About ten years ago, when Wanda Jackson played New York, she’d be at the Continental. It’s still there just north of St. Mark’s Place, now doing business as a tourist bar. Back then it was a punk club about the same size as Cake Shop. Last night the “queen of rockabilly” played Central Park Summerstage, something of a return to the big grange halls and stadiums that she and her boyfriend at the time, Elvis, used to play fifty-five years ago. That’s probably due to the fact that Jack White recently looked her up and gave her up-and-down career a new boost just as he did with Loretta Lynn. Jackson played some of those songs last night with her excellent, surprisingly hard-rocking Nashville band the Hi-Dollars and showed off a considerably lower but still animated version of the droll, quirky voice that made her a genuine star in the rockabilly and then the country world.
As a performer, Jackson is a humble, genuinely nice lady: it’s impossible not to like her. After one song had ended, still holding the mic, she looked over at her pianist. “That turnaround was awesome. Really lovely,” she told him. She’s in her seventies now, and as the show went on, it was clear that singing over the loud, sometimes almost punked-out band behind her was leaving her winded. So she told stories between songs, to catch her breath – and admitted to why she was doing it. She still has the ring Elvis gave her when the two started dating, and coyly told the crowd that her two children had squabbled over who was to inherit it. Jackson decided instead to will it to her firstborn grandchild, who “Can’t wait til I croak – I’m kidding, of course.”
And the two-guitar band rocked: their version of Chuck Berry’s Carol wasn’t as good as the Dead Boys, or the Brooklyn What, but it was pretty close. They made their way through a handful of Elvis songs including a surprisingly artful, nuanced version of Like a Baby, Jackson playing up the snide, sarcastic ending for all it was worth. She expressed some hesitation about playing country music at a New York show, but the crowd loved it. She pulled off several blue yodels and made it look easy, and if anybody was weirded out by her late 50s hit Fujiyama Mama – which openly references death in Japan via nuclear holocaust – they didn’t show it. Rhythm guitarist Heath Haynes (the same guy who devastated batters with his changeup during a stint as a promising righthander in the Montreal Expos system?) took over the leads on a biting version of Shakin’ All Over, as he did on a later number that sounded almost exactly like it.
There were other moments like that during the show. As the night wore on and Jackson wore down, so did the crowd, many of whom had already sat through the generic if energetic opening act, retro singer Imelda May and her band. When Jackson explained her religious reawakening in the mid-70s, the audience was less than enthusiastic – but within a minute she had pretty much everybody singing gospel. Finally, after almost an hour onstage, they launched into the cult favorite Let’s Have a Party and wrapped it up in a blaze of guitars. For the encores, Jackson invited May back to join her on a couple of numbers, including a brief reprise of that song. Most of the audience, a heartwarming mix of demographics, was still there.
John Paul Keith’s backup band is called the One Four Fives. It’s a wryly accurate way of describing his music. The veteran Memphis singer/guitarist is an avatar of retro rock: he doesn’t seem to have met a roots-rock style that he can’t play with equal parts fun and virtuosity. He’s sort of a Memphis version of Simon Chardiet, emphasis more on serious songwriting than blazing guitars and punk-infused humor. It’s a sure bet that had many of these songs come out fifty years ago, they would have been huge. The production matches the period-perfect craftsmanship: many of these songs sound like live-in-the-studio two-track recordings from around 1965.
Keith’s new album is aptly titled The Man That Time Forgot. The opening track, Never Could Say No is Tex-Mex through the prism of 80s powerpop – it wouldn’t be out of place on a Willie Nile record. You Devil You evokes 50s rockabilly hitmakers like Charlie Gracie, with its carefree guitar tremolo-picking. With its slurry bass groove, Anyone Can Do It mines an Eddie Cochran/Bobby Fuller vein. The wry, doo-wop infused Songs for Sale is the closest thing to Chardiet here, along with the album’s best song, the amusingly scurrying noir shuffle I Work at Night.
Afraid to Look works a stomping British R&B hook straight out of the early Yardbirds or Pretty Things, while the honkytonk-flavored Dry County references the long stretches of road that every touring band dreads the most. I Think I Fell in Love Today slinks along on the swirling organ of Al Gamble, of another excellent Memphis band, retro soul groovemeisters the City Champs. They also evoke a vivid late 60s blue-eyed soul vibe with Somebody Ought to Write a Song About You. Keith goes back to a straight-up, rocking Bobby Fuller feel with the tongue-in-cheek Bad Luck Baby; the album winds up with a country song, The Last Last Call, which sounds like a big live favorite. Fans of roots rock from across the decades will have a blast with this. It’s out now on Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum.
Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Wednesday’s is #748:
The Bobby Fuller Four – Never To Be Forgotten: The Best of the Mustang Years
The two most popular “best albums” lists on the web both include something by Buddy Holly, and that’s cool – if you play rock guitar, he’s worth knowing. For us, it’s hard to shake the association with boomer nostalgia, not to mention that interminable Don McLean monstrosity that pops up during your trip to the grocery store and is still going when you leave. So in lieu of Buddy Holly we give you a vastly underrated early rocker from Texas, heavily influenced by Holly, who also died before his time. In the case of Bobby Fuller, it was a murder that was never solved, one that was particularly suspicious since the investigating cops in Los Angeles, 1966, appear to have withheld evidence. Which is tragic, because in his 24 years Fuller not only took rockabilly to the next level, he was also adept at surf music. And was a particularly good singer: he didn’t do the cliched hiccupping vocal thing like so many of his contemporaries. This massive 44-track box set approaches overkill – the last of the three cds include innumerable outtakes and even a shoe commercial – but it’s nothing if not exhaustive. The song everybody knows is I Fought the Law, immortalized (and taken to the next level) by the Clash, along with the similarly catchy Let Her Dance, Julie, A New Shade of Blue, Another Sad and Lonely Night and Love’s Made a Fool of You. The surf stuff – an irresistible version of Our Favorite Martian, and Thunder Reef, for example – hint that he could have had a whole other career in instrumental rock, or maybe even in psychedelia, if he’d lived. Here’s a random torrent.
A lot of people know about this, actually – but there’s always room for more. Scott Kettner and Mehmet Dede are the brain trust behind the frequent Is America Part of the World? global dance parties around New York. For awhile they did them at the Brooklyn Yard; this time out they’re at Littlefield. Scott plays drums in the excellent, absurdly eclectic Brazilian-flavored Nation Beat; Mehmet holds down a corner of the Drom nightclub empire and produces music festivals including the NY Gypsy Festival. Here’s their take on their next show, Friday, December 10:
Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: The club’s going to keep the floor open, people will be dancing just as they usually do at your shows, right?
Mehmet Dede: Yes, absolutely. Our series is about the heart and mind as well as the feet – it’s a global party. Dancing and having fun is an important element for us.
LCC: All this is happening Friday, December 10 at Littlefield, showtime says 8 PM, is that actually the time the bands start?
MD: Doors are at 8 PM; the first band, Tall Tall Trees, will go on at 9. After midnight we’ll continue with DJ Turnmix, who is an excellent dj from Barcelona. Did I say this is a global dance party?
LCC: What’s the deal with tickets? Thirteen bucks, that’s about four dollars a band…
MD: Yes, we wanted to keep the ticket prices down to give people more for their money. In this economy, I think people will appreciate it.
LCC: Let’s see if I got this right, first band is Tall Tall Trees, who are a very funny, wry sort of acoustic Americana jam band with banjo and guitars and upright bass. True?
MD: That’s a pretty good description. Scott?
Scott Kettner: Yes, they’ll be the first band. They are a really high energy band that take Americana and rockabilly to a whole new level. I think they are using electric bass now.
LCC: The second act is Brooklyn Qawwali Party, at ten, right? I’m personally not a fan of qawwali music so I was very surprised to see that these guys are a funk band, from what I’ve seen on youtube they’ve got about 50 people in the band and they really rock the party. Do they also do the hypnotic sufi chanting stuff?
MD: It’s not exactly 50 people, but yes they are a crowded band, and they love to jam onstage. Some songs can easily top 10 minutes. They’re both hypnotic and transcendental, but also groovy and danceable. They are a party band with a spiritual vibe. It’s a joy to see them on stage.
LCC: Scott, I have a bit of an inside track on your band Nation Beat because I’ve seen you a bunch of times – with Liliana Araujo your Brazilian chanteuse, and with Jesse Lenat the country crooner for example. You play country, and Brazilian styles, and funk, and soul, and I’ve even seen you go into a surf groove. Do you have a favorite of all these styles, and what is it?
SK: My favorite is when all of this music blends and there is not a “style.” That’s what really gets me off about drumming and music…when it can’t be defined. I love hearing a band play and walking out wondering what the hell it was. That’s partly the purpose of this festival, to bring together groups who are blurring the lines of genre and just pulling together the music they love to create a sound that isn’t contrived. When I was in high school I played in a surf punk band called Liquid Image and also played in some local funk and blues bands. Then I moved to NYC to study jazz and developed a passion for Brazilian music. So when I sit behind the drums or compose a song I’m always searching for a way to bring all of these musical experiences together.
LCC: A surf drummer: I knew it. Very very cool, as you probably know we are huge surf music fans here. Now out of all those Brazilian genres you play, what would you say is your specialty? Forro? Frevo? What does Nation Beat bring to it that’s original, that makes it all yours?
SK: I really love maracatu and forró. I moved to Brazil specifically to study maracatu back in 2000 and have developed a very deep relationship with the music and culture of this rhythm. Nation Beat is a collaboration between Brazil and the US. We’re a band that seeks the similarities between the music and culture of the northeast of Brazil and the southern United States. We play a lot of rhythms from the northeast of Brazil; maracatu, forró, coco, cirando and frevo, all music that Liliana Araujo grew up listening to. When her and I get together we bring our musical backgrounds to the table and the result is Nation Beat. This is what makes it OUR music, the fact that we’re not trying to imitate a style but rather bring our musical backgrounds together to create OUR own music.
LCC: Is it ok if I ask some hard questions now? For example, how effectively do you think “Is America Part of the World?” comes across? What I mean is that the idea is pretty funny if you think about it – obviously, America is part of the world, we’ve got just as much a right to make “world music” as anybody else. But is it good branding? Something people are going to remember?
SK: I think it’s a great name…thanks for the idea! [grin]
LCC: At this point in history, is Brooklyn really part of the world? You’re playing a club in Gowanus where there are all these hideous gentrifier condo buildings sprouting up amidst the warehouses, rents are rising, destroying the neighborhood. How would you respond to a cynic who might say something like, “These guys are just a bunch of rich white kids ripping off styles from around the world, if they really cared about the world they’d bring in a real qawwali band?”
SK: First I’d say I’m not rich and not even close to it and I think I can speak for all of the musicians on the event. Second I’d say if all you really want to hear a “real” qawwali band you probably won’t come to our festival and probably shouldn’t. The whole point of this festival is to bring together bands who are interpreting the music that they have a passion for. We’re searching for the point of convergence where our musical backgrounds meet with our musical passions. That’s it. If you think about the history of all music in the new world; jazz, blues, salsa, merengue, samba, maracatu, rock and roll, etcetera, you will not be able to define this music without realizing the fact that it took many cultures, many people coming together and mixing their musical and cultural backgrounds. None of this music would exist if it weren’t for Europeans, indigenous and African people being thrown into a turbulent culture where they had to find common ground to communicate together with music. So what’s the difference if we choose to do the same thing today?
LCC: I’m always impressed with how diverse the crowds are at your shows: at least they’re part of the world. Beyond the usual Bushwick blogs, how do you get the word out about them? Or is it a word of mouth thing, either you know or you don’t?
SK: I send out a big newsletter every month announcing our gigs and we also do the social networking song and dance. There’s a community of people who are really interested in what we’re doing so they just keep tuned in to what we’re up to.
LCC: How’d you end up at Littlefield this time? I like the place a lot – the sound is good and there’s none of the disrespect you get on the Lower East Side for example…
SK: My partner Mehmet and I checked out the club and really liked the vibe of the people and the room. It also has a great sound.
LCC: After this, when’s the next show and who’s on it?
SK: This will be Nation Beat’s last show in town until 2011. I have a brass band playing forró music on December 14th at Barbes.
Is America Part of the World starts at 9 on Friday, December 10 with Tall Tall Trees, Brooklyn Qawwali Party at 10 and Nation Beat at 11 at Littlefield, 622 Degraw St. (3rd/4th Aves.) in Gowanus, Brooklyn, easy to get to from the F or R trains. Tickets are $13 at the door and will probably sell out: early arrival is advised.
Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #797:
Lefty Frizzell – 16 Biggest Hits
Lefty Frizzell was a legendary Texas honkytonk singer from the 50s, a guy who sounded a lot older than he was. By the 70s, now in his 40s, he sounded close to 70. One of the songs here, an early proto-rockabilly number, is titled Just Can’t Live That Fast (Any More), but in real life he didn’t seem to have any problem with that. He drank himself to death at 47 in 1975. But he left a rich legacy. This album is missing some of his best-known songs – notably Cigarettes & Coffee Blues – but it’s packed with classics. Frizzell’s 1950 version of If You’ve Got The Money I’ve Got The Time topped the country charts and beat Hank Williams – a frequent tourmate – at his own game. Other 50s hits here include the western swing-tinged Always Late (With Your Kisses), the fast shuffle She’s Gone, Gone, Gone and Frizzell’s iconic version of Long Black Veil – with its echoey, ghostly vocals and simple acoustic guitar, it’s even better than the Johnny Cash version. From the 60s, there’s the surprisingly folkie version of Saginaw Michigan, the sad drinking ballad How Far Down Can I Go, the torchy, electric piano-based That’s the Way Love Goes and I’m Not the Man I’m Supposed to Be. His later period is best represented by I Never Go Around Mirrors, later covered by both George Jones and Merle Haggard. This is one of those albums that pops up in used vinyl stores from time to time, but isn’t easy to find online. There’s a popular “500 greatest country songs” torrent with several of these on it out there; if you see one for this particular album, let us know!
Back with more up-to-date stuff tomorrow: Martin Bisi, Humanwine, Marissa Nadler, the second “Turkish Woodstock” concert in Central Park, and much more. In the meantime, here’s a blast from the past.
Tuatara’s show last year at Tramps was psychedelic, gamelanesque and more than a little eerie. This one had more of a rock flavor. Most of the instrumentals they played are from the new album Trading with the Enemy and were a lot faster than the hypnotic, meandering stuff on their debut. But with the marimba tinkling and echoing, there was still a trance element to a lot of the compositions. The band didn’t improvise much, sticking pretty much with the studio versions of the songs. Of the quieter new ones, one of the best was an even more minimalist version of Desert Moon. They closed the set with a long, deliriously crescendoing version of Afterburner, the ska jam that closes the new cd, Peter Buck running his Telecaster through a wah pedal, playing fast, furious rhythm. They sped it up, then slowed it down, then sped it up to the point where no one could go any faster – and then shut it down. The crowd – not as huge as you might think for a band with one of the members of REM in it – screamed for more and got a two-song encore.
Ended up later that evening at Rodeo Bar where the tight, versatile Portland, Maine rockabilly outfit King Memphis were playing. A little blues, a little country, lots of bouncy rockabilly-ish tunes with Strat, Tele, bass and drums. They probably pack Three Dollar Dewey’s on a Saturday night.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Tuesday’s song is #428:
Catspaw – Southbound Line
The New York rockabilly/surf trio’s signature song is their best, and it’s a classic, frontwoman/guitarist Jasmine Sadrieh’s haunting account of a woman going nowhere slowly on the Jersey Transit train from hell…or to hell. From their playfully titled 2005 debut cd Ancient Bateyed Wallman, still in print and available at shows.
Three things you can count on in this town: there will always be roaches under your stove, the train will be rerouted at the least opportune moment and the Reid Paley Trio will entertain you. Paley’s stock in trade, like so many other artists who play Thursday’s weekly Small Beast extravaganza at the Delancey, is menace. He understands absurdity, usually doesn’t like it very much and makes no secret of it, sometimes fending it off with a good joke. Characteristically charismatic in his black suitcoat and backed by his usual rhythm section of onetime Heroin Sheik Eric Eble on upright bass and James Murray on drums, Paley pretty much let the songs speak for themselves this time out. Much of the material was from his latest, excellent album Approximate Hellhound. With just a hint of natural distortion on his battered archtop guitar, Paley’s sound is part ghoulabilly without the schlock, part noir blues without the cliches, with a little vintage country or gypsy feel thrown in to shake things up. Live, he’s actually more of a singer than a rasper, sort of the opposite of what he is on album. “Gimme a chance, I’ll fuck it up,” went the refrain on his opening, slightly Cramps-ish number. Better Days, with its dread-filled “hangover sunrise Sunday morning, half dead on Bedford Avenue” was surprisingly subtle; a couple of the more countryish tunes from the cd got a bluesier, rawer treatment. Chanteuse Peg Simone eventually joined him for a slightly coy, seductive cameo on vocals; on the last song of the set, he ended it chopping at his strings as if he wanted to break them, then sticking his guitar into his amp where it started feeding back. Somebody cut the sound. Host Paul Wallfisch (who’d opened the evening) wanted it back: “That’s beautiful,” he leered. Meanwhile, the world’s #1 surf music impresario, Unsteady Freddie, wandered about, camera at hand. Who knew he was a fan.
Mattison frontwoman/keyboardist Kate Mattison brought down the lights, obscured behind the Small Beast (the 88 key spinet for which the night’s named), shadowy in the light of the candles above the keys and the disco ball’s twinkling swirls across the walls. And then played a show that made a perfect match with the ambience, soulful, smart retro pop, frequently over a live trip-hop beat pushed along by an excellent, terse rhythm section. The vocals started out somewhat disembodied and warmed up quickly, Mattison expertly shading her lyrics with a vintage soul feel, the occasional subtle blue note and just the hint of a rasp in places. Some of her songs had a pensive, almost minimalist sensibility in the same vein as Bee & Flower; others evoked modern artsy pop bands like For Feather or the Secret History, or that one great live album by Portishead. One began stately and beautiful in 6/8 time before morphing into a fast 4/4 hit; another built fetchingly and cajolingly into a “ringalingaling” chorus. Still another catchy pop number segued into a big, anthemic ballad with jazz-tinged vocals and gospel piano inflections. It was almost one in the morning by the time they wrapped up their too-brief, barely 40-minute set. They’re at Coco 66 at 8 on May 20.
By the way, in case you haven’t noticed, Lucid Culture reviews pretty much every Small Beast show. Pretty much a no-brainer, considering how it’s become simply the most vital, important music scene in town. So we’ve created a new category, Small Beast where we’ve archived all the other performers we’ve chronicled since the night first kicked off this past winter: click here or look toward top right here to that “A” right over the ARCHIVES section, click and scroll down to Small Beast to see what you’ve been missing.
Very smart, very funny roots rock. At first listen, this might sound at a distance like your typical bar band fare, but Cleveland’s Whiskey Daredevils are a whole lot more than that, closer to the Yayhoos except with more of a vintage 50s/60s influence. ” How come Guns N Roses took 14 years to make a record, yet the Daredevils made one in 5 days that is twice as good?” asks their press release. Answer: well, for one they aren’t a bunch of posers (like the girl just back from LA chronicled in the snide Hey Nancy). What’s more, they play with soul and fire, particularly guitarist Bob Lanphier who sounds like Billy Zoom on steroids. As you may have guessed, this isn’t the greatest-hits anthology alluded to by the cd cover, it’s their latest album (on the German Knock-Out label).
The cd kicks off with the riff from Mystery Train, into the tongue-in-cheek murder ballad Friend in Jesus. One of the reasons why the songs here are so funny is because they succeed so well at capturing the band’s twisted, blue-collar, decaying Rust Belt mileu and the weirdos who populate it, notably Gary in Gary Sez Fuck ‘Em, who can’t remember anything because he drinks too much Jaegermeister and has absolutely no interest in meeting anybody from Springsteen’s band. He could be real – there are a lot of guys like that around. Like the obsessive who won’t let his friend get a word in edgewise because he’s always talking about Planet of the Apes, when he could be hearing about something far more interesting like an encounter with a mobster on the way to an Iggy Pop show, or a stripper from Iran with a “snow white tan.” That’s another song here.
The absolutely funniest one here is a minor-key rockabilly-inflected number about a wannabe Texas troubador who works at Bennigan’s and lives in his parents’ basement, spending his free time serenading girls at the local open mic: “Original compositions sure do make the ladies cry,” singer Greg Miller explains with a wink the size of Lake Erie. Another one, Jimmy Rogers, is a laugh-out-loud dismissal of hero worship that plays like a straight-up country homage until the last verse. Then there’s the roaring, punkish Skunk Weed, nicking a lick from We’re Desperate by X (could that be intentional maybe?), chronicling the misadventures of a brain-addled Deadhead. He can’t get a job, but “when it comes to weed, he’s a handyman, make you a pipe from a Pepsi can.” There’s also a swinging, minor-key rumble, like a darker Rev. Horton Heat, the snide tale of a drunk kid who tries to swim the Cuyahoga river and doesn’t make it (set to the tune of El Paso) and a spot-on, sarcastic tune about laid off industrial workers going off to Iraq, knowing, of course, that Uncle Sam has a plan and everything will be fine. This is a great driving album (it’ll definitely keep you awake) and a great party album. If you ever throw a kegger and a crowd of trendoids with trucker hats, lumberjack beards, Elton John glasses and $400 bedhead haircuts shows up, just put this cd on, they’ll all leave and you’ll get your place back.
It’s no secret that New York has one of the most vital, thriving country music scenes anywhere. Forget any snide commentary you may have overheard about urban musicians playing country: if anything, the music coming out of the New York country scene is far more traditionally-oriented than most anything Nashville is producing these days. Tonight’s bill paired two of the more popular country acts in town. Monica Passin, frontwoman of long-running Rodeo Bar honkytonkers L’il Mo and the Monicats played mostly solo acoustic, with occasional help from a couple of women who sang harmonies, and the New Jack Ramblers’ amazing lead guitarist. She’s pretty much everything you could want in a country singer: pretty voice, good songs, good taste in covers and backing musicians. Her best song was a minor-key rockabilly number – the first one in that style she’d ever written, she said – possibly titled This Cat. The lead player used Passin’s ominous chord changes as a springboard for a riveting, intense, jazz-inflected solo that drew roars of appreciation from the crowd. On the last song, Passin invited Lisa, the bar owner up to sing harmonies, and as it turned out she’s actually good! Not since the days when Juliana Nash ran the show at Pete’s Candy Store has there been a bar owner who’s been able to show off such a soaring, fearless voice. Bands in need of a frontwoman ought to stop by the bar: she won’t embarrass you, and if all else fails you’ll always have a place to play.
Sean Kershaw and the New Jack Ramblers aren’t exactly under the radar, maintaining a hectic gig schedule in addition to the regular Sunday night residency they’ve been playing at Hank’s for what seems forever. They’re a rotating crew of some of the best players in town: the weekly Sunday show originated out of necessity, as this was the only night everybody in the band didn’t have a gig. Tonight, backed by just lead guitar and upright bass (their awe-inspiring pedal steel player Bob Hoffnar wasn’t available, and you really don’t need drums in a small room like Banjo Jim’s), Kershaw ran through a mix of what sounded like covers but probably weren’t. The guy’s a hell of a songwriter, a prolific, versatile writer as comfortable with western swing as honkytonk, rockabilly or stark, Johnny Cash-inspired narratives. Tonight’s show was the western swing show, driven by lead guitarist Skip Krevens, whose ability to burn through a whole slew of styles was nothing short of spectacular, everything from jazz to rockabilly to blues. He made it seem effortless. They gamely ran through the old standard Smoke That Cigarette in addition to a bunch of originals, some recorded, some not, closing the first of their two sets with what has become Kershaw’s signature song, Moonlight Eyes. Originally recorded with his first band, the fiery, rockabilly unit the Blind Pharaohs, it’s a genuine classic, something that sounds like a Carl Perkins hit from 1956. Kershaw has played it a million times, but still manages to make it sound fresh, the ominous undercurrent beneath its blithe romantic sway more apparent than ever tonight, stripped down to just the basics.
And what was even more apparent was that both of the acts on this bill would probably be big stars in a smaller metropolis: here, they’re only part of a widespread, talented scene.