Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 5/1/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Saturday’s song is #89:

Rachelle Garniez – After the Afterparty

Elegantly vengeful kiss-off balad set to one of the multistylistic steampunk goddess’ catchiest, most gracefully anthemic piano melodies. From her classic 2007 cd Melusine Years, our pick for best album that year.

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May 1, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rachelle Garniez CD Release Show at Joe’s Pub, NYC 12/22/07

Rachelle Garniez’ dark vision never came to life so powerfully, and directly, as it did tonight. If you’ve been following this space for the last few months, you’ll notice that we’ve given her more space than we have just about anybody else. The reason is clear: the new album she was debuting tonight is fantastic, something you definitely should own, but her live shows are reliably riveting. Her previous cd release in this space was a deliriously lush, passionate affair with all kinds of orchestration and special guests. Tonight’s show was understated, driven by a very dark undercurrent: with the exception of one song, the encore, everything she played tonight was from the new album. She was accompanied on most of the songs by only guitarist Matt Munisteri and bassist Dave Hofstra (who doubled on tuba, and served as an effective reminder that if your low-end guy is good enough, you don’t need drums).

Munisteri absolutely owned the set’s first and last songs. His glimmering, jewel-like guitar arpeggios drove the opener, Mama’s Got a Brand New Baby and the charming 6/8 underdog anthem Tourmaline with an understated power. Red Red Nose, the final song on the set list, turned out not to be the love song that the album version appears to be, but a tribute to a street person who had once accosted Garniez one evening during her days busking at the corner of St. Marks and Second Avenue and presented her with a cross. Munisteri played acoustic twelve-string on that one, adding a lush, gorgeous bed of melody beneath it. He also played biting, incisive banjo on the apocalyptic, hypnotic blues Shoemaker’s Children.

Garniez likes to jam out the intros to her songs, inventing new lyrics to preface them. She didn’t do that much tonight, but she did jam out the outro to the brief time capsule Back in the Day:

That song was about the east side
And this one is about the west side
It used to be lots of fun everywhere
You could drive like a maniac and no one cared
You could knock down police barricades
At four in the morning with a giant Chevrolet
Back in the day
The glamorous and the homeless held hands together and danced all night
And everything was quite all right
Back in those days on the west side

Before everyone had a camera
You could get away with all kinds of stuff

And then she launched into After the Afterparty, which she played on piano. Tonight’s version had an unbridled anger, driven by a percussively chordal insistence missing from the version on the new cd. It’s a song about being let down and Garniez, who otherwise sang in the person of a whole grab bag of strangely compelling characters all night long, let her hair down for this one and the effect was subtle yet brutally intense. People Like You, which appears on the album as a blithely subtle swipe at the sons and daughters of suburban wealth who’ve turned much of New York into their personal VIP room, was delivered with a snarl. “I get down on my knees and thank you for letting me talk to you,” Garniez sneered. The crowd was a polyglot mix reminiscent of who you’d see in this neighborhood before any Dark Tower loomed over the Cube at Astor Place, and they loved it.

The only cameos tonight were brief but effective: clarinetist Doug Wieselman, blues harpist Wade Schuman (of Hazmat Modine fame) and trumpet/flugelhorn player Pam Fleming, the human crescendo, all added colors ranging from sweet pastel shades to spicy New Orleans red. Garniez encored with Swimming Pool Blue, ostensibly the first song she ever wrote: as she told it tonight, some old bandmates of hers asked her to write a Christmas song. What she came up with instead was a sultry, Marilyn Monroe-ish saloon blues number. “Until my dreams come true,” she sang at the end. “A thousand miles away,” she added off-mic, a comment that didn’t go unnoticed. And then, appropriately, the room went dark.

December 23, 2007 Posted by | jazz, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Rachelle Garniez – Melusine Years

Melusine translates from the French as water nymph or naiad (Rachelle Garniez is a Pisces, which may explain a few things). Nothing very watery about this album, though, unless you count the picture on the cd’s lyric booklet showing Garniez lounging on the Staten Island Ferry. To say that this is her best album to date may not seem like the staggering achievement that it is, until you realize that her last one, Luckyday remains one of the best albums of the decade. To surpass it was a Herculean feat, and Garniez has pulled it off, seemingly effortlessly. Simply put, there is no better singer, no better songwriter, no better keyboard player and – especially – no better live performer in all of rock than Rachelle Garniez. If you can call what she does rock.

Luckyday was a lush, ornately orchestrated blend of retro styles, and this one, while drawing from the same corners of vintage Americana, is somewhat more intimate. Garniez sings and dazzles on accordion, piano, bells and plays a little nylon-stringed guitar, accompanied by brilliant lead guitarist Matt Munisteri and low-frequencies expert Dave Hofstra, who plays upright bass and also tuba on one song. Garniez’ songs are timeless yet immutably rooted in the here-and-now. Most of what’s here has a blackly humorous, apocalyptic undercurrent: this is a loosely thematic concept album about fiddling while Rome burns.

It kicks off with After the Afterparty, an understatedly bitter midtempo piano ballad with an absolutely killer chorus gently illuminated by some expert Munisteri electric guitar fills. Garniez loves to vary her vocal delivery from a whisper to a roar – she sings in character, and she has a whole stable of them. But her voice here is plainspoken and sad, and it’s nothing short of riveting. This is a story of rejection. In the spirit of perhaps her best song (Quality Star, from Luckyday), it ends on a subtly vengeful note:

After the afterparty
You hailed me a taxi
And I buckled up for safety
Maybe I’ll live to be an old lady
With lots of big hats and jewelry

And an inscrutable air of mystery
And when questioned about my history
I’ll smile oh so sweetly
And whisper oh so discreetly
I can’t remember a thing

The following track, the bouncy, old-timey, accordion-driven Tourmaline brings the low-end gemstone to life in 6/8 time:

We all know you came in through the kitchen
Cause the floor sorta sticks to your feet
When you go better you use the back door
He’ll be waiting for you on the street
Oh he closes his eyes when he kicks you
For a cat cannot look at a queen
Realize when his memory tricks you
Oh he’s nothing but snow on your screen

After the amusingly brief Back in the Day (“When the saints came marching in/Nobody paid no mind so they marched right back out again”) and a sweetly soaring country song, Garniez reverts to her fondness for the underdog with Shoemaker’s Children, a Munisteri showcase. It has the feel of a Charley Patton classic, a haunting, rustic open-tuned blues for banjo and guitar, and it’s one of the more overtly ominous numbers on the cd:

‘Bout an hour before the flood
There’s nary a rat to be seen
And the people swarm the city to grab one last glimmer of green
Make way for the shoemaker’s children
Here they come marching down your street
Ten million strong they limp along on their twisted and broken feet

The next cut, Bed of Cherries is deliberately inscrutable: other than a possible reference to a cover album by the Church, this strange but beautifully played and sung catalog of unrelated objects seems to be more of a secret message than something written for the world. Then Garniez overdubs layers and layers of her own vocals to create an entire gospel choir on the rousing fragment Mama’s Got a Brand New Baby (which she uses as an intro for Tourmaline at live shows).

Lyrically, the album’s high point is the following track, People Like You. The sarcasm is brutal: over a blithe, finger-popping beat, Garniez does her best Rickie Lee Jones imitation. It’s arguably the most scathing, spot-on critique of the trendoids who have taken over New York that anyone’s written to date:

If you came here to make it big, well I wish you the best of luck
You can always head back out west if you ever get stuck
But if you came here to jerk my chain, I wish you the very worst
I don’t mean to be a pain but baby I got here first
And it’s people like you
Who don’t know pride from shame
And it’s people like you…
Who will never place a face before a name

Garniez toys with the “people like you” hook on the chorus, first accenting the “you,” then the “like.” The reason for the effect becomes clear at the end of the song when she starts going on about how everyone likes the newcomers: in fact, she ends up unable to resist them too. Yeah, and pigs can fly.

The cd continues with the macabrely amusing Pre-Post Apocalypse, something of a punk rock oompah song, followed by The Best Revenge, a sardonic yet stoically mournful account of living it up while temperatures rise, the poles melt and unspoiled children face a tough road ahead. As Garniez tells it, they rise to meet it, an unexpectedly hopeful end to an otherwise completely pessimistic song.

Like its predecessor, Melusine Years falls into a category that transcends any “best album of the year” designation [although it did make it to #1 on Lucid Culture’s Best Albums of 2007 list – Ed.] If the human race exists a hundred years from now, this album will be as revered a cautionary tale as George Orwell’s 1984. If not, it’s a fitting epitaph. In the case of the former, it ensures Garniez a permanent place in the pantheon of great American songwriters. Rachelle Garniez plays the cd release for Melusine Years at Joe’s Pub on December 22 at 9:30 PM.

December 18, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments