Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Tom Warnick & the World’s Fair – The Great Escape

This album is a triumph on all possible levels. Tom Warnick is a great tunesmith, equally informed by classic 60s soul and gospel as he is by clever Elvis Costello-style songcraft, with a frequently disquieting, carnivalesque sensibility. He’s also a first-class lyricist, his genuinely Joycean stream-of-consciousness wit coupled to a blackly humorous streak. Which makes sense – four years ago, it wasn’t clear that Warnick was going to be around to make another album. A stroke following surgery for a brain tumor had put his guitar skills on the shelf, but Warnick wouldn’t be deterred: he moved to keyboards instead. Here he’s joined by guitarist to the stars of the underground Ross Bonadonna along with Dave Dorbin on bass and Peter Monica on drums. Warnick’s never sung better – there’s a gleeful defiance in his voice, as you might expect from a bon vivant joyously and somewhat unexpectedly returned to the land of the living.

“I’m gonna bust this ice cream headache,” he remarks nonchalantly on the catchy opening cut, Absorbing Man. The boxing parable Gravity Always Wins establishes what will be a recurrent theme here, beating the odds (or trying to, anyway). An indomitable pop gem, A Couple of Wrecks paints a pricelessly surreal post-sunup drunken scenario: “They stepped outside this morning and saw the setting sun.” And that was just the beginning. The Great Calamity kicks off with funeral-parlor organ, a grim but tongue-in-cheek look at disaster, Warnick sticking to his guns despite all odds: “We’re going to give just as good as we get.” A vintage soul vibe runs through several of the songs: the understatedly defiant We Win (Again), the ballad She’s Shining, and Bad Old World, where a Doomsday Book’s worth of apocalyptic omens all prove false.

The best song here is the lurid, creepy No Longer Gage, recounting the tale of Vermont railroad foreman Phineas Gage, who took an iron tamping rod from a blasting site through the head but survived, albeit with a completely different personality style (he turned surly and mean – who could blame him?). The album wraps up with a couple of psychedelically bluesy, Doorsy tracks, the title cut and then Keep Me Movin’, featuring an ecstatic gospel choir of Paula Carino, Neil Danziger, Lucy Foley, Dan Kilian, John Sharples and Erica Smith. Warnick and his band play the cd release show for this album – one of the best of 2010 – on June 26 at 10 PM at the Parkside, preceded at 9  by the excellent, new wave and ska-inspired Fumes.

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June 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rev. Billy and the Life After Shopping Gospel Choir at Highline Ballroom, NYC 4/18/10

Residents of Iceland aren’t the only people in the western world waking up to see their hometowns drenched in a sinister coat of dust: go to West Virginia, where Massey Energy blasts the tops off mountains to get the coal inside (it’s cheaper than going undergound to get it). Having led the fight against the Disneyfication of New York and pushed back a Walmart invasion of Gotham, Rev. Billy has turned his focus on the fight to preserve the mountaintop ecosystem of Appalachia, currently threatened by stripmining. The Reverend, his titanic 25-piece gospel choir and first-rate band make their point with a mixture of old-fashioned fire-and-brimstone preaching, a lot of good jokes and a mammoth sound. Sunday afternoon at Highline Ballroom choir director James Solomon Benn led the group onto the stage as pianist Rick Ulfik, bassist Nathan Stevens and drummer Eric Johnson pulsed along on an expertly ecstatic, shuffling gospel groove and then launched into a hymn to the joys of New York neighborhood life. “My imagination is not for sale! My neighborhood is not for sale!” went part of the refrain, a triumphant tribute to the successful fight to keep Walmart from moving in and destroying every small business in New York as it has everywhere else.

Like the Clash, their songs are catchy, and they all have a message. “Standing up for public space!” a soaring, funky, in-your-face minor-key number declared. “There’s a mountain in my lobby, at JP Morgan Chase!” a bearded member of the choir announced (it’s their current theme song – where most of the other big banks bailed out of financing stripmining after the 2008 stock market crash, JP Morgan Chase jumped right in). The group’s polyphony is imaginative and exciting, to say the least – when you have 25 voices shifting in sections, it’s impossible not to pay attention, and this group works that to the fullest extent possible. A latin gospel number featuring the potent, powerful voices of Sr. Laura Newman and another member of the choir, Jessica, was “dedicated to raising a child right – I mean left,” winked Rev. Billy, a swipe at conspicuously consumptive yuppie parenting. A trio came out of the choir and led the voices in a sad, plaintive country waltz spiced with banjo and ukelele: “There’s a cancer in the promised land.”

Newman took center stage again with a joyous, rousingly optimistic original gospel number she’d written: “Your children will climb back to the sky,” the chorus declared with a defiant optimism. Rev. Billy and guest speaker Bo Webb also provided plenty of information on the nefarious deeds of Massey Energy (they clearcut and then burn tons of valuable West Virginia hardwood rather than recycling or even trying to sell it!), energizing the crowd with a Christian existentialist activist message as grounded in philosophy as it is in real life (Rev. Billy AKA Bill Talen has a deep resume in serious theatre, in addition to being “jailed over 50 times” as his website gleefully proclaims). “The reason why Earth First scares people is that we always think of Earth as the Other,” he explained. But it was here first – and will be here long after we will if we can’t put a stop to the processes feeding global warming (the band did a song about that too and it was as arresting as the rest of the set). At the end, after two solid hours of insight and amazing harmonies, the choir left the way they came in, through the audience, singing as they went. Rev. Billy makes the Highline his home when he’s not building little mountains in the lobbies of Chase banks – watch this space for future concerts.

April 23, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Lost Crusaders – Have You Heard about the World

Brothers and sisters, are you ready? I said ARE YOU READY? For the NEW gospel sound of the Lost Crusaders. This is the real deal, ecstatic, often exhilarating. It will redeem your soul whether you are a believer or you just like to dance. Fans of Rev. Vince Anderson will love this album. Some of the songs here blend 60s soul stylings with gospel, others are sort of gospel punk, with a handful of straight-ahead garage rock tunes. This is an incredible party record, something akin to what JSBX (or Blues Explosion, or whatever they’re calling themselves now) is to classic 60s garage rock. In case you might be suspicious, it’s not camp. It’s just a bunch of NYC garage rock types who love vintage 60s gospel and prove they can play it as well as any church group out there. Frontman Michael Chandler holds nothing back, his hoarse, gravelly vocals impassioned and inspired. As with all good gospel bands, this album has a very propulsive rhythm section, Brian McBride on bass and Joey Valentine on drums. Don’t let the religious nature of the lyrics scare you off: this is a celebration of the spirit in all of us, atheists and Christians alike. You can dance to this. The production, by Dean Rispler at Dead Verse Studios in Union City, NJ is impressively authentic, sounding almost like a vinyl record.

The album opens with the title track, a fast major key vamp that gleefully welcomes the apocalypse, with cool solos from Johnny Vignault’s guitar and ex-Fleshtone Steve Greenfield’s baritone sax. The next cut I Don’t Ask Why is even faster, call-and-response with the women in the choir, crunchy guitars spiced with Jerome Jackson’s tasty Hammond organ in the background and a nice solo out. I Wonder What Ever Happened has a killer 2-guitar intro, evoking Country Joe & the Fish in a particularly woozy moment at the end of their good period, 1970ish with a good long harp solo after the second chorus reminiscent of the late, great Knoxville Girls. The following cut, There Used to Be a River is an environmental cautionary tale – “it couldn’t outrun the hand of man” – garage gospel built on a descending progression on the bass. With a long, killer reverb guitar solo from the Fleshtones’ Keith Streng and Chandler’s ominous croak, it could be something from the recently reunited Electric Prunes.

After that, Wasted on the Wind is a Knoxville Girls or Gun Club soundalike with a great baritone guitar solo. Planted by the Water is a fast gospel vamp, piano and organ plus crunchy guitar and a fiery chromatic harp solo. Laura Cantrell’s sweet, soaring vocals channel Kitty Wells on the beautiful, slow Too Late, Matt Verta Ray’s lapsteel coming in and out like a string section.

Other standout cuts on the album include Whose Name Will I Call, with a Stagger Lee boogie kind of feel, and the fast, joyous Where Did It Go whose protagonist trades in his booze and drugs for the holy spirit, rejoicing in having found a new way to get high. Wow. What a great album. Five bagels. With a glass of communion wine. CDs are available at shows, online and in Europe on Everlasting Records.

April 15, 2008 Posted by | gospel music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments