Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Spottiswoode’s Wild Goosechase Expedition: A Great Discovery

Spottiswoode & His Enemies’ new album Wild Goosechase Expedition is a throwback to those great art-rock concept albums of the 70s: Dark Side of the Moon, ELO’s Eldorado, the Strawbs’ Grave New World, to name a few. And it ranks right up there with them: if there is any posterity, posterity will view this as not only one of the best albums of 2011 but one of the best of the decade. Songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Jonathan Spottiswoode calls this his Magical Mystery Tour. While the two albums follow a distantly parallel course in places, the music only gets Beatlesque in its trippiest moments. Ostensibly it follows the doomed course of a rock band on tour, a not-so-thinly veiled metaphor for the state of the world today. Most of this is playful, meticulously crafted, Britfolk-tinged psychedelic art-rock and chamber pop – the obvious comparison is Nick Cave, or Marty Willson-Piper. Fearlessly intense, all over the map stylistically, imbued with Spottiswoode’s signature sardonic wit, the spectre of war hangs over much of the album, yet there’s an irrepressible joie de vivre here too. His ambergris baritone inhabits the shadows somewhere between between Nick Cave and Ian Hunter, and the band is extraordinary: lead guitar genius Riley McMahon (also of Katie Elevitch’s band) alternates between rich, resonant textures and writhing anguish, alongside Candace DeBartolo on sax, John Young on bass and Konrad Meissner (of the Silos and, lately, the Oxygen Ponies) on drums.

As much lush exuberance as there is in the briskly strummed title track, Beautiful Monday, there’s a lingering apprehension: “Hoping that one day, we’ll be truly free,” muses Spottiswoode. It sets the tone for much that’s to come, including the next track, Happy Or Not, pensive and gospel-infused. Slowly cresendoing from languid and mysterious to anthemic, the Beatlesque Purple River Yellow Sun follows the metaphorically-charged trail of a wide-eyed crew of fossil hunters. The first real stunner here is All in the Past, a bitter but undeterred rake’s reminiscence shuffling along on the reverb-drenched waves of Spottiswoode’s Rhodes piano:

I was young not so long ago
But that was then and you’ll never know
Who I was, what I did
How we misbehaved
Who we killed
I’ll take that to the grave

The song goes out with a long, echoing scream as adrenalizing as anything Jello Biafra ever put on vinyl.

A bolero of sorts, Just a Word I Use is an invitation to seduction that paints a hypnotic, summery tableau with accordion and some sweet horn charts. A gospel piano tune that sits somewhere between Ray Charles and LJ Murphy, I’d Even Follow You To Philadelphia is deliciously aphoristic – although Philly fans might find it awfully blunt. The gorgeously jangly rocker Sometimes pairs off some searing McMahon slide guitar against a soaring horn chart, contrasting mightily with the plaintive Satie-esque piano intro of Chariot, a requiem that comes a little early for a soldier gone off to war. It’s as potent an antiwar song as has been written in recent years.

All Gone Wrong is a sardonic, two-and-a-half minute rocker that blasts along on a tricky, syncopated beat. The world has gone to completely to hell: “They got religion, we got religion, everything’s religion,” Spottiswoode snarls. Problem Child, with its blend of early 70s Pink Floyd and folk-rock, could be a sarcastic jab at a trust fund kid; Happy Where I Am, the most Beatlesque of all the tracks here vamps and then fades back in, I Am the Walrus style.

This is a long album. The title track (number twelve if you’re counting) might be an Iraq war parable, a creepy southwestern gothic waltz tracing the midnight ride of a crew who seem utterly befuddled but turn absolutely sinister as it progresses: it’s another real stunner, Meissner throwing in some martial drum rolls at the perfect moment. All My Brothers is a bluesy, cruelly sarcastic battlefield scenario: “Only the desert understands, all my brothers lie broken in the sand – freedom, freedom, freedom.” The satire reaches a peak with Wake Me Up When It’s Over: the narrator insists in turning his life over to his manager and his therapist. “Don’t forget to pay the rent…tell me who’s been killed, after all the blood’s been spilled,” its armchair general orders.

McMahon gets to take the intensity as far as it will go with The Rain Won’t Come, a fiery stomping guitar rocker that wouldn’t be out of place on Steve Wynn’s Here Come the Miracles. The album ends on an unexpectedly upbeat note with the one dud here and then the epic, nine-minute You Won’t Forget Your Dream, a platform for a vividly pensive trumpet solo from Kevin Cordt and then a marvelously rain-drenched one from pianist Tony Lauria. All together, these songs make the album a strong contender for best album of the year; you’ll see it on our best albums of 2011 list when we manage to pull it together, this year considerably earlier than December. It’s up now at Spottiswoode’s bandcamp site.

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April 26, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

A Powerpop Trifecta at Bowery Electric

Wednesday night at Bowery Electric, Don Piper and his group opened the evening with a richly melodic, often hypnotic set. Piper’s primary gig these days is producing great albums – the Oxygen Ponies’ lushly layered, darkly psychedelic classic Harmony Handgrenade is one of his credits – but he’s also a bandleader. This time out he alternated between slowly swirling, atmospheric, artsy rock and a vintage Memphis soul sound, backed by a large, spirited crew including keyboards, a two-piece horn section (with Ray Sapirstein from Lenny Molotov’s band on cornet), bass and the Silos’ Konrad Meissner on drums (doing double duty tonight, as would many of the other musicians). Midway through the set Briana Winter took over centerstage and held the crowd silent with her wary, austerely intense, Linda Thompson-esque voice on a couple of midtempo ballads. They closed with a long, 1960s style soul number, Piper and Winter joining in a big crescendo as the band slowly circled behind them.

Edward Rogers followed, backed by much of the same band including Piper, Meissner, Claudia Chopek on violin and Ward White playing bass. A British expat, Rogers’ wry, lyrical songs draw on pretty much every good British pop style through the mid-70s. The most modern-sounding song, a pounding, insistent number, evoked the Psychedelic Furs, White throwing in some Ventures-style tremolo-picking on his bass at a point where nobody seemed to be looking. Whatever You’ve Been Told, from Rogers’ latest album Sparkle Lane, held an impassioned, uneasy ambience that brought to mind early David Bowie. A pensive, midtempo backbeat tune with a refrain about the “seventh string on your guitar, the one you never use” reminded of the Move (like Roy Wood, Rogers hails from Birmingham), as did a bracingly dark new one, Porcelain, highlighted by some striking, acidic violin from Chopek. And a pair of Beatles homages wouldn’t have been out of place on the Rutles albums – or George’s later work with Jeff Lynne. But the best songs were the most original ones. The most stunning moment of the night came on the understatedly bitter Passing the Sunshine, a Moody Blues-inflected requiem for an edgy downtown New York destroyed by greedy developers, gentrifiers and the permanent-tourist class: “This’ll be the last time you steal with your lies,” Rogers insisted, over and over again. In its gentle, resolute way, it was as powerful as punk. They wound up the show with a surprisingly bouncy psychedelic pop tune and then the new album’s droll, swaying title track.

Seeing headliner Maura Kennedy onstage with a bright red Les Paul slung from her shoulder was a surprise, as it was to see her guitar genius husband Pete Kennedy in the back with the drums, leaving most of the solos to his wife. But as fans of their acoustic project the Kennedys know, she’s an excellent player – and also one of the most unselfconsciously soulful voices in rock, or folk, if you want to call them that. This was her powerpop set, many of the songs adding a subtly Beatlesque or Americana edge to fast new wave guitar pop. The best songs were the darker ones, including the bitterly pulsing 1960s style psych/pop hit Just the Rain. Sun Burns Gold swayed hauntingly and plaintively, leaving just a crack for the light to get in; another minor-key number, Chains was absolutely gorgeous in a jangly Dancing Barefoot garage-pop vein, and she used that as a springboard for one of several sharply staccato, chordally charged solos. “I wrap myself in melancholy comfort of the waiting game,” she sang on a brooding ballad that evoked Richard and Linda Thompson. But there were just as many upbeat moments. White, who was doing double duty despite being under the weather, took an unexpected and welcome bass solo on a funkily hypnotic number toward the end of the set; they wound it up with the first song she’d written, she said, the country-pop ballad Summer Coulda Lasted Forever. The rest of the musicians joined them for an amazingly tight, completely deadpan cover of A Day in the Life, Maura leading her little orchestra with split-second precision all the way through the two long, interminable crescendos, a wry vocal from her husband on Paul’s verse, and then up and up and up some more and then finally out. It was an apt way to end a night of similarly expert craftsmanship.

December 10, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Beefstock 2010 Day Two

Day One of Beefstock 2010 is covered here. Day Two began early in the afternoon with Peter Pierce and his jangly, two-guitar band, sounding like a tuneful cross between the Silos and Neil Young. They did a darkly clanging outlaw ballad early on, a couple of comfortably expansive, jangly paisley underground style tunes and some riff-rock featuring one of the festival’s hardest-working players, Ross Bonadonna on sax.

Erica Smith was next on the bill, but she was asleep, having been knocked cold by a morning yoga session with Paula Carino. Finally roused, she alluded onstage to still feeling the effects, but whatever other world she’d been in, she brought some of it with her in a brief but absolutely devastating solo set. With an otherworldly lushness added to a voice already steeped in an evocative brew of just about every emotion possible (especially the sad ones), she was the highlight of the festival, opening with an acoustic version of Firefly, an impossibly catchy, sunny pop hit on album but in this context bittersweet and plaintive. A new song, the vividly brooding vacation scenario River King, rivalled the Church’s classic Bel Air, its wounded narrator drifting defiantly down to the local watering hole in all her finery when the guys wouln’t let her sit in with them and sing. The song had come to her in a dream, she explained, ostensibly written by Adam Cooper and her bandmate Dann Baker; the joke is that the song sounds like nothing either one of them would probably ever come up with. She closed with a swaying yet intense version of her bossa nova-pop hit Tonight, an old folk song that she did a-capella and got lost in, taking the crowd with her, and a shattering version of the towering, anguished country anthem The World Is Full of Pretty Girls, from her classic 2008 album Snowblind.

This is where we dropped out – being part of the blogosphere requires a far closer-than-ideal umbilical cord to the web, especially in a place sans cellphone reception like this. So we missed Clancy’s Ghost and probably others but managed to get back in time for Rebecca Turner, her rustic, maple sugar voice, first-rate rhythm section, charming Americana-pop songs and Josh Roy Brown playing characteristically spine-tingling lapsteel. Turner swung her way through the ridiculously catchy, metaphorically charged Tough Crowd, a little later her signature anthem Brooklyn – probably the only song ever to namecheck McCarren Pool – and simultaneously indulged her Linda Ronstadt and Neil Young fixations with a rousing version of Love Is a Rose. She bookended these around a short set by Brown featuring a fiery, hypnotic open-tuned blues number.

Paula Carino, the hands-down star of Beefstock 2009 has a new yoga book coming out. Leading a session in the morning may have knocked the crowd out but it energized her. Carino’s new cd Open on Sunday looks like a lock for best album of 2010; like last year (hell, like always), this was Carino the hookmeister. Having the cd around is pretty cool: turns out that the ridiculously catchy new wave riff-rock of Mother I Must Go to Maxwell’s has an angst-driven undercurrent. Having Ross Bonadonna on lead guitar is just as cool. He’d spend much of the night onstage: his role in this band is lead guitar powerhouse, whether firing off a snarling Wes Montgomery-gone-to-Brixton solo on the indelibly catchy, dark Great Depression or a sarcastically animalian carnival of riffs on the snide Rough Guide. Carino debuted a punchy new one, Three Legged Race; she also went back into the archive and delivered the metaphorically loaded Venus Records with her best mentholated purr. A little later on, she brought the show to a peak when she kicked off a crescendoing version of Paleoclimatology with just her Strat and velvet vocals for a couple of bars. “Just let it go, that ancient snow, that wrecked Tyrannosaurus,” she intoned as the song took the intensity up into the rafters.

The Larch had a tough act to follow and they delivered. Bonadonna was on bass this time – a great lead guitarist playing a four-string is a treat (Marty Willson-Piper of the Church, on the occasions he does it, is a good comparison). Frontman Ian Roure has never written better – their seventh (count ’em) album, Larix Americana is coming out on May 22 (the cd release show is at the Parkside) and could well be their best if this show was any indication. Roure’s best known as a songwriter, these days sort of a missing link between Ray Davies and Robyn Hitchcock but as a guitarist he can shred with anybody and this was a shred-a-thon. Blending his wah-wah pedal with a watery chorus box effect, he blasted through one brief, maybe eight-bar, supersonic solo after another. Those catchy new wave-ish songs didn’t leave much room for stretching out, from the bouncy, Costelloesque powerpop of the Strawberry Coast, the funky, Taxman-ish In the Name Of or one of the best songs of the whole festival, the resolute anthem With Love from Region One. Roure explained beforehand that it’s his indelibly British tribute to all good things American: “People don’t realize that it’s not all Disney and McDonald’s here.” He mixed his tones for the longest and most savage solo of the night as Bonadonna ground out one boomy chord after another at the end.

Solar Punch were next, playing cheery, sunny, Grateful Dead-inspired songs on a small side stage since they’re a solar-powered band: lead guitarist Alan Bigelow had charged a battery with solar panels on the ride up from Manhattan, which gave them enough juice for a full 40-minute set with two electric guitars, bass, vocal mics and (one assumes) unamplified drums. Bigelow played through a piano patch on several of the songs; their best one was a boomy, hypnotic Indian-influenced psychedelic number most likely inspired by the group’s tour of that country a year ago. Plastic Beef’s Andy Mattina held down the bass chair as he would later with Paula Carino and others.

Brute Force was a trip, plain and simple. Seeing the singer/pianist and his band was a time warp back to the Summer of Love, because Brute was there, and soon thereafter would be signed to Apple Records. Copies of his signature song, the underground comedy rock hit The King of Fuh (he was the Fuh King – get it?) are prized on the collector market. They closed with that song, a tongue-in-cheek swipe at the censors that comes across as a lot tamer in the age of gangsta rap than it did then. Brute Force’s songs foreshadowed what Ragni and Rado would do with their musical Hair – anthemic and theatrical, often seemingly completely guileless, they also have a social conscience, topics ranging from a simple antiwar number to his famous Pledge of Allegiance to the Universe to a more anguished, newer one about global warming.

A completely different stripe of pianist/bandleader, Tom Warnick and World’s Fair brought the thunder after the sunshine. With just the hint of an evil grin, he and his now four-piece backing unit (featuring both John Sharples and Bonadonna, again on lead guitar, turning in his some of his most intense salvos of the night) romped and then raced through a noir-tinged, soul-inflected set including a lickety-split, Ramones-ish version of the Jersey Turnpike nightmare scenario How Do You Get to Ho-Ho-Kus, a ska-punk singalong, a Stax/Volt style soul jump and some wickedly catchy pop. They wrapped up the set with a particularly ecstatic version of what has become a sort of signature song for the band, Keep Me Movin’. The band was tight; despite the late hour, the bass player appeared sober – although jumping all over the stage and trying to steal the spotlight from a frontguy like Warnick doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

Erica Smith may have turned in the most intense single set of the evening, but the best song of the night was delivered by her husband, John Sharples and his band. Taking his vocals down, down into the murky depths of his register, he and the band (Bonadonna up there yet again on lead guitar) made their way ominously through a spine-tingling, bluesily noir version of a pensive 6/8 Warnick ballad, The Impostor. Bonnadonna used it as a springboard for the most dazzling display of speed of the whole night, a firestorm of staccato madness that perfectly matched the Kafkaesque lyric. With Smith on harmony vocals, they stampeded through an inspired cover of Chinatown by the Move, a ferocious blast of powerpop with When Amy Says by Blow This Nightclub, a couple of pensive ballads where Sharples moved to piano, and a medley that uncovered the Thin Lizzy hidden inside Paula Carino’s tongue-in-cheek Robots Helping Robots.

The Nopar King is the latest incarnation of Plastic Beef, and the tightest one yet. By now the crowd was finally dancing as the band passed around percussion instruments to random drunks, some who still had their timing, some who didn’t. Drummer Joe Filosa and new (relatively new, anyway) singer Diane O’Connell traded soulful vocals as they made their way through some funky originals and a couple of covers. Billy from Norhmal joined them a little later on and brought the energy level up even higher. They wrapped up the set with a deliriously stretched-out version of their signature song, the latin-disco-jamband number The Pyramid Club, a wistful look back at a better time and place where a band could shuttle back and forth between that place and A7 up the block.

All-female trio Out of Order were the best conceivable headliner the festival could have had. With their ridiculously catchy postpunk songs, they’re part new wave throwbacks, part no wave (their guitarist is a monster noiserock player) and part straight up punk. They managed to keep a crowd who’d either been playing all day, drinking all day or both either completely rapt or on their feet and dancing (well, at least stumbling) throughout their almost hourlong set. As John Sharples observed, one of the cool things about this band is that not only do the songs disregard any kind of conventional verse/chorus structure, the melody weaves back and forth between the bass and the guitar just as unexpectedly. The guitarist’s chirpy, defiant vocal riffs punched and swung overhead as the drummer mauled her kit, whether hammering out a precise hardcore beat, a mammoth metal stomp or more energetic, intricate patterns. They roared and skittered through a couple of eerie ones fueled by chromatic riffs, a couple that reminded of the Slits, a couple of others that evoked the early B-52s but with balls. That a band this smart, fun and goodlooking (no intention to be sexist here, but they dress to kill when they hit the stage) isn’t famous says more about the state of the music business in 2010 than pretty much anything else could.

There was a jam afterward. Most of the people had cleared out by then; memory seems to indicate that they did Twist and Shout at some point and considering how the day’s overindulgence had by now become wretched excess, they probably shouldn’t have. Special shout-out to spoken-word artist Eric Mattina, whose wise, lucid, understated poem earlier in the evening spoke more eloquently about the perils of gentrification than any prose ever could: as Mattina asked, have you ever been happy in a bank?

There are multi-band extravaganzas this good in New York City – if the Gypsy Tabor Festival comes back to Brooklyn again, there’s a place where you can also see nine or ten first-class acts one after another. The annual all-day Main Squeeze Accordion Festival is the same way. The Brooklyn What often find a way to get three or four other similarly minded, kick-ass rock bands on the same stage on the same night. And then there’s always Make Music NY on June 21. But Beefstock 2010 was about as good as it gets.

April 16, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

CD Review: Maynard and the Musties – So Many Funerals

Nouveau outlaw country songwriter and Nashville expat Joe Maynard does double duty as a rare book dealer, hence the tongue-in-cheek band name. On this cd – his first with this particular crew – he comes across as sort of a hybrid of Townes Van Zandt, Tom Waits and David Allan Coe. Maynard built a reputation for gut-bustingly funny songs with his previous bands, the upbeat Illbillies and then the more traditionally oriented Millerite Redeemers. On this cd, he’s as surreal as always but considerably more somber, and the jokes are darker as well. Musically, it rocks pretty hard in places: Ryan Adams’ production is terse and imaginative on both the upbeat stuff and the quieter numbers. The album’s best song, Elvis Museum is a prime example, Adams’ piano quiet and determined over a swaying backbeat, and it’s a genuine classic. It’s quintessential Maynard: the museum in question turns out to be a pretty pathetic excuse for one, the King’s portrait between “a sinkful of dishes and a toilet stall,” but this offhandedly savage satire of celebrity worship still manages to be sympathetic. Likewise, the opening track, Pine Box, a body in a coffin taking a sarcastic view of the preacher and the pageantry outside. After a gentle, rustic beginning lit up with some vivid violin from Naa Koshie Mills (also of the Disclaimers, and the musical star of the album), lead guitarist Mo Botton rips out a nasty garage rock solo.

Maynard hails from Brooklyn these days and uses that milieu for several of the songs, including the surreal Cowboys of St. Bartholomew – about a gay street couple – and the deadpan, reverb-drenched Rocky and Bessie, an ominously bizarre tale of a couple of stray dogs in Fort Greene. He also sets the poem Shallow Water Warning – a drowning recalled by the victim – by legendary outsider poet Helen Adam to a swaying Tex-Mex-inflected tune. Otherwise, the titular redneck girl of the big bluesy raveup isn’t exactly what she seems, the drugs bid a fond farewell to the body they ravaged in the lullaby Dear Addict, and the rest of the world hides and surfs the web while the world burns – literally – on the Velvets-esque apocalypse anthem It’s Been a Great Life, Botton adding some aptly furious Sterling Morrison chord-chopping on the outro. The cd closes with a heartfelt tribute to Maynard’s lapsteel player and flatmate, the late, great Drew Glackin (also of Tandy, the Jack Grace Band, Silos and numerous other A-list Americana bands). The whole thing is a richly lyrical, fearlessly good time, darkness notwithstanding. The band is also impressively good live. Maynard and the Musties play Sidewalk on Dec 4 at 8 PM.

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lucid Culture Interview: Amy Allison

As a songwriter, lyricist and singer, Amy Allison is esteemed by her peers and owns a devoted cult following throughout the US and Europe. Elvis Costello – who appears on her new cd Sheffield Streets, just out today – happens to be one of those fans. A charming, charismatic and very funny performer, she’s released four previous albums under her own name as well as two with her 90s indie rock band Parlor James. In a rare, candid interview, Allison reveals some of the secrets of her craft along with some surprising insights into her songs as well as herself: she’s a lot tougher than she looks.

 

Lucid Culture: In concert, you interact with your fans a lot. Yet you’re also hard to read, some might say inscrutable. Is this deliberate, maybe a function of having grown up as the daughter of someone famous [jazz piano great Mose Allison]?

 

Amy Allison: I have no idea. I don’t think anything I do is deliberate. I almost always feel like a fool. My father wasn’t famous in the usual sense. Nobody where I grew up knew who he was.

 

LC: You do a mean Lawn Guyland accent. Did you grow up there?

 

AA: Yes, I did. I’m good at a lot of accents though.

 

LC: Was that in the celebrity part of town?

 

AA: Very funny. I don’t know if Smithtown had a celebrity part of town but it wasn’t our neighborhood.

 

LC: I believe you’re the youngest of four children, is that right?

 

AA: No, I’m in the middle. I have a sister four years older and twins – a brother and sister – one  year younger.

 

LC: I imagine music was a big part of your childhood. Or did you rebel?

 

AA: Music was a big part. I played the piano and the flute and listened to lots of different types of stuff. It was definitely important to me.

 

LC: I get the impression you were something of a hellraiser when you were in your teens, is there any truth to that?

 

AA: No, I was way too chicken to raise hell but I was a bit of a clown. I could make my friends laugh. I was more rebellious in college.

 

LC: I also understand you don’t compose on the guitar, is that correct?

 

AA: Yes, I only started playing guitar to accompany myself in the last ten years or less. I always compose in my head.

 

LC: This is the parental question that any good musician probably hates, but I’ll ask it anyway. To what degree has your dad influenced you? I mean, the two of you have a very similar sense of humor, a finely honed sense of irony, you always go for the mot juste….

 

AA: I’m very flattered that you hear a similarity. His music is very “him” so I grew up with that humor and irony and pithiness. I think I’m influenced by him in many ways.

 

LC: Everybody knows that your dad is a big fan of yours – and obviously the feeling is mutual. Was it always like that?

 

AA: Yes, I would say so. I always thought he was great.

 

LC: You received a great deal of acclaim as a country songwriter, with your albums The Maudlin Years and Sad Girl. You were coming up just as alt-country was getting popular, in fact you managed to catch that wave as I recall. How did you first start listening to country, back when all the kids were listening to U2 and Bon Jovi?

 

AA: Well, I was far older than a kid when the kids were listening to those guys but I know what you mean. This is how it happened: I saw Loretta Lynn on TV when I was eleven or twelve on the Mike Douglas afternoon variety show. She was his co-host for a week. I loved her and started looking for her records which were very hard to find at the local Sam Goody. Also, my older sister used to buy Porter and Dolly and Tammy Wynette records. We thought their hair was hilarious and we loved the melodrama. I liked country from that time on and started writing country songs in college. I would find armed forces LP’s that had great stuff on them at the local library. I remember I loved Gary Stewart then, he was on the radio. I had written a lot of songs before I dreamed I could ever perform them. I was scared shitless at the idea of singing in public.

 

LC: The idiom you were writing in then was fairly simple, but your lyrics have always been very sophisticated. So what you were doing was urban country in a sense. Do you see that as an oxymoron?

 

AA: No, because great country writers are very sophisticated, what with their humor, wordplay and use of metaphor. But I think I do bring a more urban slant to it ’cause that’s my experience. I was also trying to be sad and funny at the same time.

 

LC: You still write country songs, but you’ve expanded your repertoire into straight-up rock and jazzy pop as well. Did that just evolve, or was that a deliberate choice on your part?

 

AA: It wasn’t really deliberate. I think it just evolved.  I was just listening to different things and I think you naturally want to branch out and write as many types of things as you can.There’s always some other side of yourself you’d like to express. I guess country was the linchpin, is that the right word? The idiom I started from. I never think “I’ll write such and such kind of song,” I don’t feel like I can control it, I’m just happy when I get an idea for any song. It’s really been a natural evolution, I guess.

 

LC: Like Elvis Costello, you love wordplay, double entendres and puns. How did he come across your work?

 

AA: Well, I think Jamie Kitman, They Might Be Giants’ manager, sent him a cassette a long time ago. Then when my first album The Maudlin Years came out a few years later it ended up on his Top 500 Albums of Alltime list in Vanity Fair, so then I knew he really liked the songs. He was a huge influence on me. One of my favorites. I remember finding out that he liked country music and it made so much sense.

 

LC: And what does he do on the new album? 

 

AA: He sings one of my father’s tunes, Monsters of the Id with me. We weren’t together though, he recorded it at Don Heffington’s – the producer’s – studio in LA. I couldn’t be there at that time so I missed him.

 

LC: Your two most recent albums, No Frills Friend and Everything and Nothing Too were both produced in Scotland, by Davie Scott of the Pearlfishers. How did you make that connection?

 

AA: Through Lindsay Hutton, my good friend in Scotland who wrote and suggested I open a few shows for Amy Rigby and I did. Davie who was based in Glasgow played guitar with Amy and with me. Then Lindsay suggested I come back the next summer and try recording with him. I barely knew him but had a good feeling about it. I went there and we did five songs and loved it. So I went back and finished No Frills Friend. I love Davie and so I went back and did Everything and Nothing Too with him as well a few years later.

 

LC: I’m curious about how your working process goes, as a songwriter. Many of your songs are thematic, or there’s a narrative there. I’m thinking everything from Garden State Mall, a shopping trip as a metaphor for something far deeper, or your signature song, The Whiskey Makes You Sweeter. How do you get started with a song? With a title, a hook, a chord progression?

 

AA: For me, it’s usually a line, it doesn’t always end up as the hook or the title but it’s a hook of sorts, for me anyway, something that satisfies me somehow and makes me want to write a song around it. Often it’s just a first line and I write from there. If I get a good one of those I know I’ll have a good song from it eventually. I always remember where I was when I got the “seed” for a song.

 

LC: Which comes first, words or melody?

 

AA: Usually a combination, even if the melody changes, the words usually come with some sort of melodic thing.

 

LC: You don’t have to answer this one if you don’t want to, but a lot of the songs are sung from the point of view of a sort of lovable klutz, who can’t seem to pull her life together. And there’s a bittersweetness to it. To what extent does that persona mirror your own life?

 

AA: Pretty much.

 

LC: You titled one of your albums Sad Girl. Yet you’re also one of the funniest people I’ve ever met. Are you really a Sad Girl at heart?

 

AA: Yes, that’s why I have to be funny! It’s a coping mechanism!

 

LC: A lot of people don’t realize that dark music is actually a way to get through hard times, rather than just being depressing. Some of your songs are dark as hell, I’m thinking of two of my favorites, No Frills Friend which is sung from the point of view of a woman who’s so desperate for companionship that she’ll go out with a guy who won’t even say a word to her. And then there’s Turn out the Lights [Lucid Culture’s pick for best song of 2007], which as a metaphor is pretty self-explanatory. Has anybody ever come up to you and said, damn, No Frills Friend, that’s me! You saved my life! 

 

AA: It’s nice when people really feel like you captured something they’ve felt or experienced. I think my songs always have something positive, hope or humor or a prettiness to counter the dark. I think that’s most effective. By the way, I never thought of No Frills Friend as a romantic thing. It was just a friendship. and I think of it as just “I’m tired, you’re tired, life is lonely, being social is a strain, but you don’t need to put on a show for me, if you don’t feel like talking or you just wanna walk around I won’t demand more of you” and Turn Out the Lights is sort of my “I’m just in this for myself” anthem. I think I was thinking of the music business in a way. Of course it can be about anything. the suicide thing is sort of a joke, like, “I don’t care, I’m just gonna retreat into myself, I don’t need you.” It’s kinda defiant. And that’s why there’s a freedom and optimistic feel to it, in spite of itself, at least musically. Hey, I just thought of a song I loved as a kid, World Without Love by Peter and Gordon. Turn Out the Lights is kinda like that.

 

LC: As a singer, you’ve evolved into a song stylist: you can make a very dramatic statement with just a minute inflection in your voice. What singers do you admire most?

 

AA: Thank you, that’s hard ’cause there are so many. I always loved singers. All kinds. I loved a lot of the old country singers, Lefty Frizzell, Kitty Wells, etc. I loved Larry Kert from West Side Story when he sang Maria on the Broadway soundtrack album (not the movie), I loved Billie Holiday – in particular the early years, we had an album in the house of her with Teddy Wilson and Lester Young etc. from the 30’s. I loved Jeri Southern – another album we had in my house, called You Better Go Now was a favorite. Michael Jackson when he was a little boy. I’ll have to think and make a list. A million of them. I listen a lot to Dinah Washington lately, I don’t know why, I just like her. And this woman Ella Johnson who my father told me about who sang with her brother Buddy Johnson’s band in the 40’s and 50’s. Those records are great and I find her sound so refreshing ’cause it is unaffected and artless but so unique and full of personality. I heard a girl last year named Nicole Atkins on, of all things, a tv commercial, and I immediately checked her out. She has some really good songs and a lovely voice. I thought she was gonna be a big star. Maybe she sorta is, and I just don’t know it?

 

LC: I think the commercial worked against her. But I like her songs too. Now in addition to your own work, you’ve also sung with a number of other acts, the Silos and others. Where else can we hear that voice of yours?

 

AA: Christy McWilson and I did back-up on a Mudhoney record, but I don’t know how much you can hear me on that. I sang on the latest Last Town Chorus CD. I sang on They Might Be Giant’s records and on several Silos records. I did a beautiful song with Walter Salas-Humara on a Silos record called The Only Story I Tell. Some people tell me that’s how they first heard me and became a fan. And of course I had Parlor James with Ryan Hedgecock in the 90’s but those CD’s are locked in Sire’s vault. Oh, and Davie Scott and I are co-writing and singing an album together. We’re halfway done and very excited about that.

 

LC: Did it bother you when some of the media were less than kind about how you sing? I remember this or that magazine bitching about how they thought it was too nasal…

 

AA: Oh, I should start a collection. Nobody has a clue as to how to describe it. But nasal, yeah that’s a common one. It used to hurt me but people just don’t know how to listen to something that’s different. And natural. It’s just the way I sound. I was in a cab talking once and the cab driver said “Excuse me, are you Amy Allison?” It’s my real voice.

 

LC: Let’s talk about the new album Sheffield Streets. Who’s on it, can you name some songs, in fact it’s out today, June 16!

 

AA: It’s just out on the Urban Myth imprint I’m glad to say. This guy Dan Bryk who runs it is so nice and a great singer/songwriter. I did that song of my father’s with Elvis Costello and Dave Alvin sings on one of mine. I had great musicians on it, all based in LA. Don Heffington who produced it is a really great drummer and knows so many great players and they all love him. Some song titles: Calla Lily, The Needle Skips, I Wrote a Song About You, Mardi Gras Moon…..

 

LC: Is my new favorite Come Sweet Evening on it?

 

AA: Yes it is.

 

LC: How about Dream World?

 

AA: Yes, and Van Dyke Parks plays accordion on that!

 

LC: How about The Ballad of Amy Winehouse, which is up on your myspace?

 

AA: No, that was a joke. Don wanted to put it on as a bonus track. He says it sounds like an old field recording which I think was the idea.

 

LC: How did that song come about? Two girls drinking wine in the afternoon and then decide to write a funny song about smoking crack?

 

AA: Yes. How did you know it was the afternoon?

 

LC: I get the impression you got into the wine early…

 

AA : No wine was involved though. We were totally sober. My good friend Olivia who lives in Portland, Maine and I were in her house, and I was reading a Rolling Stone article about Amy Winehouse and I started screaming out “Blake Fielder-Civil, that’s her true love’s name, crack is wack and that’s a fact”……and we both started riffing on it in those voices and Olivia played guitar and we recorded it onto her laptop. We also did an Obama song. But we didn’t finish that one in time to record it.

 

LC: Do you ever get sick of people at your shows screaming out for songs you haven’t played in ages, for example, Drinking Thru Xmas, when it’s the middle of July in some hot club?

 

AA: No, I appreciate that. And I sing it no matter what time of year it is. I try and do all of them, and, as you know, I’m not afraid to screw up.

 

LC: Does the avidity of your fan base ever drive you crazy? Like, you can’t get a moment’s peace after you leave the stage?

 

AA: I don’t think it’s like that! I can handle it, believe me, I appreciate people coming up and saying nice things.

 

LC: Who are you listening to these days? Here’s a chance to big-up your favorite acts…

 

AA: I’m listening to the Urban Myth catalogue right now, and not just cause they took me into the fold. I love Lee Feldman, he’s been playing piano with me at shows and Chris Warren is great. I think they’re a fine group of artists. But truthfully I listen to mostly old stuff. Or nothing.

 

LC: I know you’ve done some touring in Europe, any plans to take the show on the road over there again?

 

AA: I wish. If I could afford it, I would.

 

LC: I know you lived in Sheffield in the UK, in fact the title track from the new album Sheffield Streets enumerates a whole list of streets there. Do you know Jarvis Cocker, or was this before Pulp got really big?

 

AA: No, I wish I knew Jarvis, I love him! And I love his songs, I’m a big fan. I think I was in Sheffield a little bit before Pulp got started. And I was just writing songs and keeping them to myself then. I married a guy from there  – we’ve been divorced for awhile – and we lived in an area called Nether Edge. The name of my album as you know is Sheffield Streets and the CD package has pictures on the inside that I took when I lived there.

 

LC: What’s your take on how the music business has evolved, with the death of the major labels, especially since you used to be on one? Is the Balkanization of the mass audience a blessing or a curse?

 

AA: I hope it’s a good thing. It sure needed to change. I guess the dinosaurs have to die off to make room for humanity, right? Ha, ha. I don’t know, I don’t really think on that scale. All I know is I get a rash when I talk to most people in the “industry”. 

 

LC: What’s next for Amy Allison, after the album comes out? What’s the next project? Would we ever get so lucky as to get a live album?

 

AA: I think that would be fun. But I’d probably screw it up and make a lot of mistakes.

June 16, 2009 Posted by | interview, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 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

In Memoriam: Drew Glackin

Multi-instrumentalist Drew Glackin, one of New York’s greatest, most sought-after and best-loved musicians died yesterday of cardiac arrest after collapsing in a hospital emergency room on January 3.

Glackin played virtually every fretted instrument ever invented, and also played keyboards. He could channel any emotion a song called for with fluency, fire and soul, serving as the bass player in the Silos and also as the lapsteel player in the Jack Grace Band. In between those two demanding gigs, he somehow found time to play or record with innumerable other bands and artists including Tandy, Susan Tedeschi, Graham Parker, the Hold Steady, Maynard & the Musties, the Oxygen Ponies, Willard Grant Conspiracy, Mary McBride, the Crash Test Dummies and countless others.

As a bassist, Glackin propelled the Silos and others with a fat groove and uncommonly melodic style. As a guitarist, dobro, steel and mandolin player, he matched passion with restraint. Although gifted with blazing speed and exceptional technique, he never wasted notes. For that reason, he was constantly in demand. Offstage, his dry wit and down-to-earth personality earned him as many friends as his playing did. The New York music scene has suffered a great loss.

January 6, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, New York City, obituary, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments

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