Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Will Steve Wynn Ever Stop Making Good Albums? Not This Year.

In case you were wondering, Steve Wynn has a new album out, Northern Aggression, his first studio album with his regular American touring band the Miracle 3 since 2006’s brilliantly multistylistic tick…tick….tick. It’s everything you would expect from the Carl Yastrzemski of rock. That baseball reference is deliberate: what’s most ironic about Wynn’s career is that despite a seemingly endless series of first-rate albums, not to mention his early years leading iconic, influential indie band the Dream Syndicate, millions know Wynn best as the main songwriter in the Baseball Project, whose songs are featured on broadcasts across the country during the long season. And as fun as that band is, this is better. As with pretty much everything he’s done, many of the songs here are constructed so that there’s plenty of room for a maelstrom of guitar dueling, although there’s understandably less here than there is at live shows where Wynn and his sparring partner Jason Victor go head to head and see how many dangerous new elements they can pull out of the air. One recent review called this Wynn’s most modern-sounding album, and that’s not true. The sound here is vintage, a straight line back to the Stooges, Neil Young, old R&B and soul music, filtered through the eerie fractals of Yo La Tengo and peak-era Sonic Youth (both bands that were influenced by Wynn, by the way, not the other way around).

The opening cut, Resolution, is the closest thing to dreampop he’s ever done, a slow crescendo of suspenseful, murkily cloudy guitar swirl that finds sudden focus in the chorus. The snidely triumpant No One Ever Drowns, an early pre-Dream Syndicate song, is done is pensive, distant new wave that hits another hypnotic peak that just keeps going and going. Consider the Source is a classic, menacing, midtempo, backbeat minor-key gem, all the more impressive that Wynn’s playing piano, Victor is on organ, and that virtually the whole track is an improvisation that came together magically in a single take. The best tracks here might be the allusively menacing, vintage funk-tinged We Don’t Talk About It, the deceptively blithe, equally allusive Cloud Splitter, and the unselfconsciously mournful, pedal steel-driven Americana dirge St. Millwood, which Wynn aptly considered calling Emotional Ambulance Chasers.

Wynn goes back in a dreampop direction with Colored Lights, a sureshot to be a live smash with its big crescendo out. The Death of Donny B is a cover of the theme from the 1969 Carl Fick short film (whose composer remains unknown), done much like the original as a brooding Bill Withers-style funk vamp. The remaining tracks include The Other Side, which wouldn’t have been out of place on Television’s Marquee Moon; On the Mend, another of Wynn’s recent two-part masterpieces, this one shifting from Layla-esque, anthemic pyrotechnics to straight-up riff-rock snarl; and the ridiculously catchy, warmly shufling Ribbons and Chains, which drummer Linda Pitmon – the most consistently interesting drummer in all of rock – absolutely owns. A shout-out to Yep Roc for having the good sense to get behind this. Put this in the Wynn pantheon somewhere between 1997’s Sweetness and Light and the landmark 2000 double album Here Come the Miracles (which was our pick for best album of the past decade).

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January 15, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Song of the Day 5/17/10

The best 666 songs of alltime countdown continues every day, all the way to #1. Monday’s song is #73:

True West – Shot You Down

Best song on the iconic “paisley underground” psychedelic rockers’ best album, Drifters, 1983, a pounding post-Television style revenge anthem. “And it feels so good to be alive.”

May 17, 2010 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classical, Country and Other Stuff Live in NYC 1/20/08

Professor, the thesis of this paper is to prove what a fantastic variety of music there is to see for free in New York on the worst possible night, arguably the coldest night of the year, and a Sunday, the last day most people think of going out. The night began at St. Thomas Church where their main organist John Scott was playing a recital. Regular readers of this page might think we have some kind of crush on this casually witty British gentleman. Tonight he started with a piece from French romantic composer Henri Mulet’s magnum opus Esquisses Byzantines. Scottt kept its ostentation at a minimum, as if it was a piece for strings, and this worked wonders. Next on the program were a couple of Messiaen works from the Livre du Saint-Sacrement. The first was Messiaen at his occasionally but spectacularly dark, ambient best: Scott had played Messiaen’s The Birth of Our Lord here last month, and the work he played tonight was a welcome encore to the exhaustively haunting suite he played in December. The next piece, however, was not. Messiaen was famously enamored with the sounds of nature, in particular birdsong, and this piece, A Child Is Born to Us celebrates the birth of Christ. Messiaen’s liturgical works are not known for corresponding with textual passages, but this one actually did, effectively evoking the wonder of onlookers in the manger until the birds started chirping. At that point, one can only wonder why the church fathers wherever Messiaen was working at the time didn’t seal off his window or cut off his access to breadcrumbs.

Scott then pulled out the stops with Max Reger’s famous Morningstar Chorale. Reger’s name ought to have been Rigor. At this best, he wrote roaring organ chorales echoing Bach but more freely. Otherwise, the German romanticist is best known for his knotty, impeccably crafted pieces which can only be described as Teutonic: as scorching as Reger could be, craft often supersedes emotion in many of his compositions. Happily, that was not the case with this piece, an unusually warm, happy excursion bookended by Reger’s usual sturm und drang, and Scott brought out all the warmth he could on what would in this age of global warming be considered an unusually cold night.

Which leaves the obvious question: how to interest the kids in what performers like Scott are doing? So much of classical music is vastly more powerful, more passionate and more fun than most rock music. So how to spread the word? Repost this somewhere, where the trendoids will be mystified?

Next stop was Banjo Jim’s where Amy Allison – who wrote our pick for best song of 2007 – was playing a duo show with Rich Hinman from the Madison Square Gardeners on acoustic lead guitar. To say that he’s a quick study is an understatement: casually and deliberately, the guy wailed. Regular readers here will recall how much Allison likes playing without a net, throwing caution to the wind, bringing up new backing talent every time she plays, as if to see what happens. Tonight she played to a rapt crowd, dazzling with new songs including the wry Mardi Gras Moon and the absolutely riveting Dreamworld, wishing the best to everyone freezing on the street. Allison is such a hilarious live performer that half the time she’s cracking herself up, sometimes barely able to contain a laugh in the middle of a song, bringing the crowd along with her. With her mint citrus voice – cool and calming but with a serious bite – she treated the audience to the warm, hopeful new song Calla Lily as well as classics from her country period like Garden State Mall, as well as newer material like the potent girl-power anthem Have You No Pride, from her latest album Everything and Nothing Too. Allison is totally punk rock too: she played the whole set bleeding on her guitar, blood streaming from her index finger (she’d cut herself peeling potatoes, and the bandaid she was using wasn’t enough).

Next stop was Otto’s, where sometime Willie Nile sideman Steve Conte and his band were wrapping up a set of predictable Detroit-style riff-rock, vintage 1978. The place was completely packed: it was impossible to get into the little back room until after he’d finished playing. It would be interesting to see him do this stuff in more spacious confines – or somewhere on Woodward, where they could find some action and where the old-school crowd would have their bullshit detectors set to stun. Richard Lloyd, the legendary Television (and most recently, Rocket from the Tombs) lead guitarist followed, leading a trio featuring his longtime drummer Billy Ficca, who proved the most interesting member of this particular unit. In the past several months, Lloyd has proven himself absolutely undiminished – as a sideman – and tonight’s show reaffirmed that.

January 21, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment