Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Kasey Anderson’s Heart of a Dog Has Lyrical Bite

Kasey Anderson’s most recent album, Nowhere Nights was one of the best of 2010. The “nowhere nights” theme continues on his new one Heart of a Dog, except with the guitars turned all the way up, pretty much all the way through. Steve Earle is still the obvious comparison – if you’ve ever heard Earle play Nirvana, that comes closer to describing what this sounds like. It’s lyrical rock: Anderson still scours the fringes with a merciless eye for detail and an ear for a catchy, purist guitar hook. His monster band the Honkies includes Andrew KcKeag on lead guitar plus Eric Corson (of the Long Winters) on bass and former Posie Mike Musburger on some of the most effectively loud rock drums in recent memory.

These songs are dark. The album gets off to a great start with The Wrong Light, a big crunchy bluesmetal number that works a Born Under a Bad Sign vibe, thematically if not tunewise. “I got a handful of powder and a wicked grin, open your eyes and let the wrong light in,” Anderson entices in a leering stage whisper. It’s the first of several launching pads for some searing, bluesy lead work by McKeag, who delivers a mean late 70s Ron Wood impression with a slide on the cynical, Stonesy rocker Mercy. Building from an ominous piano intro to a big anthem, Exit Ghost is a grim, completely unromanticized girlfriend-lost-to-drugs story. Your Side of Town might be the predecessor to that one, a bitter kiss-off anthem:

You kept my pockets empty, I was keeping my eyes wide
You were dealing pride and envy, I got my other fix on the side

Another big, fast Stonesy tune, Sirens & Thunder is cynical, but with an unrepentant smirk: the time with that girl may have been crazy and ultimately it might have been hell, but some of the craziest parts were a lot of fun. Kasey Anderson’s Dream offers a considerably louder apocalyptic garage rock update on Bob Dylan’s Honest with You, namechecking Sharon Jones and staring straight into the future: “You want a brave new world, well that can be arranged – the ship’s still sinking but the captain’s changed.” The rest of the tracks include more doomed Dylanesque imagery in Revisionist History Blues; the crushing lucidity of a hangover unfolding in the slow, brooding For Anyone; some delicious organ and accordion work in another regretful ballad, My Blues, My Love; the fast, Springsteenish My Baby’s a Wrecking Ball, and a blazing backbeat cover of the 1983 English Beat frathouse anthem Save It for Later that blows away the original. Pop a Mickey’s Big Mouth and crank this.

March 11, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 11/8/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Monday’s album is #813:

Eric Ambel – Roscoe’s Gang

The original lead guitarist in Joan Jett’s Blackhearts, Eric “Roscoe” Ambel made a name for himself as a ferociously talented soloist in 80s Americana cult band the Del Lords (who have recently reunited after a 20-year hiatus). After that, he’d go on to serve for several years as Steve Earle’s lead guitarist when he wasn’t producing great albums by an endless succession of twangy rock acts over the past 20 years or so. This one could be found playing over the PA in every cool bar and club in New York in the summer of 1989; Ambel has since remastered and tweaked it. Here he’s backed by Springfield, Missouri highway rockers the Morells along with REM collaborator Peter Holsapple and Golden Palomino Syd Straw, along with several New York street musicians including sax player “Mr. Thing.” They rocket through a mix of tight, imaginative covers and originals, all of which are streaming at Ambel’s site. An insanely catchy, considerably altered version of Swamp Dogg’s Total Destruction to Your Mind was the New York party anthem of 1989; Ambel’s Del Lords bandmate Scott Kempner’s classic powerpop song Forever Came Today is as poignant now as it was 20 years ago. 30 Days in the Workhouse gets a stinging treatment that enhances the lyrics: “If I’d been a black man, they’d have given me thirty years.” There’s also the classic kiss-off anthem You Must Have Me Confused (With Someone Who Cares); Holsapple’s Everly Bros. soundalike Next to the Last Waltz; the macho Don’t Wanna Be Your Friend; and a well-oiled, impromptu live-in-the-studio version of Neil Young’s Vampire Blues that beats the original hands down (and cuts off mysteriously midway through the outro). For newcomers to Ambel’s music, it’s available attractively as a three-fer along with the bitter, stinging Loud and Lonesome and the more recent, frequently hilarious Knucklehead album.

November 8, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 10/6/10

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Wednesday’s album is #846:

Steve Earle – The Revolution Starts…Now

Believe it or not, this ferocious, guitar-driven Americana rock record won a Grammy – for “best contemporary folk album,” of all things – in 2004. It’s as memorable and apt a response to the Bush regime’s reign of terror as anyone recorded during those years. Many of the songs are as funny as they are savage, from the rig rocking anthem Home to Houston – told from the point of view of a mercenary who went to Iraq for the money but quickly found he couldn’t hack it – to the hilariously sarcastic faux-calypso of Condi, Condi (a backhanded slap at ice queen Condoleeza Rice), to the freedom-of-speech anthem F the CC (as in, “Fuck the FCC, fuck the CIA, we’re living in the goddamn USA”). It’s also got the insightful, acoustic Rich Man’s War, the mysterious Gringo’s Tale (where a CIA black ops guy comes clean…sort of), the rousing title track, the Orbison-inspired I Thought You Should Know and the Byrdsy rocker The Seeker. Pretty much everything Earle ever did, from 1986’s Guitar Town through his most recent album of Townes Van Zandt covers, is worth owning, even including his crack period in the late 80s and early 90s. His short story collection, Doghouse Roses, is also excellent and just as vivid as his song lyrics. Not something you could say about many other songwriters. Here’s a random torrent.

October 5, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chip Robinson Is Back Like He Never Left

Chip Robinson got his start in the early 90s in careening Raleigh alt-country rockers the Backsliders, but he has not been dormant since. His new solo album Mylow is a lot different, a lot more diverse and it’s excellent all the way through. It’s sort of the missing link between Steve Earle and Richard Buckner, a mix of bruising, overdriven, twangy rock and rueful ballads. Robinson has an ear for a catchy hook, a memorable riff and a striking lyrical image to go along with a wry sense of humor. The rueful title track is definitely the best song ever written about a rabbit (it was an ex-girlfriend’s pet: she got custody). “Keep your chin up,” he tells the missing rodent, “I’ll keep my chin up too.” Another regret-tinged ballad admits that “The day I fell in love with you, I pissed off my wife and my girlfriend too.” The doomed romance of Story unwinds with two diverging points of view: he remembers whisking her across the dancefloor; she remembers him getting so loaded he couldn’t remember a thing. And the bizarrely compelling album intro, spoken word over oscillating distorted guitar noise, tells the tale of a guy who went down into a hole for “three long years” – but the drugs, and everything else, couldn’t kill him. And then it morphs into a faux-heroic tv theme type melody.

The rest of the album is a lot more serious and intense. Especially its best cut, Bee Sting, its battered narrator alternately distracted and smitten, “All my bridges burned just ashes in the wind, try to find the short way home.” Robinson works those images for all they’re worth over a fiery river of guitars, like something the Replacements might have done if they hadn’t been so sloppy all the time. The most Richard Buckner-ish track here is Wings, an alienation anthem with some hypnotic accordion work. Closer to the Light is a pretty ballad with the tasty layers of acoustic and electric guitars that you find on most everything Eric “Roscoe” Ambel produces (he also frequently plays shows with Robinson at Lakeside Lounge). That track has some distant Beatles allusions, which come front and center on the big ballad A Prayer Please, right down to a juicy George Harrison-esque guitar solo. The goodbye anthem Start is metaphorically loaded and vividly bitter; there are also a couple of roaring, Stonesy rock anthems here to pick up the pace, along with Mylow Sleeps, a lullaby for the missing bunny. There’s a lot to sink your teeth into here, lyrically and musically: an ipod album for sure, and one of 2010’s best, a welcome return to the studio from a guy who never went away but might have fallen off a few people’s radar in the years after the Backsliders broke up. Watch this space for upcoming NYC shows.

August 31, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: John Prine – In Person & On Stage

John Prine is one of those songwriters whose music give you instant cred because he’s such a cult artist. He never had a radio hit of his own (although Bonnie Raitt scored mightily with Angel from Montgomery), never was particularly trendy or popular, quite possibly because his output over the past forty years has been so consistently intelligent and often brilliant. Over a career that spans part of five decades, Prine has written scores of wry, clever Americana-rock narratives, many of them classics. Steve Earle would be hard to imagine without him. Prine was one of the first artists to abandon the major label world and release his own music on his own label, Oh Boy Records, the folks responsible for this latest live album which came out late last month. For Prine fans, this is a must-own; for the uninitiated, it’s as good an introduction as any to one of the great songwriters of this era.

In the 70s, Prine’s sardonic drawl always made him seem twenty years older than he was – at this point, his vocals have a time-ravaged edge, approaching Ralph Stanley territory, but his vitality as a performer and writer comes across absolutely undiminished here (NPR has his recent Bonnaroo appearance streaming here). In this semi-acoustic setting, he’s joined by Jason Wilber, a richly melodic, tasteful yet exuberant lead guitarist who’s equally at home with twangy honkytonk as he is with incisive blues. The set is a mix of material from live shows from the recent past, with songs dating as far back as Prine’s 1971 debut album. He’s always had a sentimental streak, but even on the occasion where that vibe might overwhelm the song, the quality of the music here transcends that. She Is My Everything might not be the most poetic love song ever written, but its rich, spiky web of interlocking guitars is, well, transcendent (you can get a free mp3 here). He’s still got that indelibly literate, stream-of-consciousness stoner humor, and there’s virtually always a slyly defiant undercurrent at work here, whether on the upbeat Spanish Pipedream (be careful what you wish for), or going full blast on the classic Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You Into Heaven Anymore, as apropos today in the “tea party” era as it was in its Vietnam War heyday.

The acoustic version of the death-obsessed Mexican Home (with Josh Ritter) doesn’t have the spooky organ of the original 1973 recording but still holds up surprisingly well. The brooding, metaphorically charged Saddle in the Rain gets a fresh treatment that considerably surpasses the studio version. There’s also the surreal In Spite of Ourselves, a comically boozy duet with Iris DeMent; the subdued Long Monday, with its surprise dark ending; a slow, pretty version of The Late John Garfield Blues, with Sara Watkins on vocals; a fiery, careening, guitar-stoked version of Bear Creek Blues; the poignant Unwed Fathers (also a duet with DeMent) and the obligatory Angel from Montgomery, Emmylou Harris mystifyingly waiting to appear on the second verse after Prine has announced in his baritone drawl that he is an old woman named after his mother. Surreal as it is, it actually works alongside everything else. Nice to see an icon from decades past still going strong.

June 17, 2010 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Kasey Anderson – Nowhere Nights

By turns bitter, brutal and gorgeously anthemic, Kasey Anderson’s latest cd is a defiantly restless, kick-ass heartland rock record. It rips the heart out of the myth of idyllic smalltown life. Over and over again, the characters here make it clear that ultimately they want one thing and one thing alone: to get out. The onetime big fish in a little pond in the title track explains it with a casual grace: there was no epiphany, no paradigm shift, he just got sick of spinning his wheels. The other players in these Russell Banks-style narratives don’t get off nearly so easily.

Kasey Anderson comes across as something of the missing link between Steve Earle and Joe Pug: he’s got Earle’s breathy drawl and knack for a catchy hook and Pug’s uncanny sense of metaphor. Eric “Roscoe” Ambel’s production sets layers and layers of guitar tersely jangling, twanging and roaring beneath Anderson’s intense, impassioned vocals, occasionally fleshed out with keyboards or accordion. Drummer Julian MacDonough propels it along with some of the most hauntingly terse playing on a rock record in recent years. The opening track, Bellingham Blues sets the tone: “I kept walking down these streets, searching for someone I would never meet,” Anderson half-snarls, half-whispers, perfectly encapsulizing the frustration and also the fear that comes with knowing that you’ve been somewhere you never wanted to be for far too long.

The second cut sounds like a blend of Mellencamp and Everclear (Mellencamp on Everclear, maybe?), followed by the wry, cynical Sooner or Later, a road song that could be Springsteen but with better production values. Holed up in some seedy motel, “She lights roman candles while he bleeds out,” yet there’s a sad determinism at work here: no matter how much resolve she may pull together, sooner or later she’s going to be going back to him.

With simple guitar, cello and a slow, hypnotic rimshot beat, Home is a chilling if ultimately encouraging reminder to a once-promising friend to get out and stay out: “Where you hang your hat, that’s where you get caught,” Anderson reminds. The big blazing backbeat rocker Torn Apart offers the same advice to an ex-girlfriend in less than friendly terms:

You’ve been spitting out nails and knocking back whiskey
You’ve got a new tattoo that says you don’t miss me
That highwire act makes me so bored I choke
Everybody’s laughing at the joke…
Everybody wants to see you smile
Maybe you should shut your mouth for a little while
Get out before you get torn apart

Possibly the most vivid track here is the searing I Was a Photograph, which follows the wartime and post-discharge struggles of Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller, the “Marlboro Man” Iraq war veteran immortalized in the famous Luis Sinco photo.

The closest Anderson gets to optimism is on the final track, and the two halfhearted seduction ballads here. The narrator in The Leavin’ Kind ends up undone by his own decency, and he knows it:

The devil’s in the details
I ain’t so hard to find
Go on, disappear, Ill be standing right here
I’m not the leavin’ kind

“Some things you can bury, that don’t mean they’re dead,” he reminds in From Now On: “You always said you were a hopeless romantic, well here’s that hopeless romance you’ve been waiting for.”

The album closes with the death-obsessed, metaphor- and reverb-drenched, practically eight-minute epic Real Gone, Ambel’s offhandedly savage guitar pyrotechnics like high-beams throughout a long, unfulfilling, uneasy road trip that ends just as unresolved as it began. Hopefully there’ll be more coming soon. You’ll see this one high up on our 50 best albums of the year list in December. Kasey Anderson plays Lakeside on May 1 at around 10:30 on a killer bill with the Roscoe Trio and Chip Robinson.

April 27, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Joe Pug Tour Dates

Ferociously smart, charismatic lyrical songwriter Joe Pug is on the road again. Fearless and in your face, he’s the opposite of what 99% of you think folk music is. You can get a free download of his excellent new ep In the Meantime, very favorably reviewed here. Here’s the latest tour schedule, including some choice dates opening on Steve Earle’s fall 2009 European tour.

9/17  Champaign, IL–Pygmalion Music Festival

9/18  Nashville, TN–AMA Music Festival

9/19 Madison, WI–Forward Music Festival

10/1  St. Louis, MO–The Billiken Club

10/2  Rock Island, IL–Rock Island Brewing Co.

10/3 Chicago, IL–Americana Staqe @ Chicago Country Music Festival

10/15  Boulder, CO– The B-Side Lounge

10/16  Denver, CO–Daniels Hall @ Swallow Hill

10/22 Los Angeles, CA–The Mint

10/23 San Francisco, CA–Hotel Utah

10/27  Seattle, WA–Tractor Tavern

10/28  Portland, OR–The Doug Fir

11/2 Minneapolis, MN–Cedar Cultural Center

11/3 Grinnell, IA–Bob’s Underground @ Grinnell College

11/4 Iowa City, IA–Sanctuary Pug

11/5 DeKalb, IL–Otto’s

11/6  Ann Arbor, MI–The Ark

11/13  Ennis, Ireland–Glor +

11/14  Castlebar, Ireland–TF Royal +

11/15 Derry, Ireland–Derry Millennium Forum +

11/17  Dublin, Ireland–Dublin Olympia +

11/19  Eindoven, Netherlands–Effenaar +

11/23  Groningen, Netherlands–Groningen Oosterport +

11/25  Stuttgart, Germany–LKA Stuttgart +

11/26  Berlin, Germany–Columbia Club +

11/27  Nurenberg, Germany–Hirsch +

11/29  Kaiserslautern, Germany–Kammgarn +

12/1  Milan, Italy–La Salumeria Della Musica +

12/2  Rome, Italy–Roma Circolo Degli Artisti +

12/3  Faenza, Italy–Strade Blu Festival at Teatro Masini  +

12/6  Glasgow, Scotland–Glasgow Royal Concert Hall +

12/7  Perth, Scotland–Perth Concert Hall +

12/8  Aberdeen, SC–Aberdeen Music Hall +

12/10  Inverness, SC–Inverness Ironworks +

+ = with Steve Earle

September 14, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album Review: Joe Pug – In the Meantime

The brash, fearless lyrical mastermind is here for the long term and as proof he offers up his second consecutive free ep. For the price of getting on the Joe Pug email list, you get this. And it pays off: his fan base keeps building, the gigs keep getting better and better and he hasn’t shown any indication of selling out. As usual, it’s just Pug, his guitar and his harp, hammering on the strings and blowing til the reeds distort, his voice closer to Steve Earle than the John Prine-inflected style he was mining on his brilliant debut Nation of Heat (very favorably reviewed here). Because of the instrumentation, a lot of people will call this Dylanesque, and it is, but there’s a whole lot more going on here.

 

The opening cut is Dodging the Wind, a defiant 6/8 ballad. It’s an apt anthem for anyone who belongs to the ones who got away: “When you think of the kid who left when you did, he too will be thinking of you.” The title track is a pensive, fingerpicked cheating ballad: “We’ll be honest to each other – meaning you,” Pug sardonically rasps. The metaphors never stop: the house will never be built for lack of lumber, and he ends up sleeping in the closet, hiding from the cops.

 

Lock the Door picks up the pace: it has bass and drums. Like Rosalita by Springsteen, the protagonist here just won’t take no for an answer, but he makes his point in about seven fewer minutes:  

 

Who’s that man knee-deep in sand waiting on the tide

With an atlas and a ladder, undaunted from the height

Lock the door, I’m standing on your porch tonight

 

A Thousand Men is the most overtly Dylanesque cut here, rich with history, Pug alluding to the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington as he teases the listener:

 

See Thomas Jefferson on the eve of Bunker Hill

Writing words to die for, writing sentences to kill

They’ve come to paint his portrait

So he grabs a chair and sits

As the surgeon orders cotton

For a thousand tourniquets

 

Pug knows that virtually all inventions were devised for waging war: “Every good idea kills at least a thousand men,” and Pug’s thinking he’s probably number 1001.

 

The ep wraps up with the catchy Black Eyed Susan “When you look right through me I wonder what’s behind my back.” Pug is blowing up right now – this year’s nonstop tour includes Bonnaroo, Lolapalooza and the Newport Folk Festival. Don’t be the last one on your block to find out about the guy.

July 8, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/3/09

This is what we do when we’re out seeing shows and not having the time (or being too hungover) to write about them: we count down the top 666 songs of alltime list to give you at least one small reason to check the front page here every day. Sunday’s song is #451:

Steve Earle – F the CC

“Fuck the FCC!” Steve and the band howl. “Fuck the FBI, fuck the CIA, we’re living in the goddamn USA!” A blow for first-amendment rights by one of the Constitution’s hardest-rocking advocates. From the classic 2004 cd The Revolution Starts Now. The link above is a hilarious solo acoustic version live at an ACLU convention.

May 3, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Hangdogs Reunion Show at Rodeo Bar, NYC 9/18/08

Shows like this can be extremely depressing; this benefit concert for Iowa flood relief was anything but (more on that later). The band actually looked better than ever. Maybe it was a good thing they broke up when they did, because the way they’d been drinking, they might not have lasted much longer anyway. For a substantial chunk of time in the late 90s and early zeros, there was no better New York band than the Hangdogs. Watching them evolve from overamped, politically incorrect honkytonkers to a magnificent, lyrically-charged Americana rock unit with a national following was one of the most satisfying things a concertgoer here could have witnessed – and countless did. But unable to tour constantly to support themselves, embittered by the corporatization of the music industry (and everything else) and the depletion of their mainly working-class audience, they packed it in in 2004, frontman Matthew “Banger” Grimm moving back to his native Iowa where he started an equally good, smart band, Matthew Grimm & the Red Smear. If memory serves right, this week’s two-night stand at their old haunt, the Rodeo (they play tonight as well) is the third time they’ve regrouped.

 

This time around, they didn’t have the full lineup – lead guitarist/keyboardist Kevin Karg AKA Texas Tex was AWOL. They did, however, have every bass player who’d ever been in the band, or so it seemed, a constant rotation taking turns depending on who knew what song. As usual, they saved most of the best stuff for their second set, toward the end of the night when everybody’d had more than a few. Standing in for Karg was Mick Hargreaves (formerly of Buddy Woodward’s Nitro Express), playing acoustic; southpaw guitarist Automatic Slim delivered his usual fast, crescendoing lead lines, and for once Grimm’s Telecaster wasn’t too low in the mix. The result was a fiery, ferocious blend of roar and twang. While a little loose from the booze and time spent away from the songs, they still played what has to be one of the best shows of the year so far.

 

Grimm marveled at how many sports bars have sprung up in the neighborhood since he left town. He was taken aback by a comment from somebody in the crowd: “I’m a pacifist. You have to hit me first.” As a writer, he’s as politically astute as Steve Earle or James McMurtry but a whole lot funnier, which is probably the secret to his success: instead of smacking you upside the head, he makes you laugh.  He and the band barreled through a mix of funny songs – the anti-consumerist Memo from the Corner Office, the New Nashville satire Drink Yourself to Death (which poses the question, why does country radio sound like Celine Dion?), Alcohol of Fame (sung by one of the bass players) and their signature song, Beware the Dog – along with more serious fare like The Little Man in the Boat, a darkly prophetic number about the destitution of the working class.

 

With a gleeful grin, Grimm got his amp howling with feedback before lauching into a blistering version of Flatlands, a savage chronicle of bad times on the great plains that’s been a crowd favorite for years. As usual, they threw some covers into the set: Cheri Knight’s pensive If Wishes Were Horses, a Johnny Horton cover and a Chuck Berry-ish number that a ton of bar bands do. As much as this could have been a cruelly tantalizing nostalgia trip for those who miss the days before 9/11, it wasn’t. The best song of the night was their last, a brand-new number possibly titled 1/20/09, delivered by just Grimm and the rhythm section. It’s a brutal yet ultimately optimistic 6/8 ballad, set indelibly in the here and now, looking forward to the day when 5.4 billion people on the planet will rejoice in George W. Bush’s departure from the office he stole in the coup d’etat in 2000. Like Grimm, many or maybe even most of us would rejoice if Cheney’s Toy got terminal cancer, and nobody’s looking forward to the messy task of cleaning up the debacle he leaves behind. It’s the kind of song you walk out of the bar singing to yourself, at least in the snippets you can remember. If Grimm can get it recorded in the next couple of months, we’ll have the anthem of the decade.

 

In case you missed this one, the Hangdogs are playing a second show, pretty much the same stuff, tonight (Friday, 9/19/08) at the Rodeo starting around 10ish.     

September 19, 2008 Posted by | concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment