Julia Haltigan Takes a Torch to 11th Street
You heard it here first: there is no other singer in New York with as much raw, sultry power, or charisma, or purist intelligence as Julia Haltigan. Last night at 11th Street Bar in Alphabet City, she may have been playing what was essentially a weekly rehearsal, but she took over the stage as if she was at Carnegie Hall. As many styles as she mines, expertly – fiery southwestern gothic, torchy swing, warm 60s soul and big Henry Manciniesque anthems – she’s always herself. Her brassy alto has a restlessness that just won’t quit, a knowing, purposeful quality: she may be in her twenties, but she’s an old soul. The band behind her was just as good: her dad Emmet Haltigan playing alternately soulful and biting lines on harmonicas and elecrtric mandolin, plus a jazz trumpeter, slinky bass, swinging drums and lead guitarist Sam Feldman wailing intensely throughout the set. They’ve got a new album, Magneto, due out momentarily: if it’s anything like this show, it’s going to be amazing.
Their jaunty opening swing tune, It’s a Trap, established the distant menace that characterizes a lot of her songs: she waited until the end to go up the scale and drive it home with a fiery apprehension. From there they went into a warmly laid-back, wistful oldschool soul number, then a blazing southwestern gothic robber ballad. She and the band brought back the torchy vibe with a gorgeously nocturnal, casually intense lament: “When you held my hand…those monsters weren’t real, they were just how I feel,” she sang, low and matter-of-fact and all the more powerful for it.
The title track from her album My Green Heart mixed noir blues with a sinister desert duskiness, some rich harmonies from the harmonica and trumpet all the way through, and a coy disco beat from the drums on the chorus. They followed that with another catchy retro soul tune, It’s Just the Way That Day Had To Go , which had the feel of a classic from the 60s even though it’s a brand-new original. Haltigan gave the lushly countrypolitan ballad Homesick for the Moon a restrained longing, searching for somewhere new that could be anywhere “as long as it’s a long way from home.” She put down her guitar for an absolutely lurid, steamy, innuendo-driven boudoir jazz tune: “I’m gonna take you way out, you won’t wanna come back,” she sang, swaying, lost in the groove. “I’ve got a hundred octane in my veins…c’mon over, make a lane change.” But that’s more than 100 octane, guys: that’s rocket fuel.
Feldman’s searing leads and Dick Dale-style tremolo-picking fueled the stomping rock number after that, followed by the most trad song of the night, the bluesy All I Can Think Of Is You. They wound up the set with a brave choice of cover song, Richard Thompson’s Vincent Black Lightning. Feldman hasn’t quite yet figured out how to make it his own, but he’ll get there. In the meantime, their version still blows away any other cover of that one. Haltigan sang the hell out of it, gently, with an understated bittersweetness that fit the lyrics like a motorcycle glove. She and the band are often at the Rockwood when they’re not at 11th Street; their next show is at the Allen Street club on at Oct 19 at 10 followed eventually by the excellent North Carolina bluegrass/oldtimey band Holy Ghost Tent Revival at midnight.