Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: Delta Dreambox at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 11/16/07

A killer show by New York’s best blues band. That’s right: blues band. Not a bunch of deaf, beerbellied baby boomers playing Clapton and Led Zep covers at earsplitting volume: this band plays like they stepped out of a whorehouse in a pre-code Mae West movie. Delta Dreambox is yet another one of Bliss Blood’s stunningly authentic old-timey bands, along with the irresistibly romantic Moonlighters, the irresistibly dark, haunting Nightcall and her swing jazz side project Cantonement (which seems to have gone on hiatus awhile ago). That’s a lot of work, but somehow she pulls it off. With an uncanny feel (and what seems to be an encyclopedic knowledge) of seemingly every retro style ever invented, she’s a goodwill ambassador from the late 20s come back to remind us what fun really is. Tonight she was in top form, her clear-as-a-churchbell voice soaring over the excellent band behind her. With the addition of a superb piano player doing some killer barrelhouse rolls and solos, they’re sexier than ever, maybe the reason why Blood was decked out in a red vintage outfit with matching boas that left just enough to the imagination.

Slide player Mark Deffenbaugh is their not-so-secret weapon. After Henry Bogdan left the Moonlighters for the Helmet reunion tour and then his adopted state of Hawaii, Blood has become a magnet for the best slide blues players on the planet, and this new guy is no exception. When it was time to cut loose, he ripped into the songs like a panther on a helpless bunny, firing off a flurry of notes but somehow managing not to waste anything. Like Bogdan, he likes the lower registers where it’s murkiest and most sinister. The band also has an excellent blues harpist, whose airy, upbeat playing reminded of Randy Weinstein’s work with Hazmat Modine. Together they ran through a bunch of mostly more obscure songs from the 1920s and 30s, including a couple of Bessie Smith numbers, a grim, haunting song about a guy rallying valiantly against tuberculosis but ultimately succumbing, and a rousing, guitar-driven Charley Patton song to close the set. To say that this band doesn’t play often enough isn’t really fair, because Blood is so busy with the Moonlighters (they’ll be off on European tour til mid-December). As tasty as the Moonlighters’ originals are, it would be nice to get to hear her dip deeper into this genre, considering how well she pulls it off. If you’re a big Janis or Melissa Etheridge fan, Delta Dreambox is probably too quaint, quiet and old-fashioned for you. On the other hand, if you are a purist, this band will make you sweat.

November 17, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Rev. Timmy James, DollHouse, Twin Turbine, Noxes Pond and the Sea Devils at the C-Note, NYC 10/26/01

[Editor’s note: this concert from our inherited archives dates from the brief period after 9/11 when New Yorkers demonstrated an amazing amount of solidarity. Ironic as it must seem, this town defiantly showed a great deal of joie de vivre while the pit downtown smoldered and burned. This is just one example.]

A gastronomic walking tour of what’s left of the old-school Jewish Lower East Side with a Massachusetts friend ended with takeout from Yonah Schimmel’s, where I ended up practically getting killed in traffic while trying to get back into his Jaguar while a traffic cop’s siren wailed behind us. I was sure we were going to get pulled over, and it was all my fault, but no. He dropped me off at the club and left with plenty of knishes and noshes for the ride home to Beacon Hill. Rev. Timmy James was on when I got there, playing open-tuned, acoustic blues with a slide. He’s a competent player, he doesn’t Pearl Jam the vocals and the Rev. thing seems to be neither religious nor sarcastic. A tip of the hat to Gary Davis, maybe. DollHouse, who haven’t played a live show in a long time, were introducing their new lead guitarist, who is vastly different from the two guys who preceded him: he’s totally 80s, alternating between fast funk/metal and more ambient licks that he played with an ebow. Not sure he’s right for this macabre, punk-inflected harmony-rock band. On their frontwoman/guitarist Lisa Lost’s big showstopper, Queen of Despair, he took an attractively minimal solo straight out of the Phil Manzanera book circa Avalon, which was by far the best thing he did all night. The band’s best song was a ridiculously catchy new one set to a ska beat, an uncharacteristically lighthearted, optimistic song called Smile driven by a deliciously melodic, pulsing Frankie Monroe bassline. The band also played Lisa Lost’s darkly entertaining Bride (as in bride of Frankenstein) along with Monroe’s scorching, minor-key punk-pop songs Conditioning and Night People.

“Heavy pop” power trio Twin Turbine weren’t the best segue, considering that this is a small club and they are very loud. But melodically it made sense: frontman/guitarist Dave Popeck is every bit as much a hookmeister as the previous band. “Husker Du,” a friend of mine hollered into my ear. I thought for a moment. “Social Distortion,” I hollered back. They don’t confine themselves strictly to major and minor chords but the hooks are relentless, as is the sonic assault: there isn’t much subtlety in this band. Their best song was a darkly careening number called Noreaster that resembled Guided by Voices at their most melodic.

Noxes Pond followed, and like the last time I saw them here, they packed the place. This isn’t a big club by any means, and it’s become a rocker hangout, in a lot of instances musicians basically playing to their peers, and the cognoscenti were here tonight to check out the newly resurrected incarnation of this popular LES noise/rock/funk unit. They’re much more melodic than they used to be, driven by catchy, jazz-inflected, tasteful guitar. And the rhythm section, with the guy from the Scholars on drums and the Supercilious bassist, has much more of a groove than they used to have. But it’s their frontwoman who steals the show, a petite powerhouse who dazzled with her spectacular range and potently soulful pipes. By the time the Sea Devils launched into the first of two long, exhausting sets, starting practically at the stroke of midnight, it was apparent that the person I’d been waiting patiently for wasn’t going to show up. But no matter. “Surf punk,” a well-known blogger told me, sarcastically. And he’s right, to an extent: energy and volume are important to this band. But so is authenticity: they have all the requisite vintage instruments and amps and get a completely 60s, reverb-drenched sound. They reminded tonight how vast their repertoire is, basically every good Ventures and Dick Dale song along with literally dozens of songs whose titles you wish they’d announce so you can go out looking for the originals. Their best song was the opener, the haunting Mr. Moto, followed by the Ventures classic Diamond Head and an obscure, gorgeously propulsive number called Tally Ho. And they kept the crowd in the house: after they’d finally wound up their second set, a clearly impressed audience member insisted that the band had just played the longest-ever set in the club’s history. Which wouldn’t be surprising: just under three hours of fiery, propulsive clang and twang. And I was there to hear all of it since I hadn’t had a drink til they’d taken the stage.

[postscript: Rev. Timmy James hasn’t played around New York in awhile: someone like him can pretty much take his act anywhere. DollHouse is defunct, and Twin Turbine has been on hiatus pretty much since 2006. Noxes Pond morphed into art-rockers System Noise, who were one of New York’s best bands for several years. The Sea Devils still appear live once in awhile with a reconfigured lineup.]

October 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Roulette Sisters at Barbes, Brooklyn NY 6/18/07

A deliriously fun, hot, sweaty show. It was late on a Monday night, but the place was packed. The crowd sang along, and when they weren’t singing, they were laughing at all the subtle and not-so-subtle double entendres the band was harmonizing on. Because (other than great musicianship and gorgeous 4-part harmonies and stone cold authentic acoustic blues playing), sex is what the Roulette Sisters are all about. Lou Pearlman couldn’t have come up with a better marketing concept: four attractive women singing innuendo-laden oldtime music – an impressively wide-ranging mix of blues, country and 1920s/30s pop – playing their own instruments, singing beautifully and writing a lot of their own material. They opened with Coney Island Washboard: guitarist Mamie Minch explained how it was an instrumental from the early 20s given lyrics by a popular pop group, the Mills Brothers, about ten years later. Lead guitarist Meg Reichardt (also of les Chauds Lapins) added a typically suggestive postscript, telling the audience about a co-worker who was walking around the office all day wearing something akin to the “brand new suit of easy breezes” in the song’s chorus. A little later they did another original, inspired by the Carter Family, that wouldn’t be out of place on the O Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack.

Minch had just asked her bandmates whether they should do a pretty song or a dirty song when she was suddenly interrupted. “Fuck!” She’d just gotten a jolt of electric current from her mic. Her bandmates grinned at each other, and the question was answered: they launched into the hokum blues classic Keep on Churnin’:

Keep on churning til the butter comes
Keep on pumping, let the butter flow
Wipe off the paddle and churn some more

The crowd roared for another in the same vein, so they obliged, with heir most popular original, Hottest Girl in Town. The song is a hoot: each band member takes a verse laden with Freudian imagery, some verging on X-rated, detailing how their boyfriends like to please them. Viola player Karen Waltuch, who played incisive, somewhat dark solos all night long, took her most intricate one of the evening after her verse and the crowd loved it.

Then was Reichardt’s turn to bring the house down with an outtake from Dolly Parton’s first album, a deliciously righteous tale of a jilted woman wanting to get even with the woman who married her man: “I feel like tying dynamite to her side of the car.” After that, Minch delivered an especially sly version of the Bessie Smith hit Sugar in My Bowl.

The excellent Al Duvall – who’s quite the master of thinly veiled dirty lyrics himself – accompanied them on banjo on their last four songs, ending with a brand-new composition about a sheet music plugger (plugger: get it?) which Minch sang off a lyric sheet. She began the song as a talking blues but by the end she’d written a vocal melody and had it down cold.

You heard it here first: this band is going places. Our predecessor e-zine picked their cd Nerve Medicine as best debut album of 2006. Good to see that prediction come true, with this fantastic band getting some real momentum.

June 19, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

CD Review: Lenny Molotov – Luminous Blues

The virtuoso guitarist steps up to the plate four times and hits three home runs on this tantalizingly brief ep. That’s a .750 batting average. Lenny Molotov, who fronts the impressively authentic delta blues outfit Elgin Movement and also plays lead in Randi Russo’s band, also happens to be a spectacularly good songwriter and lyricist as well as one of the best guitarists anywhere. An apt comparison would be Richard Thompson. Each draws deeply from traditional sources: in Thompson’s case, British folk; Molotov continues in the tradition of great bluesmen from Charley Patton to Robert Johnson, while adding contemporary lyrics. Like Thompson, Molotov is also a brilliant wordsmith, a master of symbolism, allusion and imagery: he doesn’t tell a story as much as show you a movie and let you figure out for yourself what’s going on.

The album opens with the innuendo-laden Ceiling Fan, a concert favorite that sounds something like a great lost track from Blonde on Blonde, except with much better guitar:

I could be Henry Miller and you could be Anais Nin
But you gotta let me know whether you want me out or in
I’m leaving now but you can gimme a call
When you’re ready to begin
Then we can both lay back and watch your ceiling fan spin

There’s a guitar break between the chorus and verse that sounds pretty much the same but a close listen reveals that it’s not: Molotov slowly changes it every go-round and by the time the song it’s over it’s become a macabre snake dance. It works perfectly, considering that this song is about cheating. After a routine popup, Molotov strides to batter’s box and hits another one into the upper deck with Love Train (not the O’Jays/Yayhoos hit). It riffs on pretty much every Manhattan subway line, a sardonic, open-tuned, fingerpicked blues about a relationship gone all the way out to Stillwell Avenue:

I cannot take the D train
Cause D it stands for dog
Cause that’s the animal I feel most like
When you were playing god
OOOh, stop this train…

It’s a classic New York song. The album concludes with the anthemic, crescendoing, vengeful Bottle Up and Go, which Molotov frequently uses to close his solo shows. Fans of current songwriters rooted in blues and Americana including Tom Waits, LJ Murphy and Rachelle Garniez – and the aforementioned Mr. Thompson – will love this stuff.

This is a hard album to find other than at shows. Four bagels, with whatever a bluesman would put on them. Which probably means hard salami and mustard – they both keep well. Molotov typically plays his own stuff on weekend nights at Sidewalk.

June 5, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments