Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 7/10/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #569:

Lenny Molotov – Illuminated Blues

A virtuoso guitarist equally adept at delta blues, vintage Appalachian folk, early jazz and rock, Lenny Molotov is also an acerbic, brutally perceptive songwriter and lyricist. This is his latest album, from 2010, an eclectic mix of all of those styles: if the Dead Kennedys had tried their hand at oldtimey music, it might have sounded something like this. Here he’s backed by a rustic, inspired string band including bass, drums, fiddle and blues harp. The early Dylanesque Wilderness Bound chronicles a symbolically-charged journey its narrator never wanted to make; Book of Splendor and the eerily hypnotic Ill Moon hark back to the delta, while Glorious evokes Woody Guthrie. The classic here is Freedom Tower, dating from the early days of the Bush regime, a witheringly sarcastic sendup of fascist architectural iconography (he says it much more simply and poetically than that). David Reddin’s Blues follows a similar tangent, a sardonic modern-day outlaw ballad, its killer on the run caught in an Orwellian snare. There’s also the swinging Faded Label Blues, a wryly bitter Jelly Roll Morton homage; the quietly defiant Devil’s Empire, and the bucolic waltz New Every Morning, which leaves no doubt where Molotov stands: “There’s just two kinds of music under the law/The real live blues, and zip-a-dee-doo-dah.” This one’s real hard to find, but still available at shows – or check the blues bin at your local used record store, if you have one.

July 10, 2011 Posted by | blues music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/26/11

Today is Day Two of the Montreal Jazz Festival and the core crew here is taking it in: details soon. In the meantime, as we do every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #583:

Marty Willson-Piper – Nightjar

The preeminent twelve-string guitarist of our time, Marty Willson-Piper is also a powerful and eclectic lyrical rock songwriter, much like Steve Kilbey, his bandmate in legendary Australian art-rockers the Church. This 2009 masterpiece is every bit as good as any of his albums with that band. Willson-Piper proves as adept at period-perfect mid-60s Bakersfield country (the wistful A Game for Losers and the stern The Love You Never Had) as he is at towering, intense, swirlingly orchestrated anthems like No One There. The album’s centerpiece, The Sniper, is one of the latter, a bitter contemplation of whether murder is ever justifiable (in this case, there’s a tyrant in the crosshairs). There’s also the early 70s style Britfolk of Lullaby for the Lonely; the casually and savagely hilarious eco-anthem More Is Less; the even more brutally funny Feed Your Mind; the blistering, sardonic rocker High Down Below;and the vividly elegaic Song for Victor Jara. Here’s a random torrent; the cd is still available from Second Motion.

June 26, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

James McMurtry Rocks the Bell House

Saturday night at the Bell House, James McMurtry kept switching guitars and then retuning them. More often than not, he didn’t bother to hit his pedal to find the right pitch: he didn’t have to. Although he played a lot of songs on acoustic guitar, this was the rock set. It was just as much about the tunes as the endless torrents of lyrics chronicling the disenfranchised Americans hanging over the line between blue-collar poverty and complete destitution. Forget for a minute how vivid his narratives are, or how memorably he’s captured the silent majority’s endless struggle to claw their way out of the poverty trap: he’s also a mighty interesting guitarist. After several rapidfire verses of Choctaw Bingo, a characteristic, offhandedly savage chronicle of the Oklahoma crystal meth economy, McMurtry and his band left behind the bluesy, Come Together-ish shuffle and let the tune explode in a blast of raw guitar fury straight out of R.L. Burnside. Childish Things swung with a snarling, sour mash-fueled groove, part Stones, part Steve Earle. Too Long in the Wasteland took on a careening desperation. And his best-known song, We Can’t Make It Here, stomped with a hypnotic desert-rock vibe complete with a flange guitar solo before the last chorus. “We were gonna drop this from the set list, but it’s still relevant – which sucks for everybody but us,” McMurtry dryly told the crowd. He was being sarcastic of course: in better times a songwriter of his caliber could fill Madison Square Garden. He’s played the song a million times, yet he doesn’t seem to be sick of it, maybe because the most potent chronicle of the economic devastation left behind by the Bush regime resonates as powerfully today as did five years ago. McMurtry drew a line in the sand and dared any Bush-apologist CEO to cross it:

Some have maxed out all their credit cards
Some are working two jobs and living in cars
Minimum wage won’t pay for a roof
It won’t pay for a drink and you gotta have proof…
Take a part time job at one of your stores
Bet you can’t make it here anymore

The stories, obviously, are what the crowd came out for, and McMurtry gave them plenty. His characters will squeeze a discarded soft pack in the case that the person who tossed it away might not have noticed that there was still a smoke or two inside. They regret the choices they’ve made, the kids they shouldn’t have had, they drink too much and do too many drugs, they think about giving up completely but they never do. Ultimately, McMurtry and his endless parade of the debt-ridden and the angst-ridden are optimists, if only because the idea of doing anything other than carrying on is impossible to imagine. Surprisingly, one of the biggest crowd-pleasers of the night was one of the most subtle, the disarmingly allusive Restless. Other songs went for the jugular: Levelland, with its cruel, almost caricaturish tableau of Midwestern anomie, satellite tv dishes and cover bands playing Smoke on the Water. Ruby and Carlos, done solo acoustic, kept the suspense going all the way through to the end, where the shellshocked veteran from the first gulf war lets the land line ring and misses the call from his long-lost, now-injured ex. And The Lights of Cheyenne glimmered distantly, capturing the casual, occasionally dramatic cruelty of life in small western highwayside towns, and the temptations to throw it all away in a futile shot at escape.

And it was good to kick off the night early with a show by another literate rocker whose narratives are just as vivid and intense. LJ Murphy’s songs chronicle the same parade of characters, albeit in a more urban milieu. At Banjo Jim’s, he and his band ran through a similarly bluesy set full of “cops on horseback, sleeping drunks and men who work three jobs” in a pre-condo era McCarren Park, pink-collar happy hour crowds too clueless to realize how exploited they are, CEOs getting a hard time from the dominatrixes they love so much, and imperfect strangers who never fail to drive away anyone who gets too close.

June 20, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Nashville Gothic Intensity from Mark Sinnis

Dark, prolific rock songwriter Mark Sinnis’ long-running band Ninth House may be on life support at this point, but his solo career is thriving – he sold out the House of Blues in New Orleans the last time he played there. The powerful baritone singer’s fourth and latest solo album, The Undertaker in My Rearview Mirror, is arguably his deepest and darkest. A loosely thematic collection of songs with a cautionary “carpe diem” message, it’s a mix of Johnny Cash-influenced Nashville gothic along with artsy, atmospheric rock, including a handful of Ninth House songs radically reinvented as hypnotic, brooding ballads. The quavery wail of Lenny Molotov’s lapsteel seeps from many of them like blood from a corpse; other than Sinnis’ pitchblende vocals, that’s the album’s signature sound. Zach Ingram provides deft, low-key keyboard orchestration on several of the songs, along with Ninth House drummer Francis Xavier, and Matthew Dundas’ incisive, gospel-tinged piano on three tracks.

The title track is a talking blues of sorts, a metaphorically-charged race with a hearse that wryly nicks the melody from Sympathy for the Devil, Molotov weaving back and forth across the yellow line in a duel with former Ninth House guitarist Bernard SanJuan. The angst-ridden Injury Home plays down the bluesiness of the Ninth House original in favor of atmospherics and a nonchalantly slashing Dundas piano solo. Peep Hole in the Wall was a standout track on Ninth House’s 2000 breakout album, Swim in the Silence; the version here is even creepier. Likewise, Cause You Want To takes an balmy wave pop song and makes a dirge out of it, courtesy of Susan Mitchell’s lush string arrangement. The most death-obsessed tracks here are the straight-up country numbers: 100 Years from Now, a voice from beyond the grave, and Sunday Morning Train, which looks grimly at the marble orchard as it passes by (the metaphors don’t stop coming here). Yet the closest thing to Johnny Cash here, a solo acoustic track, is also the most upbeat and optimistic.

With Xavier’s distantly echoey drums and mariachi trumpet, their version of Ghost Riders in the Sky imaginatively recasts it as an apprehensive border ballad. They also redo Merle Travis’ Sixteen Tons as a revenge anthem, with lyrics updated for the new Great Depression, a theme they revisit with the bitter, tango-flavored Hills of Decline. The two most visceral tracks here both feature Randi Russo on vocals: a majestically orchestrated, vertigo-inducing version of Death Song (another Ninth House number) that chillingly pairs off her haunting stoicism against Sinnis’ morbid croon, and the David Lynch-style noir pop duet To Join the Departed in Their Dream. On her new album Fragile Animal, Russo sings with tremendous nuance; her vocals here are nothing short of exquisite.

The album ends with an uncharacteristically lighthearted singalong (lighthearted by comparison to everything else here, anyway), I’ll Have Another Drink of Whiskey, ‘Cause Death Is No So Far Away. A shout-out to Shane MacGowan, it’s a bittersweet enticement to seize the moment while it’s still here, even if that’s only to drink to forget how soon that moment will be gone. It’s also the funniest song Sinnis has ever written: if you can get through the turnaround into the chorus without at least cracking a smile, either you have no sense of humor, or you don’t like to drink. Count this among the increasingly crowded field at the top of our picks for best album of 2011.

June 16, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Mystery Girl Strikes Again

One of the most highly anticipated albums so far this year, Marissa Nadler’s magical new self-titled one exceeds all expectations: it’s arguably her best, not bad for someone who’s quietly and methodically been making great records since the mid-zeros. It’s always interesting to see how artists perceive themselves: Nadler’s bandcamp site is modestly tagged “Americana country dreampop folk shoegaze Boston.” All of that is true. Add to that “mysterious, allusive and unselfconsciously haunting” and you get a good idea of what Nadler is all about. This album’s considerably more country-flavored, more direct than opaque, less goth (although she still wants to be someone’s Alabaster Queen – that’s track number two), and a lot more emotionally diverse than her previous work: her dark vision allows for a little more sunlight this time out.

Her voice is as inimitable as always: stately and distantly wary, the perfect vehicle for the casual menace and macabre in her richly imagistic narratives. She doesn’t waste words, or notes, or ideas, leaving a lot open to interpretation as she always does, which is her strongest suit. Her songs draw you in, make you wonder what happened to the bear in his lair (track one, nimbly fingerpicked acoustic guitar mingling with reverb-drenched electric guitar echoes and a hypnotic whoosh of cymbals), or who the hell Marie and Justin are in the inscrutably bitter Mr. John Lee Revisited, and why he should care that Marie has a daughter now in another city and Justin is somewhere else.

The centerpiece here is the strikingly ornate, lush anthem Baby I Will Leave You in the Morning, countrypolitan as seen through the prism of ELO, maybe. “When I return promise I will hold you in my palm…sing this song and keep you like a bomb,” Nadler promises. Cali doesn’t do it for her, New York either – and then she she realizes she’s made a mistake. Nadler reprises that artsy country sound even more powerfully a bit later on, with the sad ballad In a Magazine, a requiem of sorts for a fallen idol lowlit with what sounds like an Omnichord synthesizer. The darkest song here is Wind Up Doll, an eerily metaphorical folk-rock shuffle about a war widow – or maybe her ghost. Puppet Master, which precedes it, is much the same musically and considerably more surreal, the girl/puppet wishing fervently for the guy who pulled her strings to return.

The most ethereal of the tracks is Wedding, a 6/8 country song that’s more of a wake than a celebration. Driven by terse gospel piano and soaring steel guitar, the most country-flavored song here is The Sun Always Reminds Me of You, its elegaic lyric contrasting with the warmly bucolic arrangement. Little King is a metaphorically-charged gem, chronicling what seems to be the would-be seduction of a young tyrant. The album closes with its most haunting track, Daisy Where Did You Go. “With my phantom limb and my eerie hymns, there are two of us here I know,” Nadler intones, a ghost in search of another who might have made it to a place somewhat better than limbo. You’ll see this one high up on our best albums of the year list in December. Marissa Nadler plays the Mercury on July 27.

June 16, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/6/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #603:

Graham Parker – Songs of No Consequence

For more than thirty years, Graham Parker has been making snarling, wickedly melodic lyrical rock albums: you could make the case that several of them belong on this list. We picked this vastly underrated 2007 release because it represents everything that’s good about him: his unapologetically savage, literate lyrics, his tunefulness and ability to perfectly match musicians to the songs. Here he’s backed mostly by powerpop cult heroes the Figgs. Right off the bat, Parker thumbs his nose at the media with the spot-on Vanity Press. She Swallows It is a typical Parker pun, less corrosive than perplexed; Suck N Blow is the opposite. The real stunner here is Chloroform, a murderous send-off to a record label exec on his slow, painful way down. There’s also the sardonic soul shuffle Bad Chardonnay, the surreal Dislocated Life, the self-explanatory Evil, the Elvis Costello-ish There’s Nothing on the Radio, the wry Did Everybody Just Get Old and the insanely catchy Local Boys, a tongue-in-cheek follow-up to his old 70s British hit Local Girls. Mysteriously impossible to find at the sharelockers, this is a rare album that’s actually worth owning as a hard copy: cdbaby still has it.

June 6, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Abbie Barrett and Her Band Wail at the Rockwood

Saturday night at the Rockwood, singer Abbie Barrett took a stab at explaining what she’s all about. She’d recently been asked by someone, maybe a promoter or a blogger. “I was supposed explain what my theme is. What’s my theme? Telling people off in a really obnoxious way.” Which isn’t exactly true. Her stage persona is hardly obnoxious, although she’s very, very good at telling people off, sometimes directly (one of her catchiest songs might have been called Fuck Off), more frequently in a subtle, vividly lyrical way. Barrett does it without cliches, a tinge of smoke in her soaring voice adding a plaintive edge to her country and vintage soul-inflected rock songs. As Mary Lee Kortes famously said, never mess with a songwriter. They always get even in the end.

She and her excellent band had just driven up from Boston. “This song is about road rage,” Barrett told the crowd, as they launched into Bang, the darkly bluesy soul shuffle that opens her most recent album Dying Day. After a surprise tempo shift, the Telecaster player switched to a distantly ominous, watery chorus-box tone for the rest of the song. They’d opened with a song possibly titled On the Range, blending 60s psychedelic folk with an anthemic, big-sky feel, a cynical account of a place where there are no jobs and not much of anything else. Barrett went deep into soul mode with a defiant shuffle, its narrator refusing to back down: she’s a soldier. A fast, potently jangly number sounded like the Grateful Dead classic Bertha done by another Barrett, Syd, bassist Alec Darien soaring into the upper frets over the apprehensive chord changes. They wrapped up their set with the suspenseful Kingdoms and Castles, seemingly a dis aimed at a would-be domestic goddess, its hypnotic, atmospheric intro building to a backbeat-driven stomp. As enjoyable as the acoustic/electric guitar textures were – the room doesn’t usually get as loud as these guys were – it would have been nice to have heard more of the lyrics cut through, especially considering how intensely Barrett was singing them. But that wasn’t the band’s fault. Barrett’s next gig is on June 11, outdoors at Union Square in Somerville, Massachusetts; watch this space for upcoming NYC dates.

May 19, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Ward White Slashes and Burns at Bowery Electric

This is why live shows are where everything is happening. Ward White’s new album Done with the Talking Cure is urbane, and funny, and lyrically intense, but onstage Tuesday night at Bowery Electric he and an A-list of New York rock talent brought the monster to life. There was plenty of nuance, but it was good to see White cut loose with some righteous wrath. Jeremy Chatzky nonchalantly swung the Taxman bass riff as White jangled and clanged his way through the title track; with his signature deadpan ease, keyboardist Joe McGinty tossed off a quote from Dreaming by Blondie toward the end of the brutally cynical Change Your Clothes. “I could do it in the dark, I could do it in my sleep,” White crooned – he was talking about crawling out a window. Drummer Eddie Zwieback gave the gorgeously bitter Radio Silence a backbeat cushion for White’s corrosive lyrics and McGinty’s sizzling, allusive organ work. We Can’t Go on Like This had a sultry, decadent, bolero-tinged slink, aloft on violinist Claudia Chopek’s hypnotic string arrangement, augmented by frequent Botanica collaborator Heather Paauwe on violin and Eleanor Norton on cello.

Following the sequence of the album, White sank his fangs into Accomplice. “One of those narratives that sounds menacing, I’m not entirely sure what’s happening but it’s not good,” he explained. Live, the combination of McGinty’s circus organ and White’s Strat was all that and a lot more, and it was about here that he started crooning less and snarling more. They took it down to just the strings and vocals for Be Like Me, a withering chronicle of disingenuousness. “This song may…be about how I feel about New York City, but it’s also some kind of pretentious metaphor,” White sneered sardonically. “Whichever offends you less, don’t go with that one,” he encouraged the crowd and followed with Pretty/Ugly Town, the least cloaked of all of his attacks tonight, this one taking aim at at a clueless, trendy girl. “Everything is poison if you swallow enough, so be careful what you put in your mouth,” White sang as it opened, somewhere between Jeff Buckley and Roger Waters.

The next song, 1964 may be a thinly veiled swipe at fashion slaves, but its irresistibly cheery mod-pop had the crowd bouncing along, all the way through McGinty’s sarcastic wah-wah synth solo. Then they brought it down with the morose, drugged-out ambience of Who’s Sorry Now, switching to stark yet funny with the “damaged metaphor” of Family Dog and then to ferocious with the album’s closing track, Matchbox Sign. White supplied some useful background: “It’s a term used in the psychiatric event book to describe delusory parasitosis: ‘Take me home tonight!'” he laughed. “People are convinced that they’re infested with insects and parasites…desperately itching and scratching and trying to prove to the medical community that they’re real. Morgellons Disease is one of the more common ones…Joni Mitchell has come out in public as saying she’s infected,” White explained to considerable applause. The strings gave some relief to the exasperated narrator through his drive somewhere – the hospital? – with his crazy passenger.

It was too bad to miss the opening acts. Jim Allen, who a few years ago fronted a killer Elvis Costelloish outfit called the Lazy Lions, has gone back to the Americana stuff he did so well earlier in past decade; after his band, McGinty was scheduled to play a set of his own stuff.

April 24, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

LJ Murphy and Curtis Eller: On the Same Stage At Last

The crowd at Banjo Jim’s Saturday night was stomping, clapping, making pigeon noises and singing “I’m gonna burn like a sweatshop fire” over and over again. In other words, pretty much what you would expect at a show featuring two of the world’s most charismatic rockers. LJ Murphy and Curtis Eller may not be household names, but each has a cult following that spans the globe, and legendary status as live performers. Murphy has been playing regularly here; Eller was up from his new home in North Carolina for a gig in Queens and then this one. It was sort of the underground lyrical rock equivalent of an Iggy Pop/James Brown doublebill, and it’s likely the two had never shared a stage before. They’re very similar: both draw deeply on the blues and write catchy, torrentially lyrical songs full of puns, double entendres and historical references. Murphy played with an acoustic trio featuring Tommy Hoscheid on second rhythm guitar and Patrick McClellan on piano; Eller’s show afterward was a solo performance on banjo. With his signature hundred-yard stare, Murphy and his band were tight beyond belief; Eller’s show afterward saw him going up on one foot, wielding his axe like a cross between Dontrelle Willis and Darryl Strawberry, wandering out into the crowd and engaging them in a series of animated singalongs.

Murphy opened with a tight, intense version of Geneva Conventional, a swaying minor-key blues about the consequences of selling out, McClellan’s rippling attack set against the lush backdrop of guitars. They steamrolled through the snide, angst-driven Imperfect Strangers, a twisted, Costelloish look at a failed hookup, then took the theme to its logical extreme with the resolute, morose oldschool soul ballad This Is Nothing Like Bliss. Long Way to Lose, Murphy’s most successful venture into vintage C&W, was especially amped, with the audience spontaneously getting involved. From there, Murphy careened through a scathing take of the cabaret-tinged blues Mad Within Reason (where “The music was sampled from Bach to James Brown/They saddled the mistress and lowered her down”), then a sun-speckled version of his biggest hit, the plaintive lost weekend scenario Saturday’s Down. Murphy took Barbwire Playpen, his sendup of Wall Street swindlers who spend more time in the dungeon than on the trading floor, down to just the vocals at its most vicious moments and closed with an unexpected choice, the quiet, Orwellian nightmarish Bovine Brothers. McClellan followed Murphy’s ominous revelation that “a sermon blares all night long from the roof of a radio car” with some spot-on gospel fills. And then it was over.

Intentionally or not, Eller continued the religious allusion with the surreal Nashville gothic Taking Up Serpents. Where Murphy’s everyman battles the system and encroaching fascism, Eller employs actual historical figures and events. The recently commemorated Triangle Shirtwaist Fire gets a sideways reference in Sweatshop Fire (that was the singalong), a grimly metaphorical evocation of all hell breaking loose. The brooding slow waltz Last Flight of the Pigeon Club offered a bleak outer-borough scenario: “If they find someplace better to die than New Jersey, I’ll probably go there myself,” the song’s eccentric hobbyist laments. An even more surreal, menacing minor-key blues number chronicled black crows circling the North Pole, satellites gone haywire and a storm outside unwilling to break (an ironic touch, with the torrential downpour outside the club). The most richly satisfying song of the night was Eller’s best one, the apocalyptic After the Soil Fails, creepy and terse with just the banjo and Eller’s chronicle of CIA-sponsored assassinations and third world misadventures. “The drinks are getting weaker with every round they serve: the way they keep us sober is getting on my nerves,” Eller snarled on the sarcastic Sugar in My Coffin; he closed the set with a hushed, chilling singalong of Save Me Joe Louis, based on what were supposedly the last words of the first man (who may well have been innocent) to be executed in the gas chamber. “Everybody is gonna have that moment when they step in front of a taxi, or fall down the stairs…or the gas chamber, and you’re gonna have your guy you call out for. And it’s gonna be a surprise for you…how many of you are going to be surprised to say, “Save me, Obama?” Eller asked the laughing crowd. “So when you’re singing, just think of your own Joe Louis – it could be Buster Keaton, Amelia Earhart, Elvis Presley, Richard Nixon…” From there, he let the audience whisper the chorus along with him. It’s hard to think of a more intense, memorable end to any doublebill in New York in recent memory.

April 18, 2011 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ward White’s Done with the Talking Cure Is Classic

Since the mid-zeros, Brooklyn songwriter Ward White has quietly and methodically been putting out brilliantly lyrical rock albums. An incisive lead guitarist and nimbly melodic bass player, he’s made some waves lately, touring with Wreckless Eric and Amy Rigby and getting some long-overdue NPR exposure. His new album Done with the Talking Cure is brutally hilarious, and may be his best one yet. It’s definitely his most diverse: although it’s got his hardest-rocking songs – he’s never played better, handling all the guitars and the bass here – it’s also his most surreal and mysterious. Claudia Chopek’s string arrangements are pure genius: they’re lush yet completely unpredictable, a perfect fit with the songs’ devious twists and turns. And yet, this is White’s most direct album, most of the songs here clocking in at less than three minutes. White handles all the vocals as well, with lots of harmonies, airing out his Jeff Buckley-esque upper register. Behind him, Joe McGinty (with whom he made a terrific psychedelic pop album in 2009) plays keys, along with Chopek’s violin and viola, Julia Kent’s cello and Eddie Zwieback’s drums.

The understatedly uneasy title track kicks off with a fluid Taxman bass riff, its narrator eager to jump back into the fray since his “arms were Gregor Samsa’d to insect feelers overnight.” The first of several sweepingly orchestrated numbers, Change Your Clothes paints a surreal wee-hours scenario: its sarcasm barely held in check, it may be the most genteel song ever written about wanting to crawl out a window in the middle of the night. Radio Silence is an absolutely spot-on sendup of WASP uptightness set to a delicious backbeat pop tune: “It’s really not a compromise til everybody’s miserable/But zero’s not divisible,” White laments. “It’s a tragic disease, the kind that keeps you well and never sick.”

The strings sweep in again on We Can’t Go on Like This, a richly allusive, barely restrained exasperation anthem with Jimmy Webb touches. Then White brings back the backbeat with Accomplice, something akin to Luke Haines with a Connecticut accent, complete with a creepy circus bridge straight out of Black Box Recorder. White has been called a “musical John Cheever,” a comparison that strikes home in the cruelly sardonic, string-driven Be Like Me (as in “Disgusted with the way things are, embarrassed by how they were and frightened about how they’ll be”). He drops the allusions and goes straight for the jugular with the irresistibly funny/harsh Pretty/Ugly Town, a kiss-off to a trendy girl who will do anything to “succeed.” Then he brings them back in full force with 1964, an equally amusing anti-trendoid broadside disguised as a sweet bouncy pop song utilizing every vintage keyboard in the Joe McGinty museum.

Who’s Sorry Now perfectly captures a morose, drugged-out ambience, White’s voice drowning in watery Leslie speaker waves: “I always drink to forget, I wish I could forget to drink more often…got all this time to kill before I take my pill, and the medicine has all the fun.” The album closes with Family Dog, sort of the anti-Weezy as dog metaphors go, and The Matchbox Sign, pulsing along on a Wilson Pickett bassline anchoring another of those detail-packed mystery stories he writes so well. What else is there to say: the songs speak for themselves. Another masterpiece from a songwriter who will someday – if there is a someday – be pantheonic. You’ll see this high on our list of the best albums of the year when we finally get around to putting it up. Ward White plays the cd release show for this one on April 19 at Bowery Electric at about 9:30 on an excellent bill with Jim Allen’s country band starting the night at 7:30, followed by the Joe McGinty Seven at 8:30.

April 15, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment