Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 9/10/11

Pretty much every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Saturday’s album is #507:

Willie Nelson – One Hell of a Ride

On one level, this mammoth four-cd retrospective box set is kind of overkill: everything by Willie that you’ve ever heard on the radio – you know, On the Road Again, and Whiskey River, ad infinitum – plus a solid mix of stuff from throughout his career. It’s got pro songwriter Willie, outlaw stoner Willie, jazz crooner Willie, and also ridiculous eclecticist Willie, which is most of cd four, when the overkill factor kicks in. Ironically, the choicest material here is the stuff he wrote for other people: Crazy for Patsy Cline; Night Life for B.B. King; Hello Walls for Faron Young; and Funny How Time Slips Away, to name a few. And delightful oddities like Texas in My Soul and Mr. Record Man, along with modern-day standards like Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, Yesterday’s Wine and Townes Van Zandt’s Pancho and Lefty, to name just a few of the one hundred tracks here, many of which you know by heart. Here’s a random torrent via Nathan’s Hideaway.

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September 10, 2011 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Will Scott’s Keystone Crossing Mines Dark Americana

Best known as a mesmerizing Mississippi hill country-style blues guitarist, Will Scott is actually an eclectic master of all things Americana. His latest album Keystone Crossing is a characteristically dark, fearless, completely original mix of both acoustic and electric blues, oldtime country and gospel sounds. It’s the best thing he’s done, and it’s one of the best albums that’s come over the transom here this year. Right off the bat with the album’s first track, White River Rising, Scott sets a mood and just doesn’t let up – the brooding ambience is relentless. This particular number is a grim tale of hard times in the floodlands with layers of mandolin, dobro, organ and guitars. The second track, Derry Down starts out skeletal and ominously whispery and builds from there to illustrate a creepy nocturnal tableau. Just to Ferry Me Over has the feel of a chain gang song, defiant and resolute – Scott’s not ready to go before his time. The band builds almost imperceptibly to a hypnotic, haunting ambience, Dave Palmer’s organ and Ben Peeler’s steel guitar whining eerily over the rustic handclaps and Scott’s forceful delivery.

An outlaw country take on oldschool soul music, Right to Love is another number that builds slowly and methodically, terse, gospel-fueled piano leading the way. Ain’t Gonna Rain sets torrents of doomed imagery to an apprehensively swinging midtempo minor-key Texas shuffle: “Never known justice, but someday I’ll get mine,” Scott intones. He’s never sung more potently, or more subtly than he does here, particularly on the chilling, atmospheric badlands ballad Broken Arrow. An escape anthem, Last Rest Stop has a western swing-flavored bounce that contrasts with the bitterness of the lyric. The band maintains that vibe on the hard-rocking kiss-off anthem You Said You’d Take Me to Spain, the one place on the album where Scott’s guitar really takes off – he’s the rare guitarist you actually want to hear more of. The album winds up on an unexpectedly upbeat note with an organ-fueled, Sam Cooke style soul number. The instrumentation and the vernacular here may be completely retro, yet this album is solidly in the here and now: fans of Americana from delta blues, to Waylon and Willie, to Hayes Carll ought to check this out. Scott is currently on European tour; watch this space for NYC gigs toward the end of the summer.

June 13, 2011 Posted by | blues music, country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Album of the Day 6/12/11

Every day, our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues all the way to #1. Sunday’s album was #597:

The Highwaymen’s first album

From 1985, this is the ultimate outlaw country summit: Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson. Sly, often surreal, it’s a party, the guys trading verses (although not everybody sings on every song) through a mix of smartly chosen covers and originals. The funniest one is Cash’s Committed to Parkview, part nuthouse, part rehab; likewise, Welfare Line, a Reagan-era souvenir, perfectly captures the angst of the times. There’s also the defiantly gloomy Desperados Waiting for a Train; Cindy Walker’s elegaic Jim, I Wore a Tie Today; the Jimmy Webb-penned title track; a plaintive version of Woody Guthrie’s Deportees; a singalong of Big River; and Steve Goodman’s not-so-optimistic The 20th Century Is Almost Over. The only dud here is Bob Seger’s Against the Wind, which the band has absolutely no clue how to play. If you like this, the other two Highwaymen albums from the 90s are also worth a spin. Caveat: purists may have a hard time with the synthesizers and chorus-box guitar here – it’s a period piece for sure. Here’s a random torrent.

June 13, 2011 Posted by | country music, lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Greg Garing at the Delancey, NYC 1/4/10

The Monday night Small Beast show at the Delancey being New York’s most brazen display of good songs and good chops, the parade of talent that’s come through here over the last eight months or so far exceeds anything any other club in town has seen over that span of time. As far as pure talent is concerned, Greg Garing tops the list – and for anyone who was lucky enough to catch his solo show last night, that’s no disrespect to any of the other artists who’ve played here. If you can imagine Willie Nelson if his drug of choice was moonshine instead of pot, you’d be on the right track. Garing is the kind of artist who inhabits his songs – it’s impossible to separate him from them, seeing as he practically goes into a trance and becomes them. His guitar virtuosity, soulful terseness and stylistic chops are unsurpassed, matching a jazzy Chet Atkins-gone-punk countrypolitan feel along with a seemingly effortless whirlwind of flatpicking on a couple of bluegrass numbers, along with some judicious blues and country gospel work. As when Black Sea Hotel played a couple of weeks ago, the room was silent, absolutely rapt. Garing may have a four-octave vocal range – from Tennessee Ernie Ford bass to a falsetto and a heartwarming blue yodel – but he used all of those devices subtly. It would not be an overstatement to mention him in the same sentence as Jimmie Rodgers. And while he did play a few covers – a brisk, unadorned Deep Ellem Blues, a slowly smoldering take of the blues How Long and a Jerry Lee Lewis barrelhouse romp through Real Wild One (he also played pretty amazing piano on that one and a brief ragtime number that he seemed to make up on the spot), it was his originals that resonated most intensely.

The biggest crowdpleaser was a gentle ballad, a reflection on how nature has no preference for any season, with the refrain “We’ll be happy once again.” With the mercury outside below twenty, this hit the spot, along with a beautifully heartfelt gospel-inflected number possibly titled Teardrops Falling in the Snow. One of the more upbeat numbers sounded like a Hasil Adkins song; he also did a resonant cover of the #1 country single of 1968, the politically charged Skip a Rope, written by his old friend Henson Cargill. Garing admitted as his set got underway that he’s “a lucky boy,” having played with several original members of the Grand Old Opry as well as bluegrass legend Jimmy Martin (Garing was reputedly the only sideman that Martin would allow to drink with him, maybe because he could). And some years later, as leader of the Alphabet City Opry, he jumpstarted a fertile New York country scene that’s still going strong almost fifteen years down the road.

Botanica frontman Paul Wallfisch played mostly solo on piano beforehand, covering Leonard Cohen, Serge Gainsbourg and then, with Bellmer Dolls frontman Peter Mavrogeorgis on guitar, the Stooges’ Gimme Danger (Paul sang) and a spine-tingling noir version of She Cried ( a Del Shannon cover that Peter, who sang, discovered via the late Roland S. Howard ). Wallfisch’s longtime onstage sparring partner Little Annie also contributed characteristically charming, smoky vocals on songs by Jacques Brel and Leon Russell.

Before Wallfisch, a boyfriend/girlfriend duo called the Pinky Somethings [wasn’t really paying attention] opened the night with carefree if barely competent covers of a lot of good songs: Warren Zevon, John Prine, George Jones, more John Prine. This is how you start out, playing your favorites. If they keep it up and reach the point where they’re writing songs like the ones they like so much, they’ll be really good too.

January 5, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music, small beast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: The Flatlanders at Castle Clinton, NYC 8/2/07

Their time finally came almost thirty years after they started, as twangy rock posing as country finally pushed traditional country (or what was left of it) over the edge, into the chasm where dead musical genres go, down there with roots reggae and dixieland and punk. But for these guys it was never a pose: they always were and still remain a country-rock band. That term has become almost an insult, and perhaps rightfully so, but these Lubbock, Texas vets, darlings of the NPR set, actually make it work. Although the show wasn’t quite the ruckus they typically raise indoors, late at night, there were many absolutely delightful moments.

The three frontmen, all of who played acoustic guitar and sang spot-on harmonies, brought their distinctive personalities to the set. Joe Ely is the Tex-Mex guy with a thing for mariachi melodies; Jimmie Dale Gilmore is the Willie Nelson-style crooner, and Butch Hancock brings the corn. This unit brings out the very best in each of them: Ely manages to stay pretty much on this side of the border, Gilmore’s hippie streak is held firmly in check, and Hancock’s buffoonery is kept pretty much to a minimum. Bolstered by an effortlessly tight rhythm section and a fine lead guitarist, the trio mixed newer material into the set along with familiar crowd-pleasers such as Dallas, swinging along on a boogie beat.

It’s too bad the Flatlanders haven’t had more hits, because their best songs are very, very catchy. The highlight of the night was Julia, a gorgeously rueful midtempo ballad sung by Ely: When the first chorus ended, all three acoustic guitars chiming in unison as the lead player sprinkled some magically clanging notes around them, the crescendo was literally breathtaking. They didn’t hit that kind of high again, but they didn’t really shoot for it: these vets know how to size up a crowd – this one was definitely older, mostly tourists from the looks of them, with a small but vocal Texas contingent – so they played it pretty safe.

With one exception. Midway through the set, Gilmore assured the crowd that “not all Texans agree with other Texans,” and received a very warm response. “He’s not from Texas!” yelled someone in the crowd. “Who’s he?” joked Hancock. This band may not write political songs, but like the best country musicians, they’re populist through and through. After about an hour worth of consistently tasty twang, they wrapped up their first encore with a fiery number told from the point of view of a driver who picks up a hitchhiker who turns out to be Jesus. Mr. Christ lets him drink a beer with impunity but eventually puts a gun to the guy’s head and then steals the car. No doubt the band would have done more like this had this been later in the evening, with alcohol flowing in abundance.

Afterward we went up to Banjo Jim’s to continue the festivities. After a lengthy setup, Ray Suarez lookalike Joe Whyte and his band took the stage, Whyte telling the audience how he’d had a dream in which he’d punched George Bush in the face. This met with a very enthusiastic reception. Too bad the music that followed was so sterile, generic suburban janglepop with a few country licks thrown in here and there: a New Jersey version of Counting Crows, maybe. One of our entourage noted that the following band, a trio from Philadelphia, sounded like the Black Crowes (this show was for the birds, hardy har har). I saw the Black Crowes open for someone once but they were so forgettable, I can’t remember what they sounded like: a tuneless version of Lynyrd Skynyrd, maybe? At this point, we’d finally had our fill and the evening had cooled off a little bit, so we hit the pavement and called it a night.

August 3, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment