Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: The Jack Grace Band – Drinking Songs for Lovers

It’s surprising that nobody’s done this yet, and it’s a good thing that the Jack Grace Band did it instead of, say, Jimmy Buffett. The country crooner’s new album Drinking Songs for Lovers is party music for smart people, and it’s definitely the funnest album of the year so far. For Grace, whose previous album The Martini Cowboy was surprisingly dark and serious, most of this is a defiantly unapologetic return to the party vibe of his 2005 cd I Like It Wrong, but with more swing. Credit his better half, bass player Daria Grace, for joining in on a groove with their jazzy drummer Russ Meissner. Jack handles most of the guitar work, with Mike Neer on lapsteel, Bill Malchow on keys and longtime Johnny Cash pianist Earl Poole Ball guesting on a couple of tracks.

The songs portray a wide variety of of drunks – the crazy neighborhood guy you run into at the bodega on a beer run right before four AM, the guys at OTB, the serious dude who watches his roommate drink himself into a dangerous state. These guys treat drinking as a serious business, a necessary alternative to some unthinkable alternate universe. Hangovers are a big part of it, an occupational hazard: it’s a tough job and somebody’s got to do it. Starting first thing with Morning Margaritas, a bracingly Tex-Mex way to kick off the album, featuring the Broken Mariachi Horns (J. Walter Hawkes on trombone and Rob Henke on trumpet). If You’re Gonna Raise a Drunk is one of those songs that needed to be writtten – beyond offering some useful tips, it manages to stick in a litany of favorite drinks and favorite places to drink them. I Drank Too Much Again vividly captures the grim aftermath – the headache pounding behind the late afternoon sunglasses is visceral. Drinkin’ and Gamblin’ is a surprisingly hard-rocking minor key banjo tune; a rapidfire honkytonk lesson in trucker lingo, The Worst Truck Driver in the World is a teens update on the 1976 C.W. McCall rig-rock classic Convoy minus all the CB radio references.

Jack Grace’s baritone is one of the most soulful voices in New York music, but the best vocals here actually belong to Daria, perhaps singing the apprehensive minor-key blues Drank Yourself into a Corner while Jack was on a beer run. Drink a Little Hooch is the album’s second tribute to drunken gamblers: “Is there something I’ve been missing out on?” the perplexed narrator wants to know. The album winds up with the surreal, heavily hungover-sounding, Tom Waits-ish Haven’t Had a Birthday Now for Years, the blazing lapsteel rocker So Ugly, a merengue number (the guy at the bodega, remember?) called It Was a Really Bad Year and a depressive, authentically retro 60s style country ballad that recalls Jack’s previous albums.

This cd isn’t for everyone. Country music fans will love it, as will drinkers of most every stripe. Serious-minded folks might object to how cavalierly and completely nonjudgmentally chronic alcoholism is portrayed here, but fuck them. They’re no fun. The Jack Grace Band will be at SXSW for a bunch of gigs including a show on March 19 at 4:30 PM at the Saxon Pub with Earl Poole Ball from Johnny Cash’s band on piano. Their next NYC show is April 2 at 10 PM at Barbes.

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March 13, 2010 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Patricia Vonne – Firebird

Mexican-American actress/siren Patricia Vonne (she had roles in Sin City and Spy Kids) has a big, haunting, sometimes anguished, full-throated wail and a potent guitar band behind her. This is her most overtly rock-oriented album, although her gorgeous melodicism and uncommon dedication to social justice remain. Over the past few years she’s been a fierce proponent of the rights of American Indians and Mexican immigrants, and on this one she speaks up for the over two hundred women who’ve been murdered in Juarez, Mexico in the recent past, right off the bat, with the album’s first track, Missing Women. It’s a big guitar anthem that wouldn’t be out of place on the most recent Mary Lee’s Corvette album, and is reprised with lyrics in Spanish at the end of the cd. The album’s second cut, Hot Rod Heart is a fast rockabilly number with baritone sax and layers of guitars, sounding much like Dylan as produced by Daniel Lanois. The following track Battle Scars is a big rock anthem evoking Sam Llanas’ work with the BoDeans, a fiery, jangly rocker whose aching, longing, harmony-driven vocals are nothing short of spine-tingling.

Vonne apparently has a fondness for women bullfighters, as evidenced in Torera, a cross between a Mexican bolero number and an American power ballad. After that, Jett Rink – the one track on the album most reminiscent of her earlier, more country and Tex-Mex inflected material, imagines a scenario on the set of Giant, which happens to be Vonne’s favorite film.

Other standout tracks on the cd include the haunting The Dogs Dance, with its recurrent refrain of “I’m holding on” building into the chorus; La Huerta de San Vicente, a bitter, mostly acoustic tango spiced with spare electric guitar, violin and piano, inspired by Vonne’s first visit to Frederico Garcia Lorca’s home in Spain; and Karolina, a soaring, hopeful ballad rich with multitracked guitar lines like the Church at their late-80s peak.

It could be said (don’t laugh!!!) that Vonne is to the late zeros what Al Stewart was to the 70s. Consider: they both love backbeat rhythm, have a great way with a catchy hook and most importantly, have a sense of history, whether it’s current events, or bringing events from the past to life in a way that makes them relevant to the present day. Unlike Stewart, she can sing. The Austin native is predictably big in her native Texas and is also huge in Europe. Here’s hoping this album will bring her the mass American audience she deserves. Firebird is available at better retailers, online and at shows.

February 28, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review from the Archives: Revlover, Noxes Pond, Florence Dore, Patricia Vonne and Paul Foglino at the C-Note, NYC 9/28/01

The sky looking particularly ominous, I caught a cab up from my company’s satellite office at Union Square to a friend’s gallery for her very first curated opening. She did about seven grand worth of business, not bad considering what she was selling: the artist was sort of Edward Hopper lite, familiar outdoor and storefront NYC scenes including the H&H Bagel sign. Shadows falling everywhere: the guy’s in love with shadow, and when he isn’t doing shadows he’s doing the reverse with lights tracing a path in the dark. Then caught a cab down to the club where a wretched acoustic grungeboy tortured us for the better part of 40 minutes. Fake moveable chords, lame vocals and awful fashion sense. As Luke Haines said, junk shop clothes will get you nowhere, and this guy is living proof, playing to just about nobody at 7 PM at a little Lower East Side club that rightfully shouldn’t even be a club at all. It looked like he was trying to pester the promoter for another gig afterward and the promoter was having none of it. Hopefully he won’t be back.

Revlover were next. They didn’t have Ed Sargent on guitar like they did last time: it was just the three of them doing an exceptionally tight, catchy mix of indie janglerock and somewhat crunchier, tuneful, Guided by Voices-inflected material. They did the always amusing faux Irish ballad Emily, their song about a hermaphrodite, along with the very memorable On Ordinary Days (the title track to their album), sung by their excellent, melodic bass player. He also sang their closing number, a fiery, riff-driven, minor-key garage number called Men in Plastic featuring a fast, searing blues guitar solo at the end. Particularly appropriate, considering what’s going on downtown (body bags – as it turns out the bassist’s office was at 1 Liberty Plaza. He escaped into the Path station).

In the case of the recently regrouped Noxes Pond, word on the street is to be believed: their new lead singer is amazing. Sarah Mucho, all five feet one and maybe a hundred pounds of her, belts like a 300 pound black blueswoman from the 1940s. The songs they played tonight generally fell into a slinky, often funky, generally minor key groove; the steady, sinuous swing of the bass contrasted nicely with the rattle and clatter of the drums, with the vocals sailing spectacularly over it all. The guitarist seems to be the band’s rhythm center which is a very smart move because his timing is spot-on. This version of the band likes dynamics a lot more than their previous incarnation: if this gig is any indication, they’re on track to something really good.

Florence Dore is a star in the making. She didn’t bring a big crowd, but that was probably a good thing since Noxes Pond did and this is a small place. The NYU English professor is a real find, an excellent lyricist with a very strong sense of melody, a honey-sweet, soaring voice and an excellent, driving Americana rock band behind her featuring bassist-about-town Scott Yoder and former Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken pushing it along. She blends country songs with more rocking, upbeat tunes including a lot of material from her new album, including the fiery, early Who-inflected Framed, on which Diken did an impressive Keith Moon seance. But the quieter songs were the best. The highlight was the poignant, rueful Early World, the opening track on the new album, about what it feels like to know that you’ve probably missed the boat. Dore delivered it with a nonchalance that was downright scary.

Patricia Vonne took the stage late, but by the time her hourlong set was over – at almost a quarter to one – she had the crowd mesmerized. Playing without a drummer, backed by just her lead guitarist and bassist, the tall Texas ex-model played a masterfully nuanced set of very compelling material. Like Dore, she falls into the Americana category, but there’s a lot of Tex-Mex and mariachi influence in her songs (she’s Mexican-American and defiantly proud of her heritage). Her vocals are absolutely unique: though she didn’t have to sing over the noise of an electric band, she maintained her trademark passionate, throaty wail throughout the show. All her best songs tonight had an impressive political awareness; the usually stomping El Cruzado was given the tiptoe treatment, without the drums, but it still hit the spot. Dance in a Circle, written in support of wrongfully imprisoned Indian activist Leonard Peltier was as harrowing as the album version, even if it was quieter tonight. She and the band closed with her best song, the riveting escape anthem Blood on the Tracks. Obviously it took a lot of nerve to appropriate that title, but the song lives up to it: there’s absolutely no hubris here. “We ain’t never coming back,” she railed, with a barely restrained rage: “Our hearts have been scarred, there’s blood on the tracks.” It’s amazing that in this city you can see someone this popular – she’s something of a household word in Texas – on a stage this small.

Former Five Chinese Brothers bassist Paul Foglino was pulling mop-up relief duty, playing a solo acoustic set as the crowd slowly dispersed, but he held up his end. He’s very funny, and he knows what he’s doing. “Too old to rock and roll, too stupid to quit,” said the poster for his show taped to the inside of the club window, which is far too self-effacing. Some of the slightly bluesy, upbeat, major-key songs he played tonight were pretty amusing, including a number perhaps titled You Can’t Be too Drunk to Get Drunk. Given the crowd, the hour and the venue, he couldn’t have come up with a more apt choice. Spending this amount of time in a bar is usually a big mistake, but tonight’s bands made it all worthwhile. We ended up closing the club and then going over to Mona’s where a drunken college friend of one of the performers was trying to pick up somebody in my posse, so I went over to the deli on 6th and Ave. B for one of their trademark cheese heros (with jalapenos and avocado), then caught a cab home at around 4:30, waking up in the early afternoon to find that I’d been sharing the bed with what was left of the sandwich.

[Postscript: as Lucid Culture regulars know by now, the once-vibrant C-Note is now defunct, as are Revlover and Noxes Pond (the latter went through some lineup changes and morphed into spectacularly good art-rockers System Noise, who happen to be playing Arlene’s this Sunday, Sept. 30 at 9). Florence Dore’s academic career continues, though it’s been ages since she’s played a New York show. Patricia Vonne expanded her fan base to include Europe, where she became a star and tours regularly. Paul Foglino is still active in music and plays guitar in Ellen Foley’s band].

September 29, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment