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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 9/27/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #855:

Florence Dore – Perfect City

These days she’s a Kent State professor, a Faulkner scholar and author of The Novel and the Obscene: Sexual Subjects in American Modernism (Stanford University Press, 2005) which makes the somewhat iconoclastic argument that early 20th century American writers’ embrace of forbidden subjects lagged behind the loosening of prudish obscenity laws. She was also the cool professor on the NYU campus in 2001 when she was playing clubs and released this, her only solo album (which she didn’t tell even her students about until late in the semester). Produced by Eric “Roscoe” Ambel and backed by a terrific, jangly Americana rock band featuring Chris Erikson on electric guitar, Scott Yoder on bass and the Smithereens’ Dennis Diken on drums, she runs through a tuneful, tersely literate mix of upbeat janglerockers and quieter, more country-tinged fare lit up by her honey-and-vinegar Nashville twang. There’s the unaffectedly gripping country ballad Early World (the most captivating song ever written about job-hunting in higher education); the raw, riff-rocking title track and the even rawer, early Who-style Framed; the absurdly catchy Americana pop of Everything I Dreamed; the sad, elegaic Wintertown (a sort of prayer for closure for the Kent State massacre); the brooding No Nashville and its vividly evocative dysfunctional family hell; and Christmas, arguably the finest, saddest and most satisfying December kiss-off song ever written. The original album has been out of print for years, although there are still used copies floating around, and amazon still has it as a download.

September 28, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chip Robinson Is Back Like He Never Left

Chip Robinson got his start in the early 90s in careening Raleigh alt-country rockers the Backsliders, but he has not been dormant since. His new solo album Mylow is a lot different, a lot more diverse and it’s excellent all the way through. It’s sort of the missing link between Steve Earle and Richard Buckner, a mix of bruising, overdriven, twangy rock and rueful ballads. Robinson has an ear for a catchy hook, a memorable riff and a striking lyrical image to go along with a wry sense of humor. The rueful title track is definitely the best song ever written about a rabbit (it was an ex-girlfriend’s pet: she got custody). “Keep your chin up,” he tells the missing rodent, “I’ll keep my chin up too.” Another regret-tinged ballad admits that “The day I fell in love with you, I pissed off my wife and my girlfriend too.” The doomed romance of Story unwinds with two diverging points of view: he remembers whisking her across the dancefloor; she remembers him getting so loaded he couldn’t remember a thing. And the bizarrely compelling album intro, spoken word over oscillating distorted guitar noise, tells the tale of a guy who went down into a hole for “three long years” – but the drugs, and everything else, couldn’t kill him. And then it morphs into a faux-heroic tv theme type melody.

The rest of the album is a lot more serious and intense. Especially its best cut, Bee Sting, its battered narrator alternately distracted and smitten, “All my bridges burned just ashes in the wind, try to find the short way home.” Robinson works those images for all they’re worth over a fiery river of guitars, like something the Replacements might have done if they hadn’t been so sloppy all the time. The most Richard Buckner-ish track here is Wings, an alienation anthem with some hypnotic accordion work. Closer to the Light is a pretty ballad with the tasty layers of acoustic and electric guitars that you find on most everything Eric “Roscoe” Ambel produces (he also frequently plays shows with Robinson at Lakeside Lounge). That track has some distant Beatles allusions, which come front and center on the big ballad A Prayer Please, right down to a juicy George Harrison-esque guitar solo. The goodbye anthem Start is metaphorically loaded and vividly bitter; there are also a couple of roaring, Stonesy rock anthems here to pick up the pace, along with Mylow Sleeps, a lullaby for the missing bunny. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into here, lyrically and musically: an ipod album for sure, and one of 2010’s best, a welcome return to the studio from a guy who never went away but might have fallen off a few people’s radar in the years after the Backsliders broke up. Watch this space for upcoming NYC shows.

August 31, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Kasey Anderson – Nowhere Nights

By turns bitter, brutal and gorgeously anthemic, Kasey Anderson’s latest cd is a defiantly restless, kick-ass heartland rock record. It rips the heart out of the myth of idyllic smalltown life. Over and over again, the characters here make it clear that ultimately they want one thing and one thing alone: to get out. The onetime big fish in a little pond in the title track explains it with a casual grace: there was no epiphany, no paradigm shift, he just got sick of spinning his wheels. The other players in these Russell Banks-style narratives don’t get off nearly so easily.

Kasey Anderson comes across as something of the missing link between Steve Earle and Joe Pug: he’s got Earle’s breathy drawl and knack for a catchy hook and Pug’s uncanny sense of metaphor. Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s production sets layers and layers of guitar tersely jangling, twanging and roaring beneath Anderson’s intense, impassioned vocals, occasionally fleshed out with keyboards or accordion. Drummer Julian MacDonough propels it along with some of the most hauntingly terse playing on a rock record in recent years. The opening track, Bellingham Blues sets the tone: “I kept walking down these streets, searching for someone I would never meet,” Anderson half-snarls, half-whispers, perfectly encapsulizing the frustration and also the fear that comes with knowing that you’ve been somewhere you never wanted to be for far too long.

The second cut sounds like a blend of Mellencamp and Everclear (Mellencamp on Everclear, maybe?), followed by the wry, cynical Sooner or Later, a road song that could be Springsteen but with better production values. Holed up in some seedy motel, “She lights roman candles while he bleeds out,” yet there’s a sad determinism at work here: no matter how much resolve she may pull together, sooner or later she’s going to be going back to him.

With simple guitar, cello and a slow, hypnotic rimshot beat, Home is a chilling if ultimately encouraging reminder to a once-promising friend to get out and stay out: “Where you hang your hat, that’s where you get caught,” Anderson reminds. The big blazing backbeat rocker Torn Apart offers the same advice to an ex-girlfriend in less than friendly terms:

You’ve been spitting out nails and knocking back whiskey
You’ve got a new tattoo that says you don’t miss me
That highwire act makes me so bored I choke
Everybody’s laughing at the joke…
Everybody wants to see you smile
Maybe you should shut your mouth for a little while
Get out before you get torn apart

Possibly the most vivid track here is the searing I Was a Photograph, which follows the wartime and post-discharge struggles of Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller, the “Marlboro Man” Iraq war veteran immortalized in the famous Luis Sinco photo.

The closest Anderson gets to optimism is on the final track, and the two halfhearted seduction ballads here. The narrator in The Leavin’ Kind ends up undone by his own decency, and he knows it:

The devil’s in the details
I ain’t so hard to find
Go on, disappear, Ill be standing right here
I’m not the leavin’ kind

“Some things you can bury, that don’t mean they’re dead,” he reminds in From Now On: “You always said you were a hopeless romantic, well here’s that hopeless romance you’ve been waiting for.”

The album closes with the death-obsessed, metaphor- and reverb-drenched, practically eight-minute epic Real Gone, Ambel’s offhandedly savage guitar pyrotechnics like high-beams throughout a long, unfulfilling, uneasy road trip that ends just as unresolved as it began. Hopefully there’ll be more coming soon. You’ll see this one high up on our 50 best albums of the year list in December. Kasey Anderson plays Lakeside on May 1 at around 10:30 on a killer bill with the Roscoe Trio and Chip Robinson.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Mary Lee’s Corvette at Lakeside, NYC 4/2/10

Good things happening in the Lakeside family: Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s old band the Del Lords are back together (and recording!), while his wife Mary Lee Kortes’ old if considerably more recent band Mary Lee’s Corvette are back together again as well. The ‘Vette may have been more of rotating cast of characters, but it seems to have hinged on the availability of fiery guitarist Andy York. To say that York’s re-emergence has re-energized the group is an understatement. And York can play anything which is a good thing because Kortes can write anything. Her songs run the length of the emotional spectrum, and a lot of them are very dark, but the band’s sheer joy playing together again translated viscerally from the stage. This was a bassless version of the band, Kortes on acoustic guitar and percussion plus Joe Ciofalo on accordion and Konrad Meissner of the Silos on drums, but the absence of low frequencies didn’t matter.

Kortes’ work is defined by intensity, and this was a set list for fans who enjoy that intensity the most. They opened with the rustic Americana of The Nothing Song (as in “all I want is to want nothing from you”), York’s surgically precise minor-key blues licks underlining the dismissive lyric. They took it up with the casual garage rock snarl of Out from Under It and then brought it down again with Love in Another Language, York’s wide open, wobbly tremolo enhancing the hypnotic, psychedelic ambience. The hits kept coming: “This is about someone who really pissed me off,” Kortes informed the audience as they launched into a ferocious version of another dismissive kiss-off anthem, The Needy.

Why Don’t You Leave Him, the haunting, allusive tale of an abused woman (off the band’s classic True Lovers of Adventure cd from around ten years ago) was quietly riveting. When they reached the last chorus, they took it down to just Meissner’s ominous tom-tom and Kortes voice as she reached the line “he said he’d kill me, and I believed him.” The big show-stopping ballad 1000 Promises Later, also from that album juxtaposed intricately crafted vocal nuance with anguished drama – it was the big hit of the night with the crowd. But the most fascinating moments were two new versions of Beulah Rowley songs (more about her here later – watch this space). The first was a swinging, bluesy min0r-key number with a slightly noir cabaret early-1940s feel: “I was born a happy girl in an unhappy world,” its protagonist announces, and then proceeds to layer on one level of meaning after another. A swing tune, Big Things mined the same territory of the Moonlighters‘ Big Times but more darkly – this is an escape anthem more than an optimistic one. We’re overdue for a Beulah Rowley revival.

“A true story,” Kortes told the crowd, when they reached the encore. “You can’t come up with a name like that.” While the song they played is actually a compassionate look at a girl who can’t come out as a lesbian to her family, by the time the band reached the outro, everybody was laughing and singing along: “What’s the status with Gladys?”

Mary Lee Kortes’ next show is a songwriter summit of sorts with the April Blossoms, a trio with her NYC colleagues Amanda Thorpe and Serena Jost at 7ish on April 21, also at Lakeside.

April 3, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Roscoe Trio at Lakeside, NYC 3/23/10

The big news is that Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s 80s band the Del Lords are back together, having just returned from a short Spanish tour, their first in practically twenty years. They were one of the best bands of the 80s – forget that silly synthesizer stuff, there were so many great guitar bands back then, it’s not funny – the Dream Syndicate, True West, the Long Ryders, the list goes on and on – and the Del Lords represented New York. So any Roscoe appearance at Lakeside these days could be a Del Lords show, considering that they’ve already done at least one unannounced gig there under a phony name. But it was not to be. “I saw an open date on the calendar. So I put my name on it,” said Ambel, and this time he brought his trio, Demolition String Band drummer Phil Cimino and Spanking Charlene bassist Alison Jones. It was like a casual night in the band’s rehearsal space – or a trip to the supermarket in a vintage Trans Am, laid back and comfortable in the bucket seat until you put the hammer down and then all of a sudden you’re burning rubber and your eyeballs are getting pushed way back into your brain.

Ambel had a couple of amps going at once, gleefully blending an eerie, watery chorus tone with distorted clang and roar. Since he’s a gearhead, any time he gets to experiment with textures is a treat for the crowd because that means he goes for the jugular. He’s a melody guy, but he’s just as good at evil noise and that was tonight’s special. It was obvious from the git-go, with a nasty little blaze of wailing bent notes on the stomping Song from the Walls, from his Loud and Lonesome album. Another snarling number from that uncharacteristically angry cd, Way Outside, blew the embers all over the place. A cover of Gillian Welch’s Look At Miss Ohio started out slow and soulful and then careened all the way into the outro from Hendrix’ Hey Joe, which the rhythm section had a ball with. They also did a plaintively jangly version of the Everly Brothers-ish Peter Holsapple tune Next to the Last Waltz, Dee Dee Ramone’s Chinese Rocks done Johnny Thunders Style (which gave Ambel a chance to relate his first encounter with Thunders, who’d been hogging the men’s room at the Mudd Club so he could shoot up), and a slinky, characteristically funny version of the Hank Williams Jr. sendup Monkey with a Gun. They wrapped up the show with a slow, surfy instrumental that Ambel suddenly attacked with a frenzy of tremolo-picking, only to gracefully bring it back around. And was that the Power Lounger Theme they closed with? That’s a blast from the past. Despite what the indie blogs will tell you, great lead guitar never went away – the great thing about living in New York is that you can see it for the price of a beer and a couple of bucks in the tip jar for the rhythm section.

March 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Spanking Charlene at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 7/18/09

To get a Saturday night gig at the Lakeside you have to be either very good or very popular. Spanking Charlene are both. Saturday night found the entertainingly punkish, Americana-inflected rockers at the top of their game. With Mo Goldner’s roaring, Billy Zoom-inflected guitar and frontwoman Charlene McPherson’s unleashed wail, they mixed a lot of new material in with songs from their excellent 2007 debut cd, which if we’d published a “top 50 albums of the year” list back then would have definitely been on it. The anti-cattiness diatribe I Hate Girls was a spot-on as usual, as was When I’m Skinny, a slap at media-driven obsession with thinness (McPherson isn’t rail-thin but she’s hardly fat). She insisted that a friend in the audience introduce the big crowd-pleaser Pussy Is Pussy, which he seemed especially happy to do.

The newer songs were just as good. The growling, glam-inflected Where Are the Freaks offered some snide commentary on how the question of how much you earn now passes for acceptable barroom banter in the East Village. An catchy, insistent X-ish number about gentrification pushing everyone further and further to the outer fringes of the five boroughs hit the spot as well. The highlight of the show was a stark contrast, a haunting, towering, Americana-inflected requiem. “This one’s gonna kill me,” McPherson told her bandmates, but it didn’t. Then they returned to the merriment with I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend, which as McPherson related was inspired by an attempt by a lesbian to pick her up. Lakeside head honcho and guitar genius Eric “Roscoe” Ambel, who produced their cd, joined them for their last three numbers, adding a tasty, extra layer of smoldering grit. Definitely a fun way to wrap up what had been a long Saturday running all over town.

July 21, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 12/3/08

The top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1. Wednesday’s is #601:

The Yayhoos – I Love You Baby

The most touching love song ever written…heh heh heh. It’s got a sweet little early 60s style pop melody and nicely swinging guitar from its author, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel from Steve Earle’s band. “I love you baby, just leave me the fuck alone.” From the Yayhoos’ 2002 cd Fear Not the Obvious. Ambel almost always plays this live when he does shows with his trio: check the Lakeside calendar.

December 3, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Roscoe Trio at Lakeside Lounge 6/15/07

A clinic in good guitar and good fun. Besides being Lakeside head honcho, producer of note, Steve Earle’s lead guitarist and member of the Yayhoos, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel sometimes finds the time to play in this self-described “party band.” With an open date on the Lakeside calendar, he’d apparently had enough of a break in his schedule to pull a show together. This was a pickup band of sorts, Phil Cimino on drums and Alison Jones on bass. It didn’t seem that anybody had the chance to rehearse much for this, but Jones is a quick study and Cimino can pretty much play anything. Tonight they played a lot of blues, but it wasn’t lame whiteboy blues, a bunch of aging fratboys hollering their way through Sweet Home Chicago and similar. “Craft” is a favorite word of Ambel’s, and tonight was a chance to watch an artisan pulling good stuff out of thin air and making it work every time.

Ambel is one of the most dynamic, interesting guitarists out there, a four-on-the-floor, purist rock guy at heart but equally adept at pretty much any Americana genre. In Steve Earle’s band the Dukes he plays a lot of wrenchingly beautiful stuff along with his usual twang; this band gives him the chance to parse his own back catalog and cut loose on some covers. Tonight he was in typically terse, soulful mode: he can solo like crazy when he wants to, which is hardly ever. This show was all about thoughtful, sometimes exploratory licks and fills with a few tantalizingly good moments of evil noise. With Ambel, melody is always front and center, but he’s a hell of a noise-rock player  – think Neil Young in a particularly pathological, electric moment – when the mood strikes him.

We arrived to find the band burning through Merle Haggard’s Workingman’s Blues. They then did a quietly captivating take on the old blues standard Ain’t Having No Fun, followed by J.J. Cale’s eerie The Sensitive Kind, which began with a long, darkly glimmering Ambel solo. A little later, they played an obscure Steve Earle tune, Usual Time of the Night, a cut from Ambel’s most recent solo album Knucklehead. It’s Earle’s attempt at writing a Jimmy Reed song, and tonight they did justice to the old bluesman, calmly wringing out every ounce of sly, late-night seductiveness.

They also played a really cool, slow surf instrumental; an amusingly upbeat, chromatically-fueled theme called How ‘Bout It (an expression, Ambel told the audience, that he used to death for a couple of years); the angry, blazing indie rock tune Song for the Walls (the opening track on Ambel’s Loud & Lonesome album); and closed the set with a rousing version of his classic song Garbagehead, written in about five minutes for a Lakeside New Year’s Eve show a few years ago. They wrapped it up with a completely over-the-top, heavy metal finale. Fucking A, fucking right. Fucking A, fucking A, Friday night, gimme five more beers and a snootfull of garbagehead. Who needs garbagehead when you can go out and see a show like this instead. For free. Even though it was past midnight by this point and therefore past Lakeside’s strict curfew (they’re trying to be good neighbors), the audience wasn’t about to let them go without an encore, so Ambel obliged them with the soul-inflected Hurting Thing, from the Yayhoos’ most recent album.

June 16, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments