Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 12/18/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #773:

The Pogues – Peace & Love

Conventional wisdom is that the Pogues peaked early, that the original Irish folk-punk band was at their best when they had Elvis Costello’s second wife on bass and a fairly lucid Shane MacGowan out in front. And as ecstatically fun as their early albums are, this one from 1988 is their most diverse, and most original, maybe because it draws on the songwriting talent of just about everyone in the band while Shane was going through a…um…down period. The opening track, Gridlock, proves these great Irish musicians could tackle jazz and pull it off. The gorgeous hook-driven acoustic pop songs include White City, the bouncy Blue Heaven, the hypnotic Down All the Days and the beautifully rueful Lorelei; among the more traditionally oriented numbers, there’s the characteristically snarling Young Ned of the Hill, Cotton Fields, MacGowan’s lickety-split USA, the psychedelic Boat Train and the tongue-in-cheek Night Train to Lorca. The best tracks are accordionist Jem Finer’s haunting Tombstone and the majestic, almost cruelly evocative, solitary wee-hours ballad Misty Morning, Albert Bridge. The 2005 cd reissue includes the less-than-stellar Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah ep from the previous year, which doesn’t really add anything. Here’s a random torrent.

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December 18, 2010 Posted by | irish music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Song of the Day 6/12/09

Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Friday’s song is #411:

The Pogues – Misty Morning, Albert Bridge

Shane MacGowan at his best: this big orchestrated Irish ballad in swaying 6/8 time has as much sadness, longing and authenticity as anything he ever did. From Peace & Love, 1988; mp3s are everywhere.

June 11, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Ten Best Christmas Songs of Alltime

…heh heh heh…

 

10. Linda Draper – Merry Christmas

The New York acoustic rock siren is typically pensive and hardly festive here: play this one early Xmas morning, hungover. Merry Xmas, not.

 

9.  The Pretenders – 2000 Miles

A reader suggestion, thanks for this! The link is a nice live version on youtube.  

 

8. The Reducers – Nothing for Christmas

Bet these Connecticut mod punks never realized how prescient this snide holiday tune would turn out to be when they originally released it as a vinyl single in 1988. Still available on the excellent Reducers Redux compilation from 1991.

 

7. Stiff Little Fingers – White Christmas

The alltime best version – maybe the only good version – of the bestselling song of alltime, classic funny irreverent punk rock, 1978 style.

 

6. Ninth House – You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch

Back when they were an artsy, Joy Divisionesque band, the New York rockers used to have a great time with this one no matter what the time of year. Never officially released, although there are several excellent bootleg versions kicking around, particularly from Arlene Grocery circa 2000.

 

5.  Tom Waits – Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis

Spot-on. Words cannot describe. The youtube link above is a priceless live version.

 

4.  The Pogues – Fairytale of New York

Shane MacGowan and the late Kirsty MacColl play dysfunctional drunken couple, trading insults and invective in perfect holiday style. This link’s a live version too.

 

3. Amy Allison – Drinking Thru Xmas

If this song isn’t universal, you find one that is. “Twelve shots of liquor lined up on the bar/You’ve got all my money and the keys to the car.” It’s vintage Amy. Nice to see the song up on her myspace again.

 

2. Florence Dore – Christmas

Although first recorded by the Posies in the mid-90s, Dore wrote it, and it’s her version from her lone 2002 cd Perfect City that really provides the chills. Xmas may not be suicide season, but this one makes it seem like it is.

 

 

1. Olivier Messiaen – The Birth of Our Lord

As we’ve noted here before, this piece isn’t titled The Birth of Christ. The great composer always put his Catholicism front and center…but maybe he was working for the other team? Nothing but brooding and hellfire in this macabre multi-part suite. The link above is a youtube clip from one of its quieter sections.

December 16, 2008 Posted by | Music, snark | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Mark Steiner – Fallen Birds

A gorgeous collection of dark, quietly impassioned piano and guitar-based songs. Mark Steiner made a name for himself in New York as the leader of the popular art-rock bands Piker Ryan’s Folly (the “Folly” eventually fell by the wayside) and Kundera. Best known for his voice – Steiner’s casually ominous baritone is instantly recognizable, and has earned him well-deserved acclaim – he’s quietly built himself a cult following in Europe after having relocated to Norway a few years ago. Our loss is their gain.

Nisj, the opening track, harkens back to Steiner’s earlier, Nick Cave-influenced period, all shadow and tortured romance with its recurrent theme of “All I want, all I need is you.” The album’s second cut Unbearable, with its torchy, eerie intro is a dead ringer for legendary Pacific Northwest expats the Walkabouts, right down to the faux Carla Torgerson vocals that come in on the second verse. It’s a fast, relentless number that crescendos out of a tense, rapid verse to one of the catchiest refrains of the year. Wallspotting, driven by percussive piano, returns to the sexy desperation of the album’s opening cut. One can only wonder what a noir chanteuse like Little Annie or Neko Case could do with this one.

(Now She’s) Gone is a big audience favorite. Absolutely no one writes a haunting 6/8 ballad better than Steiner, and this is one of his best. Here, we finally get to hear his trademark reverb-laden, David Lynch-esque, tremolo-bar guitar, complemented brilliantly by Susan Mitchell’s sepulchral viola work. Drunk is another popular concert staple and also one of Steiner’s best songs, something akin to what Shane MacGowan might sound like had he grown up on the wrong side of the Berlin Wall. Like most everything else on this album, the chorus is killer. The cd concludes with the “crooner version” of perhaps Steiner’s biggest hit to date, Cigarettes, another of his signature 6/8 ballads. As the title implies, this recording is more expansive and jazzier than the original, which makes it interesting, albeit not better than the absolutely riveting version Steiner plays live. To paraphrase B.B. King, sometimes a major or minor is all you need: this was probably a lot of fun to record, but it’s also kind of overkill. Still, as a whole this is an absolutely tremendous album, the finest work Steiner has done to date and based on his show here last month, his new material is just as good. A classic of its kind. Five bagels. Rye, which is probably pretty much all you can get in Norway. CDs are available in better European record stores and online. And like an increasing number of underground artists, Steiner has also released this on 180 gram vinyl. Given the cd’s tasteful production, one can only wonder how delectable the sonics on the record must be!

November 2, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Concert Review from the Archives: The Pogues at the Beacon Theatre, NYC 9/27/91

With Shane MacGowan AWOL, probably fighting the DT’s, Joe Strummer fronted the band and played rhythm guitar on his Telecaster. This is by far the best project he’s been involved with since the Clash, considering that the Pogues are basically an Irish traditional version of that band. This was an excellent show, even if it was pretty disjointed: they’d play an original, then a traditional folk song or a dance tune, then another original, then a cover. Still, few bands seem to have as much fun onstage as this unit, Spider Stacy on pennywhistle, James Fearnley on accordion and the rest of the crew. They did a lot of stuff from the new album Hell’s Ditch including the title track, the rousing opening cut Sunny Side of the Street, Sayonara, Rain Street and the eerie, chromatic shipwreck tale Wake of the Medusa. Strummer’s finest moment as a frontman was his show-stopping, snarling vocal, “I will not be re-con-struc-ted” on Sunny Side. They did a mellower, jangly version of the bitter immigration anthem Thousands Are Sailing later on. But the high point of the evening was a furious, stomping, competely unexpected cover of London Calling, missing only Mick Jones’ dazed, sunspotted guitar solo. A fun, jangly version of I Fought the Law followed a few songs later. This may have been the Beacon, but the party was in full effect, the bathroom a haze of pot and hash smoke, half the crowd half in the bag and singing along with every word. A deliriously good concert.

September 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: The Debut Album by the Oxygen Ponies

The great lost Luna album – at least most of it. Darkly glimmering second-generation Velvets rock hasn’t been done so well since Dean Wareham and crew, about 15 years ago. “Get me out!” is the theme that recurs again and again here. The Oxygen Ponies’ debut release is a not a happy album, and it doesn’t end well. It’s a concept record about a breakup and its aftermath, a pungee trap that’s left a thousand songwriters impaled on the sharp bamboo sticks of self-pity and bloated ego. Credit frontman/songwriter Paul Megna for getting through this one with just a few scratches, his morbid sense of humor and withering cynicism solidly intact.

It begins quiet and acoustic with the downcast It’s Yr Life, a theme that will recur later. The next cut, Devotion begins with a 6/8 nice piano intro that comes back in at the end (themes both lyrical and musical abound on this album). “God I hate asking for favors, just get me out of this mess,” complains Megna as dirty, dirgy wall of guitar like Luna or the Jesus & Mary Chain circa their late 80s peak kicks in. After that, Brooklyn Bridge sets the stage for what’s to follow:

Heard you been talking shit my friend
Well you can talk talk all you want
If she gets fuckin’ hit again
It’s the asphalt you will haunt
‘Cause I have known a lot of girls
In that swimming pool called romance
Where simple oysters crush the pearls
With a steel toe’s swift advance
Washington, Washington, god I miss the Brooklyn Bridge
Get me out of Washington, take me where she lives

The next track The Truest Thing begins with tasty, reverberating Wurlitzer electric piano and what sounds like standup bass:

I get up 6 AM
Coffee, paper, back to bed again
Cause the news is never good
I only read the parts I think I should
Think I should write the perfect song
But everything is wanting since you’re gone
I’m up again, 12:15
My body yearns for more caffeine
The coffee burned to the pot
I thought I turned it off
But I forgot

It’s one of the most evocative portrayals of clinical depression ever set to music. It’s followed by Chainsmoking, the big breakup song, with more Wurly and nice layers of guitar on the chorus, evoking the Church at their most atmospheric. There’s a delicious lapsteel solo straight out of the Jon Brion/Aimee Mann school of arranging.

The second side of the album (the cd is divided into two sections, pre-and post-breakup) starts out with the slowly, sadly swinging, slightly jazzy Umbrellas in the Rain with its buoyant, muted horns:

She thinks I’m having a party
She thinks I’m baking a cake
She thinks I’m celebrating
Great

Then the guitars – all jangle, clang and feedback – kick in on Have You Forgotten. Here’s where the Luna/J&MC comparisons are most apt. It’s even more apparent on the next cut I Don’t Know Why, with its insistent rhythm underneath a soaring steel guitar melody. The accusatory Happy Where U R follows, a dead ringer for the J&MC tune Happy When It Rains. If this is intentional, the irony is very clever; if not, it’s a fortuitous coincidence because it works so well.

The slow woozy waves of depression return with Get Over Yrself, turning to mania on Starshine, a glimmering, growling hit waiting to happen. The album winds up with the epic The Quickest Way to Happiness – which leads you straight to hell. “I’ll survive,” intones Megna as the song builds to a majestic, orchestral chorus, but one has to wonder how much he means it.

Don Piper’s pristine production deserves major props for making this cd sound like a vinyl record, drums back in the mix where they should be, vocals slightly out front, guitars always cutting through. Fans of the gutter-poet school of songwriting: Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave, Shane MacGowan et al. will love this just as much as the guitar aficionados who will revel in the album’s textures. One of the better efforts we’ve heard this year.

June 28, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Bedsit Poets, Don Piper and the Oxygen Ponies at Luna Lounge, Brooklyn NY 6/3/07

The show probably would have sold out if not for the elements: torrential rain, umbrellas blown inside out, everyone in the house soaked to the bone. The marvelous Bedsit Poets opened. Their sound is totally late 60s/early 70s, windswept pastoral beauty in places, otherwise super catchy harmony-driven Britpop, the Kinks circa Arthur hanging out with the Fairport Convention crowd. Frontman Ed Rogers and rhythm guitarist/singer Amanda Thorpe blend voices beautifully. Both British expats, he has a classic pop delivery which pairs well with Thorpe’s soaring, passionate Britfolk style.

Thorpe was celebrating her birthday, and she held the audience in the palm of her hand, particularly on the sweeping, anthemic Reach for the Sky, from their well-received album The Summer That Changed (as in “changed our lives”). On the quiet, ethereal Chemical Day, Thorpe played a small keyboard that for a minute sounded as if it was producing some quiet, strategically placed layers of feedback. They closed their rousing 50-minute set with the title track from the album, a supremely catchy pop tune punctuated by lead guitarist Mac Randall’s swinging country licks. Rogers and Thorpe sang a round with each other at the end of the song: he launched into Mungo Jerry and she countered with Gershwin, the result being a typical Bedsit moment. They’re a very playful band. The audience wanted an encore but didn’t get one.

Singer/guitarist Don Piper and his band – including many of the people who would play later in the evening – followed with a painless set of slow-to-midtempo jangle and clang. At one point, guest guitarist Drew Glackin (who also plays with the Jack Grace Band and the Silos) took a slowly growling climb up the scale, turned around and came back down the way he went up. Against the steady wash of the two guitars behind him, it was almost as if it was 1984 and True West was onstage. But they never hit that peak again: Piper seems to be more interested in mood and atmosphere than saying anything specific. He doesn’t have the voice for rock – it’s a keening, high tenor – but to his credit he tackled a Curtis Mayfield number and absolutely nailed it. He has a real future as a soul singer if he wants it.

The Oxygen Ponies are basically songwriter Paul Megna and whoever he can rustle up for a show. Tonight he brought a whole herd, 11 musicians including a trio of backup singers, two guitarists in addition to Megna himself, lapsteel, rhythm section and two horn players. Megna comes from the gutter-poet school of songwriting, all bedraggled, depressed and chain-smoking. His melodies are contagiously catchy (think a less skeletal Leonard Cohen, or a more pop-oriented Nick Cave) and he can write a hell of a lyric, with a sometimes savagely cynical edge. And the band pushed him to project and sing, keeping his vocals at a safe distance from the dreaded cesspool of grunge. The band’s ability to hit a crescendo out of nowhere was literally breathtaking, especially on the final track from their new cd, The Quickest Way to Happiness.

What was perhaps most striking about their performance was that everyone onstage was clearly having a great time, and this carried over to the audience. What could have been dirges became anthems. The lead guitarist didn’t play much, but when he did, his slashing pyrotechnics never failed to ignite. The horns played in perfect unison with each other and the backup singers delivered joyous, heartfelt harmonies. Megna’s songs tend to go on for at least five minutes, sometimes much more, but they never dragged. And the sound system was crystal clear all night long. What fun.

June 9, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Concert Review: Adam Masterson at Banjo Jim’s, NYC 5/1/07

So often the best shows are the ones you never expect to see. The only reason I was there was because a friend of mine was tending bar and invited me down to alleviate the boredom on what was to soon become a slow rainy night.We had the place to ourselves til Adam Masterson showed up. Neither one of us had any idea of what to expect and cynic that I am, I expected the worst. After screwing around with the soundboard for half an hour, the bartender and I finally got it up and running, soundchecked the guy and then kicked back with a beer. The club was empty except for us: Masterson’s crowd was depleted since he’d played a gig the previous night.

He piqued our interest during soundcheck: to say that his guitar skills are a cut above your average performer is faint praise, in this post-grunge era, but he impressed with his sense of melody and the licks he threw in between chords. Then he took a seat at the piano and showed us a rolling, gospel-inflected chordal style. He launched into his set before anyone else got to the bar.

Two hours and three sets later, he’d made a fan of everyone who’d braved the rain. What a discovery this guy is: you should see him. He’s British, sounding a lot like a young, pre-delirium tremens Shane MacGowan, casting himself as an acoustic punk gutter poet of sorts. Most of his vivid, hook-driven tales of life among the down-and-out take place in “twisted nightmare alleys past rotten rags and half-chewed chicken bones,” to quote a line from one of his songs. He delivers them in a hoarse, soul-inflected voice (which rang especially true on a rousing cover of Sam Cooke’s Change Is Gonna Come).

The first of the night’s two best songs was a surprise cover of the obscure Clash b-side Gates of the West (available on the Super Black Market Clash anthology), an apt choice for an expatriate. He didn’t do it note for note with the original, but the bittersweet longing of someone who made it “from Camden Town Station to 44th and 8th” and still feels like an outcast here rang true.

The other was his strongest original, a brilliantly catchy portrait of dejection and despair in the London slums. While Masterson’s lyrics generally express optimism despite all odds, this haunting story of a junkie, his prostitute girlfriend and their sketchy neighborhood doesn’t end well: To his credit, Masterson could have gone all mawkish and romanticized it, but he didn’t.

In what amounted to about two hours onstage, he did several other impressive originals (sometimes more than once for the sake of latecomers), including the fiery Can’t Control Myself and My Only Way Out; Avenue Walk (a piano song that could be a dead ringer for a swinging, country-inflected Sam Llanas Bodeans hit); Metropolitan, a London cityscape set to a rolling piano melody, and the 6/8 cabaret blues The Actress, which casts drugs as an actress who’s always there for the “show, show, show.” Mighty good stuff. Masterson is a rock band type at heart, but he’s a passionate performer and an uncommonly intelligent songwriter and for that reason very much worth seeing play solo. Fitting that I’d see this guy for the first time on a rainy night in what used to be a slum. Masterson has a demo cd that’s worth taking home for the songs even if it doesn’t capture the fire of his live performance.

May 4, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment