Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Erica Smith Brings Her Poignant, Spectacular Voice and Eclectically Shattering Songs to the East Village

Erica Smith is one of New York’s most distinctive and often harrowing voices in folk noir and Americana. But even in this city, Smith’s ability to shift effortlessly from style to style is pretty spectacular. In addition to performing her own music, she’s currently a member of both the Richard Thompson cover group the Shootout Band – in which she puts her own stamp on Linda Thompson’s vocals – and also the explosive gospel-rock band Lizzie and the Sinners. Smith can belt a blues ballad or deliver a plaintive Appalachian narrative with anyone. And she’s also a versatile jazz stylist. Her latest album, a jazz recording with her band the 99 Cent Dreams, is One for My Baby, streaming at Spotify. She’s got a gig coming up on an excellent twinbill at Hifi Bar on May 10 at 7:30 PM; similarly lyrical and somewhat sunnier Americana singer Rebecca Turner follows at around 8:30 PM.

There’s a tragic backstory here: as it turned out, this was the final recording by the great New York drummer Dave Campbell. Perhaps best known for his serpentine, turn-on-a-dime work with psychedelic rock band Love Camp 7, Campbell was also a terrific swing jazz player with a flair for Brazilian grooves, which comes across vividly on the more upbeat tunes here. This is a collection of counterintuitive versions of standards recorded with rock band instrumentation – electric guitar, bass, drums and Leif Arntzen’s soulful muted trumpet on two numbers – along with an obscure treasure by one of this era’s great lit-rock songwriters. It opens with The Very Thought of You, where Smith distinguishes her version from the famous Billie Holliday take with her inscrutable delivery, growing more playfully optimistic as she goes along. Guitarist Dann Baker (also of Love Camp 7) mashes up Barney Kessel and Wes Montgomery as he follows Smith’s emotional trajectory.

Interestingly, there are a couple of songs commonly associated with Sinatra here. Smith does I Could Write a Book as ebullient, optimistic swing: the song feels like it’s about jump out of its shoes, but Smith holds it in check over a slightly ahead-of-the-beat bassline And she does the title track a tad faster than the Ol’ Blue Eyes original, echoing the bartender’s desire to call it a night as much as the wee-hours angst of the lyrics, Baker with her every step of the way through an alternately woozy and vividly brooding interpretation.

She does Rodgers and Hart’s It Never Entered My Mind as lingering, noir-tinged torch jazz, Baker’s gracefully stately chordal ballet in tandem with Campbell’s tersely slinky 6/8 groove. Smith’s careful, minutely jeweled, woundedly expressive vocals mine every ounce of ironic, biting subtext in the lyrics. Ain’t Misbehavin’ gets a hushed low-key swing treatment that builds to coyly nonchalant optimism, Arntzen’s trumpet following suit.

Campbell’s artfully acrobatic tumble opens Everything I’ve Got as an altered bossa before the band swings it by the tail, Smith leading the group on a long upward trajectory that far outpaces the Blossom Dearie original. The album’s most shattering track is a desolate, rainswept take of Cry Me a River, Baker shifting Kessel’s lingering lines further into the shadows over Campbell’s low-key, sepulchrally minimalistic brushwork. The band does the first recorded version of Livia Hoffman’s Valentine as a slow swing tune: “What are childhood crushes for? For crushing all your dreams forevermore,” Smith intones in a knowing, wounded mezzo-soprano. The album winds up with a wryly good-naturedly suspenseful, rainforest-swing solo take of Campbell’s drums on Everything I’ve Got: just wait til the hip-hop nation finds out that this exists. Throughout the record, Smith’s disarmingly direct, imaginative, emotionally vivid phrasing breathes new life into songs that other singers sometimes phone in, reason alone to give this a spin if classic jazz is your thing.

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May 8, 2016 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/14/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #595:

Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams – Snowblind

Erica Smith is the finest singer to come out of New York during the decade of the zeros, capable of extraordinary nuance as well as also extraordinary power (check out her Memphis soul wail on the red-hot shuffle Feel You Go). This 2008 album showcases the diversity of her songwriting: the irresistible 60s style psychedelic pop of Firefly; the lush janglerock of Easy Now and Amanda Carolyn; the bucolic Pink Floyd-esque art-rock of In Late July; the chilling Nashville gothic of Nashville, Tennessee and The World Is Full of Pretty Girls as well as sultry bossa nova and hypnotic Velvets pop tunes. There are also two ferocious covers: Judy Henske’s Snowblind, done as early 70s style metal, and Blow This Nightclub’s Where and When, amped up like early new wave. Guitarist Dann Baker and drummer Dave Campbell (both of Love Camp 7) add rich layers of jangle and clang along with a devious jazz edge. Campbell’s unexpected death in 2010 brought an end to the 99 Cent Dreams; Smith continues to perform and record as a solo artist and with her husband, powerpopmeister John Sharples and his band. This one hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available at Smith’s site.

June 14, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 11/4/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #817:

Love Camp 7 – Sometimes Always Never

New York psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7’s early work bears little resemblance to this richly melodic, lyrical 2007 masterpiece. Their jagged, astringent, rigorously cerebral early stuff drew more from Beefheart and Zappa. By the time they released this one, they’d defined their own sound, jangly and serpentine, with dizzyingly polyrhythmic vocal harmonies carrying frontman/guitarist Dann Baker’s wryly clever, historically infused, tongue-in-cheek lyrics. They’d also added a second guitarist, Steve Antonakos, whose fiery eclecticism became the perfect match for Baker’s counterintuitive, incisive fretwork. This has to be the only album that namechecks NBA star Eldon Brand, California conservationist David Gaines and know-it-all jazz dj Phil Schaap. The two tracks here that seem to have made it to the web scot-free are the lusciously retro psych-pop gem Munoz, and the punkish, politically fueled Naming Names. There’s also a lushly arranged triptych about waterworks corruption in 1930s California; guitar-fueled shout-outs to Barbara Lee (the only member of Congress who voted against giving the Bush regime the authority to declare war) and grassroots hero Jon Strange; a wild tribute to 60s garage rock legends the Seeds; and a couple of bouncy, Kinks-ish psychedelic pop numbers. Drummer Dave Campbell’s vocals pop up where least expected while he propels the unit with deadpan, jazzy aplomb. Campbell’s untimely death this year signaled the end for this unique and clever crew, although they have at least two more albums in the can, one a hilarious Beatles tribute/parody.

November 4, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Toneballs Bounce Around the Parkside

For those who’re going to miss out on Elvis Costello’s November 1 show at the Greene Space – most likely a whole lot of people – the Toneballs’ show Friday night to a packed house at the Parkside made a suitable substitute. Frontman Dan Sallitt is somewhat younger but shares a similarly cynical worldview and a love for double entendres. Where Costello draws on American soul and the Beatles, Sallitt looks back to Richard Thompson, Big Star and lot of powerpop. This time out the band – Sallitt on acoustic guitar and vocals; Love Camp 7’s Dann Baker on bass; Paul McKenzie on lead guitar and Beefstock mastermind Joe Filosa, king of the rock backbeat, behind the kit – mixed several slow, hypnotic ballads in with the ridiculously catchy, tension-laden, new wave style hits. They opened with Fran Goes to School, a tongue-in-cheek look at a recluse slowly making her way into the world. Mr. Insensitive, unlike what the title implies, is sarcastic, a stunner of a kiss-off song and one of Sallitt’s previous band Blow This Nightclub’s best-remembered moments: “Hoping for a revelation, settling for a change…a figment of my alcoholic brain, til then I remain, Mr. Insensitive.”

A newer one, Chelsea Clinton Knows, brought the savagery to boiling point: she knows people are bad, so all she has to do is make sure daddy turns up the sanctions. And if she has a kid she hopes it’s a boy. They followed that with a slow, noirish, suspenseful 6/8 number with McKenzie on lapsteel. One of Sallitt’s most effective devices is to hint at a resolution and then turn away at the last second, something the chord changes did all the way through another old Blow This Nightclub number, a sardonic one that looks forward to the future “because it will be fun, not like now.” Their obligatory Richard Thompson cover – they debut a new one at every show – was Hand of Kindness, complete with absolutely perfect, rivetingly intense lead guitar breaks from McKenzie. He didn’t turn a newer one, the fiery, chromatic Max Planck’s Day, into as much of a guitar workout as he did last time around, but it still resonated, a sardonic mix of physics and unrequited love. They closed on a more playful note with a Hawaiian-themed co-write between Sallitt and Baker, whose melodic four-string lines had soared and simmered all night long and were just as compelling as McKenzie’s pyrotechnics.

October 26, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Edgy Songwriters Bare Their Fangs at the Parkside

Songwriters in the round. No, wait, don’t click off the page, it was like that but it wasn’t. From the first few seconds of the night, the three women onstage at the Parkside on Thursday made it clear that this would not be a G-rated evening of terminally pretty voices singing terminally pretty songs. Given a chance to not only sing but also discuss their material at length, Rebecca Turner, Paula Carino and Erica Smith vented about the thankless side of their profession: clueless audiences, backhanded compliments, and the sheer expense of it all. Why do they do it? Because they can’t imagine not doing it – which was encouraging to hear. Carino is a wordsmith who can’t resist a catchy hook. Turner is a specialist, one of the finest, most indelibly original voices in Americana rock; Smith, the star of Beefstock 2010, is the eclectic one: she can write anything. Asked to explain how it feels to be a performer, Carino responded that it was much like police work: “Hours of boredom, moments of sheer terror.” Smith saved her derision for clueless listeners, the kind of morons who say things like “That’s a pretty song – who wrote it?” Turner explained that she’d come to grips with dumb crowds, especially since she’s been playing more covers at a lot of New Jersey gigs lately (she hastened to add that there’s also a considerable audience for quality original music there). Here on their home turf, the four fed off each others’ energy and banter and turned in a fascinating show.

Solo on electric guitar, Carino jangled her way through a bunch of rare gems that she seldom plays live: Readers Digest, which uses bulimia as a metaphor for a host of other ills; the angst-ridden existentialist lament Waiting for You (“Then the river froze and I started skating/Of course I’d rather swim but I’m tired of waiting”), and Sensitive Skin, a metaphorically loaded “public service announcement for people not to get involved with people who are too sensitive.” She explained that she’d changed the gender of the song’s central character to a woman: if the guy with the bathroom full of extra-sensitive formula lotions knows it, he’s undoubtedly grateful she did.

The night’s most exhilarating vocal moment belonged, unsurprisingly, to Turner. As the third verse of her big crowd-pleaser Tough Crowd (a little irony there) kicked in, she took it up as far as she could, which is a long way. She’d explained how each of the verses tackles a different subject: friends, then family, then an audience, deftly linking how absurd it can be to try to communicate with any of them sometimes. As warmly memorable as her melodies are, there’s also usually an undercurrent of unease, most strikingly apparent on Knocks, a chronicle of a trip to Maine circa 2004: “Go on, grey sky, open up,” she sang, as much a dare as resignation to an unwanted fate.

Smith pulled out a lot of new material: she’s never written better. “I lost my job and wanted to write a song about how good freedom is,” she explained defiantly and then launched into a catchy Americana-pop number: “If you’re lucky you’ll never work again in this town.” The last verse of another new one, River King, she explained, came to her in a dream, ostensibly written by Adam Cooper and her lead guitarist, Dann Baker. For whatever reason, that’s where central character, on vacation and miserable, gets dressed up in her lacy things and goes down to the waterfront bar. She clarified that it’s probably the last thing either of those two would ever be likely to write. And another new one, a garage rock number, turned out to be a bittersweet but encouraging tribute to enduring friendships – that’s why acoustic shows can be so interesting sometimes, since the lyrics are audible. Watch this space for future shows by these artists, very possibly as a trio again.

August 1, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Beefstock 2010 Day Two

Day One of Beefstock 2010 is covered here. Day Two began early in the afternoon with Peter Pierce and his jangly, two-guitar band, sounding like a tuneful cross between the Silos and Neil Young. They did a darkly clanging outlaw ballad early on, a couple of comfortably expansive, jangly paisley underground style tunes and some riff-rock featuring one of the festival’s hardest-working players, Ross Bonadonna on sax.

Erica Smith was next on the bill, but she was asleep, having been knocked cold by a morning yoga session with Paula Carino. Finally roused, she alluded onstage to still feeling the effects, but whatever other world she’d been in, she brought some of it with her in a brief but absolutely devastating solo set. With an otherworldly lushness added to a voice already steeped in an evocative brew of just about every emotion possible (especially the sad ones), she was the highlight of the festival, opening with an acoustic version of Firefly, an impossibly catchy, sunny pop hit on album but in this context bittersweet and plaintive. A new song, the vividly brooding vacation scenario River King, rivalled the Church’s classic Bel Air, its wounded narrator drifting defiantly down to the local watering hole in all her finery when the guys wouln’t let her sit in with them and sing. The song had come to her in a dream, she explained, ostensibly written by Adam Cooper and her bandmate Dann Baker; the joke is that the song sounds like nothing either one of them would probably ever come up with. She closed with a swaying yet intense version of her bossa nova-pop hit Tonight, an old folk song that she did a-capella and got lost in, taking the crowd with her, and a shattering version of the towering, anguished country anthem The World Is Full of Pretty Girls, from her classic 2008 album Snowblind.

This is where we dropped out – being part of the blogosphere requires a far closer-than-ideal umbilical cord to the web, especially in a place sans cellphone reception like this. So we missed Clancy’s Ghost and probably others but managed to get back in time for Rebecca Turner, her rustic, maple sugar voice, first-rate rhythm section, charming Americana-pop songs and Josh Roy Brown playing characteristically spine-tingling lapsteel. Turner swung her way through the ridiculously catchy, metaphorically charged Tough Crowd, a little later her signature anthem Brooklyn – probably the only song ever to namecheck McCarren Pool – and simultaneously indulged her Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young fixations with a rousing version of Love Is a Rose. She bookended these around a short set by Brown featuring a fiery, hypnotic open-tuned blues number.

Paula Carino, the hands-down star of Beefstock 2009 has a new yoga book coming out. Leading a session in the morning may have knocked the crowd out but it energized her. Carino’s new cd Open on Sunday looks like a lock for best album of 2010; like last year (hell, like always), this was Carino the hookmeister. Having the cd around is pretty cool: turns out that the ridiculously catchy new wave riff-rock of Mother I Must Go to Maxwell’s has an angst-driven undercurrent. Having Ross Bonadonna on lead guitar is just as cool. He’d spend much of the night onstage: his role in this band is lead guitar powerhouse, whether firing off a snarling Wes Montgomery-gone-to-Brixton solo on the indelibly catchy, dark Great Depression or a sarcastically animalian carnival of riffs on the snide Rough Guide. Carino debuted a punchy new one, Three Legged Race; she also went back into the archive and delivered the metaphorically loaded Venus Records with her best mentholated purr. A little later on, she brought the show to a peak when she kicked off a crescendoing version of Paleoclimatology with just her Strat and velvet vocals for a couple of bars. “Just let it go, that ancient snow, that wrecked Tyrannosaurus,” she intoned as the song took the intensity up into the rafters.

The Larch had a tough act to follow and they delivered. Bonadonna was on bass this time – a great lead guitarist playing a four-string is a treat (Marty Willson-Piper of the Church, on the occasions he does it, is a good comparison). Frontman Ian Roure has never written better – their seventh (count ’em) album, Larix Americana is coming out on May 22 (the cd release show is at the Parkside) and could well be their best if this show was any indication. Roure’s best known as a songwriter, these days sort of a missing link between Ray Davies and Robyn Hitchcock but as a guitarist he can shred with anybody and this was a shred-a-thon. Blending his wah-wah pedal with a watery chorus box effect, he blasted through one brief, maybe eight-bar, supersonic solo after another. Those catchy new wave-ish songs didn’t leave much room for stretching out, from the bouncy, Costelloesque powerpop of the Strawberry Coast, the funky, Taxman-ish In the Name Of or one of the best songs of the whole festival, the resolute anthem With Love from Region One. Roure explained beforehand that it’s his indelibly British tribute to all good things American: “People don’t realize that it’s not all Disney and McDonald’s here.” He mixed his tones for the longest and most savage solo of the night as Bonadonna ground out one boomy chord after another at the end.

Solar Punch were next, playing cheery, sunny, Grateful Dead-inspired songs on a small side stage since they’re a solar-powered band: lead guitarist Alan Bigelow had charged a battery with solar panels on the ride up from Manhattan, which gave them enough juice for a full 40-minute set with two electric guitars, bass, vocal mics and (one assumes) unamplified drums. Bigelow played through a piano patch on several of the songs; their best one was a boomy, hypnotic Indian-influenced psychedelic number most likely inspired by the group’s tour of that country a year ago. Plastic Beef’s Andy Mattina held down the bass chair as he would later with Paula Carino and others.

Brute Force was a trip, plain and simple. Seeing the singer/pianist and his band was a time warp back to the Summer of Love, because Brute was there, and soon thereafter would be signed to Apple Records. Copies of his signature song, the underground comedy rock hit The King of Fuh (he was the Fuh King – get it?) are prized on the collector market. They closed with that song, a tongue-in-cheek swipe at the censors that comes across as a lot tamer in the age of gangsta rap than it did then. Brute Force’s songs foreshadowed what Ragni and Rado would do with their musical Hair – anthemic and theatrical, often seemingly completely guileless, they also have a social conscience, topics ranging from a simple antiwar number to his famous Pledge of Allegiance to the Universe to a more anguished, newer one about global warming.

A completely different stripe of pianist/bandleader, Tom Warnick and World’s Fair brought the thunder after the sunshine. With just the hint of an evil grin, he and his now four-piece backing unit (featuring both John Sharples and Bonadonna, again on lead guitar, turning in his some of his most intense salvos of the night) romped and then raced through a noir-tinged, soul-inflected set including a lickety-split, Ramones-ish version of the Jersey Turnpike nightmare scenario How Do You Get to Ho-Ho-Kus, a ska-punk singalong, a Stax/Volt style soul jump and some wickedly catchy pop. They wrapped up the set with a particularly ecstatic version of what has become a sort of signature song for the band, Keep Me Movin’. The band was tight; despite the late hour, the bass player appeared sober – although jumping all over the stage and trying to steal the spotlight from a frontguy like Warnick doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Erica Smith may have turned in the most intense single set of the evening, but the best song of the night was delivered by her husband, John Sharples and his band. Taking his vocals down, down into the murky depths of his register, he and the band (Bonadonna up there yet again on lead guitar) made their way ominously through a spine-tingling, bluesily noir version of a pensive 6/8 Warnick ballad, The Impostor. Bonnadonna used it as a springboard for the most dazzling display of speed of the whole night, a firestorm of staccato madness that perfectly matched the Kafkaesque lyric. With Smith on harmony vocals, they stampeded through an inspired cover of Chinatown by the Move, a ferocious blast of powerpop with When Amy Says by Blow This Nightclub, a couple of pensive ballads where Sharples moved to piano, and a medley that uncovered the Thin Lizzy hidden inside Paula Carino’s tongue-in-cheek Robots Helping Robots.

The Nopar King is the latest incarnation of Plastic Beef, and the tightest one yet. By now the crowd was finally dancing as the band passed around percussion instruments to random drunks, some who still had their timing, some who didn’t. Drummer Joe Filosa and new (relatively new, anyway) singer Diane O’Connell traded soulful vocals as they made their way through some funky originals and a couple of covers. Billy from Norhmal joined them a little later on and brought the energy level up even higher. They wrapped up the set with a deliriously stretched-out version of their signature song, the latin-disco-jamband number The Pyramid Club, a wistful look back at a better time and place where a band could shuttle back and forth between that place and A7 up the block.

All-female trio Out of Order were the best conceivable headliner the festival could have had. With their ridiculously catchy postpunk songs, they’re part new wave throwbacks, part no wave (their guitarist is a monster noiserock player) and part straight up punk. They managed to keep a crowd who’d either been playing all day, drinking all day or both either completely rapt or on their feet and dancing (well, at least stumbling) throughout their almost hourlong set. As John Sharples observed, one of the cool things about this band is that not only do the songs disregard any kind of conventional verse/chorus structure, the melody weaves back and forth between the bass and the guitar just as unexpectedly. The guitarist’s chirpy, defiant vocal riffs punched and swung overhead as the drummer mauled her kit, whether hammering out a precise hardcore beat, a mammoth metal stomp or more energetic, intricate patterns. They roared and skittered through a couple of eerie ones fueled by chromatic riffs, a couple that reminded of the Slits, a couple of others that evoked the early B-52s but with balls. That a band this smart, fun and goodlooking (no intention to be sexist here, but they dress to kill when they hit the stage) isn’t famous says more about the state of the music business in 2010 than pretty much anything else could.

There was a jam afterward. Most of the people had cleared out by then; memory seems to indicate that they did Twist and Shout at some point and considering how the day’s overindulgence had by now become wretched excess, they probably shouldn’t have. Special shout-out to spoken-word artist Eric Mattina, whose wise, lucid, understated poem earlier in the evening spoke more eloquently about the perils of gentrification than any prose ever could: as Mattina asked, have you ever been happy in a bank?

There are multi-band extravaganzas this good in New York City – if the Gypsy Tabor Festival comes back to Brooklyn again, there’s a place where you can also see nine or ten first-class acts one after another. The annual all-day Main Squeeze Accordion Festival is the same way. The Brooklyn What often find a way to get three or four other similarly minded, kick-ass rock bands on the same stage on the same night. And then there’s always Make Music NY on June 21. But Beefstock 2010 was about as good as it gets.

April 16, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Concert Review: Rebecca Turner at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 2/9/10

Tuesday night Banjo Jim’s still didn’t have its liquor license back (it does now), but the bar was covered in homemade goodies. Lemon snickerdoodles, chocolate cayenne cookies and a peanut butter cheesecake induced an instant sugar buzz. And there was also Rebecca Turner, a whole lot of catchy Americana songs, an excellent band and her exquisite voice. There are tens of thousands of women with good voices out there: Turner’s is something special, warm and crystalline without being saccharine, moving toward and then away from a Nashville twang depending on how hard the song rocked. With Skip Krevens on pedal steel, John Pinamonti on twelve-string guitar, Scott Anthony on bass, a new drummer and Sue Raffman soaring on harmony vocals for about half the set, she held a tough crowd (most of them actually big fans) silent and bordering on spellbound for the better part of an hour.

She stayed pretty much in major keys, playing mostly newer material from her most recent album Slowpokes. Turner’s turns of phrase are subtle and understated, sometimes wryly funny, often vividly aphoristic. Her hooks are just the opposite: the tunes get in your face, linger in your mind, notably the insanely catchy, metaphorically Tough Crowd with its delicious, syncopated riffs that slammed out into one of her most memorable choruses. It’s a good song on record; it’s amazing live. She’d opened with Listen, a contemplatively jangly country-pop number about intuition (Turner is a reliable source) that would be perfectly at home in the Laura Cantrell songbook, right down to the hushed, gently twangy nuance of the vocals. The Way She Is Now picked up the pace, a swinging, upbeat country-rock song sweetened with swells from the pedal steel. The Byrds-inflected Insane Moon gave Pinamonti the spotlight – his chiming twelve-string style is competely original, more of a incisive lead guitar approach (think Roger McGuinn on Eight Miles High instead of Turn Turn Turn).

Then she did Brooklyn. It’s one of the great Gotham songs, not just because it’s catchy but because it has so much depth. To paraphrase Turner, Brooklyn is so big because it has to deal with so much bullshit and yet so much transcendence: credit goes to the people who live there. She wrapped up the set with Baby You’ve Been on My Mind, the opening cut on Linda Ronstadt’s first album, where she admitted to finding out only later that Dylan had written it. With a gentle insistence, she made it her own, matter-of-factly warm rather than straight-up come-on. She’s back at Banjo Jim’s on 2/21 at 8:30 as part of ex-Monicat Monica “L’il Mo” Passin’s reliably good Americana night.

Erica Smith and the 99 Cent Dreams followed on the bill with their first New York show in awhile, a relatively brief set of jazz standards. Smith’s equally nuanced stylings moved from Julie London somber (Cry Me a River) to unselfconscious Ella Fitzgerald joy (Everything I’ve Got) to a deadpan version of One for My Baby, lead guitarist Dann Baker going back in time for a vintage 50s vibe while drummer Dave Campbell swung casually with the occasional Elvin Jones flourish or Brazilian riff.

February 12, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Love Camp 7 – Union Garage

A strong follow-up to Love Camp 7’s classic 2007 cd Sometimes Always Never, this is aguably their most melodic and straightforward album – a direction from which the band once seemed completely alienated. That was a long time ago. Here the rhythms are as close to four on the floor as Dave Campbell – the closest thing to Elvin Jones that rock has ever seen – has ever done in this unit (he also lends his tropical, soulful beats to Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams). Bassist Bruce Hathaway (also a noted contemporary classical and film composer) is his typical tuneful, melodic self, and it looks as if Steve Antonakos AKA Homeboy Steve, lead guitarist in a million other excellent projects has become a full-fledged member of the band. Frontman/guitarist Dann Baker (also of Erica Smith’s band) plays with characteristic wit and incisiveness, alternating between innumerable tasty shades of jangle and clang. Most of the songs here – including a mini-suite with a Civil War theme – are imbued with historical references in the same vein as the band’s previous cd.

The album opens with a 20-year old song, the Killers, slightly off-kilter film noir-inspired janglerock wherein the victim forgives his murderers since they’re just doing a day’s work.  Crazy Bet Van Law kicks off  the Civil War section, the tongue-in-cheek tale of an unlikely Union spy, its bridge morphing into a tidy little march. Crazy Bet’s funeral scene is the pretty, sad, harmony-driven Nobody Here but Us African-Americans – it seems she only wanted ex-slaves and servants there. Letting the Brass Band Speak For You is Beatlesque with a slightly Penny Lane feel, a snidely metaphorical slap at conformity and its consequences.

No Negro Shall Smoke is serpentine in the vein of the band’s earlier work, an actual segregationist proclamation from Richmond, Virginia set to herky-jerky, XTC-ish inflections.  The way the band just jumps on the word “smoke” and repeats it over and over again rivals the “stone, stone, stone” on Pigs by Pink Floyd. The version of the slightly Arthur Lee-ish Start from Nothing that Baker and Campbell recorded on Erica Smith’s most recent album beats the one here. Arguably the best song here is (Beware of the) Angry Driver (Yeah), a spot-on, deliciously jangly chronicle of road rage, one sadistic city bus driver after another careening through the narrow Brooklyn streets in Williamsburg and Greepoint.

Another highlight is Johnny’s Got a Little Bag of Tricks, a frankly hilarious send-up of masturbatory guitarists everywhere: “He plays a hundred notes where one would do/And if it fits the song that’s ok too.”

Antonakos, who can satirize pretty much anything, gets a couple of bars to show off the kind of chops he never shows off anywhere else (well, maybe in Van Hayride). Bobbing and weaving, Lady Ottoline Morrell is a vividly clanging tribute to a Bloomsbury-era patron of the arts. You’ll see this cd on our Best Albums of 2009 list in December. Love Camp 7 play Southpaw on May 20 at around 8:30.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Bucketful of Beefstock

A teaspoon is more like it. Beefstock is an annual three-day music festival held at the Full Moon Resort in upstate Oliverea, New York, a relatively short drive from Woodstock. Dedicated to local musician Darren Bohan, a talented guitarist/bassist and fireman who was killed when the World Trade Center was detonated, the gathering, now in its eighth year, features mostly bands and songwriters from the Freddy’s Bar scene in Brooklyn, where Bohan was highly respected and served as the bass player in Livia Hoffman’s band. Other than a few shows at the now-defunct Blu Lounge in Williamsburg, her annual appearances here are the only ones Hoffman has played in recent years.

Hoffman is the best songwriter you’ve never heard of, flying so far below the radar she doesn’t even have a myspace. She plays what she calls “lit-rock,” catchy guitar-driven songs with frequently scathing, literate lyrics, spiced with references to literature from throughout the ages. Example: the opening song of her early Saturday evening set, a fiery, propulsive number called Infinite Jest. The title is the only David Foster Wallace-ism in the song: it doesn’t go on for a thousand verses. It’s the haunting tale of a road trip punctuated by a breakup, where the narrator finds herself wanting to get back into a café – by herself – but comes up against a locked door with a sign on it saying “back in five minutes,” as the outro raises the song’s emotional level to redline. Backed by filmmaker James Dean Conklin on lead guitar, Plastic Beef leader Joe Filosa on drums and Erica Smith’s bass player, Hoffman reminded how much she’s been missed on the scene, and how good her songs would sound if she and her crew had a chance to work them up: this was clearly a pickup band. They tentatively made their way through the elegaic U-Shaped Hole in the Universe, the title track from the ep Hoffman made as a tribute to Bohan, stabbed at the Badfinger hit Day After Day, and finally pulled it together on the brilliantly catchy, heartwarming major-key janglerocker Carry. They closed their brief, barely half-hour set with a rousing if loose version of Hoffman’s excoriating, bluesy Paper Bag, an anti-trendoid broadside if there ever was one, done as an attempt at an early Beatles-style R&B raveup.

After a break for dinner, the show continued with Erica Smith and most of her band, John Sharples sitting in impressively on drums, playing a bunch of songs from her new album Snowblind. The title track featured a woozy noise jam mid-song with lead guitarist Dann Baker (of Love Camp 7) trading off wails and roars with Sharples’ drum freakout. They also ran through a riveting version of The World Is Full of Pretty Girls, which could be the great missing track from American Beauty. Their take of the ridiculously catchy, all-too-brief 60s-ish hit Firefly, also from the new album, had bounce and swing; another brief number, the soul-inflected Who Are You was a study in contrast. They closed with the cover of One for My Baby that’s usually a centerpiece of their live shows, Smith’s heartwrenching vocals a big hit with the audience, a mix of fellow musicians and locals whom one suspects seldom get to hear material this good.

Paula Carino and her band were hands-down the stars of at least this part of the show, following with a blistering, upbeat, abbreviated set including the tongue-in-cheek Robots Helping Robots, a lickety-split version of the wrenchingly lyrical alienation anthem Grace Before Movie, and the spirited, Latin-inflected, sarcastic Rough Guide to You, a travelogue through a relationship where the road runs out, leaving the narrator wishing for a guidebook that obviously doesn’t exist. With its big stage and powerful sound system, the acoustics here are generally marvelous and they were tonight, Carino’s casual low soprano cutting through strong and clear. As a lyricist, she’s unsurpassed; one could also say that of the crystalline craftsmanship of her songs and the tightness of her band, Filosa doing what was probably sextuple duty this evening. Beefstock usually features a lot of jamming in the wee hours, with predictable focus and tightness issues, but Carino hit the ground running and burst through the finish line seemingly without breaking a sweat.

Kirsten Williams and then the John Sharples Band were next on the bill. Williams’ stock in trade is understatement and metaphor, and backed by bassist Andy Mattina (who was also doing multiple duty tonight, in Carino’s band and with others despite being under the weather) ran through a lilting, subtly smart set of catchy acoustic pop. Sharples’ trademark is playing well-chosen covers by obscure bands. Switching to guitar, he ran through a bunch including a countrified version of the Erica Smith janglerock hit Secrets, joined by Smith on backing vocals and guitar. Predictably, Smith stole the show with her spectacular, Aretha Franklin-esque vocals on a cover of the Beatles’ I’ve Got a Feeling. There’d been a whole slate of good bands including the Sloe Guns on Friday night and more coming up this evening, but the driving rain outside was turning to snow and the lights of New York, though invisible to the eye, were beckoning.

If you’re wondering where Beefstock gets its name, it’s because Plastic Beef usually provides the the rhythm section (and sometimes the whole backing band) for several of the artists who play here. Look for upcoming post-Beefstock shows at Freddy’s on March 22 as well as another coming up shortly at Hank’s.

March 10, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams Live at Parkside, NYC 1/25/08

The best show of the year so far. Erica Smith and her backing trio were celebrating the release of their long-overdue new album Snowblind, and rose to the occasion with a majestic, transcendent performance. Smith is one of those panstylistic rock goddesses like Neko Case, steeped in Americana but lately delving deep into jazz. Nonetheless, this is a rock band, and they rocked. Lead guitarist Dann Baker and drummer Dave Campbell are two-thirds of Beatlemaniac psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7, and they were at the absolute top of their game. Baker’s playful, frequently fiery virtuosity is the perfect complement to Smith’s wickedly catchy, jangly songs, and Campbell might well be the best drummer in rock, an Elvin Jones disciple who in all fairness really ought to be leading his own jazz group.

They soared through the opening track on the cd, the Merseybeat hit Easy Now, then lit into a 60s Memphis soul soundalike driven by a bass riff stolen straight from Duck Dunn. Baker took a screaming, noisy solo after the second chorus and really got the crowd going. They followed with the heartbreakingly beautiful The World Is Full of Pretty Girls, a rivetingly sad, swaying, country ballad, and the lush, romantic Brazilian-inflected Tonight, Campbell expertly conducting the band through a slow, hypnotic fade at the end.

Smith’s set of jazz reminded what a vividly instinctive feel she has for the genre, with a high-spirited version of The Very Thought of You, a very slow, haunting take of One for My Baby, a bouncy Ain’t Misbehaving with false ending and an effectively jazzed-up cover of Livia Hoffman’s sad, beautifully literate Valentine. Campbell brought it down to almost complete silence with a tensely minimal solo. He also got the crowd roaring on a careening, bluesy cover of the obscure Judy Henske/Jerry Yester song Snowblind, the title track from the cd. When the band does this live, they generally don’t give Campbell enough time to solo, probably because drum solos – on the rare occasion that any rock bands other than, say, Journey play them anymore – can take a song into Spinal Tap territory in a split second and leave it there for good. This time, Campbell got at least a couple of minutes to span the globe, throw out some summer snapshots of Bahia, a trip into the mountains of Morocco and then before anyone knew it, he was back on the Lower East Side again.

They saved their best for last, with a towering, nine-minute version of their epic parable All the King’s Horses. It’s a slow, 6/8 ballad, music by Smith, Sean Dolan’s lyric transposing all the deadly effects of post-WWII monopoly capitalism onto a medieval battlefield. Audience members were brought to tears. The bass player, clearly caught up in the moment, went off-mic and sang along with Smith as she brought it to a crescendo at the end of the last verse: “Do you have enough hours to bury your dead, or days in which to atone?” Except that he sang “bodies” instead of “hours.” And then missed his cue to join in with the band singing harmonies on the chorus. They encored with 31st Avenue, a haunting, melancholy track from her previous album, rearranged as a backbeat-driven, psychedelic, lushly romantic hit.

January 28, 2008 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment