Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

In Memoriam: Jay Bennett

Jay Bennett, the brilliant multi-instrumentalist who joined Wilco on tour in 1995, played on their 1996 Being There album and remained with the band through Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2002, died at his home in Urbana, Illinois the night of May 24. An autopsy is pending. Bennett had been troubled by recurring hip pain stemming from a stage dive some ten years previously; he’d been recently scheduled for surgery. He was 45.

In many respects, Jay Bennett was Wilco, his inspired, tumbling piano, swirling organ and searing, incisive lead guitar giving the band’s songs an edge that vanished after he left. After departing Wilco, Bennett released four solo albums, the most recent, Whatever Happened, I Apologize released by pioneering Chicago label Rock Proper a few months ago (and very favorably reviewed here).  He also served as producer for several acts ranging from Blues Traveler to Leslie Nuss. An intense yet warm and engaging personality who seemed to take his virtuosity for granted, Bennett suffered for being a brilliant musician in a merely good band. A strong, passionate singer and a terse, sharply literate lyricist, his struggles within Wilco were painfully portrayed in the documentary film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. Earlier this year he filed suit against his former bandmate Jeff Tweedy for breach of contract and unpaid royalties. Bennett leaves behind an unfinished album, Kicking at the Perfumed Air, its title quoting the Boomtown Rats’ sardonic 1980 new wave suicide song Diamond Smiles.

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May 30, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album Review: Leslie Nuss – Round 3

Guitar-slinging southpaw siren who made her mark here in New York before finding acclaim and a prestige niche in the fashion world, then moving out to Indiana to start a family. She remains a potent force in rock. This album, Leslie Nuss’ fourth, may or may not be her best: the jangly Heliotrope, the lush, sensual Action Hero Superstar or the self-titled power pop tour de force that she put out after that one all have their moments. This is her most diverse effort to date, showcasing her redoubtable pop melodicism, political fortitude, keen sense of humor and even a goofy psychedelic side. It’s a loosely thematic collection of songs about conflict.

The cd opens with a deadpan, Lilith Fair style take on the 80s karaoke/action film chestnut Eye of the Tiger. It’s hard to tell whether this is a joke – Nuss is known for her wit – or if it’s an attempt to mine some genuine feeling or pathos from the song. Either way, it’s hilarious. Featuring a deliciously terse electric piano solo, the cd’s following cut, Saboteurs is a fiery, garage-inflected minor key broadside at toxic people: “Sometimes it seems that they’re the only ones around.” The next tune Landscape, with its swinging retro 60s piano melody and whispery vocals, sounds like classic Mamas & the Papas. We also get a blistering critique of all things zeros, cast as a hard-hitting early 80s new wave/punk hit (What’s Wrong With Me); a sunny, Farfisa-driven Carnaby Street-style 60s pop hit (Mermaid); a girl-power anthem (Sex Is Sex); the anguished tale of a Vietnam vet (Shell Shocked) and Drive, which is simply one of the sexiest songs ever written, this version far more sensual than the faster, percussive version that appeared on her previous album.

As usual, Nuss has a stellar cast of backing musicians, perhaps most notably bass goddess Anne-Marie Stehn, late of Skinny Ruth and notorious Starbucks house band Antigone Rising (who deep-sixed her because she was too much of a rocker). Fans of the A-list of rock sirens: Neko Case, Mary Lee Kortes, Erica Smith, Aimee Mann – will find plenty to feast on here. Leslie Nuss doesn’t play many shows in NYC anymore, but a return trip every now and then is always a possibility.

May 6, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments