Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Kasey Anderson – Nowhere Nights

By turns bitter, brutal and gorgeously anthemic, Kasey Anderson’s latest cd is a defiantly restless, kick-ass heartland rock record. It rips the heart out of the myth of idyllic smalltown life. Over and over again, the characters here make it clear that ultimately they want one thing and one thing alone: to get out. The onetime big fish in a little pond in the title track explains it with a casual grace: there was no epiphany, no paradigm shift, he just got sick of spinning his wheels. The other players in these Russell Banks-style narratives don’t get off nearly so easily.

Kasey Anderson comes across as something of the missing link between Steve Earle and Joe Pug: he’s got Earle’s breathy drawl and knack for a catchy hook and Pug’s uncanny sense of metaphor. Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s production sets layers and layers of guitar tersely jangling, twanging and roaring beneath Anderson’s intense, impassioned vocals, occasionally fleshed out with keyboards or accordion. Drummer Julian MacDonough propels it along with some of the most hauntingly terse playing on a rock record in recent years. The opening track, Bellingham Blues sets the tone: “I kept walking down these streets, searching for someone I would never meet,” Anderson half-snarls, half-whispers, perfectly encapsulizing the frustration and also the fear that comes with knowing that you’ve been somewhere you never wanted to be for far too long.

The second cut sounds like a blend of Mellencamp and Everclear (Mellencamp on Everclear, maybe?), followed by the wry, cynical Sooner or Later, a road song that could be Springsteen but with better production values. Holed up in some seedy motel, “She lights roman candles while he bleeds out,” yet there’s a sad determinism at work here: no matter how much resolve she may pull together, sooner or later she’s going to be going back to him.

With simple guitar, cello and a slow, hypnotic rimshot beat, Home is a chilling if ultimately encouraging reminder to a once-promising friend to get out and stay out: “Where you hang your hat, that’s where you get caught,” Anderson reminds. The big blazing backbeat rocker Torn Apart offers the same advice to an ex-girlfriend in less than friendly terms:

You’ve been spitting out nails and knocking back whiskey
You’ve got a new tattoo that says you don’t miss me
That highwire act makes me so bored I choke
Everybody’s laughing at the joke…
Everybody wants to see you smile
Maybe you should shut your mouth for a little while
Get out before you get torn apart

Possibly the most vivid track here is the searing I Was a Photograph, which follows the wartime and post-discharge struggles of Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller, the “Marlboro Man” Iraq war veteran immortalized in the famous Luis Sinco photo.

The closest Anderson gets to optimism is on the final track, and the two halfhearted seduction ballads here. The narrator in The Leavin’ Kind ends up undone by his own decency, and he knows it:

The devil’s in the details
I ain’t so hard to find
Go on, disappear, Ill be standing right here
I’m not the leavin’ kind

“Some things you can bury, that don’t mean they’re dead,” he reminds in From Now On: “You always said you were a hopeless romantic, well here’s that hopeless romance you’ve been waiting for.”

The album closes with the death-obsessed, metaphor- and reverb-drenched, practically eight-minute epic Real Gone, Ambel’s offhandedly savage guitar pyrotechnics like high-beams throughout a long, unfulfilling, uneasy road trip that ends just as unresolved as it began. Hopefully there’ll be more coming soon. You’ll see this one high up on our 50 best albums of the year list in December. Kasey Anderson plays Lakeside on May 1 at around 10:30 on a killer bill with the Roscoe Trio and Chip Robinson.

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April 27, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joe Pug Tour Dates

Ferociously smart, charismatic lyrical songwriter Joe Pug is on the road again. Fearless and in your face, he’s the opposite of what 99% of you think folk music is. You can get a free download of his excellent new ep In the Meantime, very favorably reviewed here. Here’s the latest tour schedule, including some choice dates opening on Steve Earle’s fall 2009 European tour.

9/17  Champaign, IL–Pygmalion Music Festival

9/18  Nashville, TN–AMA Music Festival

9/19 Madison, WI–Forward Music Festival

10/1  St. Louis, MO–The Billiken Club

10/2  Rock Island, IL–Rock Island Brewing Co.

10/3 Chicago, IL–Americana Staqe @ Chicago Country Music Festival

10/15  Boulder, CO– The B-Side Lounge

10/16  Denver, CO–Daniels Hall @ Swallow Hill

10/22 Los Angeles, CA–The Mint

10/23 San Francisco, CA–Hotel Utah

10/27  Seattle, WA–Tractor Tavern

10/28  Portland, OR–The Doug Fir

11/2 Minneapolis, MN–Cedar Cultural Center

11/3 Grinnell, IA–Bob’s Underground @ Grinnell College

11/4 Iowa City, IA–Sanctuary Pug

11/5 DeKalb, IL–Otto’s

11/6  Ann Arbor, MI–The Ark

11/13  Ennis, Ireland–Glor +

11/14  Castlebar, Ireland–TF Royal +

11/15 Derry, Ireland–Derry Millennium Forum +

11/17  Dublin, Ireland–Dublin Olympia +

11/19  Eindoven, Netherlands–Effenaar +

11/23  Groningen, Netherlands–Groningen Oosterport +

11/25  Stuttgart, Germany–LKA Stuttgart +

11/26  Berlin, Germany–Columbia Club +

11/27  Nurenberg, Germany–Hirsch +

11/29  Kaiserslautern, Germany–Kammgarn +

12/1  Milan, Italy–La Salumeria Della Musica +

12/2  Rome, Italy–Roma Circolo Degli Artisti +

12/3  Faenza, Italy–Strade Blu Festival at Teatro Masini  +

12/6  Glasgow, Scotland–Glasgow Royal Concert Hall +

12/7  Perth, Scotland–Perth Concert Hall +

12/8  Aberdeen, SC–Aberdeen Music Hall +

12/10  Inverness, SC–Inverness Ironworks +

+ = with Steve Earle

September 14, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album Review: Joe Pug – In the Meantime

The brash, fearless lyrical mastermind is here for the long term and as proof he offers up his second consecutive free ep. For the price of getting on the Joe Pug email list, you get this. And it pays off: his fan base keeps building, the gigs keep getting better and better and he hasn’t shown any indication of selling out. As usual, it’s just Pug, his guitar and his harp, hammering on the strings and blowing til the reeds distort, his voice closer to Steve Earle than the John Prine-inflected style he was mining on his brilliant debut Nation of Heat (very favorably reviewed here). Because of the instrumentation, a lot of people will call this Dylanesque, and it is, but there’s a whole lot more going on here.

 

The opening cut is Dodging the Wind, a defiant 6/8 ballad. It’s an apt anthem for anyone who belongs to the ones who got away: “When you think of the kid who left when you did, he too will be thinking of you.” The title track is a pensive, fingerpicked cheating ballad: “We’ll be honest to each other – meaning you,” Pug sardonically rasps. The metaphors never stop: the house will never be built for lack of lumber, and he ends up sleeping in the closet, hiding from the cops.

 

Lock the Door picks up the pace: it has bass and drums. Like Rosalita by Springsteen, the protagonist here just won’t take no for an answer, but he makes his point in about seven fewer minutes:  

 

Who’s that man knee-deep in sand waiting on the tide

With an atlas and a ladder, undaunted from the height

Lock the door, I’m standing on your porch tonight

 

A Thousand Men is the most overtly Dylanesque cut here, rich with history, Pug alluding to the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington as he teases the listener:

 

See Thomas Jefferson on the eve of Bunker Hill

Writing words to die for, writing sentences to kill

They’ve come to paint his portrait

So he grabs a chair and sits

As the surgeon orders cotton

For a thousand tourniquets

 

Pug knows that virtually all inventions were devised for waging war: “Every good idea kills at least a thousand men,” and Pug’s thinking he’s probably number 1001.

 

The ep wraps up with the catchy Black Eyed Susan “When you look right through me I wonder what’s behind my back.” Pug is blowing up right now – this year’s nonstop tour includes Bonnaroo, Lolapalooza and the Newport Folk Festival. Don’t be the last one on your block to find out about the guy.

July 8, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Joe Pug – Nation of Heat

Chicago-based singer-songwriter Joe Pug has been riding the wave of a lot of buzz recently, and for once it’s justified. Brash and ambitious as this debut is, we need those qualities in times like these. Pug’s not afraid of the mic like those legions of wimpy, strung-out Conor Oberst wannabes, and for once the material here lives up to its author’s stance. With more than a mere nod to early Dylan, this cd is just Pug and his acoustic guitar with occasional harmonica. His myspace lists John Prine as a big influence, which comes across mostly in his casually smart, metaphorical lyricism; there also seems to be some Richard Buckner and maybe a little Billy Bragg in there somewhere too. Pug’s songs can be self-referential, some might say bordering on self-mythologizing (he calls a couple of them hymns), and selfconscious, but not in a pretentious way. Resolute, defiant, tuneful and often really funny, Pug loves images, and he’s very, very good at them. And perhaps true to his name, Pug is pugnacious.

 

The cd opens with a shot across the bow called Hymn 101, a more apt title than it might seem, especially in the wake of the election. It’s a hymn to the hope of throwing out the old to make way for the new, the triumph of youthful yet knowing optimism over smug complacency:

 

The more I buy the more I’m bought

And the more I’m bought the less I’ve caught

 

The cd’s second track Call It What You Will is a breakup song, a tongue-in-cheek study in semantics:

 

I called today disaster, she calls it December the third…

Some call an end a beginning, this time they’ll go unheard

Call it what you will

Words are just words

 

Pub returns to defiant mode with the vivid Nobody’s Man (as in, “I’d rather be nobody’s man than somebody’s child.”). Hymn 35 seems to be a stab at personifying some timeless quality – justice, truth? – what it might be is never clear. I Do My Father’s Drugs, by contrast, is a bristling, wickedly lyrical slap upside the head at clueless, irresponsible, knowitall baby boomers, a spot-on illustration of history repeating itself:

 

If you see me with a rifle don’t ask me what it’s for

I fight my father’s war…

All the streets in Cleveland are named for Martin Luther King…

When the party starts on Monday and Christmas comes in June…

I’ll be leaving soon

 

The most traditional of the songs here, Speak Plainly Diana is an optimistic Obama-generation anthem:

 

There’s a wrecking ball in the front yard but there’s blueprints on the couch…

Steal from the tallest cabinet and make your favorite sound

 

The cd closes with the title track, and it’s arguably Pug’s strongest, heat taking on as many meanings here as he can squeeze into a tight couple of lines:

 

So swift and so vicious are the carnival rides

And the carnival barker’ll yell your name for a price

We’ve got billboards for love and Japanese cars

…all the streetlights call themselves stars

The more that I learn the more that I cheat

I come from the nation of heat

 

In other words, this guy gets it. And if the way he beats on his guitar is any indication, he sounds like he could be great live. Watch this space for NYC dates; Pug kicks off a Texas/Colorado/Midwest December tour on Dec 5 at at 10:30 PM at Stubb’s BBQ, 801 Red River in Austin.

November 28, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , | 3 Comments