Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

John Paul Keith Plays Every Retro Rock Style Ever Invented

John Paul Keith’s backup band is called the One Four Fives. It’s a wryly accurate way of describing his music. The veteran Memphis singer/guitarist is an avatar of retro rock: he doesn’t seem to have met a roots-rock style that he can’t play with equal parts fun and virtuosity. He’s sort of a Memphis version of Simon Chardiet, emphasis more on serious songwriting than blazing guitars and punk-infused humor. It’s a sure bet that had many of these songs come out fifty years ago, they would have been huge. The production matches the period-perfect craftsmanship: many of these songs sound like live-in-the-studio two-track recordings from around 1965.

Keith’s new album is aptly titled The Man That Time Forgot. The opening track, Never Could Say No is Tex-Mex through the prism of 80s powerpop – it wouldn’t be out of place on a Willie Nile record. You Devil You evokes 50s rockabilly hitmakers like Charlie Gracie, with its carefree guitar tremolo-picking. With its slurry bass groove, Anyone Can Do It mines an Eddie Cochran/Bobby Fuller vein. The wry, doo-wop infused Songs for Sale is the closest thing to Chardiet here, along with the album’s best song, the amusingly scurrying noir shuffle I Work at Night.

Afraid to Look works a stomping British R&B hook straight out of the early Yardbirds or Pretty Things, while the honkytonk-flavored Dry County references the long stretches of road that every touring band dreads the most. I Think I Fell in Love Today slinks along on the swirling organ of Al Gamble, of another excellent Memphis band, retro soul groovemeisters the City Champs. They also evoke a vivid late 60s blue-eyed soul vibe with Somebody Ought to Write a Song About You. Keith goes back to a straight-up, rocking Bobby Fuller feel with the tongue-in-cheek Bad Luck Baby; the album winds up with a country song, The Last Last Call, which sounds like a big live favorite. Fans of roots rock from across the decades will have a blast with this. It’s out now on Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum.

Advertisements

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/5/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s is #755:

The Pretty Things – SF Sorrow

A cynic would call this a Sergeant Pepper ripoff, although it’s actually closer in spirit to the Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request, a dark, acid-drenched relic from 1967. By the time the band released this, they’d established themselves as a ferocious R&B band and then branched out into an Kinks-style kind of pop. This one is their most psychedelic album, a tortured, circuitous chronicle that ends up in bitter, solitary self-awareness – or the chronicle of an acid trip, complete with every psychedelic rock trope of the era. They follow the skittish SF Sorrow Is Born with the distant, delicate psychedelic pop of Bracelets of Fingers and then the one obvious Beatles ripoff here, She Says Good Morning. After that, it’s nothing but original, and it gets intense: the antiwar anthem Private Sorrow (complete with spoken-word litany of the dead); the anguished Balloon Burning; the effectively morbid Death; the ominous Baron Saturday (a real killjoy if there ever was one) croaked gleefully by lead guitarist Dick Taylor. Then the trippiest stuff kicks in: The Journey (yup), I See You, Well of Destiny and Trust, winding up on a haunted note with the manic depressive Old Man Going and the brooding acoustic vignette Loneliest Person. After this one, the band went deep into riff-driven proto-metal, broke up in the 70s, reunited with most of this crew triumphantly in the 90s, put out an excellent studio album and a live version of this with a David Gilmour cameo and have toured sporadically but ecstatically since. Some claim that they were the model for the band in This Is Spinal Tap. Here’s a random torrent.

January 5, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: The Sons of Hercules and the Pretty Things at the Village Underground, 8/24/01

[Editor’s note: while we’re on vacation, we’ll be raiding the archives for some memorable NYC shows from the past several years: here’s a really great night from a few years back.]

The night began at the C-Note on Avenue C with the beginning of what promised to be a great Americana night: jazzy chanteuse Lynn Ann’s wickedly smart blues band, Gate 18, folllowed by Matthew Grimm, frontman of the Hangdogs, playing solo on Telecaster and showing off some particularly fiery new material, including a typically funny, anti-consumerist anthem called Memo From the Corner Office (a.k.a The Shit That We Don’t Need) and an even more scathing one, Hey Hitler, which connects the dots between the Bush regime (Bush’s grandfather was the #1 American fundraiser for the Nazis in the years leading up to World War II) and their prototypes in the Reichstadt. Wild, jam-oriented bluegrass band Brooklyn Browngrass, f.k.a. Kill Devil Hills were next on the bill, but it was time to head over to the Village Underground for what turned out to be a killer garage band night. The most adrenalizing part of the evening was San Antonio garage-punks the Sons of Hercules. They sound like a Radio Birdman cover band except that they write their own songs. They were pretty phenomenal all the way through. The Telecaster player knew every Deniz Tek lick and played them perfectly: wild hammer-ons, ferocious tremolo-picking and equally fiery chromatic riffs. The bass player didn’t do Warwick Gilbert’s crescendoing runs up the scale, but the drummer could have been Ron Keeley and the Rickenbacker guitarist threw in some tastily minimal, macabre leads from song to song. Meanwhile, the frontman did the Iggy thing, “lookit me, I’m INSAAAANE!!!” Finally, at one in the morning, the Pretty Things took the stage, not the complete original 1964 crew, but close to it. Drums were left up to the group’s manager Mark St. John, who didn’t nail every change, but these guys are lucky they have someone so good who could take over on what was obviously short notice. Lead guitarist (and original Rolling Stones bassist) Dick Taylor held it all together, with his searing blues runs. They opened with a lot of chugging, amped-up early 60s style R&B rock, Roadrunner and such, then touched base with their 70s repertoire with the drugrunning anthem Havana Bound. The best part of the night, unsurprisingly, came during a series of songs from their classic 1967 psychedelic album SF Sorrow: the ominous folk-rock of SF Sorrow Is Born, the foreshadowing of the antiwar number Private Sorrow, a surprisingly understated version of the anguished Balloon Burning and then Taylor taking over with his froggy vocals on the over-the-top metaphors of Baron Saturday (“Dick Taylor IS Baron Saturday,” keyboardist John Povey told the crowd). Later they did an early 70s song that was the obvious inspiration for Aerosmith’s Draw the Line and a fast, bluesy version of the recent Going Downhill. The long encore began with a tentative Rosalyn, a tersely vivid version of the acoustic vignette The Loneliest Person in the World, then a brief, screaming version of their banned 1964 R&B-flavored hit LSD into the galloping, psychedelic Old Man Going, Taylor going to the top of his fretboard and screaming with an intensity that threatened to peel the paint off the walls.

August 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: The Smiles and Frowns

Wow- these Arizona guys really know their 1960s British style psychedelia. The Smiles and Frowns set gentle, understated vocals over vintage guitar and keyboard sounds – as with the early bands of that era, this new album is basically tripped-out pop songs clocking in at three minutes or less. American hippie bands were more jam-oriented; the Brits added a surreal, often theatrical lyrical feel. The songs here are period-perfect: many of them would be perfectly at home on albums by the Pretty Things, the early Move, the Kinks, the Kaleidoscope, the Idle Race…the list goes on and on, getting more obscure and trippier the further out you go. Like so many artifacts of the time, this could be construed as the soundtrack to a short but intense trip…or maybe a long one. Time distorts under the influence of that stuff, as this album reminds.

Things get surreal right off the bat with the first two numbers. Sam, its vocals perfectly enunciated and tongue-in-cheek in the style of the day, is about a bird (symbolism anybody?). He drinks cappucino and “ripped off everyone…everyone was so psyched that he was so sincere.” Cornelius, for his part, is a pied piper character – is that a mellotron in the background? The Memory Man, train approaching as the song begins, is LSD personified. This one introduces a slightly more ominous feel to its steady, harmonica-laced piano pop.

The next cut, Huevos Rancheros sounds like the Kinks enjoying a harry rag with the Beatles in the Abbey Road parking lot during the Sgt. Pepper sessions. The instrumental March of the Phantom Faces is woozy and darkly carnivalesque with autoharp, Vox organ and a crazyquilt of methodically layered reverb keyb textures. By the time the big Beatlesque mellotron ballad When the Time Should Come kicks in, so has the acid. It’s a deadpan, defiant ode to idleness even as the time flashes by. The high point of the album – no pun intended – is the long outsider anthem Mechanical Songs, opening with a swirling Jeff Lynne style keyboard intro. It winds up with The Echoes of Time echoing the Moody Blues, its wistful lyric set to a blithe jugband tune with bells and eventually that mellotron again. Alice – how did we get here and how do we get back? Where the hell are you?

February 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Obits – I Blame You

Blistering, tuneful, often ridiculously catchy dark psychedelic garage rock from Brooklyn. Obits never met a good riff they didn’t want to steal – and they really know their rock history – yet their sound is totally original. Some of the stuff here reminds of the pounding neo-garage vibe of the British band Clinic; other songs have an eerie gleam evocative of Mark Sultan. The reverb on the guitars is always turned up, the energy is pretty much through the roof, and the melodies are refreshingly counterintuitive – it’s not just the same old 1-4-5 riff over and over. Their album I Blame You came out in March on Sub Pop; they also have an ep and singles out (also available as mp3s).

The opening cut, with its long Lucifer Sam intro, is Widow of My Dreams, a gritty LES style noir garage song that sets the tone with an insistent, echoey feel and an outro that nicks a classic Keith Levene hook. With its scratchy guitar and slinky bass riff, Pine On offers shades of the MC5 complete with some nice pounding Dennis Thompson-esque drums and a Twilight zone riff. Fake Kinkade evokes mid 80s Sonic Youth stomping through an early Alice Cooper demo, but better.  One of the catchier numbers here, Two-Headed Coin works a 60s bass riff and more reverb guitar for a pretty noir feel.

Catchy downstroke guitar gives Run a sound like Interpol doing the retro thing. The title track is a little instrumental, kind of Booker T on acid, with reverb guitars and a neat funky shuffle beat. The next cut, Talking to the Dog is a stomping Velvets pop song gone completely unhinged. Track eight, Light Sweet Crude is tense and suspenseful with screechy jazz chords and a long build with a sweet payoff. The most Stoogoid track here is Lilies in the Street, with its real cool 4-chord turnaround on the chorus and a big long guitar buildup that fades down gracefully into feedback at the end. Frontman Rick Froberg  rails that he’s “tired of playing Pollyanna, tired of being a ghost” on the angry, minor-key SUD. The next cut, Milk Cow Blues is classic 60s psych in the 13th Floor Elevators vein with a sweet macabre edge. The cd ends with Back and Forth, a Pretty Things-style, early 60s R&B tune.

Their earlier stuff alternates between an early 90s LES feel like the Chrome Cranks, more jaggedly riff-oriented and strung out, and an inoffensively generic post-Sonic Youth indie sound. It’s very auspicious to see to see how much the band has grown since then. If this new album is any indication they should be killer live. Obits play South St. Seaport on one of the year’s best doublebills, opening for the recently reunited and reinvigorated Polvo on 7/31 at 7 PM.

July 26, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Love Camp 7 – Sometimes Always Never

Their great shining moment. There will assuredly be others, considering how good the unreleased material that they’ve been playing live has been, but this is Love Camp 7’s best album to date. It’s a triumph of soaring harmonies, catchy hooks and general fearlessness for these authentic 60s psychedelic throwbacks. Rich with catchy melodies, steeped in history, the album gets better with repeated listenings, in the spirit of great psychedelic, garage and art-rock bands from the Pretty Things, to Nektar, to the Kinks.

The album opens on an apt note, with some found footage from the studio.“I can’t really…can’t really hear myself at all. Am I even in the mix, man?” demands a mystified Dave Campbell (an Elvin Jones devotee and one of the two or three best rock drummers of this era). Then the band launches into the opening tune, Connecticut, a jangly, harmony-driven tribute to the 1999 NCAA champion Connecticut Huskies basketball team: “driving past the mighty Eldon Brand.” Connecticut was frontman/guitarist Dann Baker’s alma mater. “Did I ever think I’d look back fondly? No, not really,” he muses.

The next cut is about Baker’s cat Munoz: “The universe is magical!” he purrs. But then he gets lost in Chinatown, and there’s a forlorn wah-wah driven passage straight out of the Pretty Things’ SF Sorrow, into a short, squalling free jazz breakdown, back into the intoxicatingly catchy chorus. After that, there’s the brief Naming Names, punky with slide guitar, a rogues’ gallery of some of the friendly witnesses and those who sold out their colleagues before Joe McCarthy’s infamous House Un-American Activities Committee.

The following three cuts are a trilogy, a look back at corruption in the southern California irrigation system in the 1920s and 30s, and its disastrous results. The first part, Once Upon a Time Our Valley Was Green features an achingly beautiful hook coming out of the chorus. Love Camp 7 have so many hooks they use them judiciously: other bands would have started out the song with that descending progression and would have hit you with it with every chance they got, but these guys always leave you wanting more: until they clock you upside the head with another one just as good. The trilogy’s focal point, Telephone Girl, with its eerie circus motif mid-song, is a tribute to a brave telephone operator who took it upon herself to call people in the surrounding area after shoddily constructed dam broke and unleashed a landlocked tsunami of water. The cycle concludes with David Gaines, a tribute to a California conservationist and freedom fighter, cast as a retro English dancehall psychedelic number.

Many other good songs on the album. Little Mr. Elephant nicks the intro from Hell’s Bells by AC/DC brilliantly into a bouncy psych/pop number. The Queen of Whale Cay starts out as a bouncy, cheeky march a la something silly off of Village Green and then turns into a gorgeously sunny, jangly tour through one gorgeous permutation after another. The rest of the album chronicles people, most of them everyday Americans in their moment of glory, standing up for their rights. But first, the self-explanatory 39-second Nobody Knows As Much as Phil seems very much to be about legendary/exasperating knowitall jazz dj Phil Schaap. Harvey Weinberg is based on an imaginary character from a 60s camp film, a middleclass dad type trying to hang with the stoners and having a hard time cutting it: the faux-60s bluesy solo toward the end of the song is priceless. Barbara Lee salutes the California congresswoman who was the only person in Congress to vote against giving Bush war powers in the wake of 9/11: “Barbara Lee is having no trouble sleeping.” Jon Strange opens like Rain by the Beatles, a jangling 12-string guitar playing against a wall of distorted chords, with lyrics taken from the transcript of one Jon Strange asking some particularly pointed questions of Madeleine Albright at a town meeting-type event at Ohio State University. Strange’s simple, brutal honesty plays out against a beautifully triumphant, Beatlesque melody. The album closes with The Seeds, which sets some of the liner notes from legendary 60s garage/psych band the Seeds’ first album to a somewhat over-the-top musical treatment complete with long extended guitar jam. It’s hard to tell who’s playing what, Baker or the ubiquitous Steve Antonakos (who’s now apparently a full-fledged member of the band), but redoubtable bass player Bruce Hathaway holds the wheels to the rails.

Love Camp 7’s previous work has occasionally been taken to task for being overly nostalgic, or for having a Beach Boys fetish, and neither neurosis rears its ugly head here, at all. This cd makes a good present for someone who’s into quirky 60s revisionist bands like XTC or the Essex Green, and serves as a welcome antidote to the legions of freak-folk stoners who pretend to be 60s when they’re really just a change of clothes away from James Taylor. Great album. 5 bagels. With nova, Bermuda onion and ripe beefsteak tomato. Love Camp 7 choose their live dates judiciously: they typically play the Parkside on the occasional weekend. The album is available at select independent record stores, online and at shows.

May 11, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments