Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Chip Robinson Is Back Like He Never Left

Chip Robinson got his start in the early 90s in careening Raleigh alt-country rockers the Backsliders, but he has not been dormant since. His new solo album Mylow is a lot different, a lot more diverse and it’s excellent all the way through. It’s sort of the missing link between Steve Earle and Richard Buckner, a mix of bruising, overdriven, twangy rock and rueful ballads. Robinson has an ear for a catchy hook, a memorable riff and a striking lyrical image to go along with a wry sense of humor. The rueful title track is definitely the best song ever written about a rabbit (it was an ex-girlfriend’s pet: she got custody). “Keep your chin up,” he tells the missing rodent, “I’ll keep my chin up too.” Another regret-tinged ballad admits that “The day I fell in love with you, I pissed off my wife and my girlfriend too.” The doomed romance of Story unwinds with two diverging points of view: he remembers whisking her across the dancefloor; she remembers him getting so loaded he couldn’t remember a thing. And the bizarrely compelling album intro, spoken word over oscillating distorted guitar noise, tells the tale of a guy who went down into a hole for “three long years” – but the drugs, and everything else, couldn’t kill him. And then it morphs into a faux-heroic tv theme type melody.

The rest of the album is a lot more serious and intense. Especially its best cut, Bee Sting, its battered narrator alternately distracted and smitten, “All my bridges burned just ashes in the wind, try to find the short way home.” Robinson works those images for all they’re worth over a fiery river of guitars, like something the Replacements might have done if they hadn’t been so sloppy all the time. The most Richard Buckner-ish track here is Wings, an alienation anthem with some hypnotic accordion work. Closer to the Light is a pretty ballad with the tasty layers of acoustic and electric guitars that you find on most everything Eric “Roscoe” Ambel produces (he also frequently plays shows with Robinson at Lakeside Lounge). That track has some distant Beatles allusions, which come front and center on the big ballad A Prayer Please, right down to a juicy George Harrison-esque guitar solo. The goodbye anthem Start is metaphorically loaded and vividly bitter; there are also a couple of roaring, Stonesy rock anthems here to pick up the pace, along with Mylow Sleeps, a lullaby for the missing bunny. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into here, lyrically and musically: an ipod album for sure, and one of 2010’s best, a welcome return to the studio from a guy who never went away but might have fallen off a few people’s radar in the years after the Backsliders broke up. Watch this space for upcoming NYC shows.

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August 31, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Mary Lee’s Corvette at Lakeside, NYC 4/2/10

Good things happening in the Lakeside family: Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s old band the Del Lords are back together (and recording!), while his wife Mary Lee Kortes’ old if considerably more recent band Mary Lee’s Corvette are back together again as well. The ‘Vette may have been more of rotating cast of characters, but it seems to have hinged on the availability of fiery guitarist Andy York. To say that York’s re-emergence has re-energized the group is an understatement. And York can play anything which is a good thing because Kortes can write anything. Her songs run the length of the emotional spectrum, and a lot of them are very dark, but the band’s sheer joy playing together again translated viscerally from the stage. This was a bassless version of the band, Kortes on acoustic guitar and percussion plus Joe Ciofalo on accordion and Konrad Meissner of the Silos on drums, but the absence of low frequencies didn’t matter.

Kortes’ work is defined by intensity, and this was a set list for fans who enjoy that intensity the most. They opened with the rustic Americana of The Nothing Song (as in “all I want is to want nothing from you”), York’s surgically precise minor-key blues licks underlining the dismissive lyric. They took it up with the casual garage rock snarl of Out from Under It and then brought it down again with Love in Another Language, York’s wide open, wobbly tremolo enhancing the hypnotic, psychedelic ambience. The hits kept coming: “This is about someone who really pissed me off,” Kortes informed the audience as they launched into a ferocious version of another dismissive kiss-off anthem, The Needy.

Why Don’t You Leave Him, the haunting, allusive tale of an abused woman (off the band’s classic True Lovers of Adventure cd from around ten years ago) was quietly riveting. When they reached the last chorus, they took it down to just Meissner’s ominous tom-tom and Kortes voice as she reached the line “he said he’d kill me, and I believed him.” The big show-stopping ballad 1000 Promises Later, also from that album juxtaposed intricately crafted vocal nuance with anguished drama – it was the big hit of the night with the crowd. But the most fascinating moments were two new versions of Beulah Rowley songs (more about her here later – watch this space). The first was a swinging, bluesy min0r-key number with a slightly noir cabaret early-1940s feel: “I was born a happy girl in an unhappy world,” its protagonist announces, and then proceeds to layer on one level of meaning after another. A swing tune, Big Things mined the same territory of the Moonlighters‘ Big Times but more darkly – this is an escape anthem more than an optimistic one. We’re overdue for a Beulah Rowley revival.

“A true story,” Kortes told the crowd, when they reached the encore. “You can’t come up with a name like that.” While the song they played is actually a compassionate look at a girl who can’t come out as a lesbian to her family, by the time the band reached the outro, everybody was laughing and singing along: “What’s the status with Gladys?”

Mary Lee Kortes’ next show is a songwriter summit of sorts with the April Blossoms, a trio with her NYC colleagues Amanda Thorpe and Serena Jost at 7ish on April 21, also at Lakeside.

April 3, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Roscoe Trio at Lakeside, NYC 3/23/10

The big news is that Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s 80s band the Del Lords are back together, having just returned from a short Spanish tour, their first in practically twenty years. They were one of the best bands of the 80s – forget that silly synthesizer stuff, there were so many great guitar bands back then, it’s not funny – the Dream Syndicate, True West, the Long Ryders, the list goes on and on – and the Del Lords represented New York. So any Roscoe appearance at Lakeside these days could be a Del Lords show, considering that they’ve already done at least one unannounced gig there under a phony name. But it was not to be. “I saw an open date on the calendar. So I put my name on it,” said Ambel, and this time he brought his trio, Demolition String Band drummer Phil Cimino and Spanking Charlene bassist Alison Jones. It was like a casual night in the band’s rehearsal space – or a trip to the supermarket in a vintage Trans Am, laid back and comfortable in the bucket seat until you put the hammer down and then all of a sudden you’re burning rubber and your eyeballs are getting pushed way back into your brain.

Ambel had a couple of amps going at once, gleefully blending an eerie, watery chorus tone with distorted clang and roar. Since he’s a gearhead, any time he gets to experiment with textures is a treat for the crowd because that means he goes for the jugular. He’s a melody guy, but he’s just as good at evil noise and that was tonight’s special. It was obvious from the git-go, with a nasty little blaze of wailing bent notes on the stomping Song from the Walls, from his Loud and Lonesome album. Another snarling number from that uncharacteristically angry cd, Way Outside, blew the embers all over the place. A cover of Gillian Welch’s Look At Miss Ohio started out slow and soulful and then careened all the way into the outro from Hendrix’ Hey Joe, which the rhythm section had a ball with. They also did a plaintively jangly version of the Everly Brothers-ish Peter Holsapple tune Next to the Last Waltz, Dee Dee Ramone’s Chinese Rocks done Johnny Thunders Style (which gave Ambel a chance to relate his first encounter with Thunders, who’d been hogging the men’s room at the Mudd Club so he could shoot up), and a slinky, characteristically funny version of the Hank Williams Jr. sendup Monkey with a Gun. They wrapped up the show with a slow, surfy instrumental that Ambel suddenly attacked with a frenzy of tremolo-picking, only to gracefully bring it back around. And was that the Power Lounger Theme they closed with? That’s a blast from the past. Despite what the indie blogs will tell you, great lead guitar never went away – the great thing about living in New York is that you can see it for the price of a beer and a couple of bucks in the tip jar for the rhythm section.

March 24, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Drew Glackin Memorial Concert at Rodeo Bar/The Deciders at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 1/17/08

Drew Glackin, who died unexpectedly earlier this month was honored tonight by a small handful of the literally hundreds who had the good fortune to share a stage or record with him. Like anyone else, musicians have different ways of coping with loss: usually, this boils down to disguising the pain with humor, drinking heavily or turning up really loud. Tonight there was plenty of all of the above. “This band will never be the same,” Jack Grace told the packed house, and he was right. Glackin was the baritone countrycrooner/bandleader’s lead player, on steel, and pretty much defined the sound of the band with his soaring, ringing washes of country soul and his fiery, terse, incisively bluesy solos. Glackin was not a nasty person, but his solos were. In country music, it’s so easy to fall into clichés, playing the same licks that have been Nashville staples for decades, but Glackin always avoided that trap. Taking his spot tonight on steel was Mike Neer, who to his credit didn’t try to hit the same highs Glackin would typically reach on a given night. The ex-Moonlighter is a purist and knew to hang back when necessary. Bill Malchow played honkytonk piano, and Grace’s wife Daria was at the top of her game, groovewise: it’s hard to think of a more fluid, spot-on country bass player. And she’s basically a rocker.

For some reason (a Glackin idea come to life?) the band also featured two drummers, Bruce Martin and Russ Meissner sharing what looked like a kit and a half. Grace is a great showman, and to his credit he played to the crowd as if this was a typical weekend at the Rodeo. The high points of his all-too-brief set came at the end where he went from absolutely white-knuckle intense, singing “angels, take him away” on the old John S. Hurt number Miss Collins, then bringing back the levity with his big audience hit Worm Farm. Grace explained that he’d written it during a period when pretty much all he could write was sad songs, and considering what the evening was all about, it hit the spot. In the middle of the song, Grace segued into a Joni Mitchell song for a couple of bars, complete with falsetto, just to prove that he hadn’t lost his sensitivity, and this was predictably amusing.

From the first scream from Walter Salas-Humara’s Telecaster, the Silos came out wailing, hard. Glackin’s replacement was Rod Hohl, best known for his sizzling guitar work, but as he proved tonight he’s also an excellent bassist. The band played a tantalizingly brief set of bristling indie rock, with Eric Ambel from Steve Earle’s band sitting in on second guitar. The high point was a thirteen-minute cover of a Glackin favorite, the Jonathan Richman chestnut I’m Straight, wherein the two guitarists faced off, trading licks throughout a blisteringly noisy duel every bit as good as anything Steve Wynn ever did. Nice to see Roscoe playing noise-rock again, something he’s very good at but hardly ever does anymore. His wife Mary Lee Kortes provided searing high harmonies on one tune with a recurrent chorus motif of (if memory serves right) “keep your dreams away from your life.” The band didn’t dedicate it to Glackin, but they might as well have: the guy never sold out. Which probably did him in. Very sad to say that if he’d been Canadian (or British, or Dutch, or French, or Cuban, for that matter), he would have had health insurance and the doctors would have detected the thyroid condition that went undiagnosed for too long.

Daria Grace’s band was scheduled to play next, but it was time to head east before the downtown 6 train stopped running (as it turned out, it already had), so that meant a 14-block walk south in the rain and a crosstown bus over to Banjo Jim’s for a nightcap. Which turned out to be a particularly good choice, because the Deciders were still onstage. They’re Elena Skye and Boo Reiners from Demolition String Band plus Lenny Kaye from Patti Smith’s band on pedal steel, plus a rhythm section. Tonight their bassist couldn’t make it, but that didn’t matter. Hearing Skye’s intense, emotionally charged voice in such small confines was a special treat, and watching Reiners and Kaye trade off on a bunch of DSB originals was fascinating to watch. Kaye’s guitar playing is edgy, incisive and potently melodic, but tonight he left that role to Reiners, instead playing fluid washes of sound in a call-and-response with the guitar. The high point of the night was a potently riff-driven new Skye song, Your Wish, from her band’s new album Different Kinds of Love, benefiting vastly from the energy of having two killer electric lead players sharing a stage. They finally shut it down after midnight. Just when it’s tempting to say that it’s time to stick a fork in New York and head out for parts unknown, the devil you know rears its head and reminds you why you haven’t left yet. Nights like this make it all worthwhile.

January 18, 2008 Posted by | country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Roscoe Trio at Lakeside Lounge 6/15/07

A clinic in good guitar and good fun. Besides being Lakeside head honcho, producer of note, Steve Earle’s lead guitarist and member of the Yayhoos, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel sometimes finds the time to play in this self-described “party band.” With an open date on the Lakeside calendar, he’d apparently had enough of a break in his schedule to pull a show together. This was a pickup band of sorts, Phil Cimino on drums and Alison Jones on bass. It didn’t seem that anybody had the chance to rehearse much for this, but Jones is a quick study and Cimino can pretty much play anything. Tonight they played a lot of blues, but it wasn’t lame whiteboy blues, a bunch of aging fratboys hollering their way through Sweet Home Chicago and similar. “Craft” is a favorite word of Ambel’s, and tonight was a chance to watch an artisan pulling good stuff out of thin air and making it work every time.

Ambel is one of the most dynamic, interesting guitarists out there, a four-on-the-floor, purist rock guy at heart but equally adept at pretty much any Americana genre. In Steve Earle’s band the Dukes he plays a lot of wrenchingly beautiful stuff along with his usual twang; this band gives him the chance to parse his own back catalog and cut loose on some covers. Tonight he was in typically terse, soulful mode: he can solo like crazy when he wants to, which is hardly ever. This show was all about thoughtful, sometimes exploratory licks and fills with a few tantalizingly good moments of evil noise. With Ambel, melody is always front and center, but he’s a hell of a noise-rock player  – think Neil Young in a particularly pathological, electric moment – when the mood strikes him.

We arrived to find the band burning through Merle Haggard’s Workingman’s Blues. They then did a quietly captivating take on the old blues standard Ain’t Having No Fun, followed by J.J. Cale’s eerie The Sensitive Kind, which began with a long, darkly glimmering Ambel solo. A little later, they played an obscure Steve Earle tune, Usual Time of the Night, a cut from Ambel’s most recent solo album Knucklehead. It’s Earle’s attempt at writing a Jimmy Reed song, and tonight they did justice to the old bluesman, calmly wringing out every ounce of sly, late-night seductiveness.

They also played a really cool, slow surf instrumental; an amusingly upbeat, chromatically-fueled theme called How ‘Bout It (an expression, Ambel told the audience, that he used to death for a couple of years); the angry, blazing indie rock tune Song for the Walls (the opening track on Ambel’s Loud & Lonesome album); and closed the set with a rousing version of his classic song Garbagehead, written in about five minutes for a Lakeside New Year’s Eve show a few years ago. They wrapped it up with a completely over-the-top, heavy metal finale. Fucking A, fucking right. Fucking A, fucking A, Friday night, gimme five more beers and a snootfull of garbagehead. Who needs garbagehead when you can go out and see a show like this instead. For free. Even though it was past midnight by this point and therefore past Lakeside’s strict curfew (they’re trying to be good neighbors), the audience wasn’t about to let them go without an encore, so Ambel obliged them with the soul-inflected Hurting Thing, from the Yayhoos’ most recent album.

June 16, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments