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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 3/9/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #692:

Patricia Vonne – Guitars and Castanets

Patricia Vonne is yet another great American songwriter who’s huge in Europe and lesser known here in the US (other than in her native state of Texas). With her signature full-throated wail, the Mexican-American rock siren has stood up for American Indian rights, immigrant rights and Amnesty International campaigns for the women who’ve disappeared in Juarez, Mexico. This 2005 album, her third full-length release, is characteristically diverse, with songs in both English and Spanish, a richly arranged, guitar-driven mix of rock anthems, ranchera ballads and Tex-Mex shuffles. Everything she’s ever released is excellent; we picked this one since it has her best song, the unselfconsciously wrenching, intense escape narrative Blood on the Tracks (a hubristic title, but Vonne has the muscle to back it up). Joe’s Gone Ridin’ is a tribute to Joe Ely; the clanging backbeat anthem Texas Burning was a big CMT video hit. The festive title track and Fiesta Sangria, along with the mournfully gripping norteno ballad Traeme Paz show off her grasp of traditional Mexican sounds; the anthemic Long Season sounds a lot like the BoDeans with a girl singer. There are also two stunningly catchy, deliciously layered guitar rockers, Lonesome Rider and Rebel Bride that sound like the Church transplanted to Austin. This one doesn’t seem to have made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available at Vonne’s site.

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March 9, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Krista Detor’s Chocolate Paper Suites Are Dark and Delicious

Krista Detor’s album Chocolate Paper Suites has been out for awhile this year – but who’s counting. It’s a dark lyrical feast. Images and symbols rain down in a phantasmagorical torrent and then reappear when least expected – and the pictures they paint pack a wallop. This is first and foremost a headphone album: casual listening will get you nowhere with her. Detor’s carefully modulated alto vocals land somewhere between Aimee Mann and Paula Carino over a bed of tastefully artsy piano-based midtempo rock/pop that downplays the lyrics’ frequent offhand menace. While Detor sings in character, a bitterness and a weariness connects the dots between the album’s five three-song suites. Allusion is everything; most of the action is off-camera and every image that makes it into the picture is loaded. Not exactly bland adult contemporary fare.

The first suite is Oranges Fall Like Rain. The opening track swirls hypnotic and Beatlesque, essentially a one-chord backbeat vamp in the same vein as the Church. Detor’s heavy symbolism sets the stage: a green umbrella, the rich guy in the title pulling out a knife to cut the orange, a desire for a “white car driving up to the sun.” Its second part, Lorca in Barcelona mingles surreal, death-fixated imagery with a dark, tango-tinged chorus. Its conclusion is savage, a rail against not only the dying of the light but any death of intelligence:

Poetry is dead, Delilah said,
Maybe in a pocket somewhere in Prague
That’s all that’s left of it
Are you a good dog?

The Night Light triptych puts a relationship’s last painful days on the autopsy table. Its first segment, Night Light – Dazzling is an Aimee Mann ripoff but a very good one, its slowly swinging acoustic guitar shuffle painting an offhandedly scathing portrait, a snide party scene where the entitled antagonist acts out to the point where the fire department comes. What they’re doing there, of course, is never stated. Night Light – All to Do with the Moon is a stargazer’s lament, all loaded imagery: “It’s the synchronous orbit that blinds my view.” It ends with the slow, embittered, oldtimey shades of Teeter-Totter on a Star, Mama Cass as done by Lianne Smith, maybe. The Madness of Love trio aims for a sultry acoustic funk vibe, with mixed results. Its high point is the concluding segment, gospel as seen though a minimalistic lens, the narrator regretting her caustic I-told-you-so to her heartbroken pal, even though she knows she’s right.

By Any Other Name opens with a pensive reflection on time forever lost, Joni Mitchell meets noir 60s folk-pop; set to a plaintive violin-and-piano arrangement, its second segment is another killer mystery track, a couple out on a romantic two-seater bicycle ride with some unexpected distractions. The final suite was written as part of the Darwin Songhouse, a series of songs on themes related to Charles Darwin: a very funny if somewhat macabre-tinged oldtimey swing number told from the point of view of an unreconstructed creationist; a live concert version of a long Irish-flavored ballad that quietly and matter-of-factly casts the idea of divine predestination as diabolical hell, and a lullaby. New Yorkers can experience Detor’s unique craftsmanship and understatedly beautiful voice live at City Winery on October 18.

September 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 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

Album of the Day 8/4/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1.Wednesday’s album is #909:

Nina Nastasia – The Blackened Air

This album was recorded before 9/11, but released shortly thereafter, it made a potent soundtrack for a city, and an era, reeling from the impact and braced for the worst. Conventional wisdom is that Nastasia’s classic album is her 2000 debut, Dogs, and while its songs are wrenchingly vivid, this one’s the counterintuitive choice. Nastasia’s lyrics on Dogs were like a Weegee lens, sardonic portraits of dissolution, disillusion and sometimes despair, perfectly suited to her matter-of-factly plaintive, sometimes biting vocals. Here they tend to observe from a few hundred feet, often achieving a towering angst equal to Pink Floyd or the other great art-rockers. Backed by a brilliant band including Bowie collaborator Gerry Leonard on guitar, Dylan Willemsa on viola, Stephen Day on cello, Joshua Carlebach on accordion and Jay Bellerose on drums, Nastasia alternates between starkly bucolic minimalism, eerie miniatures and hypnotic pitchblende atmospherics. She’s never made a bad record: her other albums Run to Ruin and You Follow Me (a 2007 collaboration with Jim White of the Dirty Three) are closer to the vibe of Dogs and very much worth getting to know – ideally with the lights out.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/3/10

Every day, we count down the best albums of all time all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #910:

Jenifer Jackson – The Outskirts of a Giant Town

Quietly and methodically, Austin songwriter Jenifer Jackson has built an eclectic and pantheonic catalog of songs. She started out as a teenager in Boston playing loud guitar rock, moved to New York and released the classic 1999 album Slowly Bright, a masterpiece of bossa nova tinged, Beatlesque psychedelia. Birds, in 2001 followed, stark and Americana-inflected, followed by a prized limited edition album of Brazilian and latin covers, the psychedelic pop of 2004’s So High and then her greatest one so far, The Outskirts of a Giant Town (reviewed here in 2007). Jackson’s gentle yet worldly, wounded voice, her gemlike lyrics and an even broader mix of styles take centerstage here: the wrenching Beatlesque ballad Saturday, the jaunty tropicalia of Suddenly Unexpectedly, the Philly-style soul of I Want to Start Something, the bitter noir Americana of Dreamland and the shapeshifting garage rock of For You. And from the look of  the material she’s been working up live over the past year, the follow-up to this one promises to be every bit as diverse and enchanting.

August 3, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Ana Moura – Leva-Me Aos Fados

The title of fado sensation Ana Moura’s latest album translates as “take me to the fado club” in Portuguese. What is fado? The national music of Portugal, sad acoustic guitar ballads of lost love and longing typically sung by women. The influence of iconic chanteuse Amalia Rodrigues is everywhere here, from the spiky string band arrangements (although these are significantly pared down), to the way Moura’s slightly breathy voice takes on an insistent, sometimes accusatory edge at the end of a phrase. Which enhances the plaintiveness of the songs (most of them by popular guitarist/producer Jorge Fernando) – fado (Portuguese for “fate”) is all about loneliness and transcending it. Behind her, Fernando’s playing blends seamlessly, often hypnotically with Portuguese guitarist Custodio Castelo, along with Felipe Larsen on electric bass. To say that an album is good to fall asleep to is typically an insult, but as wee-hours music, fado is unbeatable, and this cd fits right in – it’s already gone platinum in Moura’s native land.

Like a lot of stylized genres – blues, funk and reggae to name a few – fado is frequently self-referential. What kind of fado is she singing? She’s feeling fado, she wants to go out to hear some – or sing some. The narrator in the opening title cut just wants to go out and lose herself in the music; in the scurrying dance that follows, she sees her recent breakup as inevitable, in the commercials on tv, in newspaper headlines and even the law. The slow ballad Por Minha Conta (On My Own) ends as “the voice of a silent scream wants to know me.” But all is not despair: the bouncy Caso Arrumado (The End of the Affair) reminds the lover who abandoned her that there will be no second chance, and the concluding cut, Na Palma de Mao (In the Palm of Your Hand) is a warning, essentially, don’t play with me because you’re playing with fire. If most of this sounds much the same, that’s because it’s supposed to: no drum machines, no heavy metal guitar, just plenty of simple poignancy. It’s out now on World Village Music.

May 25, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rapt, Wrenching Beauty: Jenifer Jackson at Joe’s Pub, NYC 3/28/08

In case you haven’t been paying attention, there’s been a recent crop of songwriters who seem to have decided to write in every single worthwhile style of pop music ever invented – with great success. For one reason or another, maybe having to do with vocals, most of these songwriters are women: Neko Case, Rachelle Garniez and Mary Lee Kortes of Mary Lee’s Corvette, to name a few. New York expat Jenifer Jackson is another.

“Now I know how to get people to come to my shows,” she knowingly told the crowd at Joe’s Pub Friday night. “Leave New York. I’ve figured it out!” Jackson wasn’t exactly a little fish in the pond here, either. Respected by her peers and revered by a fan base for whom she seemingly can do no wrong (if she made an album of Monkees covers, they’d probably buy it), she nonetheless ran into the same brick wall affecting seemingly every New York artist, no matter how well-regarded they might be. Building a following here is tough, with literally scores of live shows competing against each other every night, a hometown media that’s essentially oblivious to hometown acts, and an ongoing process of suburbanization where artistically-inclined New Yorkers are being priced out of their neighborhoods and being replaced by corporate executives and their children from the suburbs. In other words, not exactly the kind of crowd you’d expect to come out to see anything more sophisticated than, say, Justin Timberlake. So Jackson packed up and moved to Austin.

Even more than her show at the Rockwood late last year, this was the emotional homecoming she eventually had to make, and she gave the standing-room-only crowd what they wanted. Playing acoustic guitar and accompanied by just violinist Roland Satterwhite, she ran through a mix of mostly more recent material, including several songs from her most recent (and best) cd The Outskirts of a Giant Town. She also debuted three excellent new songs: a hopeful, midtempo country tune, Spring, that wouldn’t have been out of place on her 2001 album Birds; a pensively catchy, upbeat number possibly titled Tired; and the best of the bunch, a gorgeous, sad country waltz called The Beauty of the Emptying, with one of Jackson’s signature imagistic lyrics. Jackson gets accolades for her songwriting, but tonight was a vivid reminder of what a brilliant song stylist she is, alternating between a nuanced lower register and the soaring, airy delivery that has been her trademark throughout her career. There’s great passion and intensity in her songs and in her voice, but it’s generally very subtle, tonight’s stripped-down arrangements giving her vocals the perfect opportunity to cut through.

“This is a song that earned me two thousand dollars,” she told the crowd with considerable irony before launching into a boisterous version of one of her earliest songs, Mercury, the Sun and Moon, a somewhat eerie tribute to the joys and pleasure of being a bon vivant. When she and Satterwhite reached the bridge, she slammed out the song’s tango rhythm as he went into a frenzied gypsy-inflected solo. They encored with a fetching duet on the standard Every Time We Say Goodbye, Satterwhite switching to guitar. He’s an excellent singer, with a smooth, Chet Baker style delivery, making a good foil for Jackson’s warm, wistful vocals. She ended the song with gentle vocalese, going down the scale with a jazzy seventh chord. More than anything, tonight’s show was a reminder of everything we stand to lose if this city continues the decline that the Bloomberg administration and its developer cronies are dead set on bringing to its logical conclusion.

March 31, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Light, Shade and Everything in Between – Turn It All Red by Deborah Crooks

Turn It All Red is the title of the excellent new janglerock album from Bay Area songwriter Deborah Crooks. Backed by a tight three-piece band, singer/guitarist Crooks opens the album with the catchy, bouncy title track. It’s about pulling out all the stops: “pull out your purple heart and turn it all red,” she cajoles. And what a fine song stylist she is, sounding like Chrissie Hynde at her late 80s peak as a vocalist on the next track, the beautifully pensive Land’s End. In a highly nuanced, subtly soul-inflected delivery, she retraces the steps of someone who’s finally come into her own, finally ready to stop burning her bridges. She maintains that feel on the next track, Raising Cain, whose narrator is simply trying to find her way through the storm while maintaining her sanity:

You can raise a nation, and birth a son
But where does a daughter get to stand
Who’s eaten that apple
So bittersweet
Gleaned from this poisoned land

“Rock the cradle all the way to the grave,” Crooks sings with not a little bittersweetness at the end of the chorus. The ep concludes on the same upbeat note where it began with another catchy, bouncing pop-rock tune, Café la Vie. The only complaint about this album is that there aren’t more songs on it. What a nice surprise to get this in the mail!

March 24, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Linda Draper and Randi Russo Live at Cake Shop, NYC 3/7/08

Backed by excellent drummer Anders Griffen, Linda Draper flat-out rocked. Wait a minute: this is the same Linda Draper who did Snow White Trash Girl and One Two Three Four and all those other albums with the wildly imaginative, seemingly stream-of-consciousness lyrics set to slow, hypnotic, trance-inducing guitar? Yup, that Linda Draper. Lately she’s reinvented herself as the catchy rock songwriter she seemed to want to be on her first album, with richly rewarding results. And what a terrific guitarist she’s become! The obvious comparison her most recent work draws is Nina Nastasia. Both songwriters share a terse, frequently slashing lyrical sensibility, a seemingly effortless fingerpicking style and a zero tolerance for bullshit. The material Draper played tonight, virtually all new songs destined to be recorded shortly on her sixth (!) album is more chordally driven than her earlier work, and melodically she’s made a quantum leap. She always had an ear for a tune but now she has the chops to play whatever she wants, which is pretty much anything: your average picker can’t just walk in and launch into a Linda Draper song without knowing it thoroughly. Though Draper’s vocals live off subtlety and nuance, the sound engineer had her voice perfectly up in the mix so that Griffen’s equally subtle, nuanced playing – the guy sounded like Jim White tonight – didn’t drown them out.

The next act’s frontman apparently did some time in a retro-80s disco band that had something of a following with the New Jersey/Long Island tourist crowd. He now seems to want to mine an early 90s retro-glamrock vein. But this was a band show only in the sense that he had a group behind him: it was all about him, jumping and preening and affecting an English accent even when he wasn’t singing. Too bad, because some of the songs had some nice, unexpected major-to-minor chord changes, and the band seemed inspired, when they could be heard. But that wasn’t often: despite the sound guy’s attempts to find a balance between the instruments, he kept turning up his guitar and drowning everybody out.

Randi Russo and band careened through a typically fiery, inspiring set. Russo is an amazingly inventive guitarist, fond of odd tunings, and being lefthanded she plays upside down a la Hendrix, resulting in a wash of delicious overtones from her Gibson SG. The band is a somewhat incongruously assembled lot, a hard-hitting drummer with roots in thrash metal, the great Lenny Molotov – something of an American Richard Thompson – alternating between virtuosic lead guitar and lapsteel work – and a bass player with roots in surf music, who’d probably turn everything into Misirlou or Pipeline if given half a chance. Their common bond is inspiration, which isn’t hard to fathom once you hear the material.

Russo’s stock in trade is outsider anthems; she’s the antithesis of your typical conformist indie rock bandleader. Alternately snide, sarcastic and anguished, the characters who populate her songs exhaust themselves at lousy dayjobs, rail against lazy, overpaid bosses who do none of the work and get all of the profits, and infidel lovers who renege on their promises. But a close listen reveals plenty of subtle humor beneath the rage and fury. The high point of the night was an untitled suite with the recurrent chorus “keep your head high while you lie low.” Right before the long, Middle Eastern-inflected outro, Russo brought the song down to just the guitars, slamming out an ominous series of chords while Molotov provided eerie sheets of feedback. They also did another new one, Invisible, a catchy backbeat-driven hit. The rhythm section were joking about how the intro is pretty much identical to the way the Joy Division classic Atrocity Exhibition begins, so the drummer launched into the groove and hung with it, joined quickly by the bassist, and finally the rest of the band. Considering how dark most of their music is, this band sure has a lot of fun. All indications were that the rest of the night was garage rock, which looked promising, but we had places to go and drunk people to look after.

March 10, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Amanda Thorpe – Union Square

This could be the ultimate autumnal New York album, perfect for grey days with a chill in the air, winter’s hand tugging impatiently on the curtains. The songs on Union Square are gorgeously wistful and intensely poignant. What Linda Thompson was to the 70s and early 80s, Amanda Thorpe is to this era, another British expat steeped in traditional English folk, possessed of one of the most beautifully haunting voices you will ever hear. Thorpe is somewhat more diverse, however: she will give you eerie austerity and resigned melancholy, but she also has a seductive, torchy side with great nuance. This is the first solo release for Thorpe – who also fronts the supremely catchy Bedsit Poets – since her first album, Mass, in 2002, and it was well worth the wait.

By contrast to Mass, a lushly produced, smokily atmospheric effort, this one is remarkably terse and direct. Every note on this album counts. Thorpe is accompanied here by a choice crew of New York luminaries – co-producer Brad Albetta (also of Mary Lee’s Corvette) on bass, Bill Frisell sideman Tony Scherr on guitar and upright bass, Bob Perry on lapsteel and ex-Psychedelic Fur Joe McGinty on keys. The album kicks off with the sarcastic Life Is Great, a lament directed at a pillhead: “Life is great with a hole inside.” Perry adds layers of bluesy lapsteel over Thorpe’s understatedly frustrated vocals. Track two, Won’t You Let Me (a co-write with Phillip Shelley) is pure seduction set to a sweetly soaring Albetta bassline. The next track, River Song is arguably Thorpe’s finest hour as a songwriter, a vivid account of rejection and despair, here recast with something of a Madder Rose-style 90s trip-hop feel. After that, Next to Me makes a good segue, Thorpe holding up a red flag – albeit from a distance – to a would-be suitor.

Burn This House Down, spiced with juicy blues piano from McGinty, has Thorpe bringing the intensity up to redline as she pulls out all the stops and belts:

Though I still love you
The romance is dead
As you burn this house down

Then Scherr launches into a truly nasty slide guitar solo.

Other standout tracks on this album include the marvelously catchy You and Me in a Doorway (also a co-write with Shelley) with its lush bed of guitars and lapsteel; the hypnotic, pastoral Over the Sea (a Wirebirds soundalike); the beautifully melancholy title track, and the absolutely brilliant Show Me a Place. Thorpe’s voice longs for something transcending the ordinariness that she’s held on to with such a steely grip, until now. “As long as there were cigarettes and another glass of wine,” everything was ok. But now she sees “my own black silhouette reflect against the sky:” high time for a change. Perry’s layers of lapsteel punch at the melody like a string quartet. Few other singers in Thorpe’s league ever get to sing material this good; still fewer songwriters in Thorpe’s league can deliver it with as much passion, intensity and subtlety as she does. This ought to appeal to a very wide listenership encompassing the purist Richard & Linda Thompson contingent as well as fans of the current group of A-list chanteuses (Feist, Erica Smith, Rachelle Garniez et al.) and maybe even some of the less adventurous for whom Norah Jones is simply the greatest thing out there.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments