Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Sean Kershaw and the New Jack Ramblers – Coney Island Cowboy

Hard honkytonk doesn’t get any better than this. The band may be new jack but Sean Kershaw is definitely oldschool. One of the prime movers of the vibrant New York country/Americana scene, Kershaw led a fiery rockabilly band, the Blind Pharaohs back in the 90s and early zeros; this project grew out of an off-the-cuff jam session between some of the best players on the scene. Since they were always busy with gigs during the week, they could only get together on an off-day. But word spread and suddenly Sundays at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn was the place to be (free barbecue didn’t hurt). This is the band that sprang out of that jam, and it’s a damn good one: while Kershaw, true to form, performs live with a rotating cast of characters (he’s got a deep rolodex), this cd features the multistylistic Bob Hoffnar on pedal steel, the ubiquitous Homeboy Steve Antonakos on lead guitar plus a no-nonsense rhythm section of Jason Hogue on upright bass and Andrew Borger (of Norah Jones’ band) on drums. Recorded by the band’s longtime friend Rick Miller of Southern Culture on the Skids, most of this has a similar guitar-fueled burn, not to mention a sense of humor: some of these songs are hilarious, in a vintage 70s Moe Bandy way. Kershaw delivers them with a wink and a grin in a knowing, Johnny Cash-style baritone.

The funniest song on the album is The Trucker & the Tranny, ostensibly a true story – “Are you gonna tell him?” chuckles a friend at the bar as the two cavort. Or maybe it’s Bigshot of the Honkytonk, a downright vicious portrait of a bartender who’s a big fish in a little pond: “The jukebox plays his favorite song 25 times a night.” Crackerjack Delight echoes Orbison but with a surreal, contemporary edge, while Already Cheatin’ is a catchy shuffle: “There ain’t no fish scales underneath my fingernails, it must be the smell of cheating going on.” The Carl Perkins-inflected Moonlight Eyes -the Blind Pharaohs’ signature song – is redone here as a fetching duet between Kershaw and the golden-voiced Drina Seay. There’s also the eerie, completely noir, LJ Murphy-style Woke Up Dead, driven by a searing pedal steel solo; a western swing shuffle where Kershaw tries his hand at scatting, and actually pulls it off; a bizarre Split Lip Rayfield style number about doing battle with Satan; a SCOTS-style barn-burner with Miller guesting on guitar; and a remake of the folk song Old Hollow Tree, this one abruptly uprooted and transplanted to Brooklyn.

The title track is inadvertently sad, a vivid summertime oceanside scene populated with freaks and characters, complete with sound samples of the Cyclone rollercoaster. It’s a time capsule, and unfortunately the bumper cars aren’t bumpin’ to that crazy hip-hop beat anymore. The Astroland amusement park is gone, soon to be replaced by a parking lot since Mayor Bloomberg’s dream of driving out the blacks and Hispanics with casinos and “luxury” condos for rich white tourists doesn’t stand much of a chance these days – unless he funds it himself. Meanwhile, the neighborhood has pulled together and has been fighting it – unsurprisingly, when the band isn’t on the road they’ve been involved with the Save Coney Island movement, which deserves your support as well.

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February 19, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Concert Review: Demolition String Band CD Release Show at Rodeo Bar, NYC 11/16/07

If you want to buy something substantial, say, a car or a guitar, you want to take it for a spin. You want to hear what it sounds like. Likewise, it makes no sense to buy a cd sight unseen: no matter who’s putting it out, you need to know if it’s worth it. One surefire way is to hear the songs live: anybody can fix mistakes in the studio, overdub guitars or vocals til the cows come home, but how do the songs stand up without any added embellishments? If this show is any indication, Demolition String Band’s new one Different Kinds of Love completely and totally kicks ass.

X would be the closest comparison for this band. Although Demolition String Band aren’t punk by any stretch, they share the legendary LA band’s love for both American roots music and sheer guitar volume. In an age where rock has actually taken over country radio, this album is particularly well-timed. Tonight they mixed up a bunch of catchy, twangy country tunes with a couple of blazing straight-up rock songs and some dazzlingly played bluegrass.

They opened on the rock tip with Hurt So Bad, featuring a Stonesy Keith Richards-esque intro from Telecaster master Boo Reiners and followed that with the best song of the night. Written by frontwoman Elena Skye – who’s been on something of a tear lately coming up with new material – it rocked all the way through its ominous minor-key intro until they reprised it at the end. Then they invited their friend Rina (Did we spell it right?) to sub the backing vocal part that Mary from Southern Culture on the Skids did on the recorded version of the pretty, traditional country tune I Wanna Wear White.

The band blazed through their reliably crowd-pleasing cover of Madonna’s Like a Prayer – “See, Madonna can write a great country song, she just doesn’t know it,” Skye told the audience – and then returned to their originals with a fast, backbeat-driven song inspired by Skye’s daughter, and then the twangy, midtempo Baby Won’t You Come Home on which Skye switched to mandolin. Reiners took over lead vocals on another relatively new Skye song, the fast, electric bluegrass number Thinking About Drinking, then thry brought it down again with a slow ballad on which Reiners played his heart out with a long solo.

Their cover of the Ola Belle Reed classic Where the Wild Wild Flowers Grow rocked hard, crescendoing with a bluesy 70s rock guitar solo. On the tune after that, Reiners left his wah-wah pedal (or was it a flange?) wide open during another long solo, letting his tone phase in and out and the way he made the melody work with it was as impressive as it was amusing. After a fast bluegrass instrumental followed by their excellent new song Drinking Whiskey (a tribute to bootleggers, it seems, carefully explaining how “you got your selling, and your drinking whiskey”) they closed their long, exuberant first set with the old bluegrass standard True Love Never Dies. As if to check to see how hard the crowd was listening, Reiners threw in several sly Beatles quotes, then they sped it up almost doublespeed, finally wrapping it up as he played the big hook from Hendrix’ Little Wing. Party music doesn’t get much more clever or entertaining than this. Lookout Nashville, here they come. CDs are currently available online for pre-order or at shows (Demolition String Band usually play Rodeo Bar at least once a month when they’re not on the road playing with SCOTS or some other good country touring band).

November 19, 2007 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments