Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 6/4/11

We’ve been so busy putting together a comprehensive NYC live music calendar for this summer that we’ve put a ton of stuff on the back burner. Upcoming momentarily: intense cello music in the West Village; old favorites in Williamsburg and the East Village; a wasted afternoon in downtown Brooklyn and an ill-advised Friday night trip to Queens. You can’t say we don’t get around. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #605:

The Strawbs – Grave New World

The Strawbs started out in the UK in the late 60s as the Strawberry Hill Gang, playing bluegrass; they backed Sandy Danny on her first full-length recording, not issued til decades later. By 1972, they were taking British folk and making towering, anthemic, psychedelic art-rock out of it, sort of like Jethro Tull without the gnomes and hobbits. This one’s all over the map: there are a couple of duds, but otherwise it’s a masterpiece, a loosely thematic collection of songs that ponder aging and death. Benedictus takes a 12-string Byrds theme and makes a hypnotic, circular anthem out of it; the title track, with its murderous, crashing mellotron intro, is one of the most vengeful songs ever written: “May you rot, in your grave new world!” There’s also the apprehensive, Procol Harum-ish Tomorrow; the artfully backward-masked Queen of Dreams; the psychedelic folk of Heavy Disguise and The Flower and the Young Man and the surprisingly quiet, resigned concluding track Journey’s End. After all these years, and a turn in a harder-rocking direction, frontman Dave Cousins continues to tour a more acoustic version of the band. Here’s a random torrent.

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June 4, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Album of the Day 8/7/10

Every day, we count down the 1000 best albums of all time all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #906:

Fairport Convention – What We Did on Our Holidays

This was a tough call: the best of the Britfolk bands, Richard Thompson’s first group, had a great run from the late 60s through the early 70s, with one great album after another. This one, their second, from 1969, was Sandy Denny’s debut recording (she’d previously done an wonderful chamber-pop album with the Strawbs that only saw a release in the 90s). We’ve decided to give it top billing over the band’s wonderfully jangly, psychedelic 1968 debut (with Judy Dyble handling the majority of the vocals) and their most expansive early album, Unhalfbricking: even though that one’s got Who Knows Where the Time Goes, it’s also got three C-list Dylan covers. This one is practically perfect top to bottom: bassist Tyger Hutchings’ scorching Mr. Lacey; the acoustic Saxon gothic of The Lord Is in This Place…How Dreadful Is This Place and an equally severe if rousing version of the traditional Nottamun Town; the gorgeously expressive Sandy Denny vocal showcase of Dylan’s I’ll Keep It With Mine, and Thompson’s most haunting, death-obsessed early anthem, Meet on the Ledge. Download it somewhere if you haven’t already.

August 7, 2010 Posted by | folk music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 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

CD Review: Jenifer Jackson – The Outskirts of a Giant Town

Her best album, the first instant classic to be released this year. Over the course of her previous six albums, Jenifer Jackson has carved out a niche that is uniquely her own, even though she wears her influences on her sleeve (Bacharach, the Beatles, and Brazilian jazz/pop most notably). There’s an impressive clarity of vision that pervades her music – a courageous one. It’s what Camus meant by lucidite – it’s evident from the first song on this album that this is someone who is firing on all cylinders, every synapse wide awake and often painfully aware of what’s going on. Her melancholy, intricate, jazz-inflected psychedelia doesn’t shy away from despair or loneliness. But there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel: as strange as it may seem at first listen, this is ultimately a hopeful, optimistic album. Recorded live in the studio in order to evince as much interplay as possible out of her stellar backing band, the cd is a multistylistic tour de force, opening with Don’t Fade, old school 60s- 70s soul with fluttery organ fills and a soaring vocal. Like Sandy Denny, Jackson’s formidable prowess as a singer may not be physical – she’s not a big belter – but she packs an emotional wallop.

The album’s next cut Suddenly Unexpectedly, set to a fast shuffle beat with a bossa melody and layers of keys, is pure psychedelic tropicalia. The following track, Saturday, is something of an epic, and might be the most powerful song she’s ever recorded. It starts out somewhat Beatlesque, like a George song from the White Album. She pedals a chord through the verse, then all of a sudden the minor-key chorus descends: “It doesn’t matter anyway – I’ll keep it in my memory, that lovely Saturday.” Then the second verse kicks in, and everything picks up a notch. Jackson is also a painter, and as the images unwind, this tersely imagistic portrait of a young woman absolutely and heartbreakingly alone is absolutely, heartbreakingly beautiful.

After that, we get I Want to Start Something, more old-school soul with psychedelic flourishes, accordionist Sonny Barbato playing some delicious licks off Jackson’s equally tasty rhythm guitar. Her voice takes flight again at the end of the verse: “I’d like to find a place that feels like home…been so many places I don’t know why I can’t find it.”

The next cut, Dreamland, begins with a strangely captivating, tinkly piano intro into a wash of cymbals, then Jackson’s guitar kicks in all by itself. It’s Nashville gothic with all kinds of eerie, echoey effects from lead player Oren Bloedow’s guitar. It’s scarier than the fast, bluegrass-inflected version she used to play live, with a gorgeously sad lyric: “The way you loved me was a sin/I played a game I couldn’t win/Still I tried so hard to enter in/To the outer edge of Dreamland.”

Other standout tracks on the cd include the title track, gentle pastoral raga rock evocative of Meddle-era Pink Floyd, with an amazing piano break by Barbato; Anywhere I Would Journey, with its slow descending progression and watery lead guitar; The Change, an epic old-school soul groove-fest that would be perfectly at home on an Isaac Hayes live album from the early 70s; and For You, which with its tricky time changes and 60s garage rock feel wouldn’t be out of place on a Love Camp 7 record.

This album is generously multi-purpose: it’s a hell of a headphone album, it would make a great bedroom record, but it’s also a good thing to give to anyone you know who’s going off the deep end. Jackson’s gentle, soft voice and her wise, knowing lyrics offer a kind of solace that’s completely absent in indie rock, and the inspiring interplay of the band behind her can be mesmerizing. She deserves props for having the guts to reach down into the abyss to come up with some of the songs on this album, while never losing sight of the subtle, frequently surreal wit that imbues so many of them. It’s only April, but I think we’ve found the best album of 2007 and this is it. Cds are available at cdbaby.com at the link above, in better record stores and at shows.

April 12, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments