Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 3/13/11

Did you remember to set your clock ahead an hour?

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #688:

Albert Collins, Robert Cray and Johnny Copeland – Showdown

A blues guitar summit from 1985. Collins was one of the most intense, exhilarating musicians ever, icy fire blasting from his custom-made amp for the “cool” sound that made him famous. Although better known as a singer than guitarist, Copeland gave 100% here and Cray proves that he belongs onstage with any other great blues player. The songs are cool too: as you might expect from a Collins album, it’s a Texas vibe with only a couple of standards and those get reinvented: an edgy, low-down Bring Your Fine Self Home and Black Cat Bone, modeled on Hop Wilson’s lapsteel version. From the first track, T-Bone Shuffle, they’re wailing; Cray picks his spots and fires off one smartly chosen volley after another on She’s Into Something and the airy, psychedelic The Dream. As you’d expect, the Texas shuffles are also in full effect: Lion’s Den and the instrumental Albert’s Alley are as adrenalizing as you’d expect. And on the long volcanic outro to the closer, Blackjack, surprisingly it’s Copeland who really takes the energy up. Many, many notes, none of them wasted. Here’s a random torrent via mississippimoan.

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March 13, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ana Popovic Burns Some Frets in Italy

What’s most striking about Serbian guitarist Ana Popovic’s new DVD An Evening at Trasimento Lake: Live from the Heart of Italy is that by the time the concert is halfway done, she hasn’t wasted any notes. That someone who plays as many of those notes, with as much abandon, would choose them so unpredictably and interestingly is pretty amazing.

From the brief interview included in the DVD’s bonus material, Popovic doesn’t like to be pinned down to one particular style. Here, it’s mostly blues and funk, but there’s also a jazzy piano ballad and a couple of catchy upbeat rock songs that sound like the early Police. She’s a star on the European concert circuit, and her big youtube hit U Complete Me (included in a particularly epic, organ-fueled version here) has won her an American fan base as well. Culled from two nights at a blues festival in an old castle in Perugia, it’s a studio-quality recording featuring her European touring band: Ronald Jonker on bass; Michele Papadia on keys; Andrew Thomas on drums; Cristiano Arcelli on tenor sax; Riccardo Giulietti on trumpet; Sandra LaVille on harmony vocals and Stephane Avellaneda on percussion. Stevie Ray Vaughan (in “on” mode, meaning the mature, drug-free SRV), is the obvious influence, guitarwise; vocally, Popovic goes for a sardonic/sarcastic style that reaches for a southern soul vibe: Jean Knight, maybe? But this is about the guitar, not the singing. All the way through the songs, there are gnats, or some kind of insect swarming the stage – an exasperated Jonker swats mightily at one at 19:50 into it – but the band don’t let the swarm stop them.

The first song, Wrong Woman (as in, “you’re messing with the wrong woman”) is a funk song. Papadia pitches in with a wink and grin on the lower registers of the clavinova, Sly Stone style, a feel that will recur again as Popovic snarls and burns through the passing tones, relentlessly yet judiciously. It’s counterintuitive, to say the least, and it’s breathtaking. Then she does the same with Is This Everything There Is, a rock song with more than a slight resemblance to Message in a Bottle.

Unlike a lot of other lead guitar stars, she’s proves not afraid of the lower registers on a growling version of the slide boogie blues How’d You Learn to Shake It Like That (lyrics are not usually her strong suit). The brisk soul shuffle Nothing Personal introduces the horns, with a tight, vicious guitar solo paired off against Papadia’s gritty clavinova again.

Shadow After Dark has Popovic blending Andy Summers spaciousness with David Gilmour rage, then they hit a plateau of sorts with another funk song and the most trad moment here, the bouncy blues Let Me Love You Babe. Popovic takes a break on the torchy piano ballad Doubt Everyone But Me, tosses off a pointless acoustic pop song but then regroups with a couple of strong, riff-driven numbers featuring swirling organ and more terse, incisive guitar fills. They bring it up all the way with a brisk, reworked version of The Fever, Popovic taking it to redline with casually vicious precision. The DVD ends with the night’s one semi-political number, Hold On, another funk song. Taken as a whole, much of this is a rare treat for guitar fans. Unfortunately, whoever did the cinematography must not be a guitarist: all too frequently, the camera cuts away from Popovic right as she’s about to do something exquisite. Did someone not tell him/her, it’s the fingers on the fretboard, not the picking, that every player wants to see? And the bonus acoustic tracks are strangely pastiched together and don’t add much of anything other than proving Popovic just effortlessly fast and impactful at open-tuned delta blues as she is with electric styles. It’s out now on Artist Exclusive.

December 8, 2010 Posted by | blues music, funk music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Nicholas Howard – God Is in the City

Unlike what the title might have you believe, this isn’t a gospel album although there is a gospel influence in a lot of the songs. With his raspy tenor voice, Jackson Heights, New York’s own Nicholas Howard delivers a whole lot of hooks and a feel for soul music that blends a vintage Detroit and Philly sound, circa 1970. It’s definitely retro yet infused with new ideas and fresh energy – this guy is putting his own stamp on it rather than just being derivative. Refreshingly, he’s got a real band behind him rather instead of the ubiquitous synth, drum machine and maybe a handful of samples in what’s left of “R&B.” This could be what John Legend might dream of making if he didn’t have the corporate overseer standing over him, whip in hand, ready to crack it the second he does anything original or interesting. No autotune here either: God was definitely in the studio when this was recorded.

The title track is a big gospel-fueled anthem yet is extremely simple and terse. It would make a good theme for a show like The Wire. In the middle, it goes doublespeed and then suddenly back to the main theme, an ambitious move that doesn’t really work.  So Much Left to Say is a slinky organ groove with a turn-of-the-decade sound, just around the time soul was getting orchestrated but before it lost that delicious trebly tube amp guitar feel. Horns come in and juice up the end of the chorus, then the song ends cold.

With bit of a reggae feel, My Hands Are Rough – “I need a drink, a dance or two, I am jonesing” would have been a big dancefloor hit in the 70s. Life Is a Mystery is quite a change, opening with a little quote from the James Bond theme and then getting carnivalesque, even noir. If Tom Waits was a soul singer he might do something like this. Howard maintains the mysterious vibe with Scotch on Her Lips, a slow jam where he’s fallen under the spell of a boozy witch, electric piano dripping eerily.

Blood from a Stone kicks off with a staccato piano riff, eventually building to an insistent, New Orleans-tinged “stay out of my life” anthem. Then it goes doublespeed as the organ swirls and the rubber meets the road. The gentle, Memphis-style 6/8 ballad Mother features some vivid Steve Cropper style guitar – it would be perfectly at home on a Robert Cray album. Different View takes a lazy Bill Withers-style groove and makes trip-hop out of it.

The cd winds up with the strikingly dark psychedelic Weimar blues of Carnival and the upbeat, horn-driven What If I’ve Shown You It All. You’re going to see this on our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year. Watch this space for live dates.

June 12, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Jump Back Jake – Brooklyn Hustle/Memphis Muscle

Damn, this is a good album. With their first release in decades, Ardent Music, the newly reactivated Memphis label that launched Big Star has definitely got back on the good foot. On their debut cd, retro funky soul band Jump Back Jake will win fans from the camp that discovered soul music from people like Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Eli “Paperboy” Reed or Robert Cray as well as anybody lucky (or old) enough to have discovered this stuff the first time around. Fans of the Bar-Kays, Howard Tate, James Brown and Isaac Hayes’  Hot Buttered Soul album are in for a treat here. These guys really know their stuff, moving effortlessly from slinky Booker T organ groove to jangly Curtis Mayfield balladry to straight-up 60s funk, with a more aggressive, early 70s style blues guitar edge. The horn arrangements are gorgeously, sparingly retro, bringing out every bit of longing or bravado in a sax or trombone line. Frontman/guitarist Jake Rabinbach (who also mystifyingly moonlights as a sideman in one of the suckiest bands on the planet, 80s top 40 imitators Francis & the Lights) plays with soul and swing, unafraid to light up a song with a big incisive crescendo but never sinking into whiteboy wankiness.

The cd’s first track works a vintage Steve Cropper style guitar vamp with a nasty blues touch, setting the tone for the rest of the cd. The single best cut on the album is the second cut, The Flood, a slow, slinky organ groove that jumps to doublespeed and then brings it down to a sweetly dark horn chart, adding voices at the end before gracefully taking it down to just the trombone. Attempts at a beautiful, jangly, midtempo Curtis Mayfield soul ballad and a late 60s Charlie Rich country shuffle are rousingly successful. The big 6/8 kiss-off ballad teleports Blonde on Blonde to 1974 with more aggressive blues guitar: “You can be queen of the ice and snow,” Rabinach snarls. With its rapidfire, aphoristic vocal line and clever lyrics, the upbeat Pay Out on the Front End beautifully mines a late 60s vein. There’s also a ballad that builds to a big gospel vamp, another one that sounds like a rewrite of She Caught the Katy and a big, rousing number wherein Rabinach mysteriously goes on and on how he wants to be like Samson, “And I would give everything to the ladies like Delilah downtown.” The album ends on a radically different note, proving the band equally adept at early 70s Badfinger-style powerpop, right down to a neat George Harrison-esque guitar solo. The only miss here is aptly titled Terrible Mistakes, proof positive – as if you really need it – that vintage soul and the Jonas Bros. don’t mix.

It seems there are two Jakes in the band, Rabinbach recently off on the road with the other band, although all indications are that this will be a brief hiatus. In the meantime, the band continues to tour as a trio. They have all sorts of goodies available including free live mp3s from a recent Minglewood Hall show. Watch for this on our Best Albums of 2009 list at the end of the year.

May 20, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/4/09

This is pathetic. We haven’t put up a real post here since the middle of last week and we’re getting more traffic than we’ve seen in weeks. You must like songs with a lot of swear words in them. This one doesn’t have any but it is on our top 666 songs of alltime list which we count down daily, one at a time (tons more reviews coming soon…). Monday’s song is #450:

Robert Cray – Smoking Gun

Wherein the great bluesman decided to write a REM song and succeeded wildly. Like nothing he ever did before or after – maybe that’s a good thing. Love that catchy bassline. And notice how, on the solo, he goes from matter-of-fact swing to absolute redline in a split second? Wow. From the Strong Persuader album, 1986; mp3s are everywhere

May 3, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Kelly Richey – Carry the Light

Admired by her fellow musicians and blues fans around the world, singer/guitarist Kelly Richey and her band live on the road, playing a punishing schedule throughout mostly the midwest and south. Like a lot of great blues guitarists, this immaculately produced studio cd only hints at the intensity she can generate onstage, although her playing here is supremely tasteful. She gets a lot of Stevie Ray Vaughan comparisons, but her style is considerably more terse than his ever was, a lot closer to the more thoughtful side of both Freddie King and Jimi Hendrix (think Little Wing and Castles Made of Sand). Richey also happens to be a terrific singer, a song stylist with the same kind of subtle command and inflections as late-period Chrissie Hynde. This latest cd is more of a rock album – the blues here tend to have more of a modern feel. But that’s ok. Like any other style of music that’s still being played, the blues are bound to evolve. Richey manages to carry the torch, doing justice to her influences while putting her own unique stamp on it.

 

The cd opens with Leave the Blues Behind, a fast soul song in a Robert Cray vein with terse chorus-box guitar, beautifully modulated vocals and an equally terse, tasteful solo. The following cut, I Want You is not a Dylan cover – it’s darkly creeping late 60s/early 70s style riff-rock a la Cries from the Midnight Circus by the Pretty Things with a tasteful Freddie King-inflected solo. What in the World reminds of a cross between gentle, pensive Hendrix and vintage Tracy Chapman. After Carry the Light – a Texas boogie with some sly Billy Gibbons-style guitar – there’s Angela’s Song with its gospel-fueled southern soul groove.

 

With its layers of guitar sustain and vocal harmonies, Jericho Road is a slowly swaying, sunbaked minor-key haunter building to an impressively big, whirling outro. The next track, Run Like Hell isn’t a Floyd cover: it’s a return to late 60s style riff-rock. When All Is Said and Done starts out something of a Little Wing ripoff, growing more stately and anthemic with its atmospheric, David Gilmour-esque layers of guitar. The cd ends with a couple of boozy, Led Zep inflected riff-rockers and then another big ballad, Time for a Change, equal parts Henrix and Allmans with some of the most beautiful vocals on the album. Fans of the current crop of blues guitar hotshots – Johnny Lang, Mike Welch and the rest won’t be disappointed. Or if you like the idea of John Mayer but can’t stand the Lite FM sound of his albums – or if you like Bonnie Raitt in concert but can’t stand the Lite FM sound of her albums either – this is for you. Or sneak this into the mix at a Clapton fan’s barbecue and watch the jaws drop: “Who’s that playing guitar? Oh, that’s her. She’s good!”

March 11, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

CD Review: Richard Thompson – Sweet Warrior

This is Richard Thompson’s best, angriest, most lyrically rich and stylistically diverse studio album in ages, in fact since Industry, his 1997 collaboration with bassist Danny Thompson. Some of you may wonder why we’re reviewing someone so well-known here, and there’s a reason: he’s actually not that well known. He hasn’t had a label deal in years. He does, however have a rabid cult following, some of who go on the road with him like the Grateful Dead. Those fans insist that Thompson is both the best rock guitarist AND the best rock songwriter ever. They might be right.

He was already a dazzling player at 19 when he joined legendary psychedelic/Britfolk rockers Fairport Convention in the late 60s. He left that band a few years later and then put out several critically acclaimed semi-acoustic albums with his wife Linda Thompson. That collaboration culminated with their legendary 1982 record Shoot Out the Lights, a brutal blow-by-blow chronicle of the dissolution of their marriage that ends with what would become his signature song, The Wall of Death. It’s safe to say that it’s one of the greatest albums ever made. Since then, he’s released innumerable solo albums, both live and studio recordings, and virtually all of them are terrific. This ranks with the best of them.

The album’s centerpiece is a towering, seven-minute epic about violence. Its setting is Ireland, but its cast of dubious characters and their inevitable charge towards tragedy could could just as easily be in Iraq. Toward the end, we get a typically febrile Stratocaster solo from Thompson. He generally plays with a round, open tone without any distortion or effects, similar to Robert Cray. Here, he fires away a fusillade and then the instruments fall away one by one, with an understated, somber grace that perfectly matches the lyrics. Thompson is a master of matching melody to words, and this is a prime example.

There’s also a fiery anti-Iraq war number called Dad’s Gonna Kill Me, told from the point of view of a British soldier with his patrol, “sitting targets in the Wild West Show.” Dad is someone in command: he’s never named. It’s a tense, terrified, loping minor-key number that builds to an eerie, pointillistic guitar solo.

A lot of this album is electrified English jigs and reels, spiced with ominous guitar chromatics: Thompson loves those Middle Eastern tonalities. The sarcastic Mr. Stupid is directed at a greedy ex (ex-wife Linda, perhaps?) living off his royalties and tour earnings: “Clear the streets and book your seats, Mr. Stupid’s back in town.” She may despise him, but he’s quick to remind her that he’s still the one who writes the checks. The theme recurs in the album’s concluding number, Sunset Song, Thompson railing about being “up there on the cross where some say I belong.” He hasn’t been this angry at anyone – other than the Bush regime – in a long time.

Otherwise, there’s the excellent, sarcastic, defiantly fast I’ll Never Give It Up; Bad Monkey, another broadside aimed at an ex; Francesca, a rueful minor-key lament set to a surprisingly effective reggae beat, and the scorching, anti-Tony Blair song Sneaky Boy. And six other good ones, beautifully arranged with antique instrumentation: strings, krummhorn, mandolin, even uillean pipes on the tail end of the aptly metaphorical Too Late to Come Fishing. If you’re in the Thompson cult, you undoubtedly have this by now along with everything else; if he’s new to you, this is a fine way to become acquainted with a criminally underrated, astonishingly powerful rocker.

August 17, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review From the Archives: Albert King at Tramps, NYC 4/24/92

[editor’s note: we were going to review the Moisturizer show last night at BPM, but something got in the way. From the looks of it, about five charter buses full of fresh-faced white kids looking like they came straight from the prom. There was literally a line around the block. I’ve never seen that many people waiting outside a small club in my life. Maybe someone spotted one of the Olsen twins, texted their whole IM list, and what we saw was the resulting flashmob. It would be heartening to believe that they’d all showed up to see the band, but Moisturizer’s dazzling musicianship and Satie-esque wit don’t exactly fit into corporatized suburban “culture.”

It was quickly obvious that those who weren’t already inside the club were never going to get in, but nobody seemed to mind. To complicate matters, there had just been a stabbing, obviously a white person since there were police cruisers speeding up and down the surrounding streets and a couple of helicopters overhead. So we went over to a friend’s place instead. In lieu of a full review of Moisturizer, we’ve pulled one out of the archives: legendary southpaw guitarist Albert King at Tramps in April of 1992]:

We rushed up here after an interesting and inspiring day at the Socialist Scholars’ Conference downtown on Chambers St. The club was crowded, but, happily, not ridiculously oversold and jampacked like it usually is. This was an incredibly moving show, perhaps the best blues concert I’ve ever seen. His band opened with two instrumentals: the rhythm guitarist played an unreal, lightining-fast, bone-chilling solo in the second. Albert King then took the stage: “Are you ready? I’m not,” warmed up with Every Day I Have the Blues (which he took slowly) and then launched into a brilliant set. Maybe the best song selection I’ve ever seen at a show like this. The anguished, screaming power of Elmore James’ The Sky Is Crying was overwhelming. A swinging Born Under a Bad Sign, an upbeat Crosscut Saw and a driven Stormy Monday were crowd-pleasers, as the band took turns soloing around the horn: first King, then the rhythm player (who got to showcase his jazz chops), and the keyboardist, whose talents unfortunately didn’t measure up to the rest of the band. It seemed he only knew one flashy descending riff, which he played on the cheesiest setting available. But even this could not detract from the power of King’s guitar playing and singing, which were, for lack of a better word, deep. With his guitar, he can say more in the microtones of a single bent note than most people could say in a whole album, and his vocals are the very definition of soul.

As much as King loves minor keys and slowly smoldering crescendos, he was in an upbeat mood tonight. Maybe the ever-present wine glass was part of it. “Ain’t nothing like a glass of red wine,” he mused. The best of many highlights was when the band went into an ominous, slow 6/8 minor-key groove, the keyboardist hit that unexpected major chord and King began to dedicate the song, “From the album Born Under a Bad Sign, As the Years Go Passing By.” He was rudely interrupted by a fan during his second solo, when some asshole handed him a piece of paper (a request? why not wait til he finished?). Later, they also did Robert Cray’s Phone Booth (which King popularized a few years before Cray hit it big). In a word, exhilarating.

[postscript: This was Albert King’s last New York show. He died less than eight months later.]

June 23, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment