Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 9/2/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #880:

The Louvin Bros. – Tragic Songs of Life

Best known for their 1960 album Satan Is Real (and its campy fire-and-brimstone cover image), Charlie and Ira Louvin were a popular country gospel group until Ira’s death in a 1965 car accident (ostensibly running from the law – he was wanted on a drunk driving warrant). They’re also the group responsible for one of the earliest nuclear apocalypse anthems, The Great Atomic Power. This album gets the nod over the rest of their catalog because it’s more accessible, minus all the proselytizing that a lot of people find off-putting. A lot of these songs were already country/bluegrass standards when the album was issued in 1956 – and they’re not all as gloomy as the title might indicate. The Louvins play to the crowd with the home-state anthems Alabama and Kentucky (the latter a delicious mandolin-and-guitar picking party), get maudlin with a seven-year-old who misses his sweetheart on A Tiny Broken Heart, and go back in time with the traditional Mary of the Wild Moor, Let Her Go, God Bless Her and the gold-digger cautionary tale What Is Home Without Love. But their versions of In the Pines, My Brother’s Will, Take the News to Mother and the murder ballad Knoxville Girl (a big hit for the Blue Sky Boys in 1937) are as grim and evocative as any rural music ever recorded. The album was reissued in 2007 as a twofer along with Satan Is Real, easily downloaded. Here’s a random torrent.

September 2, 2010 Posted by | country music, folk music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Dolly Parton – Letter to Heaven

We strive for counterintuitivity: bet you never thought you’d see a Dolly Parton album here, let alone a country gospel record! Letter to Heaven is a reissue, most of its tracks recorded over a three-day span in 1970 and released on her Golden Streets of Glory album in 1971, included in its entirety here along with an outtake and a small handful of subsequent singles, some hits, some not. This is as pop as country ever got back then and yet it’s more country than most anything coming out of Nashville these days. As was the case back then, on many of these songs, by the time the last chorus rolls around, the only things left in the mix are vocals, orchestra and drums. But the changes, and the voice are pure country gospel: Carrie Underwood, eat your Philistine heart out. As with any Dolly Parton recording, she’s the star, although an allstar cast of Nashville studio veterans including pianist Hargus “Pig” Robbins, the late pedal steel player Pete Drake and guitarist Chip Young all get to contribute memorably, if only for a bar or two at a time.

The test of spiritual music is how well it resonates outside the choir, and if there’s anyone capable of transcending that limitation, it’s Dolly Parton. You hear that brittle vibrato and you don’t realize what an explosive upper register she has – it’s amazing how little that voice has aged. Plaintive, longing and above all, humble, she probably had no idea how well this album would withstand the test of time – or maybe she did. She was a first-class songwriter in an age when women were not exactly encouraged (other than by Owen Bradley) to write their own material, and unsurprisingly it’s her own songs here that stand up the strongest. The best song on the album is, perhaps expectedly, the previously unreleased track, Would You Know Him If You Saw Him. Pretty and jangly with guitar and organ, it has Parton gently yet pointedly reminding us not to turn away from those in need: a test could be involved – or just the opportunity to do a mitzvah and feel good about it. Robbins gets to add some marvelous barrelhouse piano on Master’s Hand, which switches in a split second from a retelling of the story of the Flood to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednago. Church is fun for this crew! The country gospel classic Wings of a Dove gets mariachi horns; Comin For to Carry Me Home, a country shuffle reworking of Swing Low Sweet Chariot gets a remarkable bounce courtesy of an uncredited bass player (they just ran ’em in and ran ’em out in those days – how little times have changed!). Daddy Was An Old Time Preacher Man, a duet with longtime harmony partner (and civil defendant) Porter Wagoner has a Johnny Cash feel to it. And the title track runs from schmaltzy to creepy in seconds flat – the little girl misses her dead mom, so she gets hit by a bus. Ostensibly the two are happy together again. By the time the last track, The Seeker (a #2 country hit in 1975) comes up, it’s striking how fast things have changed – the dirt has been scrubbed out of it and exchanged for a swamp-pop bass groove.

Dolly Parton’s latest initiative is typical: it’s called “Dolly Helps Nashville,” a campaign to aid survivors of the recent floods there. Details at her site at the link above. Bless her heart.

May 26, 2010 Posted by | country music, gospel music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Tall Tall Trees at the Postcrypt Coffeehouse, NYC 1/29/10

Tall Tall Trees didn’t play shit tonight. To be more precise, they didn’t play Shit, their funniest song – and they have many. If there’s one New York band that screams out SUMMER FESTIVAL, it’s Tall Tall Trees. On the coldest night of the year so far, they brought a sly, slinky midsummer cookout vibe to the comfy stone basement spot that if rumor is to be believed is threatened with extinction (stay tuned). Beyond the fact that it would be a shame – not to mention a considerable loss to the Columbia student community – if the makeshift club closed, it was especially nice to be able to see these guys play without having to peer over the shoulders of the usual hordes who come out to see them in Manhattan locations further south.

These guys’ sound is indelibly their own, part oldtimey blues/gospel revivalists, part bluegrass and part jam band. Bassist Ben Campbell played snaky, swaying lines while Matthias Kunzli stomped and pushed the band on a multicultural mix of percussion instruments, guitarist Kyle Senna and frontman/banjo player Mike Savino artfully and amusingly trading off licks. The one big jam moment of the night came early, a bubbling cauldron between the two on a blissful version of Spaceman, one of the more psychedelic numbers on the band’s debut album (very favorably reviewed here back in August). A new number,  the ragtime-inflected Walk of Shame, shamelessly chronicles the kind of stuff we do when we’ve had too much and we forget that we’re basically still at work.

“This is a traditional one,” Savino deadpanned, then led the band through another new song, Chocolate Jesus, a thoughtful digression on the kind of candy bar that even an Almond Joy can’t compare with. After a couple of easygoing, easy-to-like oldtime-flavored numbers, they wrapped up their too-brief set with a request, a fiery, incisive version of Sallie Mae. The album version is a smartly terse minor-key gospel-flavored song; live, the tale of the woman who left the poor guy with a house he couldn’t afford and a college loan he can’t pay resonated powerfully throughout the room full of undergrads, ending with a resounding boom as Kunzli smacked at his riq and practically knocked the little hand drum off its frame.

Tall Tall Trees play another even more incongruous small-room show at Banjo Jim’s at 5 (five) PM on Feb 5 for happy hour; it would make sense to say that you should get there early, which isn’t really much of an option unless you can sneak out of work somehow.

January 30, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Bobtown at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 1/10/10

Sunday night at Spikehill is Americana night, with a rotating cast of frequently excellent roots bands from around the New York area. Last Sunday’s show opened with Rescue Bird, who’ve been on our shortlist to see for awhile, but that was not to be. The next band, Bobtown were even better than the few intriguing songs on their myspace indicated. There is no band in town who sound like them. Mixing elements of country gospel, bluegrass and field hollers with an often macabre Nashville gothic tinge and soaring four-part harmonies, they ran through a frequently riveting set of originals along with a plaintive, powerful cover of the old British folk ballad Short Life of Trouble sung with authority by guitarist Karen Dahlstrom.

They opened with three harmony-driven country gospel numbers, one an amusingly herky-jerky original by acoustic bass guitarist (and bass singer) Fred Stesney while lead player Gary Keenan played incisively and tersely as he moved from banjo, to resonator guitar, to mandolin, to what looked like a darkly twangy Turkish cumbus lute. Singer Jen McDearman appears to be the band’s main source of darkness, contributing both a blithe acoustic pop song, Black Dog, its casually menacing lyric making a striking contrast with its peppy tune, as well as the night’s best song, a big, ominous anthem titled We Will Bury You.

Accordionist Katherine Etzel, whose effortlessly high, twangy soprano reminds a lot of a young Dolly Parton, led the group through a series of stark, rhythmic, bluesy originals in the style of nineteenth century slaves’ field hollers. Then they picked up the pace with a rapidfire bluegrass tune, Hell and Gone (with a reference to smoking “all the tea in China”) delivered with a graceful intensity by Dahlstrom, and then reverted to country gospel to close the set. Bobtown have a new album coming out; ostensibly, all of these originals are on it. If they sound anything like how the band played them Sunday night, it should be killer. Watch this space for upcoming live dates.

January 13, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/31/09

We do this every Tuesday (usually – remember a couple of weeks ago?). You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Pretty much every link here will take you to each individual song.

1. The Oxygen Ponies – Villains

Quiet yet venomous rock anthem dating from the waning days of the Bush regime. From their amazing new cd Harmony Handgrenade.

2. Christabel & the Jons – Florida

Dark, quirky, fun oldtimey swing tune in the Jolie Holland mode. They’re at the Jalopy Theatre on 10/1.

3. Taxi Amarillo – Donde Has Estando

Jangly rock en Espanol anthem. They’re at BB King’s on 9/7

4. Kofre – El Muerto

Ska en Espanol. Also at BB King’s on 9/7.

5. The Scratches – I Take the Shape of My Container

BOAC style pop – funny.

6. Mark Sinnis – That’s Why I Won’t Love You

Quietly snarling, gospel-flavored kissoff anthem recorded live at Pete’s. From his forthcoming 2010 cd.

7. Ninth House – Jealousy

Speaking of which…this is the album version with Randi Russo on harmonies. This is a psychedelic live version.

8. Kerry Kennedy – Golden Calves

Beautiful as-yet unreleased atmospherics from the NYC southwestern gothic chanteuse. She’s at Small Beast at the Delancey on 9/14.

9. Telephone – In Paris

A funny anti-tourist rant, in English, by the iconic punk-era French rockers. “In Paris we piss in the street.”

10. Smoothe Moose – War Pigs (remix)

Woozy electronicized cover, you can’t help but smile. Various members of the Tortoise-esque collective play the release show for their latest mixtape at Public Assembly on 9/3 at 9.

September 1, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment