Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Stephanie Rooker & the Search Engine Find the Groove

Potently intelligent, pensively psychedelic, soul/funk band Stephanie Rooker & the Search Engine’s new album The Only Way Out Is In sneaks up on you. Taken as a whole, it’s a mood piece, but it’s also a slinky dance album. What’s most impressive is how aware Rooker is. With her brooding, sometimes sultry, sometimes wounded contralto voice, her lyrics draw just as deeply from conscious hip-hop as from classic soul and funk. The band behind her plays with jazz chops, but with restraint: her collaborator Ben Tyree on guitar, Mamiko Watanabe on electric piano, Lawrence Qualls on drums, Jahmal Nichols handling most of the bass work, V. Jeffrey Smith on tenor and soprano saxes plus a number of guests including John Medeski on organ on several tracks along with Will Martina (of Burnt Sugar) on cello. The album kicks off auspiciously with What If, an existentialist’s dilemma:

What if there’s no rules
What if there’s no truth
What if all we’re believing is a story that we choose
What if what they told you
Don’t ever come true
Better come up with your own script
To live your life through

It sets the tone for the rest of the album, guitar and organ shifting over a slow, fluid, hip-tugging organic groove, with an aptly apprehensive trombone solo from Roland Barber.

The bouncy third-wave soul of Sellin Ya Soul brings back memories of acts like Sandra St. Victor back in the 90s. “I could be a pretty good plenty o’thangs but none of which could touch just being me and I’m good with that, thank you very much,” Rooker asserts. They follow that with the hypnotic I Feel Like and its dark, goth-tinged bassline: “Lord help me remember what I’m fighting for.” The next track, Play is wickedly catchy indie funk – did these guys used to go see Noxes Pond play shows around town about ten years ago? Weather offers blippy, rainy-day ambience; the big ballad Thank You is a trip back in time to Memphis, contrasting with the minimalist bass pulse of Rise and the lush balminess of the title track.

Rooker goes ballistic and straight to the target with the cinematic cautionary tale When We Gon Care, a furiously potent rant against a laundry list of evils: disinformation by the corporate media, the destruction of the environment by multinational corporations, drug companies inventing phony diseases to sell worthless “cures,” and most of all, apathy. It’s Jello Biafra updated for the teens, with better vocals. They wrap up the album with an instrumental, a James Brown-inspired number and the gospel-infused Wait in Line. Count this as one of the most kick-ass albums to come over the transom here recently. Stephanie Rooker & the Search Engine play the big room at the Rockwood on Jan 23 at 8.

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January 21, 2011 Posted by | funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Sometime Boys’ Debut: Excellent All the Way Through

With its layers of great guitar and smart Americana roots songwriting, the Sometime Boys’ album Any Day Now makes a good segue with the Hendrix box set reviewed here yesterday. It’s a lot more rustic and low-key but just as intense as frontwoman Sarah Mucho and guitarist Kurt Leege’s main project, the wildly powerful, cerebral art/funk/noiserock band System Noise. Mucho is a legitimate star in the New York cabaret world (she won a MAC award), best known for her unearthly, powerful wail. Here, she offers frequently chilling proof that she’s every bit as potent a stylist when she brings down the lights. Likewise, Leege’s electric playing is equal parts passion and virtuosity: here, his nimble, funky, soulful acoustic work is just as gripping if somewhat quieter than his usual unhinged, wailing tremolo-bar howl. The band here is rounded out by Pete O’Connell on bass, David Tuss on violin and eclectic drummer/percussionist Andy Blanco.

The album opens with Pretty Town, a slinky, smoldering acoustic version of a funk song by System Noise’s predecessor band Noxes Pond, Blanco’s lush cymbal washes mingling atmospherically with its understated angst and tersely edgy guitar solo. The bitter, backbeat-driven bluegrass number Master Misery is a gem, Mucho delivering its torrents of lyrics with a wounded grace: “There are no answers, just suggestions, and most folks don’t bother with the truth,” she posits. There’s a deft, ELO-style handoff as the solo moves from guitar to violin; in the end, Mucho’s tortured soul chooses solitude. The catchy Non Believers is a clinic in vocal subtlety and lyrical depth, Mucho gently railing at those who cluelessly accept the world around them at face value; Painted Bones, with its hypnotic verse building matter-of-factly to its big chorus hook, has more of a gothic, Siouxsie-esque undercurrent. With its rich layers of acoustic guitar, the title track manages to be both brisk and lush. The album winds up with a gorgeously allusive, understatedly suspenseful 6/8 Tom Waits country number about a house that may or may not be haunted, in every possible sense of the word; the band also reinvents Aimee Mann’s Wise Up as edgy funk. What a treat this is, all the way through: you’ll see this on our Best Albums of 2010 page when we finally put it up in the next week or so.

December 23, 2010 Posted by | country music, funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/2/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Monday’s is #541:

Noxes Pond – Ska (The Art of Walking)

This has absolutely nothing to do with either ska or walking. It’s more than ten minutes of classic noise-rock from this late 90s Lower East Side New York power/funk trio, featuring one of the alltime great nails-down-the-blackboard guitar solos, at least eight paint-peeling minutes of distorted, feedback-drenched madness over a head-bopping groove. This one is extraordinarily hard to find – the version that counts is on a very obscure cassette-only ep.  The guitarist would go on to even further greatness in brilliant art/punk/noise rockers System Noise; the drummer now runs a company that manufactures fantastic, high-quality speakers.

February 2, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Rev. Timmy James, DollHouse, Twin Turbine, Noxes Pond and the Sea Devils at the C-Note, NYC 10/26/01

[Editor’s note: this concert from our inherited archives dates from the brief period after 9/11 when New Yorkers demonstrated an amazing amount of solidarity. Ironic as it must seem, this town defiantly showed a great deal of joie de vivre while the pit downtown smoldered and burned. This is just one example.]

A gastronomic walking tour of what’s left of the old-school Jewish Lower East Side with a Massachusetts friend ended with takeout from Yonah Schimmel’s, where I ended up practically getting killed in traffic while trying to get back into his Jaguar while a traffic cop’s siren wailed behind us. I was sure we were going to get pulled over, and it was all my fault, but no. He dropped me off at the club and left with plenty of knishes and noshes for the ride home to Beacon Hill. Rev. Timmy James was on when I got there, playing open-tuned, acoustic blues with a slide. He’s a competent player, he doesn’t Pearl Jam the vocals and the Rev. thing seems to be neither religious nor sarcastic. A tip of the hat to Gary Davis, maybe. DollHouse, who haven’t played a live show in a long time, were introducing their new lead guitarist, who is vastly different from the two guys who preceded him: he’s totally 80s, alternating between fast funk/metal and more ambient licks that he played with an ebow. Not sure he’s right for this macabre, punk-inflected harmony-rock band. On their frontwoman/guitarist Lisa Lost’s big showstopper, Queen of Despair, he took an attractively minimal solo straight out of the Phil Manzanera book circa Avalon, which was by far the best thing he did all night. The band’s best song was a ridiculously catchy new one set to a ska beat, an uncharacteristically lighthearted, optimistic song called Smile driven by a deliciously melodic, pulsing Frankie Monroe bassline. The band also played Lisa Lost’s darkly entertaining Bride (as in bride of Frankenstein) along with Monroe’s scorching, minor-key punk-pop songs Conditioning and Night People.

“Heavy pop” power trio Twin Turbine weren’t the best segue, considering that this is a small club and they are very loud. But melodically it made sense: frontman/guitarist Dave Popeck is every bit as much a hookmeister as the previous band. “Husker Du,” a friend of mine hollered into my ear. I thought for a moment. “Social Distortion,” I hollered back. They don’t confine themselves strictly to major and minor chords but the hooks are relentless, as is the sonic assault: there isn’t much subtlety in this band. Their best song was a darkly careening number called Noreaster that resembled Guided by Voices at their most melodic.

Noxes Pond followed, and like the last time I saw them here, they packed the place. This isn’t a big club by any means, and it’s become a rocker hangout, in a lot of instances musicians basically playing to their peers, and the cognoscenti were here tonight to check out the newly resurrected incarnation of this popular LES noise/rock/funk unit. They’re much more melodic than they used to be, driven by catchy, jazz-inflected, tasteful guitar. And the rhythm section, with the guy from the Scholars on drums and the Supercilious bassist, has much more of a groove than they used to have. But it’s their frontwoman who steals the show, a petite powerhouse who dazzled with her spectacular range and potently soulful pipes. By the time the Sea Devils launched into the first of two long, exhausting sets, starting practically at the stroke of midnight, it was apparent that the person I’d been waiting patiently for wasn’t going to show up. But no matter. “Surf punk,” a well-known blogger told me, sarcastically. And he’s right, to an extent: energy and volume are important to this band. But so is authenticity: they have all the requisite vintage instruments and amps and get a completely 60s, reverb-drenched sound. They reminded tonight how vast their repertoire is, basically every good Ventures and Dick Dale song along with literally dozens of songs whose titles you wish they’d announce so you can go out looking for the originals. Their best song was the opener, the haunting Mr. Moto, followed by the Ventures classic Diamond Head and an obscure, gorgeously propulsive number called Tally Ho. And they kept the crowd in the house: after they’d finally wound up their second set, a clearly impressed audience member insisted that the band had just played the longest-ever set in the club’s history. Which wouldn’t be surprising: just under three hours of fiery, propulsive clang and twang. And I was there to hear all of it since I hadn’t had a drink til they’d taken the stage.

[postscript: Rev. Timmy James hasn’t played around New York in awhile: someone like him can pretty much take his act anywhere. DollHouse is defunct, and Twin Turbine has been on hiatus pretty much since 2006. Noxes Pond morphed into art-rockers System Noise, who were one of New York’s best bands for several years. The Sea Devils still appear live once in awhile with a reconfigured lineup.]

October 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Revlover, Noxes Pond, Florence Dore, Patricia Vonne and Paul Foglino at the C-Note, NYC 9/28/01

The sky looking particularly ominous, I caught a cab up from my company’s satellite office at Union Square to a friend’s gallery for her very first curated opening. She did about seven grand worth of business, not bad considering what she was selling: the artist was sort of Edward Hopper lite, familiar outdoor and storefront NYC scenes including the H&H Bagel sign. Shadows falling everywhere: the guy’s in love with shadow, and when he isn’t doing shadows he’s doing the reverse with lights tracing a path in the dark. Then caught a cab down to the club where a wretched acoustic grungeboy tortured us for the better part of 40 minutes. Fake moveable chords, lame vocals and awful fashion sense. As Luke Haines said, junk shop clothes will get you nowhere, and this guy is living proof, playing to just about nobody at 7 PM at a little Lower East Side club that rightfully shouldn’t even be a club at all. It looked like he was trying to pester the promoter for another gig afterward and the promoter was having none of it. Hopefully he won’t be back.

Revlover were next. They didn’t have Ed Sargent on guitar like they did last time: it was just the three of them doing an exceptionally tight, catchy mix of indie janglerock and somewhat crunchier, tuneful, Guided by Voices-inflected material. They did the always amusing faux Irish ballad Emily, their song about a hermaphrodite, along with the very memorable On Ordinary Days (the title track to their album), sung by their excellent, melodic bass player. He also sang their closing number, a fiery, riff-driven, minor-key garage number called Men in Plastic featuring a fast, searing blues guitar solo at the end. Particularly appropriate, considering what’s going on downtown (body bags – as it turns out the bassist’s office was at 1 Liberty Plaza. He escaped into the Path station).

In the case of the recently regrouped Noxes Pond, word on the street is to be believed: their new lead singer is amazing. Sarah Mucho, all five feet one and maybe a hundred pounds of her, belts like a 300 pound black blueswoman from the 1940s. The songs they played tonight generally fell into a slinky, often funky, generally minor key groove; the steady, sinuous swing of the bass contrasted nicely with the rattle and clatter of the drums, with the vocals sailing spectacularly over it all. The guitarist seems to be the band’s rhythm center which is a very smart move because his timing is spot-on. This version of the band likes dynamics a lot more than their previous incarnation: if this gig is any indication, they’re on track to something really good.

Florence Dore is a star in the making. She didn’t bring a big crowd, but that was probably a good thing since Noxes Pond did and this is a small place. The NYU English professor is a real find, an excellent lyricist with a very strong sense of melody, a honey-sweet, soaring voice and an excellent, driving Americana rock band behind her featuring bassist-about-town Scott Yoder and former Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken pushing it along. She blends country songs with more rocking, upbeat tunes including a lot of material from her new album, including the fiery, early Who-inflected Framed, on which Diken did an impressive Keith Moon seance. But the quieter songs were the best. The highlight was the poignant, rueful Early World, the opening track on the new album, about what it feels like to know that you’ve probably missed the boat. Dore delivered it with a nonchalance that was downright scary.

Patricia Vonne took the stage late, but by the time her hourlong set was over – at almost a quarter to one – she had the crowd mesmerized. Playing without a drummer, backed by just her lead guitarist and bassist, the tall Texas ex-model played a masterfully nuanced set of very compelling material. Like Dore, she falls into the Americana category, but there’s a lot of Tex-Mex and mariachi influence in her songs (she’s Mexican-American and defiantly proud of her heritage). Her vocals are absolutely unique: though she didn’t have to sing over the noise of an electric band, she maintained her trademark passionate, throaty wail throughout the show. All her best songs tonight had an impressive political awareness; the usually stomping El Cruzado was given the tiptoe treatment, without the drums, but it still hit the spot. Dance in a Circle, written in support of wrongfully imprisoned Indian activist Leonard Peltier was as harrowing as the album version, even if it was quieter tonight. She and the band closed with her best song, the riveting escape anthem Blood on the Tracks. Obviously it took a lot of nerve to appropriate that title, but the song lives up to it: there’s absolutely no hubris here. “We ain’t never coming back,” she railed, with a barely restrained rage: “Our hearts have been scarred, there’s blood on the tracks.” It’s amazing that in this city you can see someone this popular – she’s something of a household word in Texas – on a stage this small.

Former Five Chinese Brothers bassist Paul Foglino was pulling mop-up relief duty, playing a solo acoustic set as the crowd slowly dispersed, but he held up his end. He’s very funny, and he knows what he’s doing. “Too old to rock and roll, too stupid to quit,” said the poster for his show taped to the inside of the club window, which is far too self-effacing. Some of the slightly bluesy, upbeat, major-key songs he played tonight were pretty amusing, including a number perhaps titled You Can’t Be too Drunk to Get Drunk. Given the crowd, the hour and the venue, he couldn’t have come up with a more apt choice. Spending this amount of time in a bar is usually a big mistake, but tonight’s bands made it all worthwhile. We ended up closing the club and then going over to Mona’s where a drunken college friend of one of the performers was trying to pick up somebody in my posse, so I went over to the deli on 6th and Ave. B for one of their trademark cheese heros (with jalapenos and avocado), then caught a cab home at around 4:30, waking up in the early afternoon to find that I’d been sharing the bed with what was left of the sandwich.

[Postscript: as Lucid Culture regulars know by now, the once-vibrant C-Note is now defunct, as are Revlover and Noxes Pond (the latter went through some lineup changes and morphed into spectacularly good art-rockers System Noise, who happen to be playing Arlene’s this Sunday, Sept. 30 at 9). Florence Dore’s academic career continues, though it’s been ages since she’s played a New York show. Patricia Vonne expanded her fan base to include Europe, where she became a star and tours regularly. Paul Foglino is still active in music and plays guitar in Ellen Foley’s band].

September 29, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment