Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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

In Memoriam – Dave Campbell

Dave Campbell, who pushed the limits of what a drummer could do, died Wednesday in New York after emergency surgery following a battle with a long illness. He was 50. One of the best-loved and most strikingly individualistic players in the New York music scene, Campbell’s outgoing, generous presence as a musician and bandmate is irreplaceable.

Like the other great drummers of his generation, he was involved in many projects, from rock to jazz. A disciple of Elvin Jones, Campbell propelled psychedelic rock band Love Camp 7’s labyrinthine songs with equal parts subtlety and exuberance, contributing harmony and occasional lead vocals as well. While Campbell was instrumental in shaping Love Camp 7’s knottily cerebral creations into more accessible, straight-ahead rock, he took Erica Smith and the 99 Cent Dreams in the opposite direction, from Americana-tinged jangle-rock to jazz complexity. He was also the drummer in upbeat, high-energy New York rockers the K’s.

Originally from Minnesota, Campbell attended the University of Chicago and came to New York in the 1980s, where he joined Love Camp 7 as a replacement and then remained in the band over twenty years, touring Europe and recording several albums. He also handled drum and harmony vocal duties on Erica Smith’s two most recent studio albums, Friend or Foe and Snowblind. He leaves behind a considerable amount of unreleased studio work with both bands.

As a player, Campbell had an encyclopedic knowledge of rhythms and grooves and a special love for Brazilian music. His occasional solos often took the shape of a narrative, imbued with wry humor and unexpected colors. A great raconteur, Campbell’s stream-of-consciousness, machine-gun wit was informed by a curiosity that knew no bounds, combined with an ironclad logic that never failed to find the incongruity in a situation. He reveled in small, clever displays of defiance against authority, yet approached his playing and singing with a perfectionist rigor.

He is survived by his family and the love of his life, the artist and photographer Annie Sommers.

May 20, 2010 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, New York City, obituary, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 36 Comments

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

Concert Review: Love Camp 7 at Parkside Lounge, NYC 6/2/07

The house was full by the time the band went on. There were a couple of tables full of yuppie puppies from Westchester or Connecticut, loud and oblivious as if they were on lunch break at middle school (even if that was ten years ago for them). It took Love Camp 7 about five minutes to clear them out of the room, opening up some space for the cool kids to sit. Love Camp 7 played interludes all night, an endless series of hooks, riffs and intricate guitar figures that rushed by, a whirlwind of beautiful, jangling, twanging, wailing melody. Their songs don’t follow any predictable pattern. Each is a winding back street through a casbah of the mind where every turn could be a dead end but always leads somewhere unexpected. Yet the songs are anything but random. Love Camp’s not-so-secret weapon, in full force tonight, is drummer Dave Campbell, one of the two or three finest in all of rock. He led his bandmates, redoubtable bassist Bruce Hathaway and frontman/guitarist Dann Baker (who also plays with Campbell in Erica Smith’s band the 99 Cent Dreams) through one tricky change after another, through minefields of weird time signatures and abrupt endings. In the end, everybody emerged exhausted but unscathed.

They opened with a couple of jangly numbers, the second being the tongue-in-cheek The Angry Driver with its wickedly catchy, recurrent chorus. They then followed with a few cuts from their forthcoming Beatles album. Each of these songs takes its title from a Beatles record. Like the Rutles or XTC on their Dukes of Stratosphear albums, Love Camp 7 expertly blends in licks and melodies that are either stolen directly from the Fab Four, or bear a very close resemblance. The result works as both homage and satire. While the song cycle begins with Meet the Beatles – which they played tonight, the closest thing to an actual period piece among the songs – the compositions bear a much closer resemblance to the most intricate, psychedelic stuff from the White Album or Abbey Road than any of the Beatles’ early hits.

Revolver began with the chorus, eventually broke down into an interlude and then reverted back. Magical Mystery Tour was set to an odd time signature, with a doublespeed break after the chorus and then a passage right out of I Am the Walrus. The Beatles’ Second Album was the closest thing to a narrative, a wry, invented reminiscence of the era when the record came out.

The rest of the set blended gorgeous, jangling psychedelia with strange, sometimes atonal stop-and-start numbers. Second guitarist Steve Antonakos used one of them to sneak in some completely over the top, Eddie Van Halen-style tapping which was very funny. They encored with the only song from their new, career-best album Sometimes Always Never that they played tonight, Naming Names. Campbell and Baker traded off vocals on this acerbic namecheck of some of the unexpected culprits who narced on their colleagues during the McCarthy hearings. From just this set, it seems as if Love Camp 7 has at least two killer albums worth of material ready for release: a very auspicious event.

June 5, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

CD Review: Love Camp 7 – Sometimes Always Never

Their great shining moment. There will assuredly be others, considering how good the unreleased material that they’ve been playing live has been, but this is Love Camp 7’s best album to date. It’s a triumph of soaring harmonies, catchy hooks and general fearlessness for these authentic 60s psychedelic throwbacks. Rich with catchy melodies, steeped in history, the album gets better with repeated listenings, in the spirit of great psychedelic, garage and art-rock bands from the Pretty Things, to Nektar, to the Kinks.

The album opens on an apt note, with some found footage from the studio.“I can’t really…can’t really hear myself at all. Am I even in the mix, man?” demands a mystified Dave Campbell (an Elvin Jones devotee and one of the two or three best rock drummers of this era). Then the band launches into the opening tune, Connecticut, a jangly, harmony-driven tribute to the 1999 NCAA champion Connecticut Huskies basketball team: “driving past the mighty Eldon Brand.” Connecticut was frontman/guitarist Dann Baker’s alma mater. “Did I ever think I’d look back fondly? No, not really,” he muses.

The next cut is about Baker’s cat Munoz: “The universe is magical!” he purrs. But then he gets lost in Chinatown, and there’s a forlorn wah-wah driven passage straight out of the Pretty Things’ SF Sorrow, into a short, squalling free jazz breakdown, back into the intoxicatingly catchy chorus. After that, there’s the brief Naming Names, punky with slide guitar, a rogues’ gallery of some of the friendly witnesses and those who sold out their colleagues before Joe McCarthy’s infamous House Un-American Activities Committee.

The following three cuts are a trilogy, a look back at corruption in the southern California irrigation system in the 1920s and 30s, and its disastrous results. The first part, Once Upon a Time Our Valley Was Green features an achingly beautiful hook coming out of the chorus. Love Camp 7 have so many hooks they use them judiciously: other bands would have started out the song with that descending progression and would have hit you with it with every chance they got, but these guys always leave you wanting more: until they clock you upside the head with another one just as good. The trilogy’s focal point, Telephone Girl, with its eerie circus motif mid-song, is a tribute to a brave telephone operator who took it upon herself to call people in the surrounding area after shoddily constructed dam broke and unleashed a landlocked tsunami of water. The cycle concludes with David Gaines, a tribute to a California conservationist and freedom fighter, cast as a retro English dancehall psychedelic number.

Many other good songs on the album. Little Mr. Elephant nicks the intro from Hell’s Bells by AC/DC brilliantly into a bouncy psych/pop number. The Queen of Whale Cay starts out as a bouncy, cheeky march a la something silly off of Village Green and then turns into a gorgeously sunny, jangly tour through one gorgeous permutation after another. The rest of the album chronicles people, most of them everyday Americans in their moment of glory, standing up for their rights. But first, the self-explanatory 39-second Nobody Knows As Much as Phil seems very much to be about legendary/exasperating knowitall jazz dj Phil Schaap. Harvey Weinberg is based on an imaginary character from a 60s camp film, a middleclass dad type trying to hang with the stoners and having a hard time cutting it: the faux-60s bluesy solo toward the end of the song is priceless. Barbara Lee salutes the California congresswoman who was the only person in Congress to vote against giving Bush war powers in the wake of 9/11: “Barbara Lee is having no trouble sleeping.” Jon Strange opens like Rain by the Beatles, a jangling 12-string guitar playing against a wall of distorted chords, with lyrics taken from the transcript of one Jon Strange asking some particularly pointed questions of Madeleine Albright at a town meeting-type event at Ohio State University. Strange’s simple, brutal honesty plays out against a beautifully triumphant, Beatlesque melody. The album closes with The Seeds, which sets some of the liner notes from legendary 60s garage/psych band the Seeds’ first album to a somewhat over-the-top musical treatment complete with long extended guitar jam. It’s hard to tell who’s playing what, Baker or the ubiquitous Steve Antonakos (who’s now apparently a full-fledged member of the band), but redoubtable bass player Bruce Hathaway holds the wheels to the rails.

Love Camp 7’s previous work has occasionally been taken to task for being overly nostalgic, or for having a Beach Boys fetish, and neither neurosis rears its ugly head here, at all. This cd makes a good present for someone who’s into quirky 60s revisionist bands like XTC or the Essex Green, and serves as a welcome antidote to the legions of freak-folk stoners who pretend to be 60s when they’re really just a change of clothes away from James Taylor. Great album. 5 bagels. With nova, Bermuda onion and ripe beefsteak tomato. Love Camp 7 choose their live dates judiciously: they typically play the Parkside on the occasional weekend. The album is available at select independent record stores, online and at shows.

May 11, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments