Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

The Jesus Taco Put an Original, Literate Spin on Americana

Swiss-based lo-fi Americana trio the Jesus Taco’s debut album takes its cue from field recordings: it’s as if they decided to record everything in their collective songbooks. Along with the fully realized creations, there are the fragments, the unfinished numbers and sonic japes that fly by and are gone almost before you realize it. Perhaps to maintain a flow, pretty much every track here segues into the next. Frontman/guitarist Brett Davidson is a strong singer with some Gram Parsons inflections, accompanied by Sascha Greuter on acoustic and electric guitars along with respected luthier Tyko Runesson on mandolin, guitars and blues harp. Darkness alternates with good humor and some hijinks that sometimes seem more fun to the band than to an outsider along with others that are more accessible, and hard to resist. The longer songs and instrumentals are separated by a series of miniatures: simple fingerpicked melodies, astringent washes of feedback, a couple of brief, tuneful ragtime piano interludes, some folk-funk and what seems to be a woman laughing her way through either quoting or impersonating some ditz from reality tv.

The best song here is The Meek, a jangly, symbolically charged folk-rock gem:

When they found me on South Main
There were bruises on my brain
So they put me on ice
The charity wards were swollen with sorrow
But the nurses were nice…
Said I wanted to kill
So they put me on pills for a week…
Wretched are the ways of the weak
And the ways we pray for a winning streak …

The casual ominousness of Ten O’Clock evokes Lou Reed’s Sunday Morning, down to the glockenspiel. A simple litany of wanting more, and more, and more, wastes no time in making its point. One of the later numbers blends sci-fi imagery with an eerie rural milieu; there’s also the aptly titled, cantabile acoustic guitar instrumental So Calm, something that wouldn’t be out of place in the later works of John Fahey, a brief New Orleans/punk rock interlude that evokes the Dead Milkmen, and a gently fingerpicked acoustic ballad in Swedish. It’s another welcome surprise from upstart Swiss label Weak Records.

Advertisements

December 5, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Paban Das Baul – Music of the Honey Gatherers

South Indian singer Paban Das Baul has collaborated extensively with a number of western musicians and disco producers. This new album is a return to his roots, a collection of both original and centuries-old Baul music, a tradition he was initiated into at age fourteen. The Bauls are wandering minstrels with a mystical streak. Traveling the Ganges plains, they perform a spiritual purification ritual known as “honey gathering:” they play, the villagers’ spirits are raised, the musicians are given rice and beans. “Baul” is Bengali for “crazy” or “possessed,” but from the music, it’s clear that if there any spirits at work here, they are gentle and benign ones. As befits a tribe given to heavy ganja smoking, these songs go on for minutes on end. Western songwriters from Nick Drake to Devendra Banhart have drawn on elements of this stuff – you could say that it’s the original freak-folk. Paban Das Baul sings with a kindly, reflective delivery, more introspective than ecstatic, which makes sense in that he’s often encouraging the listener to look within.

The songs share a languid, swaying rhythm, the melody carried by the vocals, dotara (a five-string lute) and sometimes jews harp; often the lute doubles the vocal line. The lute playing is repetitive and ruminative with subtle changes, occasionally picking up with an incisive phrase: late 60s Jerry Garcia in paticularly pensive mode comes to mind. When the melody goes into the upper registers, the instrument resembles a mandolin. There are subtle modal shifts, but no chord changes per se. The percussion rattles along, sometimes minimalistically, once in awhile insistent. The music doesn’t seem to make any attempt to mirror the lyrics, in the case of either sadness (a breakup song), weariness (a traveler’s tale) or joy (a tribute to wanderlust and all its metaphorical implications). It’s pretty much what you would expect in late summer on the outskirts of Calcutta, heavy-lidded and absolutely hypnotic. It’s out now from World Music Network.

June 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Shivering in the Moon: After 36 Years, Mark Fry Makes Another Album

Mark Fry is the latest British folkie on the comeback trail. His new cd, Shooting the Moon is only his second recording. Thirty-six years have come and gone since RCA Italy released his only other album, Dreaming with Alice in 1972. Out of print for decades (although recently reissued on cd by Sunbeam), it’s a strange yet compelling blend of British folk and psychedelia, perhaps a British counterpart to Judy Henske and Jerry Yester’s utterly bizarre yet sometimes entrancing Farewell Aldebaran. In the years that passed, Fry never abandoned music, though his public performances became very infrequent while he pursued what would become a far more successful career as a painter, with several solo exibitions in the UK over the past few years.

This album, while hardly a follow-up, reveals that Fry hasn’t lost his utterly unique and somewhat disquieting vision. This album has a striking and also somewhat baffling resemblance to David J’s solo work, musically at least, right down to the darkly attractive, major-key chordal work, vocal phrasing, guitar tunings and sparse arrangements typical of the Bauhaus bassist’s quieter, more stark, late 80s/early 90s songs. But one can only wonder if the two even know each other exist. In any event, they’d make a great double bill! Fry’s acoustic guitar and casually bright vocals are backed in places by tasteful pedal steel, piano, violin and occasionally a rhythm section: it’s all very pretty and best when it takes on a nocturnal feel, which is often. The songwriting here is saturnine and somewhat woozy from time to time, precisely what one would expect from someone who lived through the sixties (insert amnesiac punchline here). The album’s opening track, Under the Milky Way (NOT the Church’s 1988 cocaine anthem) has the narrator perplexed, thinking the sky’s about to fall on him. As it turns out, it’s only the clouds messing around. One can only wonder what prompted that observation (definitely not cocaine). The same rings true for many of the other songs, like the following track, Big Silver Jet:

It’s slipping through my fingers
Like the rays of the sunset
It’s slipping through my radar
Like a big silver jet

As with the rest of the instruments, Fry’s fingerstyle acoustic and electric guitar work is understated but fluid, particularly the warm, lushly overdubbed You Make It Easy. But on the rest of the album, there’s a chill in the air, regrets over not having done one thing or another, and a pervasive sense of unease everywhere. “You’re like a box of chocolates that melts in the sun,” Fry wryly tells a lover.

The album’s most memorable – and concluding – cut, the brief, upbeat, gently swaying title track, is set in a junkyard, its residents raising a quiet racket by the light of the moon:

You can hear them dancing like soldiers
To their lost parade
Dancing to the junkyard serenade
We’re all shooting the moon tonight

But if you’re not paying attention, it sounds like Fry is singing “we’re all shivering in the moon tonight,” which probably isn’t intentional but perfectly capsulizes what he’s done here. For fans of eerie singer-songwriters everywhere, from Nick Drake to the aforementioned David J or even Syd Barrett.

March 28, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment