Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Piñataland Release Their Best Album This August 26

Over the years, Brooklyn “historical orchestrette” Piñataland has staked out an elegantly manicured piece of turf as purveyors of an inimitable brand of historically aware, hyper-literate chamber pop. Their new album Hymns for the Dreadful Night – streaming in its entirety online – is their hardest-rocking effort to date, their least opaque and by far their best. Their previous one Songs for a Forgotten Future, Vol. 2 contemplated a Manhattan without humans, and the still-smoldering ghost town of Centralia, Pennsylvania, among other places. This one skips in a heartbeat from the American Revolution (a recurrent milieu) to various eras of New York, across the country and back again. The driving rhythm section of Ross Bonadonna on bass and Bill Gerstel on drums give the louder songs here a mighty majesty – there are plenty of warmly inviting string-driven pop bands out there, nobody who attacks those songs with as much verve as Piñataland. Violinist Deni Bonet is a one-woman orchestra, showing off sizzling Balkan, country and classical chops, frequently contrasting with Dave Wechsler’s pensive, rain-drenched piano and organ.

The title track, which opens the album, is exactly as advertised, a gospel prelude of sorts. From there they leap into Island of Godless Men, a bouncy fiddle-driven Irish rock tune a la Black 47 with a clever trick ending and then a delirious reel to finish it off. An American Man is like Mumford & Sons on steroids, a rousing homage to Thomas Paine delivered via a team of archeologists (or graverobbers?) gone out into the darkness to find his grave.

A violin-fueled anger drives The Death of Silas Deane, which commemorates the Continental Congress’ first ambassador to France, later brought down (and possibly murdered) in the wake of an embezzlement scandal of which he was quite possibly innocent (and was officially exonerated, forty years after his death). “Let my reputation crawl through the mud of this unforgiving land,” the onetime Revolutionary hero rails at the end. The real classic here is a country song, Oppie Struck a Match, which recasts the detonation of the first atom bomb as the creepy tale of a rainmaker in a small town fifty years previously. Gerald Menke’s dobro ripples blithely as singer Doug Stone recalls the dreadful moment where Robert Oppenheimer, the “master from the other side” gave the order: “Will he open a cage to a heavenly age or set the skies onfire?”

The rest of the album is more allusive. Robin Aigner, who lights up many of these songs with her harmonies, knocks one out of the park with her lead vocal on the lush countrypolitan shuffle Border Guard, and plays her cameos to the hilt against Menke’s big-sky pedal steel whine on Hiawatha, a surreal, theatrical cross-country radio dial epic. The most chilling song on the album, musically at least, is The Oldest Band in Town, a bitter, Balkan-flavored requiem set in a Lower Bowery of the mind. The album closes with the towering, bittersweet, death-fixated anthem Cemetery Mink. Pinataland play the album release for this one this Friday the 26th at Barbes at 11; another first-class tunesmith, Greta Gertler kicks things off at 10.

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August 24, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Just Another Random Awesome Night at Freddy’s

It wouldn’t be fair to let the week go by without mentioning how much fun the quadruple bill – yup, four bands – at Freddy’s was on Saturday night. The music started at around 8 and ended some time in the wee hours – it was that kind of night, with tunes to match. The Roulette Sisters were first. These four badass players – resonator guitarist Mamie Minch, electric guitarist Meg Reichardt, washboard player Megan Burleyson and violist Karen Waltuch – have a great new album out (recently reviewed here) and as usual, had come to conquer. Their unusually early hour onstage was a warmup of sorts for a gig later at some costume ball (Meg already had her lion tamer costume ready to go). As usual, the set was a trip to a speakeasy of the mind circa 1930. Meg sang the cheery swing tune I’ll Take the South and the Cowboy Boogie, a funny mashup of oldtime blues and hillbilly music. When she got to the line “that cat was raised on local weed,” the whole band couldn’t help smiling. Megan sang the charming flapper anthem Coney Island Washboard and a nonchalantly innuendo-packed version of Bessie Smith’s Sugar in My Bowl. The whole crew sang an Al Duvall song which attempts to answer the question that if you’re shagging in the woods and nobody sees it, did you really get laid? Other songs included Your Biscuits Are Tall Enough for Me as well as a thinly veiled ode to masturbation and a lament told from the point of view of a woman whose man’s performance has been wiped out by Jamaica ginger (a deadly patent medicine that was sort of the 1920s equivalent of Prozac).

The Larch were next. The back room at the new Freddy’s isn’t as conducive to electric sounds as the old downstairs room was, but they managed. Lots of new songs in their set, which makes sense since they’ve got a new album coming out this year. With Liza Garelik Roure’s swooping, fluid organ lines anchoring her husband Ian’s razorwire guitar solos, they sounded like Squeeze circa 1980, when they were still Kool for Kats and rocking hard. Some of the songs – particularly one that might have been called Midweek Nebula – had a psychedelic edge, including one in tricky 9/4 time.

There were two more acts. Multi-instrumentalist Dave Wechsler is best known for his work with historically-infused chamber-rock band Pinataland, but his own solo work – which he plays and records as Tyranny of Dave – is just as interesting, and historically-inspired. Playing solo on acoustic guitar, with electrifying backing vocals a couple of numbers by oldtimey siren Robin Aigner, he ran through a set of mostly new material. Right about here, the memory gets fuzzy: moderate tempos, warmly melodic tunes, thoughtful lyrics and the occasional bright harmony dominated his hour onstage. The Magpie were next. This group is Dave Benjoya’s latest adventure in world music and they’re as good as they are eclectic, which is a lot. With guitars, accordion, bass and percussion, they swayed and bounced through a bracing mix of latin, gypsy and klezmer tunes, a couple of apprehensively charming Belgian barroom musettes and an English folk song. By the time they wrapped up their set, it was after midnight, but a crowd of A-list Brooklyn musicians stuck around and took it all in. Just a random night in a good Brooklyn bar – not something you typically find where the blight of gentrification has completely taken over, but reason to stay optimistic about music in this town.

May 19, 2011 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Tyranny of Dave – Vacations

Truth in advertising: the cd cover depicts David Wechsler, co-founder/accordionist of Brooklyn “historical orchestrette” Pinataland seated at a backhoe in a graveyard. This is a good headphone album, all longing and restlessness and inventively melodic songwriting, perfect for a rainy night if you’ve chosen to spend it at home in lieu of stomping through the puddles in search of revelry. A lot of this album sounds like Hem, but with a male singer and plenty of gravitas. Fans of Matt Keating’s recent, Americana-inflected material will love this. The album begins dark and wistful with Travelin, a minimal yet catchy, midtempo fingerpicked bluegrass tune, guitar by Wechsler (who plays most of the instruments here, impressively). The next track, Churchill starts with a storm of shortwave radio squeals and whines into dark washes of strings and piano, its blithely swinging beat in sharp contrast with the narrator’s angst:

I’ve been having dreams of half- heard broadcasts
And fragments of your voice come to my ears

Call me when you finally get to Dunkirk
Tell me not to worry…
I’ll call you when I hit the beach at Normandy
And tell you not to worry

Roman Road follows, a doo-wop melody on piano with pretty strings and a full band behind Wechsler. There’s a big crescendo on the chorus and nice harmonies from Royal Pine frontwoman Robin Aigner, who lights up every song she touches: “I’ll meet you someday on the Roman Road.” The next track Just Because blends quietly reverberating electric guitar with organ and a deliciously fluid organ solo: it’s a gorgeously evocative nocturne. After that, What You Want to Hear, flavored with Bob Hoffnar’s sweetly soaring pedal steel, is sardonic with a quiet anger like something like Melomane would do:

So let’s invade a country, I hear that Portugal is nice this time of year…
And if we take the city we’ll have a cappucino there

Other standout tracks on the album include West Texas Cold Front, with more Hoffnar pedal steel, a gorgeous 6/8 country ballad that winds up on a predictably eerie note: “That West Texas cold front just blew me away.” Golden Age is a boisterous gypsy rock number that wouldn’t be out of place on a Firewater album, opening with Penny Penniston’s foghorn trumpet:

This is the golden age of obscurity where no one remembers your name…
This is the golden age of infirmity where everyone around you is lame

Hallelujah is a fast old timey country song solo on guitar til finally Wechsler picks up the accordion toward to the end, Aigner doing a ghostly angelic choir for a bit. The album ends on a surprisingly optimistic, ebullient note with We’ve Finally Come Home. The porch swing may be broken and the plaster cracked, but “the front porch is clean, the backyard is mowed” and there seems to be something hopeful glimmering at the end of this long tunnel. Excellent album, the best thing Wechsler’s done to date. Four bagels with whatever you manage to sneak through customs: linguica, a drizzle of Provencal oil, kippers maybe?

July 18, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment