Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Whispering Tree Rocks the Rockwood

Beautiful moment from last night: gentrifier girl wanders into the small room at Rockwood Music Hall. Perky and perfectly coiffed in an expensive mallstore way, like someone who was on the Disney Channel’s My Super Special Yuppie Puppie Prom Night around 2007. Meanwhile, onstage, the Whispering Tree’s Eleanor Kleiner raises her voice in a plaintive wail: “They left me here by the side of the road!” Gentrifier girl promptly scoots out the door and doesn’t come back. Any time a band can clear that element out of a New York club, that’s a victory. Meanwhile, the crowd who’d gathered for the four-piece band’s Friday night set was rapt: when they ended one song cold, mid-phrase, there was a stunned moment of silence before the whole band started grinning and then everybody belatedly burst into applause.

The Whispering Tree manage to be extremely accessible without compromising the intelligence of their music. To say that Kleiner sounds like an edgier version of Tift Merritt, or Shelby Lynne in a pensive, cosmopolitan moment, doesn’t do justice to the originality of her songwriting or her unaffected, disarmingly direct vocals. The band were amazing: they simply don’t waste notes, the guitarist hanging back tersely until it was time to deftly fade one early song up with hazy jangle and clang, or finally cutting loose with some slashing, smartly thought out blues on the evening’s final number. Likewise, the bassist chilled out in the pocket until he took a juicy, slipsliding solo on a radical reworking of Somewhere Over the Rainbow, reimagined as swinging, minor-key gypsy jazz. That Kleiner could wring genuine emotion out of “bluebirds can fly, why can’t I” was unexpected, and impressive to say the least.

But it was the originals that stood out the most. Kleiner played most of the set, including the eerie, apprehensive, minor-key Something Might Happen, on piano, with a brooding, gospel-infused style. The Trees, told from the point of view of one of them amidst the encroachment of city sprawl, took on a towering existential angst: like everyone else, trees long to be free, too. Likewise, they launched into Go Call the Captain, the title track from their most recent album (which received a rave review here last year), with a mighty thump – and yet, when it came to Kleiner going on the attack about how “false prophets, liars and thieves rule the world,” she didn’t go over the top. Instead, she let the lyrics speak for themselves (there’s more about the song on the band’s blog – mighty good stuff). They wound up the set with an unexpectedly fiery guitar-fueled rocker, No Love, a potently metaphorical, bitter anthem that wouldn’t be out of place on one of Penelope Houston’s albums from the 90s.

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July 16, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Whispering Tree Waits in the Shadows

Plaintive, moody and often downright haunting, the Whispering Tree’s new cd Go Call the Captain is a strong contender for best debut album of the year. Pianist/frontwoman Eleanor Kleiner’s wary, pensive, unadorned voice makes a potent vehicle for their gothic Americana songs. Many of them are in stately 6/8 time, spaciously and tersely arranged with keyboards, guitar and frequent orchestral flourishes. The title track starts out as a plaintive Applachian ballad but quickly grows to a towering art-rock anthem:

False prophets, liars and thieves rule the world…
Pull the veil down over our eyes
While we frantically follow behind
I’d rather be lost than led by the blind

And unlike a lot of the songs here, it ends on an upbeat note. “We can rule the world,” Kleiner asserts, if we overthrow these monsters. Claustrophobia pervades much of what’s here, both metaphorical and literal, on the fast, oldtimey swing shuffle So Many Things – which Kleiner would gladly toss out the window, to watch them smash on the street and destroy all the memories attached to them – and The Tallest, which laments being surrounded by “rooftops stretching as far as the eye can see.” The bitter ballad Las Vegas has Yoed Nir’s cello combining with Thad Debrock’s pedal steel and Elie Brangbour’s incisive guitar for a bracing, uneasy undercurrent, and maybe the most haunting honkytonk piano solo ever. “Those colored lights they hypnotize,” Kleiner warns.

The late-summer ominousness of Something Might Happen is visceral, crescendoing with a biting guitar solo. The angst reaches breaking point on Soon, the darkest and most intense track here, Kleiner going as high and distressed as she can, the band taking it down and then back up again with a searing, psychedelic interlude. There’s also a pensive, slow number spiced with Beth Meyers’ plaintive violin, a surprisingly jaunty mandolin tune and the apocalyptic closing track, Washed Ashore. Fans of the Handsome Family, Nick Cave, Liz Tormes and Mark Sinnis owe it to themselves to get to know the Whispering Tree.

August 4, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments