Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 10/12/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #840:

The Roulette Sisters – Nerve Medicine

Arguably the finest band to spring from the Blu Lounge scene in Williamsburg, the Roulette Sisters first combined the fearless talents and soaring oldtime harmonies of resonator guitarist Mamie Minch, electric lead player Meg Reichardt (also of les Chauds Lapins) and washboard player Megan Burleyson. Their lone album to date, from 2005, is a slinky retro feast of delta blues, hokum and sultry country swing. Innuendo has always been their drawing card, and this has plenty of it, whether Bessie Smith’s Sugar in My Bowl, the hilariously Freudian Keep on Churnin’ (“Keep on churnin’ til the butter flows/Wipe off the paddle and churn some more”) and I’m Waiting, sung with characteristically rustic, austere charm by Burleyson. There’s also the defiant, revenge-fueled Black Eye Blues and Black Dog Blues, the irresistibly charming Coney Island Washboard, a similarly antique take of Bei Mi Bist du Schoen and Reichardt’s wistful, bucolic No Particular Thing. The band brought in viola player/composer Karen Waltuch before breaking up in 2007. Happily reunited recently, they’re playing their annual Halloween show on Oct 30 at 10 at Barbes.

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October 12, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marshall Lawrence Brings the Blues from the Great White North

Guitarist Marshall Lawrence’s new album Blues Intervention is blues with a Canadian accent. And it’s completely authentic – that applies to the blues as much as the accent. Like it or not, the blues, like any other style of music, keeps evolving: this is one fun, captivating example of where a talented contemporary artist can take a hundred-year-old style without cutting it off at the roots. Lawrence winkingly calls himself “The Doctor of the Blues,” since he actually is one: his alter ego is a professional psychologist. He keeps it simple and acoustic here, occasionally spicing the songs with mandolin or banjo, alongside his collaborators Sherman “Tank” Doucette on harmonica and former B.B. King sideman Russell Jackson on doghouse bass. Lawrence mixes up his originals with a diverse collection of classics. Lawrence’s take on the blues is brisk, an upbeat, houseparty style with deadpan, bright-eyed, bushytailed vocals that make every double entendre count. The opening track, So Long Rosalee sets the tone – Lawrence doesn’t try to be anybody but himself. In a world full of Clapton wannabes embarrassing themselves by doing what amounts to blackface, that’s genuinely refreshing.

As you might expect, the version of Traveling Blues here is a fast stomp, an amped-up take on the Tommy Johnson original and it’s great. Walking Blues is uncomplicatedly original – Lawrence puts his own stamp on it rather than trying to outdo Robert Johnson at fingerpicking. Going Down the Road Feeling Bad, along with an original, Going to the River mine a vintage Mississippi Sheiks string band vibe.

The rest of the album is originals. You’re Gonna Find the Blues works a bunch of standard lyrical tropes, Jackson playing simple, emphatic beats like Big Crawford did on those first classic Muddy Waters records. The down-and-out urban tale Lay Down My Sorrow and Detroit “Motor City” Blues – a party destination for as many Canadians as bored Detroiters who head for Windsor – are slow and mournful, enhanced by the harmonica. The best song on the album is a fast boogie, Once Loved a Cowgirl, with some sweet layers of guitar and a sly trick ending. There’s also a delta-style party anthem, Going Down to Louisiana; the clever woman-done-me-wrong blues If I Had a Nickel and a couple of tensely swinging resonator numbers. Put this in your collection alongside modern-day blues titans like Will Scott or Mamie Minch.

September 9, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Greg Garing at the Delancey, NYC 1/4/10

The Monday night Small Beast show at the Delancey being New York’s most brazen display of good songs and good chops, the parade of talent that’s come through here over the last eight months or so far exceeds anything any other club in town has seen over that span of time. As far as pure talent is concerned, Greg Garing tops the list – and for anyone who was lucky enough to catch his solo show last night, that’s no disrespect to any of the other artists who’ve played here. If you can imagine Willie Nelson if his drug of choice was moonshine instead of pot, you’d be on the right track. Garing is the kind of artist who inhabits his songs – it’s impossible to separate him from them, seeing as he practically goes into a trance and becomes them. His guitar virtuosity, soulful terseness and stylistic chops are unsurpassed, matching a jazzy Chet Atkins-gone-punk countrypolitan feel along with a seemingly effortless whirlwind of flatpicking on a couple of bluegrass numbers, along with some judicious blues and country gospel work. As when Black Sea Hotel played a couple of weeks ago, the room was silent, absolutely rapt. Garing may have a four-octave vocal range – from Tennessee Ernie Ford bass to a falsetto and a heartwarming blue yodel – but he used all of those devices subtly. It would not be an overstatement to mention him in the same sentence as Jimmie Rodgers. And while he did play a few covers – a brisk, unadorned Deep Ellem Blues, a slowly smoldering take of the blues How Long and a Jerry Lee Lewis barrelhouse romp through Real Wild One (he also played pretty amazing piano on that one and a brief ragtime number that he seemed to make up on the spot), it was his originals that resonated most intensely.

The biggest crowdpleaser was a gentle ballad, a reflection on how nature has no preference for any season, with the refrain “We’ll be happy once again.” With the mercury outside below twenty, this hit the spot, along with a beautifully heartfelt gospel-inflected number possibly titled Teardrops Falling in the Snow. One of the more upbeat numbers sounded like a Hasil Adkins song; he also did a resonant cover of the #1 country single of 1968, the politically charged Skip a Rope, written by his old friend Henson Cargill. Garing admitted as his set got underway that he’s “a lucky boy,” having played with several original members of the Grand Old Opry as well as bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin (Garing was reputedly the only sideman that Martin would allow to drink with him, maybe because he could). And some years later, as leader of the Alphabet City Opry, he jumpstarted a fertile New York country scene that’s still going strong almost fifteen years down the road.

Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch played mostly solo on piano beforehand, covering Leonard Cohen, Serge Gainsbourg and then, with Bellmer Dolls frontman Peter Mavrogeorgis on guitar, the Stooges’ Gimme Danger (Paul sang) and a spine-tingling noir version of She Cried ( a Del Shannon cover that Peter, who sang, discovered via the late Roland S. Howard ). Wallfisch’s longtime onstage sparring partner Little Annie also contributed characteristically charming, smoky vocals on songs by Jacques Brel and Leon Russell.

Before Wallfisch, a boyfriend/girlfriend duo called the Pinky Somethings [wasn’t really paying attention] opened the night with carefree if barely competent covers of a lot of good songs: Warren Zevon, John Prine, George Jones, more John Prine. This is how you start out, playing your favorites. If they keep it up and reach the point where they’re writing songs like the ones they like so much, they’ll be really good too.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album Review: Joe Pug – In the Meantime

The brash, fearless lyrical mastermind is here for the long term and as proof he offers up his second consecutive free ep. For the price of getting on the Joe Pug email list, you get this. And it pays off: his fan base keeps building, the gigs keep getting better and better and he hasn’t shown any indication of selling out. As usual, it’s just Pug, his guitar and his harp, hammering on the strings and blowing til the reeds distort, his voice closer to Steve Earle than the John Prine-inflected style he was mining on his brilliant debut Nation of Heat (very favorably reviewed here). Because of the instrumentation, a lot of people will call this Dylanesque, and it is, but there’s a whole lot more going on here.

 

The opening cut is Dodging the Wind, a defiant 6/8 ballad. It’s an apt anthem for anyone who belongs to the ones who got away: “When you think of the kid who left when you did, he too will be thinking of you.” The title track is a pensive, fingerpicked cheating ballad: “We’ll be honest to each other – meaning you,” Pug sardonically rasps. The metaphors never stop: the house will never be built for lack of lumber, and he ends up sleeping in the closet, hiding from the cops.

 

Lock the Door picks up the pace: it has bass and drums. Like Rosalita by Springsteen, the protagonist here just won’t take no for an answer, but he makes his point in about seven fewer minutes:  

 

Who’s that man knee-deep in sand waiting on the tide

With an atlas and a ladder, undaunted from the height

Lock the door, I’m standing on your porch tonight

 

A Thousand Men is the most overtly Dylanesque cut here, rich with history, Pug alluding to the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington as he teases the listener:

 

See Thomas Jefferson on the eve of Bunker Hill

Writing words to die for, writing sentences to kill

They’ve come to paint his portrait

So he grabs a chair and sits

As the surgeon orders cotton

For a thousand tourniquets

 

Pug knows that virtually all inventions were devised for waging war: “Every good idea kills at least a thousand men,” and Pug’s thinking he’s probably number 1001.

 

The ep wraps up with the catchy Black Eyed Susan “When you look right through me I wonder what’s behind my back.” Pug is blowing up right now – this year’s nonstop tour includes Bonnaroo, Lolapalooza and the Newport Folk Festival. Don’t be the last one on your block to find out about the guy.

July 8, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Will Scott – Gnawbone

This is a roughhewn, somewhat menacing album. Vocally, Will Scott is a casual, soulful presence. He’s got a big voice that fills the space here comfortably – he knows he doesn’t have to work too hard to make his point, and he doesn’t. Likewise, his guitar playing is terse, with a bite. Scott comes out of the Mississippi hill country school of blues playing, continuing the tradition that Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford and R.L. Burnside kept alive for so long. It’s a literally mesmerizing style, with long, improvisational songs that go on for minutes on end, frequently without a single chord change. Scott puts his own individual stamp on it, along with several considerably successful ventures into country. Christopher “Preacher Boy” Watkins’ production is marvelously oldschool, vocals up front, guitars and then the rest of the band a little further back in the mix like an old vinyl record. With sparse, tasteful cameos from the Be Good Tanyas’ Samantha Parton, Jolie Holland and Jan Bell along with Preacher Boy on a multitude of instruments, this was made for late-night listening.

The cd opens with the growling psychedelic Americana of Jack’s Defeat Creek, a murky, genre-blending success. The title track, a sarcastic chronicle about several big bullshitters bears Scott’s signature hill country stamp: it could go on for twice as long as it does and that wouldn’t hurt a bit. Make Her Love Me layers acoustic and electric guitars eerily in the background, with a wild, screaming, all-too-brief noise guitar solo making a particularly imaginative crescendo.

Lazy Summertime blends slow swinging 70s style outlaw country with a more rustic Tom Waits vibe. Country Soil reverts to hypnotic blues, like Wayfaring Stranger as Country Joe & the Fish might have done it if they’d been able to handle their drugs a little better With its subtle gospel inflections, Louisiana Lullaby would be perfectly at home on a vintage Waylon Jennings lp.The defiant Paper Match has some neatly intricate bluegrass-inflected twelve string work coming out of the chorus along with some fluidly potent upright bass from Jim Whitney. Of the rest of the tracks, there’s a swing blues, a fast Waits-ish number, a dark, rustic spiritual and the absolutely fascinating Long Time Since, almost a dub reggae production with its haunting and hypnotic repeater-box guitar popping in and out of the mix as the rhythm section careens along. If there’s anything to criticize here, it’s that like so many other studio albums by bluesmen, it would be awfully nice to hear [fill in the blank: B.B. King, Albert Collins…Will Scott] get a chance to cut loose more here – Scott plays a mean solo. Maybe next time. In the meantime, this will help put him on the map. He just got back from UK tour, back to his more-or-less weekly Wednesday 8:30 PM gig at 68 Jay St. Bar, something you ought to see if Americana is your thing.

July 7, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Jack Grace Band – The Martini Cowboy

The Jack Grace Band have been sort of the opening act du jour on the country circuit, opening for Merle and Willie Nelson and Jerry Lee, et al.. If this is an attempt to get some notice from the retro country crowd, it ought to work. Hell, this ought to get them on the Grand Old Opry, if they don’t mind songs about cocaine at the Ryman Auditorium.

The Jack Grace Band’s last album I Like It Wrong put in some serious overtime on some of the better jukeboxes across the counry. In fact, you could say that it was the party album of the summer of 2004. Suffused in booze and tested live on crowds of drunks in dives all over town, those songs were every smart party animal’s alternative to Jimmy Buffett. It may therefore come as some surprise that the new album by the Jack Grace Band is an attempt to – gasp – make a serious record. I say record because the cd is divided into a distinct side 1 and side 2. A concept album, no less, complete with little instrumental fragments separating the songs, and something of a central, unifying theme. The most surprising thing about it is that it actually works. Tight, focused, thoughtfully conceived, in other words, everything Grace’s previous work was NOT. Which ironically was always his saving grace – the band may have been a little loose, the whiskey may have run rivers but you always knew that if you went to see these guys live you would have a good time. While it doesn’t look like anybody left the bar for very long to make this album, it’s a hundred eighty degrees from what you might expect after hearing the last one. Is it possible that Grace has actually matured?

The Martini Cowboy is packed with haunting, gorgeously old-fashioned, 1960s style country songs with tasteful electric guitar, soaring pedal steel, piano and a rhythm section that swings like the dickens. You can dance to this stuff more than you can Grace’s older stuff. Because ultimately that’s why honkytonks exist: where else can you squeeze your cheatin’ lover against the jukebox and sway to the strains of Merle Haggard? Who happens to be exactly who the first song, the album’s title track, evokes. Straight up. When he’s on top of his game Jack Grace’s songs sound like country classics from 40 or 50 years ago. The cd’s second song, Broken Man continues in a purist vein, driven by Jon Dryden’s beautiful, incisively minimal honkytonk piano “I’m not gonna go out there tonight,” swears the Martini Cowboy. He’s been burned too many times. Which leads perfectly into the next song, Cry, a sexy bossa beat and groovalicious bass player Daria Grace’s bop-bop backing vocals only momentarily distracting from its eerie minor-key drive and bitter lyrics. When after a surprisingly jaunty, jazzy guitar solo the thing stumbles out of its groove and literally falls apart, the effect is nothing short of heartbreaking.

The album’s next track Trying to Get Away from Nothing at All zooms in on our protagonist trying to pull himself away from the brink. It’s a showcase for Jack Grace’s voice, a big, Johnny Cash style baritone that can handle the over-the-top whiskey-drinking anthems and the dark, disturbing ballads with equal aplomb.

After that song, we get Sugarbear, another minor-key Waits-esque number with ambient steel guitar, and Rotary Phone, arguably the album’s best song , a haunting, skeletal minor-key blues: “Let me tell a story about the way it used to be/With a rotary phone don’t leave a message for me/You’re gonna be an old man too…”

The last song of the “A side”, What I Drink and Who I Meet at the Track (Is My Business) is completely self-explanatory – it’s one of those songs that someone should have written long ago, and that it took this long before someone did is a mystery. It’s a good thing that it was this guy who wrote it and not Neil Sedaka. I mean, can you imagine Neil Sedaka at the track? No, you can’t. He’d get killed before he got to the stands.

The “B side” begins with Uncle Luther. By now, the Martini Cowboy has fallen in love. His Uncle Luther is moving back to the shack he hasn’t lived in for ten years and the Martini Cowboy has to get out. But that’s not what’s bugging him. It’s that he can’t stop thinking about her. Yeah, her, and it scares the hell out of him. The following tune, Verge of Happiness is so George Jones it’s not funny, in fact it’s scary, right down to the vocals. Nobody ever did desperate, lost love songs better than Jones, anyway, so it makes sense. Happy in the Fall continues in the No Show Jones vein “I’m happy in the fall, but I don’t like the landing,” Grace muses ruefully as the band swings behind him. The album’s climactic track, Something to Look Forward To – where the guy finally gets the girl – is a bit of a letdown. Like at the end of Siddhartha when the guy finally gets to India and all he finds is…OMMMMM (hey, this is a serious album, I’m trying to be serious about this).The cd concludes with a real old-timey number called Spike Down, which sounds like an electrified version of some obscure 19th century folk blues.

There’s not a weak song on this album – which is more impressive than you think. Hell, even Sergeant Pepper had that stupid phony raga tune that Harrison sang. And Merle Haggard’s greatest hits albums all seem to have those horrid pro-Vietnam War ditties he did before he woke up and smelled the coffee. So the Martini Cowboy’s in pretty good company. If this doesn’t get him the big record deal (memo to the band – WATCH YOUR BACK), Jack Grace can always fall back on his side project Van Hayride, which plays country covers of Van Halen songs. I’m not making this up. Not a word.

May 9, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments