Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Gabriel Sullivan – By the Dirt

Gabriel Sullivan knows a lot of styles and he’s adept at them. More specifically, his new cd By the Dirt runs through a whole bunch of stylized genres, pretty successfully – the playing is generally good, he’s got a good sense of melody and a feel for vintage Americana styles. Mixed by Craig Schumacher of Calexico and Friends of Dean Martinez renown, Sullivan’s going for a dusky southwestern gothic feel (a concept made clear by the cd cover, the songwriter posed sullenly against a photoshopped backdrop of a battered piano in the sagebrush), although the sound is more straight-up southern in a lot of places.

The album’s opening number reminds of Reid Paley, kind of a stripped-down ghoulabilly blues with banjo and harp. The title track is a swinging, memorable, Waitsh-ish tune: “We all live and die by the dirt,” Sullivan reminds ominously. Track three, the snide, defiant Life Is Fine has Sullivan affirming that “You ain’t never gonna see me die.”

How to Treat a Man reminds of Steve Wynn’s legendary Dream Syndicate with its slide guitar-driven, bluesy stomp. By contrast, Me & the Dog is ghostly, lowlit by some sweetly phosphorescent singing saw work. Of the country songs here, by far the most interesting and original is the metaphor-laden, nocturnal ballad The Gardens, its protagonist aching for some peace. There’s also a clanking noir blues, a Waits-style outlaw ballad and then more and more Waits, it seems – by this point, Sullivan seems to have run out of ideas of his own, and the overlong, pointless guitar solo out of the last number does nothing to change that. In terms of the three stages of artistry – imitation, emulation and originality – Sullivan’s passed the first and has command of the second – and there’s nothing wrong with having the ability to synthesize or move smoothly from one oldtime style to another, as he does effortlessly here. It’ll be interesting to see how his writing develops as he grows as a songwriter. In the meantime, fans of dark Americana rock and all the other retro styles he tackles here will enjoy most of this. Keep your eye on this guy – he knows what he’s doing, even if he could be confused with a whole lot of other people on some of the tracks here.

November 9, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Randi Russo at the Delancey, NYC 11/2/09

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.

November 4, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 12/7/08

If you’re going out this weekend and wonder where our constantly updated NYC live music calendar went, it’s here. In the meantime our top 666 songs of alltime countdown continues, one day at a time all the way to #1.Sunday’s is #597:

Amy Allison – Turn Out the Lights

Lucid Culture’s pick for best song of 2007 is one of cult artist Allison’s finest – and she has many – a stark and eerily glistening (if totally misproduced) suicide anthem:

 

In my room

Far from the crowd

My bed’s a tomb

My quilt’s a shroud

I’ve had my fill

Of restless nights

I’d just as soon

Turn out the lights.

 

From the cd Everything and Nothing Too. Allison also has a hysterically funny, brand-new song about Amy Winehouse smoking crack up on her myspace too.

December 7, 2008 Posted by | Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Marykate O’Neil – mkULTRA

Truth in advertising. The cd cover pictures a deadpan Marykate O’Neil in shirt and tie with old-fashioned 1950s glasses, holding a bottle of a suspicious, possibly mind-altering and tortuous substance designated for some poor unfortunate prisoner of the CIA. Onstage, O’Neil typically relies on a subtle wit to get her melodic, purist songs across, but this is one dark album. Needless to say, this isn’t your typical singer/songwriter fare.

 

Switching evocatively from Boston to a New York milieu, O’Neil’s vocals on the cd’s opening lament Green Street have Barbara Brousal-class subtlety and a lyric glistening with little gems:

 

The last time I saw you on Storrow Drive

You were walking your three-speed Huffy bike…

Dropping a nickel on the dime

 

Set to an imaginative acoustic trip-hop arrangement, Man manages to straddle the line between sensuality and frustration: “How did I get so fucked up,” O’Neil wails. On the bleak, depressed 6/8 ballad Nothing I Say or Do, layers of synth make their way in like a draft under the door. 

 

With its stately, eerily reverberating 6/8 guitar and insistent backing vocals leading up to the end of the verse, Trouble evokes Erika Simonian at her most angst-ridden, all the way up to the top of a towering, roaring crescendo, a vivid East Village tale that namechecks the Lakeside Lounge (yay!). 

 

The way the cd closes testifies to O’Neil’s fondness for classic pop songs. A stark take of Without You surpasses the Randy Newman original but falls short of the transcendent, bass-driven version that made the top 40 for Manfred Mann. The concluding cut, Happy, steals the eerie riff from Walking in the Rain (more evocative of the Flash & the Pan original than the Grace Jones version). “All I wanna be is happy,” is the anguished mantra O’Neil repeats over and over, making it clear that she’s a long way from there as the guitars burn and the percussion reaches a breakneck pace. Intense, powerful stuff. Marykate O’Neil plays Kenny’s Castaways at 8:30 PM on Nov 7; her December 8 show at Maxwell’s is sold out.

November 4, 2008 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment