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JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 7/25/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #554:

The Who – The Who Sings My Generation

OK, OK, this is “classic rock,” the one thing we’re trying to stay away from here. But what a rhythm section – and a tragedy that both John Entwistle and Keith Moon both left us so young. This album came out in 1965, when the band’s sound was new and fresh, before Pete Townshend turned into a Jimmy Page wannabe and Daltrey…well, the music here is good enough to make you forget he’s on it. With his completely unpredictable rumbling thunder attack, Moon absolutely owns La-La-La-Lies and Much Too Much. A Legal Matter mines the same amped-up R&B style as the Pretty Things and the early Kinks; the Good’s Gone foreshadows the Move. There’s also the country dancehall stomp of It’s Not True, the blue eyed soul ballad I Don’t Mind and Out in the Street, with its cool tremoloing intro. Oh yeah, there’s also an oldies radio standard, a future movie theme and a primitive, fuzztoned quasi-surf instrumental. The band only miss when they misguidedly try their hand at James Brown. Here’s a random torrent.

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

John Paul Keith Plays Every Retro Rock Style Ever Invented

John Paul Keith’s backup band is called the One Four Fives. It’s a wryly accurate way of describing his music. The veteran Memphis singer/guitarist is an avatar of retro rock: he doesn’t seem to have met a roots-rock style that he can’t play with equal parts fun and virtuosity. He’s sort of a Memphis version of Simon Chardiet, emphasis more on serious songwriting than blazing guitars and punk-infused humor. It’s a sure bet that had many of these songs come out fifty years ago, they would have been huge. The production matches the period-perfect craftsmanship: many of these songs sound like live-in-the-studio two-track recordings from around 1965.

Keith’s new album is aptly titled The Man That Time Forgot. The opening track, Never Could Say No is Tex-Mex through the prism of 80s powerpop – it wouldn’t be out of place on a Willie Nile record. You Devil You evokes 50s rockabilly hitmakers like Charlie Gracie, with its carefree guitar tremolo-picking. With its slurry bass groove, Anyone Can Do It mines an Eddie Cochran/Bobby Fuller vein. The wry, doo-wop infused Songs for Sale is the closest thing to Chardiet here, along with the album’s best song, the amusingly scurrying noir shuffle I Work at Night.

Afraid to Look works a stomping British R&B hook straight out of the early Yardbirds or Pretty Things, while the honkytonk-flavored Dry County references the long stretches of road that every touring band dreads the most. I Think I Fell in Love Today slinks along on the swirling organ of Al Gamble, of another excellent Memphis band, retro soul groovemeisters the City Champs. They also evoke a vivid late 60s blue-eyed soul vibe with Somebody Ought to Write a Song About You. Keith goes back to a straight-up, rocking Bobby Fuller feel with the tongue-in-cheek Bad Luck Baby; the album winds up with a country song, The Last Last Call, which sounds like a big live favorite. Fans of roots rock from across the decades will have a blast with this. It’s out now on Big Legal Mess/Fat Possum.

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

Album of the Day 6/13/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #596:

The Electric Prunes – Mass in F Minor

From 1968, this is one of the great stoner albums of all time, not bad considering that the band it’s credited to reputedly didn’t play on several of the tracks (history is fuzzy on this – a Canadian garage band, the Collectors, were reputedly brought in by composer David Axelrod to complete it when the Prunes basically broke up mid-session). It’s an attempt to make psychedelic rock out of imitation pre-baroque themes, and it’s successful beyond belief: with layers and layers of stinging reverb guitar, eerie organ and trebly, melodic bass, it’s a wild ride. The track everybody knows is Kyrie Eleison, which is on the Easy Rider soundtrack. All the song titles are in Latin, in the manner of a Catholic mass – Agnus Dei; Benedictus; Credo, Sanctus and Gloria – with occasional deadpan, monklike chanting amidst the chaos. Fuzz tones, feedback, all manner of cheap production tricks and some deliriously inspired (some would say sloppy) playing are everywhere. Here’s a random torrent.

June 13, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dina Rudeen’s Common Splendor is Uncommonly Splendid

Dina Rudeen is the missing link between Neko Case and Eartha Kitt. The way she slides up to a high note and then nails it triumphantly will give you shivers. Her songs draw you in, make you listen: they aren’t wordy or packed with innumerable chord changes, but they pack a wallop. With just a short verse and a catchy tune, Rudeen will paint a picture and then embellish it while the initial impact is still sinking in. Musically, she reaches back to the magical moment in the late 60s and early 70s when soul music collided with psychedelic rock; lyrically, she uses the metaphorically loaded, witty vernacular of the blues as a foundation for her own terse, literate style. Some of the songs on her new album The Common Splendor sound like what Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks could have been if he’d had a good band behind him; the rest runs the gamut from lush, nocturnal oldschool soul ballads, to jaunty, upbeat, Americana rock. Behind Rudeen’s nuanced vocals, Gary Langol plays keyboards and stringed instruments along with Tim Bright on electric guitars, Tim Luntzel on bass, Konrad Meissner on drums, Jordan MacLean on trumpet, the ubiquitously good Doug Wieselman on baritone sax and clarinet, Lawrence Zoernig on cello, bells and bowls, Smoota’s Dave Smith on trombone, Lars Jacobsen on tenor sax and Jake Engel of Lenny Molotov’s band on blues harp. The arrangements are exquisite, with tersely interwoven guitar and keyboard lines, and horn charts that punch in and then disappear, only to jump back in on a crescendo. This also happens to be the best-produced album of the year: it sounds like a vinyl record.

The opening track, Hittin’ the Town is a sly, ultimately triumphant tune about conquering inner demons, driven by a defiant horn chart over a vintage 50s Howlin Wolf shuffle beat:

I hit a dry spell
I hit a low note
I hit the deck
But missed the boat
I hit the top, cracked the jewel in my crown
When it hit me like a ton of bricks that’s when I hit the ground
But now I’m just hitting the town

The second cut, Steady the Plow slinks along on a low key gospel/blues shuffle, Rudeen’s sultry contralto contrasting with layers of reverberating lapsteel, piano and dobro moving through the mix – psychedelic Americana, 2011 style. Safe with Me, a southern soul tune, wouldn’t have been out of place in the Bettye Swann songbook circa 1967. The lush, gorgeously bittersweet, Rachelle Garniez-esque Yvette eulogizes a teenage party pal who died before her time, maybe because she pushed herself a little too hard (Rudeen doesn’t say, an example of how the ellipses here speak as loudly as the words). Hold Up the Night succinctly captures the “beautiful, unfolding sight” of a gritty wee hours street scene; Blue Bird, a bucolic tribute to the original songbird – or one of them – has more of Langol’s sweet steel work. And Prodigal One, another requiem, vividly memorializes a crazy neighborhood character who finally got on the Night Train and took it express all the way to the end.

Not everything here is quiet and pensive. There’s also some upbeat retro rock here, including the sultry Cadillac of Love and a couple of rockabilly numbers: Repeat Offender, with its Sun Records noir vibe, and Gray Pompadour, a tribute to an old guy who just won’t quit. There’s also the unselfconsciously joyous closing singalong, On My Way Back Home, namechecking a characteristically eclectic list of influences: Bowie, Elvis, the Grateful Dead, among others. Count this among one of the best releases of 2011 in any style of music. Watch this space for upcoming NYC live dates.

April 6, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music, soul music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Damian Quinones’ Happy Accidents – Purist Rock Fun

For over a decade Damian Quinones has been simmering just under the radar writing tuneful, fun, smart psychedelic rock songs in somewhat of the same vein as the Zombies. His new ep Happy Accidents explores his edgier, harder-rocking side, sort of like a lo-fi version of Love Camp 7. This album took shape as Quinones began demoing songs in his home studio and then must have realized that what he had – with some welcome contributions from a brass section – was perfectly fine for public consumption. Here he plays guitars, bass, percussion and keys, along with Greg Richardson on bass, Brian Baker and Geoffrey Hull on trumpets, Eric Fraser on bansuri flute and Patrick McIntyre and Seth Johnson on drums.

The opening cut, Arecibo, is a catchy backbeat pop song with bracing doubletracked lead guitar. Tesla’s Love Machine is deliciously arranged mid-70s-style rock with psychedelic touches. Quinones is tremendously good at arrangements and fun, imaginative riffs: blippy white noise oscillating into and out of the mix and sunbaked sustained lead guitar lines that get switched out for bright slide guitar on the last verse.

Annabelle, a casually shuffling, thoughtfully psychedelic folk-pop tune with balmy, period-perfect 1960s horn fills, picks up with a sway at the end. Life in the Dog House paints a picture of a guy who doesn’t sweat the small stuff, in fact much of anything. “My last payday they say we’re moving the plant to the south of Japan,” he announces; later on he’s “dodging swings from a rolling pin” swung by his wife, but he doesn’t give up. Daddy Legs, a full band track, slinks along on a hypnotic latin groove with tasty horns and electric piano, Gregorio Hernandez’ trombone prowling around suspensefully. Five songs, five bucks at Quinones’ site, worth every penny for fans of catchy, purist rock songwriting. Watch this space for upcoming NYC shows.

March 14, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Elvis’ First Albums After the Army Get a New Look

The brand-new reissue of Elvis Is Back – a twofer with Presley’s subsequent 1960 album Something for Everybody, plus a whole slew of singles, some of them iconic, some mostly forgotten – is just out from Sony. The argument’s been made that Elvis Is Back was his best album, and that’s not true: he did his best work for Sun, and then in the 70s when he was on autopilot, but with an amazing band behind him ( and the ’68 comeback isn’t bad either). But this period piece – an essential collectors item for the Elvis cult – still oozes energy. Let’s not forget that only two years earlier, his career had been put on hold by racists who were terrified that the era’s best-loved pop culture figure was converting young white people to black music faster than any racist could stop him. So whatever his experiences were in the Army, there’s no doubt that Elvis was glad to be back – and the musicians behind him obviously agreed.

Interestingly, Elvis Is Back is mostly an album of ballads: that they stand up as well as they do fifty years later testifies to how much care and anticipation went into this. The shuffling David Lynchian vibe of Girl Next Door Went a-Walking is still irresistible, and the blues numbers, Reconsider Baby and It Feels So Right foreshadow what would sustain him so effectively throughout the ’68 special. Done with only bass and percussion, his cover of The Fever falls somewhere between the Peggy Lee hit and the Cramps. And Such a Night reminds how much more sophisticated a singer he’d become since he’d first recorded the old Drifters hit in 1954: it’s Elvis and band doing the Rat Pack, right down to the nonchalant exuberance of the drum outro.

That Elvis and the band could have recorded all but one of the dozen tracks on Something for Everybody in one night – or have been subjected to that by the label, considering his artistic status, never mind his value to them – is pretty remarkable. Then again, that was how albums were made in those days. Elvis sounds no worse for the marathon, and the band rises to the occasion as well. The real stunner here is the perfectly Orbisonesque noir pop ballad There’s Always Me, capped off by an unexpectedly explosive outro. Did a teenage Van Dyke Parks play along to the creepy music box piano of It’s a Sin? Did a young Roger McGuinn do the same with the proto folk-pop of Gently? Did the Searchers use the boisterous uptempo guitar blues of Put the Blame on Me as the prototype for an entire career? It would seem so.

To sweeten the pot, there are also a dozen singles included. In hindsight, Fame and Fortune (which Arthur Kent ripped off for Skeeter Davis’ The End of the World) stands out as a dismissal of celebrity that might be far less ironic than it seems. As a blueprint for Mark Sinnis’ Mistaken for Love, Are You Lonesome Tonight takes on a new intensity. And the completely over-the-top tango Surrender, with its James Bond ambience, is impossible to hear without smiling. The rest of the stuff either burned out long ago on oldies radio or never made it that far to begin with. All together, this trip back to a time before autotune is an awful lot of fun.

March 7, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 3/5/11

More stuff in the pipeline here than you can imagine: Carol Lipnik’s great new album, solo electric rock on the Lower East and in Williamsburg, some amazing art at the Frying Pan way over on the west side, just to name a few things. In the meantime, every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #696:

The Ventures – Live in Japan ’65

The holy grail of surf music. What Never Mind the Bollocks is to punk, what Kind of Blue is to classic jazz, this album is to instrumental rock. The Ventures weren’t the first surf band, but they were the most successful, at least during their 60s heyday. This has virtually all of the best versions of their best songs, recorded in front of a hilariously polite audience in a country where they’re still more popular than the Beatles. It’s got kick-ass rockers like Penetration and Diamond Head; darker, eerie stuff like a skittish Besame Mucho Twist, Pipeline and the irresistible yet wary medley of Walk Don’t Run, Lullaby of the Leaves and Perfidia; Beatlesque jangle including When You Walk in the Room and the Fab Four’s I Feel Fine; sci-fi themes like Telstar, Out of Limits and a pummeling Journey to the Stars; and the crashing encore of Duke Ellington’s Caravan, with the late Mel Taylor’s long, iconic drum solo. The cd reissue is poorly mastered and on the tinny side, but the original mono vinyl album is strictly a collector’s item. Here’s a random torrent via dreamexpress.

March 5, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 2/16/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #713:

Them – The Story of Them Featuring Van Morrison

We recently went on record as saying that for a moment in the early 60s, the best rock band in the world wasn’t the Beatles, and it sure as fuck wasn’t the Rolling Stones. And come to think of it, it might not have been the Yardbirds either. How about Them? Although they seem to have been the model for the Lyres – more turnover among band members than you can count – Ireland’s greatest contribution to rock music until the punk era put out one ecstatically good garage rock single after another. Arguably, Van Morrison’s best moments were as a member of this band. And as great as all their original albums with Van the Man are, we got greedy and picked this reissue because it has more songs. You want the best version of Simon & Garfunkel’s Richard Cory? It’s by Them, right down to that snarling bass hook. How about It’s All Over Now Baby Blue? Or Route 66, Turn On Your Lovelight, I Put a Spell on You, or even a MC5 cover? The originals have the same wild, out-of-control intensity: Gloria, Mystic Eyes, Don’t Start Crying Now, Friday’s Child and more. The rest of the fifty tracks on this double cd set include the considerably laid-back, soulful original of Here Comes the Night (with Jimmy Page on guitar) and the epic Story of Them as well as covers by Ray Charles, T-Bone Walker and Jimmy Reed. After Morrison split, the band continued but were never the same. Here’s a random torrent.

February 16, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Latest Jimi Hendrix Compilation: A Snooze or a Scream?

The great Irish-American rock band Black 47’s most recent album Bankers and Gangsters includes a very funny song, The Long Lost Tapes of Hendrix. It’s based on the incident where Jimi Hendrix’ bassist Noel Redding absconded to Ireland with tapes of Hendrix’ last live recordings, and used them as collateral for a mortgage there. Redding may well have had an extra laugh at the bankers’ expense – who knows if the tapes were in good condition, let alone if the playing was any good, considering how notoriously uneven Hendrix’ live shows were in the months before he was murdered. Likewise, is there any Hendrix worth hearing that hasn’t already been unearthed in the past forty years? With any icon of this stature, caveat emptor is the word here: just ask any former sixteen-year-old who dumped $15 or so on one of those Curtis Knight albums in the pre-napster era. The premise of the latest Hendrix compilation, a lavish 59-track box set titled West Coast Seattle Boy: The Jimi Hendrix Anthology, is that there in fact is some meat left on the bones, and as it turns out the compilers are right. To further whet Hendrix completists’ appetites, in addition to fifteen early-to-mid-60s tracks featuring Hendrix as a sideman, original engineer Eddie Kramer was brought in for some debatable remixes of original studio recordings. There’s also plenty of marginalia seeing the light of day here officially for the first time, although pretty much all of it’s been circulating for decades in one form or another. Consider this an amazing double album further fleshed out with some obvious if welcome choices, some stuff that will be prized by hardcore Hendrix fans plus the by-now expected album side, or more, worth of stuff that was never released because it shouldn’t have been.

The Hendrix-as-sideman stuff is surprisingly lightweight, notable only for the guitar. But Rosa Lee Brooks’ shot at a top 40 soul hit, My Diary, has Jimi stunningly foreshadowing Axis: Bold As Love; the Isley Bros. Have You Ever Been Disappointed and The Icemen’s My Girl, She’s a Fox are rich with eerie, tremoloing broken chords; Billy LaMont’s Sweet Thang is a deliciously snarling one-chord funk vamp; and one of the Little Richard songs here is an unintentionally hilarious attempt to squeeze Mr. Penniman into a cliched early 60s dance-craze style (it doesn’t work, not even close).

As much as the outtakes are also a mixed bag, this is where the real treasures are. A ragged acoustic take of the lyrical, Dylanesque My Friend resonates as a snide dismissal of shallow scenesters. Mr. Bad Luck, a mid-60s Experience tune whose rhythm parts were re-recorded by Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell twenty years later, could be interpreted as a premonition of Hendrix’ ultimate fate. Hear My Freedom, a proto-metal instrumental jam with organ takes a while to get going, but when the galloping beat kicks in it’s genius, a style echoed even more intensely on a later instrumental simply titled Bolero. A collaboration with Arthur Lee, Everlasting First, has political overtones and would have been perfectly at home on Electric Ladyland. There are also a deliciously Hendrixized version of Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue, just crazy guitar, vocals and drums; a pretty scorching, politically charged Shame Shame Shame, a Voodoo Chile soundalike; and inspired, peak-era psychedelic versions of Hey Babe/New Rising Sun, New Rising Sun and In from the Storm.

The live stuff is choice, although most of it’s been readily available for a long time: the best tracks are absolutely unhinged versions of Stone Free and Foxey Lady, by Band of Gypsys. The remixes are uneven. Muting the psychedelia and bring out the rock works terrifically with Are You Experienced, maybe because that song is so hypnotic to begin with, but Love or Confusion – Hendrix’ best song – misses the cohesiveness of the original mix, a series of layers that don’t gel well when separated from the original feedback-iced morass. Pretty much every track here is up on youtube – it would have taken us as long to track down the links for all of these songs as it did to put this piece up to begin with, so we’re leaving that up to you. To experience how surprisingly rich it sounds, you need the actual item. Interestingly, the complete edition is only available as a cd box; itunes is limited to just sixteen of the tracks.

December 22, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 12/9/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #782:

Country Joe & the Fish – Electric Music for the Mind and Body

Late last July, we were closing out our Best Songs of All Time countdown and decided that we’d do albums next. In order not to bore you, we decided to debut with an “obvious suspects” page listing a bunch of picks that pretty much everybody agrees on – after all, you don’t need us to tell you how great London Calling, or Pink Moon, or Sketches of Spain are, do you? In our haste to get the page up, we neglected this one, in this case because we thought that it’s on the two most popular best-albums lists on the web and we didn’t want to duplicate them. As it turns out, it’s on the “1001 albums to hear before you die” list but not the other one. Country Joe McDonald and his bandmates’ mission on this crazed 1967 gem was to replicate the ambience of an acid trip. It’s by far the trippiest thing they ever did: their other albums have much more of a straight-up folkie or country-rock feel. Maybe because of that, it’s a lot looser and less earnest as well. Most of it has aged remarkably well, even the Grateful Dead-inspired Flying High and Superbird (a snide anti-LBJ broadside). Much of this, like Porpoise Mouth and the hypnotic instrumental Section 43, is unusually carnivalesque and eerie for these guys. Not So Sweet Martha Lorraine is surprisingly subtle and funny; the genuinely haunting Death Sound Blues and way-out-there Bass Strings, with its “did you just hear that” sound effects are anything but. None of us here can vouch for how this sounds under the influence of LSD but the band reputedly tried it and gave it their seal of approval. Here’s a random torrent.

December 9, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment