Galeet Dardashti’s new album The Naming celebrates women throughout history who broke the rules. Dardashti herself is both a pioneer and a traditionalist in Jewish music. She serves as cantor at her Brooklyn synagogue, a role traditionally reserved for men (such as her grandfather, a star in Iran whose popularity transcended his outsider status in a predominantly Muslim culture). With soaring vocals in Hebrew, she sets tales from the Talmud, Bible and Midrash to hypnotic Middle Eastern grooves blending elements of Persian, Jewish and Egyptian music. She’s assembled a first-rate cast of New York musicians around her: violinists Megan Gould and Lila Sklar, cellist Eleanor Norton, percussionist Matt Kilmer, bassist Yossi Fine and hammered dulcimer wiz Max ZT (of psychedelic instrumental combo House of Waters), who build alternately lush and austere textures behind her sometimes hushed, sometimes spectacular voice.
The first track connects the dots between Michal, wife of King David, who like her male counterparts would use tefillin prayer beads, just as Dardashti’s childless aunt Tovah did in Iran some millennia later. It opens with a ululating vocal taqsim over an ambient drone, building to an imploring, Fairouz-style ballad evocative of Natacha Atlas’ recent work, a feel echoed in the equally hypnotic title track. Hagar/Sarah is a slinky levantine dance number with staccato strings over Kilmer’s trance-inducing clip-clop percussion. Sheba celebrates the queen’s spirited seduction of Solomon with a rousing, dulcimer-driven groove. The dulcimer opens the terse, distantly Indian-inflected Dinah with a pensive improvisation; Vashti, a joyously syncopated dance number, commemorates the famously disobedient Persian queen. The album winds up on a high note with the impassioned, anguished Endora, a duet featuring Hazzan Farid Dardashti’s stern cantorial voice contrasting with all the Bjork-inflected swoops and wails. What’s not trance-inducing here is often exhilarating. Galeet Dardashti plays the cd release for the album on September 14 at 6:30 PM at le Poisson Rouge, including a performance by the Syren dance troupe.
The title of fado sensation Ana Moura’s latest album translates as “take me to the fado club” in Portuguese. What is fado? The national music of Portugal, sad acoustic guitar ballads of lost love and longing typically sung by women. The influence of iconic chanteuse Amalia Rodrigues is everywhere here, from the spiky string band arrangements (although these are significantly pared down), to the way Moura’s slightly breathy voice takes on an insistent, sometimes accusatory edge at the end of a phrase. Which enhances the plaintiveness of the songs (most of them by popular guitarist/producer Jorge Fernando) – fado (Portuguese for “fate”) is all about loneliness and transcending it. Behind her, Fernando’s playing blends seamlessly, often hypnotically with Portuguese guitarist Custodio Castelo, along with Felipe Larsen on electric bass. To say that an album is good to fall asleep to is typically an insult, but as wee-hours music, fado is unbeatable, and this cd fits right in – it’s already gone platinum in Moura’s native land.
Like a lot of stylized genres – blues, funk and reggae to name a few – fado is frequently self-referential. What kind of fado is she singing? She’s feeling fado, she wants to go out to hear some – or sing some. The narrator in the opening title cut just wants to go out and lose herself in the music; in the scurrying dance that follows, she sees her recent breakup as inevitable, in the commercials on tv, in newspaper headlines and even the law. The slow ballad Por Minha Conta (On My Own) ends as “the voice of a silent scream wants to know me.” But all is not despair: the bouncy Caso Arrumado (The End of the Affair) reminds the lover who abandoned her that there will be no second chance, and the concluding cut, Na Palma de Mao (In the Palm of Your Hand) is a warning, essentially, don’t play with me because you’re playing with fire. If most of this sounds much the same, that’s because it’s supposed to: no drum machines, no heavy metal guitar, just plenty of simple poignancy. It’s out now on World Village Music.
Artsy pop tunesmith Elaine Romanelli transcends any label you might be tempted to peg her with. She’s a tremendous singer – her soaring high soprano is sometimes poised and playful, sometimes brooding and bitter. Her songs are vivid, aphoristic, often metaphorically charged; many of them have an indelibly urban, New York-centricness about them. The inspired backing unit on her latest album, The Real Deal includes Josh Fox on guitar, Andrew Fox on piano, Clay Wilson on bass and Dave Gluck on drums along with lush, rich arrangements from the “Screaming Strings,” Patricia Cole on violin and Larry DiBello on cello.
“The salt you pour each day has left its sting,” Romanelli admits on the cd’s opening cut, Song About the Trees, but she’s insistent on pulling herself up out of misery. The evocative Iraq war wife’s tale, aptly titled Lament, packs a wallop: “Now the tours are longer and they happen every year…pray the chopper sets him down, pray that he can still walk,” the poor woman pleads over a machine-gun drumbeat. Merry Go Round, with a choice string arrangement, is wryly metaphorical:
Take off the training wheels
Try not to be afraid
Go for a test run
Go back and think some more
Go into hiding
Curl in a ball on the floor
Or stay on the merry-go-round…
Romanelli follows that with the 6/8 piano ballad Faust Revisited, a subtly caustic, insightful look at what some people might consider while contemplating plastic surgery:
And I yearn to be perfect
But I wonder if maybe by now it’s too late
‘Cause I grew up with this face
Which never was beautiful
So there’s years of old feelings
They’d have to replace
With a jaunty, wickedly catchy janglerock bounce, Not a Love Song is not the sneering Public Image Ltd. broadside but a soaring, Sharon Goldman-style pop hit. Stupid Boy, like its storyline, begins sultry and goes bitter fast, all the way into a killer chorus. Fly picks up the pace, revisiting the treadmill theme of the third cut but more optimistically this time, its narrator trying to nudge a bedraggled friend out of her comfortably sad routine. The rest of the album includes Naughty Lola, which blends a sultry lounge feel with janglerock; the scrambling punk-pop shuffle Unapologetic like something off the Go Go’s comeback album God Bless the Go Go’s; a Celtic-tinged a-cappella ballad, a bouncy piano pop number and finally, after all that, the crazed vaudevillian romp Pour Me a Drink – she and the band have earned it. Elaine Romanelli plays the cd release for The Real Deal at the Bitter End this Thursday, May 20 at 8.
The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Sunday’s song is #81:
Robin Lane & the Chartbusters – Solid Rock
Best remembered for their surprise 1979 janglerock hit When Things Go Wrong, this Boston band were several years ahead of their time. With a lush, often intense two-guitar attack and Lane’s throaty vocals, they put out four good-to-excellent albums and then regrouped for another in 2005. This towering, crescendoing, lusciously produced anthem is the centerpiece of their best one, 1981’s Imitation Life. Lane would go on to found A Woman’s Voice, a nonprofit providing music therapy for women with post-traumatic stress disorder
Gently and methodically, Liz Tormes brought the lights down. She didn’t actually reach over to the wall and kill the switch, but she might as well have. Strumming her acoustic guitar with one hypnotic downstroke after another, she played a set that was as unaffectedly catchy and tuneful as it was disquieting. Keyboardist Glenn Patscha (of Ollabelle) provided a rich variety of textures, from echoey, spacy, upper-register synthesizer, to stark Supertramp-style electric art-rock piano, to matter-of-factly chordal acoustic piano work. The drummer mixed crafty jazz flourishes into his artful shuffles, at one point dampening the snare and one of the toms with towels to enhance a distantly ominous, boomy effect which worked perfectly with the songs’ frequent neo-Velvets vibe. The most affecting thing about Tormes’ voice is how casual it is: this show was as if she was humming to herself at your funeral – or somebody’s funeral, anyway. It’s a strikingly warm, atmospheric instrument, and while she’s capable of cutting loose if she feels like it, for her less is more and she works that like a charm, letting the songs and the lyrics go and find their mark, which they inevitably do. Like a lot of inevitable things.
Tormes hardly shies away from the darkness; on the contrary, she seems to embody it, whether in the back-to-back songs about death in the middle of the set – the second one dedicated to Kurt Vonnegut, a writer whose identity she’d encouraged the crowd to guess, but nobody could – or in the creepy little waltz based on a sinister tritone melody that she fingerpicked with grace and understatement. Most of the songs were unfamiliar. Tormes’ latest album Limelight is as good a contender for best-of-recent-months as any that’s come over the transom here, but she’s about to embark on a new one and if the concert was any indication it’ll be just as compelling. One featured a duet with Patscha; on several others, Tormes was joined by Fiona McBain (also of Ollabelle), who provided characteristically soaring high harmonies – the two have a sometime project called Fizz that specializes in murder ballads, “Because they’re beautiful,” Tormes deadpanned. The night’s most memorable number coldly immortalized Tormes’ old place on Second Ave. and Fourth St., a quietly caustic depiction of the parade of freaks who turn the neighborhood into fratboy hell after dark. She may have come here from Nashville, but Tormes spoke for an entire zip code with that one.
Afterward it was time to head over to Small Beast, Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s weekly salon/show/hangout, which we’ve been AWOL from for the last few weeks. Russian expat pianist/singer Mila Levine, backed by the extraordinary, ubiquitous and extraordinarily ubiquitous Susan Mitchell on viola, ran through a mix of noir-ish pop and rock tunes in both English and her native tongue. One had once appeared (radically rearranged, she took care to explain) in the Eurovision music contest and was actually not an embarrassment. Afterward, the reliably haunting and hypnotic Appalachian/Balkan vocal duo Æ (Eva Salina Primack and Aurelia Shrenker) delivered a set of otherworldly old songs from Georgia, Greece, the Carolinas and the Jewish diaspora, an alternately ecstatic and wrenchingly sad end to a night full of affecting voices.
And while we’re on the subject of Small Beast, don’t forget what might be the year’s best rock or-rock-oriented concert, the Big Beast at the Angel Orensanz Center on May 21 with Botanica, Bee and Flower, Barbez, Little Annie, Black Sea Hotel, and free microbrew beer for an hour before the show.
Back from a trip to Austin, Jenifer Jackson’s got a band together again: Greg Wieczorek on drums and Jason Mercer on a gorgeous Danelectro SG copy bass. A couple of songs into the set, beaming, she announces that she’s rediscovered that she actually likes music. She should, with this band. Her songs are pretty and haunting when she plays them solo; with a rhythm section behind her, they are transcendent. She’s a pretty intense guitarist, and this comes across especially on the Ticket to Ride-inflected Down So Low as she wails on the downstrokes, on the beat. The band has re-energized her.
But this is Mercer’s night. Choice, tasteful pieces of broken chords on the slower, country-flavored ballads; slinky slides and bends on the more rocking songs, and every now and then he winds up a crescendo with few sweetly, quietly boomy chords. It’s a clinic in how to play bass and it’s free.
Boo Reiners from Demolition String Band gets cajoled into playing Telecaster on a handful of numbers and the effect is the same. He knows every country lick in the book, but instead he goes counterintuitive with bends and passing tones and immediately the songs go to the next level, and it’s effortless, or at least it looks that way.
The songs, as they always do, run the gamut – the joyous white soul jangleforest of Suddenly Unexpectedly; the practically noir, nocturnal pop of Maybe; a new country song that would elevate Carrie Underwood’s game to the big leagues if she or someone like her could find it and cover it; and a couple of big, hooky, upbeat rockers to close the set. The unrestrained joy shining in Jackson’s voice makes the contrast even more striking when she turns down the lights. Suddenly it doesn’t matter that it’s cold outside and that there’s a long train ride lurking ahead. In a word, transcendence.
An aptly timed post-Halloween solo show by the raven-haired master of outsider anthems. After spending the better part of the decade as the leader of a careening, somewhat shapeshifting electric band who toward the end were going deep into psychedelia, Randi Russo has in recent months been playing stripped-down solo shows. By the standard that if something sounds good acoustic, it ought to sound great fleshed out by an electric band, her gig Monday night at Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch’s weekly Small Beast extravaganza was full of good omens. Resolute with her guitar in the corner of the small upstairs stage in flickering candlelight, Russo ran through a mix of crowd favorites and intriguing newer material.
She started with a newly rearranged version of Invisible, a ridiculously catchy backbeat-driven outsider anthem that’s seen some revisions lately – a new intro, this time around. She followed that with the casually excoriating Venus on Saturn, a savage dismissal of a drama queen:
The cornerstones of her addictions are stored up in her own mind…
Without it she’d be boring and no one would listen
Now she’s just annoying, and she’s getting all the attention…
Now Freud and Picasso can hone in on your womanly being
And render you two-dimensional in an essay or a canvas painting
The rest of the set ranged between catchy consonance and the eerie overtones that resonate as she plays some of the more unorthodox voicings in her repertoire (she’s a lefty and plays upside down a la Hendrix). The big 6/8 ballad Push-Pull had a gentleness and warmth that a louder electric version might have burnt away; the Zeppelin-inflected, psychedelic Head High While You Lie Low got a surprisingly and very effectively sultry treatment, as did a hushed yet insistent take on the hypnotic Hurt Me Now and another resolute anthem, the defiantly feminist Shout Like a Lady (the title track to her most recent full-length cd). By contrast, the tongue-in-cheek, tricky Parasitic People scurried along like the parasites in the lyric.
By the time she got to the hypnotic escape anthem Ceiling Fire, the drape over Wallfisch’s piano (the Small Beast) started to slip and seconds after she reached the lyric, “any cloud that comes casts a shadow on the seat next to mine,” it fell off completely: another omen? She also debuted a memorably bluesy yet indie-flavored number, yet another anthem for someone trying to keep their bearings in a surreal world. Wallfisch followed, solo on piano, maintaining the warm, soulful vibe, playing with particular warmth and conviviality in a quasi-gospel vein. Turns out that Tuesday would be his wedding anniversary, so he played to his wife (an equally admired cult artist, painter Pat Arnao), who looked on with equal parts appreciation and amusement. It would have been nice to have been able to stay for more than just the obscure Dylan cover and the absolutely exhalted love song – “You gotta trade it all in for love” – that will soon serve as the title track from the forthcoming Botanica album. But there was another victorious event going on, in Philadelphia, to watch with bated breath.
Next week’s Small Beast is a particularly good one, featuring Wallfisch plus haunting, anthemic art-rockers Norden Bombsight.
The great thing about shows at the Greene Space is that many of them are broadcast live on WNYC and then archived at the station’s site, where you can find this particular one. That’s right, you don’t have to take our word for it, go right to WNYC and hear the amazing little set Rosanne Cash played this afternoon on Soundcheck with John Schaefer. She has a new album coming out titled The List, based on a hundred-song list her dad gave her when she was eighteen. “This was a guy who listened to everything, metal included,” Johnny Cash’s daughter took care to point out, but her dad’s compilation was basically Americana, a “musical genealogy,” she explained, a not-so-subtle hint for a teenager who up to that point had gravitated closer to the Beatles than to classic country. She’s done plenty of covers, but this will be her first all-covers album – and since there’ll still be ninety or so more songs on her dad’s list that she won’t have on this cd, a second volume seems likely as well.
Backed by a five-piece, electric two-guitar band who played the songs with unabashed relish, Cash soared wounded and sultry over her husband John Leventhal’s smartly counterintuitive countrypolitan arrangements. In the studio, she’s finely nuanced – live, there are few others (Jenifer Jackson is one) who can find so much emotional subtlety yet still pack such a wallop – if she’s been injured, you can tell from just a minute inflection of her voice where she’s been hit and what caliber the shell was. Yet her stage presence is casual and amusing, not bad for someone carrying a legacy that would crush plenty of other artists (in addition to her own: Black Cadillac is every bit as good as anything her dad ever did)
The Hank Snow standard Movin’ On swung casually but incisively, as did Jimmie Rodgers’ Miss the Mississippi. Sea of Heartbreak (a duet with Bruce Springsteen on the album) was understated in the tradition of the 1961 Don Gibson original. They wrapped up the set with Long Black Veil, Cash not bothering to change the lyrics to fit traditional gender roles – when she got to the end of the chorus, “nobody knows,” the intensity was something considerably beyond wrenching.
You can hear the complete show at WNYC, including some commentary by Bebel Gilberto (who has a new album out as well) and NPR critic Tom Moon – who seems to be a decently aware classical/jazz guy whose knowledge of rock ends right about 1976, the end of the boomer era – about music as a legacy for future generations.
We’ve been doing this every Tuesday – to cut down on the workload here while we attend to some infrastructure things, we meant to suspend the feature for awhile. Before we do, here’s this week’s top ten. As always, you’ll see this week’s #1 song on our 100 Best Songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Every link here will take you to each individual song.
1. Bobby Vacant & the Weary – Never Looking Back
So far this is the best single song we’ve heard this year, a defiant look back on a checkered past. Suits us just fine. From the new cd.
We’re late in picking up on this snide classic by the Canadian powerpop rocker. He’s at Union Hall on 10/15.
3. Karine Poghosyan with the Kokolo String Ensemble - Haydn F Maj. Piano Concerto
The fiery pianist with an equally inspired chamber orchestra behind her.
4. Sarah Lov – Tell Me How
“It is all I ever feel, like nothing good is ever real,” she laments over a catchy Aimee Mann-esque midtempo anthem. She’s at Union Hall on 10/16 at 8.
5. Izzy and the Kesstronics – Hanging Death Waves
Izzy from Uncle Fucker on guitar plus a sax and rhythm section playing weird funny surf/garage/roots stuff. They’re at Beauty Bar in Bushwick on 9/27 at 9ish.
6. String Driven Thing – Suicide
Every now and then we run across a classic like this. This is from a reunion concert by the 70s art-rock cult favorites sometime in the 90s, a bitter, somewhat brutal graveside scene for a dead rocker:
The T in contract
The I in empire
The M in muzak
The E in Ex-Lax
The S in suicide
7. Erin Hill – Girl Inventor
Classical harpist who sounds absolutely nothing like Joanna Newsom playing psychedelic pop. More like Kate Bush actually.
8. The MK Groove Orchestra – MCP
Woozy, inventive groove-driven big band jazz. They’re at Spikehill on 9/26 at 10.
Danceable Japanese noise-rock with a real screamer on vocals, cool stuff.
10. Don’t Give Small Money Chance Brass Band – It Is Raining
Brooklyn big band playing horn music from Ghana! Pretty wild.