. The Dixons – Thanks a Lot

Real oldschool Bakersfield country music from 1964 – except that this is Brooklyn 2010. Unbelievable. They’re at Union Pool on 9/8 at 10.

8. Garfunkel & Oates – Worst Song Medley

Even if you try to hide from top 40 radio you’ll recognize some of these from the supermarket. And they are awful. And the two girls singing them are hilarious.

9. The Giving Tree Band – Circles

Cool bluegrass/roots kiss-off song – a lot like M Shanghai String Band.

10. Bad Cop – I’m in Lust with You

Completely sick unhinged noise guitar madness. Not for fans of melody. They’re at Don Pedro’s on 9/25 and look like they’d be a lot of fun.

September 8, 2010 Posted by | country music, folk music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bryan and the Haggards Pull Some Laughs in Park Slope

Bryan and the Haggards’ debut album Pretend It’s the End of the World is a collection of twisted instrumental covers of Merle Haggard songs, and it’s as funny as anything Ween ever did. Because its satirical bite sometimes goes completely over the top, it wasn’t clear how the band – a bunch of free jazz types – would approach the songs live. At Bar 4 in Park Slope on Monday night, tenor saxophonist and bandleader Bryan Murray wore a faded red Hag baseball hat; Jon Irabagon, the “heavyweight of the alto sax,” as Murray sardonically called him, sported a rare Bryan and the Haggards t-shirt. From the first few bars of the first song, what was most obvious, and unexpected, was that they’re a genuinely good straight-up country band if they want to be – for a few bars, until they start messing with the songs. Country music isn’t everybody’s thing, but it’s a lot of fun to play, and that fun comes intuitively to this crew. Guitarist Jon Lundbom would go deep off the jazz end at times, but he’s got a bag of C&W licks; bassist Moppa Elliott looked like he was having more fun than anybody else in the band even though he was mostly playing the simplest lines possible, one-five, one-five, and drummer Danny Fischer, whose leaden pulse is responsible for a lot of the humor on the album, gave the songs a jaunty swing when he wasn’t acting out. Which he did, a lot, and cracked everybody up, especially his bandmates. He began his first solo by stopping cold, followed by a pregnant pause: Elliott tried easing him in, but Fischer wouldn’t budge, finally doing a neanderthal Fred Flintstone impression all the way around his kit.

On Lonesome Fugitive, Elliott joined him in disfiguring the time signature while Lundbom took a long, incisive jazz solo, holding steady to the 4/4 even as he ran long, snaky passages, deadpan and seemingly oblivious to the joke. A slow, swaying 6/8 number with countrypolitan tinges – Miss the Mississippi and You, maybe? – featured a warmly melodic solo excursion from Murray that finally took on an insistent postbop intensity as he went for the upper registers. Likewise, it was nothing short of exhilarating to watch Irabagon – whose new album Foxy is due out this month – make short work of an endless series of razorwire glissandos. And maybe predictably, it was one of his solos, a mealymouthed, weepily retarded, off-key stumble during their opening number, that was the funniest moment in a night full of many.

Fischer had assembled some pint glasses behind his drums, a primitive marimba that he’d plink on or even use to add a little melody. When he took another lengthy pause during a solo, Lundbom asked him if he wanted another beer. The answer was no: for whatever reason, he didn’t need it. A crowd trickled in as the band played: patrons looked around quizzically, then smiled when they realized what was happening. There would have been a lot more of those looks, and a lot more audible laughter, had it been later in the evening. But that was just the first set.

September 1, 2010 Posted by | concert, country music, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 8/11/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #902:

Dickie Goodman – Greatest Fables

Dickie Goodman invented sampling. Along with his partner Bill Buchanan, Goodman enjoyed a string of comedy hits in the mid-1950s that worked a bizarrely funny call-and-response between an announcer (usually the fictitious, bewildered “John Cameron Cameron”) and snippets of the pop hits of the day, the first and most famous of these being The Flying Saucer, a War of the Worlds parody. In shades of what the RIAA would do to unsuspecting downloaders fifty years later, the recording industry sued them for copyright infringement. Buchanan and Goodman responded that their creations were parodies and therefore exempt from prosection – and won the case. And responded with the even funnier Buchanan and Goodman On Trial. Goodman resurfaced, solo, in the 70s with the topical Energy Crisis, the blaxploitation soundtrack parody Superfly Meets Shaft and then his only platinum single, Mr. Jaws, in 1975. Goodman: “And what did you say when the shark touched you?

Olivia Newton-John: “Please, mister, please.”

And so on. This 1998 compilation has all the Buchanan and Goodman hits, including The Touchables (a spoof of late 50s tv detective shows) along with all of his solo singles including the very funny King Kong, from 1978, and an updated version of Flying Saucer by Goodman’s son Jon, utilizing more contemporary song samples. Dickie Goodman committed suicide in 1989. There are several download links for this out there: here’s a random one.

August 11, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sick Free Jazz Guys Cover the White Light/White Heat Album

This is better than the original – although that’s really not saying much. It’s way funnier too, like what Rawles Balls might have done with it if they were a horn band. Lou Reed used up all his best songs on the Velvets’ first album; White Light/White Heat is basically just a crappy garage band taking a stab at psychedelia. The members of Puttin’ on the Ritz, whose song-for-song if not exactly note-for-note cover of White Light/White Heat is just out on Hot Cup Records, seem to share that view. The group is BJ Rubin on vocals, Moppa Elliott on bass and Kevin Shea on drums (half of irrepressible, iconoclastic free jazz crew Mostly Other People Do the Killing), Nate Wooley on trumpet, Jon Irabagon on saxes, Sam Kulik on trombones and Talibam’s Matt Mottel on “Turkish organ” on Sister Ray.

Rubin is not much of a singer, although he enunciates well enough so you can understand the lyrics – which is half the fun. They’re awful. Lady Godiva’s Operation? He does both the lead and the overdubs in one take. Bastardizing its inner artsy pop song might have felt revolutionary for Lou and crew in 1967; these guys expose it as amateurish and overdone.

Likewise, on The Gift, Rubin’s deadpan, nasal delivery is an improvement on John Cale’s half-buried mumble, although the sad tale of Waldo Jeffers mailing himself to his beloved Marsha has not aged well either. I Heard Her Call My Name, as it goes completely over the top, Gossip-style, reveals the original to be a parody of soul music. Sister Ray, all seventeen minutes and sixteen seconds of it, sounds like a bad jam Lou came up with on the spot when Verve’s people realized he was out of material. It’s there that Rubin’s enunciation really kicks in: counting how many times the word “ding-dong” appears in the song would make a great drinking game. The band – a formidable mix of A-list talent – basically slum it, playing the changes pretty straight with a minimum of the kind of mayhem they’re capable of. Which seems intentional.

If you like this one, you should check out Bryan and the Haggards’ equally sick album of Merle Haggard covers, Pretend It’s the End of the World. The likelihood of this crew putting out another album isn’t all that good, but here are some other overrated albums that definitely deserve this kind of treatment: Bitches Brew (guys, you would have the time of your life with this); Harvest, by Neil Young (super easy changes!); Evol, by Sonic Youth. Think about it.

July 21, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 6/28/10

We very reluctantly suspended this popular weekly Tuesday feature about nine months ago when we went semi-dormant and didn’t tell a soul. It’s about time we brought it back. When we debuted our weekly Top Ten, we figured it made about as much sense as Billboard’s (it doesn’t). Like the corporate hit parade, this is totally random – it has absolutely nothing to do with sales or airplay. It’s our way of casting a wider net, spreading the word about artists that you might see on our live music calendar or in our album reviews, but more likely that you wouldn’t,  maybe because they don’t have albums out or they’re not playing New York anytime soon. We’ve designed this as a self-guided tour of sorts, something where you can click the links here randomly, or one by one on your lunch break at work or school, chill out and discover something new. We try hard to put up something for everyone here, some loud stuff and some quieter stuff too; if you don’t like one of the tracks, you can always move on to another.

1. Kasey Anderson – Torn Apart

Anderson, being a very smart songwriter, is offering a free digital audio sampler of any four of his songs. So if you wanted, you could get this potent Americana janglerock escape anthem from his killer new album Nowhere Nights for nothing: send an email with the subject line “Sampler” to nowherenights[at]gmail.com, and include your four choices in the body of the email. It’s a trick other artists should use.

2. Loyola – Cage

Pensive acoustic pop song about the aftereffects of a military coup. Not often you see something this smart in a style like this.

3. My Favourite Things – Summer of ’91

Majestic anthem through a reverberating prism of shoegaze guitar – like the Church with the singer from Lush.

4. The Human Hearts – Pilot Light

Smartly detailed, evocative down-and-out scenario from the pen of the occasional Village Voice music writer. Better than you would think.

5. Hurricane Bells – The Winters in New York

Moody, jangly, vaguely Elliott Smith-esque stuff from former Longwave singer Steve Schiltz.

6. The Inner Banks – For the Turnstiles

Atmospheric slide guitar-driven, noirish Americana.

7. The Mikal Evans Band – To All the King Kongs

Edgy, crescendoing janglerock. This band plays Spike Hill a lot.

8. Carrie Erving – The Rains

Pensive rustic acoustic ballad that turns electric and nasty.

9. Evelyn Evelyn – Campaign of Shock and Awe

Hilarious stuff from the Dresden Dolls’ Amanda Palmer with Jason Webley.

10. You Scream I Scream – Dog

Funny faux hip-hop – like Garbage but not quite as dumb.

June 29, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Bryan and the Haggards – Pretend It’s the End of the World

Bryan and the Haggards play twisted, jazz-tinged instrumental covers of Merle Haggard songs. Which if you know something about either style of music shouldn’t exactly come as a shock (Willie Nelson, anybody?). But this being New York, the indie stench wafts across the river from Williamsburg when there isn’t much of a breeze. Is this album yet another case of a bunch of spoiled brats thumbing their snotty noses at music they associate with the working classes? Happily, no. Bryan and the Haggards are actually a jazz group, Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord, a take-no-prisoners combo equally adept at melody and squall. This album might have been jumpstarted when Big Five Chord recorded a satirical cover of the Louvin Bros.’ The Christian Life for their previous album Jon Lundbom & Big Five Chord Accomplish Jazz (very favorably reviewed here last year). Considering the name of this project, it would seem that tenor sax player Bryan Murray is the ringleader this time around, his accomplices being guitarist Lundbom, high-profile alto saxophonist Jon Irabagon, bassist Matthew “Moppa” Elliott and drummer Danny Fischer. What does it sound like? At its most coherent, like Uncle Tupelo on mushrooms. Occasionally, it takes on an exuberant New Orleans second line vibe. Beyond that, coherence ceases to be an issue. This may be jazz, but the underlying esthetic is pure punk rock. Which is nothing new for these players – this crew will basically rip anything to shreds, especially their own compositions, so the question of whether or not they have any affinity, or distaste, for Haggard, or for country music in general, is really beside the point. For their shenanigans, any source is sufficient. It’s how they do it that makes it so much fun.

Silver Wings sways stiff and heavyhanded, Fischer pulling away from anything approximating a groove. Eventually, the saxes fall apart and for literally a second so does the rhythm section, and everything is chaos but then they’re back together again like nothing ever happened. A spitball? Me? What spitball? So when they follow that with an actually quite pretty instrumental of Swinging Doors, it’s strictly a diversion: a minute into Workingman’s Blues and Murray is quoting liberally from his fakebook while Elliott runs scales and eventually settles into one of his typical confrontational low-register rumbles, Lundbom eventually lumberjacking his way through some spot-on Sister Ray-style chord-chopping.

The original version of Miss the Mississippi and You has a countrypolitan vibe, so it makes sense that this crew would be able to turn it into as lovely a ballad as they do until the saxes start making little faces at each other, followed by a very, very good joke about intra-band communication. Lonesome Fugitive is a launching pad for some loud, lazy and eventually very funny commentary from Lundbom; All of Me Belongs to You is just plain sick, in a Ween kind of way. The last cut, Trouble in Mind is ironically the most traditional of all the cuts here, a New Orleans style raveup anchored by distorted guitar, sax overtones whistling overhead with the glee of a mosquito who’s figured out how to evade the swatter.

Who is the audience for this album? Stoners, most definitely; also fans of the Ween country album, Uncle Leon & the Alibis, David Allan Coe and the like. Jazz fans ought to like this although most of them won’t. Country fans probably won’t like this much either on account of it being iconoclastic. So, could this maybe be a bunch of working-class musicians making fun of alt-country, a style they associate with the ruling classes? Hmmm…peep the cheesy-beyond-belief, perfectly retro 70s cd cover design and decide for yourself.

June 19, 2010 Posted by | country music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/12/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #78:

Gruppo Sportivo – I Would Dance

Uncharacteristically dark jangly anthem from the mostly acoustic double live 1998 Second Life cd by these legendary Dutch rock satirists. “If life is a game, why am I so bloody serious? Why don’t I hang my own paintings on my empty walls?”

May 11, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment