Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 5/31/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Sunday’s song is #423:

Mary Lee’s Corvette – Herculetta

This is a song about hubris – and about being casually crushed by a world that couldn’t care less. That’s what’s so cool about frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes’ songwriting – as with Elvis Costello, there are so many levels of meaning in everything she writes. Nicely ornate ELO-ish chamber-pop arrangement, too. From the 700 Miles cd, 2004.

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May 31, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Drew Glackin Memorial Concert at Rodeo Bar/The Deciders at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 1/17/08

Drew Glackin, who died unexpectedly earlier this month was honored tonight by a small handful of the literally hundreds who had the good fortune to share a stage or record with him. Like anyone else, musicians have different ways of coping with loss: usually, this boils down to disguising the pain with humor, drinking heavily or turning up really loud. Tonight there was plenty of all of the above. “This band will never be the same,” Jack Grace told the packed house, and he was right. Glackin was the baritone countrycrooner/bandleader’s lead player, on steel, and pretty much defined the sound of the band with his soaring, ringing washes of country soul and his fiery, terse, incisively bluesy solos. Glackin was not a nasty person, but his solos were. In country music, it’s so easy to fall into clichés, playing the same licks that have been Nashville staples for decades, but Glackin always avoided that trap. Taking his spot tonight on steel was Mike Neer, who to his credit didn’t try to hit the same highs Glackin would typically reach on a given night. The ex-Moonlighter is a purist and knew to hang back when necessary. Bill Malchow played honkytonk piano, and Grace’s wife Daria was at the top of her game, groovewise: it’s hard to think of a more fluid, spot-on country bass player. And she’s basically a rocker.

For some reason (a Glackin idea come to life?) the band also featured two drummers, Bruce Martin and Russ Meissner sharing what looked like a kit and a half. Grace is a great showman, and to his credit he played to the crowd as if this was a typical weekend at the Rodeo. The high points of his all-too-brief set came at the end where he went from absolutely white-knuckle intense, singing “angels, take him away” on the old John S. Hurt number Miss Collins, then bringing back the levity with his big audience hit Worm Farm. Grace explained that he’d written it during a period when pretty much all he could write was sad songs, and considering what the evening was all about, it hit the spot. In the middle of the song, Grace segued into a Joni Mitchell song for a couple of bars, complete with falsetto, just to prove that he hadn’t lost his sensitivity, and this was predictably amusing.

From the first scream from Walter Salas-Humara’s Telecaster, the Silos came out wailing, hard. Glackin’s replacement was Rod Hohl, best known for his sizzling guitar work, but as he proved tonight he’s also an excellent bassist. The band played a tantalizingly brief set of bristling indie rock, with Eric Ambel from Steve Earle’s band sitting in on second guitar. The high point was a thirteen-minute cover of a Glackin favorite, the Jonathan Richman chestnut I’m Straight, wherein the two guitarists faced off, trading licks throughout a blisteringly noisy duel every bit as good as anything Steve Wynn ever did. Nice to see Roscoe playing noise-rock again, something he’s very good at but hardly ever does anymore. His wife Mary Lee Kortes provided searing high harmonies on one tune with a recurrent chorus motif of (if memory serves right) “keep your dreams away from your life.” The band didn’t dedicate it to Glackin, but they might as well have: the guy never sold out. Which probably did him in. Very sad to say that if he’d been Canadian (or British, or Dutch, or French, or Cuban, for that matter), he would have had health insurance and the doctors would have detected the thyroid condition that went undiagnosed for too long.

Daria Grace’s band was scheduled to play next, but it was time to head east before the downtown 6 train stopped running (as it turned out, it already had), so that meant a 14-block walk south in the rain and a crosstown bus over to Banjo Jim’s for a nightcap. Which turned out to be a particularly good choice, because the Deciders were still onstage. They’re Elena Skye and Boo Reiners from Demolition String Band plus Lenny Kaye from Patti Smith’s band on pedal steel, plus a rhythm section. Tonight their bassist couldn’t make it, but that didn’t matter. Hearing Skye’s intense, emotionally charged voice in such small confines was a special treat, and watching Reiners and Kaye trade off on a bunch of DSB originals was fascinating to watch. Kaye’s guitar playing is edgy, incisive and potently melodic, but tonight he left that role to Reiners, instead playing fluid washes of sound in a call-and-response with the guitar. The high point of the night was a potently riff-driven new Skye song, Your Wish, from her band’s new album Different Kinds of Love, benefiting vastly from the energy of having two killer electric lead players sharing a stage. They finally shut it down after midnight. Just when it’s tempting to say that it’s time to stick a fork in New York and head out for parts unknown, the devil you know rears its head and reminds you why you haven’t left yet. Nights like this make it all worthwhile.

January 18, 2008 Posted by | country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Cabaret Review: Sarah Mucho in Subterranean Circus at the Duplex, NYC 12/3/07

This was a triumphant return for Sarah Mucho. Although she’s best known as the frontwoman for the ferocious, artsy rock band System Noise, her roots are in the cabaret scene. Her Ziggy Stardust shows at Mama Rose’s and other rooms a couple of years ago earned her rave reviews in the theatre press and a MAC Award, but since then she’s been busy with the band. Subterranean Circus, as this show is billed, is a futuristic cautionary tale blending surreal, often sacrilegious humor with a haunting, apocalyptic vibe, with echoes of early 80s punk rock performance art. There’s not much of a book, aside from between-song jokes (which are hysterical). The songs are mostly rock, other than a heart-stopping version of Nature Boy, where Mucho, backed only by superb accordionist Annette Kudrak, gets to show off and belt at the very top of her spectacular range. Otherwise, over the course of a little less than an hour, Mucho and her band ran through an impressively imaginative reworking of material ranging from Bjork (Human Behavior, rearranged as acoustic, piano-based funk), to Johnny Cash (Man in Black, augmented with a very funny sermon mid-song and ending with the outro to Stairway to Heaven), to an absolutely wrenching take of Cat Power’s Werewolf, rearranged for just accordion and bass and played with the lights almost all the way down.

Mucho does two Kinks covers, Apeman and Lola, taking an irresistibly silly turn on harmonica on the former. The latter, recast as noir jazz driven by a steady, walking bassline has the phenomenally talented Bobby Peaco coming out from behind the piano to deliver a very amusing turn on vocals. Other highlights include Simon and Garfunkel’s Most Peculiar Man, with horror-movie music-box piano from Peaco, an equally macabre cover of a Blonde Redhead song and a powerhouse rendition of Dress by PJ Harvey.

There’s also a surprise ending (much of which may not have been scripted) that wouldn’t be fair to give away. And then there’s Mucho’s voice. One of the maybe half-dozen most compelling singers in all of rock, (think Mary Lee Kortes intensity and strength throughout her entire range, and Neko Case for all-stops-out sultriness and stylistic diversity), she’s never sung better than she did tonight.

Mucho’s supporting cast gets pretty much everything right. The diversity and authenticity of Peaco’s arrangements are amazing: the guy can literally play anything, from gospel to honkytonk to classical. Director Kristine Zbornik has everything timed so perfectly tight the audience doesn’t even have time to finish laughing before Mucho’s next emotion-tugging move is on them, equally effective in inducing chuckles as well as awestruck silence. The show continues this Friday Dec 7 at 9:30 PM and as of this writing reservations (required: the first show sold out quickly) are available, call (212) 255-5438.

December 4, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review from the Archives: Mary Lee Kortes, LJ Murphy, the Dog Show, Douce Gimlet, the Scholars and Steak at the C-Note, NYC 9/8/00

[Editor’s note -during our first year, when we found ourselves in a particularly slow week, we’d put up an article or two from the exhaustive archive we’d inherited a few months earlier from our predecessor e-zine. In those days we didn’t know how easy we had it.]

This was an ass-backwards night. By all rights, the opening act should have headlined, but acoustic acts tend to play here earlier in the evening. The later it gets, the louder it usually is here. Mary Lee’s Corvette frontwoman Mary Lee Kortes held the crowd rapt throughout her 45-minute solo acoustic set: you could have heard a pin drop. Plainly and simply, there is no better singer out there right now. Her favorite vocal device is to leap an octave or more, in a split second, always landing like a cat. Tonight she made it seem effortless, even if her songs, and her vocals, tend to be white-knuckle intense, her steely wail soaring over her subtle, judicious guitar playing. And there’s no better songwriter out there right now either. The songs she played tonight, a mix of concert favorites and new material, are striking in their craftsmanship. The French word for it is travaille, something Kortes would understand and probably agree with.

She opened with a quiet, almost skeletal version of the unreleased Redemption Day, radically different from the blazing riff-rock smash she plays with the band. Still, the anguished intensity of the lyric was undiminished. Later, she did several swinging, country-inflected songs from the band’s most recent, panstylistically brilliant album True Lovers of Adventure. She closed with Lost Art, a ballad from the album, that she sang a-capella, forgetting the words to the last verse for a second and then recovering, to the crowd’s clear delight. I haven’t seen an audience so riveted in a long time.

Another first-class songwriter, LJ Murphy followed. He’s also a band person at heart, although he’s been doing a weekly solo acoustic residency here for over a year now. Residencies can be a dangerous thing for a musician: they’ll wear out your crowd quickly. But there was a vocal contingent here tonight that clearly knows his material well, and he rewarded them by playing mostly requests. He cuts a striking figure with his immaculate black suit, porkpie hat and gravelly baritone. Like Kortes, many of his blues and soul-inflected songs have a stinging lyrical edge, including his minor-key opener, Geneva Conventional, a withering broadside about selling out. His best song of the night was St. James Hotel, a catchy, crescendoing tale of a drunk in a Times Square welfare hotel who hopes he’ll fall asleep “before this bottle’s empty.”

The Dog Show brought a small but enthusiastic crowd. Tonight was lead guitarist Jack Martin’s turn to shine. He plays pretty straightforward lead guitar in Knoxville Girls, but in this project he plays with a slide, and tonight saw him doing his best Mick Taylor impression, all scorching leads and wailing excursions to the uppermost reaches of the fretboard, giving a vintage, Stonesy edge to the band’s lyrical, Costello-esque songs. They wailed through the 6/8 blues Diamonds and Broken Glass (with a long guitar solo), the quietly excoriating Saturday Nights Are for Amateurs, the joyous, Latin-inflected Halcyon Days and a ska number called Back to the Mine which the backup singer (the frontman’s wife) punctuated with percussion on a cooking pan.

Douce Gimlet packed the place. They’re a kitchen-sink band: frontman/guitarist Ben Plummer can literally write anything. Tonight they did a mix of silly instrumentals that could be tv show themes, a handful of aching country ballads (Plummer excels at these) and their best song, a haunting janglerock number called Destitute. This band is a magnet for talent: Martin joined them on slide, Dog Show frontman Jerome O’Brien is the bass player, and they have Moisturizer frontwoman Moist Paula Henderson on baritone sax. She and Plummer began and ended the show with a New Orleans-style march on which he joined her on saxophone, walking up to the stage to begin the set, and then, at the end, the two somehow made way to the door through the throngs of people as the rhythm section kept playing onstage. The crowd roared for more but the club wouldn’t let them do an encore.

The Lower East Side bands that play here are a closeknit scene, many of them sharing members. The Scholars’ drummer had already played a tight set with the Dog Show, and held down a slow, smoldering groove with this electric Neil Young-inflected quartet. They had a guest cellist, who played haunting washes that fit in perfectly with this band’s dark, glimmering, rain-drenched Pacific Northwest gothic vibe. Finally, after their set, the crowd started to trickle out and I wasn’t far behind. Steak, which is Jack Grace’s Denver jam band relocated to New York, have a very Little Feat sound: lots of improvisation (Grace is a terrific guitarist who blends country with jazz licks on his big Gibson hollowbody), and the band swings. But they drove me out of the club when the rhythm guitarist started bellowing “Steve McQueen” over and over again while the band turned it up as loud as they could behind him. But all in all, a rewarding evening for anyone (and there were a few) who’d had the stamina (or alcohol tolerance) to stick around for the whole night.

[postscript: Mary Lee’s Corvette continues to record and tour, with a cameo in the film Happy Hour. LJ Murphy’s solo residency at the C-Note ended later that year – since then he’s been recording and playing with his band. The Dog Show hung it up in 2007, although frontman Jerome O’Brien remains active in music. Douce Gimlet broke up in 2002; their frontman died under suspicious circumstances shortly thereafter, although no one was ever charged in his death. Scholars frontman Whiting Tennis still records and will from time to time play a live show with the Scholars, although in recent years his focus has been mainly on his critically acclaimed, hauntingly intense visual art. While Steak is for all intents and purposes defunct, Jack Grace continues to enjoy a successful career as a country bandleader and booking agent]

September 8, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Liza & the WonderWheels/Skelter/System Noise at Kenny’s Castaways, NYC 8/23/07

Everbody makes fun of the Bleecker Street strip. It’s so NOT New York, right? Wide-eyed, blue-collar Jersey/Long Island tourists, cheap jewelry stores, faux Italian bistros and so-bad-they’re-funny suburban bands playing the clubs, trapped in a time warp where U2 is considered cutting-edge. Predictably, there was a gaggle of overdressed, fake-tanned girls from Deer Park or Marlton or somewhere the same, all nervous and self-conscious to be for perhaps the first time in their lives inside a place that’s not advertised on network tv. Just as predictably, when the first band started, they were gone in less than a minute.

Over the arch where the main room here starts, there’s a purple neon sign announcing that “Through these portals amble the famous,” or something equally stilted, followed by two exclamation points. Maybe one of Phil Collins’ backup singers walked in here once, thinking it was the Bottom Line, then realized where she was and promptly exited. Over the bar, there are framed gold records by 80s New Jersey REM wannabes the Smithereens (after the band had run its course, the notoriously right-wing nutjob who fronted the band had a brief run as a wannabe politician). This could be anywhere: Deer Park, Marlton, El Cajon. It’s the last place anyone would expect to see the bands on the bill tonight.

And it was Continental loud. For those who don’t get the reference, the sound at the Continental on Bowery just north of St. Mark’s was earsplitting. Then they stopped having bands a couple of years ago. It’s now a tourist bar. Maybe that’s where Mallory, Alexis, Madison, Keighleigh, Kelceigh, AshLee, Prada and Taylor were headed next as they went east armed with their parents’ credit cards. And that’s too bad, because if they’d stuck around they actually might have enjoyed Liza & the WonderWheels. This band looks and sounds like something you’d see in a movie set in New York circa 1981 in the requisite CBGB scene: catchy hooks and cheery vocals, with a quirky 80s vibe. If they were around at that time, they’d also undoubtedly have a record deal and probably at least a couple of radio hits. They have a tight, powerful rhythm section, a dynamic frontwoman and an equally captivating lead guitarist. Their hooks are simple, memorable and driven by the vocals rather than the songs’ chord structures. Frontwoman Liza Garelik was in a great mood tonight because she could actually hear herself onstage, and the sound in the room was equally good: her vocals were coming through strong, all the way to the front door. They ran through a bunch of mostly upbeat, fast material and closed with what has become their signature song, Eddie Come Down, a typically warped number about getting a psycho to chill out that begins slowly and eventually builds to a long jam on a single chord. Tonight the bass and drums pushed it hard as Ian Roure’s guitar screamed through a wah-wah pedal. They built it up, then brought it down, they went up again, then went all quiet and it was Garelik’s rhythm guitar ringing starkly and quietly evil, like the spirit of Bob Weir against drummer Joe Filosa’s sepulchral cymbals, that provided the set’s most mesmerizing moment.

We should be grateful for bands like Skelter, who came next on the bill. This comfortably melodic, garagey upstate trio stays within the world of major and minor chords, and they’re all proficient on their instruments. In a world where most of the descendants of Sonic Youth play like they’ve never seen a guitar in their lives, much less held one, these guys are a pleasure: one audience member compared them to Oasis, and while they don’t steal Beatles licks, they definitely have a sense of drama. And a tendency toward garish guitar and drum flourishes, which they should avoid. But since this was their ten-year anniversary show, there’s little chance of that happening. Their myspace has a very catchy, jangly garage rock song called Ghost Town, and they played that tonight, but with distortion, and it sounded pretty indistinguishable from everything else. Bands like this sound better the more you drink.

Headliners System Noise are arguably the best live band in New York, in fact, arguably the best live band anywhere. “Progressive punk,” one audience member called them. Lithe, cat-eyed frontwoman Sarah Mucho is a force of nature: tonight she belted like Grace Slick raised to the power of ten, wailed like Mary Lee Kortes at her most scary-beautiful, teased and seduced the crowd like Erica Smith. It’s hard to think of anyone outside the world of, say, opera or gospel who can unleash such a mighty, pitch-perfect blast of beautiful sound. They rhythm section handled a lot of tricky time changes and odd tempos with aplomb and the lead guitarist alternated between fiery, virtuosic riffs and sheets of blistering noise. For a band this loud, and this noisy, they are amazingly tuneful. They burned through an all-too-brief, barely 35-minute set including a lot of unreleased material. The macabre Good Enough to Eat, a song about cannibalism, began with a percussive, chromatic hook that wouldn’t be out of place in an Iron Maiden song. Perhaps their strongest number was the equally dark, fiery No One Saw What I Saw, Mucho’s vocals taking flight in the chorus after a relentless, pounding run through the wilderness of the verse.

The night’s big crowd-pleaser was the slow, towering anthem Daydreaming. “A power ballad,” Mucho sarcastically called it, which built in an instant from a mysterious, ominously quiet verse to a literally breathtaking crescendo, then subsided almost as fast. It was heartwarming to hear the crowd’s awestruck, spontaneous applause when the band did this the first time around, affirming that there are still people in town who can appreciate that kind of thing in rock music. The set ended with a ridiculously catchy, Talking Heads-ish funk number from the band’s self-titled ep, with a snide, overtly political lyric that Mucho rapped. What a great night: three bands for eight bucks, the sound was good if a little loud and we weren’t surrounded by assholes. Somebody should start a Take Back Bleecker Street campaign: get all the good bands who used to play Tonic, for example, and bring them down here. It’s easy to get to on the subway and it sure beats Ludlow Street.

From there, we went east to Banjo Jim’s – again (we didn’t see Mallory, Alexis, Madison, Keighleigh, Kelceigh, AshLee, Prada or Taylor – perhaps their Humvee stretch limo had picked them up before they collectively turned into pumpkins). What a pleasant surprise, there was actually somebody good onstage here. Will Scott really has a handle on hypnotic, Mississippi hill country blues. It was just him playing acoustic, backed by a boisterous drummer. It actually would have been nice if they had been louder: people might have danced. This guy gets it: an unabashed T-Model Ford/R.L. Burnside fan, he understands that this is party music. Tonight he played it with fierce abandon, judicious use of guitar chops and without Pearl Jamming the vocals. He’s been playing Wednesdays at 68 Jay St. Bar in Dumbo for awhile. If you miss ole R.L. or have a lot of the Fat Possum catalog in your collection or on your ipod, go see this guy, you won’t be disappointed.

August 24, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Linda Draper at Cake Shop, NYC 5/26/07

Linda Draper played the cd release show for her latest and fifth effort, Keepsake. Playing solo on acoustic guitar as she virtually always does, she fingerpicked with imagination and agility and made it look effortless. She still sings with the bell-like clarity of a chorister, which she once was, but she’s utilizing her lower register more and it suits her material. As a lyricist, Draper is unsurpassed. While her new material backs away from the intricate rhyme schemes and deliciously off-the-wall metrics that were all over her last couple of albums, she hasn’t lost the ability to deliver a knockout double or triple entendre. As much as her songs tend to be melancholy, she writes mostly in major keys, and serves them up with considerable humor, even on the haunting, ghostly Traces Of, from the new album. She’s also reverted to the catchy pop sensibility of her first album, as opposed to the hypnotic fingerpicking style that she’d been mining until recently: you can hum her stuff for hours after hearing it. Despite this being Memorial Day weekend, the house was full, the audience was ecstatic and wouldn’t let her leave without an encore.

 

Kat Heyman and her rhythm section opened the show with a soporific set of generically narcissistic, tuneless Lilith fare.

May 30, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

Album Review: Ward White – Maybe but Probably Not

I don’t know what happened to this guy. He just snapped. Maybe it was the bad dayjob – that happens to a lot of people. Whatever the cause, the result was the first instant classic to come out last year, the high point so far in the career of the American Richard Thompson. Ward White is a virtual anomaly among US rock songwriters, a brutally cynical, dazzling wordsmith with equally spectacularly guitar chops and a straight-up rock sensibility. No solipsistic folkie whining here. No cheesy synthesizers or dated 90s trip-hop production. This album ROCKS….quietly. White’s tasteful, minimalist production sets his Bowie-inflected vocals soaring over tersely arranged acoustic and electric guitars and a string quartet. Chamber rock has never been so exhilarating. White’s back catalog, notably his previous release, Lovely Invalids demonstrates a sardonic wit and a wickedly playful, literate lyricism. He never met a pun he could resist (unless the boss asked for one) and employs devices including personification, metonymy and meta in ways that few English-language writers have done outside the covers of a book. Here, he succeeds at being clever without being too clever by half: the substance of this album matches its style, milligram for milligram. I believe that is how bile is measured.

The album opens with the psychopathological Things Kept Falling: “I’m not alone in this,” White taunts. As Mary Lee Kortes has noted, bad relationships are the gift that keeps on giving: and either this guy has had a spectacular streak of bad luck, or he’s a particularly gifted observer. Maybe both. On the album’s title track, he gleefully recounts to an ex how he “mined your broken heart for an album cut.” But no one escapes White’s minesweeper approach to hypocrisy. In the equally gleeful New York supremacist anthem L.A. Is Not the Answer, he takes a swipe at the trendoid lit crowd: “Tell Joe Henry to call me/I haven’t heard from Bill Vollmann in so long…” In Can You Lie?, he mines the irony of duplicitous actor types trying on roles for size for all it’s worth: “I want to know if you can lie convincingly to me/If you break character I’ll see/I will!”

Undertow, with its haunting minor-key chorus is pure symbolism, the booze ebbing back, yet all the while taunting the boozer that sooner or later he’ll fall off the wagon because “you were paralyzed and I set you free.” In the album’s concluding track, So Long, yet another ex will “Call me up, tell me about the weather, how everybody is so thin out there.” White’s terse response is, “I think I’ll extend my visa,” presumably in some distant foreign land.

The album’s centerpiece – and arguably the best song of the year – is Hole In the Head, a particularly timely take on deadend dayjob drudgery. It works equally well as Barbara Ehrenreich-style journalism, mise-en-scene piece and rock tune:

I can’t believe what you say
You’re a liar
Please don’t look so shocked
Hell, you could retire on all you stole
And I’m not gonna look anymore
Unless I’m buying
Tell you the truth, I’m tired of not trying to care in any way
I need this job like a hole in the head
I need a hole in my head to do this job
I need a head for some reason that escapes me now
There’s no escaping you

White’s two guitars and bass (he plays all the instruments) maintain the song’s claustrophobic intensity all the way though to its final ominous, ringing minor chord. Yet there’s more than just spleen here. White knows that banality of evil can sometimes be very funny, if in a blackly humorous way, and there are as many laugh-out-loud jokes on this album as there are instantly recognizable moments for anyone who’s ever been screwed in a relationship or struggled to refrain from decking an obnoxious boss.

Maybe But Probably Not ranks with Armed Forces by Elvis Costello, Mirror Blue by Richard Thompson and Mad Within Reason by LJ Murphy as one of the alltime great pissed-off lyrical rock records. It’s also a trenchant warning not to ever, ever mess with a songwriter. They always get even in the end. By the way, as an interesting bit of trivia, former Scout drummer Nigel Rawles overdubbed drums on many of the songs. For those of you who may be unaware, in modern recording it is customary to record drums before the rest of the band, which is logical enough since the band needs a beat to follow. It’s a credit to White that his timing was good enough for a drummer to follow without stumbling, and it’s a credit to both musicians that they could pull this off and make it sound like a seamless whole.

May 3, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments