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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 10/18/11

We’ll get caught up with this thing sooner or later – as we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album was #470:

Howlin’ Wolf – The London Sessions

Reputedly the Wolf was hungover when he did this impromptu two-day 1970 session of remakes of many of his classic blues hits with an adoring band of British rock stars whom he’d influenced enormously. Ringo drums on one track; otherwise, the swinging rhythm section is usually Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman (whose bass work on Sittin on Top of the World is pure genius). And believe it or not, Eric Clapton stays within himself and plays the hell out of possibly the best version ever of I Ain’t Superstitious, along with Built for Comfort, Who’s Been Talking, and Red Rooster. And he leaves plenty of room to the great Hubert Sumlin, whose guitar slashes as judiciously and unpredictably as always on Rockin Daddy, Worried About My Baby, and a quick run through Do the Do. At the end, the Wolf relents and even sounds inspired on Wang Dang Doodle, a song he absolutely despised. It’s a study in contrasts: the sly, low-key Wolf and a bunch of guys getting to play with their idol, well. Here’s a random torrent.

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October 20, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dina Rudeen’s Common Splendor is Uncommonly Splendid

Dina Rudeen is the missing link between Neko Case and Eartha Kitt. The way she slides up to a high note and then nails it triumphantly will give you shivers. Her songs draw you in, make you listen: they aren’t wordy or packed with innumerable chord changes, but they pack a wallop. With just a short verse and a catchy tune, Rudeen will paint a picture and then embellish it while the initial impact is still sinking in. Musically, she reaches back to the magical moment in the late 60s and early 70s when soul music collided with psychedelic rock; lyrically, she uses the metaphorically loaded, witty vernacular of the blues as a foundation for her own terse, literate style. Some of the songs on her new album The Common Splendor sound like what Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks could have been if he’d had a good band behind him; the rest runs the gamut from lush, nocturnal oldschool soul ballads, to jaunty, upbeat, Americana rock. Behind Rudeen’s nuanced vocals, Gary Langol plays keyboards and stringed instruments along with Tim Bright on electric guitars, Tim Luntzel on bass, Konrad Meissner on drums, Jordan MacLean on trumpet, the ubiquitously good Doug Wieselman on baritone sax and clarinet, Lawrence Zoernig on cello, bells and bowls, Smoota’s Dave Smith on trombone, Lars Jacobsen on tenor sax and Jake Engel of Lenny Molotov’s band on blues harp. The arrangements are exquisite, with tersely interwoven guitar and keyboard lines, and horn charts that punch in and then disappear, only to jump back in on a crescendo. This also happens to be the best-produced album of the year: it sounds like a vinyl record.

The opening track, Hittin’ the Town is a sly, ultimately triumphant tune about conquering inner demons, driven by a defiant horn chart over a vintage 50s Howlin Wolf shuffle beat:

I hit a dry spell
I hit a low note
I hit the deck
But missed the boat
I hit the top, cracked the jewel in my crown
When it hit me like a ton of bricks that’s when I hit the ground
But now I’m just hitting the town

The second cut, Steady the Plow slinks along on a low key gospel/blues shuffle, Rudeen’s sultry contralto contrasting with layers of reverberating lapsteel, piano and dobro moving through the mix – psychedelic Americana, 2011 style. Safe with Me, a southern soul tune, wouldn’t have been out of place in the Bettye Swann songbook circa 1967. The lush, gorgeously bittersweet, Rachelle Garniez-esque Yvette eulogizes a teenage party pal who died before her time, maybe because she pushed herself a little too hard (Rudeen doesn’t say, an example of how the ellipses here speak as loudly as the words). Hold Up the Night succinctly captures the “beautiful, unfolding sight” of a gritty wee hours street scene; Blue Bird, a bucolic tribute to the original songbird – or one of them – has more of Langol’s sweet steel work. And Prodigal One, another requiem, vividly memorializes a crazy neighborhood character who finally got on the Night Train and took it express all the way to the end.

Not everything here is quiet and pensive. There’s also some upbeat retro rock here, including the sultry Cadillac of Love and a couple of rockabilly numbers: Repeat Offender, with its Sun Records noir vibe, and Gray Pompadour, a tribute to an old guy who just won’t quit. There’s also the unselfconsciously joyous closing singalong, On My Way Back Home, namechecking a characteristically eclectic list of influences: Bowie, Elvis, the Grateful Dead, among others. Count this among one of the best releases of 2011 in any style of music. Watch this space for upcoming NYC live dates.

April 6, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Some More Songs for You While We Fix This Thing

As many of you remember, we’ve had a longstanding tradition here putting up a new song every day, counting down our Top 666 Songs of Alltime list all the way to #1, until we were forced to break with that tradition about three weeks ago. Since it now looks like we may not be in a position to put up a new post every day til about November 1, here are the songs in the list which take us up to that point where we will hopefully resume daily activity here:

284. Procol Harum – Homburg

Very British, very stately, very subtle slap at authority from 1967, ominous organ and piano beneath Gary Brooker’s deadpan voice and one of lyricist Keith Reid’s best early ones. The single had to wait til 1974 to be released on album on Procol’s Best; mp3s are everywhere. The link above is the unintentionally hilarious original promo video.

283. Stiv Bators – A Million Miles Away

Haunting, majestic epic, the best song and sort of title track to Bators’ solo debut Disconnected, recorded as the Dead Boys were self-destructing around 1980 but not released til a few years later. RIP.

282. The Vapors – News at Ten

Furious, exasperated punk rock from the classic New Clear Days lp from 1979 (the same one that spawned their lone American hit, Turning Japanese), a generational battle taken up close and personal: “Still I can’t hear you!!!”

281. Al Stewart – Man for All Seasons

One of the popular 70s British art-rock songwriter’s most epic moments – and he had a bunch of them. This is a classic of existentialist rock, one of his smartest, most philosophical lyrics, slide guitar in the background providing lusciously ominous atmospherics. From the Time Passages lp, 1978, frequently found in the dollar bins at your favorite used vinyl purveyor.  Mp3s are everywhere (the link above is a torrent of the whole album).

280. The Dead Boys – Detention Home

Never recorded in the studio, this careening, menacing number was a live showstopper and one of the punk legends’ best songs. The best version is on the classic Night of the Living Dead Boys album from 1981, Jimmy Zero and Cheetah Chrome’s guitars screaming with feedback as the late Stiv Bators snarls his murderous lyrics.

279. Roxy Music – Out of the Blue

Haunting, swaying minor-key art-rock anthem, one of Bryan Ferry’s darkest numbers despite the upbeat lyrics. The studio version on the Country Life lp isn’t bad, but in concert the band went nuts with it. The link above is a tasty live clip from 1976. There are also delicious versions on the Roxy Music Live lp from the same year as well as the 2002 live reunion double cd, but the best is from the first live reunion cd featuring one of Phil Manzanera’s most exhilarating solos ever.

278. The Doors – The End

Listen closely: this is a pop song that morphs into a raga. Sure, it’s a “classic rock” standard, but deservedly so. Ray Manzarek’s swirling, funereal Balkan organ in tandem with Robbie Krieger’s evil guitar runs over John Densmore’s equally evil, crashing drums make the vocals almost an afterthought. “Mother, I want to fuck you!!!” Whatever.

277. The Church – Life Speeds Up

This macabre Syd Barrett-inflected epic was a mid-80s concert staple for the extraordinary, still vital Australian art-rockers. As Steve Kilbey has noted, the studio version on the 1988 double lp retrospective Hindsight is a bit stiff, but it’s still great. And there are bootlegs out there: Church fans are obsessive and generous with their files.

276. The Damned – Plan 9 Channel 7

The punk legends’ best song is this ornate, darkly anthemic masterpiece. The lyrics don’t make much sense – they seem to be about falling asleep with the tv on – but the raging guitar against a haunting organ backdrop are one of the high points in goth music. There are a million live tracks kicking around, many of them excellent, but it’s the 1979 studio version from the impressively diverse Machine Gun Etiquette lp that’s the classic.

275. The Church – The Maven

The Australian art-rock legends long ago proved that they didn’t need a major label behind them to succeed – in fact, the opposite is true, and this scorching, crescendoing broadside wastes no words in making that apparent. The clanging, crushing roar of what sounds like a thousand guitar tracks as the song reaches a peak at the end is one of the most majestic, sonically exquisite passages ever recorded, in any style of music. “Just turn the light off when you go, just tell the jury all you know,” Steve Kilbey snarls. From Sometime Anywhere, 1994.

274. Radio Birdman – Hand of Law

If you’ve been following this list from the beginning, you may have noticed that Australian garage-punks Radio Birdman’s classic 1979 album Radios Appear is very well represented here – and here we go again, with another cauldron of guitar fury, almost five minutes of paint-peeling, macabre, screaming intensity from Deniz Tek and Chris Masuak.

273. The Saints – Follow the Leader

The studio version (see the link above) on the Out in the Jungle album is decent, but when the band were at their peak – as a janglerock unit, for about ten years starting in the early 80s – they transformed this catchy, swaying number into one of their most beautiful songs. The version that opens the 1985 Live in a Mud Hut lp is transcendent, a feast of jangly guitar textures and lushly metallic overtones.

272. The New Race – Love Kills

The New Race were a Detroit supergroup of sorts, Ron Asheton and Deniz Tek on guitars, Warwick Gilbert of Radio Birdman on bass and Dennis Thompson from the MC5 on drums. They did a couple of Australian tours and then ruined what should have been a phenomenal live album with studio overdubs. But their two other subsequent live cds both effectively capture the band’s transcendent, unearthly power. This is one of Tek’s most vividly lyrical songs, a deathly winter road trip from Chicago to the Murder City. The stark, semi-acoustic studio recording by Radio Birdman is unforgettable, but the New Race version from The First To Pay, driven by Gilbert’s roaring, distorted bass chords, is even better. And very hard to find in a digital format other than the grooveshark stream in the title above. Here’s a live Radio Birdman take; here’s another.

271. Radio Birdman – Monday Morning Gunk

The original, released as a single by Radio Birdman mastermind Deniz Tek’s first Australian Band TV Jones in 1972 (and included on the 1988 Tek retrospective Orphan Tracks) is a blazing, somewhat woozily psychedelic masterpiece. Others prefer Radio Birdman’s even more scorching, professionally recorded version, released on the European version of the classic 1979 Radios Appear album some nine years later.The multitracked guitars of Tek and Chris Masuak on the solo are hit a literally unreal crescendo.

270. Howlin Wolf – Sitting on Top of the World

The iconic bluesman’s 1954 studio single hews much closer to the Mississippi Sheiks’ rustic version from the 20s that he probably learned it from. But believe it or not, his best version is on the 1969 London Sessions album with none other than Eric Clapton on guitar – given sufficient inspiration, even a hack can sometimes rise to the occasion. And it’s Bill Wyman’s casually soaring bass work that carries it over the top. Wondering who that tight in-the-pocket drummer is? It’s Ringo.

269. Bob Dylan – Positively 4th St.

The prototypical anti-trendoid anthem. Hypocritical as it may have been, Dylan had nothing but contempt for class tourism and most of the hippies who shared his comfortable upper middleclass background. And it’s obvious that a lot of them didn’t like him either since being one of them, he sussed them out. “You’d rather see me paralyzed” – how true. Download this with impunity because he isn’t getting any royalties from it. 

October 20, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 2/10/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s is #533:

Howlin Wolf – I’ll Be Around

Name another more powerful male singer. No, you can’t. This one features perhaps his most anguished, bitter vocals: “Yeah, I’ll be around, to see what you’re puttin’ out.” The ferocity of Willie Johnson’s lead guitar matches up. Mp3s are out there; the 1954 vinyl single is strictly a collector’s item, although MCA reissued it on the More Real Folk Blues album in all formats in the mid-80s (download the whole thing with the link above).

February 10, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 10/6/08

Counting down the top 666 songs of alltime one day at a time all the way to #1. Today’s is #628:

Howlin Wolf – Coon on the Moon

The greatest of all blues singers didn’t usually write topical songs: sex was his main concern. This is a rare exception from his final 1973 album The Back Door Wolf. It’s a fun and savvy lesson in black history through the ages, a defiantly prophetic one:

 

They called us coons

Said we didn’t have no sense

Someday you’ll wake up

Old Coon gonna be President

 

Click on the link above for a free mp3. As you can imagine, the vinyl sounds way better, but forget about finding it – the album featured an electric harpsichord and sold miserably.

November 6, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , | Leave a comment

Bobby Radcliff Live at Lucille’s Bar and Grill, NYC 2/23/08

The joke was on the crowd tonight. There was a long line of New Jersey tourists upstairs waiting to pay $60 to get into the larger adjacent B.B. King’s to see a Journey cover band. The whole lot of them, obviously impatient to get out of the cold, could have gotten into the smaller space and seen Bobby Radcliff and they all would have been $60 richer. And would have had a far better time. Saturday night in New York City at a popular, spacious nightclub, and who’s playing the main stage? A Journey cover band. Just think about that for a second.

To steal a phrase from LJ Murphy, in case you don’t know what the blues is, it is the kind of music that has nothing to do with Eric Clapton. In case you don’t know Bobby Radcliff, he’s one of the world’s most exciting blues guitarists. The Washington, DC native, tonight looking something like Chewbacca the Wookie from Star Wars in a three-piece suit, has always had sensational chops, but in recent years he’s really come into his own. B.B. King is the obvious influence, but Radcliff has brought a multitude of other styles into his playing, from Muddy Waters to funk, and they’re all good. Although he still plays an awful lot of notes, like a funkier, more minor-key or jazz-inclined Stevie Ray Vaughan, he’s finally discovered space, making all those scales and riffs and licks actually count for something. Tonight he was accompanied by what seemed to be a pickup rhythm section, the drummer pushing everything along by playing just ahead of the beat. The bass player was using all kinds of unorthodox voicings for what were clearly pretty standard lines. Instead of staying in position and just playing the notes as they went up the scale and up the strings, he’d move further up his A or D strings, sometimes sliding to the notes, actually a very effective device. A closer look revealed why: his G string was missing. For awhile it was hard to resist the temptation to call out from the audience and ask how that happened. On second thought, it wouldn’t have been the right thing to do: losing one’s G string can be traumatic, something that isn’t easily discussed in front of a crowd.

Radcliff alternated originals with covers. To his immense credit, it was sometimes hard to tell which was which. Although his vocals were miked too low in the mix for his audience repartee to be audible to all but those at the tables closest to the stage, he was in a gregarious mood tonight, revealing how Lovesick Blues wasn’t written by Muddy Waters, but was actually a Memphis Minnie tune (blues fans are obsessive like that). Radcliff’s version was uniquely his own, although he added some low vibrato on his E string, mimicking Muddy’s ominous tonalities. His version of Muddy’s Honeybee was rich with vibrato as well.

He did a couple of ominous, hypnotic numbers that evoked Howlin Wolf’s Smokestack Lightning as well as something that sounded like a dead ringer for Otis Rush’s Lonely Man, right down to the fast boogie break on the chorus, but with different lyrics. Radcliff sang with a drawl, but a casually unaffected one, making it clear that he doesn’t take his blues vocal cues from Robert Plant. Guitarwise, he used pretty much every trick in the book: lightning-fast chord-chopping and tremolo-picking, sizzling sixteenth-note runs, long sustained notes and elaborate jazz chords, all with just a touch of natural distortion from his gorgeous Gibson Les Paul. At the end of the set he did an utterly macabre instrumental cover of Memphis, of all songs, and this was as effective as it was bizarre. Don’t let the fact that he’s white scare you away: the guy can flat-out play, as he reaffirmed tonight. He’s back here on March 15 at 8.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment