Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Kasey Anderson – Nowhere Nights

By turns bitter, brutal and gorgeously anthemic, Kasey Anderson’s latest cd is a defiantly restless, kick-ass heartland rock record. It rips the heart out of the myth of idyllic smalltown life. Over and over again, the characters here make it clear that ultimately they want one thing and one thing alone: to get out. The onetime big fish in a little pond in the title track explains it with a casual grace: there was no epiphany, no paradigm shift, he just got sick of spinning his wheels. The other players in these Russell Banks-style narratives don’t get off nearly so easily.

Kasey Anderson comes across as something of the missing link between Steve Earle and Joe Pug: he’s got Earle’s breathy drawl and knack for a catchy hook and Pug’s uncanny sense of metaphor. Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s production sets layers and layers of guitar tersely jangling, twanging and roaring beneath Anderson’s intense, impassioned vocals, occasionally fleshed out with keyboards or accordion. Drummer Julian MacDonough propels it along with some of the most hauntingly terse playing on a rock record in recent years. The opening track, Bellingham Blues sets the tone: “I kept walking down these streets, searching for someone I would never meet,” Anderson half-snarls, half-whispers, perfectly encapsulizing the frustration and also the fear that comes with knowing that you’ve been somewhere you never wanted to be for far too long.

The second cut sounds like a blend of Mellencamp and Everclear (Mellencamp on Everclear, maybe?), followed by the wry, cynical Sooner or Later, a road song that could be Springsteen but with better production values. Holed up in some seedy motel, “She lights roman candles while he bleeds out,” yet there’s a sad determinism at work here: no matter how much resolve she may pull together, sooner or later she’s going to be going back to him.

With simple guitar, cello and a slow, hypnotic rimshot beat, Home is a chilling if ultimately encouraging reminder to a once-promising friend to get out and stay out: “Where you hang your hat, that’s where you get caught,” Anderson reminds. The big blazing backbeat rocker Torn Apart offers the same advice to an ex-girlfriend in less than friendly terms:

You’ve been spitting out nails and knocking back whiskey
You’ve got a new tattoo that says you don’t miss me
That highwire act makes me so bored I choke
Everybody’s laughing at the joke…
Everybody wants to see you smile
Maybe you should shut your mouth for a little while
Get out before you get torn apart

Possibly the most vivid track here is the searing I Was a Photograph, which follows the wartime and post-discharge struggles of Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller, the “Marlboro Man” Iraq war veteran immortalized in the famous Luis Sinco photo.

The closest Anderson gets to optimism is on the final track, and the two halfhearted seduction ballads here. The narrator in The Leavin’ Kind ends up undone by his own decency, and he knows it:

The devil’s in the details
I ain’t so hard to find
Go on, disappear, Ill be standing right here
I’m not the leavin’ kind

“Some things you can bury, that don’t mean they’re dead,” he reminds in From Now On: “You always said you were a hopeless romantic, well here’s that hopeless romance you’ve been waiting for.”

The album closes with the death-obsessed, metaphor- and reverb-drenched, practically eight-minute epic Real Gone, Ambel’s offhandedly savage guitar pyrotechnics like high-beams throughout a long, unfulfilling, uneasy road trip that ends just as unresolved as it began. Hopefully there’ll be more coming soon. You’ll see this one high up on our 50 best albums of the year list in December. Kasey Anderson plays Lakeside on May 1 at around 10:30 on a killer bill with the Roscoe Trio and Chip Robinson.

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April 27, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, 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

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