Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Saturday’s Brooklyn County Fair: The Year’s Best New York Concert?

The Brooklyn Country folks like living dangerously: they didn’t even put a canopy over the stage before the all-day parade of bands started. But they didn’t let a few drops of rain, a massive bank of cumulo nimbus overhead moving closer and closer or the miserable tropical humidity stop them from putting on one of the best shows this city’s seen this year. Their frequent Brooklyn County Fair shindigs go all day and into the night: this time around, the daytime venue was the pleasant Urban Meadow community garden space where President Street deadends into the water in Red Hook. The only ironic thing about the country music being made in Brooklyn these days is that it’s better than 95% of what’s coming out of Nashville: Saturday’s lineup was a goldmine of both retro and cutting-edge country and Americana talent.

Plagued with technical difficulties, Maynard & the Musties’ opening set was a wash (and looked like it would be a wash in more ways than one, with the clouds as dark as they were, but the sky never broke). They’re playing Lakeside on Friday the 23rd if you missed them here – and by the looks of the crowd, you probably did.

String band Me Before You blended bluegrass, folk and oldtime hillbilly sounds with some gorgeous vocal harmonies from brother and sister Anthony and Amy Novak, who switched on and off between guitar and mandolin, anchored by Carlos Barriento’s often haunting, bowed bass and Joyce Chen’s soaring fiddle. Their version of Blue Moon of Kentucky started slow and soulful, then turned on a dime and went doublespeed. But their originals were the best, Amy’s wary, somewhat wounded delivery akin to Patsy Cline. Toward the end of the set, Anthony finally cut loose with a sizzling guitar solo on one of their upbeat numbers, somehow managing to keep his fingers on the fretboard despite the heat and humidity.

The Dixons didn’t let the heat phase them either. Decked out in their retro hats and suits, they looked and sounded straight out of Bakersfield, 1964 – there hasn’t been a New York band who’ve done this kind of honkytonk so effortlessly and expertly well since Buddy Woodward put the Nitro Express in mothballs and headed for the hills of Virginia. Dixons frontman and rhythm guitarist Jeff Mowrer sang with a sly baritone a lot like Junior Brown while drummer Brother Paul hung back with a stick in his right hand and a brush in his left, delivering the slinkiest shuffle beat you could possibly imagine, Smilin’ Joe Covington pushing it along with his upright bass and Telecaster player Chris Hartway bringing back the ghost of Duane Eddy to guide his fast fingers. Guest pedal steel player Skip Krevens would kick off the solos and then Hartway would finish them, taking it up a notch with one lusciously reverb-drenched, twangy, tuneful fill after another – a little bluegrass, a little blues, a little surf, he did it all. Between songs, the crowd was silent: they didn’t know what hit them. They turned Ernest Tubb’s Thanks a Lot into a Hudson Hornet era boogie and happily repatriated Waylon Jennings’ Sweet Sweet Mental Revenge to a time before Pam Tillis was born. Their briskly shuffling opening tune, Still Your Fool (title track to their excellent album) set the tone for the day; The Lonesome Side of Me was period perfect not just with the music but also the lyrics, a vibe that would happen again and again during their set.

Led by Texas expat and bartitone crooner (and Brooklyn Country honch0)  JD Duarte alongside chanteuse Carin Gorrell, the Newton Gang were just as good – but in a completely different way. The Dixons sound as fresh as they do because hardly anyone around these parts has that kind of sound, and the same goes for these guys. But where the Dixons have every part completely nailed down cold, the Newton Gang are just loose enough to be dangerous, part outlaw country, part evil-tinged paisley underground rockers. With a careening two-guitar attack of Duarte and agile, smartly terse Telecaster player Alan Lee Backer, they shifted unexpectedly and edgily between major and minor keys, through a brutal ballad about a kid who kills his entire family, several escape anthems (a recurrent theme in this band) and a pretty unhinged version of A Woman Scorned, a fiery, chugging tune from the band’s upcoming album. Pedal steel player Gordon Hartin built a river of dark textures, giving a fluid underpinning to the crash-and-burn overhead while drummer David Ciolino-Volano and bassist Chet Hartin teamed up for a backbeat pulse that swung like crazy – not what you’d expect from a twangy monster like this group. Unlike the parade of Carrie Underwood soundalikes out there, Gorrell goes for an often darkly aware, no-nonsense Tammy Wynette approach. Her lead vocals packed a mean punch on the rousing Mistreat Me, just as much a challenge as a come-on, a test to see if the guy’s man enough for her.

By the time they were done, the temperature had tumbled pleasantly by at least twenty degrees, but the clouds looked like they’d finally reached their limit. Alana Amram & the Rough Gems, another excellent band who mix country and rock in a cool rather than cheesy way, were next, followed by zydeco/honkytonk band the Doc Marshalls and then Americana singer Michaela Anne. But the way the sky was looking, it was time for a raincheck. We made it just past Abilene on Court St. before the monsoon hit.

July 12, 2010 Posted by | concert, country music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Concert Review: The Somebodies’ Christmas Show 12/16/09

You know a band has to be good if they can keep a smart crowd entertained with a bunch of Christmas songs. Let’s face it – Christmas music sucks, bigtime. Almost as much as Nickelback or Lady Gag. In fact, the only holiday music that’s any good is the non-Western stuff: Diwali, Passover, Ramadan. And of course Halloween. But the Somebodies – with a lot of help from some good friends – had obviously really worked hard on putting together a theme night that in a lesser group’s hands would have been pure schlock.

The band’s sound is concretized sometime in the 80s: their faster stuff has a scurrying new wave beat; the anthems look back to a time before grunge, before hair metal, in fact, when you were supposed to sing them casually, unaffectedly, without any cliches. But they didn’t play any of those. Usually the bass carries the melody, as Graham Maby used to do on Joe Jackson’s early albums. Their three originals in their set list at Lakeside on the sixteenth included a brisk, punchy pop number that would have made a good b-side to What I Like About You, another with a propulsive, melodic reggae bassline that went doublespeed on the chorus, and the last song of the night, where bassist Luke Mitchell got  to go deep into his bag of chops for some slinky slides, hammer-ons and fat, boomy chords. And these were all well-received, but it was the holiday stuff that made smiles out of winces.

They started with the Eric Carmen weepie (and Rachmaninoff ripoff) All By Myself, just Mitchell and drummer Phil McDonald who gave it the most deviously deadpan vocal you could want. Then frontman/guitarist Pete Derba joined them for Feliz Navidad, which in his hands was basically the same lyric over and over again. That was mercifully over fast. Dylan Keeler of the Disclaimers took a reluctantly amusing turn as Elvis impersonator on Santa’s Back in Town; later, Derba did Blue Christmas back into deadpan territory with some help from a ringer chorus on backup vocals. Kate Thomason and Naa Koshie Mills – the duo who give the Disclaimers their signature soul sound – did a lighthearted rap number, and later a Christmas soul song from the 60s. For her absolutely sultry cover of Eartha Kitt’s Santa Baby, Mills peeled off her shiny fake fur coat to reveal an equally shiny 60s cocktail dress and then brought down the house.

Keeler and his fellow Disclaimers guitarist Dan Sullivan gave Santa Claus Is Coming to Town a sublimely ridiculous Blues Brothers vibe, Sullivan doing most of the jumping and kicking around in front of the stage: “He knows when you forget the lyrics,” he deadpanned. But the most affecting moment of the night was when Jerome and Susan O’Brien of the Dog Show led the crowd in an acoustic singalong of So This Is Christmas. “War is over, if you want it…” If only this year’s Nobel winner could have been there, he undoubedly would have a good time, notwithstanding this timely reminder of how little has actually changed since that auspicious day in November of last year.

December 23, 2009 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Maynard and the Musties – So Many Funerals

Nouveau outlaw country songwriter and Nashville expat Joe Maynard does double duty as a rare book dealer, hence the tongue-in-cheek band name. On this cd – his first with this particular crew – he comes across as sort of a hybrid of Townes Van Zandt, Tom Waits and David Allan Coe. Maynard built a reputation for gut-bustingly funny songs with his previous bands, the upbeat Illbillies and then the more traditionally oriented Millerite Redeemers. On this cd, he’s as surreal as always but considerably more somber, and the jokes are darker as well. Musically, it rocks pretty hard in places: Ryan Adams’ production is terse and imaginative on both the upbeat stuff and the quieter numbers. The album’s best song, Elvis Museum is a prime example, Adams’ piano quiet and determined over a swaying backbeat, and it’s a genuine classic. It’s quintessential Maynard: the museum in question turns out to be a pretty pathetic excuse for one, the King’s portrait between “a sinkful of dishes and a toilet stall,” but this offhandedly savage satire of celebrity worship still manages to be sympathetic. Likewise, the opening track, Pine Box, a body in a coffin taking a sarcastic view of the preacher and the pageantry outside. After a gentle, rustic beginning lit up with some vivid violin from Naa Koshie Mills (also of the Disclaimers, and the musical star of the album), lead guitarist Mo Botton rips out a nasty garage rock solo.

Maynard hails from Brooklyn these days and uses that milieu for several of the songs, including the surreal Cowboys of St. Bartholomew – about a gay street couple – and the deadpan, reverb-drenched Rocky and Bessie, an ominously bizarre tale of a couple of stray dogs in Fort Greene. He also sets the poem Shallow Water Warning – a drowning recalled by the victim – by legendary outsider poet Helen Adam to a swaying Tex-Mex-inflected tune. Otherwise, the titular redneck girl of the big bluesy raveup isn’t exactly what she seems, the drugs bid a fond farewell to the body they ravaged in the lullaby Dear Addict, and the rest of the world hides and surfs the web while the world burns – literally – on the Velvets-esque apocalypse anthem It’s Been a Great Life, Botton adding some aptly furious Sterling Morrison chord-chopping on the outro. The cd closes with a heartfelt tribute to Maynard’s lapsteel player and flatmate, the late, great Drew Glackin (also of Tandy, the Jack Grace Band, Silos and numerous other A-list Americana bands). The whole thing is a richly lyrical, fearlessly good time, darkness notwithstanding. The band is also impressively good live. Maynard and the Musties play Sidewalk on Dec 4 at 8 PM.

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Balthrop, Alabama – Subway Songs and Cowboy Songs

Two brand-new eps from the multistylistic Brooklyn music mob. True to the band’s signature shtick (Balthrop, Alabama style themselves as a little Southern town relocated to the BK), a lot of people were involved with making these albums and in general they acquit themselves well. Perhaps because of the sheer number of contributors, the band’s ability to fluently channel a ridiculous number of styles from decades ago to the present day is uncanny, and spectacularly so. The first of the two, Subway Songs is delightfully gruesome, lushly and imaginatively produced with layers of vocals, horns, keys and a variety of rustic stringed instruments. It also doesn’t seem to have the slightest thing to do with subways. It opens with Subway Horns, theatrical gypsyish ska punk like World Inferno. Bride of Frankenstein, which follows, is southwestern gothic with some biting slide guitar in the style of Friends of Dean Martinez. Prom Story is an amusingly and musically spot-on spoof of early 60s girl group ghoul-pop; Ocean’s Arms adds a faux Irish tinge to an immigrant’s tale gone drastically awry.

 

Red Hook Pool is a fast, upbeat folk-rock number spiced with banjo, a dead ringer for a Phil Ochs pop hit from, say, Tape from California, 1967. It, too comes to a grisly conclusion after the rain starts, morphing strangely into a vintage style soul song after a long instrumental vamp. With its beautiful, soaring vocals, the 6/8 ballad My Way the Highway sounds like what Caithlin de Marrais might have done if she’d been alive in 1965. At least nobody seems to die in this one.

 

Cowboy Songs explores a satirical concept. Trouble is, between Ween’s Twelve Golden Country Greats album, the Inbreeds, and David Allan Coe, there isn’t much country music territory left  to parody, and this doesn’t exactly add anything to the canon. The musicianship here is all first-rate, and in fact some of these songs are so period-perfect that they could be from Nashville in the mid-60s – but as b-sides. Old Cowboy Queer sounds like a ripoff of I Thought I Was Country Til I Found I Was Queer by fellow Brooklynites the Illbillies (now Maynard and the Musties), which achieved some notoriety about ten years ago. There are also thoughtful attempts at crafting a slowly swinging romantic ballad and an oldschool Ray Price-style shuffle. And then they end it on a tongue-in-cheek apocalyptic note. Balthrop, Alabama plays the cd release for these two at the 92YTribeca on 3/13 on an excellent bill with the Ukuladies and the Moonlighters starting at about 9:30 PM.

March 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 1/12/09

Every Tuesday here we have our own quarter-sized version of what Kasey Kasem used to do on Sundays back in the day. Each of the links below correspond to the songs on our little hit parade. It’s designed as something that with a few clicks of a mouse will keep you entertained through your lunch hour if you’re at a desk job, or late at night if you’re bored.

 

1.  Maynard & the Musties – Elvis Museum

Frontman Joe Maynard’s ostensibly true story about one obsessed woman’s tribute to the King, with subtly sly commentary on the culture of celebrity. Producer Ryan Adams on piano and lapsteel.

 

2.   Max Raabe – Oops I Did It Again

German retro cabaret crooner covering Britney Spears. Words cannot describe.

 

3.  Kerry Kennedy’s Ghostwise – More from the Mountain

Gothic Americana like the Walkabouts. Eerie and irresistible. They play Rose Bar on 1/21.

 

4.  Heather Nova – Talking to Strangers

Long and hypnotic with haunting strings and Nova’s trademark wail. Streaming at her site.

 

5. The Naturals – Missus Sinclair

Super catchy 60s flavored dark guitar pop from North Carolina. Check it out. 

 

6. The Slackers – Dreidel Dub

A little late for the holiday, this amusing ska instrumental is ultimately a good excuse for a characteristically ripping Glenn Pine trombone solo. Thanks to Jacob of Across the Aisle for the heads-up on this – it’s a new single w/a dub remix as the b-side.

 

7. Close2death – Memory

An artsy, ornate, minor-key metalish ballad from this intriguing female-fronted band. They’re at Arlene’s on 2/12

 

8. The Sleaze Tax – Tape You to a Star

This is consistently surprising, multistylistic indie rocker Barbara Manning’s latest project, something akin to Exene’s shortlived but excellent Auntie Christ

 

9. The Darrin James Band – Had Enough of Me

Swinging minor-key oldtimey Waits-style piano ballad as Jack Grace might have done it. Sweet. He’s at the Parkside on 1/15.

 

10. Steel Battalion – The Emo Blues

“This song is dedicated to all those motherfuckers who wear more makeup than girls,” snarls these NJ rockers’ frontman on this LOL funny parody. They’re at Trash on Jan 18.

January 12, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Maynard and the Musties at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 12/14/07

This week has turned out to be Fun Band Week. Frontman Joe Maynard is a hell of a songwriter when he wants to be, which is basically all the time. He may have the outlaw country singer look down cold, but he’s actually a funny Southern literary type (he’s from Nashville originally). The band is called the Musties because Maynard is a rare book dealer. If Kinky Friedman is your cup of tea, or you’re secretly a fan of David Allan Coe (and wouldn’t be so secretive about it if the guy hadn’t been such an egregious racist), Maynard and his band will push your buttons. Tonight they mixed in some new material along with a lot of older songs from his former unit, the retro country act the Millerite Redeemers. Maynard’s approach may be humorous, but he doesn’t mock the twisted characters who populate his songs: there’s an unexpected compassion and humanity there. Starting most of the songs solo on guitar and letting the band jump in about a bar later, he delivered the amusing St. Mary’s in the Toaster (inspired by a story in the World Weekly News about someone who saw the face of the Virgin Mary on a piece of toast), the darkly comedic, Tom Waits-ish Rocky and Bessie (about a romance between a couple of stray dogs in Fort Greene), and his big crowd-pleaser, I Thought I Was Country Til I Found I Was Queer. He also did a heavily reworked version of the very dark Millerite Redeemers song A Lot of Things Happen to Beautiful Girls (use your imagination).

One of the best of the new songs was a murder ballad that Maynard appropriated from some obscure 1920s British literary figure and set to his own melody. It’s told from the point of view of the victim. They closed the set with a sarcastic, apocalyptic new number possibly titled It’s Been a Good Life (as in good life for a couch potato who doesn’t interact with anyone or participate politically in anything, websurfing while Rome burns). The band gave it a long, crescendoing, extended outro, violinist Naa Koshie Mills and steel player Drew Glackin building a beautiful mix of ambient textures rather than doing any extended soloing. The audience loved it and demanded an encore, and Maynard obliged with the Amy Allison classic Drinking Thru Xmas. Tonight was a pleasant reminder that despite the ongoing Losangelesification of New York, there’s still a substantial audience here for the kind of music that makes you laugh, and makes you think at the same time.

December 16, 2007 Posted by | concert, country music, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments