Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND EVERYTHING IN BETWEEN

Marco Missinato and Kristin Hoffmann Premiere Their New Lush, Cinematic Suite

[repost from New York Music Daily]

Thursday night at Greenwich House Music School in the West Village marked the US debut of composer Marco Missinato‘s orchestral suite Unfolding Secrets: A Symphony of the Heart. For those who might see the title of the piece and assume “Hallmark Channel,” it’s not like that at all. Missinato has built as career as a film composer, and true to form, this is a suite of dreamy, cinematic soundscapes built on slowly unfolding, anthemic themes. Juilliard-trained soprano Kristin Hoffmann, who is best known as a purveyor of moody, soul-searching piano-based chamber pop, delivered mostly wordless vocals with both a stunning nuance and an unexpected power that took the piece to surprisingly forceful heights. That they played seven of the work’s thirteen movements out of sequence only added to the intrigue. Missinato wrote the score; Hoffmann wrote the vocal charts, and quite possibly improvised some of them: she can jam with anyone, which became even clearer at the end of the show.

Hoffmann and Missinato share a birthday, and they were celebrating that and the album release for this project together, Hoffmann backed by a chamber ensemble of pianist Assaf Gleizner, bassist Scott Collberg, cellist Alex Cox, violist Timothy Maufe and violinists Marielle Haubs and Caitlyn Lynch. This was an electroacoustic performance, with a backing track including the woodwinds, synthesized orchestration and occasional percussion missing from the group onstage, plus visuals shot by filmmaker Ashley Rogers (whose short documentary tracing the development of the collaboration between Missinato and Hoffmann was screened before the concert) .

A sweeping, slowly shifting main theme of sorts was followed by an optimistic, occasionally suspense-tinged interlude: “Come with me,” Hoffmann sang brightly, an open invitation. She aired out her lower register during a more dramatic, somewhat more anxious sequence. Hoffmann varied her approach considerably as the music unwound, sometimes with a bell-like clarity, other times with a carefully modulated vibrato that she unleashed for a pillowy touch and then pulled back in, and then back and forth, adding a welcome dynamic charge to Missinato’s soothingly enveloping, warmly major-key shades. A  minor-key canon lit up by Gleizner’s judiciously minimialist upper righthand work introduced a brooding interlude closer in spirit to Hoffmann’s songwriting. And then the music slowly rose to practically operatic heights.

Hoffmann ended the concert with a trio of her own songs: Ghosts, a pensive but ultimately triumphant trip-hop contemplation of overcoming being haunted by the past; Temple, a slowly and passionately rising anthem, and Falling, a bracing but again triumphant exploration of having the courage to let go and take a plunge, emotionally speaking. Then most of the string section exited, leaving Hoffmann, a guest digeridoo player and the rhythm section to improvise what might have been the night’s most exciting number. Gleizner began with a simple variations on a, gleaming, saturnine riff as Collberg worked around a steady pulse, the digeridoo almost a loop, Hoffmann writing a wounded, angst-fueled anthem on the spot, a vivid portrait of alienation amidst chaos and the struggle to achieve some kind of balance despite it all.

October 16, 2013 Posted by | classical music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Soaring, Vivid Chamber Pop and Pastorales from Rose & the Nightingale

Jody Redhage can frequently be found playing cello with many of New York’s more adventurous chamber ensembles when she’s not on the road with Esperanza Spalding. Redhage also happens to be a compelling and eclectic singer, and a first-rate tunesmith who’s as fluent with catchy pop/rock hooks as she is with elegant chamber pieces. Her 2011 solo album, Of Minutiae and Memory, built a lush atmosphere from overdubs and loops of cello and vocals. Her latest original project is Rose & the Nightingale, the name taken from a Rumi poem on which one of the tracks on the group’s debut album, Spirit of the Garden, is based. As the title implies, the atmosphere here is bright and vernal, a celebration of nature and the outdoors. It’s lively and entertaining, and the three-part vocal harmonies are imaginative and often breathtaking. Redhage is joined by Leala Cyr on vocals and trumpet, Sara Caswell on violin and Laila Biali on piano and vocals, with Ben Wittman on percussion and Redhage’s trombonist husband Alan Ferber guesting on a couple of tracks

The album’s first full-length cut, It’s So Beautiful, takes its inspiration from the water garden at London’s Barbican Center, blending trip-hop and chamber pop with a wickedly catchy chorus and a sinuous Caswell solo. Sky, Mountain, Stream turns a Ella Cvancara poem into a baroque-tinged pastorale with a lushly gorgeous rondo for the vocals. A tersely suspenseful cello intro opens up Butterfly – a setting of a poem by French poet Miquel Decor -which goes soaring and animated with bubbly piano over Redhage’s bassline.

Say I Am You sets the Rumi poem referenced in the album title to a Balkan-tinged choral melody. Where the Fish Are This Big is a brightly catchy, late-Beatlesque piano anthem, Caswell on mandolin, Evan Karp’s lyric inspired by the fish pond at San Francisco Conservatory of Flowers where the ensemble made their live debut last year.

I Write You a Love Poem, with a Maria Brady-Smith lyric, contrasts Redhage’s dancing cello riff against Biali’s brightly spacious, lyrical piano, Caswell’s solo adding a tinge of angst. The group goes back to Abbey Road for Rosa Maria, then vividly evokes a Vermont snowstorm via a Wyn Cooper poem with the slowly crescendoing Dissolve. Biali’s glistening, modally-tinged, bluesy solo is one of the album’s most enjoyable moments.

The Orchid Room, with lyrics by Silvi Alcivar, returns to a dancing, allusive trip-hop groove with another richly catchy but pensive chorus, pondering the transience of all living things. The album winds up with the dreamy lullaby Snow Peace Calms, with another Cvancara lyric, and then a muted, somewhat elegaic take of Mario Laginha’s Despedida (Farewell). The album also has four brief group improvisations, one for each of the seasons, more minimalistically atmospheric than Vivaldiesque. Like the Jason Seed Stringtet‘s album recently covered here, this album ought to resonate just as much with a rock audience as with the classical and avant garde crowds.

August 23, 2013 Posted by | classical music, jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rich, Nuanced Vocals and Eclectic Songwriting from Jana Herzen

It’s easy to be cynical about Jana Herzen’s new album Passion of a Lonely Heart. For one, the idea of a label head (she runs Motema) putting out a record brings to mind things like Leonard Chess’ adventures behind the drum kit during a Muddy Waters session. And while at first glance it might seem that this is an attempt to cash in on the ever-increasing popularity of torchy oldtimey swing and Americana, Herzen is doing it in an original and richly captivating way. Hearing this album is like discovering Karrin Allyson for the first time: it’s eye-opening. Herzen’s songs ought to resonate with an audience as wide as Allyson’s, maybe Norah Jones’ – their sophistication will satisfy the most hardheaded folks in the jazz camp, yet her tunes are accessible enough to catch on with the pop crowd.

Lilke Allyson, Herzen’s songwriting is strong, as is her instrumental work (guitar is her axe). Her nuanced mezzo-soprano makes a perfect vehicle for a mix of jaunty, often deviously witty originals along with some choice covers. Her choice of instrumentation – just acoustic guitar and bass – pays off handsomely. While she cites the 1976 Ella Fitzgerald/Joe Pass collaboration Fitzgerald and Pass…Again as her main influence, the ambience here reaches back further than that to the classic Sarah Vaughan collaborations with guitarist Barney Kessel and bassist Joe Comfort, notably 1962′s Sarah +2.

Herzen doesn’t sound anything like Vaughan, though. Her gossamer, sometimes airy delivery is disarmingly down-to-earth and unadorned. Her inflections reflect the lyrics to the nth degree: she chooses her spots to swoop down to a seductive purr, sail with an unselfconscious joy and explore the territory in between. Bassist Charnett Moffett’s approach is methodically agile, adding warmly nocturnal colors without cluttering the spare arrangements.

The album opens with a coyly nuanced, understatedly sultry take of Henry Nemo’s ‘Tis Autumn, just bass and vocals. It’s a showcase for the kind of contrasts that Herzen can deliver, cutting loose with a carefree  “beeline to the sound” and then with a simmering sensuality when she hits the point where “it’s just to help that old mercury climb.” An elegant oldtime swing tune, Bali Holiday evokes a Pacific island of the mind circa 1937, Moffett capping it off with a twinkling solo way up the fingerboard.

A poignantly intertwined guitar/bass intro kicks off the title track and then shifts to slow, pillowy swing, Herzen hitting a gently powerful crescendo as reverie shifts to sobering reality with a knowing bittersweetness. The duo follow that with an absolutely brilliant reinvention of Chick Corea’s Spain (I Remember), swinging from haunting, gothic-tinged angst to a flamencoesque romp, a style the duo revisit later with more sensuality on the bolero-inflected My Latin Love. Then on Earth’s Heart Beats, Herzen reaches back for a vintage soul vibe over syncopated What’s Going On guitar, Moffett playing a period-perfect tiptoe funk line undeneath.

Night Blooming Jasmine is a gracefully sad, dynamically charged ballad with distant Cape Verdean tinges, a style Herzen embraces with a moody cover of Cesaria Evora’s Sodade. Secrets are Safe With Me builds a gorgeously brooding noir cabaret atmosphere with elegantly precise, bluesy guitar. There’s also a summery take of Nina Simone’s My Baby Just Cares For Me, and Here With You, which blends carefree Afrobeat and Mexican folk sounds. Herzen covers an awful lot of ground here to create one of the most enjoyable and eclectic vocal albums in any style of music in recent months.

February 4, 2013 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Torchy Surrealism from Rayvon Browne

Rayvon Browne is neither a rapper nor a rockabilly guy. Rayvon Browne is actually the rather charming, torchy, lo-fi duo of singers Cal Folger Day and Morgan Heringer. Heringer has the higher voice and more traditionally jazz-oriented phrasing; Day’s low soprano packs more of a wallop, with a flair for biting blue notes a la Jolie Holland. Songwise, the two are like no one else. While a lot of their album Companion flits from one style to another in the span of seconds, and it sounds like it was recorded in somebody’s bedroom (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing), there’s a lot of sophistication here considering that they’re “swapping around on piano, uke, guitar, mandolin, melodica, Casio, & more.” Betty Carter is a possible influence; so is Laura Nyro. Then again, they may have never heard of either, considering how different this is.

“Having a boyfriend ain’t the Christian thing to do,” the two harmonize, deadpan, on the opening track, over swaying acoustic guitar with whispery traces of piano and Sarah Stanley’s flute. It’s a soul song, basically. The degree to which this is satirical is hard to gauge. Heringer sings the second track, Cocktease, bewildering swirly interludes juxtaposed with terse Fender Rhodes bossa nova that gets interrupted by buzzy overdriven electric guitar. She also takes the lead on a slightly less surreal number, Cat on Chest, seemingly addressed to a small friend uninterested in anything more than a warm place to sleep. You know how cats are, they run the show.

The fourth track, Queen sounds like a Joni Mitchell demo from around 1975 – again, not necessarily a bad thing. Where Is My Boyfriend begins with an out-of-tune piano playing Brill Building pop and quickly goes rubato: “Getting wasted on a Wednesday night, waking up to the cat…I lost my lover on the Long Island Railroad, now they’re burning Pennsylvania Station to the ground…where is my boyfriend, please tell me he’s coming,” Heringer sings with a pervasive, bluesy unease. Strange and bracing stuff. Day evokes another Lady Day on Having a Luv, in restrained but sultry mode over an unexpectedly shimmery backdrop of acoustic guitar, tinkly piano and Joel Kruzic’s terse bass. And Heringer’s swooping harmonies add a joyous energy to Day’s torchiness on Cocktail, over minimal guitar/bass backing. The last track on the album has a prosaic, nervous girl-writing-in-her-diary folk feel: the album would be better off without it. Otherwise, these unpredictable songs draw you in and then disarm you with their quirky charm. The whole thing is streaming at their Bandcamp site; their next New York gig is on August 11 at 11ish at a Gathering of the Tribes, 285 E 3rd St. at around 11 PM.

July 27, 2012 Posted by | jazz, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Pascal Plantinga’s Funky Avant Angels Take a Detour

Dutch avant garde composer/songwriter/filmmaker Pascal Plantinga has earned a worldwide following for his shapeshifting, genre-blending, category-defying work. Recent additions to his eclectic musical oevre span from the Okinawan-flavored exotica of his Bashofu/Yonaguni Shonkane single – a collaboration with enigmatic chanteuse Keiko Kina – to the atmospheric soundscapes of Promises of Pleasure, to this one, Even Angels Take Detours, a wry, witty, Jim Jarmusch-esque American travelogue done as an album/dvd combination that came out last year. Recorded in the spring of 2009 at the Stone, it’s not only a showcase for Plantinga’s puckish wit, but also the final live concert recording to feature the late, great New York drummer Dave Campbell. Here, Campbell fits into the electroacoustic mix with a seamlessly subtle, shuffling approach as Plantinga’s sonic film unwinds, part hip-hop, part ambient music, with jazzy flourishes and the occasional nod to current-day noir composers like Angelo Badalamenti. As with much of Plantinga’s work, the warmly analog feel of this vinyl record transcends any attempt to digitize it: to genuinely appreciate its surreal, encircling ambience, you have to put it on a turntable, not an ipod. In addition to Plantinga – on bass and vocals – and Campbell, the lineup onstage includes SoSaLa’s Sohrab Saadat Ladjevardi on tenor sax and Kurt Dahlke a.ka. Pyrolator on electronics.

Campbell kicks it off with a tongue-in-cheek military roll beat that he’ll bring back later, then the sequencer comes in along with a surreal torrent of faux hip-hop phrases punctuated by a vocoder. The shuffling, steamily funky (and funny) track two, I Don’t Even Pink features keening Dr. Dre synth tones giving way to a roaring loop – “The intervention of my shrink urges me to rethink – what does it feel like?” Plantinga muses. The group follows that with the ominous sonics of Je Ne Suis Pas Folle, the woozy but matter-of-fact existential meditation Not One Scratch and then the cadavre exquis vibe of Hit by My Mother, with its rapidfire samples and distantly menacing, allusively atmospheric chromatics underscoring its sarcastic, satirical humor.

The concert really hits a peak as the second side – the travelogue side – of the record kicks in, with the scampering Ryuichi Sakamoto-ish Learn to Speak Your Language. Bread Into Stone brings back the funk and some sardonically caustic commentary on conspicuous consumption. The unselfconsciously gorgeous, plaintive title track paints a trippy early 70s tableau fueled by Plantinga’s watery bass chords (that’s the hook from The Eton Rifles, by the Jam – intentional or not?) and a slowly crescendoing, casually poignant Ladjevardi solo. The concert winds up with the anxiously soaring Never Had a Sweater, Campbell anchoring its steady sweep as a series of sarcastic anti-rock quotes from decades past sweep through the picture. The crowd is obviously entertained; the musicians seem to be having a great time, and it’s often such a mishmash that it’s impossible to figure out who’s playing what: sit back and enjoy the show.

July 10, 2012 Posted by | avant garde music, experimental music, funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Rocking the World with John Koprowski

Singer John Koprowski’s Five Years That Rocked the World, 1964-1969 is the rare cabaret show that’s both family-friendly and edgy. That may seem like the world’s biggest oxymoron, but Koprowski (abetted by musical director and perennial MAC awardwinner Tracy Stark) has put together a somewhat stagy revue that tells the story of the Sixties via an informative, sometimes predictable but often counterintuitive mix of rock and pop songs from the era (and a little afterward, if you count the Kinks and the Grateful Dead). It’s a rock show for cabaret rooms at this point: with some work, it would have legs on Broadway, as last night’s performance at the Laurie Beechman Theatre more than hinted. Eric Michael Gillett’s direction keeps the show moving along briskly: between songs or medleys, Koprowski’s narration comes across in the style of a low-key, friendly AM disc jockey with a casually encyclopedic, historical awareness of oldies rock that transcends the trivia usually associated with those songs.

This isn’t some anonymous pit band phoning in Abba covers for the umpteenth time, either: Stark, a luminous pianist, strikes an imaginative balance between the hippie inspiration of the originals and an artsy, frequently harder-rocking edge. Eclectic guitar virtuoso Peter Calo and the incomparable Susan Mitchell on violin bring serious downtown cred, backed by a rhythm section of Owen Yost on bass and Donna Kelly on drums along with Wendy Russsell and Cindy Green on vocals. Koprowski projects a friendly, knowing I-was-there vibe: a comedic explanation for why he’s able to remember it comes around when he explains how much of his friends’ time and energy was consumed by the ever-present search for drugs (a subject that he tackles deftly and then deflects, something that parents will appreciate).

There are some transcendent moments here. Russell and Green give Koprowski a lurid backdrop to eerily explode out of with a gimlet-eyed menace on an absolutely chilling, gothic reinterpretation of Creedence’s Bad Moon Rising. Mitchell’s sizzling gypsy-blues solo on a Hendrix-inspired All Along the Watchtower (which Calo caps off with a surreally savage one of his own) is worth the price of admission alone. Mitchell and Calo also unearth the rustic country song beneath Arlo Guthrie’s Coming Into Los Angeles, then segue effortlessly into the Byrds’ Fifth Dimension (that band, along with Dylan, is an obvious favorite here). Koprowski’s strongest moment, a bitterly declamatory take on Phil Ochs’ I Feel Like I’m Fixing to Die Rag, is again set up by Green and Russell, this time with deadpan cruelty, a potent evocation of the antiwar struggle, not to mention the sheer body count of the Vietnam War. The nascent gay liberation movement is also addressed via a winking version of the Kinks’ Lola. Among the rest of the songs, including hits by the Mamas and the Papas, Country Joe and the Fish, the Jefferson Airplane and the Beatles (a spot-on version of Revolution lit up by Calo’s overdriven guitar against Stark’s warm, flowing chordlets, and a less successful version of With a Little Help from My Friends), the only dud is America, a shaggy-dog story from the Paul Simon songbook that comes across as something like a Pinataland outtake.

Koprowski is funny, humble and sings the songs in context, something that a younger singer might not be able to pull off so effortlessly. But to a millennial generation raised on autotune and American Idol (and their long-suffering parents), it couldn’t hurt to bolster Koprowski’s vocals, which are those of a survivor, dents and all. Consider: the people who wrote these songs were all in their twenties. To relegate Green – a versatile, tremendously compelling talent – to the occasional harmony is a mistake (was she a last-minute addition to the cast?). Likewise, the show would benefit from considerably more time in the spotlight from Russell: her quietly crescendoing lead vocal on Janis Ian’s plea for racial harmony, Society’s Child, is unselfconsciously poignant. Obviously, with shows like these in their early stages, rehearsals all too often are limited, but since so many of the original versions of these songs featured all sorts of vocal harmonies, the opportunies that the presence of Russell and Green – and Stark as well – offer are tantalizing, and with a little work could be every bit as compelling as the instrumentation. With a little more help from his friends, Koprowski could take this to a much bigger stage.

May 3, 2012 Posted by | concert, drama, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, theatre | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Andy Akiho: Topnotch Pop Tunesmith In Disguise

Andy Akiho may be most closely associated with indie classical music, but underneath the cleverly shapeshifting arrangements on his new album No One to Know One beats the heart of a great pop tunesmith. Atonality may be all the rage (when, since about 1918, has it NOT been all the rage?) but this guy is all about melody. He has a long career in film scores staring him in the face if he wants it. The span from style to style on this record is a long and constantly unexpected one: bits of Middle Eastern music, reggae, noir jazz, Japanese folk songs and brooding 80s pop along with the bright, ringing soca tonalities you would expect from a composer whose axe is the steel pan. It’s a triumphant blend of cutting-edge creativity and accessibility.

The first six tracks here are from his Synesthesia Suite, and are color-coded (Akiho experiences specific pitches as colors). Hadairo (Beige) is the LAST thing you would expect beige to be – it inspired a bright, rhythmic, Balkan-tinged dance with a pointillistic bass solo, a potently dark interlude where the string section mimics the pans and then launches into a series of clever false endings (Akiho has a great wit and employs it generously here). Kiiro (Yellow) begins with a suspenseful music-box vibe enhanced by Maura Valenti’s harp, builds to carnivalesquely orchestrated atonalities and then a creepy waltz that takes on some jarring polyrhythms. Murasaki (Purple) alternates brooding reggae with shimmery glissandos from the harp and pans; Aka (Red) is the weak link here, although it could have been a massive pop hit back in the 80s – think Lisa Lisa or the”La-da-dee, La-da-da” song. Karakurenai (Crimson), a piece for solo prepared steel pan (with certain areas magnetized to shift the pitch downward) half-conceals what sounds like an old Japanese folk song amidst loopy atmospherics and accelerating polyrhythms. The last of the colors here is Daidai Iro (Orange), a trio piece for Akiho with bassist Samuel Adams and drummer Kenneth Salters, revisiting the pop undertone of Red but without the cloying 80s vibe.

The centerpiece here is to wALk Or ruN in wEst harlem (read the toggle for subtext), a richly cinematic noir suite complete with simulated sirens and several chase scenes. It’s literally a movie for the ears: furtive polyrhythms, temporary respite at a safe house, strings rising and then screeching apprehensively and flurries of high woodwinds balanced against a relentless march and an ending which is pure menace. It was the hit of the Bang on a Can Marathon in 2008 and is just as much a showstopper here.

By contrast, The Ray’s End, a trio piece for pan, trumpet and violin juxtaposes a wary chromatic vamp with hypnotic ambience punctuated by Akiho’s judiciously spacious pan accents. NO one To kNOW one (read the toggle again) is another suspense movie, this one set in a disco invaded by Ian Rosenbaum’s vibraphone assault (he plays this one with chopsticks) and later an apprehensive, Middle Eastern-flavored dialogue between Akiho and Mariel Roberts’ cello. There’s a LOL-funny Beatles quote a little later on that’s too good to give away here. The album ends with 21, just pan and cello building loops that venture tensely into a thicket of interwoven melody and textural contrasts. These are just the highlights: to really enjoy all the entertainment this album has to offer, you need headphones and time alone. It’s out now on Innova.

December 6, 2011 Posted by | avant garde music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Robin O’Brien’s The Empty Bowl: Full of Treasures

Robin O’Brien is best known is one of this era’s most electrifying singers, someone whose finessse matches her fiery, soulful wail. As compelling and original a singer as she is, she’s also an eclectic songwriter, as much at home in 60s-style psychedelic pop as hypnotic 90s trip-hop, British folk or garage rock. Over the last couple of years, insurgent Chicago label Luxotone Records has issued two intense, riveting albums of her songs, Eye and Storm and The Apple in Man, label head George Reisch mixing her voice and serving as a one-man orchestra in the same vein as Jon Brion’s work with Aimee Mann. Her latest release, The Empty Bowl – “a song cycle about romantic hunger” – is her first collection of brand-new material in over a decade, and it was worth the wait. She’s never sung better: ironically, on this album, she reaches up the scale less frequently for the spine-tingling crescendos she’s best known for, instead using the subtleties of her lower register throughout a characteristically diverse collection of songs. Reisch’s orchestrations are gorgeous – typically beginning with a wary, stately riff and simple rhythm and build to a lush, rich blend of organic, analog-style textures.

Some of these songs rock surprisingly hard. The most bone-chilling, poweful one is There’s Somebody Else in My Soul, a psychedelic folk-rock song that wouldn’t be out of place on one of Judy Henske’s late 60s albums. Like Henske, O’Brien cuts loose with an unearthly wail in this eerie, minor-key tale of emotional displacement, driven by eerie, reverberating electric harpsichord. Likewise, on the hypnotically insistent, aptly titled Suffering, O’Brien veers back and forth between an evocation of raw madness and treasured seconds of clarity. And Sad Songs, a slowly uncoiling anthem packed with regret and longing, evokes Amy Rigby at her loudest and most intense.

The most suspensefully captivating song here is Lavendar Sky. Reisch opens it with a ringing, funereal riff that brings to mind Joy Division’s The Eternal. An anguished account of hope against hope, it builds with richly interwoven guitars, jangling, clanging, ringing low and ominous and then takes a completely unexpected detour in a practically hip-hop direction. Other songs here build from stately, melancholy Britfolk themes, notably Gold, a haunting, metaphorically loaded traveler’s tale similar to Penelope Houston’s efforts in that vein. There’s also Stranger, which rises from a tense simplicity to a swirl of darkly nebulous, otherworldly vocal harmonies; The Weave, a brooding, cello-driven tone poem; and the closing track, Foolsgold, another traveler’s tale, Reisch’s piano plaintive against the strings ascending beneath O’Brien’s apprehensive river of loaded imagery.

Kathy starts out funky and builds to a menacing garage rock shuffle: it could be a song about revenge, or maybe about revenge on an unreliable alter ego. The rest of the material isn’t anywhere near as bleak: the opening track, Deep Blue, sways with a Joni Mitchell-esque soul vibe, some marvelously nuanced vocals and a tersely beautiful arrangement that slowly adds guitar and keyboard textures until the picture is complete. Anime builds gracefully from a circling folk guitar motif, with a dreamy ambience; and Water Street, a hopeful California coast tableau, sets O’Brien’s Laura Nyro-style inflections against sweeping, richly intricate orchestration. It’s nice to see O’Brien at the absolute peak of her powers both as a songwriter and a song stylist, fifteen years after the big record labels’ flirtation with her.

November 14, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/25/11

As we usually do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Tuesday’s album is #463:

The Shivvers – Lost Hits From Milwaukee’s First Family Of Powerpop 1979-82

Every day, there seems to be yet another rediscovery of a great band from decades ago that never “made it,” at least in the old mass-media sense. And more and more frequently,it’s becoming clear that those “unknown” bands were usually way better than what was on the radio at the time. This 2006 reissue includes most of this extraordinary group’s studio recordings as well as a surprisingly snarling, intense live set. In the studio, keyboardist/frontwoman Jill Kossoris’ vocals were quirky and detached, notably on the closest thing they had to a radio hit, the chirpy but cynical anticonformist anthem Teenline. But live, she was a powerhouse, most notably on the second version of You’re So Sure here, which sounds like the early Go Go’s. There’s also No Substitute, like the Raspberries with a girl singer; the scurrying new wavey/Beatlesque Please Stand By; the rich, ELO-inflected Remember Tonight; the punchy garage pop of My Association (“There’s a place I can go where I don’t have to be an outcast”); the George Harrison-esque Hold On; the absolutely gorgeous Life Without You; the Orbisonesque Nashville noir of It Hurts Too Much and Blue in Heaven, their offhandedly attempt at a big artsy (6 minute) synth/guitar anthem…sung by a dead girl! The whole thing is streaming at yucky myspace; here’s a random torrent.

October 25, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/16/11

As we do pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album was #472:

Jenifer Jackson – Slowly Bright

This 1999 release was Jackson’s quantum leap: it established her as one of the world’s most astonishingly diverse, intelligent songwriters. Her vocals here are memorably hushed and gentle: since then, she’s diversified as a singer as well. The songwriting blends Beatlesque psychedelia with bossa nova, with the occasional hint of trip-hop or ambient music. Every track here is solid; the real stunner that resonates after all these years is When You Looked At Me, with its understated Ticket to Ride beat, swirling atmospherics and crescendoing chorus where Jackson goes way, way up to the top of her range. The title track, Anything Can Happen and the vividly imagistic Yesterday My Heart Was Free have a psychedelic tropicalia feel; Whole Wide World, Burned Down Summer and I’ll Be Back Soon are gorgeous janglerock hits; So Hard to Believe balances tenderness against dread. The catchiest track here may be the unexpectedly optimistic, soul-infused Look Down; the album closes with the lush, hypnotic, blithely swaying Dream. And believe it or not, this classic is nowhere to be found in the blogosphere or the other usual sources for music, although it’s still available from cdbaby. Her forthcoming one, The Day Happiness Found Me is every bit as good, maybe better; it comes out in December.

October 19, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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