Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Ted Hearne’s Katrina Ballads: One of the Year’s Best Albums

A blackly hilarious, cerebral portrayal of malfeasance, mismanagement and suffering in the wake of the Bush regime’s failure to react to the Hurricane Katrina disaster, Ted Hearne’s Katrina Ballads evokes the surrealist political performance art of the 1960s. Released on the fifth anniversary of the disaster at the end of August, it balances the cruel cynicism of the Bushites, oblivious in their own comfortable version of reality, with the horrific experiences of the natives who for the most part probably did not vote for them. A mix of cinematic soundscapes and intricate art-rock with operatic vocals, its lyrics are taken entirely from news reports during the early days of the crisis. It’s like the Dead Kennedys for chamber orchestra.

Soprano Abby Fischer channels her inner soul diva on the opening track, stagy yet completely deadpan: “N’awlins is sinking.” She goes on to inform that in 2005, the Federal Emergency Management Agency ranked a New Orleans disaster as likely as a San Francisco earthquake or a terrorist attack on New York, over a backdrop that morphs from artsy indie classical rock to a hypnotic overlay of voices: “To some extent I think we’ve been lulled to sleep,” a quote from the head of the LSU hurricane center. The second track is a suspenseful instrumental that builds to matter-of-factly ominous art-rock. The deadpan operatics recur with the third track, a sadly terse account of a Biloxi resident whose wife was swept from the roof of their home, and with Isaiah Robinson’s recreation of Bush sympathizer Dennis Hastert’s assertion that “a lot of that place could be bulldozed.”

Bridge to Gretna vividly evokes the incident where white racists opened fire on unarmed black residents fleeing the destruction, a dialogue between Eileen Mack’s hopeful bass clarinet and Taylor Levine’s electric guitar slapping her away. The humor returns with CNN personality Anderson Cooper interviewing Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, done with a wickedly understated, satirical edge by Fischer and Anthony Turner: he’s all faux rage and she’s a robot, their carefully scripted vocal lines enhancing the fakeness. The funniest moment here is Hearne himself doing a sort of lo-fi hip-hop remix of “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.” Anybody remember MC Rove?

Finally, a jazz-flavored piece appears – a salute at a funeral? – with murky David Hanlon piano, followed by more brutal levity, in this case the casual countrypolitan golf-club sway of a piece that quotes Barbara Bush: “Almost everyone I talk to says we’re moving to Houston…what I’m hearing which is sort of scary is that they want to stay in Texas. ” The album concludes with a long, elegiac chamber piece quoting New Orleans resident Ashley Nelson, whose feeling of abandonment is visceral, although she tragically fails to make the connection between 9/11 and the Katrina fiasco. It’s as valuable a piece of history as it is entertaining: look for this on our upcoming Best Albums of 2010 list next week.

December 24, 2010 Posted by | avant garde music, classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/21/09

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Friday’s song was #69:

Alpha Blondy – Wish You Were Here

The Ivory Coast roots reggae superstar has written such incendiary songs as Les Salauds, Les Chiens, Les Imbeciles, Sales Racistes, and Ne Tirez Pas Sur l’Ambulance. But his best one might be his wrenching cover of the Pink Floyd classic, the refrain of “we’re just two lost souls swimming in a fishbowl, year after year” returning again and again to maximum effect. From the Jah Victory album, 2008.

May 22, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/12/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #108:

Midnight Oil – Mountains of Burma

The haunting, apocalyptic centerpiece to the Australian art-rockers’ possibly career-best 1990 Blue Sky Mining album is an epic touching on topics as diverse yet interconnected as genocide, womens’ rights and global deforestation, all in six-plus crescendoing, funereal minutes.

April 12, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Hangdogs Reunion Show at Rodeo Bar, NYC 9/18/08

Shows like this can be extremely depressing; this benefit concert for Iowa flood relief was anything but (more on that later). The band actually looked better than ever. Maybe it was a good thing they broke up when they did, because the way they’d been drinking, they might not have lasted much longer anyway. For a substantial chunk of time in the late 90s and early zeros, there was no better New York band than the Hangdogs. Watching them evolve from overamped, politically incorrect honkytonkers to a magnificent, lyrically-charged Americana rock unit with a national following was one of the most satisfying things a concertgoer here could have witnessed – and countless did. But unable to tour constantly to support themselves, embittered by the corporatization of the music industry (and everything else) and the depletion of their mainly working-class audience, they packed it in in 2004, frontman Matthew “Banger” Grimm moving back to his native Iowa where he started an equally good, smart band, Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear. If memory serves right, this week’s two-night stand at their old haunt, the Rodeo (they play tonight as well) is the third time they’ve regrouped.

 

This time around, they didn’t have the full lineup – lead guitarist/keyboardist Kevin Karg AKA Texas Tex was AWOL. They did, however, have every bass player who’d ever been in the band, or so it seemed, a constant rotation taking turns depending on who knew what song. As usual, they saved most of the best stuff for their second set, toward the end of the night when everybody’d had more than a few. Standing in for Karg was Mick Hargreaves (formerly of Buddy Woodward’s Nitro Express), playing acoustic; southpaw guitarist Automatic Slim delivered his usual fast, crescendoing lead lines, and for once Grimm’s Telecaster wasn’t too low in the mix. The result was a fiery, ferocious blend of roar and twang. While a little loose from the booze and time spent away from the songs, they still played what has to be one of the best shows of the year so far.

 

Grimm marveled at how many sports bars have sprung up in the neighborhood since he left town. He was taken aback by a comment from somebody in the crowd: “I’m a pacifist. You have to hit me first.” As a writer, he’s as politically astute as Steve Earle or James McMurtry but a whole lot funnier, which is probably the secret to his success: instead of smacking you upside the head, he makes you laugh.  He and the band barreled through a mix of funny songs – the anti-consumerist Memo from the Corner Office, the New Nashville satire Drink Yourself to Death (which poses the question, why does country radio sound like Celine Dion?), Alcohol of Fame (sung by one of the bass players) and their signature song, Beware the Dog – along with more serious fare like The Little Man in the Boat, a darkly prophetic number about the destitution of the working class.

 

With a gleeful grin, Grimm got his amp howling with feedback before lauching into a blistering version of Flatlands, a savage chronicle of bad times on the great plains that’s been a crowd favorite for years. As usual, they threw some covers into the set: Cheri Knight’s pensive If Wishes Were Horses, a Johnny Horton cover and a Chuck Berry-ish number that a ton of bar bands do. As much as this could have been a cruelly tantalizing nostalgia trip for those who miss the days before 9/11, it wasn’t. The best song of the night was their last, a brand-new number possibly titled 1/20/09, delivered by just Grimm and the rhythm section. It’s a brutal yet ultimately optimistic 6/8 ballad, set indelibly in the here and now, looking forward to the day when 5.4 billion people on the planet will rejoice in George W. Bush’s departure from the office he stole in the coup d’etat in 2000. Like Grimm, many or maybe even most of us would rejoice if Cheney’s Toy got terminal cancer, and nobody’s looking forward to the messy task of cleaning up the debacle he leaves behind. It’s the kind of song you walk out of the bar singing to yourself, at least in the snippets you can remember. If Grimm can get it recorded in the next couple of months, we’ll have the anthem of the decade.

 

In case you missed this one, the Hangdogs are playing a second show, pretty much the same stuff, tonight (Friday, 9/19/08) at the Rodeo starting around 10ish.     

September 19, 2008 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment