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

Vespertina Kills the Lights on the Bowery

In their New York debut at Bowery Poetry Club last night, Vespertina took the stage late. Was there an equipment malfunction? No, their string quartet were busy putting on their masks: evil, feline, woodland sprite faces. Frontwoman Lorrie Doriza went without one, as did her collaborator, a producer who goes by the name of Stoupe (from brilliant, socially aware hip-hop group Jedi Mind Tricks), standing to her left running ominous, lushly orchestrated backing tracks that sounded like something off a Wu-tang record circa 1996. There is no band in the world who sound anything like them, nor was there any respite from the intensity in their 45 minutes onstage. Doriza has one of those voices that comes along every ten years or so: from the point of view of someone who saw Neko Case in 1999 and Amanda Palmer a year later, she’s in the same league. There are other singers who have an equally impressive range, or an upper register just as powerful, but the most impressive thing about what she did is that she didn’t lapse into a single cliche all night. As the strings and the loops blended into a horror-film backdrop, the gleeful menace, and wounded angst, and rage, and sultriness in Doriza’s voice was so real it was scary. If those are characters she plays, she owns them.

Those girls are tortured. They want one thing, and that’s escape, beginning with the Girl in the Basement, the twisted waltz (and first single off the band’s new album The Waiting Wolf) that opened the show. That set the stage for the rest of the set. The only respite from the macabre was the closing number, a lushly arranged goodnight song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Abby Travis catalog, which relented just a little. Otherwise, the minor-key menace would not let up, and they managed to maintain the suspense because Doriza wouldn’t go completely over the top. When finally, finally, she let out a scream, it was a little one. Of course the laptop guy looped it and sent it back into the mix, echoing over and over – but in the distance, which made it all the more disturbing. One of the early songs in the set began like an aria, but quickly backed off. “Take me out,” Doriza implored – not on a date, one assumes. “She’ll be knocking down your door, burning down your home…nothing like a woman scorned,” she sang coldbloodedly on a tango-tinged song a bit later on.

The next number – like most of them, set to a prerecorded trip-hop beat – began with “You’ve been having trouble sleeping” and by the second verse it was “You’re having trouble breathing.” After that, the band got all atmospheric and trippy, slowly emerging from the abyss into a stately 6/8 anthem: “I’m not stupid – I just don’t care,” Doriza sang, desperate yet nonchalant. “You can’t escape me,” was the next song’s mantra, followed by “I’m running out of patience.” During the early part of the show, the string arrangements were too low in the mix; when they came up about a third of the way into the show, it was obvious how they’d been assembled to provide an artful lead track of sorts over the stuff that was in the can, which the ensemble delivered seamlessly yet emphatically beneath Doriza’s wounded wail. Count this as one of the best concerts of 2011, hands down – if the album is anything like this, it must be amazing. They’re playing the one town on Long Island that suits them best – Amityville – on May 29 at a place called Ollie’s Point.

May 12, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dina Rudeen’s Common Splendor is Uncommonly Splendid

Dina Rudeen is the missing link between Neko Case and Eartha Kitt. The way she slides up to a high note and then nails it triumphantly will give you shivers. Her songs draw you in, make you listen: they aren’t wordy or packed with innumerable chord changes, but they pack a wallop. With just a short verse and a catchy tune, Rudeen will paint a picture and then embellish it while the initial impact is still sinking in. Musically, she reaches back to the magical moment in the late 60s and early 70s when soul music collided with psychedelic rock; lyrically, she uses the metaphorically loaded, witty vernacular of the blues as a foundation for her own terse, literate style. Some of the songs on her new album The Common Splendor sound like what Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks could have been if he’d had a good band behind him; the rest runs the gamut from lush, nocturnal oldschool soul ballads, to jaunty, upbeat, Americana rock. Behind Rudeen’s nuanced vocals, Gary Langol plays keyboards and stringed instruments along with Tim Bright on electric guitars, Tim Luntzel on bass, Konrad Meissner on drums, Jordan MacLean on trumpet, the ubiquitously good Doug Wieselman on baritone sax and clarinet, Lawrence Zoernig on cello, bells and bowls, Smoota’s Dave Smith on trombone, Lars Jacobsen on tenor sax and Jake Engel of Lenny Molotov’s band on blues harp. The arrangements are exquisite, with tersely interwoven guitar and keyboard lines, and horn charts that punch in and then disappear, only to jump back in on a crescendo. This also happens to be the best-produced album of the year: it sounds like a vinyl record.

The opening track, Hittin’ the Town is a sly, ultimately triumphant tune about conquering inner demons, driven by a defiant horn chart over a vintage 50s Howlin Wolf shuffle beat:

I hit a dry spell
I hit a low note
I hit the deck
But missed the boat
I hit the top, cracked the jewel in my crown
When it hit me like a ton of bricks that’s when I hit the ground
But now I’m just hitting the town

The second cut, Steady the Plow slinks along on a low key gospel/blues shuffle, Rudeen’s sultry contralto contrasting with layers of reverberating lapsteel, piano and dobro moving through the mix – psychedelic Americana, 2011 style. Safe with Me, a southern soul tune, wouldn’t have been out of place in the Bettye Swann songbook circa 1967. The lush, gorgeously bittersweet, Rachelle Garniez-esque Yvette eulogizes a teenage party pal who died before her time, maybe because she pushed herself a little too hard (Rudeen doesn’t say, an example of how the ellipses here speak as loudly as the words). Hold Up the Night succinctly captures the “beautiful, unfolding sight” of a gritty wee hours street scene; Blue Bird, a bucolic tribute to the original songbird – or one of them – has more of Langol’s sweet steel work. And Prodigal One, another requiem, vividly memorializes a crazy neighborhood character who finally got on the Night Train and took it express all the way to the end.

Not everything here is quiet and pensive. There’s also some upbeat retro rock here, including the sultry Cadillac of Love and a couple of rockabilly numbers: Repeat Offender, with its Sun Records noir vibe, and Gray Pompadour, a tribute to an old guy who just won’t quit. There’s also the unselfconsciously joyous closing singalong, On My Way Back Home, namechecking a characteristically eclectic list of influences: Bowie, Elvis, the Grateful Dead, among others. Count this among one of the best releases of 2011 in any style of music. Watch this space for upcoming NYC live dates.

April 6, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Linda Draper – Bridge and Tunnel

Quietly and methodically, New York songwriter Linda Draper has climbed into the ranks of the elite: to rank her with Aimee Mann, Richard Thompson or Neko Case would not be an overstatement. To put that statement in perspective, consider that this new cd is her sixth consecutive consistently excellent album, a rare achievement. Bridge and Tunnel harkens back to the strikingly direct, tersely catchy acoustic pop feel of her 2001 debut, Ricochet, without compromising her utterly unique, brilliantly literate, characteristically dark lyrical voice. Brad Albetta‘s production here is beautifully minimalist, with terse bass, live drums and occasional organ looming behind Draper’s alternately soaring and hushed vocals and dexterously fingerpicked guitar. Staring from the shadows, haunted but resolute and defiant, she sounds something akin to Nina Nastasia with a broader sonic palette.

The album title is a New York reference: the phrase”bridge and tunnel” is a slur meaning suburban and unsophisticated. The song itself, a bitter, bluesy, minor-key number is, like pretty much everything else here, spiked with sharp lyrical gems. Refusing to budge, the narrator holds her ground, knowing she’ll have to struggle to stay where she is, whether that place is literal or metaphorical:

There’s no tunnel without a light

Still my vision is failing me now

Little girl what you gonna do

When the day comes and there’s no one left to run to,

You could stand, you could stall

Play dead in the middle of it all…

There’s no way I’d rather feel tonight

Though tomorrow I will pay the price…

The cd’s catchy opening track alludes to madness and confinement:

Through the bars of my window I see many lives…

Black turns into blue as the day turns into night

How low will you go?

But it turns warmer with Sharks and Royalty, a quietly confident anthem for nonconformists everywhere:

Among the sharks and the royalty

There must be room for you and me

Oh my dear have no fear of what you can’t see

Oh my dear have no fear for me

I’ll tell you just what happened here

We all begin and end and tears

The moral of the story’s in your dreams

Sometimes things are the way they seem

Among the rotten ones we’ll run free…

With its swinging backbeat, Time Will Tell offers a vivid autopsy for a doomed relationship: the narrator misses the guy, but only when she’s “not quite at my best. You are the shipwreck, I am the sea, you’re sinking right through me,” she charges, matter-of-factly. After that, the cleverly titled Pushing up the Days offers a similarly jaundiced view of how relationships inevitably decay:

Instead of clutching I will fold

The daylight lives in the hearts of those

Who give without expecting a gift to be given in return

You can smell as long as you want to smell those roses

But keep in mind they’re from another time

When you’re pushing up the days, pushing up the daisies

Close Enough, with its insistent, percusssive fingerpicking is a throwback to the hypnotic feel of much of her most recent work: “If your love is not enough to bring home tonight, I suggest you take your pulse to make sure you’re still alive,” Draper taunts. Then it’s back to the defiant feel with the bouncy, Rhode piano-driven Broken Eggshell:

Every corner I meet there’s two more empty streets

I’ve been walking down

And every step that I take there’s an eggshell to break

It’s the perfect sound

The cd wraps up with a playful, tongue-in-cheek Stones cover and the country-inflected outsider anthem Last One Standing: “Some will lead, most will follow, then there are the lucky few who find better things to do.” So many levels of meaning, so many nuances in Draper’s voice and a wealth of beautifully minute detail in the music as well. You can bet this will be high on our best albums of 2009 list at the end of the year; watch this space for upcoming September live shows.

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

Concert Review: Kerry Kennedy at the Delancey, NYC 7/20/09

Faced with a laughably absurd amount of work catching up here in the wake of last week’s computer meltdown, Kerry Kennedy’s gig Monday night at Small Beast at the Delancey wasn’t the most disciplined choice of show to go see and write about afterward. She’s been reviewed here very favorably before, and given how ecstatic a response a shockingly big Monday night crowd gave her, she probably doesn’t need any more press. But this was transcendent. In the same spirit if not quite the same style as Neko Case, she’s taken a very stylized genre – twangy, noir, David Lynchian southwestern gothic rock- and puts a uniquely intense yet completely unselfconscious stamp on it. A lesser artist would put his or her personality centerstage; not Kennedy.

She’s a young woman with an old voice. But it’s her voice, not Nina Simone’s or Marlene Dietrich’s, two artists whose worn-down yet electric charisma resemble hers so closely. Kennedy has the added advantage of not only being a first-class songwriter but also a collector of great songs – in her case, she’s been going deep into the James Jackson Toth catalog with astonishingly powerful results. The towering, anguished 6/8 anthem More From the Mountain (see the top of Kennedy’s myspace page) grew with Walkabouts-class power to landslide-inducing volume, lead guitarist Nathan Halpern hacking volcanic torrents of sound from the chords and hurling them down the slope. By contast, the pensive ballad Sons of Sons took a melody very reminiscent of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Happy When It Rains deep into noir territory, stalking along on a suspenseful, staggered beat. Singing with her eyes closed and backed by Small Beast impresario and Botanica mastermind Paul Wallfisch on piano, she took the Little Annie noir cabaret angsthem Because You’re Gone pitch black, quietly, drummer Heather Wagner driving the dirge with the subtlest, wispiest accents.

The rest of the show ranged from a fast, eventually explosive rocker built around a catchy two-chord riff, a swinging, swaying, apprehensive version of the big audience hit Wishing Well, a mighty, Orbisonesque ballad and a co-write with Toth, Dive, a bitter and brutal kiss-off ballad that only gets better every time she plays it. Throughout the set, Kennedy struck a casual, resolute stance, swaying slowly, expertly working the darkest corners of the lyrics with a breathy delivery that ranged from exasperation to exhaustion to inextinguishable rage, all the while staying in a zone. At times it seemed like she’d almost gone into a trance, taking the audience with her – after she’d end a song, there would be silence for a few seconds before the crowd would start to burst into applause. Here in the blogosphere, it’s considered gauche to review the same artist again and again, but there’s simply no denying how good this show was. Every year, we put up a Top 20 NYC shows of the year list and while there’s no way we’ll be able to call this year’s anything remotely definitive, this one will be on it.

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

Song of the Day 6/17/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #406:

Neko Case – Guided by Wire

The great Americana chanteuse has been through many different phases; this song dates from the tail end of her Loretta Lynn period from the Furnace Room Lullaby cd, 2000. This backbeat-driven loner anthem reaffirms that the tenderest place in her heart is for strangers, a tribute to great radio songs and the “nameless and other surrogates” who sing your life back to you in them.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Kerry Kennedy, Alina Simone, Martin Bisi and King’s Crescent at Spikehill, Brooklyn NY 6/14/09

Word on the street is that other than this show and the Smog AKA Bill Callahan/Sir Richard Bishop bill at the former Northsix, the just-completed Northside Festival was a wash. No surprise – only cops like badges. Sunday night at Spikehill was the best of the bunch, not much of a surprise since it was put together by Martin Bisi. Kerry Kennedy was given the choice of opening or headlining, and considering that this was a work night, she chose wisely. In her first-ever solo performance, the noir chanteuse with her 1961 Fender Jazzmaster treated the assembling multitudes to a richly auspicious, all-too-brief set of songs from her forthcoming album with her band. Over melodies steeped in Americana, whether the gothic side of Nashville or further west, she delivered her ominous double and triple entendres in a voice considerably older than she is. It’s an extraordinarily haunting vehicle for her songs, worn with disappointment and regret, understated yet inextinguishably passionate. When she did Wishing Well – which is on her myspace – and went up the scale with “How long into the night will you wait for me?” the effect was viscerally chilling. She ended with a casually menacing ballad, Dive. “Now go and be faithful to your new tragic whore/I’ll see that your grave is kept clean in my yard,” she sang, just this short of a hiss. Kennedy is someone worth discovering now: she could be for New York what Neko Case was for Tacoma.

Alina Simone had a hard act to follow and to her credit, she held up her end. Her shtick is covering songs by Russian cult artist Yanka Dyagileva, the gloomy, defiant Russian underground songwriter who drowned at age 24 under mysterious circumstances and whose collected works were only just released in Russia last year. Playing acoustic guitar and backed by Bisi’s bassist on lead guitar, she sang several of these in the original Russian, including the anthemic dirges From Great Knowledge and Half My Kingdom along with some slightly less ominous originals with a strong Cat Power influence. Toward the end of the set, she switched to tar (a thin-bodied lute popular in Turkey and the Caucasus) and let loose with an impressive, full-bodied wail.

With a five-piece band behind him-  including Ajda from the haunting Black Fortress of Opium on harmonies and a keyboardist in hazmat suit, mask and baseball hat – Martin Bisi’s first song went on for about fifteen minutes. For those unfamiliar with Bisi’s songs, they were the last thing anyone would ever expect from the terse, purist craftsman producer and indie legend who sculpted Sonic Youth and Live Skull out of no wave anomie into tight guitar bands. What he did last night was something akin to what early Pink Floyd was like in concert, but better. Laying down one eerily spiraling guitar loop after another from his black Gibson SG, keyboards swirling behind him, Bisi launched into a completely psychedelic groove which then morphed into a country anthem, a cacaphonic forest of pitch-bending, a darkly carnivalesque section and then an intensely melodic art-rock anthem set ablaze with some fiercely Gilmouresque slide work by the lead guitarist. In sharp contrast, Bisi’s second number, a snide tale “about being stuck in the city and drinking the wine of…dejection,” flashed by seemingly almost before it was done.

A sea chantey-inflected art-rock number illustrating the Persephone myth and a gorgeous, classically tinged dirge brought back the lush feel of the set’s opening number. They closed with a long, Lou Reed-ish anthem that began with a hypnotic series of guitar loops. Bisi goes off on tour tomorrow, with a cast of characters that vary from city to city (considering the depth of his rolodex after all these years, the crew should be choice). And he’s got a new album out – watch this space.

Anything afterward was bound to be anticlimactic – but it wasn’t, as King’s Crescent – including two members of Fiery Furnaces on drums and organ – flipped the script and played a joyous, virtuosic, completely in-the-pocket set of vintage Meters covers. The act after them, Susu, flipped the script again with some intriguing, minimalistic, reverb-infused shoegaze tunes, but by then it was midnight and time to concede to the week ahead.

June 15, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Kerry Kennedy at Rose Bar, Brooklyn NY 1/21/09

A casually captivating, absolutely haunting set by the songwriter/guitarist and her brilliant band. In about 45 minutes onstage, Kennedy came across as part David Lynch girl and part Paisley Underground bandleader, a sound that hasn’t been heard around New York in a long time. She’s a lot like Neko Case, but with a distinctly more rocking edge: she deserves to be just as well-known. Throughout the set, Kennedy sang in a clear, unaffected, unadorned voice, playing her Fender Jazzmaster a little low in the mix. Her terrific lead player, Nathan Halpern made heavy and spectacularly effective use of reverb throughout his often wildly intense solos, adding flame and intensity to the songs’ darkly glimmering, noir ambience. The rhythm section, with acoustic bass, played with a hushed subtlety, the occasional tasteful drum accent or bass fill deftly following the lyrics or the trajectory of the music.

 

The group opened with the eerie, 6/8 James Jackson Toth ballad One From the Mountain, Halpern wailing and tremolo-picking as the song built: and then they took it out the same way they came in, again building the intensity to redline. Their second song reminded a bit of the Jesus & Mary Chain’s Happy When It Rains, with a nice pointillistic solo from Halpern. On the next number, he took a long, thoroughly macabre Bauhaus-style noise solo that didn’t waver even as the band brought the sound down to just drums and guitar.

 

Kennedy remarked that the bar’s lowlit confines were the perfect place for her to get glammed up a bit (as unpretentious as she comes across, that was seemingly a big deal for her), asking the crowd if they’d ever been to Graceland: “It makes clear the connection between Lisa Marie and Michael Jackson,” she explained, the glitter on her face twinkling behind the lamps.

 

The next song was a hypnotic two-chord song with a total Dream Syndicate/True West feel that built to an eerie snakecharmer solo from Halpern, then Kennedy took it down again, then finally built to a completely unhinged crescendo with the guitars raging at the end. The next number, possibly titled Wishing Well, maintained the nocturnal, psychedelic vibe: “How long into the night will you wait for me?” Kennedy inquired matter-of-factly. They closed the set with a David Lynch-esque, noir 60s style pop song featuring some tasty country-blues fills from Halpern. The crowd roared for an encore, so Kennedy obliged them with a starkly haunting, solo version of another James Jackson Toth co-write, Dive, a brand-new country-gothic suicide ballad that she said she’d written in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. If that’s the kind of inspiration she gets there maybe she should visit more often. Fans of all dark Americana bands and rockers – Steve Wynn, Calexico, Giant Sand, Tandy and the aforementioned Ms. Case – will love this stuff. Watch this space for upcoming NYC gigs.

January 22, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Katie Brennan – Slowly

Her breakthrough album, a quantum leap for multi-instrumentalist/singer Katie Brennan, who is equally adept at the concert harp as at the piano. That’s right; the concert harp, instrument of the angels. But this album doesn’t remotely resemble anything Joanna Newsom has ever done. Instead, it’s a richly melodic collection of lushly arranged, sometimes country-inflected ballads, a terrific effort that instantly vaults Brennan into the upper echelon of current sirens like Eleni Mandell, Rachelle Garniez and Neko Case. The recurrent theme throughout many of the songs is breaking away and starting anew, reflected in Brennan’s voice: many of these songs have a rain-drenched, nocturnal feel to them. Since her first album with her indie rock band the Holy Bones, her vocals have taken on considerable gravitas and nuance: she can still be playful and funny, she still has that soaring range, but she’s reined in that big vibrato that you used to be able to drive a truck through (metaphorically speaking, anyway). The result is an instrument finely attuned to the most minute subtleties in emotion. Credit producer Itamar Ben-zakay (who also plays drums and guitar here) for putting Brennan front and center amidst the often sweeping arrangements.

The album opens with the unabashedly romantic, aptly named title track, Brennan’s piano meticulous against her harp work. The album’s second cut, My Piano picks up the pace a little, with a decidedly defiant, even triumphant feel – the narrator, spinning her wheels in the big city, has made up her mind that it’s time to go back to the country. Grandpa’s Boat follows, its insistent beat reinforcing the lyric, a tribute to resourcefulness.

The best song on the album is the swaying 3/4 ballad La Casa Rosada, spiced with tasteful, incisive acoustic slide guitar accents and a gorgeous acoustic solo from Ben-zakay, with trumpet soaring in the distance:

Forget her and the arms of your loved ones
They don’t belong to the daylight
You have guided yourself much too long
To get lost in the halls of the past

Other standout cuts among the album’s eleven tracks include On His Own, a dead ringer for something from Meddle-era Pink Floyd, with guest dobro and lapsteel player Lenny Molotov’s shimmering, bluesy slide work; the cheery, upbeat Cherry Pie, which could be vintage, 1960s Dolly Parton backed by Gilmour and company; and the big 6/8 anthem If We Were Whiskeys, Molotov again providing gorgeously terse fills throughout. The album concludes with the authentically rustic, oldtimey Drunkard’s Prayer.

As of this writing Brennan – who’s done most of her music here in New York over the past few years – will shortly be returning to her native Seattle. Their gain, our loss. At least we have this great album (and hopefully a return engagement or two) for the memories. The cd is available online and at shows; Katie Brennan plays the cd release show for Slowly at Jimmy’s no. 43 on 7th street between 2nd and 3rd Aves., 9 PM on Friday, May 2.

April 12, 2008 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rapt, Wrenching Beauty: Jenifer Jackson at Joe’s Pub, NYC 3/28/08

In case you haven’t been paying attention, there’s been a recent crop of songwriters who seem to have decided to write in every single worthwhile style of pop music ever invented – with great success. For one reason or another, maybe having to do with vocals, most of these songwriters are women: Neko Case, Rachelle Garniez and Mary Lee Kortes of Mary Lee’s Corvette, to name a few. New York expat Jenifer Jackson is another.

“Now I know how to get people to come to my shows,” she knowingly told the crowd at Joe’s Pub Friday night. “Leave New York. I’ve figured it out!” Jackson wasn’t exactly a little fish in the pond here, either. Respected by her peers and revered by a fan base for whom she seemingly can do no wrong (if she made an album of Monkees covers, they’d probably buy it), she nonetheless ran into the same brick wall affecting seemingly every New York artist, no matter how well-regarded they might be. Building a following here is tough, with literally scores of live shows competing against each other every night, a hometown media that’s essentially oblivious to hometown acts, and an ongoing process of suburbanization where artistically-inclined New Yorkers are being priced out of their neighborhoods and being replaced by corporate executives and their children from the suburbs. In other words, not exactly the kind of crowd you’d expect to come out to see anything more sophisticated than, say, Justin Timberlake. So Jackson packed up and moved to Austin.

Even more than her show at the Rockwood late last year, this was the emotional homecoming she eventually had to make, and she gave the standing-room-only crowd what they wanted. Playing acoustic guitar and accompanied by just violinist Roland Satterwhite, she ran through a mix of mostly more recent material, including several songs from her most recent (and best) cd The Outskirts of a Giant Town. She also debuted three excellent new songs: a hopeful, midtempo country tune, Spring, that wouldn’t have been out of place on her 2001 album Birds; a pensively catchy, upbeat number possibly titled Tired; and the best of the bunch, a gorgeous, sad country waltz called The Beauty of the Emptying, with one of Jackson’s signature imagistic lyrics. Jackson gets accolades for her songwriting, but tonight was a vivid reminder of what a brilliant song stylist she is, alternating between a nuanced lower register and the soaring, airy delivery that has been her trademark throughout her career. There’s great passion and intensity in her songs and in her voice, but it’s generally very subtle, tonight’s stripped-down arrangements giving her vocals the perfect opportunity to cut through.

“This is a song that earned me two thousand dollars,” she told the crowd with considerable irony before launching into a boisterous version of one of her earliest songs, Mercury, the Sun and Moon, a somewhat eerie tribute to the joys and pleasure of being a bon vivant. When she and Satterwhite reached the bridge, she slammed out the song’s tango rhythm as he went into a frenzied gypsy-inflected solo. They encored with a fetching duet on the standard Every Time We Say Goodbye, Satterwhite switching to guitar. He’s an excellent singer, with a smooth, Chet Baker style delivery, making a good foil for Jackson’s warm, wistful vocals. She ended the song with gentle vocalese, going down the scale with a jazzy seventh chord. More than anything, tonight’s show was a reminder of everything we stand to lose if this city continues the decline that the Bloomberg administration and its developer cronies are dead set on bringing to its logical conclusion.

March 31, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments