Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

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.

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

Concert Review: The Moonlighters at Barbes 6/23/07

For awhile the Moonlighters were ubiquitous on the NYC club circuit.  In case you haven’t seen them lately, you should. This is basically a brand-new band: of the pioneering old-timey quartet’s original members, only frontwoman/ukelele player Bliss Blood remains. Yet they’re better than ever. The new Daria (as denizens of the scene might say) is singer/guitarist Cindy Ball, whose harmony vocals and playing are spot-on, and she has the Gatsby-era look down cold. Upright bassist Peter Maness is a concise, incisive cat, especially when he solos. But their best acquisition is guitarist/banjoist/baritone sax player Ken Mosher, late of the Squirrel Nut Zippers. He’s brought back the fire that was missing since the Moonlighters’ original steel guitarist Henry Bogdan left for Hawaii and then the Helmet reunion tour.

They opened their first set with a typically charming version of Big Times, the two women in the band blending voices exquisitely. “Let’s do a tango,” smiled Blood, and they launched into the haunting Dirt Road Life, a day in the life of a sweatshop worker. “I’ve tried to wash it off, I’ve tried and I’ve tried, but it’s stuck there inside like a scar in my side,” went the refrain: though they’re best known (and rightfully so) for their authentically retro, romantic stylings, the Moonlighters have a social awarness to rival that of the Clash. They followed with Broken Doll, from their most recent album Surrender, the first of several “snuff torch songs” that Blood has been playing with this unit and another project, the deliciously sinister Nightcall. Then they picked up the pace with the sprightly hobo tune Special Cannonball and the wistful melancholia of Every Little Teardrop. Mosher punctuated the following tune, Never Be the Same with a sizzling, jazzy electric guitar solo as the band took it to warp speed.

Mosher switched to banjo for the swinging, jauntily optimistic Farewell to the Blues, and for a minute it was as if the little back room had become a speakeasy circa 1928 – or sometime before the crash, anyway. There are innumerable other old-time bands out there – basically everybody who plays Pete’s Candy Store these days – but the Moonlighters were one of the first and remain just about the best. Maness took a decisive little stroll to open the next number, the sprawling, crescendoing, multi-part Ziegfeld Doll, written by their former guitarist/singer Carla Murray. After an innuendo-laden 6/8 pop tune from the 20s with another blazing Mosher guitar solo, they closed their first set with a crowd-pleaser from their early period, Makin’ Wicky-Wacky Down in Waikiki. The audience – especially the young couples – loved it. New York crowds take this kind of show for granted: see this band now while you can before the only venues left standing are VIP DJ lounges in luxury hotels.

June 29, 2007 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments