Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Asylum Street Spankers – God’s Favorite Band

Things like this happen with bands who’ve been around awhile and have the good sense to record themselves in fortuitous circumstances. Back in 2006, the Asylum Street Spankers – the world’s smartest, most deliriously fun oldtimey Americana band – recorded some live performances at the Saxon Pub in their hometown of Austin. Among the songs were several traditional gospel tunes along with a handful of originals that wouldn’t be drastically out of place, musically at least, in a straight-up gospel set. It isn’t implausible to imagine the band hanging around the dressing room one night after a show after someone put these songs on a boombox, while a  joint made its way around the room. Suddenly percussionist/singer Wammo has an epiphany and turns in amazement to multi-instrumentalist/siren Christina Marrs: “Holy shit, we have a gospel album here!”

As improbable as it might seem at first thought for the Spankers to be doing a gospel album, it actually makes perfect sense when you consider how deep their knowledge of American roots music is. As sacriligeous as the band is, Marrs has an amazing set of pipes and pulls out all the stops here. Likewise, the band’s vocal harmonies are tight and inventive when they’re not being tight and absolutely period-perfect, as with their minstrel-esque version of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

An ancient-sounding  instrumental version of the Blind Willie Johnson blues Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground opens the cd and sets a rustic tone. The standards Each Day, Down by the Riverside, By and By and Wade in the Water each get a fervent, ecstatic treatment which rather than being camp reaffirms the band’s seemingly innate feel for these songs as universal expression of the human spirit that transcend any doctrinaire limitations. Then they do the same thing with a contemporary Christian song (yes, that’s what it is), the Violent Femmes’ Gordan Gano’s Jesus Walking on the Water.

But as expected it’s the originals that bring down the house. Wammo’s somewhat snide Right and Wrong has an ironclad Iraq War-era logic to go along with the stoner humor: “I ain’t got no problem with Buddha, ’cause he’s a huge Nirvana fan.” And his other song here, Volkswagen Thing reclaims a Nazi-era relic as vehicle for the divine. In case you don’t remember it, the Thing during its brief revival in the 70s was  one of the most unsafe cars ever built, a car so rear-heavy that it could pop a wheelie despite being ridiculously underpowered. Satan, on the other hand, drives his Mercedes like the pig he is – and he’s got a Hummer, too. The band closes out this raucous collection with a defiant version of Gershwin’s It Ain’t Necessarily So, a vivid reminder of where they’re really coming from for anyone who might not have been paying attention. Steampunks everywhere, not to mention fans of both traditional and secular gospel alike (the Lost Crusaders and Rev. Vince Anderson especially come to mind) will love this album. The Spankers made it to NYC a couple of times this year and they will doubtlessly be back (they recorded their sensational What? And Give Up Show Business? live cd here), watch this space for details.

Advertisements

November 8, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Lost Crusaders at the Loving Cup Cafe, Brooklyn NY 1/11/09

Alana Amram & the Rough Gems opened, bringing a welcome sunny summer feel to a raw, nasty winter night. The latter half of their set was a soaring, fun mix of upbeat, major-key country-inflected songs. On Blackest Crow (it’s on her myspace; it’s got the same melody as the old Irish standard Rye Whiskey), they took a stark tune and made it a big anthem, bringing up half the crowd to gather around the various mics onstage and sing. Amram’s a fine singer, projecting strongly with a high, clear voice and an excellent band behind her including electric guitar, electric piano and pedal steel. She gets extra props for playing a twelve-string and managing to keep the thing in tune.

 

The sound in the back gallery, which had been absolutely pristine for Amram, took a sudden nosedive when the Lost Crusaders hit the stage, and it took a few songs to get everything right. But bandleader/harmonica player Michael Chandler and his tight backing unit (rhythm section, guitar, organ and a baritone sax player who doubled on keys on a few songs) didn’t let the late hour or the technical difficulties phase them a bit, barreling through an intense, high-energy set of twelve songs that proved their repertoire considerably more extensive than just the songs on their excellent debut cd Have You Heard About the World (reviewed here last year). Their songs are classic 60s style gospel delivered with a manic garage rock feel. Chandler (formerly of pioneering cowpunks the Raunch Hands) is a natural frontman and makes what he does look easy: the only indications that he was working hard were the sweat pouring down his face and the roar from the speakers. A lot of gospel involves testifying to the crowd, but other than just a brief ten-second interlude toward the end of the show, Chandler simply let the music summon the spirits. Didn’t take long for that to happen, with a pummeling version of the lickety-split I Don’t Ask Why. The bouncy I Don’t Believe You began with a tastily portentous Link Wray style intro. Chandler then invited Amram up for a duet on two songs, the first a sweetly swaying version of Arthur Alexander’s soul ballad Love’s Where Life Begins.

 

Predictably, nobody was dancing (this was Williamsburg, after all – forget about dancing, just cracking a smile in this part of town will earn you glares of disapproval). Until finally a couple of gay guys went up front and that finally loosened everybody up. Music like what the Lost Crusaders plays resonates in your muscles, the best thing you can do is not to fight it and just let it move you. The high points of the set were a roaring boogie number capped by a volcanically noisy guitar solo (the first of only two of the night for these guys) and a sprint through Where Did It Go, a straight-up gospel number from the latest cd. Watch this space for upcoming shows; in the meantime the band has a couple of free downloads on their myspace that you should get your hands on before they disappear.

January 13, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 12/5/08

If you’re going out this weekend and wonder where our constantly updated NYC live music calendar went, it’s here. In the meantime our top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1. Friday’s is #599:

Ronnie Earl – Eddie’s Gospel Groove

Although best known for his thoughtfully intricate jazz work, the Boston guitarist got his start in blues and for years worked with Chicago luminaries like Jimmy Rogers. This is his best composition, a startling, ferocious stomp kicked off by one of the great hooks ever. From Language of the Soul, 1994; note that the youtube link above is only a fair approximation of how great this song can get.

December 5, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , | Leave a comment