Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Top Ten Songs of the Week 6/15/09

We do this every Tuesday. You’ll see this week’s #1 song on our Best 100 songs of 2009 list at the end of December, along with maybe some of the rest of these too. This is strictly for fun – it’s Lucid Culture’s tribute to Kasey Kasem and a way to spread the word about some of the great music out there that’s too edgy for the corporate media and their imitators in the blogosphere. Just about every link here will take you to each individual song.

 

1. Steve Kilbey – Forever Last for Nothing

Gorgeously terse call to arms and cautionary tale from the Church’s frontman’s excellent latest album. They’re at Irving Plaza on 7/8.

 

2. The  French Exit – To Term

New song, characteristically intense. “Will I be ok…I just want to be left alone,” snarls frontwoman Mia Wilson in this fiery noir dirge. They’re at Local 269 at 269 E Houston on 6/17 at 9.

 

3. Silver Dollar – Showdown

Killer, bouncy, hypnotic oldschool ska.

 

4. Kerry Kennedy – As You Are

Big soul ballad in 6/8 with David Lynch unease by the up-and-coming New York noir chanteuse. Unreleased – see her now before she’s famous.

 

5. Ninth House – Fifteen Miles to Hell’s Gate

Characteristically furious lament about the death of New York by gentrification by the long-running Nashville gothic rockers. Frontman Mark Sinnis is at Sidewalk at 9 on 7/12.

 

6. La Res – Masters of War

Ominous cover of the Dylan classic by this fiery, artsy soul/metal trio with a powerful frontman.

 

7. Num & Nu Afrika – New Orleans

Resonant, politically conscious roots reggae. They’re playing Make Music NY on 6/21 at 3 at DRastadub Studio, 58 West 127th St., Harlem.

 

8. Bato the Yugo – My Mountainous Mind

Pensive Balkan jazz for solo piano. Usually a guitarist, he’s at Nublu on 6/21 at 11.

 

9. Cumbiagra – Dejame en Paz

They’ve taken over Monday nights at Barbes, replacing Chicha Libre, but the danceable vibe is undiminished.

 

10. Rock Plaza Central – Panama

Van Halen cover. Jack Grace (of our own sick/funny VH cover band Van Hayride) would approve.

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June 16, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 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

CD Review: The Jack Grace Band – The Martini Cowboy

The Jack Grace Band have been sort of the opening act du jour on the country circuit, opening for Merle and Willie Nelson and Jerry Lee, et al.. If this is an attempt to get some notice from the retro country crowd, it ought to work. Hell, this ought to get them on the Grand Old Opry, if they don’t mind songs about cocaine at the Ryman Auditorium.

The Jack Grace Band’s last album I Like It Wrong put in some serious overtime on some of the better jukeboxes across the counry. In fact, you could say that it was the party album of the summer of 2004. Suffused in booze and tested live on crowds of drunks in dives all over town, those songs were every smart party animal’s alternative to Jimmy Buffett. It may therefore come as some surprise that the new album by the Jack Grace Band is an attempt to – gasp – make a serious record. I say record because the cd is divided into a distinct side 1 and side 2. A concept album, no less, complete with little instrumental fragments separating the songs, and something of a central, unifying theme. The most surprising thing about it is that it actually works. Tight, focused, thoughtfully conceived, in other words, everything Grace’s previous work was NOT. Which ironically was always his saving grace – the band may have been a little loose, the whiskey may have run rivers but you always knew that if you went to see these guys live you would have a good time. While it doesn’t look like anybody left the bar for very long to make this album, it’s a hundred eighty degrees from what you might expect after hearing the last one. Is it possible that Grace has actually matured?

The Martini Cowboy is packed with haunting, gorgeously old-fashioned, 1960s style country songs with tasteful electric guitar, soaring pedal steel, piano and a rhythm section that swings like the dickens. You can dance to this stuff more than you can Grace’s older stuff. Because ultimately that’s why honkytonks exist: where else can you squeeze your cheatin’ lover against the jukebox and sway to the strains of Merle Haggard? Who happens to be exactly who the first song, the album’s title track, evokes. Straight up. When he’s on top of his game Jack Grace’s songs sound like country classics from 40 or 50 years ago. The cd’s second song, Broken Man continues in a purist vein, driven by Jon Dryden’s beautiful, incisively minimal honkytonk piano “I’m not gonna go out there tonight,” swears the Martini Cowboy. He’s been burned too many times. Which leads perfectly into the next song, Cry, a sexy bossa beat and groovalicious bass player Daria Grace’s bop-bop backing vocals only momentarily distracting from its eerie minor-key drive and bitter lyrics. When after a surprisingly jaunty, jazzy guitar solo the thing stumbles out of its groove and literally falls apart, the effect is nothing short of heartbreaking.

The album’s next track Trying to Get Away from Nothing at All zooms in on our protagonist trying to pull himself away from the brink. It’s a showcase for Jack Grace’s voice, a big, Johnny Cash style baritone that can handle the over-the-top whiskey-drinking anthems and the dark, disturbing ballads with equal aplomb.

After that song, we get Sugarbear, another minor-key Waits-esque number with ambient steel guitar, and Rotary Phone, arguably the album’s best song , a haunting, skeletal minor-key blues: “Let me tell a story about the way it used to be/With a rotary phone don’t leave a message for me/You’re gonna be an old man too…”

The last song of the “A side”, What I Drink and Who I Meet at the Track (Is My Business) is completely self-explanatory – it’s one of those songs that someone should have written long ago, and that it took this long before someone did is a mystery. It’s a good thing that it was this guy who wrote it and not Neil Sedaka. I mean, can you imagine Neil Sedaka at the track? No, you can’t. He’d get killed before he got to the stands.

The “B side” begins with Uncle Luther. By now, the Martini Cowboy has fallen in love. His Uncle Luther is moving back to the shack he hasn’t lived in for ten years and the Martini Cowboy has to get out. But that’s not what’s bugging him. It’s that he can’t stop thinking about her. Yeah, her, and it scares the hell out of him. The following tune, Verge of Happiness is so George Jones it’s not funny, in fact it’s scary, right down to the vocals. Nobody ever did desperate, lost love songs better than Jones, anyway, so it makes sense. Happy in the Fall continues in the No Show Jones vein “I’m happy in the fall, but I don’t like the landing,” Grace muses ruefully as the band swings behind him. The album’s climactic track, Something to Look Forward To – where the guy finally gets the girl – is a bit of a letdown. Like at the end of Siddhartha when the guy finally gets to India and all he finds is…OMMMMM (hey, this is a serious album, I’m trying to be serious about this).The cd concludes with a real old-timey number called Spike Down, which sounds like an electrified version of some obscure 19th century folk blues.

There’s not a weak song on this album – which is more impressive than you think. Hell, even Sergeant Pepper had that stupid phony raga tune that Harrison sang. And Merle Haggard’s greatest hits albums all seem to have those horrid pro-Vietnam War ditties he did before he woke up and smelled the coffee. So the Martini Cowboy’s in pretty good company. If this doesn’t get him the big record deal (memo to the band – WATCH YOUR BACK), Jack Grace can always fall back on his side project Van Hayride, which plays country covers of Van Halen songs. I’m not making this up. Not a word.

May 9, 2007 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

Concert Review: Sasha Dobson and Van Hayride at Banjo Jim’s 5/6/07

Sasha Dobson, a jazz/pop singer who’s now playing guitar as well, has become one of the few NYC artists to get any press in the NY Times, and she’s earned it: she’s what Norah Jones should aspire to be in a couple of years. Dobson has paid her dues playing small clubs over the past several years and sings in a lower register than Jones, but still invites the inevitable Norah comparisons since she’s moved away from jazz toward a more pop style. Her stage persona is more confident, more world-weary and decidedly more mature, perhaps appropriately so. She has a fondness for minor keys and rhythms like bossa nova and tango which are well suited to her sultry delivery. Now if only she could stick to doing her own, surprisingly compelling original material instead of covering the likes of hacks like Richard Julian (who duetted with her on one of his songs and added absolutely nothing: to paraphrase Billy Preston, nothing plus nothing makes nothing).

Van Hayride, the headline act, shares a rhythm section with Dobson, the only conceivable reason (other than careless booking) for them to have followed on the bill: But segue or no segue, they were tremendous, and had the audience in hysterics throughout their completely over-the-top set. Van Hayride features the hardest working man in country music, Jack Grace as frontman plus the piano player from his country band along with guitarist Steve Antonakos (what NYC band is this guy NOT in???), doing country covers of Van Halen songs. These guys are smart: they know that 99% of heavy metal is comedy, and that Van Halen were its finest Borscht Belt practitioners. Grace does a spot-on David Lee Roth parody: during one song, he lay on the floor, the mic just out of his reach, as if so wasted that he lacked the eye/hand coordination to reach out and grab it. “Where’s my mic tech,” he growled. On another song, he slumped backwards against the drum kit, his head up against the kick drum. He put the mic everywhere but where it should be, and made his bandmates laugh to the point where they were screwing up. Which is all part of the act. Van Hayride is a thorough reminder of A) how moronic Van Halen’s lyrics were, B) how even stupider Eddie Van Halen’s guitar playing was and C) how absolutely necessary Van Hayride is. And it’s a good thing it’s these guys doing it. Grace is the consummate showman, whether fronting this unit or his own far more serious yet still gutbustingly funny band, and he’s never lacked for excellent players behind him. Antonakos plays Eddie Van Halen’s lines pretty much note for note, albeit without the fuzzy distortion or garish flourishes. Van Hayride are in a four-way tie for funniest New York band, along with Tammy Faye Starlite in all her many incarnations; cover band hellions Rawles Balls, whose most recent shows have turned into bacchanalian karaoke sessions; and Cocktail Angst, the Spinal Tap of lounge bands.

To fully appreciate Van Hayride, it helps to know the source material (Doug Henwood, I know you’re out there): there’s a certain target audience here, specifically those who were subjected to the stuff on FM radio in the early 80s (Van Hayride proudly declares that they’re a “David Lee Roth only” Van Halen cover band). But judging from the response of the crowd in the club – a broad cross-section of ages and locales – you don’t have to be a Van Halen fan (or hater) to get a kick out of this. Next time they play, you might as well jump (”So that’s what the song’s about?” Grace asked quizzically as they reached the end). Van Hayride plays every Sunday in May at 10 at Banjo Jim’s.

May 8, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments