Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 4/29/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Friday’s album is #641:

The Stanley Bros. – All Time Greatest Hits

We’re gonna sneak another greatest-hits package in here because it’s representative, not necessarily because it’s any better than any other collection by these bluegrass legends – and their stuff has been packaged and repackaged a million times. Ralph and Carter Stanleys’ high lonesome voices, banjo and guitar, along with some topnotch 1940s and 50s Nashville players, rip through eleven songs, many of which have become standards. The real stunner here is Rank Strangers, one of the most vivid depictions of alienation ever set to music – its quietly resolute, suicidal atmosphere will give you chills. The one everybody knows is Man of Constant Sorrow; the rest of the gothic Americana includes Oh Death and White Dove. There’s also the prisoner’s lament Stone Walls and Steel Bars; the wry, amusing Don’t Cheat in Our Home Town; the English dance Little Maggie; the lickety-split Little Birdie, and for country gospel fans, there’s Beautiful Star of Bethlehem. Mysteriously, this one isn’t very easy to find, so in lieu of this particular item you might want to check out something just as interesting, the complete Rich-R-Tone 78s collection, which is decent although the journey from 78 to digital was somewhat less than successful.

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April 29, 2011 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Debutante Hour Cover Up For Once

Musicians know that if you really want to keep an audience’s attention with a cover song, you have to find a way to make it different from the original. Usually the more you change it, the funnier it gets. The Debutante Hour’s new album Follow Me is all cover songs: hip-hop, new wave pop, bluegrass, Phil Spector and indie rock done oldtimey style with accordion, cello and percussion. Is the band being silly? Sarcastic? Serious? With the Debutante Hour, you never know. Accordionist Maria Sonevytsky, cellist Mia Pixley and multi-instrumentalist Susan Hwang’s stagewear may not leave much to the imagination, but their songs do the opposite: their deadpan surrealism isn’t always easy to figure out. Which is what makes them so appealing – aside from their perfectly charming three-part harmonies. And the outfits of course. They definitely were serious about putting the album together, with crystalline production from World Inferno’s Franz Nicolay.

The first song is No Scrubs, originally done by TLC, recast here as a ukelele shuffle. The original was mildly funny and this is funnier (live, it’s absolutely hilarious). When it comes time for the bridge, Baltimore hip-hop diva TK Wonder reminds that girl in the song isn’t a gold digger, she’s just sick of getting hit on by scuzzy guys – beeyatch!

Just What I Needed by the Cars is a horrible song, one cliche after another, absolutely unredeemable unless maybe as death metal or industrial. Here it’s reinvented as a tongue-in-cheek accordion tune, as the Main Squeeze Orchestra might have done it. When Nicolay comes in with his banjo, that’s when it gets really funny.

The third track is an acoustic hip-hop hit by popular Ukrainian duo 5’Nizza (whose name is a Russian pun, meaning “Friday”). It seems to be a come-on (the hook seems to mean something along the lines of “I’m not like that”). To a non-Ukrainian speaker, it comes across as catchy, innocuous trip-hop. The first serious song here is an unselfconsciously beautiful version of the Stanley Bros.’ If That’s the Way You Feel, evocative of the Roulette Sisters. Another serious one is Be My Baby, where they take the generic white doo-wop hit burned out by oldies radio decades ago and make it downright sultry. They close with the Flaming Lips’ Do You Realize. If you missed the original, it’s Brian Jonestown Massacre-style nouveau psychedelia, in this case a third-rate John Lennon imitation with really awful (and kind of morbid) lyrics. The Debutante Hour’s version plays down the death fixation and plays up the pretty tune. They’re at Joe’s Pub on 3/25 at 7 PM.

Since now we know that the Debutante Hour’s covers are as fun and interesting as their originals, here’s some other cover ideas: John Sheppard or Thomas Tallis’ death-fixated sixteenth-century plainchant with intricate harmonies that scream out gothically for a reinterpretation by the Debutante Hour! How about Combination Pizza Hut and Taco Bell, which is so idiotic that it wouldn’t be hard to have a little fun with – maybe bring back TK Wonder for that one? Gogol Bordello’s Start Wearing Purple, which pretty much everybody knows, and could use some harmonies? Camay by Ghostface Killah? The Girl’s Guide to the Modern Diva by Black Box Recorder? Vladimir Vysotksky’s acoustic gypsy-punk revolutionary anthem Okhata Na Volkov (The Wolf Hunt)? Just brainstorming here…

March 13, 2011 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The Dixie Bee-Liners at Joe’s Pub, NYC 10/27/07

Pinecastle Records’ latest signees played to a full house and dazzled with a passionate, frequently blistering performance. In this era of free music all over the internet, it would be a little extreme to declare them the next million-selling Americana act. But dollars to donuts they’ll be the most downloaded, after word about them gets out: Dixie Chicks, look out, you have competition (that’s a compliment). This was a homecoming of sorts for the Dixie Bee-Liners’ two songwriters and lead singers, mandolinist Buddy Woodward and guitarist Brandi Hart.

They’ve added bandmates from their new home state of Virginia, the most impressive one being a terrific dobro player, in addition to a banjoist with a striking likeness to character actor Ray Wise (it was hard to resist hollering from the audience, “Did you really kill Laura Palmer?”) and a violin player who ably supplied high harmonies to Hart’s soaring, full-throated vocals. After opening with a fast, furious instrumental, they followed with Hart’s sly, innuendo-laden trucker anthem Davy, which began life as a throwaway but has since become a big crowd-pleaser. The followed that with a gorgeously sad new one about a soldier killed in battle. It was hard to tell whether the song is a Civil War parable for Iraq, or simply nonspecific, but either way it was heartwrenching to hear Hart sing about how “then the boy was dragged away.”

After another sizzling instrumental, this one driven by the banjo player, they launched into the first single from their forthcoming album, a rousing driving tune called Down On The Crooked Road, set along the 253-mile heritage trail in Virginia that runs through the soil that gave birth to the Stanley Brothers, among a lengthy catalog of bluegrass legends. Then Woodward took over lead vocals and delivered a superbly rousing take of his Civil War anthem Grumble Jones, about a great Confederate general who got his name from his “potty mouth,” as Woodward put it. They followed that with Hart’s classic, haunting Lost in the Silence, a very darkly rustic chronicle of love gone forever, picked up the pace once again with a real fast one (a cover?) and then the show was over. The audience didn’t know what hit them, and before anyone knew it the entire club staff was lugging all the chairs out of the main space and kicking the audience (and band) out into the lobby in order to prepare for some “private party.”

This band is going places. Blessed with not one but two first-class songwriters, each with a uniquely individual voice (tonight Hart played femme fatale to Woodward’s encyclopedically gifted class clown) as well as uniquely individual vocal styles. Since leaving New York, the Dixie Bee-Liners have broadened their stylistical palette beyond the Bible Belt noir that made them so popular while they were here in town, without losing any of their striking intelligence, wit and purist musicality. One hopes they’ll be back on a night when there isn’t a private party scheduled afterward that wipes out what was probably half their set list.

November 3, 2007 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment