Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 11/4/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Thursday’s album is #817:

Love Camp 7 – Sometimes Always Never

New York psychedelic rockers Love Camp 7’s early work bears little resemblance to this richly melodic, lyrical 2007 masterpiece. Their jagged, astringent, rigorously cerebral early stuff drew more from Beefheart and Zappa. By the time they released this one, they’d defined their own sound, jangly and serpentine, with dizzyingly polyrhythmic vocal harmonies carrying frontman/guitarist Dann Baker’s wryly clever, historically infused, tongue-in-cheek lyrics. They’d also added a second guitarist, Steve Antonakos, whose fiery eclecticism became the perfect match for Baker’s counterintuitive, incisive fretwork. This has to be the only album that namechecks NBA star Eldon Brand, California conservationist David Gaines and know-it-all jazz dj Phil Schaap. The two tracks here that seem to have made it to the web scot-free are the lusciously retro psych-pop gem Munoz, and the punkish, politically fueled Naming Names. There’s also a lushly arranged triptych about waterworks corruption in 1930s California; guitar-fueled shout-outs to Barbara Lee (the only member of Congress who voted against giving the Bush regime the authority to declare war) and grassroots hero Jon Strange; a wild tribute to 60s garage rock legends the Seeds; and a couple of bouncy, Kinks-ish psychedelic pop numbers. Drummer Dave Campbell’s vocals pop up where least expected while he propels the unit with deadpan, jazzy aplomb. Campbell’s untimely death this year signaled the end for this unique and clever crew, although they have at least two more albums in the can, one a hilarious Beatles tribute/parody.

November 4, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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.

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

CD Review: Love Camp 7 – Union Garage

A strong follow-up to Love Camp 7’s classic 2007 cd Sometimes Always Never, this is aguably their most melodic and straightforward album – a direction from which the band once seemed completely alienated. That was a long time ago. Here the rhythms are as close to four on the floor as Dave Campbell – the closest thing to Elvin Jones that rock has ever seen – has ever done in this unit (he also lends his tropical, soulful beats to Erica Smith & the 99 Cent Dreams). Bassist Bruce Hathaway (also a noted contemporary classical and film composer) is his typical tuneful, melodic self, and it looks as if Steve Antonakos AKA Homeboy Steve, lead guitarist in a million other excellent projects has become a full-fledged member of the band. Frontman/guitarist Dann Baker (also of Erica Smith’s band) plays with characteristic wit and incisiveness, alternating between innumerable tasty shades of jangle and clang. Most of the songs here – including a mini-suite with a Civil War theme – are imbued with historical references in the same vein as the band’s previous cd.

The album opens with a 20-year old song, the Killers, slightly off-kilter film noir-inspired janglerock wherein the victim forgives his murderers since they’re just doing a day’s work.  Crazy Bet Van Law kicks off  the Civil War section, the tongue-in-cheek tale of an unlikely Union spy, its bridge morphing into a tidy little march. Crazy Bet’s funeral scene is the pretty, sad, harmony-driven Nobody Here but Us African-Americans – it seems she only wanted ex-slaves and servants there. Letting the Brass Band Speak For You is Beatlesque with a slightly Penny Lane feel, a snidely metaphorical slap at conformity and its consequences.

No Negro Shall Smoke is serpentine in the vein of the band’s earlier work, an actual segregationist proclamation from Richmond, Virginia set to herky-jerky, XTC-ish inflections.  The way the band just jumps on the word “smoke” and repeats it over and over again rivals the “stone, stone, stone” on Pigs by Pink Floyd. The version of the slightly Arthur Lee-ish Start from Nothing that Baker and Campbell recorded on Erica Smith’s most recent album beats the one here. Arguably the best song here is (Beware of the) Angry Driver (Yeah), a spot-on, deliciously jangly chronicle of road rage, one sadistic city bus driver after another careening through the narrow Brooklyn streets in Williamsburg and Greepoint.

Another highlight is Johnny’s Got a Little Bag of Tricks, a frankly hilarious send-up of masturbatory guitarists everywhere: “He plays a hundred notes where one would do/And if it fits the song that’s ok too.”

Antonakos, who can satirize pretty much anything, gets a couple of bars to show off the kind of chops he never shows off anywhere else (well, maybe in Van Hayride). Bobbing and weaving, Lady Ottoline Morrell is a vividly clanging tribute to a Bloomsbury-era patron of the arts. You’ll see this cd on our Best Albums of 2009 list in December. Love Camp 7 play Southpaw on May 20 at around 8:30.

May 19, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Magges Live at Mehanata, NYC 1/12/08

[editor’s note: this is a half-assed review, although it’s the best we could do under the circumstances. Greek songwriters are known for their excellent lyrics and acerbic social commentary, and since we don’t have any native Greek speakers on staff, this review is limited to the band’s music. If any Greek speakers want to comment on the band here – in English, please – be our guest]

As a casual glance at just about any city courthouse will tell you, earlier generations of Americans were in love with everything Greek. The time has come for a new generation of Americans to discover what is perhaps Greece’s finest export: its music. A cynic might say that you can hear what Magges does in any taverna in Astoria on the weekend, but that’s not true. Magges is Greek slang for “bad guys,” which is something of an understatement: this band is positively evil. It was particularly appropriate to see them play at Gogol Bordello’s home base, since they share that band’s wild exuberance and unbridled passion. The place was packed, lots of people were dancing and taking shots from the ouzo bottles that the band very generously brings along to every show. Every New Yorker should experience this band at least once: they’re that good.

In a marathon set that went on for what seemed like hours, they played a wildly danceable mix of Greek vocal music from the past several decades, big major-key arenaesque ballads and long dance numbers burning with chromatic fire that went on for practically ten minutes apiece. Frontman Kyriakos “Chuck” Metaxas played exhilarating, fast runs on his electric bouzouki, accompanied by an acoustic bouzouki player, the ubiquitous Steve Antonakos on acoustic guitar, the also somewhat ubiquitious Susan Mitchell on violin as well as upright bass and percussion. And a belly dancer who got the crowd on their feet.

Metaxas sings in the somewhat dramatic, stagy style that’s characterized Greek pop for what seems forever. A lot of their songs utilize unorthodox time signatures and turn on the drop of a dime, but the band tackled the changes effortlessly. Even to foreign ears, several of the songs were recognizable, foremost among them a scorching, bouzouki-driven take of the original vocal song that Dick Dale appropriated and turned into Misirlou. Magges’ strongest suit is rembetiko, a dark, Middle Eastern-inflected style of stoner music that originated in the Greek underground resistance movement in the 1930s and 40s, and they played several of these. They also did their signature song, Ouzo, an upbeat, somewhat pastoral anthem that predictably got the crowd roaring. The only problem was the sound: the thud from the downstairs disco was painfully audible during quieter moments, and it was only then that Mitchell – one of the most captivating soloists around – could be heard. The chime and clang of the bouzoukis, guitar and bass was delicious, but Magges without Mitchell isn’t the same.

January 13, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Concert Review: Ellen Foley at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 7/19/07

The most unlikely comeback of the decade is an improbable success. OK, maybe not the most unlikely comeback: who knew that Vashti Bunyan would hit the road again? But this wasn’t exactly expected. As Ellen Foley told it tonight, she was sitting on former Five Chinese Brothers bassist Paul Foglino’s couch, and he suggested that they write some songs together and do some shows. Fast forward to tonight: he wrote some songs, the band worked up some her of her older material and, blam, comeback in full effect.

In addition to her career as an actress, Foley had a successful run in Europe in the 80s as a top 40 singer. Here, she remains a generational footnote, musically at least, best known for her vocals on Meatloaf’s epic monstrosity Paradise By the Dashboard Light. You know, “Stop right theeeeeeeere, I gotta know right now!” But her great shining moment was as the singer on the great lost Clash album, her 1981 Sire release Spirit of St. Louis. If you have a turntable and see this kicking around the dollar bins, by all means, pick it up: it proves that Strummer and Jones (who was her boyfriend at the time) could write gorgeously orchestrated, politically charged ballads. Foley also sang lead on Hitsville UK, the Clash’s lone (and considerably successful) venture into Motown.

Tonight, she was at the top of her game, sounding better than ever – she’s got a big, somewhat showy voice with impressive range – and looking great. Backed by an inspired 4-piece unit including Foglino and Steve Antonakos (what band is he NOT in) on guitars, Steve Houghton on bass and Kevin Hangdog on drums, she delivered a mix of some of her European hits along with Foglino’s wry, bluesy, Americana-pop songs.

On the outro to What’s the Matter Baby, she improvised an explanation: “I was replaced on Night Court by Markie Post!” The audience loved her take of We Belong to the Night (which was a #1 hit for her in Holland before Pat Benetar’s iconically schlocky version). “This song is for…Ann Coulter,” she told the crowd as they launched into a fiery version of the Stones’ Stupid Girl. Foglino may have a thing for goofy songwriting (he’s the guy who wrote the college radio classic You’re Never too Drunk to Get Drunk), but he clearly gives a damn about this unit, tailoring his material to the nuances of Foley’s voice. On one slowly swaying new tune, she mined the verse with her beautifully quiet upper register for everything she could get out of it: “These dreams shine like diamonds/But I’m digging for…coal.”

Her first encore was written about her, she told the crowd, and then did a shambling, fun version of Should I Stay or Should I Go, Antonakos having fun making up some Spanglish in place of Mick Jones’ fractured espanol. They closed the show with a fragment of the big Meatloaf hit (probably to pre-empt the wiseass element in the audience), and it was impossible to leave without a smile on your face. Where Foley wants to go with this is anybody’s guess, but even if all she wants to do is play Lakeside on the random night, she’s more fun than 99% of the other singers out there. If you have fond memories of Europe in the 80s, a thing for brilliant obscurities from the bargain bins, or just enjoy hearing a great voice, you should go see her.

July 20, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Concert Review: Love Camp 7 at Parkside Lounge, NYC 6/2/07

The house was full by the time the band went on. There were a couple of tables full of yuppie puppies from Westchester or Connecticut, loud and oblivious as if they were on lunch break at middle school (even if that was ten years ago for them). It took Love Camp 7 about five minutes to clear them out of the room, opening up some space for the cool kids to sit. Love Camp 7 played interludes all night, an endless series of hooks, riffs and intricate guitar figures that rushed by, a whirlwind of beautiful, jangling, twanging, wailing melody. Their songs don’t follow any predictable pattern. Each is a winding back street through a casbah of the mind where every turn could be a dead end but always leads somewhere unexpected. Yet the songs are anything but random. Love Camp’s not-so-secret weapon, in full force tonight, is drummer Dave Campbell, one of the two or three finest in all of rock. He led his bandmates, redoubtable bassist Bruce Hathaway and frontman/guitarist Dann Baker (who also plays with Campbell in Erica Smith’s band the 99 Cent Dreams) through one tricky change after another, through minefields of weird time signatures and abrupt endings. In the end, everybody emerged exhausted but unscathed.

They opened with a couple of jangly numbers, the second being the tongue-in-cheek The Angry Driver with its wickedly catchy, recurrent chorus. They then followed with a few cuts from their forthcoming Beatles album. Each of these songs takes its title from a Beatles record. Like the Rutles or XTC on their Dukes of Stratosphear albums, Love Camp 7 expertly blends in licks and melodies that are either stolen directly from the Fab Four, or bear a very close resemblance. The result works as both homage and satire. While the song cycle begins with Meet the Beatles – which they played tonight, the closest thing to an actual period piece among the songs – the compositions bear a much closer resemblance to the most intricate, psychedelic stuff from the White Album or Abbey Road than any of the Beatles’ early hits.

Revolver began with the chorus, eventually broke down into an interlude and then reverted back. Magical Mystery Tour was set to an odd time signature, with a doublespeed break after the chorus and then a passage right out of I Am the Walrus. The Beatles’ Second Album was the closest thing to a narrative, a wry, invented reminiscence of the era when the record came out.

The rest of the set blended gorgeous, jangling psychedelia with strange, sometimes atonal stop-and-start numbers. Second guitarist Steve Antonakos used one of them to sneak in some completely over the top, Eddie Van Halen-style tapping which was very funny. They encored with the only song from their new, career-best album Sometimes Always Never that they played tonight, Naming Names. Campbell and Baker traded off vocals on this acerbic namecheck of some of the unexpected culprits who narced on their colleagues during the McCarthy hearings. From just this set, it seems as if Love Camp 7 has at least two killer albums worth of material ready for release: a very auspicious event.

June 5, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments