Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Minerva Lions Put a Unique Spin on Classic Americana Rock Styles

With laid-back vocals and smartly catchy tunes, Minerva Lions’  new album puts a uniquely psychedelic spin on Mumford & Sons-style Americana as well as other retro styles. They’ve got a new ep out that many fans of folk-rock and the mellower side of psychedelia will enjoy. As much as this music looks back, it’s full of surprises and originality. The opening track, For R. A. is a very smart arrangement of a lazy, hypnotic 70s-style British psych-folk tune, with all kinds of neat flourishes from the organ, tersely soaring steel guitar, baritone guitar and a cool solo where the organ and the acoustic guitar join forces as one. The second cut, Megrims, works a lushly apprehensive acoustic guitar hook into a casual, backbeat sway, steel guitar sailing warily, all the guitars kicking in with a vengeance as it winds out.

Protection Ave reminds of mid-period Wilco, with a sweet, oldschool Nashville pedal steel intro and some of the swirliness that Jeff Tweedy likes so much. Black Mind Decides is a catchy, slightly less glam-oriented Oasis-style electric piano-and-guitar ballad, its unexpectely noisy, practically satirical off-kilter guitars leading to a neat trick ending. Ascension Day offers a more bouncy take on a bluesy 1970 style minor-key soul vamp with organ and smoldering layers of guitars. The album ends with a pointless trip-hop remix of the opening track that strips it of most of its originality and replaces those ideas with cliches: that’s what happens when you take a good song and give it to a nonmusician who’s all about doing what he thinks will please a crowd rather than creating something interesting and original. Lyrically, this stuff is neither here nor there: rather than making any kind of statement, it’s all about hooks and melody. Much of the album is streaming at the band’s site; they’re at Rock Shop in Gowanus tonight (July 22) at 9.

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July 22, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

John Paul Keith Plays Every Retro Rock Style Ever Invented

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.

July 16, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sunday’s Amazing Flatiron District Roots Rock Doublebill

People will be talking about this all year: one of the best doublebills of 2011, Sunday at Madison Square Park with Those Darlins and Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears. Both bands draw deeply on 60s sounds, yet they’re completely original and in the here and now. Both have a charisma and tightness that only comes with constant touring: they pretty much live on the road, as bands need to do these days in order to make a living.

Those Darlins opened. Frontwoman Jessi Darlin ran her Fender Jaguar through a vintage repeater box for a hypnotic Black Angels vibe on a couple of long, drawn-out psychedelic numbers. Nikki Darlin started out playing dark trebly tones on a Hofner bass and then switched to a Les Paul Jr. Kelley Darlin played sweet, vicious Telecaster leads until midway through the set, when she took over the bass, getting a fat, rich pulse on what looked like an old Vox Les Paul copy. The band’s taste in music is as purist as their instruments (not sure what drummer Linwood Regensburg was playing – his party rumble is as important to the band as their museum’s worth of guitars).

The women’s twangy three-part harmonies gave even the hardest-hitting garage rock songs a country charm. The lighthearted I Wanna Be Your Bro is a vastly cooler take on what Dar Williams tried to do with When I Was a Boy, followed by a Time Is Tight-flavored, soul-infused number sung by Kelley. Later on they brought it down with a gorgeously noirish, 6/8 ballad that Nikki thought might clear out the crowd (it didn’t). The rest of the set mixed catchy two-chord party-rock vamps with a swinging country song about eating an entire chicken, another long, trippy Black Angels-style anthem, a raw, careening cover of Shaking All Over and the best song of a long, entertaining set, a moody, minor-key janglerock tune possibly called What’re You Running From, sung by Nikki.

Black Joe Lewis & the Honeybears had a hard act to follow, but they made it look easy: not bad for a band who had a second show to play later that night at Maxwell’s. Their albums play up their songs’ funky, purist 1960s grooves, and their potent three-part horn section, but live they give everything a raw punk fury. Lewis is a great guitarslinger in the Texas tradition of Albert Collins and Freddie King. Like Collins, he goes for a chilly, reverb-drenched tone; stylistically, the guy he resembles the most is Hendrix, but the early, noisy, unhinged Crosstown Traffic-era Hendrix. Throughout the set, his right hand was a blur, strumming up and down furiously as he fired off long, searing volleys of hammer-ons: although his chops are scary, he’s more about mood and power than he is about precision. The band is tight beyond belief. On one of the early songs, second guitarist Zach Ernst followed Lewis’ rapidfire solo by leading the band through a razor’s-edge verse of the eerie Otis Rush Chicago blues classic All Your Love.

The intensity just wouldn’t let up. One of the highest points of the afternoon was during the band’s one instrumental, where Lewis finally worked his way out of a long vamp with a relentless solo where the tenor sax player finally stepped all over it, followed in turn by the trumpet and baritone sax knocking each other out of the ring in turn. The crowd reacted energetically to Lewis’ nod to his punk influences as he blasted through a barely minute-and-a-half version of the Dead Boys’ classic What Love Is, and followed that with a funked-up cover of the Stooges’ I Got a Right. From there they wound their way through a casually jangly number that was basically an update on Smokestack Lightning, Lewis finally quoting the riff toward the end of the song. The best song of the afternoon was the fiery antiwar broadside You Been Lying, a tune that sounded like the Stooges’ I’m Sick of You without the machine-gun bassline, the bassist finally picked it up with a bunker-buster blast of sixteenth notes as it wound out. The band got two encores: “H-I-G-H,” Lewis grinned as he led the crowd through a singalong of the intro to Get High, a searing, sun-blasted punk funk song. By the time they got to Louie Louie, everybody was still there, hoping for even more. Lewis and band were scheduled to tape Letterman the following night, a rare triumph – it’s not often that network tv features bands anywhere near as good, or original, as these guys.

June 15, 2011 Posted by | concert, funk music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 5/11/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #629:

Absinthe – A Good Day to Die

Sam Llanas may be known as the soulful baritone co-founder of Milwaukee roots rock legends the BoDeans, but this 1999 album by his other project Absinthe – with the Violent Femmes’ Guy Hoffman on drums and Jim Eanelli, formerly of the Shivvers, on guitar – is the best thing he’s ever done. Inspired by the suicide of Llanas’ older brother, this anguished, death-obsessed, semi-acoustic rock record follows the Bukowskiesque trail of a life in a long downward spiral so harrowing that when it ends with Time for Us, a surprisingly warm, comforting ballad that Llanas’ main band would pick up later, the mood still resonates. This guy just never had a chance. Bully on the Corner gets the foreshadowing going on early (although the narrator looks back and basically forgives him: his life must have been hell too). Defeat, with its mantra-like chorus, is just crushing; the title track is all the more haunting for its dignified treatment of the suicide. They follow that with the wistful, pretty Spanish Waltz, the unconvincing It Don’t Bother Me and then the two absolute masterpieces here, the down-and-out scenario Still Alone and the wrenching, Orbisonesque Messed Up Likes of Us. There’s nowhere to go from there but the bitter Dying in My Dreams, the denial of What I Don’t Feel and the paint-peeling noise-rock of A Little Bit of Hell, Eanelli’s great shining moment here. Surprisingly obscure, there don’t seem to be any streams of this anywhere, but it’s still up at the BoDeans’ site; here’s a random torrent.

May 11, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Minor Adventure Upstate: Great Band, Great Show, Nobody Listens

In urban artistic communities, there’s a common perception that outside the city gates, there’s nothing but a vast wasteland of cultural indifference, conservatism and conformity. A more optimistic view is that the cultural innovators who, twenty years ago, would have flocked to the cities, have long since been priced out of the market. Therefore, they stay put, creating vital micro-scenes in all kinds of unexpected places all over the country. Those two theories were put to the test at dark New York rock band Ninth House’s show upstate at a carnival in Putnam Valley on Saturday evening.

Twenty years ago, a black-clad Nashville gothic band attempting to entertain crowds of families and toddlers in broad daylight in a more-or-less rural area would have been serious culture shock. Fast forward to 2011 – twenty years, maybe more, since the Psychedelic Furs and Social Distortion, two of the bands Ninth House often resembles, hit the peak of their popularity. Most of the kids who were listening to those bands back in the 80s are parents now. Would any of those people be in the crowd, reliving their lost youth as fans of what was then called “alternative rock?” Apparently not.

Which was sad. Pretty much any streetcorner busker with any charisma at all can attract a gaggle of people, but the crowd was absolutely oblivious. Which was no fault of the organizers: the sound wasn’t pristine, but it was loud. What about the kids, the next generation of nonconformists? Would any of them drift over to see what the band was up to? Nope. Was frontman Mark Sinnis’ baritone too ominous? Under ordinary circumstances, it wouldn’t seem so: there’s an awful lot of Johnny Cash fans out there. Was guitarist Keith Otten too abrasive? Hardly. Firing off ornately savage minor-key riffs or snarling rockabilly phases, he bridged the gap from Luther Perkins to Bernard Albrecht with effortless intensity alongside keyboardist Zach’s nonchalant piano and organ and drummer Francis Xavier’s steady shuffles.

Was the songs’ subject matter too disturbing? “I’ll have another drink of whiskey, because death is not so faraway,” Sinnis intoned cynically – a C&W philosophy that’s a hundred years old or more. They wailed methodically through two long sets of songs that have resonated with New York audiences since their first incarnation in the late 90s – the apprehensively swaying Your Past May Come Back to Haunt Me, the savagely cynical Fallible Friend, and more – but nobody paid any attention save for a small posse of friends who’d gathered by the stage, drinking hard liquor from a thermos so as not to get busted.

Validation of theory #1? Just a random bad crowd? Or were all those Furs and Social Distortion fans the last wave of cool kids to escape to the city, waiting patiently at home for the band to get back to Manhattan?

May 2, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 4/18/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #652:

American Ambulance – Streets of NYC

Along with the Hangdogs, American Ambulance were the best Americana roots rock band on the planet from the late 90s – when Wilco went to La La land – through the early zeros. They literally never made a bad album, from their 2001 debut though this final gem from four years later. This is a defiant concept album about growing up in the 70s. It’s an allusive, whiskey-fueled 48 hours of fun despite it all, frontman Pete Cenedella’s snarling vocals set the stage with the Stonesy Down in the Basement and Won’t Be Home Tonight, lead guitarist Scott Aldrich firing off searing riffs that draw as deeply on the Yardbirds and Kinks as much as Johnny Cash. The hopeful Here Comes the Day and expansive Shimmering Rain set the stage for the tongue-in-cheek Don’t You Like Rock N Roll and First One of a One-Too-Many Night, a big concert favorite. The night peaks with the surreal Your Name Little Girl and the foreboding Bad Moon Over Brooklyn. The classic here is Ain’t Life Good, a cruelly beautiful hungover Sunday morning scenario lit up with Erica Smith’s wounded, beautiful harmonies. Cenedella hints at a bitter future with Leave This City, but that’s a false alarm. Too obscure to find at the sharelockers but still available at the band’s site, and much of this is streaming there. More torrents tomorrow.

April 18, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Carly Jamison’s New Album Happened for a Reason

Carly Jamison is tough and fearless and funny as hell sometimes too. What a breath of fresh air – in a world of wussy waifs and wannabe Jersey Shore skanks, she’s a rare individual voice making smart, accessible, kick-ass Americana-flavored rock. Whether she’s pissed off, or daring you to do something, or cracking a joke, she sings low and confident, casual and conversational. The conversation might go something like this: “Don’t fuck with me.” Her new album Everything Happens for a Reason has to be one of the best driving albums of recent years – it’ll keep you awake on the way to work, and bring you back to life on the way home. It sounds like a vinyl record, like one of those great Georgia Satellites records from the 80s – that fat backbeat, that whiplash snare drum sound, the way the bass rises as the chorus kicks in and all that kick-ass Stonesy guitar. A lot of that has to do with the fact that Dan Baird of the Satellites (and the Yayhoos) plays guitar here, and he might be even better now than he was then.

The opening track, Bring It On sets the stage nonchalantly with scorching layers of guitar, Jamison coyly sliding up to her notes. As is the case throughout this album, the little touches mean a lot – the drum break just before the end, a slide up on the bass and some tremolo-picking from Baird in the distance as it fades. Doubt – as in “there ain’t no doubt” – works a John Fogerty swamp-blues hook and neat layers of acoustic and electric guitars, the first of several kiss-off anthems. “What doesn’t kill us makes me stronger, and I’ve been through many worse things than this,” Jamison asserts knowingly. The classic, a song that needed to be written, is Ask Me If I Give a Shit, the kiss-off song to end all kiss-off songs. “I’ll look into your eyes and tell you where to go,” Jamison sings practically in a murmur, and it just gets better and better from there. A string section with a woozy phaser effect kicks off The One with You, which might be a cheating song, or it could just be a regret song, Baird again putting the rubber to the road with those big, simple, turbocharged riffs.

The mostly acoustic Hills of Jericho chronicles teenage lust triumphing over conformity, with nice high harmonies by Joslyn Ford-Keel: “I once believed in all their stories, I once believed in all their lies,” Jamison admits, but she doesn’t anymore. Self-Consumed is another go-to-hell number, this one for a selfcentered jerk, anchored by some wry baritone guitar. A Stonesy stomp, Look Where It’s Coming From is a dis aimed at a big bullshitter; No Control Anymore starts out tense and acoustic, threatening to fly off the hinges at any second, and when the electric guitars kick in on the chorus it’s soooo satisfying.

After the reverb-drenched honkytonk blues This Big Old Bottle, the album ends with what should be the single, Dreaming, an Orbisonesque noir tremolo-pop song with some tasty violin textures as it builds. It’s simple enough to fool the programmers, real enough to sink its hooks into you and not let go. Maybe this can be Jamison’s sneak attack on country radio – country radio is rock now after all, and it’s overdue for an antidote to all those Shania Twain wannabes. A self-taught musician and songwriter based in New York, Jamison seems more of a creature of the studio than a live performer; here’s hoping this album gets her songs the exposure they deserve.

April 7, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Kasey Anderson’s Heart of a Dog Has Lyrical Bite

Kasey Anderson’s most recent album, Nowhere Nights was one of the best of 2010. The “nowhere nights” theme continues on his new one Heart of a Dog, except with the guitars turned all the way up, pretty much all the way through. Steve Earle is still the obvious comparison – if you’ve ever heard Earle play Nirvana, that comes closer to describing what this sounds like. It’s lyrical rock: Anderson still scours the fringes with a merciless eye for detail and an ear for a catchy, purist guitar hook. His monster band the Honkies includes Andrew KcKeag on lead guitar plus Eric Corson (of the Long Winters) on bass and former Posie Mike Musburger on some of the most effectively loud rock drums in recent memory.

These songs are dark. The album gets off to a great start with The Wrong Light, a big crunchy bluesmetal number that works a Born Under a Bad Sign vibe, thematically if not tunewise. “I got a handful of powder and a wicked grin, open your eyes and let the wrong light in,” Anderson entices in a leering stage whisper. It’s the first of several launching pads for some searing, bluesy lead work by McKeag, who delivers a mean late 70s Ron Wood impression with a slide on the cynical, Stonesy rocker Mercy. Building from an ominous piano intro to a big anthem, Exit Ghost is a grim, completely unromanticized girlfriend-lost-to-drugs story. Your Side of Town might be the predecessor to that one, a bitter kiss-off anthem:

You kept my pockets empty, I was keeping my eyes wide
You were dealing pride and envy, I got my other fix on the side

Another big, fast Stonesy tune, Sirens & Thunder is cynical, but with an unrepentant smirk: the time with that girl may have been crazy and ultimately it might have been hell, but some of the craziest parts were a lot of fun. Kasey Anderson’s Dream offers a considerably louder apocalyptic garage rock update on Bob Dylan’s Honest with You, namechecking Sharon Jones and staring straight into the future: “You want a brave new world, well that can be arranged – the ship’s still sinking but the captain’s changed.” The rest of the tracks include more doomed Dylanesque imagery in Revisionist History Blues; the crushing lucidity of a hangover unfolding in the slow, brooding For Anyone; some delicious organ and accordion work in another regretful ballad, My Blues, My Love; the fast, Springsteenish My Baby’s a Wrecking Ball, and a blazing backbeat cover of the 1983 English Beat frathouse anthem Save It for Later that blows away the original. Pop a Mickey’s Big Mouth and crank this.

March 11, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/9/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #692:

Patricia Vonne – Guitars and Castanets

Patricia Vonne is yet another great American songwriter who’s huge in Europe and lesser known here in the US (other than in her native state of Texas). With her signature full-throated wail, the Mexican-American rock siren has stood up for American Indian rights, immigrant rights and Amnesty International campaigns for the women who’ve disappeared in Juarez, Mexico. This 2005 album, her third full-length release, is characteristically diverse, with songs in both English and Spanish, a richly arranged, guitar-driven mix of rock anthems, ranchera ballads and Tex-Mex shuffles. Everything she’s ever released is excellent; we picked this one since it has her best song, the unselfconsciously wrenching, intense escape narrative Blood on the Tracks (a hubristic title, but Vonne has the muscle to back it up). Joe’s Gone Ridin’ is a tribute to Joe Ely; the clanging backbeat anthem Texas Burning was a big CMT video hit. The festive title track and Fiesta Sangria, along with the mournfully gripping norteno ballad Traeme Paz show off her grasp of traditional Mexican sounds; the anthemic Long Season sounds a lot like the BoDeans with a girl singer. There are also two stunningly catchy, deliciously layered guitar rockers, Lonesome Rider and Rebel Bride that sound like the Church transplanted to Austin. This one doesn’t seem to have made it to the sharelockers yet, but it’s still available at Vonne’s site.

March 9, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 1/13/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, all the way to #1. Thursday’s is #747:

The Del Lords – Get Tough: The Best of the Del Lords

We’re going to stick with the Americana rock for a second day in a row, moving forward a couple of decades. Taking their name from the director of the Three Stooges movies, the Del Lords were led by Dictators guitarist Scott Kempner along with hotshot lead player Eric Ambel and a killer rhythm section of bassist Manny Caiati and drummer Frank Funaro. Critics and college radio djs in the 80s loved them, but despite a well-earned reputation for strong songwriting and killer live shows, they never broke through to a mass audience (this was at the end of the era when big record labels were signing good bands). This 2006 reissue is a strong representation of their recently resuscitated career. It’s got their best song, the luscious janglefest Burning in the Flame of Love, along with their rocking adaptation of the 20s blues song How Can A Poor Man Stand Such Times And Live. Cheyenne is another rich, lush blend of jangle and clang; Judas Kiss is a gem of a powerpop tune, although this version pales next to Ambel’s own interpretation. There’s also the brisk, Dire Straits-ish Love on Fire; the Neil Young-influenced About You, foreshadowing the turn Ambel would take as a solo artist; Love Lies Dying, which blends 80s new wave with Americana; the Georgia Satellites-style riff-rock of Crawl in Bed, the comedic I Play the Drums and a ballsy version of Folsom Prison Blues. All of this is streaming at myspace (but be careful, you have to reload the page after each song unless you want to be assaulted by a loud audio ad). Here’s a random torrent; the band reunited in 2010, with a series of shows in Spain, hopefully some more stateside to follow.

January 13, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment