Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Will Scott – Gnawbone

This is a roughhewn, somewhat menacing album. Vocally, Will Scott is a casual, soulful presence. He’s got a big voice that fills the space here comfortably – he knows he doesn’t have to work too hard to make his point, and he doesn’t. Likewise, his guitar playing is terse, with a bite. Scott comes out of the Mississippi hill country school of blues playing, continuing the tradition that Junior Kimbrough, T-Model Ford and R.L. Burnside kept alive for so long. It’s a literally mesmerizing style, with long, improvisational songs that go on for minutes on end, frequently without a single chord change. Scott puts his own individual stamp on it, along with several considerably successful ventures into country. Christopher “Preacher Boy” Watkins’ production is marvelously oldschool, vocals up front, guitars and then the rest of the band a little further back in the mix like an old vinyl record. With sparse, tasteful cameos from the Be Good Tanyas’ Samantha Parton, Jolie Holland and Jan Bell along with Preacher Boy on a multitude of instruments, this was made for late-night listening.

The cd opens with the growling psychedelic Americana of Jack’s Defeat Creek, a murky, genre-blending success. The title track, a sarcastic chronicle about several big bullshitters bears Scott’s signature hill country stamp: it could go on for twice as long as it does and that wouldn’t hurt a bit. Make Her Love Me layers acoustic and electric guitars eerily in the background, with a wild, screaming, all-too-brief noise guitar solo making a particularly imaginative crescendo.

Lazy Summertime blends slow swinging 70s style outlaw country with a more rustic Tom Waits vibe. Country Soil reverts to hypnotic blues, like Wayfaring Stranger as Country Joe & the Fish might have done it if they’d been able to handle their drugs a little better With its subtle gospel inflections, Louisiana Lullaby would be perfectly at home on a vintage Waylon Jennings lp.The defiant Paper Match has some neatly intricate bluegrass-inflected twelve string work coming out of the chorus along with some fluidly potent upright bass from Jim Whitney. Of the rest of the tracks, there’s a swing blues, a fast Waits-ish number, a dark, rustic spiritual and the absolutely fascinating Long Time Since, almost a dub reggae production with its haunting and hypnotic repeater-box guitar popping in and out of the mix as the rhythm section careens along. If there’s anything to criticize here, it’s that like so many other studio albums by bluesmen, it would be awfully nice to hear [fill in the blank: B.B. King, Albert Collins…Will Scott] get a chance to cut loose more here – Scott plays a mean solo. Maybe next time. In the meantime, this will help put him on the map. He just got back from UK tour, back to his more-or-less weekly Wednesday 8:30 PM gig at 68 Jay St. Bar, something you ought to see if Americana is your thing.

July 7, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review – Will Scott and Wylie Wirth at 68 Jay St. Bar, Brooklyn NY 4/15/09

The best blues show of the week in New York is typically not found at one of the city’s two remaining blues bars, Terra Blues and Lucille’s. It’s pretty much every Wednesday at 68 Jay St. Bar in Dumbo, just down the hill from the York St. F train. Starting around 8, Will Scott and inventive former Sweet Lizard Illtet drummer Wylie Wirth put their own spin on Mississippi hill country blues, and to their credit, it’s pretty much impossible to tell the originals from the covers (bet on the originals – Scott is taking the style to new and exciting places without taking the soul out of it). For the uninitiated, the hill country style differentiates itself from the more laid-back Delta style in that it’s both dance music and trance music. In the work of the best-known hill country players like T-Model Ford, R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough, there aren’t a lot of chord changes, the songs often going on for seven or eight minutes, rising and falling with remarkable subtlety for music this raw and primitive-sounding.

 

Last night at the bar an older couple was celebrating their anniversary. Scott told the crowd that he’d known them since he “wasn’t old enough to drink, but drunk enough to raise a glass and say ‘l’chaim.'” Silence. “OK, I see what kind of demographic we have here,” Scott acknowledged, and he and his drummer launched into a haunting, relentless, hypnotic number with a plaintive Kimbrough feel. They’d opened with a swaying stomp with imaginative flourishes from Wirth, who turns his counterintuitive thumps and cymbal washes into a swipe upside your head that’ll bring you out of your reverie. Scott also added a melodic, upbeat rock feel to one of the livelier numbers, stomped his way through a dark, pounding one with a Mississippi Fred McDowell flavor as well as a few with a slide. The most ferocious of these, he said, was inspired by a dream where his grandfather admonished him to get out of the pumpkin patch.

 

In May, Scott is back at his home base on Wednesdays, with additional gigs at LIC Bar on May 11 and May 16 at Two Boots Brooklyn. In mid-June, he’s off on UK tour with the equally captivating Jan Bell. Watch this space for additional New York dates.

April 16, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Will Scott Live at 68 Jay Street Bar, Brooklyn NY 1/16/08

Will Scott is a real find, with a very high ceiling. He’s been playing Wednesdays at around 8:30 at this remarkably comfortable little corner bar for awhile now. His stock in trade is Mississippi hill country blues, which doesn’t sound much like blues from the Delta: it’s deceptively simple and usually very hypnotic, often set to a fast 2/4 dance beat. Because there aren’t many (if any) chord changes, players color the music with subtle changes in the rhythm, accents and passing tones on the guitar. Scott has masterful command of the style. For an artist playing idiomatic music, to say that it’s hard to tell the difference between his originals and his covers is high praise, and sometimes it was hard to tell. Other times it wasn’t, because Scott uses the style as a springboard for his writing and adds a lot more chords (and a lot more tunefulness). Running his acoustic through a little Ampeg amp and backed by an excellent drummer with an equally good feel for this kind of music, if you closed your eyes, it was as if T-Model Ford and his sidekick Spam were holding down the beat in some rundown Mississippi shotgun shack. Except that it was really cold outside.

Scott opened with what sounded like a tribute to Junior Kimbrough, thoughtful and meandering but with considerable minor-key bite, in the late, lamented bluesman’s trademark style. Most of the songs he played afterward – again, it was difficult to tell what were his and what weren’t – were short and fast. Scott’s fingerpicking was fiery, fast and effortless, and so were his vocals. He sings with a drawl, but like his playing, it sounds effortless and authentic, not like the legions of trust-fund children from New Jersey playing Pete’s Candy Store, pretending they’re from the deep South. Maybe it works for Scott because his voice is strong: he’s not exactly afraid of the mic. “In case you were wondering, this show was brought to you by whiskey,” he joked. He was already working on his second glass of Jameson’s by the third song of his set. “It’s a multinational corporation.”

It’s not often that we run across someone who under today’s circumstances might actually be able to reach a national audience. At this point, even most indie labels are keeping nonconformist musicians at arm’s length. But there always seems to be an audience for the blues, even if it barely qualifies as blues and it’s played by beerbellied fifty-year-olds from Westchester who think Eric Clapton is a bluesman. Being white, Scott could probably make a living introducing sedate suburban audiences to the music he loves so much, for $25 a ticket, at places too fearful to book someone like, say, R.L. Burnside. He’d be perfect on that bill coming up at the Town Hall next month: he’s a whole lot more interesting than Cephas and Wiggins. When he moves on to that sort of thing, let’s hope he doesn’t forget he got his start in New York playing a midweek residency at a tiny, laid-back little place in Dumbo. That’s where he is for the moment. You should see him sometime.

January 16, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

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