Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Katzenjammer – Le Pop

Katzenjammer’s new album Le Pop is pretty amazing, a strong contender for best of 2010. With their gorgeous harmonies, old-fashioned instrumentation and frequently lush production, the accordion-driven all-female Oslo quartet sound like the Dresden Dolls but better (more energetic, less cutesy and a whole lot darker as well). The self-styled “queens of sultry sound” balance an eerily rustic noir edge with tongue-in-cheek humor, and lyrics in English. On the new cd, multi-instrumentalist Solveig Heilo, accordionists Anne Marit Bergheim and Marianne Sveen and bassist Turid Jørgensen – who plays the largest four-string instrument in all of rock – bounce, scamper and blast their way through a mix of tempos and styles that evoke such diverse acts as the B-52s, Gruppo Sportivo and Gogol Bordello.

The album opens on a surprisingly pensive note with an instrumental “overture,” followed by the scurrying Keystone Kops vibe of A Bar in Amsterdam, which amusingly morphs into a Pat Benetar-style power ballad on the chorus. With its jaunty gypsy swing, Demon Kitty Rag evokes satirical New York trio the Debutante Hour. Tea with Cinnamon is an absolute delight, a vintage Toots and the Maytals-style rocksteady number with accordion and a surprisingly wistful lyric. The title track, a snidely exuberant Gruppo Sportivo-style satire of American corporate music is great fun, and the outro is absolutely priceless.

The darker material here is just as captivating. Hey Ho on the Devil’s Back sets charming harmonies and barrelhouse piano to a Nashville gothic arrangement with a funny but disquieting edge, and a series of trick endings. The big, anguished crescendo on the lushly orchestrated suicide anthem Wading in Deeper packs a visceral punch; the violin-driven To the Sea showcases the band’s harmonies at their most otherworldly, with an off-center, Icelandic vibe. There’s also the sternly tongue-in-cheek Mother Superior, with its eerie carnival organ; Der Kapitan, a macabre-tinged surf instrumental done oompah style; the coy country bounce of Play, My Darling; Ain’t No Thang, an oldtimey banjo tune; and Virginia Clemm, a sad, eerily atmospheric waltz. The depth and intelligence of the songs matches their good-time appeal: it’s been a long time since we discovered a band who could do that as consistently as Katzenjammer do. The group are currently on US tour (at Milwaukee’s Summerfest on July 3 and 4, opening for Elvis Costello), with a date at the Mercury Lounge on July 6.

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June 29, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review from the Archives: The Congos and Toots and the Maytals at Tramps, NYC 6/12/97

[Editor’s note – when we first started this blog, we weren’t overwhelmed with album submissions and invitations to seemingly every show in town. Since we’d inherited a book of literally over a thousand reviews of New York concerts from over the years, most of them previously unpublished, from our predecessor e-zine, we’d put one up when we didn’t have anything new to report. With apologies to all the artists – over three dozen of you – whose excellent albums remain in the queue waiting for some attention, we return to a feature we hope to revisit now and again in the future. For those of you who’ve been pushing us to continue to put these up, thanks for sticking to your guns: the squeaky wheel always gets the grease]

Seems all the yuppie pupppies who didn’t make it uptown to the Matt Murphy show at Manny’s all showed up here tonight: I was finally edged out of my shaft of AC by a pack of drunken amateurs who acted as if I didn’t exist. A leering posse of fratboys persuaded a couple of shy but increasingly drunk girls to indulge them in body shots (how you drink tequila out of a girl’s bellybutton when she’s standing upright is a new frontier that physics hasn’t figured out yet). That aside, the somewhat reformed Congos (frontman Cedric Myton, minus the two original harmony singers) gave a powerful performance that was, as it turned out, impossible to follow. Myton was joined this time out by two women singing backup, creating some hauntingly delicious harmonies that faithfully replicated the sound the legendary roots reggae group achieved on their cult classic album Heart of the Congos. Although the synth player’s horn setting went out of tune on one song, this wasn’t a problem for the rest of the show. Most of the material drew from that legendary album, including Ark of the Covenant, At the Feast (a showcase for Myton’s soaring falsetto, which is as vital as it was twenty years ago) and the last song (an encore which they went into again after Rockers TV host “Rootsman” Earl Chin got the audience to howl for them), Fisherman. Which, surprisingly, actually wasn’t as good as the rest of their stuff  – although the part about the dealer with “the best collie weed in town” went over well.

Toots and the Maytals followed, playing to the crowd, or so they thought. Toots: “Are there any people from Jamaica out there?”

Silence.

But the fratboys had come to party, and Toots delivered. It’s been thirty years since 54-46 Was My Number, since Toots Hibbert – the Jamaican James Brown – did jail time for weed possession, and it’s amazing how he keeps his set as fresh as he does, considering how they play the same songs night after night to (in this country at least) a mostly white audience that has no concept of the circumstances under which they were created.  With horn section, keys, lead guitar and their irrepressible frontman, they made their way through actually inspired, sometimes ten-minute jams on classics like the joyous Pressure Drop, the bouncy Time Tough and Get Up, Stand Up, a brooding epic on record but an endless minor-key dance vamp here. As good as most of the band was, the weak link was the lead guitarist, whose garish metal solos only detracted from the songs’ hypnotic energy (Toots really needs to deep-six that guy). Meanwhile, Toots gyrated, spun and exhorted the crowd to sing along, and they complied (fratboys are a subservient lot). Take Me Home Country Roads was better than the execrable John Denver original, but when they followed that with Louie Louie, after an hour’s worth of bouncing, it was time to concede the battle for the shaft of air conditioning, head out into the heat and hit Twin Donut for an after-show snack.

June 12, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Lucid Culture Interview: Toots Hibbert of Toots & the Maytals

It’s hard to believe that it’s been over forty years since the Maytals cut their first 45 in a little studio in Jamaica. Since then, Toots & the Maytals have become one of the world’s best-loved reggae bands, filling clubs around the world with good vibes and their unique blend of classic, funky, gospel-inspired roots reggae, rocksteady and ska all summer long. With a perpetual smile on his face and that inimitable, gruff patwa-infused voice, legendary frontman Toots Hibbert was generous to take some time out from his grueling schedule to do some talking with Lucid Culture:

Lucid Culture’s Correspondent: You’ve been on tour for over two weeks now. How much time do you spend on the road every year?

Toots Hibbert: It varies per year. Sometime I travel doing benefit shows, sometimes other shows. I would say about three months.

LCC: You had a day off yesterday, tonight you play Salt Lake City. How do they like Toots & the Maytals?

TH: We played Minneapolis the night before. It’s good all the time!

LCC: You’re playing B.B. King’s in New York on June 2 at 8 PM, a place you’ve played several times…

TH: They always request me back all the time, they always want me at B.B. King’s. I remember leaving Jamaica to do a show there, a special show, a benefit. They have a lot of artists, five different artists, some of us from Jamaica…a great memory, when I go there I feel it all the time.

LCC: As anyone who has ever seen you knows, you are one of the most energetic performers in any style of music – it’s hard to imagine that you’re in your sixties now. How did you refine your style over the years?

TH: Well, you know it is, they see me come up and start to do my thing, like no artist from Jamaica did with respect to the audience. I can’t sing without dancing first – and let the audience go from there. It’s about one person. He or she will go away feeling the feeling, you know they love it every time.

LCC: Is getting up on stage your daily workout routine, or do you have another secret to staying in shape?

TH: I just exercise, and make my psalm in my vocal chord…I do everything that’s good!

LCC: Who are some of your influences, as far as your performance onstage? I see a little James Brown in you up there…

TH: Ray Charles, Jackie Wilson – people before you were born! I’m a performer; I’m a jazz player, and I still do this way. I don’t copy anyone. I’m just my kind of style.

LCC: Your new album Flip and Twist is on your own D&F music label, it’s out now digitally at all the usual places and it’ll be in stores on May 18. Is this the first time you’ve released an album yourself?

TH: D&F is a Jamaican music label. I have a contract through William Morris, they are the ones who are going to distribute and everything like that.

LCC: How does it feel to see so many of the younger generation being influenced by classic ska and roots reggae, to see so many inspiring new bands with real horns, real keyboards, real vocals, no computerized stuff, who sound a lot like Toots & the Maytals?

TH: Yeah, they fill the place! I saw them in Europe, in the UK, all over, in America, all over! I feel good about it – people try to be real again, positive, work in themselves, mostly white groups and white youths and a few black ones in Jamaica too: you have Chinese and Japanese! Their songs are good, so I leave with a good feeling, they can follow in my footsteps. Other people, Marley, other good people from Jamaica too. Some of them are negative – but I listen to the positive ones!

LCC: Can you tell us about the DVD you’re making for the BBC on your life story?

TH: The BBC documentary’s not done yet. We’ve started on it already, we’ve just finished this album now, and across the country is the next step!

Toots & the Maytals play B.B. King’s in New York on June 2 at 8 PM. The rest of the US tour schedule is below:

05/12: Flagstaff, AZ @ Orpheum Theater

05/13: San Diego, CA @ SoundWave

05/14: Las Vegas, NV @ Hard Rock Hotel & Casino – Outdoor Pool

05/15: Hermosa Beach, CA @ Saint Rocke

05/16: West Hollywood, CA @ Key Club

05/18: San Francisco, CA @ Regency Ballroom

05/19: Eugene, OR @ McDonald Theatre

05/20: Portland, OR @ Roseland Theater

05/21: Seattle, WA @ Showbox At The Market

05/22: Missoula, MT @ Wilma Theater

05/23: Billings, MT @

05/25: Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue

05/26: Milwaukee, WI @ Turner Hall Ballroom

05/27: Chicago, IL @ House of Blues

05/28: Chicago, IL @ House of Blues

05/29: Niagara Falls, NY @ Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel – The Bear’s Den

05/30: Boston, MA @ House of Blues

05/31: South Burlington, VT @ Higher Ground – Ballroom

06/02: New York, NY @ B.B. King Blues Club & Grill

06/03: Amagansett, NY @ The Stephen Talkhouse

06/04: Hunter Mountain, NY @ Hunter Mountain

06/05: Hyannis, MA @ Cape Cod Melody Tent

May 11, 2010 Posted by | interview, Live Events, Music, music, concert, reggae music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars – Rise & Shine

Feel-good story of the year: Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars have emerged from the refugee camps there with a genuinely inspiring, indomitably high-spirited album that literally transcends the horror they’ve collectively experienced. Their cause is peace, unsurprisingly considering what they’ve been through. They’re a terrific roots reggae band, although this new cd intersperses the reggae tracks among a traditional peacemaking chant and a handful of circular, jangly afropop numbers sung in a vivid English patois along with several African languages including Mandingo and Mende. Recorded both in Sierra Leone and New Orleans, with the Bonerama Horns’ sly brass livening three tracks, the songs bring a striking global social awareness to the party: it’s good-time music, but it’s also rooted in the here and now. This isn’t just a good party album, it’s an important one.

The first of the reggae tracks, Global Threat has frequent lead singer Reuben M. Koroma smartly making the connection between global warming and global violence in a fervent rasp similar to Apple Gabriel of Israel Vibration, the band grooving behind him with a slinky, dark vintage Black Uhuru feel capped by an ominously careening trombone solo from Trombone Shorty. They follow that with a hypnotic traditional call-and-response chant over simple percussion. Translation: “Mr. Banker I do not know, do not know what you have done to someone but people hate you.” Living Stone follows, a defiant, triumphant, wickedly catchy upbeat reggae song with the feel of an Israel Vibration classic featuring some sweet soul guitar from Augusrine Kobina Valcarcel. “We are the Rolling Stones,” Koroma triumphantly declares: in their corner of the world, maybe they are.

Jah Mercy does double duty as hymn and sufferah’s litany of injustices; the fast reggae shuffle Jah Come Down aptly revisits the Burning Spear classic Slavery Days for the teens. The acoustic reggae number Bend Down the Corner is a come-on to a pretty woman; the afropop tune Goat Smoke Pipe, sung in Krio (a pidgin English variant) offers a savagely satirical look at food shortages, cows discovering cassava while the goat smokes his pipe to keep hunger at bay. With the trombones going full tilt, the upbeat GBRR Man (Trouble) sounds like Toots & the Maytals. The album closes with a slap at religious hypocrisy, Watching All Your Ways, an all-acoustic reggae song recorded outdoors while the band was sitting around a campfire in Canada. The album’s out on Cumbancha; Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars play the Highline Ballroom on April 14 at around ten (popular African hip-hop group Bajah and the Dry Eye Crew, featuring terrific baritone sax player Paula Henderson, open the show around 9), advance tickets very highly recommended since the show will sell out.

April 12, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, world music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment