Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Minerva Lions Put a Unique Spin on Classic Americana Rock Styles

With laid-back vocals and smartly catchy tunes, Minerva Lions’  new album puts a uniquely psychedelic spin on Mumford & Sons-style Americana as well as other retro styles. They’ve got a new ep out that many fans of folk-rock and the mellower side of psychedelia will enjoy. As much as this music looks back, it’s full of surprises and originality. The opening track, For R. A. is a very smart arrangement of a lazy, hypnotic 70s-style British psych-folk tune, with all kinds of neat flourishes from the organ, tersely soaring steel guitar, baritone guitar and a cool solo where the organ and the acoustic guitar join forces as one. The second cut, Megrims, works a lushly apprehensive acoustic guitar hook into a casual, backbeat sway, steel guitar sailing warily, all the guitars kicking in with a vengeance as it winds out.

Protection Ave reminds of mid-period Wilco, with a sweet, oldschool Nashville pedal steel intro and some of the swirliness that Jeff Tweedy likes so much. Black Mind Decides is a catchy, slightly less glam-oriented Oasis-style electric piano-and-guitar ballad, its unexpectely noisy, practically satirical off-kilter guitars leading to a neat trick ending. Ascension Day offers a more bouncy take on a bluesy 1970 style minor-key soul vamp with organ and smoldering layers of guitars. The album ends with a pointless trip-hop remix of the opening track that strips it of most of its originality and replaces those ideas with cliches: that’s what happens when you take a good song and give it to a nonmusician who’s all about doing what he thinks will please a crowd rather than creating something interesting and original. Lyrically, this stuff is neither here nor there: rather than making any kind of statement, it’s all about hooks and melody. Much of the album is streaming at the band’s site; they’re at Rock Shop in Gowanus tonight (July 22) at 9.

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July 22, 2011 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

In Memoriam: Jay Bennett

Jay Bennett, the brilliant multi-instrumentalist who joined Wilco on tour in 1995, played on their 1996 Being There album and remained with the band through Yankee Hotel Foxtrot in 2002, died at his home in Urbana, Illinois the night of May 24. An autopsy is pending. Bennett had been troubled by recurring hip pain stemming from a stage dive some ten years previously; he’d been recently scheduled for surgery. He was 45.

In many respects, Jay Bennett was Wilco, his inspired, tumbling piano, swirling organ and searing, incisive lead guitar giving the band’s songs an edge that vanished after he left. After departing Wilco, Bennett released four solo albums, the most recent, Whatever Happened, I Apologize released by pioneering Chicago label Rock Proper a few months ago (and very favorably reviewed here).  He also served as producer for several acts ranging from Blues Traveler to Leslie Nuss. An intense yet warm and engaging personality who seemed to take his virtuosity for granted, Bennett suffered for being a brilliant musician in a merely good band. A strong, passionate singer and a terse, sharply literate lyricist, his struggles within Wilco were painfully portrayed in the documentary film I Am Trying to Break Your Heart. Earlier this year he filed suit against his former bandmate Jeff Tweedy for breach of contract and unpaid royalties. Bennett leaves behind an unfinished album, Kicking at the Perfumed Air, its title quoting the Boomtown Rats’ sardonic 1980 new wave suicide song Diamond Smiles.

May 30, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, obituary | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Serena Jost and Matt Kanelos at le Poisson Rouge, NYC 4/29/09

A particularly well-conceived art-rock doublebill. Both performers are people whose music lives between the lines, thriving on subtlety, understatement and ellipses rather than grand gestures. Serena Jost, when she’s not dabbling in modeling or getting work as a sidewoman (she’s a classically trained cellist who did time in Rasputina), leads a semi-rotating cast of characters through a vast landscape that spans the world of classical balladry, artsy pop, surf music, no-wave funk and straight-up rock. Wednesday night at le Poisson Rouge she had the benefit of keeping things fairly austere and low-key since she had a great sound system at her disposal. This time out she had the melodic Rob Jost on electric bass, multi-instrumentalist Rob DiPietro playfully and artfully handling the drums and in place of her regular axeman Julian Maile she had Pete Galub (just reviewed here leading his own band) handling lead guitar duties while she alternated between cello, piano and acoustic guitar.

Galub transformed the group, bringing the melodies front and center while adding an artsy, early 70s tinged bluesy feel that ran the gamut from plaintive to towering and majestic. The most dramatic moment came on the bridge during the long partita I Wait where Galub took Maile’s Dick Dale-ish lines deep into the Middle East, tossing the baton to Jost with a flourish where she grabbed it, held on for dear life and kept the revelry going. Then he took the usually stark Almost Nothing and added a vivid solo, part fiery blues and part big ornate ballad, that wouldn’t have been out of place in the Ian Bairnson playbook. Jost had been singing with her usual full, round and inscrutable clarity – she’s so direct that it would be impossible for there to be no subtext – but picked an insistent new ballad to cut loose and wail, as she did on another new one which she played on cello. Cellists don’t usually let their hair down to this extent, but Jost did.

By the time frequent Jenifer Jackson collaborator Matt Kanelos and his band the Smooth Maria hit the stage, the tables had all filled up, depression or no depression, a heartwarming sight. Nice to hear him cut loose on vocals, too, unadorned, casual and unaffected, much like the opening act. Backed by an excellent lead guitarist with a noisy edge as well as a subtle, swinging rhythm section, he alternated between acoustic guitar and piano, playing mostly new songs from the band’s brand-new cd Silent Show. While Americana is his fallback space, many of his songs have an undercurrent alternating between tastefully jazzy complexity and an almost minimalist, purist classical sensibility. The influences combine to create a dreamy yet focused, frequently poignant late summer atmosphere, replete with longing for something that doesn’t always overtly make itself known. Like Jost, Kanelos can be hard to read, all the more reason to listen closely. 

The big 6/8 piano ballad Rain evoked early 70s Pink Floyd (circa Obscured by Clouds), hypnotic and eerily edgy, Kanelos going completely rubato as it built to a big crescendo and then subsided to the point where he could step back in without any altercations. The night’s opening number, Abandoned Town reminded of middle-period Wilco with its “we won’t go back, we won’t go” insistence and noisily ringing crescendo of guitar chords. Another number felt like Chet Baker doing southwestern gothic, Kanelos and his lead player taking turns playing off and then on the beat as it wound down at the end. The crowd, quietly attentive to the end, went crazy for an encore and after a wait that didn’t bode well, were rewarded with a nostalgic ballad that Kanelos played solo on piano.

May 4, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

CD Review: Jay Bennett – Whatever Happened, I Apologize

What a harrowing way to start the new year. This cd hits you with a gale force, bitter, brutal and direct. Even if you try to get out of the way, Jay Bennett – the talented multi-instrumentalist who for all intents and purposes was Wilco until he left the band and Jeff Tweedy decided to become Brian Wilson – will still knock the wind out of you. Most of this cd – Bennett’s fourth solo album –  is just voice and acoustic guitar, occasionally embellished with organ and bass that are so good that you’re left wanting more. While the songs on this album scream out for a full band to flesh them out, even if this is as far as they ever get, that’s fine: they still pack a wallop. Stylistically, Bennett evokes Matt Keating or Richard Buckner in particularly energetic mode: this is smart, terse, gorgeously melodic Americana rock with equally smart, tersely unwinding lyrics. It’s a concept album about a relationship gone awry, spectacularly: this one was doomed right from the start, and if Bennett is to be taken at face value, it’s something of a miracle he got out alive.

 

The cd starts with a road song, just a bit of ominous foreshadowing in the same vein as the Wilco classic Far, Far Away (from the Being There cd), followed by the matter-of-fact, dismissive I Don’t Have the Time. Bennett knows there’s drama coming down the line and he wants no part of it. “I don’t have the good looks, but I know yours won’t last,” he caustically tells the woman. With the next cut, I’ll Decorate My Love, the genie’s out of the bottle, Pandora’s out of the box and all hell breaks loose, setting the tone for the rest of the cd:

 

There will be no profit in protection

Even when you’re walking miles in the rain

I will curse the day I met you

And you will curse the day I lost control

And there will be no reward for your actions

Even when you’re trying to save your lover’s soul…

You were down before me

 

The themes that recur again and again here are missed opportunities and wasted time (go figure), notably on the cd’s towering centerpiece, the big, crescendoing 6/8 ballad The Engines Are Idle:
 
The engines are idle and the trees are all bare

And the issues are clouded and hang in the air

The best part of the story is the part that you missed…

The best part of the record is the part where it skips

And she lost the lyrics and the jacket is ripped…

Cos it’s ageless and timeless but beauty must fade

And you looked so much better when the picture was made

 

The pace picks up and emotions reach a fever pitch on How Dull They Make the Razor: Bennett wants to wait this one out, but he ends up getting dragged in anyway:

 

It don’t matter how dull they make the razor

You won’t feel it when you’re dead 

 

On the next track, Without the Benefit of Sight, Bennett likens himself to a block of ice on a Chicago rooftop in early spring, loosened just enough to become deadly. Exasperation and despair take over center stage:

 

If you want to weigh me down there’s just one layer left

I’ve been repainted so many times it’s anybody’s guess

 

And that’s pretty much where it’s left. Bennett muses on how Hank Williams might have written this story, then throws up his hands and lets that work as a smokescreen: he’s through with trying to cut through the smoldering underbrush, and the songs follow suit. “I lost my best friend last night, I’m working on number two/Won’t you give me a chance cause your chances are through,” he warns on the stark, mandolin-spiced ballad Talk and Talk and Talk. The cd ends with a lament for the world as a whole – the relationship seems to be a microcosm of something far worse – and then with the understatement of Little Blue Pills, “that don’t make you ill – someday they will.”

 

Intensely personal yet not the least bit self-absorbed, this is the best thing Bennett’s ever done. And the best thing about it is that the cd is absolutely free: Bennett is giving it away as a free download at rockproper.com, click here and then hang on, this is not exactly easy listening.

January 5, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Tandy Live at Lakeside Lounge, NYC 2/22/08

Tonight was a triumph for Tandy. It always feels good to see a band take it to the next level. These guys have come a long ways since their days as densely wordy mid-period Wilco soundalikes in the late 90s. Despite having suddenly lost their (and everybody else’s) lead guitarist Drew Glackin at a young age last month, they’ve regrouped and played an absolutely killer set, one gorgeous song after another. Tandy’s most recent material is their best: slow-to-midtempo, contemplative, lyrically-driven, jangly and richly melodic Americana rock with tinges of southwestern gothic at times. Frontman Mike Ferrio began the set on mandolin and harmonica before switching to acoustic guitar. The new guy they had sitting in on Telecaster provided vividly melodic, tastefully terse fills, Skip Ward played a rare gig on electric bass, and drummer Bruce Martin added some very pretty accordion textures while keeping time on the kick on one song.

Ferrio is an excellent lyricist, writing memorable, understated, image-filled narratives of blue-collar life, his vocals casual and laid-back. One of the early songs, seemingly an antiwar number, morphed into a long, crescendoing vamp on the chorus of the Emerson, Lake and Palmer pop hit Lucky Man. Later they did a couple of long, slow, hypnotically summery numbers that wouldn’t have been out of place on a Giant Sand album. The set was somewhat front-loaded – it seemed that they saved the older material for last for the sake of their fans. The Tandy website notes triumphantly that their latest cd is sold out: unsurprising for a band this good. They’re huge in Europe. If Americana or just plain thoughtful, smart, guitar-based rock is your thing, you owe it to yourself to discover Tandy.

February 25, 2008 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment