Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 6/25/11

The core crew here says hello from Montreal! Busy day tomorrow, and we might let you in on the fun! In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #584:

Junior Kimbrough – Sad Days Lonely Nights

Kimbrough was sort of the Mississippi hill country equivalent of Roscoe Ambel: a bar owner who happened to be a hell of a guitarist (or a hell of a guitarist who just happened to own a bar). Mostly, it’s just Kimbrough with either a rhythm section, or just a drummer. But unlike T-Model Ford and R.L. Burnside, Kimbrough didn’t go for interminable, overtone-packed chordal vamps: his slowly crescendoing, gorgeously expansive, broodingly meandering blues songs go on for ten minutes at a clip, a clinic in subtlety and minimalism. This stuff is mournful, gently intense, soulful in the purest sense of the word. The title track from this 1993 album, generally considered his best, is the iconic one, setting the tone for a judicious, bent-note style he’d reprise again and again in Lonesome in My Home, Lord Have Mercy on Me, My Mind Is Rambling and Leaving in the Morning. Old Black Mattie is the closest thing to the raw, hypnotic dance music of Burnside and Ford here; I’m in Love is unexpectedly upbeat, but Pull Your Clothes Off is about the most cynically depressing attempt at seduction anybody ever made. And the version of Crawling King Snake here is seriously creepy, in fact barely recognizable compared to John Lee Hooker, or for that matter, the Doors. Here’s a random torrent via Rukusjuice.

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June 24, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/9/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #600:

T-Model Ford – Pee Wee Get My Gun

Primeval menace at its most raw and ramshackle, this 1997 live-in-the-studio recording is a fair approximation of what the Mississippi hill country blues legend is like onstage. A convicted murderer who let his reputation proceed him and seems to have a lot of fun letting people believe how bad he is, T-Model Ford was a nonmusician until his late 50s. His pounding, hypnotic style doesn’t indicate that he was listening to much of anything other than the careening one-chord juke-joint vamps popular in his neck of the woods. Where Junior Kimbrough was all about nuance, this is all about the adrenaline rush. By the time he made this, he was in his late 70s, with a bad hip that forced him to play sitting down. But it doesn’t hold him back, just him and his drummer Spam. Marilyn Manson is G-rated compared to this guy. It’s angry, assaultive stuff, kiss-off numbers like Cut You Loose; the defiant Nobody Gets Me Down; the T-Model Theme, a warped boogie; the completely unhinged I’m Insane and seven other tracks, most of them in the same key, otherworldly overtones flying from the muted strings of his cheap guitar. Still vital at almost ninety, he keeps playing and recording. The whole album is streaming at deezer; here’s a random torrent via I Hate the 90s.

June 9, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Vieux Farka Toure Burns His Guitar

Vieux Farka Toure didn’t really burn his guitar, at least the way Hendrix burned his. He just turned in an incandescent performance. It’s a useful rule of thumb that if a performer plays well in daylight, he or she will rip up whatever joint they’re in come nightfall. Or maybe Toure’s just a morning person. Thursday afternoon in Metrotech Park in downtown Brooklyn, the Malian guitarist didn’t let the crushing tropical heat and humidity phase him, blasting through one long, hypnotic, minimalistically bluesy number after another.

Like his father, desert blues pioneer Ali Farka Toure, he’ll hang on a chord for minutes at a clip, building tension sometimes thoughtfully, sometimes with savage abandon. That intensity – along with a long, pointless percussion solo- is what got the audience – an impressively diverse mix of daycamp kids and their chaperones, office workers and smelly trendoids – on their feet and roaring. Using his signature icy, crystalline, Albert Collins-esque tone, he took his time getting started, subtly varying his dynamics. What he does is ostensibly blues, inasmuch as his assaultive riffage generally sticks within the parameters of the minor-key blues scale. But the spacious, slowly unwinding melodies are indelibly Malian, with the occasional latin tinge or a shift into a funkier, swaying rhythm. This time out the band included a bass player along with Toure’s steady second guitarist, playing spikily hypnotic vamps on acoustic, along with a sub drummer who was clearly psyched to be onstage and limited himself to a spirited, thumping pulse, and a duo of adrenalized percussionists, one on a large, boomy calabash drum.

Lyrics don’t seem to factor much into this guy’s songwriting: a couple of numbers featured call-and-response on the chorus in Toure’s native tongue, but otherwise it was all about the guitar. As the energy level rose, he’d launch into one volley after another of blistering 32nd-note hammer-ons. And he wouldn’t waste them – after he’d taken a crescendo up as far as he could, he’d signal to the band and in a split second they’d end the song cold. It’s hard to think of another player who blends purposefulness with blinding speed to this degree (although, again, Albert Collins comes to mind – although Toure is more playful than cynical). Toure’s show this past spring at le Poisson Rouge was the last on an obviously exhausting tour: he’d sprint as far as he could, then back off when it was obvious that he needed a breather. Thursday was more of a clinic in command: Toure was completely in control this time out. Like most great guitarists, he spends a lot of time on the road (and has a killer new live album just out, very favorably reviewed here), so you can expect another New York appearance sooner than later.

August 2, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Vieux Farka Toure – Live

A characteristically intense, often exhilarating album by one of the great guitarists of our time. Vieux Farka Toure’s dad Ali Farka Toure was one of the inventors of duskcore, the patiently meandering, hypnotic desert blues. Unlike his dad, Vieux Farka Toure is not exactly a patient player, but in the family tradition he’s also invented his own style of music. Whether it’s blues, or an electrified and electrifying version of Malian folk music is beside the point. He may be playing in a completely different idiom, but Vieux Farka Toure’s approach is essentially the same as Charlie Parker’s, creating mini-symphonies out of seemingly endless, wild volleys of notes within a very simple chord structure. Bird played the blues; sometimes Toure does. Other times he just jams on a single chord. Whatever the case, Toure is the rare fret-burner who still manages to make his notes count for something: this album isn’t just mindless Buckethead or Steve Vai-style shredding. The obvious comparison (and one which invites a lot of chicken-or-the-egg questions, which may be academic) is to hypnotic Mississippi hill country bluesmen like Junior Kimbrough and Will Scott.

Toure’s attack is fluid and precise, utilizing lightning-fast hammer-ons whether he’s sticking to the blues scale, or working subtle shifts in timbre and rhythm during the songs’ quieter passages. He plays with a cool, watery, chorus-box tone very reminiscent of Albert Collins. Here he’s backed by an acoustic rhythm guitarist who holds it down with smooth yet prickly repetitive riffs, along with percussion, sometimes bass and a guest guitarist or two (Australian slide player Jeff Lang converses and eventually duels with him memorably on one track). The album collects several of the hottest moments of a 2009 European and Australian tour.

The midtempo opening number is a teaser, only hinting at the kind of speed Toure is capable of. As with several of the other numbers here, call-and-response is involved, this time with band members (later on he tries to get the audience to talk back to him in his own vernacular, with particularly mystified results). The slow jam that serves as the second track here is a study in dynamics and tension-building up to the ecstatic wail of the next cut.

A couple of songs here work a boisterous, reggae-tinged groove; another echoes the thoughtful, Castles Made of Sand side of Hendrix. When Toure’s taken the energy as high as anyone possibly could, sometimes he’ll stop cold and end the song there rather than doing something anticlimactic. He winds up the album with a big blazing boogie with a trick ending and then a stomp featuring a couple of characteristically paint-peeling solos along with a breakdown where the band takes it low and suspenseful until Toure is ready to wail again. If lead guitar is your thing, this is somebody you need to know – and somebody you really ought to see live. Like most of the great lead guitarists, Toure pretty much lives on the road – his next NYC gig is at Metrotech Park in Brooklyn at noon on July 29.

July 2, 2010 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Will Scott – Gnawbone

This is a roughhewn, somewhat menacing album. Vocally, Will Scott is a casual, soulful presence. He’s got a big voice that fills the space here comfortably – he knows he doesn’t have to work too hard to make his point, and he doesn’t. Likewise, his guitar playing is terse, with a bite. Scott comes out of the Mississippi hill country school of blues playing, continuing the tradition that Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford and R.L. Burnside kept alive for so long. It’s a literally mesmerizing style, with long, improvisational songs that go on for minutes on end, frequently without a single chord change. Scott puts his own individual stamp on it, along with several considerably successful ventures into country. Christopher “Preacher Boy” Watkins’ production is marvelously oldschool, vocals up front, guitars and then the rest of the band a little further back in the mix like an old vinyl record. With sparse, tasteful cameos from the Be Good Tanyas’ Samantha Parton, Jolie Holland and Jan Bell along with Preacher Boy on a multitude of instruments, this was made for late-night listening.

The cd opens with the growling psychedelic Americana of Jack’s Defeat Creek, a murky, genre-blending success. The title track, a sarcastic chronicle about several big bullshitters bears Scott’s signature hill country stamp: it could go on for twice as long as it does and that wouldn’t hurt a bit. Make Her Love Me layers acoustic and electric guitars eerily in the background, with a wild, screaming, all-too-brief noise guitar solo making a particularly imaginative crescendo.

Lazy Summertime blends slow swinging 70s style outlaw country with a more rustic Tom Waits vibe. Country Soil reverts to hypnotic blues, like Wayfaring Stranger as Country Joe & the Fish might have done it if they’d been able to handle their drugs a little better With its subtle gospel inflections, Louisiana Lullaby would be perfectly at home on a vintage Waylon Jennings lp.The defiant Paper Match has some neatly intricate bluegrass-inflected twelve string work coming out of the chorus along with some fluidly potent upright bass from Jim Whitney. Of the rest of the tracks, there’s a swing blues, a fast Waits-ish number, a dark, rustic spiritual and the absolutely fascinating Long Time Since, almost a dub reggae production with its haunting and hypnotic repeater-box guitar popping in and out of the mix as the rhythm section careens along. If there’s anything to criticize here, it’s that like so many other studio albums by bluesmen, it would be awfully nice to hear [fill in the blank: B.B. King, Albert Collins…Will Scott] get a chance to cut loose more here – Scott plays a mean solo. Maybe next time. In the meantime, this will help put him on the map. He just got back from UK tour, back to his more-or-less weekly Wednesday 8:30 PM gig at 68 Jay St. Bar, something you ought to see if Americana is your thing.

July 7, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Scott Live at 68 Jay Street Bar, Brooklyn NY 1/16/08

Will Scott is a real find, with a very high ceiling. He’s been playing Wednesdays at around 8:30 at this remarkably comfortable little corner bar for awhile now. His stock in trade is Mississippi hill country blues, which doesn’t sound much like blues from the Delta: it’s deceptively simple and usually very hypnotic, often set to a fast 2/4 dance beat. Because there aren’t many (if any) chord changes, players color the music with subtle changes in the rhythm, accents and passing tones on the guitar. Scott has masterful command of the style. For an artist playing idiomatic music, to say that it’s hard to tell the difference between his originals and his covers is high praise, and sometimes it was hard to tell. Other times it wasn’t, because Scott uses the style as a springboard for his writing and adds a lot more chords (and a lot more tunefulness). Running his acoustic through a little Ampeg amp and backed by an excellent drummer with an equally good feel for this kind of music, if you closed your eyes, it was as if T-Model Ford and his sidekick Spam were holding down the beat in some rundown Mississippi shotgun shack. Except that it was really cold outside.

Scott opened with what sounded like a tribute to Junior Kimbrough, thoughtful and meandering but with considerable minor-key bite, in the late, lamented bluesman’s trademark style. Most of the songs he played afterward – again, it was difficult to tell what were his and what weren’t – were short and fast. Scott’s fingerpicking was fiery, fast and effortless, and so were his vocals. He sings with a drawl, but like his playing, it sounds effortless and authentic, not like the legions of trust-fund children from New Jersey playing Pete’s Candy Store, pretending they’re from the deep South. Maybe it works for Scott because his voice is strong: he’s not exactly afraid of the mic. “In case you were wondering, this show was brought to you by whiskey,” he joked. He was already working on his second glass of Jameson’s by the third song of his set. “It’s a multinational corporation.”

It’s not often that we run across someone who under today’s circumstances might actually be able to reach a national audience. At this point, even most indie labels are keeping nonconformist musicians at arm’s length. But there always seems to be an audience for the blues, even if it barely qualifies as blues and it’s played by beerbellied fifty-year-olds from Westchester who think Eric Clapton is a bluesman. Being white, Scott could probably make a living introducing sedate suburban audiences to the music he loves so much, for $25 a ticket, at places too fearful to book someone like, say, R.L. Burnside. He’d be perfect on that bill coming up at the Town Hall next month: he’s a whole lot more interesting than Cephas and Wiggins. When he moves on to that sort of thing, let’s hope he doesn’t forget he got his start in New York playing a midweek residency at a tiny, laid-back little place in Dumbo. That’s where he is for the moment. You should see him sometime.

January 16, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments