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Album of the Day 6/14/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #595:

Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams – Snowblind

Erica Smith is the finest singer to come out of New York during the decade of the zeros, capable of extraordinary nuance as well as also extraordinary power (check out her Memphis soul wail on the red-hot shuffle Feel You Go). This 2008 album showcases the diversity of her songwriting: the irresistible 60s style psychedelic pop of Firefly; the lush janglerock of Easy Now and Amanda Carolyn; the bucolic Pink Floyd-esque art-rock of In Late July; the chilling Nashville gothic of Nashville, Tennessee and The World Is Full of Pretty Girls as well as sultry bossa nova and hypnotic Velvets pop tunes. There are also two ferocious covers: Judy Henske’s Snowblind, done as early 70s style metal, and Blow This Nightclub’s Where and When, amped up like early new wave. Guitarist Dann Baker and drummer Dave Campbell (both of Love Camp 7) add rich layers of jangle and clang along with a devious jazz edge. Campbell’s unexpected death in 2010 brought an end to the 99 Cent Dreams; Smith continues to perform and record as a solo artist and with her husband, powerpopmeister John Sharples and his band. This one hasn’t made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available at Smith’s site.

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June 14, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Toneballs at Freddy’s, Brooklyn NY 2/27/10

Friday night we caught the new jacks: last night was the old warriors. The Toneballs were sans drummer, but it didn’t matter to the trio of Dan Sallitt, Dann Baker and Paul McKenzie. Lead guitarist McKenzie is the best Richard Thompson style guitarist other than Thompson himself, firing off furious leaps of an octave or more, atmospheric washes with the tone control, anguished staccato and supersonic blues runs tinted with bitter amber and onyx. If the eunuchs at the indie blogs had their way, lead guitar would be a lost art: McKenzie is defiant proof of its eternal vitality and appeal. Back in the 80s, Sallitt led legendary/obscure post-new wave LA noir outfit Blow This Nightclub – who (mostly) reunited here back in 2007 – so it made sense to catch his new group here as well. Baker plays bass like the jangly, psychedelic lead guitar monster he is in his own band Love Camp 7, as well as Erica Smith’s 99 Cent Dreams, swooping up the scale and adding the occasional tone-control wash of sound just as McKenzie would do. They opened with an epic, Where and When, stalking along ominously without any need for a drummer, right through the first of McKenzie’s tsunami solos. The understatedly snarling, sarcastic, Big Star-inflected Mr. Insensitive riffed off a Mexican vacation theme that Sallitt has used before to powerful effect. The band pride themselves on doing a new Richard Thompson cover every time out: this time it was a spikily bouncing version of She Twists the Knife Again.

Sallitt and Baker have been working up new material: one of them an Arthur Lee-inflected ballad set in a vivid LA milieu:

The imaginary girlfriend’s role was written just for you
I can see you riding shotgun as the sun goes down on Gower Avenue…
Watch over those unhappy times for me

Another worked a dreamy, acoustic Atomheart Mother-era Pink Floyd vibe.The best song of the night was Max Planck’s Time, but far from being, say, a Max Reger prelude and fugue, it turned out to be a ferocious Middle Eastern art-rock anthem making savage use of the hijaz scale, McKenzie springboarding off it for his most pyrotechnic display of the night when Sallitt wasn’t making sardonic astrophysical puns. Their last number painted a furtively scurrying Hawaiian getaway tableau – no disrespect to Hawaii, Baker deadpanned. The crowd, heavily sprinkled with talent as good as what was onstage, kept silent: when you get songwriting and musicianship this effortlessly spectacular, you want to enjoy it.

Afterward, another old favorite, Susquehanna Industrial Tool & Die Co. were playing Hank’s. A leisurely stroll down Atlantic Ave. found the bar absolutely packed and SitNDie as fun as ever and doing the Bedbug Boogie, part satire, part homage to the early 50s hillbilly songwriting they replicate so well and have such a good time making fun of.

February 28, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 1/23/10

Til the next post, as we do every day the best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s song was #191:

The Electric Light Orchestra – Whisper in the Night

Roy Wood’s greatest moment in the band is this towering, haunting anthem, a rustic mix of plaintive acoustic guitar and a million cello and other string overdubs. Also from No Answer, 1972.

Wednesday’s was #190

Elvis Costello – Red Shoes

Trivia question – in 1977, on My Aim Is True, Costello was backed by what future million-selling, cringeworthy 80s hitmakers? Answer: Huey Lewis & the News! To the King’s infinite credit, he gets them to do a credible Byrds imitation here.

Thursday’s was #189:

Erica Smith – Jesus’ Clown

Sean Dolan’s lyric is a clever fly-on-the-wall take on the Stations of the Cross from a nonbeliever’s perspective. Behind Smith’s understatedly haunting vocals, Love Camp 7 guitarist Dann Baker adds a forest of searing overdubs that do Neil Young one better. Unreleased but ostensibly due to see the light of day sometime early in this decade.

Friday’s was #188:

The Sex Pistols – Did You No Wrong

Musically, with all those searing layers of Steve Jones guitar, it’s arguably the Pistols’ most interesting song, an outtake from Never Mind the Bollocks first issued on Flogging a Dead Horse in 1978. Which begs the question, why was it left off Never Mind the Bollocks? Maybe because it’s a Glenn Matlock tune?

And today’s is:

187. Angelo Badalamenti – Moving Through Time

The haunting centerpiece of the 1992 Twin Peaks Fire Walk with Me film soundtrack, Bill Mays’ macabre piano cascading around an eerie two-chord chromatic vamp.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Literature, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Love Camp 7 – Union Garage

A strong follow-up to Love Camp 7’s classic 2007 cd Sometimes Always Never, this is aguably their most melodic and straightforward album – a direction from which the band once seemed completely alienated. That was a long time ago. Here the rhythms are as close to four on the floor as Dave Campbell – the closest thing to Elvin Jones that rock has ever seen – has ever done in this unit (he also lends his tropical, soulful beats to Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams). Bassist Bruce Hathaway (also a noted contemporary classical and film composer) is his typical tuneful, melodic self, and it looks as if Steve Antonakos AKA Homeboy Steve, lead guitarist in a million other excellent projects has become a full-fledged member of the band. Frontman/guitarist Dann Baker (also of Erica Smith’s band) plays with characteristic wit and incisiveness, alternating between innumerable tasty shades of jangle and clang. Most of the songs here – including a mini-suite with a Civil War theme – are imbued with historical references in the same vein as the band’s previous cd.

The album opens with a 20-year old song, the Killers, slightly off-kilter film noir-inspired janglerock wherein the victim forgives his murderers since they’re just doing a day’s work.  Crazy Bet Van Law kicks off  the Civil War section, the tongue-in-cheek tale of an unlikely Union spy, its bridge morphing into a tidy little march. Crazy Bet’s funeral scene is the pretty, sad, harmony-driven Nobody Here but Us African-Americans – it seems she only wanted ex-slaves and servants there. Letting the Brass Band Speak For You is Beatlesque with a slightly Penny Lane feel, a snidely metaphorical slap at conformity and its consequences.

No Negro Shall Smoke is serpentine in the vein of the band’s earlier work, an actual segregationist proclamation from Richmond, Virginia set to herky-jerky, XTC-ish inflections.  The way the band just jumps on the word “smoke” and repeats it over and over again rivals the “stone, stone, stone” on Pigs by Pink Floyd. The version of the slightly Arthur Lee-ish Start from Nothing that Baker and Campbell recorded on Erica Smith’s most recent album beats the one here. Arguably the best song here is (Beware of the) Angry Driver (Yeah), a spot-on, deliciously jangly chronicle of road rage, one sadistic city bus driver after another careening through the narrow Brooklyn streets in Williamsburg and Greepoint.

Another highlight is Johnny’s Got a Little Bag of Tricks, a frankly hilarious send-up of masturbatory guitarists everywhere: “He plays a hundred notes where one would do/And if it fits the song that’s ok too.”

Antonakos, who can satirize pretty much anything, gets a couple of bars to show off the kind of chops he never shows off anywhere else (well, maybe in Van Hayride). Bobbing and weaving, Lady Ottoline Morrell is a vividly clanging tribute to a Bloomsbury-era patron of the arts. You’ll see this cd on our Best Albums of 2009 list in December. Love Camp 7 play Southpaw on May 20 at around 8:30.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Beefstock Recipes

Every few years, somebody tries to put out an anthology that captures a time and place in New York rock history. Too bad it never seems to work. The two Live at CBGB albums (which now sell for hundreds of dollars apiece) were perfect examples, forgettable songs by forgotten bands whose only claim to fame was playing a club that pretty much everybody else was playing too. While a definitive anthology of the best current New York bands would require a hefty, unwieldy box set, we finally have a collection, the improbably titled Beefstock Recipes, which succeeds brilliantly at capturing some of the most original and exciting New York bands of the here-and-now. All the artists represented on the cd have played the annual upstate Beefstock music festival at one time or another, many on multiple occasions. Originally conceived as a one-off memorial concert for bassist Darren Bohan, who was murdered when the Twin Towers were detonated on 9/11, the first show (put together by Brooklyn jam band Plastic Beef, hence the name), was so successful that they did another one the next year, and the next, and…voila. Beefstock Nine is scheduled for sometime in early spring 2010.

 

In the Beefstock tradition, the album is divided into two cds, titled Afternoon and Evening – typically, the quieter, acoustic acts and singer-songwriters play the festival during daylight hours, followed by the rock bands at night. It opens on an auspicious note with Brooklyn Is (So Big), Americana songwriter Rebecca Turner’s lilting tribute to the borough that spawned most of the bands here: “Brooklyn is so big, because it has to hold a lot of beautiful songs.” There’s a rare version of the Erica Smith classic The World Is Full of Pretty Girls with the chanteuse backed by Plastic Beef, doing it as straight-up country by comparison to the lush American Beauty-style take on her Snowblind album. Spindale contribute a catchy, fun dreampop number, followed by a rare, bizarre eco-anthem set to the tune of an old Lutheran hymn by 60s cult artist Brute Force.

 

Kirsten Williams, a rare American songwriter who’s equally capable of writing and singing in French, contributes the vividly wary, characteristically terse Arsenal. The most current of the cuts here, Paranoid Larry’s Stimulate THIS is an amusingly spot-on interpretation of Obama’s stimulus package: “They’re sitting in their castles while we’re rotting in debtors’ prison.” There’s also You-Shaped Hole in the Universe, Livia Hoffman’s haunting tribute to Bohan, her bandmate and close friend, and the aptly environmentalist Sunset by solar-powered band Solar Punch, winding up the first cd with some richly melodic work by bassist Andy Mattina.

 

But it’s disc two where things really heat up. The John Sharples Band’s ecstatic anthem Brooklyn sets it up for the Gun Club/Cramps-style noir garage intensity of Tom Warnick & World’s Fair’s Skull and Crossbones. Black Death’s Abandoned Cemetery is a rousing death-metal spoof; Liza & the WonderWheels’ Where’s My Robot Maid continues in a similar tongue-in-cheek vein, frontwoman Liza Garelik wondering in lush, rich tones about when her household deus ex machina is going to arrive. Skelter’s Dawn Marie is one of the most deliciously vengeful kiss-off anthems ever written, a mighty smack upside the memory of a treacherous girl who sprinkles her Apple Jacks with cocaine (?!?!?) and screws around. Road to Hell is a characteristically metaphorical, amusing number from jangerock siren Paula Carino, followed by Cell Phone or Schizo, a song that needed to be written and it’s a good thing that it’s new wave revivalists the Larch who’re responsible. The best cut on the entire album is the sadly defunct Secrets‘ obscure classic How to Be Good, a gorgeous, darkly downcast, jangly anthem set in a shadowy milieu that could only be New York. There’s also a smoldering powerpop gem by the Actual Facts and Love Camp 7’s Start from Nothing (a song covered better by its writer, playing on Erica Smith’s Snowblind). 

 

Both cds tail off about three-quarters of the way through, but Evening ends on an inspiring note with the “Tom Tom Warnick Club” i.e. a Tom Warnick & World’s Fair tribute band with vocal cameos from Paula Carino and others here doing a rousing take on one of his more straightforward songs, the soul-fueled My Troubles All Fall Apart. The official cd release show is June 13 at Freddy’s featuring Plastic Beef along with Warnick, Sharples, Liza Garelik and Ian Roure of the WonderWheels and the Larch and Baby Daddy. In the meantime, information on how to obtain one of these beautiful rarities can be found here.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 11/14/08

Counting down the top 666 songs of alltime one day at a time all the way to #1. today’s is #620:

 Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams – See You in the Morning

About as obscure as a song can possibly be. It doesn’t appear that the panstylistic New York rock goddess has ever played the song live, and the only versions extant are unreleased studio outtakes which, predictably, are nowhere to be found online. It’s a terrifyingly sad 6/8 narrative with an early 60s noir pop feel, told from the point of a little girl who’s just lost her mother. Simply one of the most scary, beautiful songs ever written, perhaps explaining why it hasn’t seen general circulation.

November 14, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 10/26/08

Every day we add a new song to the alltime top 666 (at the top of the page, to your right), counting them down all the way to #1. Today’s song is #639:

The Strawberry Alarm Clock – Incense, Peppermints

A strange and beautiful coincidence of terseness and over-the-top 60s excess by these veteran LA jazzcats trying to cash in on psychedelic rock like just about everybody else was doing in 1967. “Who cares what games we choose/Little to win and nothing to lose.” Yeah, whatever. But the song’s Farfisa, and that bassline, are killer. Available for the taking at all the usual places online; if you’ve got the equipment, you could even tape something nice and analog off your local oldies radio station. Or look for an Erica Smith bootleg: her band used to do an amusingly deadpan version (the drummer sang!).

October 26, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Sloe Guns and the Toneballs at Freddy’s, Brooklyn NY 8/2/08

Long-running New York Americana rockers the Sloe Guns were too loud for the room: they’re used to big stages, and this time they weren’t on one. On one hand, hearing the clang of frontman Eric Alter’s beautiful Gretsch hollowbody (and then his Telecaster) against the roar of lead player Mick Izzo’s Gibson (and then his Tele) was texture heaven. But in a small downstairs room like Freddy’s, it’s hard to sing over that kind of sonic assault, and with the vocal mic turned up into the red, the crowd got out their earplugs. Echoes of CBGB circa 1977. Textures are one of the Sloe Guns’ trademarks, along with guitar duels (none of those tonight) and first-rate songwriting. The band is responsible for a couple of genuine classics, and they played both of them. Dillon, a slowly burning, backbeat-driven outlaw ballad from their first album was one of them, and they upped the ante even further with Guardian Angel, an excoriating kiss-off anthem from their Last Will & Testament album. Hearing just one of those songs made the whole evening worthwhile; hearing both was a real treat.

 

Best known as an arthouse filmmaker, former Blow This Nightclub frontman Dan Sallitt is also a first-rate songwriter. Over the course of a relatively long (for him, anyway), fifty-minute set, he and his new band the Toneballs proved the former LA post-new wave rocker as vital as ever. Like Elvis Costello or Ward White, Sallitt is something of a psychopathologist, minutely dissecting the pathology of relationships gone horribly wrong. Tonight’s show featured some impressive new, post BTN material, including a slow, pensive, somewhat Neil Young-ish number in 6/8 that they played early in the set, a long look at a woman who can’t seem to pull herself together. They followed with the characteristically caustic, sarcastic BTN song Mr. Insensitive. Sallitt then announced that the band had decided to play a new Richard Thompson cover every time out. “I thought this was our only gig,” bassist Dann Baker (who fronts amazing psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7 and plays lead in Erica Smith’s band) said puckishly.

 

Sallitt didn’t respond directly. “I promise not to sing in a British accent,” he told the crowd, and promptly steered the unit into very treacherous waters. Covering a pantheonic artist like Thompson is always a risk, especially such an iconic choice as Shoot Out the Lights, but the band actually rose to the occasion and delivered, testament to the quality of the players: drummer Bill Gerstel (who’d just finished a set with his regular band, the Sloe Guns) kept it slow and dark, Sallitt stayed within himself as promised and lead guitarist Paul McKenzie – who’d been getting some delicious, watery tonalities with a Leslie effects pedal earlier – not only managed to play a couple of the leads that Thompson plays on the record, but also added his own anguished, chromatic, Thompsonesque, bent-note work. The audience was awestruck. After a somewhat ominous new song featuring the lead player on electric bouzouki, providing a clanging, Rickenbacker-style effect, they encored with the punchy Blow This Nightclub song Fran Goes to School. It’s a tongue-in-cheek tune about a shut-in finally seeing daylight, building from a Talking Heads-ish verse into an impossibly catchy, fluid chorus. The crowd wanted more, but that was all the band had rehearsed. Considering that this was the Toneballs’ debut performance, one can only hope that they’ll do another, and sooner than the six months it’s been since Sallitt last played a live set.

 

August 5, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams – Snowblind

Erica Smith got her start as a bartender at the old Fast Folk Café singing sea chanteys and similar ancient folk material after hours, and her first album reflected that, just stark acoustic guitar and a voice that could draw blood from a stone. Friend or Foe, her next one, was a lushly orchestrated affair, but the material was still mostly covers. This time around, Smith sings mostly her own material, a vastly diverse mix of retro styles. This is her quantum leap, an album which firmly places her in the top echelon of current Americana sirens along with Neko Case, Eleni Mandell, Jenifer Jackson et al. It may be early in the year, but if this doesn’t turn out to be the best album of 2008, something very special will have to come along to unseat it.

Although most of the album is recent material, everything here sounds like it was written no later than 1980. Both of the jangly Merseybeat numbers, Easy Now and Amanda Carolyn have an authentically mid-60s feel, as does the slinky samba-pop number Tonight. The tantalizingly brief Firefly bounces along on an impossibly catchy Carnaby Street melody. Feel You Go is a vehicle for Smith’s dazzlingly powerful soul vocals, snaking along on a Booker T riff. The best song on the album, the gorgeously swaying, country-inflected The World Is Full of Pretty Girls could be the great lost track on American Beauty, guest steel player Jon Graboff playing soaring, haunting washes against lead guitarist Dann Baker’s steady jangle. And In Late July, with its pastoral, hypnotic layers of vocals and organ would fit well on an early 70s, pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd album.

The title track is an authentically retro, completely psychedelic cover of the obscure Judy Henske/Jerry Yester blues/metal song, originally recorded in 1969. This version gives Smith a chance to do some goosebump-inducing belting, and lets drummer Dave Campbell – who may just be the finest drummer in all of rock – show off his devious, remarkably musical sensibility with a solo simmering with all kinds of unexpected textures. Guest organist Matt Keating spices the obscure Blow This Nightclub classic Where or When with weird, early 80s synth organ, as the bass player slams out a riff nicked directly from the Cure, circa 1980. And Smith’s lone venture into Nashville gothic here, appropriately titled Nashville, Tennessee evokes Calexico or the Friends of Dean Martinez with its eerie, tremolo guitar and haunting minor-key melody. The final cut on the album, a Beach Boys cover, may not be to everyone’s taste, but that’s beside the point. Recorded in analog on two-inch tape, Smith’s production gives this album the feel of a vinyl record, drums comfortably in the back, vocals and guitars front and center. In a particularly impressive display of generosity, the band will be giving away copies of the album to everyone in attendance at the cd release show this Friday, Jan 25 at 8 PM at the Parkside.

January 23, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments