Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Patricia Vonne’s New Album Is Worth It and Then Some

Proof that sometimes good things happen to good songwriters. Here in most of the US, Patricia Vonne is ironically best known as an actress who’s made frequent appearances in her brother Roberto Rodriguez’s films. But in Europe and her native Texas, she’s a bonafide star. Her latest and fourth cd Worth It should help spread the word to those not already in the know. Her unaffectedly throaty wail soars intensely and passionately over rich, lushly interwoven layers of guitars that often evoke great Australian art-rockers the Church, but with a disquieting, often hallucinatory southwestern edge. This album is a showcase not only for Vonne’s voice but for Robert LaRoche’s terrifically anthemic, vibrant rhythm and lead guitar- he’s sort of a border-rock version of Keith Richards – along with Rick Del Castillo on guitars, Scott Garber on bass, Dony Wynn on drums and cameos from Rosie Flores, Joe Ely and songwriter Darin Murphy.

The title track opens the album, an edgy, swinging backbeat janglerock anthem that lends a sympathetic ear to the tormented visions of a homeless drug addict. It’s something akin to what the early Pretenders might have sounded like if Chrissie Hynde had grown up in Austin rather than Akron. The no-nonsense, blues-tinged Cut from the Same Cloth is a co-write with Flores, a similarly-minded, edgy Tejana. A gothic flamenco rock en Español shuffle, Fuente Vaqueros evokes the region in Grenada, Spain where Frederico Garcia Lorca famously first saw the light of day.

Vonne maintains the drama and suspense with Castle Walls, muting the flamenco intensity a little by turning  it over to the drums, and then to an incisively bluesy Joe Reyes guitar solo. A new spin on an old myth, El Marinero y La Sirena has Del Castillo’s pointillistic nylon-string guitar mingling hypnotically and eerily with Carl Thiel’s insistent piano. The big concert favorite Love Is a Bounty hitches a swaying country beat and lonesome, bucolic Murphy harmonica to biting, bluesy rock; La Lomita de Santa Cruz, just Vonne’s voice and LaRoche’s reverb-drenched guitar, is a bitter tale of drought and doom.

There’s also a couple of big, terse, tension-driven janglerock anthems along with Cowskulls and Ghosttowns, a blazing Georgia Satellites-style musclecar rocker gone goth, and the wry, cynically amusing backbeat rock anthem Gin and Platonic with her old New York band featuring Kirk Brewster on lead guitar, Scott Yoder on bass and Eddie Zweiback on drums. Yet another great album by one of this era’s finest and most original songwriters in Americana and rock en Español.

August 18, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 8/8/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #905:

Los Destellos – Seleccion de Los Destellos

Founded in 1966 by guitarist Enrique Delgado, the “father of cumbia Peruana,” Los Destellos may not have invented chicha music – the woozy, trebly blend of Colombian cumbia, American surf rock and psychedelia – but they were among the first to play it. Of their fifty-plus albums, this one, a sort of greatest-hits anthology with an emphasis on their 1960s catalog – is as good a representation as any. Delgado’s spikily reverb-tinged staccato guitar lines bounce and ping up against tinny electronic organ and a clattering percussion section, blending hypnotic two-chord vamps, surfy pop melodies, folk themes and even a twisted cover of Fur Elise. Virtually every track here is an off-kilter gem: the slinky, haunting El Avispon, the hypnotically catchy Jardin de Amor and Dulce Amor; the surfed-out folksongs Chachita and Otro Ano, the Asian-tinged La China Maria, the chordally delicious Traicionera and Guajira Sicodelica, a bizarrely beautiful twelve-string guitar instrumental drenched in so much reverb that it sounds like Delgado is playing through a chorus box. Although an icon in Peru, Delgado sadly never lived to see the worldwide success a regrouped version of the band would achieve over the last five years, under the direction of his sister and longtime musical director Edith Delgado.

August 8, 2010 Posted by | latin music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

El Pueblo Take You to the Islands

The cover image of El Pueblo’s new cd, a map of the Caribbean, pretty much says it all: they play just about every style of reggae ever invented, including some they can take credit for coming up with themselves. And they do it well: if their new album, Isla, is any indication, they could stretch pretty much all of these tracks out into mind-warping psychedelic dub. It’s a mix of instrumentals and vocal numbers in both Spanish and English, featuring Robert Julian’s skanking reverb guitar, Lucas Leto’s shuffling drums, Kevin Sherman’s tasteful bass and Jeremy Danneman’s warmly balmy alto sax along with guest Danny LoPresti’s bubbling organ on two tracks. For the instrumentals, the obvious comparison is the Augustus Pablo classic East of the River Nile, if you substitute sax for the melodica and take the energy level up about a hundred degrees. The songs are a strikingly original blend of roots reggae with edgy rock en Español tinges, frontman Chino Sing’s casual, laid-back presence a perfect match with the band.

The album opens with its most dub-flavored track, Babylon Is a Chain Gang, textures rising and falling out of the mix Lee “Scratch” Perry style – and then they suddenly come out of the smoky cloud with sunny sax. They follow it with the first of two chorus box-driven reggae-pop tunes and then Dejate Llevar, which is catchy and Marleyesque, like something off the Kaya album, with a sly wah-wah guitar solo. Cabarete sounds like a vintage Skatalites instrumental gone halfspeed, with Danneman’s low, sultry clarinet taking the lead. One of the best songs here is the workingman’s anthem Babylon System Slave: “Don’t talk to me about freedom,” Sing asserts, not with 40 hours of misery looming in the week ahead. The other is the absolutely gorgeous El Capata, a swinging, hypnotic, Americana-tinged ballad rich with jangly, clinking acoustic guitar textures. There’s also the title cut, a big, guitar-fueled reggae anthem, a couple of playful, fun dub-tinged instrumentals, the lively ska jam Tatica’s Town and the closing track, The Ocean, a thoughtful reggae-rock ballad with gentle waves of reverb guitar. What a fun summertime album. El Pueblo play Shrine uptown on 8/27 at 9 PM.

August 7, 2010 Posted by | latin music, Music, reggae music, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Chico Trujillo – Chico de Oro

Chico Trujillo are Chile’s #1 party band – they play soccer stadiums there, where this album has probably already gone oro. Currently on their first American tour, they make their New York debut on June 12 at La Oveja Negra in Astoria and then at Barbes with Chicha Libre on June 13. They spun off of popular punk band La Floripondio, but the undercurrent here isn’t rock, it’s ska – although they play cumbia, the one-two punch of Sebastian Cabezas’ trumpet and Luis Tabilo’s trombone gives the songs here a boisterously oldschool Studio One flavor. There are a lot of different types of cumbias, just like reggae, the genre it most closely resembles and may inevitably eclipse as the world’s most popular party music. Chico Trujillo play pretty much all of them.

They’re kind of like a bigger band version of Chicha Libre (their Barbes Records labelmates), with a slinky groove, twangy reverb guitar and eerie, trebly organ, but more lush arrangements. Likewise, a lot of the songs are mostly instrumental, some of them limited to just vocals on the chorus. The lyrics, such as they have them, are funny, whether kibitzing on the oldschool Conductor, the gonzo vaudeville of La Cosecha de Mujeres (Harvest of Women), the self-explanatory Loca (Crazy Woman) or No Me Busques (Don’t Go Looking for Me).

As it setttles into a slinky, hypnotic sway, the album’s opening track hints that it’s going to go completely noir, but it doesn’t – it’s closer to the psychedelic soundtrack sound that guys like Lee Hazlewood were mining in the late 60s, welded to a vintage Jamaican undercurrent. But guitarist Michael Magliocchetti gets the chance to surf out in tandem with the organ on the boisterous second cut; the third track incorporates echoes of hip-hop along with a rich, lush organ crescendo toward the end. Pollera Amarilla (Chicken Farmer) sends trumpet soaring over that classic, swaying groove, guitar and percussion rattling and cackling ominously in the background. A couple of other songs have a 60s rocksteady feel and happy horns; La Escoba (Sweep) is straight-up ska-punk; Lanzaplatos is a noir bolero rocker, and Los Sabanales sounds like a hyperspeed Mexican ranchera ballad. South America has a long tradition of fertile cross-pollination, which explains why these guys have so many flavors that it’s hard to keep track. The only miss here is a tongue-in-cheek cover of a Marc Anthony hit that’s so awful that even an inspired performance by pretty much everybody in the band can’t redeem it. The album clocks in at almost an hour, with fifteen tracks – they sound like they’re an awful lot of fun live.

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

CD Review: Lila Downs y la Misteriosa En Paris – Live a FIP

If you get one Lila Downs album, this is it. This isn’t safe, emasculated faux-exotica for curious yuppies: it’s a fiesta, and not always a happy one. Downs’ commitment to and passionate advocacy for a whole slew of Mexican folk styles – and the immigrants whose ancestors created them – has made her impossible to pigeonhole, with a defiantly individualistic streak. Recorded live on French radio last year, Downs sings with raw brass, grit and soul, backed by a terrific band with edge, bite and some stunningly imaginative arrangements – the most prominent instrument here is Celso Duarte’s concert harp. The sprawling group also includes Downs’ husband and longtime musical director Paul Cohen on tenor sax and clarinet, fiery forro specialist Rob Curto on accordion, the incisive Juancho Herrera (also of Claudia Acuña’s band) on guitars, Carlos Henderson on bass, Dana Leong on trombone, Yayo Serka on drums and Samuel Torres on percussion. And while there are plenty of folklorico numbers – the swaying accordion-driven song that opens the concert; a plaintive, mournful update of a Zapotec song, and a stunningly poignant, beautifully sung version of the traditional ballad La Llorona, the strongest songs here are the originals.

The stinging, Gil Scott-Heron inflected blues shuffle Minimum Wage – sung in English – makes a vivid tribute to the illegal immigrants that American businesses are only too happy to hire at a cut rate. The metaphorically loaded singalong anthem Justicia goes looking for justice everywhere, but there are places where it simply cannot be found:

[translated from the original Spanish]

I don’t see you in the High Command
I can’t find you in offices
Or in men in uniform
Or the fence at the border

And the understatedly scathing, ghostly, reggae-flavored anti-NAFTA broadside La Linea (The Line) imagines a medicine woman treating a child whose “skin has grown feathers” courtesy of untreated industrial waste from American border sweatshops. But once Downs has you in touch with reality, she gets the party started. There’s a festive, minor-key cumbia salute to the joy of getting stoned and eating good mole, a largely improvised party number from Veracruz with the harp and percussion rattling and plinking at full volume, and a long jam on Hava Nagila during the band intros before the encores. And the version of La Cucaracha here leaves no doubt as to what that song’s about, right down to a briefly woozy dub-flavored interlude. It’s out now on World Village Music.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: New Madrid at Crash Mansion, NYC 4/3/10

New Madrid have really taken their live show to the next level. Entering to the thundering strains of a cd of Also Sprach Zarathustra, they hit a jarring chord in a completely unrelated key and then proceeded to pummel the audience with one darkly catchy, stomping anthem after another. There is no other New York band who sound like them which is probably because A) being a bilingual/rock-en-Espanol band, they’re the furthest thing from “indie” and B) they seem to draw more on European or Mexican influences. Their shtick is that their drummer stands and sings, and he welcomes the chance to come out from behind the kit. This time around he’d shut the band down for a pregnant pause, sticks between his teeth, waiting for a reaction (something he could do a little less frequently – or else this time he was just in a particularly boisterous mood). He’s a good player, too, going four on three during two jarring, extended crescendos during one of the set’s last songs. The guitarist is eerie and noisy, like Daniel Ash but with better chops, at one point taking a solo that sounded like Saul Hernandez trying to channel Beefheart. Their bassist has a tough job, as much a part of holding the runaway train to the rails as the drums, and he delivered, at one point carrying the song with boomy intensity while the drummer took an eerie suspense-film solo on the toms.

Most of the material in the set seemed new, other than the tensely staccato anthem Soberano (Sovereign). The best song of the night saw the guitarist employing the most macabre, watery effect you could imagine: on top of that, he’d bend the notes at the end of a phrase with his tremolo bar for even more sepulchral quaver and goosebumps. The big audience hit seemed to be a fairly simple, somewhat glamrock number entitled Kill; another new one, possibly titled Crazy Lady was aptly menacing, with a grittily noisy, offhandedly intense guitar solo out.

Another way to tell that New Madrid is on to something good is how they managed to clear the fratboys out of the room. Almost imperceptibly, a much more intelligent-looking, diverse and considerably less obvious crowd gathered at the front of the room as the khaki-and-poloshirt contingent stumbled back toward the bar. The only drawback about the show was that the club put them on over an hour and a half late. While the idea of putting rapper/accordionist Julz A and his guitarist pal on a second stage in the back was imaginative, and their songs were enjoyable, it didn’t help New Madrid or their crowd to be standing around aimlessly for minutes on end waiting for the signal to start.

April 4, 2010 Posted by | concert, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Las Rubias del Norte – Ziguala

The new cd by las Rubias del Norte would make a great Bunuel soundtrack. Otherworldly, surreal and frequently haunting bordering on macabre, it’s a characteristically eclectic, syncretic mix of old songs from around the world done as Veracruz’s best musicians might have imagined them circa 1964. Most of the melodies are in minor keys, the perfect backdrop for the sepulchrally soaring harmonies of the band’s two frontwomen, Allyssa Lamb (who’s also the band’s keyboardist) and Emily Hurst. Lamb and Hurst are a lot closer to Stile Antico than Shakira (or Jeanette, who sang the 1976 latin pop classic Porque Te Vas that the band turn into ghostly, organ-driven reggae to open the album). Which the two ought to be, considering that they met as members of the New York Choral Society. As the band’s website aptly points out, the album is more psychedelic rock than latin, “the opposite of Rock en Espanol,” even though most of the lyrics are in perfectly enunciated Spanish.

The title track is a Greek rembetika song with a bluesy, oldtimey gospel verse that gives way to a latinized chorus, followed by a clip-clop clave number a la Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood, shuffling along with the muted strokes of Olivier Conan’s cuatro. A slyly levantine-inflected S.D. Burman Bollywood number lights up with Lamb’s eerily twinkling piano and the lushly brisk atmospherics of the Parker String Quartet, while a Brecht-Weill song gets an oversize margarita, a big sombrero and a balmy, slightly Jerry Garcia-ish electric guitar solo from Giancarlo Vulcano.

The rest of the album alternates psychedelia with stately, period-perfect angst and longing. A couple of the songs are dead ringers for Chicha Libre (with whom this band shares two members, Conan and percussionist Timothy Quigley). Navidad Negra turns a Caribbean big band number into cumbia noir, Lamb’s sultry organ passing the torch to Vulcano, who takes a surprisingly biting turn, while the traditional Viva La Fiesta becomes the theme to the saddest party ever. They close with hypnotic, classically inflected tropicalia that throws some welcome shade on the pitch-perfect brightness of the vocals, a Bizet cover bubbling with Lamb and Hurst’s contrapuntal sorcery and a downcast ballad, restrained melancholy over funeral-parlor organ. It’s gentle, scary and beautiful like just about everything else here. Look for this one high on our best albums of 2010 list at the end of December. Las Rubias del Norte play the cd release show for the album this Friday, March 12 at 7:30 PM at Joe’s Pub followed by a midwest tour.

March 10, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Canteca de Macao at Highline Ballroom, NYC 2/17/10

An eclectic choice for this year’s New York Flamenco Festival, popular Spanish rockers Canteca de Macao played a deceptively sophisticated, dizzyingly multistylistic show that was impossible to resist. America doesn’t have anything like these guys: their closest relative, and obvious precursor is the theatrical Mexican band El Tri. Ana, their frontwoman shifted effortlessly between a powerful, dramatic, slightly smoky contralto and a more lighthearted delivery that she used when the intensity level dipped a little. With a rhythm section that included two percussionists (on timbales, congas or cajon) it was obvious from the git-go that Canteca de Macao are first and foremost a party band – within a minute from the time they took the stage, the front rows were bouncing. Most of the upbeat numbers had a gypsy rock feel, spiced with a lot of playful tug-of-war between flute and lead guitar. Chiki, their acoustic guitarist – who also took lead vocals on several cuts – got to take all of one solo all night long, on one of the more overtly flamencoish numbers, and it turned out to be the best one of the evening.

It was a carnival ride of shifting tempos, slowing down into reggae or speeding up into ska, as they did on a number that lept from merengue into a brisk one-drop rhythm, sung by Juancho, their conguero. He may be a small guy, but as it turns out he’s also a babe magnet – and he knows it, as he told the crowd. Another gypsy rock tune bounced along on a bachata basssline that took a crescendoing swoop to the upper registers on the turnaround out of the verse. They worked brief rap interludes into a few songs, including a rapidfire kazoo-fueled anthem for fashion misfits everywhere. As good and diverse as their musicianship is, they don’t take themselves particularly seriously in the lyric department: “It doesn’t matter,” Ana and the rest of the band hollered defiantly on one of the best-received dance numbers. The first of the encores featured a smartly terse, flamenco-flavored bass solo; as they wound up the show, they broke songs down into halftime, sped them up again and threw out a handful of false endings until that device had been used to death. The crowd – a pleasantly surprising mix of nationalities and demographics, kids and others old enough to be their parents – didn’t want to let them go. It was something like a Gogol Bordello show in Spanish – a lot of the same tonalities, a brighter, more carefree vibe but the same kind of energy.

And while we’re at it, let’s big up the sound guys: the Highline is a great-sounding room to begin with, but you had a tough mix to deal with, all those mics onstage, and you delivered.

February 18, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Trouble in Tribeca, Part One: Bad Reputation, Rana Santacruz and Pistolera at the 92YTribeca, NYC 1/8/10

Friday night was Trouble Worldwide night at the 92YTribeca, part of the annual booking agents’ convention with sets from a mix of the best Barbes bands along with a couple of ringers, Rana Santacruz and the Cuban Cowboys. The Snow’s frontman Pierre de Gaillande opened the night with his latest side project (this guy seems to always be in about five bands at once), Bad Reputation, whose raison d’etre is English versions of the songs of iconic, often bawdy French individualist Georges Brassens. Guillotinings and the Bastille aside, the French typically allow for a greater freedom of expression in song lyrics than has traditionally been the case here, so it was as striking as it was amusing to hear Gaillande deadpanning about “the nun who defrosts the penis of the amputee” in the ribald Don Juan. Guitarist Tony Jarvis lit up that one with some casually intense tremolo-picking, then switching to bass clarinet for most of the other numbers as the band gave them a swinging noir cabaret feel. Gaillande has obviously put a great deal of effort into making Brassens’ wordy, argotique narratives flow smoothly in English – and with rhymes! – and this paid off immensely in the curmudgeonly but sweet 1953 song Public Benches, the blithely cynical 95% of the Time (a hilarious tale of a woman who won’t settle for anything less than sex with love), the minor-key waltz Philistines (a tribute to teenage delinquency), the O. Henry-esque Princess and the Troubadour and the first song Brassens ever wrote, a defiant outsider anthem probably dating from 1940s. Bad Reputation’s debut cd is due out auspiciously on Barbes Records sometime this year.

Backed by a boisterous band including rhythm section, violin, accordion and banjo, Mexican songwriter Rana Santacruz delivered a wry, quirky set that brought a brisk Celtic edge to traditional Mexican folkloric styles. A characteristically tongue-in-cheek number, Noche de Perro reminisced about an affair gone sour, the howling of the dogs in the night a vivid reminder that “they were more faithful than you were.” They wrapped up a very well-received show with a punked out – or Pogued-out – cover of a Vicente Fernandez ranchera number and a drinking song.

In their micro-set, Pistolera sounded like the Mexican Go-Go’s with their playful, sunny, sweetly melodic janglepop. The songs – from their forthcoming second album which transplants New York to the desert – included a bouncy ranchera rocker about the New York subway, a reggae-flavored vacation song and the swinging, effervescent, minor-key Todos se Cai (Everybody Falls Down). Then they switched gears and proceeded to play as their alter ego, the children’s music group Moona Luna. 99% of the time, children’s music is smarmy, condescending and patronizing, obviously as a selling point for the yuppie moms who buy it regardless of the fact that they too were once young and hated that stuff. But just when it seemed that like every other children’s band, this group should be exiled to the lowest circle of hell, they played the most anti-parent song of the night, which goes something like this, in both Spanish and English:

I like to jump on the bed
I like to jump on the couch
I like to jump on the floor
More! More! More!

Pistolera frontwoman Sandra Lilia Velasquez’ two-year-old daughter inspired that one. Obviously, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Maybe someday the two can share a stage and do that together.

The second half of the show, with Chicha Libre, the Cuban Cowboys and Slavic Soul Party is reviewed here.

January 11, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Depedro at SOB’s, NYC 10/28/09

Ex-Amparanoia guitarist Jairo Zavala AKA Depedro impressed with an acoustic set that managed to hold an impatient crowd attentive for an all-too-brief half hour. Having just recorded his debut solo cd (very favorably reviewed here) with Joey Burns and John Convertino of Calexico, it would have been awfully nice to have had them onstage with him, especially since Calexico’s covered him and he’s shared a stage with them on multiple occasions. But it was not to be. To his credit, Zavala’s songs still resonate even without the album’s mansions of echo and ominous tremolo guitar arrangements. His shtick seems to be to take pretty much every style he knows and transform them into southwestern gothic; watching his solo show was more of an excursion through those particular styles rather than the dusky, otherw0rldly trip that is the album. The straight-up feel was enhanced by Zavala’s casual stage presence – he didn’t let what seemed at least early on to be a tough audience phase him a bit.

Minus all the Mexican and latinisms of the cd, Zavala’s guitar playing stood out as distinctively Spanish. He took one number deep into flamenco territory, rapping on the body of his guitar while essentially playing bass and rhythm simultaneously (he’s an excellent electric player, as well). The best song of the night was a powerful take of his Mexican liberation anthem La Memoria, galloping along with a gorgeously resounding clang. Done acoustically, the old Amparanoia song Como El Viento (Like the Wind) took on a sunny Mediterranean ballad feel; his reworking of a Mexican folk song, La Llorona (The Weeping Woman) was stark and rustic in contrast with the album’s twangy, ghostly version. His strong command of English helped carry the noir, slightly Orbison-esque ballad Don’t Leave Me Now; he closed the set with a singalong on a new one, then the lullaby that closes the album and a funky take of the bouncy number Comanche that could have been mistaken for G. Love if G. Love had soul and a feel for latin rhythm. Zavala promised a return trip here; hopefully he’ll have a crew behind him next time to flesh out those captivating songs.

Argentinian tango nuevo/pop sensation Federico Aubele was next on the bill, but at this point the show was running an hour and a half behind schedule and there were more captivating things to see, for cheaper (namely, Cliff Lee shutting down the Yankees in Game One of the World Series).

October 30, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment