Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Balthrop, Alabama – Subway Songs and Cowboy Songs

Two brand-new eps from the multistylistic Brooklyn music mob. True to the band’s signature shtick (Balthrop, Alabama style themselves as a little Southern town relocated to the BK), a lot of people were involved with making these albums and in general they acquit themselves well. Perhaps because of the sheer number of contributors, the band’s ability to fluently channel a ridiculous number of styles from decades ago to the present day is uncanny, and spectacularly so. The first of the two, Subway Songs is delightfully gruesome, lushly and imaginatively produced with layers of vocals, horns, keys and a variety of rustic stringed instruments. It also doesn’t seem to have the slightest thing to do with subways. It opens with Subway Horns, theatrical gypsyish ska punk like World Inferno. Bride of Frankenstein, which follows, is southwestern gothic with some biting slide guitar in the style of Friends of Dean Martinez. Prom Story is an amusingly and musically spot-on spoof of early 60s girl group ghoul-pop; Ocean’s Arms adds a faux Irish tinge to an immigrant’s tale gone drastically awry.

 

Red Hook Pool is a fast, upbeat folk-rock number spiced with banjo, a dead ringer for a Phil Ochs pop hit from, say, Tape from California, 1967. It, too comes to a grisly conclusion after the rain starts, morphing strangely into a vintage style soul song after a long instrumental vamp. With its beautiful, soaring vocals, the 6/8 ballad My Way the Highway sounds like what Caithlin de Marrais might have done if she’d been alive in 1965. At least nobody seems to die in this one.

 

Cowboy Songs explores a satirical concept. Trouble is, between Ween’s Twelve Golden Country Greats album, the Inbreeds, and David Allan Coe, there isn’t much country music territory left  to parody, and this doesn’t exactly add anything to the canon. The musicianship here is all first-rate, and in fact some of these songs are so period-perfect that they could be from Nashville in the mid-60s – but as b-sides. Old Cowboy Queer sounds like a ripoff of I Thought I Was Country Til I Found I Was Queer by fellow Brooklynites the Illbillies (now Maynard and the Musties), which achieved some notoriety about ten years ago. There are also thoughtful attempts at crafting a slowly swinging romantic ballad and an oldschool Ray Price-style shuffle. And then they end it on a tongue-in-cheek apocalyptic note. Balthrop, Alabama plays the cd release for these two at the 92YTribeca on 3/13 on an excellent bill with the Ukuladies and the Moonlighters starting at about 9:30 PM.

March 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Inbreeds at Freddy’s, Brooklyn NY 10/24/08

One of the funniest shows of the year by one of New York’s funniest bands. The Inbreeds’ raison d’etre is poking fun at the right wing, usually (but not always) with parodies of country songs. This show saw the quartet broadening their comedic spectrum considerably, although the jokes were as good as always. Characteristically, there was a lot of tongue-in-cheek homoerotic banter between the two singers, Neil the drummer and Chris the guitarist (who also doubled ably on banjo on a couple of numbers), playing the part of macho hicks with a thing for double entendre…and each other. One of the reasons why this band is so funny is that they know their source material so well: the humor is pretty savage, but it’s obvious they have an affinity for the music. After a bizarre opening tune called Party Box (a New Jersey thing, maybe? Hard to figure out what that was all about), Chris went deep into his low baritone for Becky, a parody of a cheating song. “Every night I whisper words of love into your ear,” the philandering husband tells his wife, “Becky only gets to hear me grunt.”

 

The high point of the night was Unfurled. It’s a howl, a dead-on spoof of a patriotic song. In this one, the singer looks forward to the day when “there’s a Fourth of July parade all over the world,” that all the children “with their blue eyes and golden curls” can look forward to. And they’ll be doing their patriotic duty, working for less than the Chinese in a new golden era where a 40-hour work week gets you part-time pay, where people get picked up by the cops if they look anything like “the enemy in the war.”

 

Neil was all excited about an important event coming up in the near future, specifically, Halloween. So the band launched into a strange epic called Pumpkin Man, accordionist Annette Kudrak’s tongue-in-cheek gypsy melody eerily swirling behind the stentorian vocals. A hooded figure came out of the audience and handed a scroll to Chris, who slowly unwound it, blowing what seemed a whole bottle’s worth of baby powder from inside it. “May I?” he asked sarcastically.

 

“Just don’t blow any more shit off of it,” implored an audience member as the smell of Johnson & Johnson permeated the room. Chris then recited something arcane that made no sense at all and then the band wrapped it up.

 

Finally, Kudrak put down her accordion and came out front with a keytar slung over her shoulder like a guitar, in a wooden case with a handle fashioned to look like a horse’s head. As she swayed and launched into a warm, pretty series of chords, power-ballad style, she couldn’t help cracking a smile as Chris sang another romantic song, Clydesdale Lady, about the big filly with whom he’d like to create a race of centaurs. Another of the evening’s high points was Homeland, a simple recitation of the names of cities and towns from around the country (nice to see King of Prussia followed by Kennebunkport) that goes on and on, hypnotically, until all of a sudden you realize that the names they’re using have suddenly become pretty crazy (yes, they did namecheck Intercourse, PA). The phony outlaw epic Peckerwood County Justice, a staple of their live show, was as boisterously amusing as always. The night’s only drawback was when their closer Puppydog Amen (which has only two words, “puppydog amen”) went on and on for what seemed five minutes while some annoying drunk yahoo in the back wouldn’t stop whistling: a minute and maybe just one false ending is all that one needs, max.

 

As well-loved as the Inbreeds are as a live band, where they really ought to be is in a Broadway theatre. With the way the political climate has changed, the Inbreeds’ satire could be the next Urinetown. Any ambitious producers out there?

October 27, 2008 Posted by | Live Events, Music, New York City, Reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Inbreeds at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 12/9/07

The evening started an hour earlier across the street at Esperanto, where a forro band was playing unamplified in the window. Forro is Brazilian rainforest dance music, under ideal circumstances with acoustic stringed instruments like cuatro and guitar, and accordion. At its best, forro is the South American equivalent of Balkan gypsy music, as haunting as it is rousing. “What’s this band’s name? Mike’s band,” their leader, percussionist Nanny Assis joked. He’s been playing SOB’s for a long time: this is his weekly Sunday early-evening project, just two percussionists and accordion. They sound best at the bar where you can hear them over the yuppies chowing down on overpriced Spanish food. It was nice to be able to get out of the rain and hear this for an hour before splashing across the street. And it’s always fun to go out on a rainy night: you can always get a seat.

The Inbreeds played an absolutely hilarious set of country song parodies. It’s as if somebody in the band heard Tammy Faye Starlite’s Used Country Female album and said, hey, we can do this too. This show was that good. They’re very theatrical, and their act is very visual: imagine the best thing you’ve ever seen at Fringe Festival, only better. It wouldn’t be fair to give away their jokes, but over the course of an hour, they did spot-on spoofs of the country eulogy song, the American Idol ditzy country girl song, the dead dog song, the religious song, the Charlie Daniels clan-versus-clan epic, the sentimental those-were-the-days ballad, the one-night-stand song, the faux-country stadium rock song and finally the right-wing political song that closed the set, in which it was revealed at the end that the continued health of the American consumer economy is completely dependent on the availability of Chinese slave labor. Topics covered in the process include masturbation, teenage homosexuality, abortion, masturbation again, sexism, racist bigotry, religious intolerance and musicians’ inability to resist the urge to ham it up (one song featured banjo played with a bow like Jimmy Page used to play guitar). The material may frequently be sophomoric but the songs are very thoughtfully composed – whoever writes them obviously has the source material down cold. The humor extends to the music as well: even when nobody’s singing, the band is still trying to pull laughs and for the most part succeeded, even if the sound was as awful as it usually is here. Why the club can’t make it work in such a cozy, comfortable space is hard to understand.

The musicians in the Inbreeds are excellent. Haunting accordionist Annette Kudrak predictably steals the show, even if just she’s sitting in the back playing and contributing the occasional vocal harmony. There are two frontmen, one alternating between guitar and banjo, the other playing a standup drum kit. Both are a little stagy and very funny. The unit also has bass, violin (which was pretty inaudible throughout the show) and a woman on backup vocals who took a couple of breathtakingly good, twangy turns on lead vocals.

Where this really ought to be is Broadway: not off-Broadway, but in one of the big Broadway theatres, where wide-eyed tourists from the heartland can pay a hundred bucks a head so this talented crew can earn union scale and maybe teach the out-of-town crowd a thing or two. The ultimate irony here, of course, is that most country musicians go into music for the same reason that nonconformists in the Middle Ages did: to find a safe haven within an oppressive society. Just like five hundred years ago, most musicians, wherever they are, still swing hard to the left. Nashville included. The Inbreeds play Hank’s in Brooklyn on January 17 at 9 PM.

December 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment