Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Song of the Day 6/17/10

Every day, for the next six weeks anyway, our best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s song is #42:

Elvis Costello – Withered & Died

This Richard Thompson song was originally sung by Linda Thompson on I Want to See the Bright Lights Tonight in 1974. Solo acoustic, Costello is even more haunting: his version is the “secret” bonus track on the 1990s Rhino reissue of the underrated 1985 Goodbye Cruel World album.

June 17, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/19/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #101:

Richard Thompson – Can’t Win

Arguably Thompson’s most ferocious song, among many, is this scathing, nine-minute anti-conformity, anti-fascist epic. “The nerve of some people!” The studio version on the 1987 Amnesia album is fine (see the link above), but it’s a live showstopper. Look for a bootleg, the longer the better because the guitar solo will be especially intense.

April 19, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Paula Carino – Open on Sunday

Spreading the word about good music is equal parts joy and responsibility. The joy is in the discovery, in this case that Paula Carino’s new cd Open on Sunday looks like a lock for best album of the year. The responsibility is in explaining why. Musically, this one expands on the catchy, Pretenders-inflected janglerock sound of her previous album Aquacade (look for that one on our 666 best albums of all time list coming in August), although it takes the volume and intensity up a notch courtesy of Ross Bonadonna’s fiery lead guitar work. Lyrically, it also takes the intensity up a notch – it’s a wry, bittersweet, brooding, Richard Thompson-esque masterpiece, Carino’s velvet voice occasionally leaping for a crescendo when she really wants to slam-dunk a felicitous phrase. Which is something new for her, a songwriter whose deadpan, stilletto wit would typically reside in the margins. On Aquacade, you had to listen closely for the best parts. Here, she’s more allusive than elusive, delivering them to you like the daughter in Mommy Dearest – the silver platter looks appetizing but you never know what’s underneath the lid.

The centerpiece of the album is Lucky in Love, a majestically crashing, angst-ridden 6/8 post-breakup ballad. Carino knows how to treat herself right, with “ice cream and beer at night,” yet the images of a woman trying to hold it together with steely resolve paint a completely different picture and it is impossible to turn away from. The gently swaying, rueful With the Bathwater adds illuminating detail: “It’s been raining since that day I threw your Nick Drake tapes away.” The Road to Hell perfectly captures the exasperation beforehand:

I said I’d live to aid and serve my crummy neighbors
And when I went unpaid for all my useless labors
I slacked on my promises
I know who Doubting Thomas is

And Saying Grace Before the Movie has Carino offering calm, wrenching understatement over a blithe rockabilly-inflected tune:

It never satisfies
The bad guy never dies
Just lives on in the sequel
And somehow I’m still surprised
His lines are stupid
And they always make me cry

Some novel variation of “Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye”

But not everything here is this bleak. The album’s defiant opening track gives a joyous shout-out to Maxwell’s, the legendary Hoboken club where Carino found teenage solace in punk rock. The time-warping Robots Helping Robots imagines a machine-made utopia – well, sort of: “Brain luminous, and numinous, and all this time they’ve been grooming us,” Carino winks, a theme echoed in the far more sinister The Others:

They’ll take you out on your own town
For a little lobster and some karaoke
Everybody’s covering James Brown
Did he just die or is it some viral-memey-hokey-pokey?

The upbeat, ridiculously catchy Great Depression spins the political as personal, fervently encouraging a sourpuss to lighten up. Bonadonna’s sarcastic carnival guitar lights up the cleverly labyrinthine Rough Guide, a trip to the outermost regions of a psyche that simply refuses to connect. And the darkly careening, bluesy, sarcastic Sir, You Have No Bucket might be the single most memorable tune on the cd. Put this in a mix with your favorite lyricists: Elvis Costello, Richard Thompson, Phil Ochs, Rachelle Garniez…now it’s Paula Carino’s turn. Paula Carino plays the Beefstock Festival on April 10.

April 8, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 2/24/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s song is #155:

Richard Thompson – Mascara Tears

Big vicious rock anthem from the iconic British guitar god’s 1992 Mirror Blue cd, one of his best:

Mascara tears, bitter and black
Spent bullet through a hole in my back
Salt for the memories, black for the years
Black as forever, mascara tears

February 24, 2010 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Linda Draper – Bridge and Tunnel

Quietly and methodically, New York songwriter Linda Draper has climbed into the ranks of the elite: to rank her with Aimee Mann, Richard Thompson or Neko Case would not be an overstatement. To put that statement in perspective, consider that this new cd is her sixth consecutive consistently excellent album, a rare achievement. Bridge and Tunnel harkens back to the strikingly direct, tersely catchy acoustic pop feel of her 2001 debut, Ricochet, without compromising her utterly unique, brilliantly literate, characteristically dark lyrical voice. Brad Albetta‘s production here is beautifully minimalist, with terse bass, live drums and occasional organ looming behind Draper’s alternately soaring and hushed vocals and dexterously fingerpicked guitar. Staring from the shadows, haunted but resolute and defiant, she sounds something akin to Nina Nastasia with a broader sonic palette.

The album title is a New York reference: the phrase”bridge and tunnel” is a slur meaning suburban and unsophisticated. The song itself, a bitter, bluesy, minor-key number is, like pretty much everything else here, spiked with sharp lyrical gems. Refusing to budge, the narrator holds her ground, knowing she’ll have to struggle to stay where she is, whether that place is literal or metaphorical:

There’s no tunnel without a light

Still my vision is failing me now

Little girl what you gonna do

When the day comes and there’s no one left to run to,

You could stand, you could stall

Play dead in the middle of it all…

There’s no way I’d rather feel tonight

Though tomorrow I will pay the price…

The cd’s catchy opening track alludes to madness and confinement:

Through the bars of my window I see many lives…

Black turns into blue as the day turns into night

How low will you go?

But it turns warmer with Sharks and Royalty, a quietly confident anthem for nonconformists everywhere:

Among the sharks and the royalty

There must be room for you and me

Oh my dear have no fear of what you can’t see

Oh my dear have no fear for me

I’ll tell you just what happened here

We all begin and end and tears

The moral of the story’s in your dreams

Sometimes things are the way they seem

Among the rotten ones we’ll run free…

With its swinging backbeat, Time Will Tell offers a vivid autopsy for a doomed relationship: the narrator misses the guy, but only when she’s “not quite at my best. You are the shipwreck, I am the sea, you’re sinking right through me,” she charges, matter-of-factly. After that, the cleverly titled Pushing up the Days offers a similarly jaundiced view of how relationships inevitably decay:

Instead of clutching I will fold

The daylight lives in the hearts of those

Who give without expecting a gift to be given in return

You can smell as long as you want to smell those roses

But keep in mind they’re from another time

When you’re pushing up the days, pushing up the daisies

Close Enough, with its insistent, percusssive fingerpicking is a throwback to the hypnotic feel of much of her most recent work: “If your love is not enough to bring home tonight, I suggest you take your pulse to make sure you’re still alive,” Draper taunts. Then it’s back to the defiant feel with the bouncy, Rhode piano-driven Broken Eggshell:

Every corner I meet there’s two more empty streets

I’ve been walking down

And every step that I take there’s an eggshell to break

It’s the perfect sound

The cd wraps up with a playful, tongue-in-cheek Stones cover and the country-inflected outsider anthem Last One Standing: “Some will lead, most will follow, then there are the lucky few who find better things to do.” So many levels of meaning, so many nuances in Draper’s voice and a wealth of beautifully minute detail in the music as well. You can bet this will be high on our best albums of 2009 list at the end of the year; watch this space for upcoming September live shows.

August 7, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 7/29/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #364:

Fairport Convention – Sloth

Richard Thompson once dismissed this as “an instrumental written by the bass player,” and whether it was Tyger Hutchings or Dave Pegg playing on it, the bassline is to die for. Yet ultimately it was Thompson who would always set this psychedelic antiwar epic ablaze. The 1969 studio version is excellent, but of the zillions of live versions out there, possibly the best is on the Live Convention reissue from 1974

July 28, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 4/29/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Wednesday’s song is #455:

Richard Thompson – I Still Dream

The greatest rock songwriter ever? The greatest rock guitarist ever? Many would say that the answer to both questions is no-brainer and it’s this guy. This wrenching Britfolk-style ballad is a showcase for all kinds of chops: lyrical, compositional and musical. From the Amnesia album, 1987. The link above is a stream of the studio version; here’s a slightly lo-fi but still sweet live take from four years later.

April 29, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Linda Draper and Randi Russo Live at Cake Shop, NYC 3/7/08

Backed by excellent drummer Anders Griffen, Linda Draper flat-out rocked. Wait a minute: this is the same Linda Draper who did Snow White Trash Girl and One Two Three Four and all those other albums with the wildly imaginative, seemingly stream-of-consciousness lyrics set to slow, hypnotic, trance-inducing guitar? Yup, that Linda Draper. Lately she’s reinvented herself as the catchy rock songwriter she seemed to want to be on her first album, with richly rewarding results. And what a terrific guitarist she’s become! The obvious comparison her most recent work draws is Nina Nastasia. Both songwriters share a terse, frequently slashing lyrical sensibility, a seemingly effortless fingerpicking style and a zero tolerance for bullshit. The material Draper played tonight, virtually all new songs destined to be recorded shortly on her sixth (!) album is more chordally driven than her earlier work, and melodically she’s made a quantum leap. She always had an ear for a tune but now she has the chops to play whatever she wants, which is pretty much anything: your average picker can’t just walk in and launch into a Linda Draper song without knowing it thoroughly. Though Draper’s vocals live off subtlety and nuance, the sound engineer had her voice perfectly up in the mix so that Griffen’s equally subtle, nuanced playing – the guy sounded like Jim White tonight – didn’t drown them out.

The next act’s frontman apparently did some time in a retro-80s disco band that had something of a following with the New Jersey/Long Island tourist crowd. He now seems to want to mine an early 90s retro-glamrock vein. But this was a band show only in the sense that he had a group behind him: it was all about him, jumping and preening and affecting an English accent even when he wasn’t singing. Too bad, because some of the songs had some nice, unexpected major-to-minor chord changes, and the band seemed inspired, when they could be heard. But that wasn’t often: despite the sound guy’s attempts to find a balance between the instruments, he kept turning up his guitar and drowning everybody out.

Randi Russo and band careened through a typically fiery, inspiring set. Russo is an amazingly inventive guitarist, fond of odd tunings, and being lefthanded she plays upside down a la Hendrix, resulting in a wash of delicious overtones from her Gibson SG. The band is a somewhat incongruously assembled lot, a hard-hitting drummer with roots in thrash metal, the great Lenny Molotov – something of an American Richard Thompson – alternating between virtuosic lead guitar and lapsteel work – and a bass player with roots in surf music, who’d probably turn everything into Misirlou or Pipeline if given half a chance. Their common bond is inspiration, which isn’t hard to fathom once you hear the material.

Russo’s stock in trade is outsider anthems; she’s the antithesis of your typical conformist indie rock bandleader. Alternately snide, sarcastic and anguished, the characters who populate her songs exhaust themselves at lousy dayjobs, rail against lazy, overpaid bosses who do none of the work and get all of the profits, and infidel lovers who renege on their promises. But a close listen reveals plenty of subtle humor beneath the rage and fury. The high point of the night was an untitled suite with the recurrent chorus “keep your head high while you lie low.” Right before the long, Middle Eastern-inflected outro, Russo brought the song down to just the guitars, slamming out an ominous series of chords while Molotov provided eerie sheets of feedback. They also did another new one, Invisible, a catchy backbeat-driven hit. The rhythm section were joking about how the intro is pretty much identical to the way the Joy Division classic Atrocity Exhibition begins, so the drummer launched into the groove and hung with it, joined quickly by the bassist, and finally the rest of the band. Considering how dark most of their music is, this band sure has a lot of fun. All indications were that the rest of the night was garage rock, which looked promising, but we had places to go and drunk people to look after.

March 10, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Lenny Molotov Live at Rockwood Music Hall, NYC 2/16/08

Lenny Molotov is the greatest guitar-god songwriter you’ve never heard of. Actually, you probably have: he plays lead guitar in Randi Russo’s band. But his own work is just as good. Richard Thompson is the obvious comparison: technically, Molotov is equally breathtaking, although long extended solo flights are not his thing. Perhaps even more than Thompson, Molotov seems to want to make every single note count for something, to make the music work perfectly in the context of the song. While Thompson’s fallback place is traditional British folk, Molotov draws most deeply from the murky well of oldtime delta blues, although he’s fluent in country and rock and, to at least some extent, jazz.

Tonight he reaffirmed why club owners like blues acts so much: for some reason, everybody drinks as long as the band is playing, if they’re not drinking already. Although Molotov and band didn’t hit the stage here til after one on the morning, they kept the crowd of Jersey tourists in the house throughout their long, almost two-hour set. Playing a mix of about 50/50 covers and originals, they impressed with the quality of their musicianship and Molotov’s clever, witty, lyrically-driven songs.

They opened with an eerie, minor-key blues chronicling the last few hours of a kid from the projects in Brooklyn who goes out to buy some weed, ends up being entrapped by an undercover cop, panics and shoots the cop and ends up killing himself in the wee hours after running out of options. One by one, Molotov enumerated the obstacles that tripped up the poor guy: “It’s too hard to be an outlaw anymore,” he lamented. Another equally chilling Molotov original, Faded Label Blues traced the decline of blues/jazz legend Hoagy Carmichael’s career. Molotov has a remarkable political awareness which made itself apparent in these two songs as well as a bouncy, uncharacteristically sunny, major-key tune titled the Devil’s Empire (as in “I saw the devil’s empire coming down”).

Their covers were just as good. Molotov’s version of St. James Infirmary Blues ostensibly stays true to the original, fast and driving. Backing Molotov were an upright bassist as well as violinist Karl Meyer and harmonica wizard Jake Engel. Meyer’s soaring, fluid country fiddle made an interesting contrast with Engel’s heavy artillery: the guy was channeling Big Walter Horton half the night, blowing eerie chromatics like he wanted to shatter the big plate glass window that serves as the front wall here. They finally wrapped it up at about 3 AM, the club owner still sitting on his perch at the sound board above the stage, carefully tweaking the sound throughout the show to make sure everything was crystal-clear. It’s hard to think of anybody else who cares so passionately about the sound in the room or who is as good at it as this guy is. We’re going to pay close attention to the Rockwood schedule from now on: if someone you like is playing here, don’t pass up the opportunity.

February 18, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Little Pink – Gladly Would We Anchor

Washington, DC band Little Pink’s third and best album effectively blends both British and American folk-rock traditions while managing to sound completely original. Richard & Linda Thompson is the influence that jumps out at you, blended with the resigned yet raging sensibility of Rosanne Cash’s recent work. Frontwoman Mary Battiata sings in a troubled, world-weary, haunting voice, appropriate for someone who covered the war in Bosnia as a journalist in the 1990s. Her lyrics remind of Sandy Denny, replete with images from nature and pastoral scenes, often painting a starkly evocative picture. Her melodies are terse, catchy and lend themselves to all sorts of commercial purposes: Lifetime TV dramas, NPR themes and – gasp – commercial radio. If this album had been released in 1976, Fleetwood Mac would have found themselves on a dead run to catch up. That’s a compliment. It is mind-boggling that this band is not huge right now.

With fifteen tracks, this is a long and richly rewarding album. “We took half our lives to find ourselves here,” Battiata relates casually in the opening track, the simple, ridiculously catchy country/folk song Like a Wheel. Charm Offensive, a bouncy blues, is spiced with baritone sax; Battiata does a nice, recurrent vocal jump on the chorus. With Battiata’s gently lilting chorus, Trance is Fleetwood Mac gone to Nashville. Ten Feet High, with its slowly stomping beat and layers of screaming guitar from lead player Philip Stevenson, is an obvious homage to the Richard & Linda Thompson classic Shoot Out the Lights. There’s more backbeat-driven folk-rock on China Sea, sounding like one of the good cuts on Sunnyvista. Stars Burn Out is a big crunchy guitar-driven rocker that could be a solid track from Mary Lee’s Corvette’s last album. Wind and Water is a quietly haunting, very Sandy Denny-ish traditionally styled number, seemingly about refugees adrift on the ocean.

The Britfolk continues with the fast, minor-key English reel Orange Moon and then the wickedly catchy John the Cat, with an absolutely killer chorus and more impressive vocal leaps and bounds from Battiata. Beggar’s Bowl is a slowly swinging political parable that crescendos gently into Battiata’s excellent acoustic guitar solo. The Brokenhearted is an accusation, building with amazing subtlety, the drums creeping up to the chorus marvelously as the song’s central hook kicks in: “You’re not brokenhearted.” The album ends on a riveting note with Battiata’s best song, the offhandedly creepy Magic Years, which sounds like a sentimental look back at an idyllic childhood, until you listen closely:

We carved our names
Up all the trees
We counted stars
Til we believed
On the edge of our beds, holding hands
Holding our breath

Absolutely brilliant. If Americana, British folk or just plain good, lyrically-driven songwriting is your thing, get this album.

January 31, 2008 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments