Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

More Nashville Gothic Intensity from Mark Sinnis

Dark, prolific rock songwriter Mark Sinnis’ long-running band Ninth House may be on life support at this point, but his solo career is thriving – he sold out the House of Blues in New Orleans the last time he played there. The powerful baritone singer’s fourth and latest solo album, The Undertaker in My Rearview Mirror, is arguably his deepest and darkest. A loosely thematic collection of songs with a cautionary “carpe diem” message, it’s a mix of Johnny Cash-influenced Nashville gothic along with artsy, atmospheric rock, including a handful of Ninth House songs radically reinvented as hypnotic, brooding ballads. The quavery wail of Lenny Molotov’s lapsteel seeps from many of them like blood from a corpse; other than Sinnis’ pitchblende vocals, that’s the album’s signature sound. Zach Ingram provides deft, low-key keyboard orchestration on several of the songs, along with Ninth House drummer Francis Xavier, and Matthew Dundas’ incisive, gospel-tinged piano on three tracks.

The title track is a talking blues of sorts, a metaphorically-charged race with a hearse that wryly nicks the melody from Sympathy for the Devil, Molotov weaving back and forth across the yellow line in a duel with former Ninth House guitarist Bernard SanJuan. The angst-ridden Injury Home plays down the bluesiness of the Ninth House original in favor of atmospherics and a nonchalantly slashing Dundas piano solo. Peep Hole in the Wall was a standout track on Ninth House’s 2000 breakout album, Swim in the Silence; the version here is even creepier. Likewise, Cause You Want To takes an balmy wave pop song and makes a dirge out of it, courtesy of Susan Mitchell’s lush string arrangement. The most death-obsessed tracks here are the straight-up country numbers: 100 Years from Now, a voice from beyond the grave, and Sunday Morning Train, which looks grimly at the marble orchard as it passes by (the metaphors don’t stop coming here). Yet the closest thing to Johnny Cash here, a solo acoustic track, is also the most upbeat and optimistic.

With Xavier’s distantly echoey drums and mariachi trumpet, their version of Ghost Riders in the Sky imaginatively recasts it as an apprehensive border ballad. They also redo Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons as a revenge anthem, with lyrics updated for the new Great Depression, a theme they revisit with the bitter, tango-flavored Hills of Decline. The two most visceral tracks here both feature Randi Russo on vocals: a majestically orchestrated, vertigo-inducing version of Death Song (another Ninth House number) that chillingly pairs off her haunting stoicism against Sinnis’ morbid croon, and the David Lynch-style noir pop duet To Join the Departed in Their Dream. On her new album Fragile Animal, Russo sings with tremendous nuance; her vocals here are nothing short of exquisite.

The album ends with an uncharacteristically lighthearted singalong (lighthearted by comparison to everything else here, anyway), I’ll Have Another Drink of Whiskey, ‘Cause Death Is No So Far Away. A shout-out to Shane MacGowan, it’s a bittersweet enticement to seize the moment while it’s still here, even if that’s only to drink to forget how soon that moment will be gone. It’s also the funniest song Sinnis has ever written: if you can get through the turnaround into the chorus without at least cracking a smile, either you have no sense of humor, or you don’t like to drink. Count this among the increasingly crowded field at the top of our picks for best album of 2011.

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

Mark Sinnis Flickers in the Dark at the Fortune Cookie Lounge

The Fortune Cookie Lounge doesn’t have a marquee, or a web presence, or probably a phone either. It’s downstairs from Lucky Cheng’s, with a shadowy Chinatown tunnel vibe whose menace dispels as the place fills up. The club doesn’t promote concerts here, so the only way to find out who’s playing is from the band. By the time we got to the Fortune Cookie Lounge Friday night, we were completely in the bag after an ecstatically fun reopening party around the corner at Drom (Drom never closed – they’ve just newly rededicated themselves to booking the same amazing expanse of music from around the globe that characterized their first year-and-a-half, until about midway through 2009). If you weren’t there, you missed a great show. To the extent that we can remember, this is what it was like.

Tall, dressed all in black, tattooed to the nth degree, Mark Sinnis took the stage with just his acoustic guitar, late – or later than expected, anyway. After a twelve-year run as one of New York’s most intense, diverse bands, his rock project, Ninth House has lately taken a back seat to his solo acoustic career. Sinnis was the first New York rocker with a foot in the goth scene to play dark country music, beating Voltaire to it by more than a few years. This time out, the sound guy – was there a sound guy? – or the sound system amped just Sinnis’ vocals and guitar to the point of distortion. Ninth House had their punk moments, and Sinnis’ energy definitely feeds off his punk roots, but what he’s doing lately isn’t punk. But this show sort of was, despite a mix of slow-to-midtempo songs about death. Most of them anyway.

Injury Home, as done by Ninth House, has a dark Psychedelic Furs edge; solo, Sinnis turned it into a rustic minor-key blues. That was an eye-opener. A swaying straight-up Nashville gothic song gave a shout-out to Shane MacGowan, patron saint of doomed drinkers everywhere. Another unreleased one, basically a spoken-word piece over a shuffling C&W beat, painted a grim highway scenario where the narrator literally has the race of his life with the hearse in his rearview mirror – as much as a lot of country patter songs are cheesy, this one was anything but. Doom was everywhere, especially in yet another new one, 100 Years from Now, which came across as nod to the grim reaper but also a refusal to give in until there’s no way to. Sinnis let his ominous baritone resonate without having to belt, since the vocals were so loud. And even though he plays with surprising touch and dynamics for a guy who’s spent most of life fronting loud electric bands, his guitar buzzed with feedback. But that was ok – at that point, for us at least, louder was better. After more drinks, which we didn’t really need, the evening ended with a beer on the Delancey Street subway platform. It was that kind of night, with the perfect soundtrack. Sinnis is playing the cd release show for his forthcoming fourth solo cd – he’s a prolific guy – at the best bar in Brooklyn, Duff’s, sometime in May; watch this space.

April 5, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments