Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Hazmat Modine’s Cicada: Rustic Oldtimey Psychedelia

Hazmat Modine are such an amazing live band that it’s almost impossible trying to imagine how they might be able to bottle that magic. Their new album Cicada is a good approximation. Live in concert, their rustic, blues-infused, minor-key jams can go on for ten or twenty minutes at a clip – here, they keep pretty much everything in the five-to-ten range, sometimes even less. While what they do definitely qualifies as psychedelic, otherwise they defy description: there is no other band in the world who sound remotely like them. They’re part delta blues shouters, part New Orleans brass band, part reggae, part klezmer, and all party. As you would expect from a psychedelic band, they put their surreal side front and center – it’s safe to say that nobody has more fun with sad minor keys than these guys. Not only is frontman/blues harpist/guitarist Wade Schuman a potently charismatic presence, he’s also a great wit, so it’s no surprise that there’s a lot of humor, both lyrical and musical, throughout this album.

The opening cut, Mocking Bird, is a bucolic blues, driven by the oldtimey bounce of Joe Daley’s tuba and the brass section of Reut Regev on trombone, Steve Elson on tenor sax and Pam Fleming on trumpet. They build it up to the point where the two guitars take over, Michael Gomez  jabbing and weaving while Pete Smith blasts out distorted rhythm. All the intricate interplay and call-and-response sets the tone for the rest of the album. Natalie Merchant’s airily sultry vocals contrast with the surrealism of the lyrics over a swaying, slink groove on Child of a Blindman, with lapsteel, layers of guitars and horns punching out the hook in tandem with some welcome guest stars, Benin’s high-energy Gangbe Brass Band. The brisk, bluesy Two Forty Seven shifts from an artful series of tradeoffs between instruments to a hypnotic outro where everybody seems to be soloing at once – yet it works, magically. The title track sets a sly spoken-word tribute to the high-volume insect over ecstatic Afro-funk, sort of like a more rustic, acoustic Steely Dan. They follow that with a surprisingly snarling version of Buddy, the innuendo-packed tale of a real backstabber, Schuman in rare form as sly bluesman. The crazed, searing Gomez guitar solo is pure adrenaline.

The instrumental vignette In Two Years has trumbone sailing wistfully over a gamelanesque loop; I’ve Been Lonely for So Long is Memphis soul taken back and forth in time with doo-wop vocals and a New Orleans feel, with the tuba instead of a bass, a blithe harmonica solo, and Elson picking up the pace later on. The Tide, a mini-epic, switches from slowly unwinding delta blues, to a shuffle, to an unexpected Afrobeat interlude with more tasty, growling guitar from Smith. Walking Stick, which may be the most risque song that Irving Berlin ever wrote, gives Schuman and Fleming a launching pad for some genuinely exhilarating solos. A live showstopper, So Glad is a reggae/blues hybrid with some irresistibly amusing blues harp. The album winds up with Cotonou Stomp, an all-too-brief showcase for Gangbe Brass Band, and Dead Crow, an utterly bizarre, hypnotic number that sounds like Love Camp 7 covering Crosby, Stills and Nash and features the Kronos Quartet. Yet another triumph for insurgent Brooklyn label Barbes Records. Count this one high on the list of the year’s most entertaining albums.

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June 6, 2011 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, reggae music, review, Reviews, soul music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: LJ Murphy at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 4/24/10

LJ Murphy’s set last night started out incisive and sometimes menacing, picked up the pace and ended on a defiantly ecstatic note, the crowd afterward murmuring bits and pieces of whatever song lingered most resonantly to them. Murphy’s signature style is a noir, literate blend of oldschool blues and soul with a punk rock edge, sometimes venturing into other shades of Americana as with the gorgeously sad, swaying country song Long Way to Lose. Audiences frequently mistake that one for a classic by Hank Williams or someone similar – this crowd didn’t because it was obviously all fans.

Like the old blues and jazz guys Murphy admires, he’s been playing with a rotating cast of musicians lately. This time out featured first-rate New Orleans pianist Willie Davis and a drummer supplying a mostly minimalist beat on kick drum and cymbal. They set the tone with the ominous Weimar march of Mad Within Reason, the surreal, apocalyptic title track to his classic 2005 cd, kept the cynical double entendres going with the fast soul shuffle of Imperfect Strangers and then went deep into vintage blues with a more recent one, Nothing Like Bliss, a bitter chronicle of seduction gone hopelessly wrong: “Now that your train’s left the station, you might as well go home,” he reflected. The high point of the evening, at least the early part was Fearful Town, a minor key East Village nightmare of tourists and trendoids displacing all the familiar haunts, Davis throwing off a casual trail of sparks with his solo as he’d do all night.

Happy Hour, a savage afterwork Wall Street chronicle of young Republicans getting their freak on, took the intensity up, then Murphy brought it down with a cover of Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue (he’d learned it from Ray Charles and Van Morrison, he said), then his biggest hit, the gorgeously brooding Saturday’s Down and then brought the volume up again with the ferocious bluespunk of Nowhere Now. He closed with a couple other equally ferocious blues numbers and encored with a singalong of Barbed Wire Playpen, yet another swipe at Wall Street, in this case a hedge fund type who visits his favorite dungeon one time too many. Murphy dedicated that one to Goldman Sachs. The worse the depression gets, the more relevant Murphy becomes – it’s hard to imagine a more catchy chronicler of life among those of us whose Christmas bonus is simply having any job at all.

April 25, 2010 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Brother Joscephus and the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra at Highline Ballroom, NYC 4/4/10

It was Karen’s birthday – after the band had serenaded her with a brief New Orleans groove, she got the memo and headed straight for the dancefloor. In less than a minute her entire party had joined her. Whoever she is, Karen may be thirty now but she’s still got the energy of a kid. Brother Joscephus and the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra could have kept everybody dancing for the entirety of their pretty lavish two-hour show had they not mixed in a handful of ballads. And what a show it was, an ecstatic eleven-piece New Orleans style gospel-soul band complete with horn section, rhythm section, two keyboards, guitar, two twirling backup singers, and Brother Joscephus (rhymes with Bocephus) out front with his gritty voice and acoustic guitar. Pianist The Right Reverend Dean Dawg led most of the band on a long, serpentine procession through the audience as the rhythm section grooved onstage, and after vamping around, getting the crowd going, they brought up Brother Joscephus just as James Brown’s band would have done circa 1964. Their sound, matched by their look (everybody in white, guys in hats, girls with matching parasols) is completely retro, right down to the scripted stage patter (replete with missed cues, which the band found as amusing as the crowd did). Two of the most memorable originals were straight-up tributes to the town where they get their inspiration: a joyously upbeat number where the band had invited all the little kids in the crowd up onstage to join them, soprano sax taking a delicious Dixieland-inspired solo; and the equally rousing Bon Temps Roulez, from their latest album (very favorably reviewed here).

Ironically, the best song of the afternoon, a spooky version of the absolutely noir, gravelly minor-key Midnight Move (also from the new album) didn’t resonate particularly well with the crowd. The covers were just as inspired as the originals: a blazing barrelhouse piano version of Jambalaya with a balmy tenor sax solo; a crescendoing When the Saints Go Marching In right before the band intros at the end, and an actually hilarious, completely over-the-top, perfectly modulating cover of Somebody to Love by Queen sung with carefree abandon by Seoul Sister #1 (she’s from Korea). Rev. Dean Dawg spun between his keyboard (and accordion, and glockenspiel) with pinpoint precision, signaling the changes as the women swayed and traded banter with the frontman while he worked the crowd (and laughed about it off-mic). But the choreography came off as Crescent City rather than Branson (except for that wretched Eagles excerpt during the band intros – guys, that’ll clear a New York room in seconds). For any band to play as inspired a set as this crew did is pretty impressive, all the more so when you realize that they took the stage just a few minutes after one in the afternoon – at what ungodly hour they soundchecked, we’ll never know.

Memo to the guitarist: dude, you’re too good to be going all modal and Wes Montgomery in the middle of a simple three-chord song like Jambalaya.

April 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment