Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 11/14/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #807:

Rosanne Cash – Black Cadillac

In a way, this is a coming-of-age album. Johnny Cash’s daughter’s 2006 album inspired by her famous father’s death is more metaphorical than it is autobiographical, a gently brooding, tightlipped, wounded narrative of grief and muted rage. Her breathy, nuanced voice has never been more compelling than it is here: it packs an understated wallop. It’ll resonate with anyone who’s ever lost a loved one in a small town, a neighborhood or a scene where people talk behind your back – family secrets come out, the veil of privacy is shattered and yet the bereaved are expected to behave well. The title track arrives as the hearse leaves and the shock hasn’t settled in yet; God Is in the Roses and The World Unseen allude to Johnny’s surprisingly deeply anchored spirituality. The wistful House on the Lake recalls a childhood vacation spot that by implication will soon be lost forever in the upcoming auction; Like a Wave and I Was Watching You also reach back in vain for lost moments. But the standouts here are the angry ones: the smoldering Like Fugitives captures the family dodging curious eyes and would-be well-wishers, while Burn Down This Town marks the single moment where Cash or her narrator standin loses her composure. After this, nothing will ever be the same, yet she sees more clearly than ever: it’s the quantum leap she never wanted or realized she’d ever take. Behind her, her husband and lead guitarist John Leventhal leads the band deftly through a series of Americana-flavored acoustic rock themes. The album winds up with The Good Intent, taking its title from the name of the ship that brought Cash’s ancestors to America, and a John Cage-like seventy-one seconds of silence for Johnny at the end. Here’s a random torrent.

November 14, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Creepy and Dreamy with Mojo Mancini

New York noir doesn’t get any better than this. With Big Lazy on the shelf, Mojo Mancini has moved in to take over the role of New York’s most deliciously creepy instrumental group. With allusions to the Doors and Henry Mancini, they’re aptly named, blending a stylish dark rock vibe with equally dark Hollywood atmospherics. Their album is sort of an accident: tenor sax player Rick DePofi, Rosanne Cash bandleader/guitarist John Leventhal, drummer Shawn Pelton, Bob Dylan keyboardist Brian Mitchell and bassist Conrad Korsch would get together and jam just for fun, or to blow off steam between gigs and/or recording dates. Happily, they had the good sense to record these jams, realizing that they had genuine magic on their hands. The arduous task of sifting through the tapes fell to DePofi, a professional recording engineer. This is the result. At one point or another, all the songs here sway to a trip-hop beat – and as dark as a lot of them are, there are also several which are irresistibly funny.

The album opens with a characteristically eerie, David Lynch style wee-hours scenario, Leventhal playing terse, tense jazz lines against Mitchell’s organ swells. Gansevoort, named after the street just off the Westside Highway where the album was recorded (and where bodies were once dumped with regularity) is an echoey trip-hop organ funk groove, part early 70s Herbie Hancock score, part sleek stainless steel club music, part Jimmy McGriff. Just Sit, featuring a sample of poet/activist Jack Hirschman, welds watery 1970-era David Gilmour chorus-box guitar to balmy sax over a laid-back funk groove.

Leventhal turns an expansive, sunbaked guitar solo over to DePofi’s tenor on the pensive Clear Fluids, which then winds it up to a big crescendo. The dub-inflected Peace Plan moves from spacy Rhodes piano to a sparse, Steve Ulrich-style guitar hook. The most Steve Ulrich-inflected number here is Let Us Pray, with its Twilight Zone organ, David Gilmour noir guitar lines and a couple of playfully sacrilegious Lawrence Ferlinghetti samples. There’s also a big sky theme, its disquieting undercurrent evoking Bill Frisell; a cinematic mini-suite with smoky sax that evokes mid-90s REM side project Tuatara; the banjo trip-hop of Long Neck, and the echoey, dubwise Slipper Room with its maze of keyboards and a rousing organ crescendo that segues into the next tune. Play loud, play after dark for best results.

May 30, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review: Rachelle Garniez and Mojo Mancini at the Canal Room, NYC 4/7/10

Rachelle Garniez was all business this time out. New York’s most individualist steampunk siren usually engages the audience much more than she did last night in a brief duo show, playing accordion with her longtime partner in crime Matt Munisteri on acoustic guitar and banjo. This was the greatest-hits set. She dedicated a swinging, metaphorically-charged version of Tourmaline (from her Melusine Years album, which topped our Best Albums of 2007 list) to an ancestor, Mary Delaney, who had sailed to New Orleans from Ireland in “one of those cast iron bathtubs.” The offhandedly menacing stream-of-consciousness polka punk of Pearls and Swine, said Garniez, sounds Mexican to Germans and vice versa. After a coy, brief take of the innuendo-laden, bluesy Medicine Man and a rather sweet version of Grasshopper, creatively reinterpreting an old Aesop theme, Munisteri got to take the best solo of the night, expansively and incisively through a whole verse and chorus of the torchy Swimming Pool Blue. The crowd wanted more; they didn’t get it.

Mojo Mancini played about an hour’s worth of deliciously creepy, mostly downtempo, cinematic groove instrumentals. Like a twisted hybrid of the Crusaders or early 70s Herbie Hancock and Tuatara, they’d find a haunting chromatic riff and linger on it for minutes on end, with judicious yet playful solos from everyone. Guitarist John Leventhal, Rosanne Cash’s husband and longtime musical director, seems to be in charge of keeping track of the changes in this unit as well. Drummer Sean Pelton and bassist Conrad Korsch locked into a groove which moved gracefully from slinky trip-hop to pounding funk and pretty much all points in between, anchored by either fluid Hammond organ or eerily reverberating Rhodes piano from Dylan sideman Brian Mitchell and spiced with both tenor and baritone sax from Rick DePofi. Mitchell used a vocoder to reach for the furthest level of hell on an unabashedly silly, funkified cover of the David Essex K-tel hit Rock On; other times, he’d mess with his portamento, sometimes in tandem with Leventhal for an out-of-focus, watery menace. They brought Garniez up for a purposeful, straight-up cover of the old jazz standard Comes Love – she chose her spots, alternating between a wondrous Blossom Dearie soprano and a brassy, brazen belt, feeling her way between one kind of over-the-top and another and whichever she’d switch into, it worked like a charm. The band also accompanied a sword swallower, who was impressive with all his super-long balloons and giant screwdriver, yet ultimately his presence onstage stole the spotlight during one of Mojo Mancini’s most interesting numbers, a quietly intense, suspenseful minor-key excursion.

The only drawback was the incessant drum machine. These guys are topnotch players: during a quiet intro, Leventhal and DePofi both had trouble connecting with the click, but when the volume picked up to the point where it was all but inaudible, they swung like crazy. Musicians this good don’t need a click track – why they had one is a mystery. Mojo Mancini’s new album is very much worth your time – watch this space for a review in the next couple of weeks.

April 8, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Rosanne Cash at the Greene Space, NYC 9/23/09

The great thing about shows at the Greene Space is that many of them are broadcast live on WNYC and then archived at the station’s site, where you can find this particular one. That’s right, you don’t have to take our word for it, go right to WNYC and hear the amazing little set Rosanne Cash played this afternoon on Soundcheck with John Schaefer. She has a new album coming out titled The List, based on a hundred-song list her dad gave her when she was eighteen. “This was a guy who listened to everything, metal included,” Johnny Cash’s daughter took care to point out, but her dad’s compilation was basically Americana, a “musical genealogy,” she explained, a not-so-subtle hint for a teenager who up to that point had gravitated closer to the Beatles than to classic country. She’s done plenty of covers, but this will be her first all-covers album – and since there’ll still be ninety or so more songs on her dad’s list that she won’t have on this cd, a second volume seems likely as well.

Backed by a five-piece, electric two-guitar band who played the songs with unabashed relish, Cash soared wounded and sultry over her husband John Leventhal’s smartly counterintuitive countrypolitan arrangements. In the studio, she’s finely nuanced – live, there are few others (Jenifer Jackson is one) who can find so much emotional subtlety yet still pack such a wallop – if she’s been injured, you can tell from just a minute inflection of her voice where she’s been hit and what caliber the shell was. Yet her stage presence is casual and amusing, not bad for someone carrying a legacy that would crush plenty of other artists (in addition to her own: Black Cadillac is every bit as good as anything her dad ever did)

The Hank Snow standard Movin’ On swung casually but incisively, as did Jimmie Rodgers’ Miss the Mississippi. Sea of Heartbreak (a duet with Bruce Springsteen on the album) was understated in the tradition of the 1961 Don Gibson original. They wrapped up the set with Long Black Veil, Cash not bothering to change the lyrics to fit traditional gender roles – when she got to the end of the chorus, “nobody knows,” the intensity was something considerably beyond wrenching.

You can hear the complete show at WNYC, including some commentary by Bebel Gilberto (who has a new album out as well) and NPR critic Tom Moon – who seems to be a decently aware classical/jazz guy whose knowledge of rock ends right about 1976, the end of the boomer era – about music as a legacy for future generations.

September 23, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: HuDost – Trapeze

The second album by adventurous Montreal band HuDost was produced by Malcolm Burn (Peter Gabriel, Midnight Oil) who gives their ethereal, sometimes country-flavored, sometimes goth-inflected pop songs a sheen that underscores their rustic side rather than glossing over it. With her clear, soaring voice, frontwoman/keyboardist Moksha Sommer echoes a couple of NYC rock legends – she’s something of a cross between a more overtly sultry Paula Carino and a less boisterous Juliana Nash. Perhaps adding to the already wary edge in her voice is that she recorded this album after being diagnosed with a brain tumor, but before the operation.

The album opens with the goth-pop epic Trespasser, a cut that with a little exposure will be a fixture in the background wherever black robes and eyeliner are found. About half the songs here take a traditional country ballad feel and add an unexpected edge, whether that might be exotic instrumentation (harmonium, bouzouki, oud and bendir) or a more hypnotic vibe – one of them sounds like a more interesting update on the Rosanne Cash hit Seven Year Ache. The most memorable track is an understatedly haunting number sung in both English and French, recounting how greedy developers paved over a cemetery for the poor, ripped out the headstones, left the graves and with erosion the bodies came through the ground again. Of the other tracks here, there’s a catchy Beatlesque hit that morphs into new wave, a vivid, psychedelic midtempo chamber pop ballad, and the upbeat, tongue-in-cheek All My Guitars (sung by guitarist Jemal Wade Hines), an artsy pop song that wouldn’t be out of place in the Snow‘s songbook. It’s nice to see a band like this who don’t sacrifice content for commerciality yet have a theoretically almost limitless upside for hit potential: these songs are catchy, and thankfully, Canadian radio is mandated to push Canadian artists, so they ought to have at least one market locked up.

The best news of all here is that Sommer is in good health again and the band will be on US tour Sept 16-Oct 15, watch this space for NY dates.

September 10, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Little Pink – Gladly Would We Anchor

Washington, DC band Little Pink’s third and best album effectively blends both British and American folk-rock traditions while managing to sound completely original. Richard & Linda Thompson is the influence that jumps out at you, blended with the resigned yet raging sensibility of Rosanne Cash’s recent work. Frontwoman Mary Battiata sings in a troubled, world-weary, haunting voice, appropriate for someone who covered the war in Bosnia as a journalist in the 1990s. Her lyrics remind of Sandy Denny, replete with images from nature and pastoral scenes, often painting a starkly evocative picture. Her melodies are terse, catchy and lend themselves to all sorts of commercial purposes: Lifetime TV dramas, NPR themes and – gasp – commercial radio. If this album had been released in 1976, Fleetwood Mac would have found themselves on a dead run to catch up. That’s a compliment. It is mind-boggling that this band is not huge right now.

With fifteen tracks, this is a long and richly rewarding album. “We took half our lives to find ourselves here,” Battiata relates casually in the opening track, the simple, ridiculously catchy country/folk song Like a Wheel. Charm Offensive, a bouncy blues, is spiced with baritone sax; Battiata does a nice, recurrent vocal jump on the chorus. With Battiata’s gently lilting chorus, Trance is Fleetwood Mac gone to Nashville. Ten Feet High, with its slowly stomping beat and layers of screaming guitar from lead player Philip Stevenson, is an obvious homage to the Richard & Linda Thompson classic Shoot Out the Lights. There’s more backbeat-driven folk-rock on China Sea, sounding like one of the good cuts on Sunnyvista. Stars Burn Out is a big crunchy guitar-driven rocker that could be a solid track from Mary Lee’s Corvette’s last album. Wind and Water is a quietly haunting, very Sandy Denny-ish traditionally styled number, seemingly about refugees adrift on the ocean.

The Britfolk continues with the fast, minor-key English reel Orange Moon and then the wickedly catchy John the Cat, with an absolutely killer chorus and more impressive vocal leaps and bounds from Battiata. Beggar’s Bowl is a slowly swinging political parable that crescendos gently into Battiata’s excellent acoustic guitar solo. The Brokenhearted is an accusation, building with amazing subtlety, the drums creeping up to the chorus marvelously as the song’s central hook kicks in: “You’re not brokenhearted.” The album ends on a riveting note with Battiata’s best song, the offhandedly creepy Magic Years, which sounds like a sentimental look back at an idyllic childhood, until you listen closely:

We carved our names
Up all the trees
We counted stars
Til we believed
On the edge of our beds, holding hands
Holding our breath

Absolutely brilliant. If Americana, British folk or just plain good, lyrically-driven songwriting is your thing, get this album.

January 31, 2008 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments