Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Mary Flower Brings Her Fast Fingers to Town

On April 1 at 7:30 (no joke), Portland, Oregon acoustic guitar goddess Mary Flower plays the Good Coffeehouse series at the Ethical Culture Society at 53 Prospect Park West in Brooklyn. If guitar is your thing, she’s inspiring. Her latest album Bridges is a mix of characteristically fluid yet precise Piedmont style blues playing as well as some delicious ragtime and lap slide work. First and foremost, this is a guitar album – Flower keeps her vocals unaffected and nonchalant and lets her fingers do most of the talking. They’ve got a lot to say and say it memorably.

The best songs here are her original instrumentals – while everything here draws on different Americana roots styles, Flower isn’t afraid to add her own more complex, modern melody lines. Temptation Rag is absolutely gorgeous, Flower’s twin ascending lines against Robin Kessinger’s flatpicking and Spud Siegel’s mandolin shifting to a gypsy jazz vibe. Slow Lane to Glory imaginatively takes a gospel tune and makes midtempo swing blues out of it, played richly and tunefully on lap slide guitar. The bittersweet Piedmont blues number Daughter of Contortion eventually works in a playful circus motif, and the concluding track Blue Waltz artfully intertwines her guitar lines with Tim O’Brien’s mandolin and accordion from Courtney Von Drehle of 3 Leg Torso.

A couple of the vocal numbers have a jaunty Roulette Sisters feel, most memorably the darkly simmering Big Bill Blues, lit up by some edgy, incisive piano from Janice Scroggins (whose contributions throughout this album are consistently excellent). The opening track, featuring Tony Furtado’s bottleneck in tandem with Flower’s densely intricate fingerpicking, evokes Jorma Kaukonen’s early 70s work. There’s also a version of Bessie Smith’s Backwater Blues that builds from hypnotic to steady and swinging; another first-rate ragtime song, Columbia River Rag, and explorations of country gospel, New Orleans blues and a cover of There Ain’t No Man Worth the Salt of My Tears with more biting blues piano from Scroggins. In addition to her April 1 gig, Flower is teaching a workshop on Piedmont style guitar at noon at the Jalopy on April 2.

Advertisements

March 25, 2011 Posted by | blues music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

3 Leg Torso Do the Time Warp Again

Animals and Cannibals, the all-instrumental fifth album by Portland, Oregon’s 3 Leg Torso is of the year’s most enjoyably eclectic releases. Playfully, often psychedelically and amusingly blending elements of gypsy music, Belgian barroom songs, the baroque and jazz, the group is anchored by acclaimed violinist Bela R. Balogh and accordionist Courtney Von Drehle. T.J. Arko, Kyle MacLowry and drummer Gary Irvine take turns on the vibraphone, along with bass, tuba, weissenborn, piano and French horn. As the individual song titles indicate, they don’t take themselves particularly seriously (although they do the music): some of these pieces veer off into parody. Although the juxtaposition of the medieval and the modern here might seem jarring, it isn’t: this crew somehow makes it work.

The album opens with a swaying, 6/8 accordion tune with a lush string and vibraphone arrangement, a scurrying Balogh solo and a trick ending (a device that will recur here often). The tango standard Csardas, by Vittorio Monti is a joyous exercise in tempo shifts and doubletime. The cinematic, Brueghelesque The Life and Times and Good Deeds of St. Penguin – yup, that’s the title – works variations on a plaintive waltz with a tricky turnaround. Moving from a tv theme-style bounce to more complex, jazzy passages with incisive accordion and bluesy vibraphone, Toothless Cannibal winds up on the wings of another wailing Balogh solo. Driving Along with My Cow in My Volga could be a Spike Jones backing track, including a rustic Russian dirge, a blithe, tongue-in-cheek gypsy dance, and a bucolic waltz. And Von Drehle’s According to Chagall sounds suspiciously like a cumbia-tinged version of the Twin Peaks theme arranged for string band – it would make a great addition to the Chicha Libre catalog.

The mini-epic Bus Stop to Oblivion builds from rustic sentimentality to a wildly fusionesque stomp, violin blasting through a distortion pedal as the band roar their way out at the end. An original, Frailach #1 is a bracing klezmer raveup with a woozy bass solo and a deliciously long crescendo out of it. The album winds up on a pensive note with the cinematic theme The Last Dream. Somewhere there’s a contemporary black comedy set in a rainy Balkan milieu that needs this album for its soundtrack.

August 10, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Tuatara at Central Park Summerstage, NYC 7/5/97

Back with more up-to-date stuff tomorrow: Martin Bisi, Humanwine, Marissa Nadler, the second “Turkish Woodstock” concert in Central Park, and much more. In the meantime, here’s a blast from the past.

Tuatara’s show last year at Tramps was psychedelic, gamelanesque and more than a little eerie. This one had more of a rock flavor. Most of the instrumentals they played are from the new album Trading with the Enemy and were a lot faster than the hypnotic, meandering stuff on their debut. But with the marimba tinkling and echoing, there was still a trance element to a lot of the compositions. The band didn’t improvise much, sticking pretty much with the studio versions of the songs. Of the quieter new ones, one of the best was an even more minimalist version of Desert Moon. They closed the set with a long, deliriously crescendoing version of Afterburner, the ska jam that closes the new cd, Peter Buck running his Telecaster through a wah pedal, playing fast, furious rhythm. They sped it up, then slowed it down, then sped it up to the point where no one could go any faster – and then shut it down.  The crowd – not as huge as you might think for a band with one of the members of REM in it – screamed for more and got a two-song encore.

Ended up later that evening at Rodeo Bar where the tight, versatile Portland, Maine rockabilly outfit King Memphis were playing. A little blues, a little country, lots of bouncy rockabilly-ish tunes with Strat, Tele, bass and drums. They probably pack Three Dollar Dewey’s on a Saturday night.

July 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Podunk, BFE – Get Your Hole Ready

Editor’s note – thanks to Jayne for the heads-up about this one

From Portland, Oregon comes this consistently funny, sometimes hilarious album of bluegrass/grasscore punk songs. The cd cover shot is a pretty skyscape through what looks like a doorframe, like in some Caribbean travel brochure – until you realize that it’s the view upward from the bottom of a grave. If you’re wondering what the BFE in Podunk, BFE means, that’s Bum Fuck Egypt which says a lot about how this sounds. The instrumentation here is bristly and tasty with banjo, mandolin, guitar, and upright bass along with drums on some of the cuts. Some of the songs are so fast that it sounds like the band is scrambling to catch up, which only adds to the mayhem (although the playing is really good, especially for a crew who obviously don’t take themselves all that seriously). The lyrics mostly concern alcohol and sex, not necessarily in that order. A father-son duo pass the time at the local 24-hour bar; a sympathetic friend tries to lure a jumper down from the ledge with a beer (“I know you’ve got tears to cry, but he’s not your kind of guy”), and in the best of the cheating songs, the guy who first appears to be a sensitive listener type proves to be a lying, cheating SOB just like all the rest. Another ends up going home from the bar with the wrong person (whose name turns out to be Earl). Then there’s the woozy dude with holes in his memory a mile wide, except for his jailhouse tattoo. The one song with an obscenity in the title turns out to be a really nice instrumental. And the best song on the album ends with a Dolly Parton style litany of dead icons, except that these guys are all in hell, Lefty Frizzell, Tupac, Townes Van Zant, Keith Richards – “oh yeah, he’s not dead yet.” When the jokes get old, the tunes will keep your toes tapping: the drunker you get, the better this probably sounds.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment