Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 8/20/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #528:

Memphis Minnie – I Ain’t No Bad Gal

The prototypical blues guitar goddess, Memphis Minnie’s career spanned from the delta into the Chicago era in the early 1950s. She could outplay most of the guys around her and never really got the credit she deserves. Like many blues artists of the time, she recorded for quick money, very frequently – she wrote hundreds, maybe thousands of songs. This 1998 reissue doesn’t have her signature tune When the Levee Breaks (famously covered by Led Zep), but it’s as good a representation as any. Most of the sides here date from the late 30s or early 40s. Some, like Can’t Afford to Lose My Man and You Need a Friend echo popular artists like Bessie Smith; others (Looking the World Over and Down by the Riverside) offer an update on old folk themes; but the best are her most defiant, rebellious ones like the title track, Remember Me Blues, You Got to Get Out of Here and I Am Sailing. It’s surprisingly absent from the usual sources for free music, but in lieu of this one you can check out the first volume in the “complete recorded works” collection via On Muddy Sava Riverbank.

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August 21, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Hazmat Modine’s Cicada: Rustic Oldtimey Psychedelia

Hazmat Modine are such an amazing live band that it’s almost impossible trying to imagine how they might be able to bottle that magic. Their new album Cicada is a good approximation. Live in concert, their rustic, blues-infused, minor-key jams can go on for ten or twenty minutes at a clip – here, they keep pretty much everything in the five-to-ten range, sometimes even less. While what they do definitely qualifies as psychedelic, otherwise they defy description: there is no other band in the world who sound remotely like them. They’re part delta blues shouters, part New Orleans brass band, part reggae, part klezmer, and all party. As you would expect from a psychedelic band, they put their surreal side front and center – it’s safe to say that nobody has more fun with sad minor keys than these guys. Not only is frontman/blues harpist/guitarist Wade Schuman a potently charismatic presence, he’s also a great wit, so it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of humor, both lyrical and musical, throughout this album.

The opening cut, Mocking Bird, is a bucolic blues, driven by the oldtimey bounce of Joe Daley’s tuba and the brass section of Reut Regev on trombone, Steve Elson on tenor sax and Pam Fleming on trumpet. They build it up to the point where the two guitars take over, Michael Gomez  jabbing and weaving while Pete Smith blasts out distorted rhythm. All the intricate interplay and call-and-response sets the tone for the rest of the album. Natalie Merchant’s airily sultry vocals contrast with the surrealism of the lyrics over a swaying, slink groove on Child of a Blindman, with lapsteel, layers of guitars and horns punching out the hook in tandem with some welcome guest stars, Benin’s high-energy Gangbe Brass Band. The brisk, bluesy Two Forty Seven shifts from an artful series of tradeoffs between instruments to a hypnotic outro where everybody seems to be soloing at once – yet it works, magically. The title track sets a sly spoken-word tribute to the high-volume insect over ecstatic Afro-funk, sort of like a more rustic, acoustic Steely Dan. They follow that with a surprisingly snarling version of Buddy, the innuendo-packed tale of a real backstabber, Schuman in rare form as sly bluesman. The crazed, searing Gomez guitar solo is pure adrenaline.

The instrumental vignette In Two Years has trumbone sailing wistfully over a gamelanesque loop; I’ve Been Lonely for So Long is Memphis soul taken back and forth in time with doo-wop vocals and a New Orleans feel, with the tuba instead of a bass, a blithe harmonica solo, and Elson picking up the pace later on. The Tide, a mini-epic, switches from slowly unwinding delta blues, to a shuffle, to an unexpected Afrobeat interlude with more tasty, growling guitar from Smith. Walking Stick, which may be the most risque song that Irving Berlin ever wrote, gives Schuman and Fleming a launching pad for some genuinely exhilarating solos. A live showstopper, So Glad is a reggae/blues hybrid with some irresistibly amusing blues harp. The album winds up with Cotonou Stomp, an all-too-brief showcase for Gangbe Brass Band, and Dead Crow, an utterly bizarre, hypnotic number that sounds like Love Camp 7 covering Crosby, Stills and Nash and features the Kronos Quartet. Yet another triumph for insurgent Brooklyn label Barbes Records. Count this one high on the list of the year’s most entertaining albums.

June 6, 2011 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews, soul music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Marianne Dissard Charms the Crowd at Barbes

Marianne Dissard’s latest Album Paris One Takes is deliciously intense, a noir cabaret-tinged mix of southwestern gothic and snarling post-new wave guitar rock. Thursday night at Barbes, backed by an inspired pickup band featuring an slinky, jazz-trained rhythm section as well as piano and accordion, she affirmed that she’s also a tremendously captivating performer, as slyly funny as she was intense. She’d just made friends with Birds Are Alive, a French blues band who happened to be in town, so she had their guitarist open for her, backed by the bassist and drummer who would accompany her later on. He was interesting to hear, enough to hold Dissard’s crowd for an hour while he turned up again, and again, and again, to the point where he no longer had any competition for loudest act to ever play Barbes’ little back room (that includes Slavic Soul Party and their blaring horns). He’s got an individual style, part hypnotic R.L. Burnside hill country rumble, part Stevie Ray Vaughan, with a little Billy Gibbons and Ali Farka Toure thrown in for surprise factor. The rhythm section shifted quickly along with him as he segued from Big Boss Man, to some more psychedelic one-chord vamps, to a Muddy Waters tune, a little electrified Robert Johnson and finally a rolling and tumbling original to wrap up an hour’s worth of roar and crackle from his overdriven, buzzing little Peavey amp.

Dissard is also on the New French Chanson: Eight for Matisse compilation just out from Barbes Records. She brought up a friend to join her on her contribution Les Draps Sourds (The Drunken Sheets), a duet that turned out to be amusingly seductive, by contrast with the frenetically passionate, hard-rocking studio version. She’d opened with a slinky, accordion-driven version of Sans-Façon, a sultry yet ominous contemplation of a summery “boy season,” everybody taking off their clothes at the water’s edge, her breathy vocals less world-weary than eagerly anticipating whatever suspense lay in store. Her accordionist switched to piano for a beautifully nuanced yet straight-ahead take of the bitter backbeat rock song Les Confettis. The wickedly catchy, new wave-infused La Peau du Lait (Porcelain Skin) turned out to be a slap at French radio, its characteristically clever, pun-laden French lyrics resonating with the big crowd of French fans who’d come out to see her. She also did a dramatic, flamenco-inflected 6/8 ballad along with a single song in English. Dissard is in New York doing some movie work (her new film L’Abandon premiered in Tucson, the place she’s most recently called home, earlier this month) – so she’ll no doubt have other shows like this one coming up in the near future.

October 23, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

Album of the Day 10/2/10

OK, we’re in catch-up mode today. More news and reviews coming in a few hours. In the meantime, every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #850:

Hot Tuna’s First Album

As Jefferson Airplane inched closer toward a Jefferson Starship sound, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady were obviously restless: Hot Tuna began simply as a side project where the band’s guitar/bass brain trust could explore the delta blues that Kaukonen loved so much. This is one of those accidental albums, an audience recording of a 1969 show at a San Francisco folk club that the band decided to release despite all the crowd noise – because it’s so casually brilliant. Kaukonen was a great rock player but here he shows that he was already a formidable blues guy, and Casady’s thick, intertwining melodic leads make a perfect match. Along with some occasional, innocuous harmonica, the duo wind their way through a mix of upbeat, adrenalizing stuff like Hesitation Blues, I Know You Rider and Rev. Gary Davis’ Death Don’t Have No Mercy along with a gorgeously laid-back version of Leroy Carr’s How Long Blues. But the highlight is the five-and-a-half-minute original instrumental Mann’s Fate, as much a showcase for Casady as Kaukonen, which over the years has become iconic in acoustic guitar circles. The rest of Hot Tuna’s albums from the 70s are mostly electric and while they have their moments, they never reach the ecstatic heights of this one. In the 80s and 90s, however, Kaukonen would rightfully gain recognition as one of the greatest blues players to pick up a guitar: pretty much everything he’s done since then is worth hearing. Here’s a random torrent.

October 3, 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

Top 10 Songs of the Week 7/12/10

OK, OK, we’re a day late. But who’s counting. This is just another way we try to spread the word about all the good music out there. As you’ll notice, every song that reaches the #1 spot on this list will also appear on our 100 Best Songs of 2010 list at the end of December. We try to mix it up, offer a little something for everyone: sad songs, funny songs, upbeat songs, quieter stuff, you name it. If you don’t like one of these, you can always go on to the next one. The only one here that doesn’t have a link to the track is #1 and that’s because it’s so new.

1. The Brooklyn What – Punk Rock Loneliness

About time Brooklyn’s most charismatic, intense, funny rockers returned to the top spot here. This one has a Dead Boys influence, with the two smoldering guitars and frontman Jamie Frey’s menacing lyric aimed at the gawkers who pass by what used to be CBGB. “You wanna be a dead boy?” Let’s get the Brooklyn What on Hipster Demolition Night!

2. Ernie Vega – Cocaine Blues

Not the one you’re thinking of – this one’s a lot more rustic and it’s hilarious, like something you’d hear on a Smithsonian recording from the 1920s.

3. Under Byen -Alt Er Tabt

A Danish version of the Creatures: catchy, atmospheric vocal overdubs, terse accordion and strings over a clattering Atrocity Exhibition rhythm.

4. Golden Triangle – Neon Noose

X as played by late 80s Jesus & Mary Chain – they’re at South St. Seaport on 7/16 at 6

5. Loose Limbs – Underdog

Lo-fi garage rock with soul/gospel vocals – if you like the Detroit Cobras you’ll like Loose Limbs. They’re at South St. Seaport on 7/23 at 6

6. Jeff Lang – Home to You

Wild insane steel guitar blues by the innovative Aussie guitarist.

7. Mike Rimbaud – Dirty Little Bomb

Classic new wave songwriting by a survivor from the very end of the era, still going strong twenty years later.

8. Costanza – Just Another Alien

The lyrics are the text from a US Immigration form. Eerie and apropos.

9. J-Ron – Weed Song

Texas faux “R&B.”

10. Amy Coleman – Goodbye New York

This is such a blast from the past, it’s kinda funny: the bastard child of DollHouse and Pet Benetar. Suddenly it’s 1979 again. Except it’s not.

July 13, 2010 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Lenny Molotov at Pete’s Candy Store, Brooklyn NY 4/17/09

Recently we tagged Will Scott’s Wednesday residency at 68 Jay St. Bar in Dumbo as the best weekly blues show in town, but there’s another player that blues fans should keep their eye on and that’s Lenny Molotov. While Scott is taking Mississippi hill country blues (think R.L. Burnside or T-Model Ford) to new and interesting places, Molotov is doing the same with delta blues and the kind of sophisticated, jazzy stuff Josh White or Charles Brown were doing in the 40s and early 50s. Friday night with his quartet he unveiled a whole slew of new material edging closer and closer toward jazz as so many virtuoso guitarists do once they’ve mastered blues as Molotov has. Playing acoustic and backed by JD Wood on standup bass, Jake Engel on chromatic harp and Ray Sapirstein on trumpet, Molotov’s virtuosic playing and imaginative melodies vividly evoked a raucous speakeasy milieu, with lyrics exploring eras from Prohibition to the here-and-now.

 

“Where’s my capo?” Molotov wondered aloud.

 

“It’s on your headstock,” an audience member reminded him.

 

“I like to use two. It never hurts to be too careful,” Molotov slyly explained as he and the band launched into a snazzy, updated version of Brother Can You Spare a Dime:

 

I used to work at Goldman Sachs

And drank the finest wine

Now I sit around smoking crack

Brother can you spare a dime?

 

Molotov is a boxing fan, and a couple of the newer, more polished numbers worked that territory. The most recent one, he said, was inspired by a Sonny Liston suggestion that the ideal boxing song would feature “soul guitar, harmonica and trumpet,” and this one snidely addressed mob corruption in the sweet science, trumpet and harp indulging in a playful call-and-response that built as it went along. The last number built to dixieland pandemonium with the harp and the trumpet going full-tilt. Molotov’s gotten plenty of ink here, because he’s good, and because his new material is so strong, you’ll no doubt be hearing more about him here in the future. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

April 20, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lenny Molotov Live at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 2/16/08

Lenny Molotov is the greatest guitar-god songwriter you’ve never heard of. Actually, you probably have: he plays lead guitar in Randi Russo’s band. But his own work is just as good. Richard Thompson is the obvious comparison: technically, Molotov is equally breathtaking, although long extended solo flights are not his thing. Perhaps even more than Thompson, Molotov seems to want to make every single note count for something, to make the music work perfectly in the context of the song. While Thompson’s fallback place is traditional British folk, Molotov draws most deeply from the murky well of oldtime delta blues, although he’s fluent in country and rock and, to at least some extent, jazz.

Tonight he reaffirmed why club owners like blues acts so much: for some reason, everybody drinks as long as the band is playing, if they’re not drinking already. Although Molotov and band didn’t hit the stage here til after one on the morning, they kept the crowd of Jersey tourists in the house throughout their long, almost two-hour set. Playing a mix of about 50/50 covers and originals, they impressed with the quality of their musicianship and Molotov’s clever, witty, lyrically-driven songs.

They opened with an eerie, minor-key blues chronicling the last few hours of a kid from the projects in Brooklyn who goes out to buy some weed, ends up being entrapped by an undercover cop, panics and shoots the cop and ends up killing himself in the wee hours after running out of options. One by one, Molotov enumerated the obstacles that tripped up the poor guy: “It’s too hard to be an outlaw anymore,” he lamented. Another equally chilling Molotov original, Faded Label Blues traced the decline of blues/jazz legend Hoagy Carmichael’s career. Molotov has a remarkable political awareness which made itself apparent in these two songs as well as a bouncy, uncharacteristically sunny, major-key tune titled the Devil’s Empire (as in “I saw the devil’s empire coming down”).

Their covers were just as good. Molotov’s version of St. James Infirmary Blues ostensibly stays true to the original, fast and driving. Backing Molotov were an upright bassist as well as violinist Karl Meyer and harmonica wizard Jake Engel. Meyer’s soaring, fluid country fiddle made an interesting contrast with Engel’s heavy artillery: the guy was channeling Big Walter Horton half the night, blowing eerie chromatics like he wanted to shatter the big plate glass window that serves as the front wall here. They finally wrapped it up at about 3 AM, the club owner still sitting on his perch at the sound board above the stage, carefully tweaking the sound throughout the show to make sure everything was crystal-clear. It’s hard to think of anybody else who cares so passionately about the sound in the room or who is as good at it as this guy is. We’re going to pay close attention to the Rockwood schedule from now on: if someone you like is playing here, don’t pass up the opportunity.

February 18, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

LJ Murphy and Myles Turney Live at Trash Bar, Brooklyn NY 1/23/08

I once dragged an acquaintance – I wouldn’t call him a friend – to see one of the great songwriters of our time. She was playing solo acoustic at a dingy little place, and even though the sound was lousy, she was great. I asked him afterward what he thought and he replied, “Yeah, one time I went to see a girl at a coffeehouse.” Obviously, he didn’t get it.

When producer Eric Ambel makes an album for someone, he doesn’t want to hear fancy, highly produced demos. All he wants to hear is voice and guitar. His reason is that if the song sounds good in its most basic, simple form, it’ll sound great once he builds something more complex around it. The reverse is true. And because of that, a lot of people shy away from acoustic shows, which is can be a mistake. The LJ Murphy fans who didn’t brave the cold tonight because, “oh, it’s just an acoustic show,” made a big mistake. The man wailed, as usual, even if it was just him and his guitar.

The best thing about acoustic shows is that you can hear all the lyrics. Murphy’s gruff baritone is a powerful instrument, but with the band roaring behind him it’s not always possible to make everything out, and with this guy, that’s what you want to do because that’s what he’s all about. Murphy has a vision: a dark, contrarian, stubbornly defiant vision. It’s often very funny, but it’s all about the here and now. There are other lyricists who will leave behind a chronicle of our time, should there be future generations, but it’s hard to think of anyone who paints a clearer, more concise picture than Murphy. Tonight, over an ominous E minor blues tune, he offered a look at the state of the nation from the point of view of an average working stiff:

Days of work and nights of fun
Shade your red eyes from the sun
Was it all a joke or were you mistaken
You stood pat while the world was shaken
Welcome to the golden age
Time to turn another page
Dreaming of the bells and towers
Pass the hat and send the flowers
When your life’s Geneva Conventional
From the hot bed to the confessional
Kiss the ground, dry your tears

See what’s come of your best years

Murphy wrote that a few years before 9/11, making it all the more prescient. Later he did a vividly surreal new number, Another Lesson I Never Learned, set to a deceptively simple, potently crescendoing post-Velvets melody:

The indiscretions of pillow talk
They don’t erase like limestone chalk
The broken wisdom was perfectly slurred
It wasn’t just your vision that blurred
Like the manuscript that refused to burn
Here’s another lesson I never learned

He also did the gorgeous, sad ballad Saturday’s Down, a requiem for the death of half the weekend (and for Williamsburg’s McCarren Park, soon to be surrounded by “luxury” towers made of plastic and sheetrock); the bouncy crowd-pleaser Midnight Espresso; the fiery blues Nowhere Now, and a newly reworked, 6/8 version of one of his most apt cautionary tales, Bovine Brothers:

The young girls and their brothers drink to victory in the bars
And a sermon blares out all night from the roof of a radio car
Now who’ll be left to be afraid when everyone’s so damn brave
Jump headlong into their graves, beware these bovine brothers

Since most clubs – this one included – usually don’t have a clue what the word “segue” means, most New York audiences reflexively get up and leave after the act they came to see leaves the stage. Which can be a big mistake (how do you think we discovered half the acts we’ve profiled here for the better part of a year?). Trash Bar is usually a rock venue, but tonight they were having acoustic performers. The sound was excellent as it always is here, but the following player had a hard act to follow in Murphy. And he absolutely kicked ass. Myles Turney played a passionate, virtuosic mix of acoustic delta blues along with a few choice Hank Williams covers, rearranged for slide and open tunings. Vocally, he’s not exactly overwhelming, but he’s a hell of a guitarist. Some players approach old Robert Johnson songs and the like tentatively, as if they’re in a museum, but Turney lit into them with absolute delight. All those old blues guys wrote those songs as dance tunes, and Turney completely understands that. Nobody left the room til he was done playing. As it turns out, he’s a guitar teacher: it’s not hard to imagine that his students have as much fun as he does.

January 24, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments