Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Jolie Holland Draws a Pint of Blood

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

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

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

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

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

Album of the Day 2/20/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #710:

The Rain Parade – Emergency Third Rail Power Trip

One of the forgotten classics of psychedelic rock, this hypnotic 1983 album by one of the era’s finest “paisley underground” bands blends the jangly best of the Beatles and the scorching, lead-guitar driven best of the Jefferson Airplane courtesy of rhythm guitarist David Roback (who would go on to greater fame in the much less interesting Mazzy Star) and ferocious lead player Matt Piucci, whose snaky solos are absolutely transcendent . The album kicks off with the gorgeously George Harrison-esque backbeat hit Talking in My Sleep, folllowed by This Can’t Be Today, hypnotic ambience matched to fiery riff-rock, echoed in I Look Around, more distantly in the swirling 1 Hour 1/2 Ago and left to jangle unselfconsciously in What She’s Done To Your Mind. The two rich dreamscapes here are the misty, jangly Carolyn’s Song and Kaleidoscope; there’s also the sly, trippy anthem Look at Merri and after all this craziness, the welcome, jangly embrace of Saturday’s Asylum. The lyrics aren’t much and the vocals are kind of wimpy, but with all that great guitar, so what. The band would to on to record a killer ep, Explosions in the Glass Palace and live album, Beyond the Sunset before calling it quits in 1987. Here’s a random torrent.

February 19, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Under Byen – Alt Er Tabt

Danish band Under Byen’s latest album offers up more of the intriguingly cinematic, often starkly intense chamber rock that’s earned them an avid worldwide cult following. Frontwoman Henriette Sennenvaldt’s ethereal delivery comes across as something of a cross between Bjork and Mazzy Star’s Hope Sandoval. The album title translates as “all is lost,” and while an eeriness pervades pretty much everything here, there’s also a lot of quirky fun and innovative, completely out-of-the-box songwriting. Songs swirl and then shift shape suddenly, eschewing any kind of verse/chorus pattern. Instead of using traditional rock drums, they keep their percussion low-key and lo-fi. Banjo, acoustic and electric piano add plaintive, sometimes ominous melody over atmospheric strings and tricky rhythms, established with the breathy first track. The album’s second cut, Territorium echoes Joy Division, its somber bassline over simple drum machine rhythm, layers of strings alternately swooping and crashing. The title track layers catchy, atmospheric vocal overdubs, terse accordion and strings over a clattering Atrocity Exhibition rhythm – imagine a Danish version of the Creatures.

Salades sets whispery, austere vocalese over reverb banjo, gamelanesque percussion and the occasional seemingly random string accent, followed by a warped, atmospheric trip-hop song  that matches disconcertingly out-of-focus vocals to wobbly bent-note banjo. The album’s most intense, epic track is Unoder, atmospherics contrasting with a repetitively looping series of chase themes that alternate noise with melody. Eerie bell-like keyboard tones dominate the next cut, Konstant, vocal and instrumental textures fading into the mix only to disappear in a split second. The album closes with two studies in contrasts, dreamy vocals pushed along by pulsing, astringent string arrangements, and the stately Kapitel 1, a fugue of sorts, voice alternating with accordion, piano, banjo and a big string section. This is a great late-night album.

April 7, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Liz Tormes – Limelight

Long admired by New York’s songwriting elite, Liz Tormes has a new album, Limelight, that should help the rest of the world get to know what the Lower East Side has known for years. Intense, brooding, sultry and frequently wrathful, the power in Tormes’ casually wary voice resides in ellipses, the spaces between notes, the unsaid and conspicuous absences – she doesn’t raise it much, so when she does the effect packs a wallop, especially when she adds just the hint of a snarl at the end of a line. Her tersely crystallized lyrics are much the same: she says a lot with a little. Behind her, a tightly fiery Nashville gothic band swings, sways, clangs and roars its way through a mix of midtempo and slow, tuneful Americana rock. The arrangements are hypnotic, often psychedelic: if Aimee Mann had done with guitars what she did with keyboards on Fucking Smilers, it would have sounded a lot like this.

The album opens auspiciously with Read My Mind, a searing tale of disillusion and abandonment with a ferocious Jason Crigler slide guitar solo out, ending in a cloud of dust. It’s a classic of its kind. Without Truth has a hypnotic feel and characteristic understatement:

I know you can’t relate
But what I really want for you
Is to fly right and fly straight

With its echoey layers of guitar, the title track, a 6/8 ballad, sounds like Mazzy Star with balls. Maybe You Won’t follows, swaying trip-hop rhythm over simple muted guitar strums, backing vocals by Teddy Thompson – and no stupid drum machine. “Is it ever coming, have I been forsaken?” Tormes insists on an answer. She introduces a muse who provides bitter, metaphorically loaded solace on the matter-of-factly shuffling Don’t Love Back:

Take the wind and stay on track
Stop loving things that don’t love back
You can’t control the outcome all the time

And the garage-rock kiss-off ballad Sorry has the ring of sarcasm: “Paper posies and shiny things don’t make the earth rotate,” Tormes reminds, gloating not a little: “I’ll stay and play in the sunshine and vanish in the shadows.” There’s also a southwestern gothic, Steve Wynn-style number with Crigler’s layers of guitar blending ominously with echoey electric piano, a similarly guitar-fueled noir blues and a backbeat country hit whose upbeat melody make a sharp contrast with Tormes’ angst: “If I have better days let them come.”

With Bob Packwood’s insistent staccato piano bouncing off a wall of guitars, Fade Away closes the album on a driving yet vividly wounded note. This one’s been out since last year, so we’re a little late on the uptake which means that you’ll see it somewhere around the top of our best albums of 2010 list at the end of December. In the meantime Tormes promises a followup to this album sometime in the relatively near future.

March 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 8 Comments