Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Bliss Blood and Al Street’s Evanescent: One of the Year’s Best Albums

It’s always cool when a great artist decides to give away free tracks. When those tracks are among that artist’s best ever, it’s time to get busy downloading. Bliss Blood – New York’s reigning goddess of retro – decided to put the debut album by her new duo project Evanescent, with guitarist Al Street, up at reverbnation as a free download. Her Hawaiian swing crew the Moonlighters may be iconic among NYC artists, but they’re only her best-known group: in the last ten years, she’s also sung straight-up swing jazz, creepy cinematic noir songs, and barrelhouse blues (and S&M punk rock, if you count her teenage band the Pain Teens from the early 90s). But this flamenco-tinged unit with just ukulele, acoustic guitar, Blood’s lush, velvet vocals and a ton of reverb that amps up the lurid factor, may be her best yet. The joke here is that this music is actually the furthest thing from evanescent – it lingers and haunts. Blood has never sung better – the Moonlighters’ harmonies range from sensual to chirpy, but here Blood runs deep and dark with an unexpected gravitas and also a sultry allure that beats anything the Moonlighters have done – and they’re a great band.

The first track, Swallow the Dice, sets the stage, lowlit in red: it’s a menacing flamenco waltz, a defiantly metaphorical tribute to beating the system. Likewise, the steadily pulsing Liplock mines a series of double entendres, some of them ironic: play your cards too close to the vest and risk losing everything. Bulletproof is absolutely gorgeous, seductively bittersweet, all too aware of how invulnerability can be a double-edged sword:

Impervious to pain
I dream undaunted
Until I’m wanted and flaunted again
Bad bargain, maybe
I made it, unflinching
I keep it, bewitching
And blindly I see
It’s a barrier around me
Makes me bulletproof
Nothing can touch me
No one but you

The strongest track, lyrically at least, is Blackwater, a blistering broadside originally done by Blood’s “crime jazz” band Nightcall during the waning days of the Bush regime when mercenaries in Iraq were slaughering civilians left and right. Here it’s reinvented with a sarcastic rockabilly shuffle rhythm as Blood rails against the consciousless cynicism of the soldiers of fortune who think nothing of “blood spilled on the sand.” The sultriest track is The Palace of the Wind, its Dr. Zhivago ambience lush and pensive over Street’s agile broken chords. With just ukulele, bells and vocals for most of it, Butterfly Collector wouldn’t be out of place in an early 60s Henry Mancini soundtrack. There’s also the torchy, Freudian Legend of a Crime; the brisk, galloping Ella Es el Matador, the give-and-take of a hookup explained as a bullfight; the echoey, pillowy, sad guitar-and-vocalese instrumental Firefly, and the sly, reggae-tinged come-on Your Mayhem. One of the best albums of the year, for free. Evanescent play DBA at 113 N 7th St. (Berry/Wythe) in Williamsburg on 4/16; 4/22 they’re at Cin-M-Art Space, 43 Murray Street, (W. Broadway & Church).

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April 12, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Canteca de Macao at Highline Ballroom, NYC 2/17/10

An eclectic choice for this year’s New York Flamenco Festival, popular Spanish rockers Canteca de Macao played a deceptively sophisticated, dizzyingly multistylistic show that was impossible to resist. America doesn’t have anything like these guys: their closest relative, and obvious precursor is the theatrical Mexican band El Tri. Ana, their frontwoman shifted effortlessly between a powerful, dramatic, slightly smoky contralto and a more lighthearted delivery that she used when the intensity level dipped a little. With a rhythm section that included two percussionists (on timbales, congas or cajon) it was obvious from the git-go that Canteca de Macao are first and foremost a party band – within a minute from the time they took the stage, the front rows were bouncing. Most of the upbeat numbers had a gypsy rock feel, spiced with a lot of playful tug-of-war between flute and lead guitar. Chiki, their acoustic guitarist – who also took lead vocals on several cuts – got to take all of one solo all night long, on one of the more overtly flamencoish numbers, and it turned out to be the best one of the evening.

It was a carnival ride of shifting tempos, slowing down into reggae or speeding up into ska, as they did on a number that lept from merengue into a brisk one-drop rhythm, sung by Juancho, their conguero. He may be a small guy, but as it turns out he’s also a babe magnet – and he knows it, as he told the crowd. Another gypsy rock tune bounced along on a bachata basssline that took a crescendoing swoop to the upper registers on the turnaround out of the verse. They worked brief rap interludes into a few songs, including a rapidfire kazoo-fueled anthem for fashion misfits everywhere. As good and diverse as their musicianship is, they don’t take themselves particularly seriously in the lyric department: “It doesn’t matter,” Ana and the rest of the band hollered defiantly on one of the best-received dance numbers. The first of the encores featured a smartly terse, flamenco-flavored bass solo; as they wound up the show, they broke songs down into halftime, sped them up again and threw out a handful of false endings until that device had been used to death. The crowd – a pleasantly surprising mix of nationalities and demographics, kids and others old enough to be their parents – didn’t want to let them go. It was something like a Gogol Bordello show in Spanish – a lot of the same tonalities, a brighter, more carefree vibe but the same kind of energy.

And while we’re at it, let’s big up the sound guys: the Highline is a great-sounding room to begin with, but you had a tough mix to deal with, all those mics onstage, and you delivered.

February 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment