Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Fast Sails – The Wayside

An auspicious debut by these smart, irrepressible, uneasy Angelenos. Frontwoman Simone Snaith (actor Shane West’s younger sister) has a soaring, disarmingly direct voice that imbues the songs with an irresistibly unselfconscious, quirky charm, like Kate Bush at her most accessible. The Fast Sails’ songs look back fondly on artsy, ornately glossy retro 80s pop while adding a grittier modern rock edge. Imagine St. Vincent but without the affectations, a happier Bat for Lashes (an oxymoron, but try it anyway), or Amy Allison if she’d gotten stuck in an 80s time warp and picked up a DX7 instead of a guitar. Back in the day they used to call a lot of what’s on this album “good top 40.”

Time, the swooshy, thoughtful opening track works a catchy four-chord hook and one of those “oh, oh” Gwen Stefani melismas. The Line is a pensively sweeping art-pop ballad, chorus shooting a poison arrow through the heart of a faithless lover. The strongest track here is Wayside, stark and resolute with mandolin way up in the mix, adding an Americana edge to a melody that’s otherwise pure London, 1983. It’s a snarling look at dealing with greedy club owners:

So we need fifty in a crowd or
We don’t get paid, we aren’t allowed oh
I’ll play the sidewalk for free for as long as I can
I promise to get up and sing

It makes a good left coast counterpart to Tom Warnick’s classic anthem 40 People. The final track here is The City, adding surprising edge and bite to a coy Missing Persons-style new wave pop song: Snaith is quick on the trigger with anyone who would necessarily pigeonhole her adopted hometown as shallow and superficial. A lot of good rock has come out of LA over the years: count the Fast Sails at the forefront of this era’s crop.

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June 9, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Jeremy Messersmith – The Reluctant Graveyard

Jeremy Messersmith’s third album of smart indie pop continues in the same vein he mined on his first two. This one plays down the death fixation in favor of an upbeat, wistfully tuneful 60s psychedelic pop feel. But unlike the rest of the slavish Beach Boys and Ellliot Smith imitators, Messersmith has established a voice of his own: there’s a depth and a thoughtfulness to his lyrics and a subtly clever wit throughout the tunes and the arrangements, an indication of how successfully he’s immersed himself in intelligent oldschool pop sounds.

The first song here is something of a cross between late 60s English dancehall-style Kinks and Elliott Smith, with some absolutely gorgeous piano/guitar textures on the chorus. The second track, Dillinger Eyes is Badfinger-esque powerpop, followed by the album’s best song, Organ Donor. With a dark, reggae-inflected Watching the Detectives vibe enhanced by brooding strings, it’s a vividly metaphorical look at how we fall apart: “Took my brain to the seminary, never seen again…left my spine at the wedding chapel…” John the Determinist works off a bracing, tense string arrangement that underscores the narrator’s obliviously stubborn OCD vibe. Knots blends an old PiL guitar riff with a string section straight out of the Moody Blues circa 1967, a feel that returns with the mellotron-driven sympathy-for-the-devil ballad Repo Man, all sad and alone since nobody cares that he’s dead and gone. The funniest track here is the lushly jangly Rickenbacker guitar anthem Deathbed Salesman, its protagonist trying to upscale a potential casket buyer:

You’ve got a reservation
But you don’t have to wait if you don’t want to
You won’t feel a thing
All your friends are there already
This is how it has to end…

Fans of the original stuff as well as 60s revivalists like the Essex Green and Love Camp 7 will love this. Jeremy Messersmith plays Joe’s Pub on May 28 at 7 PM. Memo to Messersmith’s publicist; email this anonymously to pitchfork and tell them it’s the long lost Beach Boys album. They won’t be able to tell the difference.

May 13, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Smoldering Ashes – Songs in the Key of Mountain Birds Blue

Ridiculously catchy, often haunting, sometimes dreamy and psychedelic, Smoldering Ashes’ new album blends a vintage 80s new wave feel with a little goth and an occasional off-center folk feel for considerably more diversity beyond the wary, watery sound the quartet of Veronica Ashe, Jeff Brenneman, Dirk Doucette and Tory Troutman mined on their previous album Nervous Constellations.

The album starts out auspiciously with a casually torchy noir cabaret tune done southwestern gothic style, followed by a catchy midtempo new wave hit like Blondie at their most off-kilter and interesting. The third track could be a standout cut on Siouxsie’s Kaleidoscope album, building from pounding, ominous minimalism to a stomping crescendo with growly bass chords and aggressive wah guitar solo. Nick Charles Crossing the Alps (an inside joke, maybe?) is similarly dark and chromatic, like a stripped-down second part with eerie twelve-string guitar.

Track five, Eye of the Phobia has Ashe sounding like a more pitchwise Debbie Harry singing a mid-80s janglerock hit by the Church, maybe something off the Seance album. Give Yourself a Push blends Siouxie-esque menace with gorgeously catchy art-pop, taking the volume up a notch at the end even as it drops down to just vocals and roaring distorted guitar. 9,000 Year Old Man sets a distant otherworldly choir against simple psychedelic folk, T Rex as done by Steve Kilbey; Shake an Etch-a-Sketch nicks the Joy Division classic No Love Lost, right down to the skittish drums and the way the bass swoops up at the end of a phrase. The funniest cut on the album is a cover of the old Harold Arlen vaudeville song Lydia the Tattooed Lady, ironically a thousand times more apropos now than when it was written. Ashe affects a deadpan British accent as the band whoops and hollers behind her –  Lydia, as it turns out, has festooned herself with the Battle of Waterloo,Washington Crossing the Delaware…and Alcatraz! The album winds up with a brief, off-kilter new wave fragment, the psychedelically shapeshifting Le Locataire Diabolique (a collaboration with keyboardist Hyesoo Joen) and a trippy, atmospheric number. We’re considerably late in picking up on this one – it may have come out last year (on Trakwerx) but you just might see this on our best albums of the year list this December. Who’s counting, anyway?

April 17, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Brother Joscephus and the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra at Highline Ballroom, NYC 4/4/10

It was Karen’s birthday – after the band had serenaded her with a brief New Orleans groove, she got the memo and headed straight for the dancefloor. In less than a minute her entire party had joined her. Whoever she is, Karen may be thirty now but she’s still got the energy of a kid. Brother Joscephus and the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra could have kept everybody dancing for the entirety of their pretty lavish two-hour show had they not mixed in a handful of ballads. And what a show it was, an ecstatic eleven-piece New Orleans style gospel-soul band complete with horn section, rhythm section, two keyboards, guitar, two twirling backup singers, and Brother Joscephus (rhymes with Bocephus) out front with his gritty voice and acoustic guitar. Pianist The Right Reverend Dean Dawg led most of the band on a long, serpentine procession through the audience as the rhythm section grooved onstage, and after vamping around, getting the crowd going, they brought up Brother Joscephus just as James Brown’s band would have done circa 1964. Their sound, matched by their look (everybody in white, guys in hats, girls with matching parasols) is completely retro, right down to the scripted stage patter (replete with missed cues, which the band found as amusing as the crowd did). Two of the most memorable originals were straight-up tributes to the town where they get their inspiration: a joyously upbeat number where the band had invited all the little kids in the crowd up onstage to join them, soprano sax taking a delicious Dixieland-inspired solo; and the equally rousing Bon Temps Roulez, from their latest album (very favorably reviewed here).

Ironically, the best song of the afternoon, a spooky version of the absolutely noir, gravelly minor-key Midnight Move (also from the new album) didn’t resonate particularly well with the crowd. The covers were just as inspired as the originals: a blazing barrelhouse piano version of Jambalaya with a balmy tenor sax solo; a crescendoing When the Saints Go Marching In right before the band intros at the end, and an actually hilarious, completely over-the-top, perfectly modulating cover of Somebody to Love by Queen sung with carefree abandon by Seoul Sister #1 (she’s from Korea). Rev. Dean Dawg spun between his keyboard (and accordion, and glockenspiel) with pinpoint precision, signaling the changes as the women swayed and traded banter with the frontman while he worked the crowd (and laughed about it off-mic). But the choreography came off as Crescent City rather than Branson (except for that wretched Eagles excerpt during the band intros – guys, that’ll clear a New York room in seconds). For any band to play as inspired a set as this crew did is pretty impressive, all the more so when you realize that they took the stage just a few minutes after one in the afternoon – at what ungodly hour they soundchecked, we’ll never know.

Memo to the guitarist: dude, you’re too good to be going all modal and Wes Montgomery in the middle of a simple three-chord song like Jambalaya.

April 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Great New Soul Single Out on Vinyl from the One & Nines

Jersey City oldschool R&B revivalists the One & Nines have released the first single off their debut cd (very favorably reviewed here earlier this year) – but the single is on 45 RPM vinyl. Of course you can download it from the usual places, but the sonics are sweet and one of the reasons – beyond the fact that both of the songs are bonafide A-sides – is that the album was recorded on analog tape, therefore, a pure, gorgeous analog sound.

Walked Alone is the upbeat number. A good 1960s comparison would be Bettye Swan, or Tammi Terrell backed by a Memphis band – it’s a catchy, fast shuffle anchored by fat baritone sax. An educated guess is that the fetching ballad Something on Your Mind is probably the B-side, with a tasty horn chart, organ and frontwoman Vera Sousa’s achingly beautiful vocal. Both songs were penned by the band’s guitarist Jeff Marino, a player who’s obviously immersed himself in oldschool soul of the Stax/Volt variety. Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings are the obvious comparison, but the One & Nines go for a smoother, more romantic, less funky vibe. A recent show at Spike Hill in Williamsburg unsurprisingly revealed the band to be a killer live act: when she sings, Sousa closes her eyes and goes off to an alternate universe called Soul Land, a place where she isn’t about to take any grief from anyone, guitar and keys pulsing behind her, organ and horns rising out of the mix to drive the songs home. Watch this space for upcoming NYC shows.

March 24, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 3/1/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #150:

McGinty & White – Rewrite

When he’s at the top of his game – and he usually is – there’s no better songwriter than Ward White. This is one of his more lyrically pyrotechnic efforts – breaking the fourth wall, loading on as many savage double entendres and puns as he can summon – from his excellent 2009 retro-60s psychedelic pop collaboration with keyboard genius Joe McGinty. The whole album is streaming at the link above.

March 1, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Robin Aigner – Bandito

“I can sing a song about any damn thing,” boasts Robin Aigner on her new cd Bandito. The song also asserts that she cooks a good dinner. If she’s as good in the kitchen as she is on the mic, she ought to open a restaurant – it would be a four-star affair. This album, Aigner’s second solo effort, is well titled. Aigner is mysterious: she has a thing about mistresses and even more of a thing for innuendo. Like the artist she’s most likely to be compared to, Laura Cantrell, Aigner is known best for her voice: highly sought after as a singer on the oldtimey/Americana circuit, she toured with the Crooked Jades and seems at this point to be a charter member of Pinataland. Her knockout punch is nuance – she can wrench an album’s worth of intensity out of a split-second’s hesitation or a typically understated, seductive melisma to wrap up a phrase. Yet it’s her songwriting that takes centerstage on this album, her second, a feast of historically-imbued, out-of-the-box steampunk imagination. Aigner switches between acoustic guitar and banjo, judiciously accompanied by Flanks bassist Tom Mayer, Chicha Libre’s Josh Camp on spinet, Charles Burst on Rhodes and Dean Sharenow of Kill Henry Sugar on percussion.

The cd opens with the jaunty Pearl Polly Adler, a tribute to FDR’s [possible, unconfirmed, hee hee] mistress who “knows where he parks his car,” and makes sure to cover herself in case trouble ever comes her way. Delores from Florence tells the surreal tale of a globetrotting flapper who had to come up with an innovative solution to the problem of having “too many lovers.”And Annie and Irving imagines an anxious romance between Annie Moore (first immigrant to make it through customs on Ellis Island) and Irving Berlin, creeping around the shadows out in the Catskills.

The rest of the cd alternates hilarity with pensive intensity. A poignantly perplexed lament, See You Around features Aigner at her most haunting, over a sad tango melody. Mediocre Busker is one of those songs that needed to be written, and it’s a good thing Aigner was the one to do it: this guy turns out to be bad at everything else too. Aigner uses the equally tongue-in-cheek Found to do justice to both the crazy packrats and the lucky rest of us who have a thing for stuff others have left behind. Wrong Turn memorializes a couple of clueless northerners getting lost in the Bible Belt, while Get Me Home – a duet – amps up the seductive vibe with characteristic allusive charm. The album ends with Great Molasses Disaster, a vividly somber requiem for the day in January, 1919 when a giant industrial tank of molasses in Boston’s North End burst and unleashed a literal tsunami on the neighborhood, demolishing buildings, pitching a locomotive into Boston Harbor, leaving hundreds injured and 21 dead. Steampunks and Americana fans alike will be salivating over this (the album, not the molasses) for a long time. Aigner’s next gig is on Feb 26 at 7 PM at the cafe at the 92YTribeca with Brady Jenkins on piano.

February 23, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, 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: The City Champs – The Safecracker

Dance music doesn’t get any better than this. Sounding like they just got off the train from Memphis, 1968, the City Champs lay down an irresistible hip-twisting groove in the same vein as classic soul instrumentalists like Booker T & the MGs, the Meters, the late Willie Mitchell and the Bar-Kays. The production values are strictly oldschool – this may be a cd but it sounds like a vinyl record, warm and glowing with Hammond organ and tersely tuneful soul guitar, propelled with muscle and swing by veteran Memphis soul/blues drummer George Sluppick. Yet as retro as the production is, this isn’t just a homage – guitarist/bandleader Joe Restivo adds an understatedly jazzy virtuosity while the southern flavor flows from organist Al Gamble’s Leslie speaker. Sometimes the guitar will build to a crescendo or wrap up a solo and then hand off to the organ, sometimes vice versa, and sometimes – this is the best part – everybody grooves together.

The title track is an edgy, gritty crime movie theme that wouldn’t be out of place in the Herbie Hancock songbook, circa 1970. Takin’ State is a strutting staccato dance shuffle, Restivo slipping and sliding with a carefree, sly Steve Cropper feel. The low-key, George Benson-inflected jam Love Is a Losing Game has the guitar handing the reins over to the organ to bring the lights down and steam up the windows – maybe love’s not such a losing game after all.

Poppin’ bounces along on a catchy New Orleans blues guitar riff that boils over and then simmers as Sluppick gets the cymbals cooking, then the organ picks it up and blazes. The funkiest track on the album is The Whap-a-Dang, organ swirling in, Booker T style, after Restivo’s pimpmobile solo. Pretty Girl sounds like George Benson covering a sultry midtempo, Hugh Masekela hit; the cd closes with Coming Home Baby, a head-bobbing Stax/Volt blues groove which is a dead ringer for a Booker T hit from around 1964 except with more expansive guitar. Soul music lovers and jazz guitar fans alike will love this. The City Champs are at Highline Ballroom on Feb 26 with the North Mississippi All-Stars, wear comfortable shoes. They’re also in the new documentary I Am a Man, which you can stream here.

January 26, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 1/5/10

Every day, our Top 666 Songs of Alltime countdown gets one step closer #1. Tuesday’s song is #205:

Kelli Rae Powell – Don’t Look Back Zachary

The road trip that for a minute looked like an escape from hell turns quickly to hell. But she can’t go back. The oldtimey siren’s minutely jewelled, gracefully haunted memoir with ukelele. From her 2009 album New Words for Old Lullabies.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment