Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

CD Review: Demolition String Band – Different Kinds of Love

It’s been a few years since Demolition String Band’s fantastic last cd, Where the Wild Wild Flowers Grow and it was worth the wait. This album manages to capture the explosive energy of their live show. In general, it’s more rock-oriented than their other stuff. Frontwoman Elena Skye has been a songwriting tear, and she hits a lot of highs here. The country influence is still in full effect, both in Skye’s mandolin work and Telecaster monster Boo Reiners’ spectacular bluegrass-inflected playing, but even the slower numbers here blaze with the twangy fire they bring to the stage. Considering the direction country radio has taken since the turn of the century, they couldn’t have released this album at a better time.

The cd opens with their big crowd-pleaser Who Taught You, with its catchy chorus of “hurt so bad.” The second track, the powerful, minor-key, midtempo backbeat-driven Your Wish may be the single best song on the album, a feast of guitar and mandolin textures. Wisteria is the obvious hit single, with its gorgeous intro and rolling, clanging, multitracked guitars (there must be about six of them on this tune), sounding like a Laura Cantrell rock song. It’s urban Americana at its best: “Wisteria on the hills of Jersey City.” After that, Baby Come Home is a traditional country song, but far more lushly arranged than your typical Nashville commercial fare, with mandolin and electric over a bed of acoustic guitars. Real Good Mama, dedicated to Skye’s daughter, is an optimistic number driven by incisive, heartfelt Reiners fingerpicking. They also do a surprisingly scorching, guitar-fueled version of the Ola Belle Reed classic Undone in Sorrow (an acoustic version of which appears on Where the Wild Wild Flowers Grow). After a sizzling Reiners electric bluegrass instrumental, the cd winds up with the boisterous Drinkin’ Whiskey, which will no doubt be useful to connoisseurs looking to differentiate between “your sellin’, and your drinkin’ whiskey.”

The rhythm section of Winston Roye on bass and the ubiquitous Phil Cimino on drums swings like crazy. Reiners’ Telecaster work is smart, effortlessly virtuosic, and hits the mark every time, imbued with a wit that runs the gamut from very subtle to completely off-the-charts funny. Skye’s vocals are raw, direct and potently real: she doesn’t try to fake a Bible Belt accent like the amber waves of gruesomely affected trendoids who’ve grown weary of imitating Sonic Youth and picked up their acoustic guitars.

Memo to college radio program directors: get your hands on this and spin Thinking About Drinking til you’re sick of all the audience requests. Memo to frathouse social directors: get your hands on this and put it on about 2 AM on a Friday night if you really want to keep the party rolling. Memo to the rest of the college population: if you have the means and the energy to do the Spring Break thing, leave the Jimmy Buffett, the Kenny and the Dave Matthews at home and bring this instead. It’s early in the year, but this album will definitely be on a lot of Best Of lists: watch this space about a year from now. Four bagels with a pitcher of strong bloody marys. What a great way to kick off the new year.

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January 5, 2008 Posted by | country music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Concert Review: Demolition String Band at Rodeo Bar, NYC 6/9/07

Uncommonly fun country band at the top of their game. Demolition String Band know how to work a crowd, raising their glasses and leading the audience in a “holler and a swaller,” and speeding up a bluegrass tune to the point where it was practically unplayable. But these guys (and frontwoman) aren’t a bar band: they may thrive in that milieu, but they’re a lot smarter. This is real country music: as LJ Murphy famously said, country music is the kind of music that has nothing to do with Garth Brooks. Although Demolition String Band are a boisterous, electric outfit, they wear their bluegrass and old-timey roots proudly on their sleeves.

Lead singer Elena Skye sang with a casual grace, in the Maybelle Carter mold: she doesn’t overemote. Telecaster player Boo Reiners pretty much stole the show all night with his spectacular, sometimes supersonic, twangy leads and fills – although Skye caught fire as well when she picked up her mandolin and started wailing. Predictably, alcohol figures in a lot of their songs – they’ll be huge if the swinging Thinking About Drinking and the fast, electrified bluegrass tune Drinking Whiskey (both of which they played tonight) get onto college radio.

They’d played a John Prine tribute a few days earlier and dragged out a particularly apt cover, the outlaw country tune Your Flag Decal Won’t Get You into Heaven Anymore. They also did their signature spaghetti western theme, Reiners playing baritone guitar on it this time: Skye told the crowd that she wrote it in the bathroom during a recording session. Pretty productive bathroom break. They stretched it out, drummer Phil Cimino taking a long solo that the crowd went nuts over (nobody ever said the audience here was sophisticated – which is odd because New York country audiences tend to be very sharp, sometimes ridiculously so).

At the end of their first set, they launched into the old bluegrass standard True Love Never Dies and then segued into Fortunate Son by Creedence. How nice to be able to actually understand the lyrics – which are actually really good. Then they segued back into the bluegrass tune and took it just about doublespeed. Impressively, bassist Winston Roye didn’t cop out and play everything in the usual tempo and let the drummer do all the hard work (a common trick): he stuck with the same blues scale, never missing a note, sweating his way through it and coming out victorious. At the end of the song, Reiners stole one out of the Bill Kirchen playbook, throwing in a couple of amusingly obvious Beatles hooks, and, finally and seemingly inevitably, Hendrix.

As good as the show was, you know something has gone wrong in this town when Rodeo Bar – strictly by default – becomes your best bet as a weekend destination. Sure, the music is reliably good, and so is the sound. And it’s free. But there are ominous signs: the bar has cut back on the free peanuts (although you can still find a basket if you look around) and their signature tekillya slurpies are significantly smaller than the tall glass you’d get for eight bucks until very recently. And forget about getting a seat: you still have to jockey for position with the sloppy drunk Baruch college kids who are oblivious to the music and make it pretty near impossible to hear unless you can negotiate a spot toward the front of the bar.

But…there’s not a trendoid in the house, and the tourist crowd generally hails from places like Georgia and Nebraska. And is very nice. As annoying as the Baruch kids can be, chances are they’re going to Baruch because they can’t afford to go elsewhere, so they don’t have the prissy sense of entitlement you find in Williamsburg or the East Village. Considering the alternatives, the Rodeo could become your local. And you could actually be happy there.

June 10, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 6 Comments