Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Lenny Molotov – Luminous Blues

The virtuoso guitarist steps up to the plate four times and hits three home runs on this tantalizingly brief ep. That’s a .750 batting average. Lenny Molotov, who fronts the impressively authentic delta blues outfit Elgin Movement and also plays lead in Randi Russo’s band, also happens to be a spectacularly good songwriter and lyricist as well as one of the best guitarists anywhere. An apt comparison would be Richard Thompson. Each draws deeply from traditional sources: in Thompson’s case, British folk; Molotov continues in the tradition of great bluesmen from Charley Patton to Robert Johnson, while adding contemporary lyrics. Like Thompson, Molotov is also a brilliant wordsmith, a master of symbolism, allusion and imagery: he doesn’t tell a story as much as show you a movie and let you figure out for yourself what’s going on.

The album opens with the innuendo-laden Ceiling Fan, a concert favorite that sounds something like a great lost track from Blonde on Blonde, except with much better guitar:

I could be Henry Miller and you could be Anais Nin
But you gotta let me know whether you want me out or in
I’m leaving now but you can gimme a call
When you’re ready to begin
Then we can both lay back and watch your ceiling fan spin

There’s a guitar break between the chorus and verse that sounds pretty much the same but a close listen reveals that it’s not: Molotov slowly changes it every go-round and by the time the song it’s over it’s become a macabre snake dance. It works perfectly, considering that this song is about cheating. After a routine popup, Molotov strides to batter’s box and hits another one into the upper deck with Love Train (not the O’Jays/Yayhoos hit). It riffs on pretty much every Manhattan subway line, a sardonic, open-tuned, fingerpicked blues about a relationship gone all the way out to Stillwell Avenue:

I cannot take the D train
Cause D it stands for dog
Cause that’s the animal I feel most like
When you were playing god
OOOh, stop this train…

It’s a classic New York song. The album concludes with the anthemic, crescendoing, vengeful Bottle Up and Go, which Molotov frequently uses to close his solo shows. Fans of current songwriters rooted in blues and Americana including Tom Waits, LJ Murphy and Rachelle Garniez – and the aforementioned Mr. Thompson – will love this stuff.

This is a hard album to find other than at shows. Four bagels, with whatever a bluesman would put on them. Which probably means hard salami and mustard – they both keep well. Molotov typically plays his own stuff on weekend nights at Sidewalk.

June 5, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Paula Carino and Liza & the WonderWheels at Parkside Lounge, NYC 5/30/07

Paula Carino may lack for national exposure but she’s found a devoted fan base among her peers. It would be gossipy to enumerate them, but tonight the audience was packed with A-list New York musicians. Lately she’s been playing scaled-down duo and trio shows, but this time she had a full band, a stellar supporting cast from the Freddy’s Bar scene. With Ross Bonnadonna on lead guitar, the ubiquitously excellent Andy Mattina on bass and Tom Pope on drums, she turned in a triumphant 50-minute set that set the place on fire. Her songs clang more than they jangle, driven by riffs and hooks rather than broken chords. Carino sings in a nonchalantly alluring alto that only occasionally reaches the upper registers, but when it does, the anguished longing in her delivery is bone-chilling. As a songwriter, she is unsurpassed. Like Richard Thompson or Elvis Costello, Carino’s songs are sardonic but intensely emotional, rich with symbolism, double endendres and laugh-out-loud clever puns. Tonight she played a lot of new and unreleased material along with a few choice cuts from her classic Aquacade album. Among the more recent numbers were a sinister Twilight Zone style account of a seemingly benign alien invasion, “trying to help the humans out so the others can take over,” then another set to a catchy backbeat, laden with quiet exasperation (a recurrent theme).

Set to a fast rockabilly beat, the next song was one of the show’s best. Carino set her narrator in a theatre watching a movie, loaded imagery flying past:

The bad guy never dies, he lives on in the sequel…
I’m always sitting in the dark
With my hands over my heart
I’m saying grace before the movie starts

A bit later the band launched into the exhilarating, riff-driven Paleoclimatology, another exasperated entreaty to let go of the past:

Just let it go, that ancient snow, that wrecked Tyrannosaurus
I need a hammer
To break this amber
And let the fly fly away

The crowd screamed for an encore: Carino and the band treated them to her finest new one, Lucky in Love. It’s a slow, slightly torchy, somewhat Nina Simone-inflected blues, Carino at her cynical yet darkly hopeful best:

I am so lucky in love
Even when I am alone…
I don’t need your comfort or care
I am so lucky in love
Even when life is unfair

“Don’t tell me life is unfair,” she wailed quietly at the end. The audience was riveted.

Liza & the WonderWheels followed with a rambunctious set featuring some of their fearlessly political numbers. Someone in the audience requested the scathing We Are the Media, a quietly pointed number from their second album, so they played it. They also did a stomping, cynical rocker with a cheerleader-style refrain, “Let’s go, oil barons, let’s go!” As usual, fronwoman/guitarist Liza Garelik’s voice soared effortlessly over the jangle and rasp of the band: getting her out from behind the keyboard in the Larch, who she always plays with, was a great idea. Garelik and her cohorts onstage tonight built their songs rhythmically, using hooks and riffs instead of chordal melodies. They’re fortunate to have Larch frontman Ian Roure playing lead guitar. In his own band, Roure is a very terse songwriter and soloist, if he even solos at all. This unit frees him up to utilize his dazzling chops, launch into some supersonic runs up the scale, or, as he did tonight, use his wah-wah pedal to evince some winks and grins out of the tunes.

The highlight of the WonderWheels’ show, a 10-minute, ecstatically psychedelic version of Eddie Come Down, from their second album saw Mattina (who was doing double duty tonight) taking a brisk walk down the nuthouse corridor. Roure chased him, firing off stun-gun blasts from his guitar using both his distortion and wah-wah pedals. Toward the end of the solo Mattina leaned over at drummer Joe Filosa, and Filosa playfully responded by taking a whack at him with his drumstick. It reminded of the way David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez trade signs and high-fives when the Red Sox are winning big. The audience begged for a longer jam but didn’t get it. “It’s Saturday night on a Wednesday!” beamed Garelik, and for a couple of hours tonight, it didn’t matter that everybody had to work in the morning.

June 4, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

CD Review: Matt Keating – Summer Tonight

Nashville gothic from one of the world’s foremost under-the-radar rockers. Typical NYC story: big in Europe, gets rave reviews (usually something akin to “if Elvis Costello still rocked, he’d be Matt Keating“) but in the US he’s still a cult artist with a small if devoted fan base. This album should change that. Well-conceived, well-executed and particularly well-timed, this could be the stealth weapon that puts him all over NPR and gets some big Hollywood movie placements. It’s a hard turn right into Americana, done with good taste and a genuine appreciation for Carter Family meets the Velvet Underground but there’s way more A.P. and Mother Maybelle in here than there is Lou and crew. Crisp fingerstyle acoustic guitar, banjo, upright bass, pedal steel and harmonica serve as the instrumentation. Aptly titled, it’s an album of nocturnes, the perfect backdrop to a murder conspiracy worked out at dusk in midsummer over half-warm bloody marys on a picnic table just off the highway somewhere on the way to Milledgeville.

Curiously, while menace has been Keating’s stock in trade throughout his career, there’s less of it here than on his other albums. The album’s opening track, Who Knew, and then its title track, both feature Keating’s wife, the terrifically talented Emily Spray (who wrote Union Square for Laura Cantrell). Her honeyed, rockabilly-inflected vocals add warmth and depth to the surprisingly upbeat feel of these songs. Trouble returns in a hurry, though, with Waiting for Memories, an achingly bitter midtempo hit that longs for amnesia – or anything that will bring it on – to erase the pain of the past. The album’s high point, No Further South is arguably the best 9/11 eulogy written by any songwriter up to this point. Over a haunting, minor key acoustic guitar melody, Keating perfectly evokes the dread and the surreal feel of the days after the towers were detonated: “Wrote your name in the ashes on that uptown bus/In my nose and my lashes, God have mercy on us.”

Though replete with fire-and-brimstone Biblical imagery, the rest of the album is surprisingly upbeat and hopeful: Keating seems to have made an uneasy truce with the demons which rear their heads throughout his back catalog. The gorgeously rustic Down There, the straight-ahead country ballad Wish I Was Gold (which sounds like a Dolly Parton classic from 1970) and the resigned, contemplative Lord Jesus could all be Sirius radio hits in on their Americana, country and AAA channels (and would all have been big AM hits if this was 1976  – and that’s a compliment). There’s also a bonus cut featuring a duet with Patty Griffin which is the best thing she’s done in years. Highly recommended for fans of Americana-inflected songwriters like Ron Sexsmith and Rhett Miller as wellas fans of potent lyricists like Graham Parker, Richard Thompson and the aforementioned Mr. Costello. And the Carter Family and maybe even the Velvets. Albums are available in stores, at shows and online. For those who might fear that Keating might have gone soft with this one, fear not: his next album will be a rock record and if the tracks he’s played live are any indication, it’ll be as dark as anything else he’s done.

April 29, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment