Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Bliss Blood and Al Street’s Evanescent: One of the Year’s Best Albums

It’s always cool when a great artist decides to give away free tracks. When those tracks are among that artist’s best ever, it’s time to get busy downloading. Bliss Blood – New York’s reigning goddess of retro – decided to put the debut album by her new duo project Evanescent, with guitarist Al Street, up at reverbnation as a free download. Her Hawaiian swing crew the Moonlighters may be iconic among NYC artists, but they’re only her best-known group: in the last ten years, she’s also sung straight-up swing jazz, creepy cinematic noir songs, and barrelhouse blues (and S&M punk rock, if you count her teenage band the Pain Teens from the early 90s). But this flamenco-tinged unit with just ukulele, acoustic guitar, Blood’s lush, velvet vocals and a ton of reverb that amps up the lurid factor, may be her best yet. The joke here is that this music is actually the furthest thing from evanescent – it lingers and haunts. Blood has never sung better – the Moonlighters’ harmonies range from sensual to chirpy, but here Blood runs deep and dark with an unexpected gravitas and also a sultry allure that beats anything the Moonlighters have done – and they’re a great band.

The first track, Swallow the Dice, sets the stage, lowlit in red: it’s a menacing flamenco waltz, a defiantly metaphorical tribute to beating the system. Likewise, the steadily pulsing Liplock mines a series of double entendres, some of them ironic: play your cards too close to the vest and risk losing everything. Bulletproof is absolutely gorgeous, seductively bittersweet, all too aware of how invulnerability can be a double-edged sword:

Impervious to pain
I dream undaunted
Until I’m wanted and flaunted again
Bad bargain, maybe
I made it, unflinching
I keep it, bewitching
And blindly I see
It’s a barrier around me
Makes me bulletproof
Nothing can touch me
No one but you

The strongest track, lyrically at least, is Blackwater, a blistering broadside originally done by Blood’s “crime jazz” band Nightcall during the waning days of the Bush regime when mercenaries in Iraq were slaughering civilians left and right. Here it’s reinvented with a sarcastic rockabilly shuffle rhythm as Blood rails against the consciousless cynicism of the soldiers of fortune who think nothing of “blood spilled on the sand.” The sultriest track is The Palace of the Wind, its Dr. Zhivago ambience lush and pensive over Street’s agile broken chords. With just ukulele, bells and vocals for most of it, Butterfly Collector wouldn’t be out of place in an early 60s Henry Mancini soundtrack. There’s also the torchy, Freudian Legend of a Crime; the brisk, galloping Ella Es el Matador, the give-and-take of a hookup explained as a bullfight; the echoey, pillowy, sad guitar-and-vocalese instrumental Firefly, and the sly, reggae-tinged come-on Your Mayhem. One of the best albums of the year, for free. Evanescent play DBA at 113 N 7th St. (Berry/Wythe) in Williamsburg on 4/16; 4/22 they’re at Cin-M-Art Space, 43 Murray Street, (W. Broadway & Church).

April 12, 2011 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/1/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Didn’t think we’d get to this one today, did you! Tuesday’s album is #728:

The Moonlighters – Live in Baden-Baden

This one was a hard call. Everything the well-loved harmony-driven, Hawaiian-flavored, oldtime New York swing band has released, from their swoony 2000 debut Dreamland, through the bristling charm of 2009’s Enchanted, is worth owning. We picked this 2004 release because it so vividly illustrates how effortlessly tight their arrangements and tricky layers of vocals are in a live setting. Effervescent yet edgy frontwoman/uke player Bliss Blood (who as a teenager played in S&M punk legends the Pain Teens) is best known for writing songs that sound like classics from the 1920s, and this album is full of them. It’s got her best one, Blue and Black-Eyed, an eerie account of a desperate prostitute leaping from the fire escape at the notorious Bowery dive McGuirk’s Suicide Hall. The hypnotic Chaining up the Moonlight matches that one’s brooding ambience; most of the other tracks, like the jaunty hobo tune Ballad of a Gink, the casually seductive Desperado and a scurrying cover of My Blackbirds Are Bluebirds Now are considerably more upbeat. Trombonist/crooner Michael Arenella adds sly hokum blues vocals on a cover of When I Take My Sugar to Tea; the rest of the album includes an unselfconsciously romantic Hawaiian medley, a biting version of There Ain’t No Sweet Man Worth the Salt of My Tears and the hilariously risque Mr. Mitchell. A little sleuthing didn’t turn up any torrents, but the album is still available via cdbaby and itunes.

February 1, 2011 Posted by | jazz, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Moonlighters – Enchanted

Fifth time’s a charm. The Moonlighters were among the first and remain the best of the oldtimey bands who started popping up around New York around the turn of the century. The last century, that is, although their sound has more in common with the one before that. Frontwoman/ukelele player and main songwriter Bliss Blood is the sole holdover from the band’s original 1999 incarnation, a torch singer par excellence and onetime college semiotics major who perhaps better than any other current-day writer captures the droll effervescence and innuendo-laden wit of classic ragtime, early 1920s swing and hokum blues. The clear, soaring beauty of her voice blends with the harmonies of another period-perfect singer, guitarist Cindy Ball, backed by the fluid bass of Peter Maness and Mark Deffenbaugh on fiery, incisive steel guitar. As consistently excellent as their first four releases – including the ecstatically good Live in Baden-Baden cd – have been, this looks like the album that’s going to put them over the top. This time out the band blends their irresistible Hawaiian-inflected makeout music with vintage-style ragtime, swing, a bouncy hobo song and even some vintage European film songs. It’s playful, sexy, often poignant and sometimes very subtly funny.

The cd’s opening cut sets the tone with Blood and Ball’s (Blood and Balls – now that’s a side project waiting to happen!) fetching harmonies, a winsome Hawaiian swing tale about breaking a hex and finding love at last. By contrast, Winter in My Heart is gorgeously plaintive yet ultimately optimistic. A couple of cuts, Blood’s Give Me Liberty or Give Me Love and Ball’s Don’t Baby Me channel a 1920s flapper vibe – those women reveled in their emancipation, and they weren’t about to take any grief from guys! The best single track on the album might be Night Smoke, written by Ball, a vivid Henry Mancini-esque salute to the pleasures of the wee hours. The cover are good too. They take the old Benny Goodman/Rosemarie Clooney standard It’s Bad For Me and reinvent it as a sassy Rat Pack-era come-on, jump into silent-film character for Fooling with the Other Woman’s Man and take their time, deliciously and tongue-in-cheek, with Al Duvall‘s Freudian innuendo-fest Sheet Music Man. The album closes with a medley of Marlene Dietrich songs, doubtlessly inspired by the Moonlighters’ success touring Germany over the past few years. Look for this on our best albums of 2009 list toward the end of December. The Moonlighters play the cd release show tonight, August 7 at Barbes at 10.

The Moonlighters’ new label, WorldSound has also brought Blood’s teenage S&M industrial punk band the Pain Teens‘ catalog back into print, a welcome development for people who were into Ministry and that stuff back in the early 90s. In case you’re wondering, they didn’t sound anything like the Moonlighters. But they could also be very funny.

August 7, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 5/1/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s song is #453:

The Moonlighters – Blue and Black-Eyed

From the longest-lived and arguably the best of the crop of oldtimey bands that sprang up throughout New York during the late 90s, this is an absolutely haunting, period-perfect,  original late 19th century-style ragtime song by bandleader Bliss Blood (formerly of teenage S&M hardcore band the Pain Teens). It’s the sad tale of a prostitute who hurls herself to her death from the fire escape at the notorious dive bar McGuirk’s Suicide Hall at 295 Bowery (now a complex of shoddy, hastily thrown up plastic-and-sheetrock “luxury” condos) when she discovers she’s pregnant. Henry Bogdan’s steel guitar solo will give you chills. From the Dreamland cd, 2000.

May 1, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment