Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jolie Holland Draws a Pint of Blood

You know that Jolie Holland has a new album, right? Like everything else she’s done, her new one, Pint of Blood, is worth owning – and it’s quite a break with her earlier stuff. A collaboration with legendary downtown New York rhythm section guru and Marc Ribot sideman Shahzad Ismaily, this is her most straightforward, rock-oriented effort. But the rock here is graceful and slow, with lingering, sun-smitten atmospherics that occasionally shift back to the oldtime Americana she’s explored since the late 90s. A lot of this reminds of vintage Lucinda Williams. In her nuanced Texas drawl, Holland evokes emotions from bitterness to anguish to – once in awhile – understated joy. As with her previous work, this is a pretty dark album.

The opening cut, All Those Girls is a characteristically gemlike dig at an equal-opportunity backstabber, lit up with an echoey, hypnotic electric guitar solo. Remember, with its resolute Ticket to Ride sway, longs for escape, working a bird motif for all it’s worth. The pace picks up with the casually swinging, oldtimey groove of Tender Mirror, its warmly gospel-infused piano and organ and Ismaily’s judicious, counterintuitive bass accents. And then Holland dims the lights again with Gold and Yellow: “The night is over before it started,” she intones.

The real stunner here is June, a warily swinging oldschool Nashville noir tune with creepy, swooping ghost-bird violin and a gorgeous melody that’s over all too soon at barely two and a half minutes. With its oldschool soul overtones masking the lyrics’ dark undercurrent, Wreckage, would make a standout track on a Neko Case album. Then Holland flips the script with the unexpectedly bouncy, blithe, Grateful Dead-flavored folk-pop of Littlest Birds, winding out with one of Ismaily’s signature bass grooves. The Devil’s Sake, a sad, ominous 6/8 country ballad with gorgeous layers of s of acoustic, electric and steel guitars as well as reverberating Rhodes electric piano brings to mind Dina Rudeen’s most recent work. The album closes with Honey Girl, a companion piece to the opening track, and Rex’s Blues, a stark piano tune that’s part dustbowl ballad, part Mazzy Star.

In a year that’s been full of self-reinvention for Holland, she’s also started an absolutely killer new project with another oldtime music maven, Mamie Minch, who currently call themselves Midnight Hours. Watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Jessi Robertson’s Small Town Girls Want Out

Why is there so much madness in small towns? Because that’s where dreams get ground down into the dirt? Because anyone who can get out does, and those who stay behind are hell to be around? Jessi Robertson explores themes like these on her intense new album Small Town Girls. The women here want one thing and and one thing only: to escape. In a breathy, occasionally gritty contralto, over smartly arranged Americana rock, Robertson chronicles how they do it, or what they substitute for the real thing. More often than not, it’s impossible to turn away from. If you like the idea of Lucinda Williams but don’t like all the cliches she falls back on, Jessi Robertson is for you.

The album gets off to a sort of a false start and then comes together fast. The slowly raging title track explores how “small town girls learn to tell big lies,” and deal with the nosy townfolk who don’t have a clue what an interior life is. There’s a bitter triumph here, something that doesn’t always happen in the other songs. A big rock tune, Half Moon’s title refers to the marks left by a girl’s fingernails on her palms as she clenches her firsts, hypnotic verse giving way to catchy chorus: “I tried to laugh, I screamed instead,” she wails, with an angst that is nothing if not genuine. The madness comes front and center on the quietly electric 6/8 ballad Don’t Come In Here:

I never wore a cap and gown
They said I’d never get out of this town
But I defied everyone…
I know how to hide
I don’t run

Robertson maintains the raging, tormented ambience with You Don’t Want to Taste My Heart, chronicling the rituals of a girl who cuts herself because she “likes the center of the storm.”

The hopelessness lifts for the resolute, deftly fingerpicked Sunstorm and then The Travelers, dreaming of a better life on the road playing music. The most vivid track here out of many is Broken Rosary, a child’s-eye view of her dysfunctional family: “We poured water on her head til the ambulance came, and I watched through the car window as they rushed her away,” she relates with a chilling matter-of-factness. The album closes with something of a honkytonk piano ballad, Whiskey and Cigarettes, whose defiant, inscrutable bad-girl protagonist has no regrets until the room is spinning. What happens after that Robertson doesn’t address. Robertson is a very prolific writer with a substantial back catalog, but here she’s taken her art to the next level – always nice to see a good songwriter realize their potential. Jessi Robertson plays the cd release show for this one at Bar 4 in Brooklyn at 10 PM on Feb 26 with another first-rate, intense songwriter, Kelli Rae Powell, opening the night at 8.

February 20, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Patty Ocfemia – Heaven’s Best Guest

An astonishingly good, gripping album that instantly vaults to the top of our best debut albums of 2008 list. Patty Ocfemia is one of the great storytellers in music, setting vivid imagery and a vast array of characters to catchy, acoustic-based music. She sings in character, with a strangely beautiful, instantly recognizable voice. It’s sweet and somewhat breathy, but with a quirky edge that lends itself particularly well to the people she portrays. Like many of the best songwriters out there, she has a soft spot for the underdog and the underclass, but she writes with an uncommon subtlety. Ocfemia is a charter member of the “show, not tell” club: she lets her narratives speak for themselves. Producer Robert Burke Warren sets her tasteful guitar fingerpicking to imaginative arrangements occasionally spiced with mandolin, organ, upright bass and even vintage 80s synthesizer in one particularly amusing moment.

The album opens with the bouncy Margarita Sisters, a smartly crafted, funny but empathetic portrait of a small crew of women who always overdo it, told from the point of view of an exasperated bartender in the wee hours. The next cut, Heavyset Man is something akin to a Eudora Welty short story set to music, a rueful conversational tale between friends set to an upbeat, bluesy tune. The absolutely gorgeous, melancholy Barcelona is one of the album’s best cuts, Burke Warren’s soulful electric guitar solo after the bridge mingling with Ocfemia’s dexterous fingerpicking. It’s a song about being stood up on a blind date: the narrator is so convincing (and convinced she has to make excuses for the creep who’s doing it to her), that you just want to slap her. Women beating themselves up over bad choices is something of a recurrent theme in Ocfemia’s writing, as listeners will discover a few tracks later.

Sean Lugano is an equally haunting song, beginning with an ominous guitar intro evocative of the Stones’ Sister Morphine, recounting the sad days of the aftermath of 9/11 in New York, when there was a “missing” poster – in this case, for a NYC firefighter – in apartment house elevators all over town. The album ends on a tremendously powerful note with Ocfemia’s best song, the towering, majestic Misspent Youth. Burke Warren’s organ enters ominously behind the guitar even before the first verse starts in this big, bitter anthem about cutting old losses and starting all over again, a prospect the narrator has decided to embrace, but not without regrets. Ocfemia’s vocals match her lyrics, full of subtlety and nuance, but finally, after a whole album, she pulls out all the stops on the song’s final chorus, flames of rage bursting out from behind the smoke:

Not like old lovers
No permanent scars

No fixed agenda
No calendars
No heavy hand or privileged truth
No guilt or shame for my misspent youth

The last chorus drops down to just voice and Ocfemia’s guitar, followed by a pause, then the mandolin and organ come in and quickly fade. “I’m not giving up, I’m letting go,” Ocfemia asserts with quiet determination. Fans of pantheonic rock lyricists from Elvis Costello to Lucinda Williams to LJ Murphy will love this album. CD’s are available online; we’ll let you know when there’s a cd release show for this one. Like the album, it promises to be pretty intense.

February 6, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment