Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ward White’s Done with the Talking Cure Is Classic

Since the mid-zeros, Brooklyn songwriter Ward White has quietly and methodically been putting out brilliantly lyrical rock albums. An incisive lead guitarist and nimbly melodic bass player, he’s made some waves lately, touring with Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby and getting some long-overdue NPR exposure. His new album Done with the Talking Cure is brutally hilarious, and may be his best one yet. It’s definitely his most diverse: although it’s got his hardest-rocking songs – he’s never played better, handling all the guitars and the bass here – it’s also his most surreal and mysterious. Claudia Chopek’s string arrangements are pure genius: they’re lush yet completely unpredictable, a perfect fit with the songs’ devious twists and turns. And yet, this is White’s most direct album, most of the songs here clocking in at less than three minutes. White handles all the vocals as well, with lots of harmonies, airing out his Jeff Buckley-esque upper register. Behind him, Joe McGinty (with whom he made a terrific psychedelic pop album in 2009) plays keys, along with Chopek’s violin and viola, Julia Kent’s cello and Eddie Zwieback’s drums.

The understatedly uneasy title track kicks off with a fluid Taxman bass riff, its narrator eager to jump back into the fray since his “arms were Gregor Samsa’d to insect feelers overnight.” The first of several sweepingly orchestrated numbers, Change Your Clothes paints a surreal wee-hours scenario: its sarcasm barely held in check, it may be the most genteel song ever written about wanting to crawl out a window in the middle of the night. Radio Silence is an absolutely spot-on sendup of WASP uptightness set to a delicious backbeat pop tune: “It’s really not a compromise til everybody’s miserable/But zero’s not divisible,” White laments. “It’s a tragic disease, the kind that keeps you well and never sick.”

The strings sweep in again on We Can’t Go on Like This, a richly allusive, barely restrained exasperation anthem with Jimmy Webb touches. Then White brings back the backbeat with Accomplice, something akin to Luke Haines with a Connecticut accent, complete with a creepy circus bridge straight out of Black Box Recorder. White has been called a “musical John Cheever,” a comparison that strikes home in the cruelly sardonic, string-driven Be Like Me (as in “Disgusted with the way things are, embarrassed by how they were and frightened about how they’ll be”). He drops the allusions and goes straight for the jugular with the irresistibly funny/harsh Pretty/Ugly Town, a kiss-off to a trendy girl who will do anything to “succeed.” Then he brings them back in full force with 1964, an equally amusing anti-trendoid broadside disguised as a sweet bouncy pop song utilizing every vintage keyboard in the Joe McGinty museum.

Who’s Sorry Now perfectly captures a morose, drugged-out ambience, White’s voice drowning in watery Leslie speaker waves: “I always drink to forget, I wish I could forget to drink more often…got all this time to kill before I take my pill, and the medicine has all the fun.” The album closes with Family Dog, sort of the anti-Weezy as dog metaphors go, and The Matchbox Sign, pulsing along on a Wilson Pickett bassline anchoring another of those detail-packed mystery stories he writes so well. What else is there to say: the songs speak for themselves. Another masterpiece from a songwriter who will someday – if there is a someday – be pantheonic. You’ll see this high on our list of the best albums of the year when we finally get around to putting it up. Ward White plays the cd release show for this one on April 19 at Bowery Electric at about 9:30 on an excellent bill with Jim Allen’s country band starting the night at 7:30, followed by the Joe McGinty Seven at 8:30.

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April 15, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Patricia Vonne’s New Album Is Worth It and Then Some

Proof that sometimes good things happen to good songwriters. Here in most of the US, Patricia Vonne is ironically best known as an actress who’s made frequent appearances in her brother Roberto Rodriguez’s films. But in Europe and her native Texas, she’s a bonafide star. Her latest and fourth cd Worth It should help spread the word to those not already in the know. Her unaffectedly throaty wail soars intensely and passionately over rich, lushly interwoven layers of guitars that often evoke great Australian art-rockers the Church, but with a disquieting, often hallucinatory southwestern edge. This album is a showcase not only for Vonne’s voice but for Robert LaRoche’s terrifically anthemic, vibrant rhythm and lead guitar- he’s sort of a border-rock version of Keith Richards – along with Rick Del Castillo on guitars, Scott Garber on bass, Dony Wynn on drums and cameos from Rosie Flores, Joe Ely and songwriter Darin Murphy.

The title track opens the album, an edgy, swinging backbeat janglerock anthem that lends a sympathetic ear to the tormented visions of a homeless drug addict. It’s something akin to what the early Pretenders might have sounded like if Chrissie Hynde had grown up in Austin rather than Akron. The no-nonsense, blues-tinged Cut from the Same Cloth is a co-write with Flores, a similarly-minded, edgy Tejana. A gothic flamenco rock en Español shuffle, Fuente Vaqueros evokes the region in Grenada, Spain where Frederico Garcia Lorca famously first saw the light of day.

Vonne maintains the drama and suspense with Castle Walls, muting the flamenco intensity a little by turning  it over to the drums, and then to an incisively bluesy Joe Reyes guitar solo. A new spin on an old myth, El Marinero y La Sirena has Del Castillo’s pointillistic nylon-string guitar mingling hypnotically and eerily with Carl Thiel’s insistent piano. The big concert favorite Love Is a Bounty hitches a swaying country beat and lonesome, bucolic Murphy harmonica to biting, bluesy rock; La Lomita de Santa Cruz, just Vonne’s voice and LaRoche’s reverb-drenched guitar, is a bitter tale of drought and doom.

There’s also a couple of big, terse, tension-driven janglerock anthems along with Cowskulls and Ghosttowns, a blazing Georgia Satellites-style musclecar rocker gone goth, and the wry, cynically amusing backbeat rock anthem Gin and Platonic with her old New York band featuring Kirk Brewster on lead guitar, Scott Yoder on bass and Eddie Zweiback on drums. Yet another great album by one of this era’s finest and most original songwriters in Americana and rock en Español.

August 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

An Embarrassment of Riches

Small Beast was a mobscene the week before last. You could hardly move. Who knows just how large this Beast will grow, or what its lifespan might be. Whatever the case, Botanica frontman/pianist Paul Wallfisch’s weekly Thursday residency upstairs at the Delancey is an event with posterity stamped all over it – someday a lot of people who never heard of the Beast until it was over will claim to have been here every week. This past week’s was something of a respite from the crowd, impresario/showman/alchemist Wallfisch solo on the piano as usual to open the night. As usual, it felt like forbidden fruit, a peek inside the next (obviously awesome) Botanica album, this time around gypsyish and intense as usual but with restraint, something akin to a subtler, more overtly literate Gogol Bordello if you can imagine that. He’d played a whole set of Paul Bowles songs a weekly previously at the Gershwin Hotel and reprised a couple of unsurprisingly doomed, poetic numbers from that show along with a savage, sarcastic version of the WWII bordello chronicle Shira and Sofia and an even angrier take on the big, impatient Botanica gypsy-dance show-closer How. Then cellist and self-described provocateur Peter Lewy took the stage and was excellent, opening with a darkly Romantic original instrumental, then joined by Wallfisch. It would have been nice to be able to stick around for the rest of his set, as well as for an all-too-infrequent set by once-and-future Scholars frontman Whiting Tennis, and to see what Barbez’ Dan Kaufman might be up to these days, but it was time to head over to Bowery Electric for McGinty & White’s cd release show.

Which as one of the cognoscenti in the packed house said, was like being at an ELO concert. With a string quartet led by the formidable Claudia Chopek, Mike Fornatale playing gorgeously terse, watery lead guitar through a vintage 70s Ibanez analog chorus pedal, former Psychedelic Fur McGinty’s battalion of keyboard effects, a potent yet subtle rhythm section of Jeremy Chatzky booming on the bass and Eddie Zweiback on drums and White on acoustic guitar, it was a feast of textures and tunes. Their new cd, recently reviewed here is an updage on the classic 60s psychedelic pop sound best exemplified by Jimmy Webb and Burt Bacharach; live, it rocks harder, the songs’ innumerable clever touches jumping out at the least expected moments with both a nod to and a smirk at the original stuff.

On the album, White’s kiss-off ballad Rewrite is savagely lyrical but this time out the music was equally intense, driven by Fornatale’s ruthless jangle and clang. So Tired matched Badfinger catchiness to ELO epic grandeur, White toying with the vocal melody at the end, only enhancing the lyric’s bled-white exasperation. “You can only follow the obligatory power ballad with the obligatory bubblegum song,” McGinty told the crowd, and suddenly his tongue-in-cheek Get a Guy made perfect sense – not only is it a dig at the girl in question, it’s also a dig at a whole style of music.

Predictably, the best song of the night was a lushly and powerfully vengeful version of another Ward White kiss-off ballad, Knees. After a piano-and-voice version of Wichita Lineman – “A song which is beautiful and disturbing at the same time as the best ones are,” as White said, they wrapped up the night with a song each from White’s and McGinty’s individual projects. Pulling Out, the title track from White’s most recent and best album had a beautiful, barely restrained viciousness,  the lyric “someone somewhere has to go” followed by a big, haphazard cymbal crash. The darkly Beatlesque Three Days Old, from McGinty’s old chamber-pop band Baby Steps positively smouldered, bursting into flame when the strings kicked in on the second chorus. Majestic, epic grandeur – when’s the last time you experienced that at a rock show?

By the time the band was over, free vodka night was over – a good thing, actually – and it was back to the Delancey where the New Collisions, Lucid Culture’s favorite Boston band were wrapping up a characteristically fiery, fun set. There is absolutely nothing contrived about this band – while they’re a dead ringer for an early 80s new wave group, with echoes of X Ray Spex, Missing Persons and Blondie, their lyrics are vastly smarter, considerably darker and frontwoman Sarah Guild – sporting a sharp new summer haircut that makes the blonde siren look wirier and more intense than ever – stalked across the stage with an uncanny edginess. Watching them do a couple of new songs – the haunting American Dream and one with a bouncy Friday on My Mind style guitar hook – as well as a blazing, soaring version of No Free Ride – was the perfect way to end what might have been the best night of live music anywhere in New York this year. Lucky Bostonians can see the New Collisions at TT Bear’s on the 29th for their ep release show.

May 23, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment