Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

A Rare Reunion from New York’s Best Underground Swing Jazz Supergroup

The Tickled Pinks almost played Club Cumming. Ostensibly, liquor license issues derailed one of the few events that could have transcended any issue concerning tourist hordes in the East Village on a Saturday night. But the irrepressible underground swing jazz supergroup did get to play two iconic Brooklyn venues, Hank’s and Pete’s last month, in one of the funnest reunions of any New York band in recent years.

Among other harmony vocal acts, only John Zorn’s Mycale chorale have the kind of individualistic power and interplay that the Pinks showed off during what was a pretty good run. They made it as far as Joe’s Pub – and got the key to the city of Olympia, Washington on their most recent tour. Whether the key works or not is unknown.

It would be overly reductionistic to say that with her spectacular range, Karla Rose Moheno handles the highs, the more misty Stephanie Layton handles the mids and Kate Sland handles the lows – all three women can span the octaves enough to take their original inspiration, the Andrews Sisters, to the next level. Although that basic formula seemed to be the strategy for night one of a reunion weekend stand that began with an Elvis cover night at Hank’s.

The idea of three women harmonizing Elvis tunes is a typical Pinks move, although one they never did before. And they weren’t the only ones who sang. Guitarist Dylan Charles took a break in between elegant expanses of jazz chords, snazzy rockabilly and some machete tremolo-picking to narrate a tongue-in-cheek version of Are You Lonesome Tonight. There were also a handful of cameos from friends of the band invited up to do their versions of the hits.

Moheno switched out her trusty Telecaster for an acoustic guitar; Sland played snappy bass and Layton held down the groove behind the drumkit. John Rogers’ ornate electric piano and organ lit up several of the songs; trumpeter Mike Maher gave a mariachi flair to several numbers as well.

The set wasn’t just familiar favorites, either. As much as hearing what this crew could do with Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock and Suspicious Minds, the best song of the night was an obscure, ominous noir number, Black Star. On one hand, it’s hard to imagine that Elvis knew what kind of an end he’d come to when he sang this in the mid-60s…but this group’s stalking, low-key version left that question hanging. From this point of view, it would have been even more fun to be able to catch the whole set, but it was impossible to walk out of Moroccan saxophonist Yacine Boulares’ absolutely haunting Lincoln Center set earlier that night.

The Pinks wound up their weekend with a serpentine set of swing at Pete’s. Since they started in the late zeros, they’ve expanded their songbook far beyond 30s girl-group material to jump blues and beyond. Case in point: an absolutely accusatory version of Straighten Out and Fly Right. They went deep inside to find the bittersweetness in the Kinks’ Sunny Afternoon, then pulled out all the smoke and sultriness in Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby. And the old 20s hot swing standard Why Don’t You Do Right outdid both the Moonlighters and Rasputina’s versions in terms of both energy and righteous rage.

The Pinks are back on hiatus now while everybody in the group is busy with their own projects. Layton and Charles continue with their torch jazz band Eden Lane, with a gig on June 3 at 7 PM at Caffe Vivaldi, one of the Pinks’ old haunts. Sland continues to do unselfconsciously heroic work in hospice medicine in California. And Moheno continues with recording her next noir rock album, under the name Karla Rose – if the track listing remains as originally planned, that record would top the list of best albums of 2018 if she released it now.

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May 30, 2018 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/28/11

Slowly getting back on track, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album was #460:

The Million Dollar Quartet

As portrayed in the film Walk the Line, Elvis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis were all drinking buddies who’d frequently hang out and jam. This informal 1956 acoustic session was assuredly never intended for release, although it might have been an attempt to get some decent quality demos down, considering who was involved (some sources say that Cash wasn’t, since he doesn’t sing on it). Other uncredited Sun Records session guys may have been in on it as well. Obviously fueled by a little hooch and who knows what else, the low-key confidence of this band, whoever all of them were, is irresistible. Most of the songs clock in at less than a minute, among them Elvis’s Don’t Be Cruel and Reconsider Baby, Jerry Lee’s Rip It Up and a bunch of gospel numbers. While it’s a little incongruous to hear Jerry Lee Lewis on a Chuck Berry song, it just goes to show you never can tell who’s cross-pollinating with whom. Here’s a random torrent.

November 3, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Wanda Jackson Charms the Crowd at Central Park

About ten years ago, when Wanda Jackson played New York, she’d be at the Continental. It’s still there just north of St. Mark’s Place, now doing business as a tourist bar. Back then it was a punk club about the same size as Cake Shop. Last night the “queen of rockabilly” played Central Park Summerstage, something of a return to the big grange halls and stadiums that she and her boyfriend at the time, Elvis, used to play fifty-five years ago. That’s probably due to the fact that Jack White recently looked her up and gave her up-and-down career a new boost just as he did with Loretta Lynn. Jackson played some of those songs last night with her excellent, surprisingly hard-rocking Nashville band the Hi-Dollars and showed off a considerably lower but still animated version of the droll, quirky voice that made her a genuine star in the rockabilly and then the country world.

As a performer, Jackson is a humble, genuinely nice lady: it’s impossible not to like her. After one song had ended, still holding the mic, she looked over at her pianist. “That turnaround was awesome. Really lovely,” she told him. She’s in her seventies now, and as the show went on, it was clear that singing over the loud, sometimes almost punked-out band behind her was leaving her winded. So she told stories between songs, to catch her breath – and admitted to why she was doing it. She still has the ring Elvis gave her when the two started dating, and coyly told the crowd that her two children had squabbled over who was to inherit it. Jackson decided instead to will it to her firstborn grandchild, who “Can’t wait til I croak – I’m kidding, of course.”

And the two-guitar band rocked: their version of Chuck Berry’s Carol wasn’t as good as the Dead Boys, or the Brooklyn What, but it was pretty close. They made their way through a handful of Elvis songs including a surprisingly artful, nuanced version of Like a Baby, Jackson playing up the snide, sarcastic ending for all it was worth. She expressed some hesitation about playing country music at a New York show, but the crowd loved it. She pulled off several blue yodels and made it look easy, and if anybody was weirded out by her late 50s hit Fujiyama Mama – which openly references death in Japan via nuclear holocaust – they didn’t show it. Rhythm guitarist Heath Haynes (the same guy who devastated batters with his changeup during a stint as a promising righthander in the Montreal Expos system?) took over the leads on a biting version of Shakin’ All Over, as he did on a later number that sounded almost exactly like it.

There were other moments like that during the show. As the night wore on and Jackson wore down, so did the crowd, many of whom had already sat through the generic if energetic opening act, retro singer Imelda May and her band. When Jackson explained her religious reawakening in the mid-70s, the audience was less than enthusiastic – but within a minute she had pretty much everybody singing gospel. Finally, after almost an hour onstage, they launched into the cult favorite Let’s Have a Party and wrapped it up in a blaze of guitars. For the encores, Jackson invited May back to join her on a couple of numbers, including a brief reprise of that song. Most of the audience, a heartwarming mix of demographics, was still there.

July 28, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Album of the Day 5/7/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #633:

Webb Pierce – King of the Honky-Tonk: The Original Decca Masters 1952-59

Webb Pierce was the prototype for Elvis. He wore Nudie suits, always had great musicians in his band, pulled a lot of girls, was no stranger to intoxication and was one also one of the best country singers of his era. Why was Elvis more popular? Because he was tamer than this guy. Pierce lived hard, was a lot more versatile as a singer, with a high lonesome, wounded wail, and also wrote some of his own stuff. This album collects most if not all of his best and most popular stuff from the peak of his career. Pierce’s signature song is There Stands the Glass – “it’s my first one today.” His other hits range from heartbreak songs – Wondering and It’s Been So Long – to cheating songs – Broken Engagement and Back Street Affair – to more retro stuff like a killer cover of Jimmie Rodgers’ In the Jailhouse Now, his first big hit Slowly and the defiant Tupelo County Jail. Here’s a random torrent via Western Swing.

May 7, 2011 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elvis’ First Albums After the Army Get a New Look

The brand-new reissue of Elvis Is Back – a twofer with Presley’s subsequent 1960 album Something for Everybody, plus a whole slew of singles, some of them iconic, some mostly forgotten – is just out from Sony. The argument’s been made that Elvis Is Back was his best album, and that’s not true: he did his best work for Sun, and then in the 70s when he was on autopilot, but with an amazing band behind him ( and the ’68 comeback isn’t bad either). But this period piece – an essential collectors item for the Elvis cult – still oozes energy. Let’s not forget that only two years earlier, his career had been put on hold by racists who were terrified that the era’s best-loved pop culture figure was converting young white people to black music faster than any racist could stop him. So whatever his experiences were in the Army, there’s no doubt that Elvis was glad to be back – and the musicians behind him obviously agreed.

Interestingly, Elvis Is Back is mostly an album of ballads: that they stand up as well as they do fifty years later testifies to how much care and anticipation went into this. The shuffling David Lynchian vibe of Girl Next Door Went a-Walking is still irresistible, and the blues numbers, Reconsider Baby and It Feels So Right foreshadow what would sustain him so effectively throughout the ’68 special. Done with only bass and percussion, his cover of The Fever falls somewhere between the Peggy Lee hit and the Cramps. And Such a Night reminds how much more sophisticated a singer he’d become since he’d first recorded the old Drifters hit in 1954: it’s Elvis and band doing the Rat Pack, right down to the nonchalant exuberance of the drum outro.

That Elvis and the band could have recorded all but one of the dozen tracks on Something for Everybody in one night – or have been subjected to that by the label, considering his artistic status, never mind his value to them – is pretty remarkable. Then again, that was how albums were made in those days. Elvis sounds no worse for the marathon, and the band rises to the occasion as well. The real stunner here is the perfectly Orbisonesque noir pop ballad There’s Always Me, capped off by an unexpectedly explosive outro. Did a teenage Van Dyke Parks play along to the creepy music box piano of It’s a Sin? Did a young Roger McGuinn do the same with the proto folk-pop of Gently? Did the Searchers use the boisterous uptempo guitar blues of Put the Blame on Me as the prototype for an entire career? It would seem so.

To sweeten the pot, there are also a dozen singles included. In hindsight, Fame and Fortune (which Arthur Kent ripped off for Skeeter Davis’ The End of the World) stands out as a dismissal of celebrity that might be far less ironic than it seems. As a blueprint for Mark Sinnis’ Mistaken for Love, Are You Lonesome Tonight takes on a new intensity. And the completely over-the-top tango Surrender, with its James Bond ambience, is impossible to hear without smiling. The rest of the stuff either burned out long ago on oldies radio or never made it that far to begin with. All together, this trip back to a time before autotune is an awful lot of fun.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Mark Sinnis – Into an Unhidden Future

The debut solo album from ominous Ninth House singer/bassist Mark Sinnis is a remarkably stark, terse collection of mostly acoustic songs including a small handful he’s played with the band. Sinnis proves he’s one of this era’s great Americana song stylists: he can croon with anyone. Vocally, this is an unabashedly romantic album, even given the bitter intensity of many of the songs. Most of them are simply Sinnis’ acoustic guitar and vocals, sometimes sparsely embellished with simple, eerily reverberating electric guitar lines from Brunch of the Living Dead’s Sara Landeau as well as gospel-tinged piano by Ninth House keyboardist Matt Dundas, violin from Susan Mitchell and lapsteel by Lenny Molotov. This is a kinder, gentler Mark Sinnis, a worthy substitute for anyone who misses Nick Cave since he went off to do his hard rock thing with Grinderman.

Sinnis’ dark, rich baritone is a potent instrument, whether roaring over the tumult of Ninth House or delivering with considerably more subtlety as he does here. Johnny Cash is the obvious influence, but there are also tinges of Roy Orbison on the understatedly bitter That’s Why I Won’t Love You, and even Elvis Presley circa His Hand in Mine on the austere ballad The Choice I Found in Fate. Sinnis’ lyrics are crystalline and polished: he doesn’t waste words; his melodies are deceptively simple and run through your head when you least expect them. Some highlights from the nineteen (!) songs on the cd: the haunting Five Days, a bitter look at how the hours are wasted on dayjob drudgery; the Carl Perkins-inflected It Takes Me Home, a long, slow, death-obsessed ride; the rousing Passing Time, a warning to anyone not aware that they should seize the day while it lasts; the Nashville gothic The Room Filled Beyond Your Door, featuring some impressively countrystyle guitar from Ninth House lead player Anti Dave; and a stripped-down version of the anguished Ninth House classic, Put a Stake Right Through It featuring some truly scary playing by Molotov. The production is beautifully uncluttered, obviously influenced by Cash’s Rick Rubin albums. This cd works on so many levels: as singer-songwriter album, as sultry country crooner album (get this for your girlfriend, or someone you would like to be your girlfriend), as well as a fascinating look at an unexpected side of one of today’s finest songwriters. CDs are available in better records stores, online and at shows. Mark Sinnis plays the cd release show for this album at the Slipper Room on March 16 at 10 PM.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment