Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Fred Gillen Jr. – Match Against a New Moon

Arguably his best album. As the title suggests, this is something of a calm after the storm for Fred Gillen Jr. Most musicians waited out the Bush regime uneasily; many, like Gillen, railed against the occupation, notably on his landmark 2008 collaboration with Matt Turk, Backs Against the Wall. Battered but optimistic, Gillen’s latest, Match Against a New Moon is his most memorably tuneful album. Ironically, the spot-on social commentary he’s best known for (this is a guy who appropriated Woody Guthrie’s “This guitar kills fascists” for his own six-string) is largely absent here. This cd goes more for a universal, philosophical outlook. At this point in his career, the songwriter Gillen most closely resembles is the WallflowersJakob Dylan: he’s got a laserlike feel for a catchy janglerock hook, a killer chorus, a striking image and a clever double entendre.

The expansive, smartly assembled janglerock anthem that opens the album, Come and See Me, wouldn’t be out of place in the Marty Willson-Piper catalog. It sets the tone for the rest of the cd:

When all your relations are in prison or the grave
And you can’t remember what they took, only what you gave
And you are grateful that they’re gone ’cause they can’t hurt you anymore
Come and see me

With its big, anthemic chorus, The Devil’s Last Word takes the point of view of a guy whose favorite hangout spot is the train tracks: he likes living on the edge. The catchiest track here, a monster hit in an alternate universe where commercial radio plays good songs, is the Wallflowers-ish Don’t Give up the Ghost. It ponders a way out of the shadows of a difficult past, a quest for “some kind of answers or at least some questions finally worth asking.” An image-drenched carpe diem anthem for a troubled girl, Flicker gently points a way out: “We only get a moment to flicker in the night, a match against a new moon.”

The metaphorically-charged Americana rock shuffle Land of Hope could a Matt Keating song. Lay Me Down has the raw feel of a lo-fi acoustic demo that probably wasn’t meant to be on the album, but it made the cut because of the magic it captures, exhausted yet immutably optimistic. Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah has been done to death by scores of inferior singers, but Gillen’s strikingly understated, conversational version is nothing short of souful. He follows it with a couple of dark rock narratives: the crescendoing junkie anthem Light of Nothing, which sounds like a sober mid-70s Lou Reed – if that makes any sense – and the vivid slum narrative Primitive Angels, which could be vintage, i.e. Darkness on the Edge of Town-era Springsteen. The album closes on an upbeat note with the hopeful You May Be Down. Gillen, who plays most of the instruments here, doesn’t waste a note, whether on guitars, bass, harmonica or even drums; Paul Silverman’s organ and Eric Puente’s drums contribute with similar terseness and intelligence, along with vocals from Catherine Miles and Laurie MacAllister, and Abbie Gardner contributing lapsteel and harmonies on Hallelujah. Gillen still plays frequent NYC area shows; watch this space.

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June 30, 2010 Posted by | folk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Matt Keating – Between Customers

As a kid Matt Keating had a summer job working the counter at a 7-11 (next time you dis the 7-11 clerk, keep in mind the guy could someday be one of the great songwriters of his time – it’s happened at least once already). The title of Keating’s new album alludes to that teenage gig and also to a line from the album’s opening song, a ironic tale of missed connections with a trick ending that more than hints at revenge or schadenfreude but turns out simply sad. It sets the tone for the rest of the album, a lot closer to the stark, mostly acoustic Americana flavor of his 2006 Summer Tonight cd rather than the electric clang of 2008’s Quixotic (simply one of the greatest janglerock records ever made.) Sparse electric and upright bass by Jason Mercer and minimal drums by Mark Brotter drums underpin Keating’s judicious layers of acoustic and occasional electric guitar and keyboards. As usual, his lyrics are terse, crystallized and loaded with double meanings that run the usual gamut from bitterness to melancholy to unhinged anger, along with a couple of surprisingly upbeat, even wise numbers

Cut number two on the cd, Daddy’s on the Roof, looks at family dysfunction from a kid’s snidely matter-of-fact point of view, tensely shuffling verse giving way to sarcastically blithe chorus – when everyone around you is crazy, sanity can be a liberating force. The catchy, swinging anthem Louisiana posits the personal as the political, a hauntingly allusive tale of love gone wrong at the end of a Gulf Coast road trip at the worst conceivable time. A vividly wistful Claudia Chopek string arrangement provides the atmosphere for the uneasy lullaby Go Down, a feeling amplified in the Cheeveresque anomie ballad Tree Lined Streets.

A metaphorically charged country-flavored tune, The Writer Next Door reminds how much you have to be careful living in these little New York apartments – you never know who might immortalize the things you regret saying most! Remember When, stately and gospel-tinged, takes where Lennon went with Imagine and makes it personal:

Remember when we could
Listen without ears
See without our fear
Look without our years
Remember when we went
That far
The final cut takes that resolve and turns it into a carpe-diem ballad. There’s also a bonus track, a gorgeously blue-sky acoustic version of St. Cloud, from the Quixotic album. With pretty much every year that passes you can pretty much count on Keating to deliver another first-rate album to add to his substantial body of work: count this among them. Matt Keating will be off on European tour this spring, with a final New York date next month at the Rockwood.

March 28, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Erica Smith and the 99 Cent Dreams, the John Sharples Band and Tom Warnick & World’s Fair at the Parkside, NYC 3/5/10

Isn’t Erica Smith an amazing song stylist?

Doesn’t John Sharples have great taste in music?

Doesn’t Tom Warnick always put on a hell of a show – and aren’t those songs of his about as catchy as you’ve ever heard?

The triplebill at the Parkside last night delivered on its promise. Smith played a jazz set the last time out. This time, the band pummeled through her rock stuff – a brisk version of an American Beauty-style ballad, a marauding Neil Young/Crazy Horse-ish rock anthem and the bossa pop song that opened the show. The quieter stuff gave her the chance to channel as much angst as she chose, or maybe didn’t choose – a creepy Nashville noir song, a gorgeously new janglerock number that painted a riverside tableau, and a somewhat pained, wistful version of the backbeat anthem 31st Avenue, the tribute to Queens that pretty much jumpstarted her career as as songwriter on her second album Friend or Foe. But it was the upbeat numbers: a bustling Ella Fitzerald-inflected version of the jazz standard Everything I’ve Got, and a joyous cover of Rodgers and Hart’s I Could Write a Book that reached for the rafters and hung on for dear life.

Sharples’ shtick is that he covers great songs by obscure songwriters: this being New York, and Sharples being pretty well connected, a lot of those people are his friends. He and his band (Smith, his wife, adding soaring soul harmonies) made the connection between Paula Carino’s Robots Helping Robots and Thin Lizzy’s Jailbreak, and, armed with his 12-string, jangled and clanged their way through a gorgeous, unreleased early Matt Keating anthem and a moody Al Stewart-style Britrock ballad that gave both bassist Andy Mattina and lead guitarist Ross Bonnadonna a chance to slash their initials into it on a long solo out.

Warnick’s songs stick in your mind: as a tunesmith, there’s nobody catchier. With Bonnadonna doing double duty and taking his game up even higher, Sharples as well adding sharp rhythm guitar, they burned through a tongue-in-cheek blues about getting busted for pot by the highway patrol, then a couple of rousing Stax/Volt style numbers, a sweet 6/8 soul ballad, a ska tune and the Kafkaesque, haunting noir of The Impostor. Warnick didn’t take a hammer to his keyboard this time around even though it cut out on him a couple of times, and he limited the jokes to passing his email list around the stage so his bandmates could sign up. The crowd roared for two encores and were treated to the Doorsy yet optimistic Keep Moving and a new one that Warnick said they were going to do as new wave. Jury’s out on the new bass player, who for once looked visibly sober – somebody who can make his way through the jazz changes in the set he played with Smith ought to be able to lay down a simple sixties soul groove with some kind of grace.

March 6, 2010 Posted by | concert, jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Matt Keating at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 2/14/10

This could have been a savagely cynical alternative to the glut of lame Valentine’s shows – but that would have been easy, and predictable. Along with all the wit and the double entendres, there’s a bitterness in Matt Keating’s songwriting that often boils over into rage, sometimes repentant but sometimes not. Yet his Sunday evening show at the Rockwood wasn’t about that. Counterintuitively, backed by his wife Emily Spray on harmony vocals and the equally estimable Jon Graboff on pedal steel, Keating offered hope against hope. It made a good counterpart to the Chelsea Symphony’s alternative Valentine’s Day concert earlier in the day several blocks west.

The trio opened with the gorgeously sardonic anthem Candy Valentine, a big audience request that he doesn’t often play – it’s sort of his Saint Stephen (Grateful Dead fans will get the reference). Switching to piano, Keating evocatively painted an unromantic Jersey tableau in tribute to the late Danny Federici, the vastly underrated original organist in Springsteen’s E Street Band. Back on guitar, Keating threw out another pensive tableau, then picked up the pace with the decidedly unrepentant,upbeat country song Wrong Way Home. The high point of the night, and one of the few moments that actually wasn’t a surprise, was Lonely Blue. It built slowly, ambient Graboff versus incisive Keating guitar, Spray channeling Lucinda Williams but with twice the range and none of the alcohol – she was that good. The song’s unhinged alienation rose as the instruments built tensely to a sledgehammer crescendo that transcended the presence of just the two instruments and voices onstage – Keating is known for fiery, intense performances and this was characteristic. They brought it down after that, closing with the warily optimistic Louisiana, a standout track from Keating’s 2008 Quixotic album, as well as 2007’s Summer Tonight, pedal steel enhancing the song’s bucolic sway. Keating’s characters seldom get what they want – this time they got a little and the audience, silent and intent between songs, got a lot.

February 16, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Song of the Day 5/25/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s song is #429:

Matt Keating – The Night Is Still Young

Revenge anthems don’t get any more satisfying than this big, crescendoing, sinister janglerock song about lying in wait til the time is right. It might be the great literate rocker’s best song, and it’s unreleased and apparently unbootlegged – you’ll have to go see this live.

May 25, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Beefstock 2009

In many respects, the two-day festival was a snapshot of the future of live music, not just in terms of cutting-edge talent but also the way it was presented. Beefstock began simply as a tribute concert to Darren Bohan, bass player in Livia Hoffman’s band, killed on 9/11 when the Twin Towers were detonated. Held upstate at the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian, NY because of the site’s proximity to Bohan’s hometown, the initial concert was so successful that the festival’s founder, veteran Brooklyn drummer Joe Filosa decided to do another one the following year. Playfully called Beefstock by the first couple of years’ crowd (it’s in the Catskills, near Woodstock, and always features a closing jam by Filosa’s band Plastic Beef), the name quickly became official. This year’s show was Beefstock 8. A straw poll of the crowd returned a unanimous verdict: without question, this was the best ever.

 

Beefstock is best appreciated as a festival, a vacation in the same vein as Coachella or Reggae on the River: for roughly $140 per person, you get two nights of comfortable lodging, parking, four big meals and concert admission (drinks in the bar in the lodge with the stage are extra). The most striking difference is the vibe. Since Beefstock is so comparatively small-scale, all the big-festival hassles – the traffic, the endless list of Nazi rules and regulations, the exorbitant drink prices, the ubiquitous rent-a-pigs, the crowds, the lines at the porta-potties – are all conspicuously absent. As the depression tightens its grip, Beefstock could be the template for a new kind of event, as TicketBastard and Live Nation go belly-up by pricing themselves beyond the reach of ordinary citizens.

 

Because of the sheer quantity of bands on the bill (no stupid “second stages” and Hobson’s choices of who to see), bands were typically limited to no more than forty minutes onstage, sometimes considerably less. But the quality was extraordinary. Friday night kicked off with a jam and then a reputedly excellent set by new wave revivalists the Larch (caveat: leave your bottle opener at home, go hunting for one at the hotel and you miss a whole set). The Actual Facts ran through a fiery set of brand-new, unreleased reverb-drenched, Wire-inflected Britrock, long pounding hypnotic drones paired off with post-Velvets stomp and even one funky number, Gang of Four without the affectations.

 

Black Death roared through a tuneful set of riff-driven, amusing punk rock, followed by the night’s first real surprise, Girl to Gorilla. With their two guitars, viola and rhythm section, they added a roaring, anthemic Irish edge to their janglerock, the viola in particular a plus, bringing an unexpectedly eerie edge to the upbeat catchiness of the songs. A darkly backbeat-driven number titled Next Weekend was an early highlight.

 

By the time Friday’s headline act, Livia Hoffman, took the stage, it was past one in the morning. Playing solo on the Actual Facts’ Tim Simmonds’ Telecaster, running through a dense, chilly wall of reverb, she turned the chatty crowd silent in a split second with a relentlessly intense, haunting performance. Live shows by Hoffman have become increasingly rare in recent years, but this one revealed the songwriter at the top of her game, showing off some ferociously good new material including the pun-laden, sardonically bitter All My Imaginary Children. Part of the song is a long and very funny litany of these twisted kids’ personalities, set to an anthemic tune lifted from an Angelic Upstarts song (Hoffman’s songs are not often loud but she knows her punk). The big abandonment anthem Infinite Jest (absent any other David Foster Wallace reference) didn’t let up, all the way through the fiery outro where Hoffman alternated the main vocals with the backing line: “Back in five minutes/Don’t you lie!” And then her voice went out on her, but the effect made the Bohan tribute You-Shaped Hole in the Universe especially heartwrenching. She also did another sad requiem – this time for a cat – and wound up the set with the fiery, accusatory Sorry (as in “sorry’s what you are”).

 

Saturday started early in the afternoon with a series of films curated by documentarian James Dean Conklin, followed eventually by a catchy set of Americana-inflected rock by frequent Brute Force collaborator Peter Pierce. The haunting ballad Party’s Over quickly became the high point of the early part of the show. Americana chanteuse Rebecca Turner was next, turning in a characteristically melodic, lilting set shared with brilliant guitarist Josh Roy Brown, who contributed a couple of stark, stinging tunes from his own cd, notably the oldschool LES anthem Back in the Old Days (later covered by John Pinamonti).

 

Another Americana chanteuse, Erica Smith started out backed only by the bassist from her band the 99 Cent Dreams, working the low-key format for all it was worth, drawing in the crowd with the crystalline, bittersweet clarity of her voice and her haunting lyrics while the bassist grappled with the sound system and lost, badly. Then Smith’s main man John Sharples joined them onstage as did the Larch’s Ian Roure, providing sizzling slide guitar on a spiritedly psychedelic cover of the old sea chantey Johnny Come Down to Hilo.

 

Sharples and his band were next. His shtick is covering songs by all his friends, and he obviously has good taste: included  in the set were a fiery new wave rocker by the late, lamented Blow This Nightclub; Erica Smith’s Secrets, rearranged as straight-up country; a fiery, unreleased Matt Keating anthem; a punk stomp by Box of Crayons and finally the Beatles I’ve Got a Feeling (it’s unknown whether Sharples was ever friends with Lennon, but it’s not inconceivable), Smith taking the mic and belting it out of the park as usual.

 

Best band name of the night was Paula Carino and Walking Wikipedia – they’ve been through a few, but that’s a keeper – who scorched through an incandescently jangly set of her lyrically rich, playfully counterintutive two-guitar hits, among them the bouncy Road to Hell, the strikingly wistful Summer’s Over and a ferocious version of a song by her previous band Regular Einstein titled For the Modern Day. Carino was the hands-down star of last year’s Beefstock, and with her casual, clear vocals, swaying stage presence and endless barrage of hooks staked a claim to this year’s as well.

 

Tom Warnick and World’s Fair took the energy level even higher. He may look a lot like Josh Beckett but his songwriter is a lot closer to Samuel, in particularly incisively entertaining mode. The sky is always falling, but the surreal, carnivalesque cast of characters in Warnick’s songs battle it out against all odds and usually win. At least they did in the fiery, Doors-y Keep Moving – “I go to restaurants past the dead and the dying,” he intoned in his casually ominous baritone, guitarist Ross Bonnadonna (who’d just played with Carino) burning Robbie Krieger-style against Warnick’s eerie organ. Referencing both ice cream headache and the former New Hampshire rock formation the Old Man in the Mountain, stomping minimistically and suspensefully through the tongue-in-cheek Gravity Always Wins and then the gleefully off-kilter City of Women, he was a force of nature. Not bad for a guy whose brush with death a couple of years ago – along with his subsequent and continuing recovery – are something of a legend in New York rock circles.

 

By the time Warnick and crew were done, half the crowd were wearing glowsticks passed out by one of the organizers. The revelation of the evening was Gillen and Turk. To say that their whole is greater than the sum of the parts is in their case an actual compliment, Fred Gillen Jr.’s fiery lyricism and oldschool Americana folk songwriting a perfect complement to Matt Turk’s soulfully virtuosic acoustic guitar and mandolin work. The best song of the whole festival was a new number possibly titled Dear Mr. President, an absolutely spot-on critique. “Dear Mr. Governor, did you really call on her to comfort you in your hour of need?” Gillen asked the crowd, to considerable laughter. The song’s last verse celebrated that “it’s really great, the votes were really counted in 2008!” The duo also held the increasingly celebratory crowd hushed through the dark 9/11 blowback ballad We All Fall Down, then an oldtimey number where Turk mimed a muted trumpet and got the audience going with an increasingly complicated call-and-response, and a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah that had some of the audience in tears.

 

Liza & the WonderWheels brought the party vibe back in a hurry, although frontwoman Liza Garelik wanted to keep things from completely boiling over: “Settle down, Joe,” she admonished Filosa, her imperturbable drummer, before a catchy, somewhat hypnotic new song with a slyly boisterous B-52s feel. Then she opened a musical greeting card and held it up to the mic. They cut their set a bit short with the snarling faux football cheer song Petroleum – “Let’s go, oil barons, let’s go!” – and then a gorgeously catchy, jangly song driven by a vintage 1960s Britrock riff, possibly titled What You Want.

 

The rest of the evening kept the party going. Skelter – another real eye-opener – roaring through a ferocious set of post-Oasis anthems as well as fast, sizzling covers of the Pistols’ Pretty Vacant and the Pink Floyd classic Lucifer Sam. The recently revamped Plastic Beef proved as adept at terse, three-minute pop songs as they’ve always been with their typical jams, although they did their signature song The Pyramid Club featuring bassist Andy Mattina in particularly melodic, virtuosic Phil Lesh mode.

 

Circus Guy offered spot-on, perfectly ornate covers of Blue Oyster Cult classics including a note-for-note version of Astronomy, departing bassist Greg Ross doing a killer job with those beautifully melodic Joe Bouchard lines. Progressive Dementia delivered a set of prog-rock parodies, alternately subtly satirical or completely over-the-top, followed by Baby Daddy, tight beyond belief and virtuosic with a terse mix of funk, bluesy grooves and their signature song, the predictably amusing (and very well-timed) 700 Beers. And then the festival’s closing jam, where the musicians demonstrated considerably more staying power than the crowd.

 

Watch this space for a review of the Beefstock Recipes compilation cd, a mix of past and present Beefstock performers. In the meantime, some observations and performer photos. Update – more photos/commentary…   

April 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Serena Jost and Jennifer O’Connor at the Delancey, NYC 3/5/09

A clinic in good songwriting from two of the best. Serena Jost has gotten a lot of ink here since Lucid Culture’s inception, and deservedly so. A virtuoso cellist who did time in Rasputina, her artsy, classically-inflected songs are often imbued with an old-world stateliness that takes on an even greater poignancy when she sings, in a cautious, wary, highly nuanced delivery. Yet she’s just as likely to break the mold and launch into a playful pop song that suddenly and unexpectedly morphs into something else – think rustic, early ELO-era Jeff Lynne. Both styles were in abundance last night. Starting out on guitar and accompanied by her longtime lead guitarist Julian Maile, the two ran through a swirling, catchy janglepop song and then the noirish, 6/8 ballad Falling Down. Switching to cello, she tackled another 6/8 ballad, the brand-new Blue Flowers with its surprise-laden Moonlight Sonata-ish broken chords. Almost Nothing, from her excellent, most recent cd Closer Than Far featured some eerily dexterous tremolo-picking from Maile, more Daniel Ash than Dick Dale. They closed with the ridiculously catchy, multi-part Reasons and Lies, Maile’s trebly twang interpolated beautifully amidst Jost’s stark cello textures.

 

Believe everything good you’ve ever heard about Jennifer O’Connor. Though signed to Matador, there’s nothing remotely indie about her. Setting brooding, gemlike, angst-ridden lyrics to tersely melodic, occasionally Americana-inflected rock tunes, she delivered a seemingly effortless, forty-minute set backed by just an excellent bassist and a woman singing harmonies (and playing soulful harmonica on one song), validating pretty much any claim that’s been made about her. From a listener’s point of view, it was a tantalizing glimpse of what it would be like to see O’Connor leading a good electric band, with her on lead guitar.

 

This being the Delancey’s weekly Thursday Small Beast extravaganza, there was the usual A-list of New York musicians in the house. When asked whose music she thought O’Connor’s resembles, one of the great songwriters of our time weighed the question. “Barbara Brousal,” she replied, which makes sense if you subtract the Brooklyn chanteuse’s tropicalia fixation: Brousal can really rock out when she’s in the mood, as does O’Connor. Someone else mentioned Steve Wynn, a particularly apt comparison during the best parts of the show where O’Connor resolutely swung her way through two deliriously catchy, darkly garage-inflected songs. There’s a striking, offhand strength and intensity to both her playing and her vocals, her big, often counterintuitive chords rich and sustained as she reflected on relationships gone wrong or hopelessly doomed. She’s spent a lot of time on the road lately, and the night’s best song (one of the Steve Wynn-esque numbers) seemed to echo that: “When I close my eyes, I see the highway/When I go, I go to sleep.”

 

The next song maintained a sense of longing despite the hopeful tone of the lyrics: “It will be easy for me,” she sang uneasily, wailing up and down on her acoustic to end the song on a fiery note. Another number saw her projecting in a powerful contralto for an entire verse before sailing to the upper ranges for the second, immediately bringing the intensity to redline. By contrast, the title track to her new cd Here with Me revealed itself as a surprisingly gentle, optimistic song with a catchy 60s pop feel. She closed the set returning to plaintive, haunting mode with a midtempo tune that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Matt Keating songbook: “I have a hard time of hiding everything,” she lamented.

 

Jennifer O’Connor’s next New York gig is April 3 at Cake Shop; Serena Jost and her full band play an auspiciously long 90-minute set at Barbes on Mar 12 at 8.

March 6, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Jazz Funeral

This cd has absolutely nothing to do with jazz and isn’t exactly goth, although it’s relentlessly dark. This is a terrifically intelligent, auspicious debut for these lyrically-driven Staten Island retro rockers. It’s a mix of jangly, 60s inflected songs with smartly understated vocals and excellent, brooding lyrics that contrast with the songs’ catchy, upbeat, frequently country-inflected melodies.

 

The cd kicks off with Annie’s Kitchen Table, a fast country shuffle with a slightly Blonde on Blonde feel and a bitter, anguished lyric anticipating a breakup, “the summer months coming hard,” the narrator chainsmoking and anticipating the worst. There’s a nice, tastefully bluesy guitar solo that works perfectly with the tone of the song. The next track, Pulling Off the Wings is a haunting, oldtime-flavored backbeat country song with pizzicato mandolin, all tension that refuses to break, “Clocks don’t stop and cars refuse to crash…it’s so plain to see I’ve been so unwell.” The sarcastic, angry Entry-Level Blues starts out fast and bouncy like the Kinks or the early Move but quickly builds to more of a country feel; Jolene, of the South Shore, a rueful ballad slinks along on a beautifully tense melody, chords shifting from major to minor with elegant restraint. The best song on the ep is its closing cut, Goodnight (Is How I Say Goodbye), begining ominous with layers of oldtimey blues guitar, suddenly jumping to a raging, staccato Weimar blues melody and then exploding into fiery janglerock:

 

If the ghost of Robert Moses came to talk to me

Would you demolish every brownstone in Bay Ridge

All the ghosts you see are real…

Walk toward the light but be prepared to say goodnight

 

Best thing about this cd is it’s free, download it here. Fans of the A-list of tuneful, intense lyrical rockers: Elvis Costello, Aimee Mann, LJ Murphy, Matt Keating, Ward White and the rest will devour this. A great ipod album, it screams out for headphones. The Jazz Funeral play Bowery Poetry Club on Feb 14 and then Feb 18 at Ace of Clubs.

February 2, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jay Bennett – Whatever Happened, I Apologize

What a harrowing way to start the new year. This cd hits you with a gale force, bitter, brutal and direct. Even if you try to get out of the way, Jay Bennett – the talented multi-instrumentalist who for all intents and purposes was Wilco until he left the band and Jeff Tweedy decided to become Brian Wilson – will still knock the wind out of you. Most of this cd – Bennett’s fourth solo album –  is just voice and acoustic guitar, occasionally embellished with organ and bass that are so good that you’re left wanting more. While the songs on this album scream out for a full band to flesh them out, even if this is as far as they ever get, that’s fine: they still pack a wallop. Stylistically, Bennett evokes Matt Keating or Richard Buckner in particularly energetic mode: this is smart, terse, gorgeously melodic Americana rock with equally smart, tersely unwinding lyrics. It’s a concept album about a relationship gone awry, spectacularly: this one was doomed right from the start, and if Bennett is to be taken at face value, it’s something of a miracle he got out alive.

 

The cd starts with a road song, just a bit of ominous foreshadowing in the same vein as the Wilco classic Far, Far Away (from the Being There cd), followed by the matter-of-fact, dismissive I Don’t Have the Time. Bennett knows there’s drama coming down the line and he wants no part of it. “I don’t have the good looks, but I know yours won’t last,” he caustically tells the woman. With the next cut, I’ll Decorate My Love, the genie’s out of the bottle, Pandora’s out of the box and all hell breaks loose, setting the tone for the rest of the cd:

 

There will be no profit in protection

Even when you’re walking miles in the rain

I will curse the day I met you

And you will curse the day I lost control

And there will be no reward for your actions

Even when you’re trying to save your lover’s soul…

You were down before me

 

The themes that recur again and again here are missed opportunities and wasted time (go figure), notably on the cd’s towering centerpiece, the big, crescendoing 6/8 ballad The Engines Are Idle:
 
The engines are idle and the trees are all bare

And the issues are clouded and hang in the air

The best part of the story is the part that you missed…

The best part of the record is the part where it skips

And she lost the lyrics and the jacket is ripped…

Cos it’s ageless and timeless but beauty must fade

And you looked so much better when the picture was made

 

The pace picks up and emotions reach a fever pitch on How Dull They Make the Razor: Bennett wants to wait this one out, but he ends up getting dragged in anyway:

 

It don’t matter how dull they make the razor

You won’t feel it when you’re dead 

 

On the next track, Without the Benefit of Sight, Bennett likens himself to a block of ice on a Chicago rooftop in early spring, loosened just enough to become deadly. Exasperation and despair take over center stage:

 

If you want to weigh me down there’s just one layer left

I’ve been repainted so many times it’s anybody’s guess

 

And that’s pretty much where it’s left. Bennett muses on how Hank Williams might have written this story, then throws up his hands and lets that work as a smokescreen: he’s through with trying to cut through the smoldering underbrush, and the songs follow suit. “I lost my best friend last night, I’m working on number two/Won’t you give me a chance cause your chances are through,” he warns on the stark, mandolin-spiced ballad Talk and Talk and Talk. The cd ends with a lament for the world as a whole – the relationship seems to be a microcosm of something far worse – and then with the understatement of Little Blue Pills, “that don’t make you ill – someday they will.”

 

Intensely personal yet not the least bit self-absorbed, this is the best thing Bennett’s ever done. And the best thing about it is that the cd is absolutely free: Bennett is giving it away as a free download at rockproper.com, click here and then hang on, this is not exactly easy listening.

January 5, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

CD Review: Matt Keating – Quixotic

His best album, one of the most sonically delicious cds of 2008. Since his 1993 debut Tell It To Yourself, Matt Keating has been making gorgeously melodic, jangly rock, sometimes veering off into Americana (as was the case with his previous one Summer Tonight, reviewed here in our infancy). Much like his contemporary Steve Wynn, Keating’s songwriting is sharply literate, frequently dark and menacing. This double cd is a career-defining moment, a lush blend of guitar textures, evocative imagery and vocals loaded with tension, apprehension and alienation. To find an album this long and loaded with as much good stuff, you have to go all the way back to 2000 and another career-defining double cd, Wynn’s Here Come the Miracles. This is that good. Keating plays most of the guitars and keyboards here along with some sensationally terse, incisive lead work from guitarist Duane Jarvis and an equally terse rhythm section of Jason Mercer on bass and Jordan Richardson on drums. The result mixes catchy janglerock anthems with eerie, 60s style noir songs along with a couple of garage-rock numbers and countryish tunes.

 

By the numbers: eight big anthems, ranging from fiery and ferocious (the anti-Iraq war broadside Sorry Son) to ominous and bitter (the cd’s concluding cut Book of Changes); a soul song with a sweet 60s feel; three noir 60s style numbers with haunting, twangy reverb guitar and dark lyrics; a snarling, retro garage riff-rock song; four brooding, cynical country-flavored tunes (the best being the vivid, 2008 depression-era summertime tableau Leave or You Leave It Alone); a torchy, organ-driven blues with a long psychedelic outro; a tongue-in-cheek, macabre instrumental fragment as Owen Bradley might have done it; and a scorching, slow, slashing anti-conformist satire, Skin and Bone:

 

Sold my soul to the company store

Sold my soul but they wanted some more

So I gave my body to an early grave

Think of all the money we’ll save

Go man go, get before it’s gone

Then just fall asleep on the lawn

Wake up in the morning dew

Blame the grass just ‘cos it grew

The ground underneath gave way…

Went to the cave, rolled back the stone

All I found was skin and bone

 

And a partridge in a pear tree. Get this for the Elvis Costello fan in your life who’s grown weary of Costello trying to become his dad; sneak this into the hands of the Tom Petty or Daughtry fan in your life and raise their expectations a little. You’ll see this on our best cds of 2008 list in a week or so. Matt Keating is a fiery, charismatic live performer; fresh off an East Coast tour, he’ll undoubtedly be doing a New York date or two in the next couple of months, watch this space for details.

December 17, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment