Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Album of the Day 1/30/11

Every day our 1000 best albums of all time countdown continues, in completely random order, all the way to #1. Sunday’s album is #730:

Willie Nile – Streets of New York

Nobody writes a more potent rock anthem than Willie Nile. An iconic figure in the New York rock underground, he managed to catch the tail end of the Greenwich Village folk scene, made an early mark during the punk era, survived the the 80s and then the indie era before really taking off in the past decade – he’s huge in Europe. This one, his next-to-most recent studio album from 2006 captures a little bit of the best of all of them. We picked it over the ferocious Live From the Streets of New York album because the tracks are a wee bit stronger. It begins with the surreal Welcome to My Head, the backbeat powerpop of Asking Annie Out and then the snide shuffle Game of Fools, with the Wallflowers’ Ramee Jafee on organ. Nile’s machine-gun lyrics carry the bitter era-spanning travelogue Back Home; the understatedly snarling Irish ballad The Day I Saw Bo Diddley in Washington Square perfectly captures “the kind of scene politicians adore,” with “”hipsters and posers galore…a million people will say they were there.” The even more savage Best Friends Money Can Buy blends Who stomp with Byrds jangle, followed by the plaintively majestic Faded Flower of Broadway, a surreal, Beatlesque Rickenbacker guitar anthem. The centerpiece is the volcanic Cell Phones Ringing in the Pockets of the Dead, an evocation of the Madrid train bombings, lit up by Mellencamp guitarist Andy York’s pyrotechnics. Surprisingly, some sleuthing didn’t turn up any links for torrents; it’s still available at cdbaby and Nile’s home page (click the link in the title above).

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January 30, 2011 Posted by | lists, Music, music, concert, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Renaissance at Rockefeller Park, NYC 6/23/10

Some will find this hubristic, but this is the best edition of Renaissance yet – including the original 1969 lineup. Unlike a lot of their art-rock contemporaries during their seventies heyday, Renaissance opted for drama and majesty over any overwhelming sense of angst or wrenching intensity. Downtown tonight under a starless sky and a welcome sea breeze, they made every one of their fifty power-packed minutes count. Annie Haslam wasn’t even in the original band – she replaced the late, great Keith Relf – but throughout her time in the group she’s made a lot of people forget that. And she’s still got that awe-inspiring five-octave range. Other singers use all kinds of technology to disguise their flaws – not Haslam, and that made itself known not because she backed off from the demanding arrangements of the original recordings, but from the occasional slight imperfection. That she can still deliver those stratospheric notes, even if sometimes more gently than she did 35 years ago, is extraordinary. Not that Haslam would ever subject herself to the indignity of Eurovision or American Idol, but at age 63, she’d still win either one in a heartbeat.

The rest of the band played with passion and precision. Haslam’s longtime collaborator Michael Dunford’s acoustic guitar was too low in the mix most of the time, but when he was audible he was jangly and inspiring, while the two keyboardists, Rave Tesar and Tom Brislin matched piano to sweeping synthesizer orchestration. New bassist David J. Keyes was nothing short of brilliant, firing his way nimbly through a thorny series of changes, using a bristly, trebly tone much like Mo Moore would do with Nektar. Drummer Frank Pagano, a guy with a solid, four-on-the-floor rep from his work with Willie Nile and the Fab Faux, really opened some eyes with his spot-on, boomy and joyously orchestral attack on a big kit. From the first few notes of vocalese on the ornate, Romantically-imbued instrumental Prologue, Haslam held the surprisingly young (that word is relative) audience rapt – one can only wonder how many, relaxing on the lawn, were only now getting to see the band for the first time. Carpet of the Sun was a pleasant, artsy pop hit on record: live, the band emphasized its sweeps and swells, particularly the occasional Middle Eastern allusion (a device that would recur several times, to welcome effect). Strikingly, the best song of the night was a new one, a marvelously suspenseful epic, The Mystic and the Muse (to be released on a forthcoming ep of all-new material), a feast of spine-tingling vocals, a series of distantly Blue Oyster Cult-ish galloping crescendos and a perfectly powerful ending from Haslam.

Like the rest of the first crop of art-rockers, Renaissance were not opposed to pilfering a classical motif or two, most obviously on Running Hard, which makes a rock song out of the theme from the great French composer Jehan Alain’s Litanies. It’s hard enough to do on the organ and must be even more so on piano, but Renaissance’s keyboardist nailed it with staccato abandon. They went out on a high note with the epic Mother Russia, a seamless suite of themes closer to Tschaikovsky than Shostakovich, ending with Haslam belting out a long, low note (low for her at least – D next to middle C?), fearless and unwavering. What’s impossible for most of us still seems easy for her. The rest of the North American tour schedule is here.

June 23, 2010 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Willie Nile’s Landmark 1980 Live Central Park Album Back in Print

Reissue of the year: janglerock pioneer Willie Nile and his band were fresh off opening for the Who on tour when they recorded this one live in Central Park. The show wasn’t released until 1994 on the Archive Alive label, and has been out of print for the past fifteen years. What you get is a careening three-guitar juggernaut more wired and weary from the road than they are tight, but the energy is through the roof: the cd cover shot of Nile leaping a couple of feet in the air, guitar in outstretched arms like an offering to a cruel god, says it all. The version of Nile’s signature song, Vagabond Moon (the #1 song of the year in Finland that year) is as fresh as the day they first recorded it. Old Men Sleeping on the Bowery, an evocative period piece if there ever was one, makes you hunger for the days when its title rang true with a blast of guitar fury. Riff-rockers like I’m Not Waiting and It’s All Over stomp along on an irrepressible backbeat. The show’s highlight is a characteristically volcanic take of Sing Me a Song, the ferocious anthem that winds up Nile’s debut studio lp (nine of the cuts on that record are represented here) Even the secondary, b-side tunes rise to a level where they have to be reckoned with. Basically, what this cd offers – other than a delicious blast from the past – is proof that Nile has not been faking it for the last thirty years. He’s always been like this. There’s a limited run of 2500 copies of the reissue and who knows how many more, if any. after that: you can paypal it or send a check for $15 plus $3 for postage (multiple copies $15 plus $7 flat rate for shipping) to  GB Music Ltd., 494 Greenwich Street, NY, NY 10013. Snooze and you might lose.

November 13, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Willie Nile Fall Tour Dates

Willie Nile is on the road again this fall – in the US and Europe – with his band pushing his characteristically excellent new cd House Of A Thousand Guitars, very favorably reviewed here. Here’s a free download of “Give Me Tomorrow” from the cd.

Upcoming Shows:

Saturday September 12th, McCabes, Santa Monica, CA (Los Angeles Record Release Party), 8pm, $20,  3101 Pico Blvd, Santa Monica, CA 310-828-4497

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Friday September 18th, the Record Collector, Bordentown, NJ 7:30 pm, $20 Willie (accompanied by Frankie Lee on percussion), 609-324-0880

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Thursday September 24th, Joe’s Pub, NYC IS SOLD OUT

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Friday October 2nd, Paradiso, Amsterdam 9 pm, Willie and the band at the legendary Paradiso. Weteringschams 6-8, 020-626-4521

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Saturday October 3rd, Grottingen Netherlands, Willie &  band play the Take Root Festival.

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Sunday October 4th, Den Bosch, Neatherlands, 3pm, Willie & band play the W2, Boschdijkstraat 100, Den Bosch, 5211 VD

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Friday October 9th, Fitzgerald’s, Chicago, IL Area, 8pm, Willie along with the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra,  6615 Roosevelt Rd, Berwyn, IL 708-788-2118

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Saturday October 10th, Wilberts, Cleveland, OH  (Cleveland Record Release Party) 8pm, Willie along with the Nicholas Tremulis Orchestra, Wilberts, 812 Huron Road East, Cleveland, OH, 216-902-4663

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Sunday October 18th, University Of Stony Brook, Long Island, NY, 2pm, $20. Willie plays the Sunday Street Acoustic Concert Series, Stony Brook University, Nicolls Road, Stony Brook, NY

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Thursday October 22nd, Hard Rock Café, NYC, part of a  benefit show, details TK. Artists include that everyone should attend. Willie, Gary US Bonds, Joe D’Urso and many former Sopranos (the tv kind not the singer kind).

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Friday October 23rd, the Turning Point, Piermont, NY, 9pm, 468 Piermont Avenue, Piermont, NY, 845-359-1089

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Sunday October 25th, Tin Angel, Philadelphia, PA (Philadelphia Record Release Party) 7pm, 20 South 2nd Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106. Willie (accompanied by Frankie Lee on percussion) with special guest Ben Arnold

September 10, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten Songs of the Week 8/10/09

We do this every Tuesday, even today as we lie low in the heat. 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. Pretty much every link here will take you to each individual song.

1. The Oxygen Ponies – The War Is Over

Noir 60s pop redone as ferocious Bush-era antifascist rant. From their killer new cd Harmony Handgrenade.

2. Norden Bombsight – Snakes

Big dark noir rock tune like a lo-fo Botanica – magnificent stuff. They’re at Small Beast at the Delancey on 9/9.

3. Pray for Polanski – It’s a Lie

Scurrying noir blues, good stuff. They’re at Trash on 8/15 at 8.

4. Animus – Turkiko

AMAZING Greek/gypsy/Middle Eastern band. They will blow you away. They’re at Trash on 8/16 at 11.

5. Jesse Alexander & the Big Fatt – Pretty Promises

Boisterous, slightly Waits-ish oldtimey ska/ragtime inflected band w/horns and strings. “You’ll feel like you’re on drugs but in a good way.” At Trash on 8/15 at 11.

6. Kris Sour – LA Makeover

New Yorker shellshocked in El Lay – spot-on and catchy too!

7. Shonen Knife – Super Group

They’re back with a new bassist and sound exactly like they did ten years ago. And the song modulates! They’re coming to the Brooklyn Bowl in November.

8. Brother Joscephus & the Love Revival Revolution Orchestra – I Won’t Be That Man

Deliciously dark vintage 60s sounding New Orleans soul. They’re at Sullivan Hall on 8/14 at 10 opening for the Rebirth Brass Band

9. The DarlingsI’m Not Going

Sure, it’s a Jesus & Mary Chain ripoff, but it’s a lot of fun. They’re at Death by Audio on 8/14 at 11ish.

10. Willie Nile – House of 1000 Guitars

Sort of the NYC version of Leonard Cohen’s Tower of Song, title track from the killer new album.

August 11, 2009 Posted by | lists, Lists - Best of 2008 etc., Music, music, concert | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: Ian Hunter at Rockefeller Park, NYC 6/24/09

“You goin’ to Poughkeepsie?” a paunchy, greyhaired guy in a Zappa tour shirt and jeans eagerly asked his somewhat more nattily attired friend reclining on a blanket in the wet grass. The friend grimaced as he made an attempt to shift his weary bones into a more comfortable position. The guy to their right had a Bowie shirt: the Sound & Vision Tour, 1990 (wait a minute – Sound & Vision was a 70s song!).

“It’s just like the Fillmore, ’73!” exclaimed another concertgoer into his cellphone, ratty ponytail swinging below what was left of his hair, his voice equal parts wonderment and self-deprecation.

But this was no nostalgia show. Ian Hunter and his five-piece backing unit the Rant Band went on a little late, without a soundcheck and transcended a dodgy sound mix, playing a fiery, anthemically melodic mix of mostly upbeat, smartly literate, glam-inflected four-on-the-floor rock. Most of the songs were more recent and were unequivocally excellent: Hunter has never written or sounded better. Kinda heartwarming to see a guy who’s pushing seventy at the peak of his artistic career. Hunter is something of an anomaly in rock, the former frontman of a generic 70s “hard rock” band whose solo career vastly surpasses any radio or arena rock success he might have enjoyed with Black Crowes foreshadowers Mott the Hoople. Decked out in his trademark shades, playing acoustic guitar (and piano on the set’s closing numbers), he was characteristically energetic and intense throughout his practically 90-minute battle with one technical difficulty after another. “There are women and children here, I can’t vent my spleen,” he snarled after the crew finally got his mic at the piano working.

They opened with the big anthem Once Bitten Twice Shy, just Hunter and the drums until the two electric guitars and the bass finally came in on the second chorus. Central Park and West, from Hunter’s underrated 1981 Short Back and Sides album (produced by Mick Jones) was warmly received as the chorus kicked in: “New York City’s the best!!!” By the time they launched into the gritty, backbeat-driven anthem Soul of America, a ridiculously catchy number that wouldn’t be out of place in the Willie Nile catalog, they’d finally gotten all the guitar issues ironed out. Big Mouth, from Hunter’s Shrunken Heads cd was a characteristically sardonic, urbane urban tale with a surprisingly ornate bridge, finally given some guitar firepower with a couple of ferocious twin solos. Then they took the volume up even further with the snidely riff-rocking 9/11 memorial song Twisted Steel.

Best song of the night was the title track from the forthcoming album Man Overboard, a wrenching, towering, anguished 6/8 ballad, a bitter chronicle of disappointments and a desperate need to escape. After that, the rest of the show could have been anticlimactic, but it wasn’t, the feeling of unease recurring in the potent anthem 23A Swan Hill: “There’s gotta be some way outta here, this can’t be life.” They also treated the crowd to one of the closest things Hunter’s had to a radio hit here, Just Another Night, and a Bowie-esque two-keyboard song building a Moonlight Sonata-ish ascending riff into hypnotic intensity. The last of the recent songs was a big, stomping riff-rocker, Out of the Running, also from the new album. They did some songs after that, but those were for the nostalgia crowd and were pretty tired. Most of the dark rockers of the 70s like Lou Reed may have gone off to “experimental” land or elsewhere, but Ian Hunter’s midnight oil still smokes and burns.

June 25, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 10 Comments

CD Review: Willie Nile – House of a Thousand Guitars

This one makes a good segue with the just-reviewed Beefstock Recipes anthology. Willie Nile is New York through and through, having chronicled the darker side of this town from one end to the other in one memorable song after another over the last two decades and even before then. Onetime bearer of the curse of being “the next Dylan,” woefully misunderstood by a succession of big record labels who didn’t have the slightest idea of what to do with him, he resurrected his career in 1999 with his aptly titled Beautiful Wreck of the World cd and hasn’t looked back since. He may be a cult artist here, but in Europe he’s a star, consequently spending most of his road time there. House of a Thousand Guitars, his latest cd has everything he’s best known for: big anthemic hooks, smartly metaphor-laden lyrics, a socially aware worldview and the surrreal humor that finds its way into even his blackest, bleakest songs. Half of the cd was recorded with the ferocious live band who backed him for years and appeared on his most recent cd and dvd, Live from the Streets of New York; the other half features starker, often piano-based arrangements.

 

The title track makes a more upbeat take on what Leonard Cohen was doing with Tower of Song. Nile reminding that John Lee Hooker, alive or dead, will still kick your ass. He follows this with Run, a catchy powerpop anthem with characteristically searing, tasteful guitar from Mellencamp axeman Andy York. Track three, Doomsday Dance is laced with tongue-in-cheek black humor set to a fast backbeat

 

The inspiring, upbeat Love Is A Train is a feast of lush guitar textures, as is the next cut, Her Love Falls Like Rain, layers of acoustic and electric falling in beautifully jangly sheets. The piano ballad Now That the War Is Over is an older song that makes a welcome, apt addition here, a haunting, Richard Thompson-esque portrait of a damaged Iraq War veteran. It’s quite a contrast with the optimistic (and deliciously prophetic) riff-rocker Give Me Tomorrow, written right before the election, ablaze with surreal, metaphorical imagery.

 

The next track is another stomping riff-rocker, Magdalena, fondly known by some of Nile’s fan base as My Now-and-Later because back in the day – what was it, ten years ago? – when he debuted the song, that’s what the chorus sounded like (it actually has nothing to do with cheap candy). Other memorable tracks here include the big ballad Little Light (as in, “All I wanna see is a little light in this cold dark world), the elegiac Touch Me (a tribute in memory of Nile’s brother John) and what has become a requisite on every Willie Nile album, a big Irish ballad, this one titled The Midnight Rose, a fast number spiced with tasty barrelhouse piano. The cd wraps up with a characteristically indelible New York tableau, When The Last Light Goes Out On Broadway. In a year where it looks like New Yorkers are on the fast track to reclaiming the city from the hedge fund crowd and the gentrification that until the last few months or so threatened to destroy it, Nile couldn’t have timed this album any better.

April 22, 2009 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Introducing the Auto Dropouts!

As you can see, we haven’t exactly been practicing what we preach here for the last few days. Nasty as it’s been outside, there’s no better time to catch a live show: in the dead of what’s left of winter around here, you’re never brushing elbows with anybody, and the bands, usually frustrated because of the lousy turnout, take it out on their instruments, with frequently amazing results. So we missed what was probably an excellent Lianne Smith show, and more stuff, and were just about to dig into the archives to see if there’s anything in there that happened on the 29th of February that would be fun to put up here…when this came over the transom. Wow. The Auto Dropouts are a Swedish two-guitar rock band with awesomely catchy pop tunesmithing. They claim to be big Only Ones fans, which seems plausible, but the lyrics actually make some sense, the hooks are bigger and catchier and the songs are faster. Like a lot of their Nordic countrymen they sing in somewhat heavily accented English, but that doesn’t detract from songs. Occasionally they’ll throw in a lick from a classic obscurity from the 60s or 70s: see if you can find them. This is great stuff, some of the best songs we’ve heard this year.

Of the songs on their myspace, Viva For Ever is very catchy with lots of vocal harmonies. Myrna Minkoff is a very clever tribute to the character from A Confederacy of Dunces. It reminds of Echobelly with its fiery guitar stomp that only picks up the pace as the chorus kicks in. C’mon Stranger has country swing and a sweet series of chord changes The Boy with the Restless Eyes starts out by nicking an old Beatles lick; it’s a fast danceable number with deliciously sparse reverb guitar. She Ain’t Gonna Flip Burgers is propulsive, defiantly recounting the trials and tribulations of a woman who’s determined to make in music at all costs despite getting boilerplate rejection letters from big labels. If you’re on myspace, add them to your friends!

Also, here’s an insanely good Willie Nile youtube clip, Vagabond Moon live in Buffalo along with Nile being his usual wiseass self as the band tunes up.

And since it’s usually impossible to leave youtube without running into something new and distracting, here’s Michael Martin (WHO THE HELL IS THIS GUY??? It’s not the country singer, at least it doesn’t look like him), doing a surprisingly good, mostly acoustic cover of Willie Nile’s classic Black Parade, one of the most exhilarating and vengeful songs ever written.

March 1, 2008 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Classical, Country and Other Stuff Live in NYC 1/20/08

Professor, the thesis of this paper is to prove what a fantastic variety of music there is to see for free in New York on the worst possible night, arguably the coldest night of the year, and a Sunday, the last day most people think of going out. The night began at St. Thomas Church where their main organist John Scott was playing a recital. Regular readers of this page might think we have some kind of crush on this casually witty British gentleman. Tonight he started with a piece from French romantic composer Henri Mulet’s magnum opus Esquisses Byzantines. Scottt kept its ostentation at a minimum, as if it was a piece for strings, and this worked wonders. Next on the program were a couple of Messiaen works from the Livre du Saint-Sacrement. The first was Messiaen at his occasionally but spectacularly dark, ambient best: Scott had played Messiaen’s The Birth of Our Lord here last month, and the work he played tonight was a welcome encore to the exhaustively haunting suite he played in December. The next piece, however, was not. Messiaen was famously enamored with the sounds of nature, in particular birdsong, and this piece, A Child Is Born to Us celebrates the birth of Christ. Messiaen’s liturgical works are not known for corresponding with textual passages, but this one actually did, effectively evoking the wonder of onlookers in the manger until the birds started chirping. At that point, one can only wonder why the church fathers wherever Messiaen was working at the time didn’t seal off his window or cut off his access to breadcrumbs.

Scott then pulled out the stops with Max Reger’s famous Morningstar Chorale. Reger’s name ought to have been Rigor. At this best, he wrote roaring organ chorales echoing Bach but more freely. Otherwise, the German romanticist is best known for his knotty, impeccably crafted pieces which can only be described as Teutonic: as scorching as Reger could be, craft often supersedes emotion in many of his compositions. Happily, that was not the case with this piece, an unusually warm, happy excursion bookended by Reger’s usual sturm und drang, and Scott brought out all the warmth he could on what would in this age of global warming be considered an unusually cold night.

Which leaves the obvious question: how to interest the kids in what performers like Scott are doing? So much of classical music is vastly more powerful, more passionate and more fun than most rock music. So how to spread the word? Repost this somewhere, where the trendoids will be mystified?

Next stop was Banjo Jim’s where Amy Allison – who wrote our pick for best song of 2007 – was playing a duo show with Rich Hinman from the Madison Square Gardeners on acoustic lead guitar. To say that he’s a quick study is an understatement: casually and deliberately, the guy wailed. Regular readers here will recall how much Allison likes playing without a net, throwing caution to the wind, bringing up new backing talent every time she plays, as if to see what happens. Tonight she played to a rapt crowd, dazzling with new songs including the wry Mardi Gras Moon and the absolutely riveting Dreamworld, wishing the best to everyone freezing on the street. Allison is such a hilarious live performer that half the time she’s cracking herself up, sometimes barely able to contain a laugh in the middle of a song, bringing the crowd along with her. With her mint citrus voice – cool and calming but with a serious bite – she treated the audience to the warm, hopeful new song Calla Lily as well as classics from her country period like Garden State Mall, as well as newer material like the potent girl-power anthem Have You No Pride, from her latest album Everything and Nothing Too. Allison is totally punk rock too: she played the whole set bleeding on her guitar, blood streaming from her index finger (she’d cut herself peeling potatoes, and the bandaid she was using wasn’t enough).

Next stop was Otto’s, where sometime Willie Nile sideman Steve Conte and his band were wrapping up a set of predictable Detroit-style riff-rock, vintage 1978. The place was completely packed: it was impossible to get into the little back room until after he’d finished playing. It would be interesting to see him do this stuff in more spacious confines – or somewhere on Woodward, where they could find some action and where the old-school crowd would have their bullshit detectors set to stun. Richard Lloyd, the legendary Television (and most recently, Rocket from the Tombs) lead guitarist followed, leading a trio featuring his longtime drummer Billy Ficca, who proved the most interesting member of this particular unit. In the past several months, Lloyd has proven himself absolutely undiminished – as a sideman – and tonight’s show reaffirmed that.

January 21, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, country music, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

CD Review: Willie Nile – Live at the Turning Point

Most acoustic albums by rock bands suck. If you can’t wait for Poison Live and Unplugged, better stop while you’re ahead. This cd, by contrast, is the rare exception. Hot on the heels of Willie Nile’s career-best 2006 album Streets of NYC, the veteran NYC rocker shares the secret to his success. It’s called kicking ass. Backed by drummer Rich Pagano and tv gabfest studio guitarist Jimmy Vivino in an upstate New York yuppie folk club, the trio sledgehammer their way through a mix of songs from Nile’s latest studio cd as well as a few choice cuts from throughout his career. Don’t let the presence of Vivino scare you off – he plays mandolin and acoustic rhythm guitar here and does so competently, even passionately. Nile somehow managed to get him into the harness without completely muzzling him, and the results are impressive.

The set opens with two cuts from Streets of NYC, Welcome To My Head and Asking Annie Out. Nile has always been a hookmeister, and stripped to the chassis, these songs remain as instantly hummable as their original versions. Then they play Nile’s classic from way back in 1981, Vagabond Moon as if it was the single they’d just released. It’s sort of Nile’s Aqualung or The Thrill Is Gone: everybody wants to hear it, he’s played it a million times but he still usually manages to fit it into the set. How he manages to keep it fresh is the operative question: maybe because it’s so damn catchy and builds to such killer crescendos.

The following cut is another early one, Les Champs Elysees, and the version on Nile’s Archive Alive album is pretty forgettable: “Anybody like to do the twist?” he asks, and it sounds rote. Not this version, with its uncommonly nice acoustic intro. After that, we get what’s surprisingly the best song on the album, the coruscating, gorgeously lyrical Irish ballad The Day I Saw Bo Diddley In Washington Square. As with Nile’s best work, it’s a sprawling, Bruegelesque tableau set in a New York now pretty much buried under suburban chain restaurants and towering Lego condominiums selling for multimillions of dollars. Nile’s boast that “everyone will say they were there” on that vivid afternoon rings defiantly true.

The band also runs through a couple of hook-driven anthems, That’s Enough For Me and On Some Rainy Day, as well as Cell Phones Ringing (In The Pockets Of The Dead), another one from Streets of NYC. That’s the one cut here that misses the pyrotechnic Andy York electric guitar work that makes the studio version so unforgettable. But it’s still a good lyric and a good song, even if it doesn’t evoke the Madrid train bombings as well. The band recasts the following tune When One Stands as more of a swinging countryish song, as opposed to the blazing reggae take they made in the studio, but it works.

There’s also a surprise, Hard Times In America, the title track from Nile’s little-noticed ep from the 90s, brilliantly recast as an ominous, skeletal delta blues as it builds into the verse. Nile virtually never plays it live: this version alone is worth the price of the album. Streets of New York, with Nile on piano is uncharacteristically quiet, with a good build to the conclusion. The album winds up with mostly covers, including a blistering, stomping version of the Dylan classic It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue: what seems to be a pretty clueless, sedate yuppie audience is suddenly adrenalized and roaring along with the band. Nile and his cohorts also tackle the Who classic Substitute as well as a Ramones song.

For devoted fans, this is a must-own. It’s also a good introduction to the artist, a suitable present for fans of rock songwriters ranging from Springsteen to Richard Thompson. Caveat: the Willie Nile catalog is highly addictive. After hearing this you will probably want the rest of his albums.

June 4, 2007 Posted by | Music, New York City, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments