Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 1/2/11

Still recovering from Friday night’s festivities? Not us. Furiously at work on putting together a brand-new NYC live music calendar for January and February, among innumerable other projects that you’ll see here soon. In the meantime, every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Sunday’s is #758:

Laura Cantrell – Live at Schubas

Laura Cantrell is not only this era’s most captivating country singer: as the “proprietress” of WFUV’s Radio Thrift Shop, she gave a valuable lift to thousands of obscure Americana artists who might have slipped under the radar if not for her. Cantrell’s otherworldly clear, pure voice goes straight back to another era, to Kitty Wells: it’s a potently gentle instrument. This album captures her at the top of her game with a tight backing band featuring lead guitar, mandolin and pedal steel: the sound is a little boomy, but her voice still resonates. It’s sort of a greatest-hits-live set: pretty much all her best songs, along with a killer version of Elvis Costello’s Indoor Fireworks. The irresistibly fetching, swaying backbeat midtempo numbers include Don’t Break the Heart, Do You Ever Think of Me, All the Same to You and the obscure A.P. Carter gem When the Roses Bloom Again, along with George Usher’s Not the Tremblin’ Kind, the title track from her groundbreaking 2000 full-length debut. But as much as Cantrell gets props for playing her A-list contemporaries’ songs, it’s her originals that stand out the most, particularly the bucolic Mountain Fern and the offhandedly chilling Churches off the Interstate. Most of her catalog, including this, is streaming at deezer; although it strangely doesn’t seem to have made it to the file-sharing sites, Cantrell still has it available at hers.

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January 2, 2011 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Robin Aigner – Bandito

“I can sing a song about any damn thing,” boasts Robin Aigner on her new cd Bandito. The song also asserts that she cooks a good dinner. If she’s as good in the kitchen as she is on the mic, she ought to open a restaurant – it would be a four-star affair. This album, Aigner’s second solo effort, is well titled. Aigner is mysterious: she has a thing about mistresses and even more of a thing for innuendo. Like the artist she’s most likely to be compared to, Laura Cantrell, Aigner is known best for her voice: highly sought after as a singer on the oldtimey/Americana circuit, she toured with the Crooked Jades and seems at this point to be a charter member of Pinataland. Her knockout punch is nuance – she can wrench an album’s worth of intensity out of a split-second’s hesitation or a typically understated, seductive melisma to wrap up a phrase. Yet it’s her songwriting that takes centerstage on this album, her second, a feast of historically-imbued, out-of-the-box steampunk imagination. Aigner switches between acoustic guitar and banjo, judiciously accompanied by Flanks bassist Tom Mayer, Chicha Libre’s Josh Camp on spinet, Charles Burst on Rhodes and Dean Sharenow of Kill Henry Sugar on percussion.

The cd opens with the jaunty Pearl Polly Adler, a tribute to FDR’s [possible, unconfirmed, hee hee] mistress who “knows where he parks his car,” and makes sure to cover herself in case trouble ever comes her way. Delores from Florence tells the surreal tale of a globetrotting flapper who had to come up with an innovative solution to the problem of having “too many lovers.”And Annie and Irving imagines an anxious romance between Annie Moore (first immigrant to make it through customs on Ellis Island) and Irving Berlin, creeping around the shadows out in the Catskills.

The rest of the cd alternates hilarity with pensive intensity. A poignantly perplexed lament, See You Around features Aigner at her most haunting, over a sad tango melody. Mediocre Busker is one of those songs that needed to be written, and it’s a good thing Aigner was the one to do it: this guy turns out to be bad at everything else too. Aigner uses the equally tongue-in-cheek Found to do justice to both the crazy packrats and the lucky rest of us who have a thing for stuff others have left behind. Wrong Turn memorializes a couple of clueless northerners getting lost in the Bible Belt, while Get Me Home – a duet – amps up the seductive vibe with characteristic allusive charm. The album ends with Great Molasses Disaster, a vividly somber requiem for the day in January, 1919 when a giant industrial tank of molasses in Boston’s North End burst and unleashed a literal tsunami on the neighborhood, demolishing buildings, pitching a locomotive into Boston Harbor, leaving hundreds injured and 21 dead. Steampunks and Americana fans alike will be salivating over this (the album, not the molasses) for a long time. Aigner’s next gig is on Feb 26 at 7 PM at the cafe at the 92YTribeca with Brady Jenkins on piano.

February 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rebecca Turner at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 2/9/10

Tuesday night Banjo Jim’s still didn’t have its liquor license back (it does now), but the bar was covered in homemade goodies. Lemon snickerdoodles, chocolate cayenne cookies and a peanut butter cheesecake induced an instant sugar buzz. And there was also Rebecca Turner, a whole lot of catchy Americana songs, an excellent band and her exquisite voice. There are tens of thousands of women with good voices out there: Turner’s is something special, warm and crystalline without being saccharine, moving toward and then away from a Nashville twang depending on how hard the song rocked. With Skip Krevens on pedal steel, John Pinamonti on twelve-string guitar, Scott Anthony on bass, a new drummer and Sue Raffman soaring on harmony vocals for about half the set, she held a tough crowd (most of them actually big fans) silent and bordering on spellbound for the better part of an hour.

She stayed pretty much in major keys, playing mostly newer material from her most recent album Slowpokes. Turner’s turns of phrase are subtle and understated, sometimes wryly funny, often vividly aphoristic. Her hooks are just the opposite: the tunes get in your face, linger in your mind, notably the insanely catchy, metaphorically Tough Crowd with its delicious, syncopated riffs that slammed out into one of her most memorable choruses. It’s a good song on record; it’s amazing live. She’d opened with Listen, a contemplatively jangly country-pop number about intuition (Turner is a reliable source) that would be perfectly at home in the Laura Cantrell songbook, right down to the hushed, gently twangy nuance of the vocals. The Way She Is Now picked up the pace, a swinging, upbeat country-rock song sweetened with swells from the pedal steel. The Byrds-inflected Insane Moon gave Pinamonti the spotlight – his chiming twelve-string style is competely original, more of a incisive lead guitar approach (think Roger McGuinn on Eight Miles High instead of Turn Turn Turn).

Then she did Brooklyn. It’s one of the great Gotham songs, not just because it’s catchy but because it has so much depth. To paraphrase Turner, Brooklyn is so big because it has to deal with so much bullshit and yet so much transcendence: credit goes to the people who live there. She wrapped up the set with Baby You’ve Been on My Mind, the opening cut on Linda Ronstadt’s first album, where she admitted to finding out only later that Dylan had written it. With a gentle insistence, she made it her own, matter-of-factly warm rather than straight-up come-on. She’s back at Banjo Jim’s on 2/21 at 8:30 as part of ex-Monicat Monica “L’il Mo” Passin’s reliably good Americana night.

Erica Smith and the 99 Cent Dreams followed on the bill with their first New York show in awhile, a relatively brief set of jazz standards. Smith’s equally nuanced stylings moved from Julie London somber (Cry Me a River) to unselfconscious Ella Fitzgerald joy (Everything I’ve Got) to a deadpan version of One for My Baby, lead guitarist Dann Baker going back in time for a vintage 50s vibe while drummer Dave Campbell swung casually with the occasional Elvin Jones flourish or Brazilian riff.

February 12, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Randi Russo and the Oxygen Ponies at the Saltmines, Brooklyn NY 7/10/09

Randi Russo has gotten a ton of ink here, and deservedly so: she’s simply one of the most powerful songwriters in rock, and a casually compelling live performer as well. In an invite-only show Friday night in a comfortable Dumbo rehearsal space, she treated a crowd of avid fans and friends to a set of mostly fan favorites, many of which will probably someday be regarded as classics. Characteristically resolute, quietly fearless, playing electric nylon-string guitar and accompanied by her longtime lead guitarist Lenny Molotov on acoustic, she got into a zone early on and stayed there, from the opening notes of Venus on Saturn – a corrosive dismissal of a drama queen – to the pretty, pastoral outro of the atmospheric, optimistic Ceiling Fire.

In between she did the ridiculously catchy nonconformist anthem Invisible, the big, anthemic crowd-pleaser Push-Pull, the towering, fiery, flamenco-inflected So It Must Be True (“Everything that’s good for them ain’t always good for you,” she reminded calmly), a fascinating, stripped-down version of the Middle Eastern-inflected stomp Head High While You Lie Low and the hypnotic Hurt Me Now. She picked up the pace again with a particularly biting version of the sarcastic pink-collar anthem Battle on the Periphery and finally cut loose with a wail on the relatively new Swallow, a vivid evocation of the pain of choking on thwarted ambitions and dreams. A playful version of the fast, scurrying Parasitic People provided a little, but not a lot, of comic relief.

Russo was doing double duty, next joining Oxygen Ponies frontman Paul Megna on percussion for an equally intense duo show. The Oxygen Ponies are off on their UK tour about a week from now and audiences there are in for a treat. Megna was every bit as much on top of his game as Russo, the two swaying through a mix of old and new material and the same two covers they played at their show here last week (a devious yet plaintive Cars song and a dexterously fingerpicked, hypnotic cover of Love Vigilantes by New Order, playing up the song’s antiwar theme much in the same vein as Laura Cantrell’s version). As strong as the songs from the OxPos’ new cd Harmony Handgrenade (a strong contender for best album of 2009) were, the older material had just as much snarl and passion, even a couple of vivid portayals of clinical depression, The Truest Thing and Chainsmoking. Of the newer songs, Megna and Russo brought out every ounce of blithe sarcasm in the suburban satire Fevered Cyclones along with characteristic fire in the anguished Love Yr Way and a roaring, crescendoing take of the biting garage rock anthem The War Is Over. Then it was back to the older material with a practically confrontational version of the angst ballad Brooklyn Bridge. At the end of the year, Lucid Culture always puts up a Best NYC Live Shows list and while there’s no way that it could ever be so comprehensive as to be remotely authoritative, you’ll probably see this one there.  

Afterward, there was a break to watch the end of Jonathan Sanchez’ no-hitter against the Padres and then a long jam where an audience member named Oliver took over handling the percussion and proved himself a perfectly competent timekeeper, in fact considerably better than the drunken bass player.

July 12, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Laura Cantrell – Trains and Boats and Planes

What goes around comes around: Laura Cantrell is living proof. As “proprietress” of the Radio Thrift Shop on WFMU and BBC Radio Scotland, she’s helped spread the word about a million good bands and musicians and never made a dime doing it. When the show first went on the air in 1993, Cantrell wasn’t even a musician, but by singing along in the studio, she discovered she had something of an aptitude for vocals (understatement of the century). The rest is history: seven albums later, the late John Peel’s favorite singer owns a devoted worldwide following. Many consider her this generation’s greatest country singer, although she’s proven herself equally good at numerous other styles. This, her latest cd, is a loosely conceptual collection of songs about travel and a welcome return to the country genre. As usual, the mostly acoustic instrumentation is terse and tasteful to a fault, Jimmy Ryan’s mandolin generally serving as the lead instrument, with acoustic and electric guitar augmented with occasional violin and keys.

 

The cd kicks off with the Bacharach/David title track, a nice accordion intro from Ted Reichman followed by the ever-present mandolin and then that gorgeous, instantly recognizable voice. With the casual twang of her native Nashville, Cantrell will often end a phrase on a careful, questioning note: it’s awfully affecting, particularly when she goes way, way up for some real high notes. She’s never sounded better. Nice, minimalist acoustic guitar solo from ex-Blood Oranges axeman Mark Spencer, too.

 

The next cut, Train of Life is a midtempo, backbeat-driven country ballad with a quietly determined feel, something of a Cantrell trademark: “I sit alone at my table and watch all the others have fun,” she sings in the beginning of the song, but by the end she’s ready to go off and find her destiny. The cover of the Gordon Lightfoot hit Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald begins with a blast of fiery electric guitars. Cantrell’s vocals on the first verse are already ominous, foreshadowing disaster, the slide guitar wailing like the winter wind  (and with a completely different hook than the one on the original). Howard Hughes Blues, a fast, oldtimey-flavored minor-key song with a rousing bluegrass chorus makes fun of “all his things.” It’s a fun addition to the numerous other Howard Hughes songs out there, especially the one by Rasputina and the Boomtown Rats’ Me and Howard Hughes. Cantrell’s version of the old 1985 New Order hit Love Vigilantes is brilliantly recast as a slow, mandolin-spiked antiwar ballad.

 

The single best cut on the cd is Silver Wings, a beautiful midtempo ballad with a vivid piano intro and violin from Jenny Scheinman. The album concludes with Roll Truck Roll, an acoustic rock song set to a fast shuffle beat; Big Wheel, a remake of the big audience favorite from her album Not the Tremblin Kind and another crowd-pleaser, Yonder Comes a Freight Train. Fans of Cantrell’s early work, especially, will be delighted; this cd is a clinic in good taste and yet another showcase for one of the world’s most gently powerful voices.

October 19, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Lost Crusaders – Have You Heard about the World

Brothers and sisters, are you ready? I said ARE YOU READY? For the NEW gospel sound of the Lost Crusaders. This is the real deal, ecstatic, often exhilarating. It will redeem your soul whether you are a believer or you just like to dance. Fans of Rev. Vince Anderson will love this album. Some of the songs here blend 60s soul stylings with gospel, others are sort of gospel punk, with a handful of straight-ahead garage rock tunes. This is an incredible party record, something akin to what JSBX (or Blues Explosion, or whatever they’re calling themselves now) is to classic 60s garage rock. In case you might be suspicious, it’s not camp. It’s just a bunch of NYC garage rock types who love vintage 60s gospel and prove they can play it as well as any church group out there. Frontman Michael Chandler holds nothing back, his hoarse, gravelly vocals impassioned and inspired. As with all good gospel bands, this album has a very propulsive rhythm section, Brian McBride on bass and Joey Valentine on drums. Don’t let the religious nature of the lyrics scare you off: this is a celebration of the spirit in all of us, atheists and Christians alike. You can dance to this. The production, by Dean Rispler at Dead Verse Studios in Union City, NJ is impressively authentic, sounding almost like a vinyl record.

The album opens with the title track, a fast major key vamp that gleefully welcomes the apocalypse, with cool solos from Johnny Vignault’s guitar and ex-Fleshtone Steve Greenfield’s baritone sax. The next cut I Don’t Ask Why is even faster, call-and-response with the women in the choir, crunchy guitars spiced with Jerome Jackson’s tasty Hammond organ in the background and a nice solo out. I Wonder What Ever Happened has a killer 2-guitar intro, evoking Country Joe & the Fish in a particularly woozy moment at the end of their good period, 1970ish with a good long harp solo after the second chorus reminiscent of the late, great Knoxville Girls. The following cut, There Used to Be a River is an environmental cautionary tale – “it couldn’t outrun the hand of man” – garage gospel built on a descending progression on the bass. With a long, killer reverb guitar solo from the Fleshtones’ Keith Streng and Chandler’s ominous croak, it could be something from the recently reunited Electric Prunes.

After that, Wasted on the Wind is a Knoxville Girls or Gun Club soundalike with a great baritone guitar solo. Planted by the Water is a fast gospel vamp, piano and organ plus crunchy guitar and a fiery chromatic harp solo. Laura Cantrell’s sweet, soaring vocals channel Kitty Wells on the beautiful, slow Too Late, Matt Verta Ray’s lapsteel coming in and out like a string section.

Other standout cuts on the album include Whose Name Will I Call, with a Stagger Lee boogie kind of feel, and the fast, joyous Where Did It Go whose protagonist trades in his booze and drugs for the holy spirit, rejoicing in having found a new way to get high. Wow. What a great album. Five bagels. With a glass of communion wine. CDs are available at shows, online and in Europe on Everlasting Records.

April 15, 2008 Posted by | gospel music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Hazmat Modine and Dr. John at the Hoboken Arts and Music Festival 5/6/07

Knowing what time the bands start at this semi-annual outdoor deepfried food festival is always a crapshoot: the schedule on the festival’s official website didn’t gybe with stagetimes the day of the show. Reportedly this is par for course. Word on the street was that Demolition String Band’s 1 PM set was excellent. Hazmat Modine took the stage at just a little after two, looking like they’d just crawled out of bed, the lot of them (and there are a lot of them: two harmonicas, trumpet, bari sax, a rhythm section with a tuba substituting for bass, and two guitarists who traded off on lapsteel and banjitar). Confined to a set that ran just over 45 minutes, there was a minimum of the expansive, frequently exhilarating soloing that they’re best known for. Instead, they worked on squeezing in as many songs as they could from their wildly psychedelic new cd Bahamut along with some road-tested crowd-pleasers. They opened with the exuberant So Glad, frontman Wade Schuman and his sparring partner, Randy Weinstein trading bluesy harmonica licks over a bouncing reggae beat. Later they did a spirited cover of the Irving Berlin novelty tune Walking Stick: while it’s easy to see this song becoming totally Sesame Street (perhaps as its creator intended it), Schuman worked the lyric’s innuendo for all it was worth. Trumpeter Pam Fleming stole the show as usual with a flamenco-flavored solo, particularly apt since the song is basically a tango. When her 12 bars were up, she paused for a second, gave a quick look to the band as if to say, “look out!” and then launched the song into the stratosphere with one of her trademark crescendos.

Though Schuman looked sleepy and wasn’t nearly as boisterous as he usually is in front of the band, he had no difficulty getting the crowd hollering, with a long, James Cotton-inflected harmonica solo that he took by himself as the band looked on, singing through the reeds as does from time to time. He also added some unusual textures by playing through a wah-wah pedal on a couple of songs. The band wound up the set with an especially terse version of the title track from the new cd, a calypso-flavored behemoth about “the largest thing that never existed,” which seems to be some kind of Borges reference. The crowd didn’t want them to leave: perhaps because Hoboken is replete with blues cover bands, this exposure to something far more authentically blues-based went over particularly well.

Afterward on the Sixth Street stage, local guitarist Karyn Kuhl and her mostly female backing band stomped through a painlessly formulaic set of punky pop with cheerleaderesque vocals and forgettable lyrics. Their best song was a minor-key blues that Kuhl said they’d never played live before.

Back to the main stage where Dr. John was headlining. He’s a hot-and-cold performer: when the mood strikes him, especially in a small club, he can be electrifying, but he’s just as likely to take the money and phone it in, especially at an outdoor festival. Happily, the Night Tripper was in a particularly dark and stormy mood, the result being a fiery, impassioned, hourlong show. Before launching into the two-part post-Katrina salute to his hometown, Sweet Home New Orleans, he berated the audience to give their money only to smallscale charities: “With the big ones, the money disappears before it gets there.” A bit later he did a bristling, impressively fresh take on the old standard St. James Infirmary Blues that he ended by pounding out the opening hook from the famous Grieg A Minor prelude.

“We call ourselves Dr. John and the Lower 9/11th,” he told the crowd. He posed the rhetorical question of why they’d continue to dwell on something the rest of the world has pretty much forgotten: we’re tough customers, he said: “We carry a grudge.” This was still a party (it’s always a party when the Doctor is in town), but a defiant celebration delivered in minor keys. No Iko Iko: we got Gris-Gris instead and it was clear that Mr. Rebennac felt like he wanted to hoodoo someone. At the end of the show they lightened up a bit, the drummer showing off his collection of funk beats before bringing Dr. John back to the stage for the encores.

Despite a degree of disorganization, the Hoboken Arts & Music Festival always has some first-rate performers on the bill: the Moonlighters, Patti Smith, Mary Lee’s Corvette and Laura Cantrell have all recently played there, and it’s safe to say that this fall’s lineup should be a good one.

May 7, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Matt Keating – Summer Tonight

Nashville gothic from one of the world’s foremost under-the-radar rockers. Typical NYC story: big in Europe, gets rave reviews (usually something akin to “if Elvis Costello still rocked, he’d be Matt Keating“) but in the US he’s still a cult artist with a small if devoted fan base. This album should change that. Well-conceived, well-executed and particularly well-timed, this could be the stealth weapon that puts him all over NPR and gets some big Hollywood movie placements. It’s a hard turn right into Americana, done with good taste and a genuine appreciation for Carter Family meets the Velvet Underground but there’s way more A.P. and Mother Maybelle in here than there is Lou and crew. Crisp fingerstyle acoustic guitar, banjo, upright bass, pedal steel and harmonica serve as the instrumentation. Aptly titled, it’s an album of nocturnes, the perfect backdrop to a murder conspiracy worked out at dusk in midsummer over half-warm bloody marys on a picnic table just off the highway somewhere on the way to Milledgeville.

 Curiously, while menace has been Keating’s stock in trade throughout his career, there’s less of it here than on his other albums. The album’s opening track, Who Knew, and then its title track, both feature Keating’s wife, the terrifically talented Emily Spray (who wrote Union Square for Laura Cantrell). Her honeyed, rockabilly-inflected vocals add warmth and depth to the surprisingly upbeat feel of these songs. Trouble returns in a hurry, though, with Waiting for Memories, an achingly bitter midtempo hit that longs for amnesia – or anything that will bring it on – to erase the pain of the past. The album’s high point, No Further South is arguably the best 9/11 eulogy written by any songwriter up to this point. Over a haunting, minor key acoustic guitar melody, Keating perfectly evokes the dread and the surreal feel of the days after the towers were detonated: “Wrote your name in the ashes on that uptown bus/In my nose and my lashes, God have mercy on us.”

Though replete with fire-and-brimstone Biblical imagery, the rest of the album is surprisingly upbeat and hopeful: Keating seems to have made an uneasy truce with the demons which rear their heads throughout his back catalog. The gorgeously rustic Down There, the straight-ahead country ballad Wish I Was Gold (which sounds like a Dolly Parton classic from 1970) and the resigned, contemplative Lord Jesus could all be Sirius radio hits in on their Americana, country and AAA channels (and would all have been big AM hits if this was 1976  – and that’s a compliment). There’s also a bonus cut featuring a duet with Patty Griffin which is the best thing she’s done in years. Highly recommended for fans of Americana-inflected songwriters like Ron Sexsmith and Rhett Miller as wellas fans of potent lyricists like Graham Parker, Richard Thompson and the aforementioned Mr. Costello. And the Carter Family and maybe even the Velvets. Albums are available in stores, at shows and online. For those who might fear that Keating might have gone soft with this one, fear not: his next album will be a rock record and if the tracks he’s played live are any indication, it’ll be as dark as anything else he’s done.

April 29, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment