New York Music Daily

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Tag: album review

The Revelations: Cashing In or Pioneering a New Soul Sound?

As Elvis Costello asked, have we come this fa-fa-fa to find a soul cliche? Three decades ago, being on a label was an imprimatur that implied, if nothing else, that a band was at least popular enough to get signed. After all, what label would invest in a band that didn’t have any shot at earning a significant audience? Today, we know that most of those bands never had any following to begin with, one reason why so many of them got dropped. There’s no little irony that these days, being on a label is immediate cause for suspicion, the implication being that you’re working for the man, willing to cede creative control and street cred and probably the lion’s share of whatever money might be coming in. Soul-funk band the Revelations may be on a label, and their new lead singer, like their old one, may come out of a corporate background, but damned if the band doesn’t establish itself as an interesting and ultimately fun group with an original sound, mashing up retro and current-day styles with an energetic expertise. You can see how well this works live when they play a free show at BAM Cafe on Saturday night, Nov 22 at 9 PM.

Their latest album The Cost of Living is streaming at Bandcamp. It kicks off with Mama, which sets oldschool soul tropes – a big suspenseful build at the beginining, echoey Rhodes piano, slinky wah guitar and big jazzy chords – to a hip-hop beat with lyrics whose feminist POV isn’t exactly convincing. Why When Love Is Gone takes a hard-hitting mid-60s pulse and turbocharges it with Wes Mingus’ growling, distorted guitar and hot brass from the Royal Horns. Higher is another solid track, hitching an ornate early 70s-style ballad to an irrepressible vintage disco groove with gospel tinges and bluesmetal guitar.

It’s OK opens with Ben Zwerin’s growly bass and Mingus’ eerily tremoloing guitar – it’s noir soul as written by guys who grew up with the Wu-Tang Clan rather than Little Milton. Money Makes the World Go Round blends gritty funkmetal, noir soul, hip-hop and straight-up heavy rock. The band goes back to 1973 or so for The Game of Love, fueled by Stax-Volt vet Charles Hodges’ organ and a delicious horn chart. With its slinky sway, jubilant horns and dancing wah guitar, This Time goes back another seven years or so. The album ends with a rocking Isley Brothers-inspired take of the Gladys Knight hit I’ve Got to Use My Imagination, Mingues capping it off with a searing guitar solo. It’s too bad that in an age where most of the best lyrics in the world are coming out of hip-hop, the ones here barely rise to the level of generic, and the vocals aren’t much better. It’s testament to how good the music is that this album succeeds as as well as it does: fans of acts like Black Joe Lewis ought to check it out.

Nell Robinson Brings Her Historically Rich Antiwar Americana Songs to Joe’s Pub

Alabama Americana songwriter Hilary Perkins, a.k.a. Nell Robinson has an epic and historically relevant antiwar-themed new album out, The Rose of No-Man’s Land – streaming at Spotify – with an all-star cast of players and special guests. It’s a mix of classic and cult-favorite war-themed songs from the Americana songbook from across the ages, along with Robinson’s originals which draw on letters sent home from the wartime front from throughout her family history. As you would expect from such serious material, most of the music is on the slow side. What’s most interesting about it is that none of these songs are didactic or preachy: they let the war stories and veterans’ laments speak for themselves, reminding that pretty much everybody who goes to war and survives it comes home a pacifist. In concert, Perkins involves the audience a lot more actively than just in a singalong way, and she’s bringing that show to Joe’s Pub on Saturday night, Nov 22 at 7 PM with her band and special guest Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Tix are $25.

The album opens on an aptly somber note with a brief, slow instrumental take of Bill Monroe’s My Last Days on Earth, Jim Nunally’s steady acoustic guitar paired with Greg Leisz’s resonant dobro. Robinson’s direct, uncluttered, vibrato-infused vocals give the traditional song Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier an imploring edge. Kathy Baker reads the first of the letters – from the real Nell Robinson, Perkins’ grandmother, to her soldier on the front in World War I, offering some unexpected comic relief.

The rest of the band – David Piltch on bass and Zach Harmon on drums – come in on Luther Presley’s Waiting for the Boys to Come Home, Levon Henry adding a celebratory clarinet solo. But the optimism is short-lived, the band returning to gently sobering mode with the Civil War narrative Blue-Eyed Boston Boy and keeps that going with the old folk song One Morning in May

A bluegrass romp through Rodney Crowell’s Scots Irish takes the theme forward in time to the Vietnam era and then today with some sweet flatpicking from Nunally and mandolin from Leisz. They follow that with a blue-flame take of Johnny Cash’s Vietnam talking blues Drive On with similar energy and cynicism, Elliott taking over lead vocals. X’s John Doe duets with Perkins on her starkly wistful bluegrass original Happy to Go – a revealing look at the psychology of defending one’s country – as well as on an aching take of Mel Tillis’ Stateside, pushed along by Craig Eastman’s fiddle.

Guy Clark’s Heroes, a chilling narrative about a shellshocked Gulf War vet, gets a gorgeously hushed treatment. The Forgotten Soldier Boy, another slow number from the Bill Monroe repertoire, revisits the theme from a WWI point of view. A Nunally original, Poppies stays in that era, Piltch’s all-too-brief bass solo adding an aptly bittersweet edge. Perkins sings an a-cappella verse of the country gospel title track, then follows that with another purist bluegrass original, Wahatchee, a brutal battlefield ballad set during the American Revolution. The album seems to hedge its bets at the end, closing on a patriotic note with Gene Scheer’s American Anthem.

The rest of the letters are as affecting as the songs. Kris Kristofferson reads a bitter, pessimistic 1866 assessment of Civil War Reconstruction; Doe voices a funny 1944 vignette; Maxine Hong Kingston delivers a brooding 1932 recollection of the veterans’ march on Washington, DC; and Elliott reads Marcus Cumbie’s 2012 poem Grove Hill. Click here for the text and song lyrics. What does all this prove? For one, that veterans always get the shaft after their service is done, no matter how much ink gets spilled over their heroism. In 2014, the majority of Americana combat veterans, some of them poisoned by the radioactive waste in U.S. munitions, return home too disabled to work.

Psychedelic Art-Rock Band Wounded Buffalo Theory Headline a Great Friday Night Twinbill at Freddy’s

Wounded Buffalo Theory made a name for themselves back in the zeros as a jamband playing around New York and at the upstate summer festivals. But as much as they can get crazy live, they’re also a first-class, intense, psychedelic art-rock band with strong, ferociously anthemic songwriting. At this point in their history, it’s good to see them at their creative peak. Their latest album, A Painting of Plans is streaming online; they’re headlining at Freddy’s this Friday, Nov 21 at midnight, preceded at around 10 by the similarly excellent, more Americana and blues-influenced Sometime Boys, with whom they share a guitarist and drummer (Kurt Leege and Jay Cowit, respectively).

Cowit and bassist Rob Malko give the band a hard-hitting, metrically shapeshifting platform for the lithe, biting, intertwining guitars of Leege and John Blanton (who’s also the band’s keyboardist). One album that’s an obvious influence is Genesis’ The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway (which this group just happened to help recreate in all its trippy grandeur this past fall at Rock Shop). And this is a really long one: back in the all-vinyl days, it would have been a double-disc set. It opens with The Brain Is Half Full, cynically contemplating mortality over echoes of 80s Peter Gabriel and 90s stadium acts like Ride. The first real gem here is the ominous minor-key anthem Fistful, with its eerily, methodically dancing Leege lead, a tinge of dreampop and an ominous multitracked quasar pulse as it winds up. It brings to mind something Leege might have written in his days with paint-peeling art-noise band System Noise back in the mid-zeros.

Shores of Japan is even catchier and just as angst-fueled (though it doesn’t seem to reference 3/11), building to an anguished chorus of intertwining lead guitar lines. For whatever reason, the following cut, Sombrero, brings to mind the Yellow Magic Orchestra at its moodiest. With its chiming acoustic/electric textures, A Planning of Saints works a broodingly artsy-folk rock vibe. The album’s most epic track, Leslie Got a Rabbit builds its way out of hypnotic Frippertronic-style guitar through steadier, trip-hop inflected interludes that almost imperceptibly rise to a visceral, orchestral menace. They follow that with the equally brooding yet kinetically crescendoing Gold (Everybody Needs Some Bodies) with its surrealistically nimble guitar leads and Cowit’s knifes-edge vocals.

The Power of Nothing takes a pensive folk-pop tune and fleshes it out with an ornately layered arrangement. After the trippy, loopy instrumental Here Be Dragons, Why Now evokes the pop side of Radiohead: “I ate his head,” Malko announces nonchalantly. The band follows the trippy, circling instrumental Dirty Walls with Turtles, a more menacing variation on the theme. The Storm Celler continues to raise the menace, driven by the rhythm section’s cumulo-nimbus sonics.

They bring it down for a bit with the gorgeously angst-fueled You Have Left Me, building a thicket of chiming guitars behind Cowit’s pensive vocals. The album winds up with a boomy, gamelansque instrumental and then the title track, reverting to a Trail of the Dead anthemic pulse. What’s best is that the album is available as a name-your-price download!

Another Gorgeous, Lushly Arranged Art-Rock Album and a Bell House Show from Chuck Prophet

Chuck Prophet is one of the most exhilarating, purposeful lead guitarists in rock. He’s also a vastly underrated songwriter. Since his days in paisley underground legends Green on Red back in the 80s, he’s done everything from psychedelia to Americana to art-rock to what could be called a thinking person’s version of Tom Petty. He’s got a characteristically brilliant new album, Night Surfer – streaming at Spotify – which might be his darkest ever, and a show at the Bell House coming up this Friday, Nov 21 at around 8:30 PM. Cover is $15.

The theme that connects some if not all of the tracks here is future shock, and as Prophet makes clear, he’s not exactly comfortable with it. The opening tune, Countrified Inner-City Technological Man looks back to snide 80s Americana acts like the Del-Lords, with its soul clap beat and relentless cynicism. Wish Me Luck sways along with a warped, Bowie-esque glamrock vibe: “Look out you losers, here I come!” Prophet grins – it’s easy to imagine Edward Rogers or Ward White doing something like this.

Guilty As a Saint takes that sound back five years or so to Abbey Road (or twenty-five years forward to Spottiswoode), a rich, ornate arrangement with deliciously watery guitars from Prophet and James DePrato over the terse rhythm section of Brad Jones (who also produced) on bass, Prairie Prince on drums and lush strings by Chris Charmichael and Austin Hoke. They Don’t Know About Me and You takes that same ambience and lyrical surrealism down a few notches over Rusty Miller’s sweeping organ – until the big chorus kicks in.

Lonely Desolation opens in a blaze of guitar and insistent strings and then hits a rather droll new wave chamber pop pulse – it’s just thisfar from that cheesy Cure hit to avoid cute overkill. Likewise, Laughing on the Inside beefs up its new wave core to anthemic proportions, as Spacehog might have done it but with better, more organic production values. “When they turned on the hose, it felt like a drop in the ocean,” Prophet winks conspiratorially.

If I Was a Baby alludes to Dylan’s Isis, with a cool blend of rustic Americana and art-rock grandeur. Ford Econoline has a guitar-fueled drive that’s part Dream Syndicate, part the Church from around the same time. Prophet follows Felony Glamour, a sardonically amusing, Stonesy tale about a drama queen with Tell Me Anything (Turn to Gold), a lush blend of Byrds jangle and paisley underground menace. Truth Will Out (Ballad of Melissa and Remy) reaches for epic Dylan narrative but ends up closer to Amanda Palmer snark. The album winds up on an aptly surreal note with Love Is the Only Thing, part Orbison noir, growling Hound Dog Taylor blues and stadium rock.  “Bring your x-ray vision from the bedroom to the kitchen,” Prophet demands. It’s here that he finally bares his fangs – ironically, over some of the album’s prettiest music. Not a single substandard cut here – one of 2014′s best from a guy who’s been elite for a long time.

Miguel Zenon Explores Multimedia Jazz and Nuyorican Identity on His Majestically Insightful New Big Band Album

It’s never safe to nominate anybody as being the very best on a given instrument – unless maybe it’s something obscure like the contrabass clarinet. As long as Kenny Garrett’s around, it’s especially unsafe to put an alto saxophonist at the front of that pack. But it is probably safe to say that no other alto player has been on as much of a creative roll as Miguel Zenon has been lately. His sound, and his songs, can be knotty and cerebral one minute, plaintive and disarmingly direct or irresistibly jaunty the next. His latest album, Identities Are Changeable (streaming at Spotify), explores the complexities of Nuyorican heritage with characteristic thoughtfulness and verve. He and his longtime quartet – pianist Luis Perdomo, bassist Hans Glawischnig and drummer Henry Cole – have a stand coming up at the Vanguard, with sets at 8:30 and 10:30 from Nov 18 through 23; cover is $25 ($30 on Friday and Saturday) and considering that his previous stand there sold out every night, you should get there early.

It’ll be especially interesting to see how Zenon handles the music from the new album onstage, not only because it’s a big band album but that it’s a mix of jazz and spoken word. The ensemble opens with De Donde Vienes (i.e. “where you from?”), which sets a pastiche of Zenon’s friends and family explaining their sometimes tangled roots over a lively, circularly vamping backdrop. The title track begins the same way, a discussion of cultural identity and assimilation set to a more skeletal vamp, which then builds to a bright, trumpet-fueled largescale arrangement. Zenon finally makes his entrance on a dancing yet pensive note, aptly depicting the New York/Puerto Rico dichotomy that sometimes pulls at Nuyoricans. Perdomo follows with one of his signature glistening interweaves before the brass brings back a tense balminess, a storm moving in on Spanish Harlem.

My Home, another big band number moves from shifting sheets of horns into a moody, syncopated clave lit up by more carefree Zenon phrasing behind the snippets of conversation and finally a majestic, darkly pulsing coda. Same Fight, an elegantly but intensely circling big band waltz offers some fascinating insights on commalitities between Nuyoricans and American blacks: “If I didn’t speak Spanish, people would assume I was African-American,” one commentator relates. A somewhat more sternly rhythmic variation, First Language, follows, with some deliciously interwoven brass and Tim Albright’s thoughtfully crescendoing trombone solo

Second Generation Lullaby bookends a starkly dancing bass solo with a more lavishly scored, warmly enveloping variation on the initial waltz theme. The most salsafied track is Through Culture and Tradition, mixing up high-voltage bomba and plena rhythms and riffage into a large ensemble chart that’s just as epically sweeping as it is hard-hitting. Zenon closes with a relatively brief outro that brings the album full circle. What might be coolest about the entire project is that all the talking isn’t intrusive and actually offers a very enlightening look at how cultures in New York both blend and stay proudly true to their origins. It’s a sweet album from Miel Music (sorry, couldn’t resist).

The Cellar & Point Bring Their Intriguingly Kinetic Postrock Sounds to Glasslands

A project originated by guitarist Chris Botta and drummer Joe Branciforte, the Cellar & Point are sort of Claudia Quintet meets Sleepmakeswaves meets Wounded Buffalo Theory. Mantra Percussion‘s Joe Bergen plays vibraphone, immediately drawing the Claudia Quintet comparison, which is further fueled by the nimble string work of violinist Chistopher Otto and cellist Kevin McFarland, who comprise one-half of the adventurous Jack Quartet. Guitarist Terrence McManus and bassist Rufus Philpot round out the band. The backstory – Botta and Branciforte as teenage buds in New Jersey, hanging out and blasting Rage Against the Machine – makes sense in context. Their debut long-player, Ambit, is just out from the folks at Cuneiform, who have it up along with the rest of their vast catalog on bandcamp. The Cellar & Point are playing the album release show on a killer triplebill at Glasslands on Nov 19 starting around 9 with epically sweeping art-rock chorale the Knells and the alternately hypnotic and kinetic Empyrean Atlas. Cover is ten bucks; it’s not clear what the order of bands is but they’re all worth seeing.

The album’s opening track, 0852 is characteristic: tricky prog-rock metrics drive lush ambience with lingering vibraphone, slide guitar (and maybe ebow) and some artfully processsed pizzicato from the string section that adds almost banjo-like textures. Arc builds out of swirly atmospherics to a matter-of-fact march and then an animatedly cyclical dance with tinges of both west African folk music and King Crimson.

There are two Tabletops here, A and B. The first juxtaposes and mingles lingering vibes, stadium guitar bombast and lithely dancing strings. The second layers rainy-day vibes and strings with terse Andy Summers-ish guitar. There are also two White Cylinders: number one being a seemingly tongue-in-cheek mashup of brash jazz guitar, vividly prickly mystery movie textures and Reichian circularity, number two tracing a knottier, somewhat fusiony Olympic film theme of sorts.

If Ruminant is meant to illustrate an animal, it’s a minotaur stewing down in the labyrinth, awaiting an unsuspecting victim – one assumes that’s Bergen playing that gorgeously creepy piano in tandem with the eerily resonant guitars and stark strings. By contrast, Purple Octagon shuffles along with a more motorik take on what John Hollenbeck might have done with its vamping dynamic shifts – or the Alan Parsons Project with jazz chords. The somewhat dirgey, gamelan-tinged title track’s final mix is actually a recording of a playback of the song’s original studio mix made in an old rotunda in the Bronx in order to pick up vast amounts of natural reverb.

There are also a couple of reinvented pieces from the chamber music repertoire: a stately, wary Radiohead-like interpretation of an Anton Webern canon and a György Ligeti piano etude recast as a hypnotically pulsing nocturne. Is all this jazz? Not really. It’s not really rock, either. Indie classical, maybe? Sure, why not? Postrock? That too. Ultimately it boils down to what Duke Ellington said, that there are two kinds of music, the good kind, like this, and the other kind.

Dina Regine’s Soulful New Album Was Worth the Wait

What does it say about our society that Dina Regine has probably made more money spinning other peoples’ records than she’s made by playing her own unique blend of classic soul and rootsy rock? She was getting paid for playlisting long before just any random person could plug their phone into the PA system and then call it a night. But Regine’s greatest accomplishments have been as a songwriter, bandleader and singer. A well-loved presence in the New York club scene throughout the late 90s and early zeros, she still has an avid cult following, and an excellent, long-awaited new album, Right On All Right. And she’s got an album release show coming up on Nov 18 at around 8:30 PM at Bowery Electric. Ursa Minor, who have a similarly dynamic singer in Michelle Casillas – who also contributes to Regine’s album – are on the bill afterward at around 9:30. Cover is eight bucks.

On the album, Regine plays much of the guitars along with keys, mandolin and harp (!). Tony Scherr plays lead guitar on several tracks, along with Tim Luntzel on bass and Dan Rieser on drums. The opening track, Gotta Tell You is a gorgeously jangling, swaying 6/8 soul ballad, Jon Cowherd’s organ rising on the chorus with Regine’s impassioned vocals – and then they rock it out for a bit. The oldschool soul-funk number Dial My Number has a hot horn section (Erik Lawrence on tenor sax, Briggan Krauss on baritone sax and Frank London on trumpet) juxtaposed with Regine’s more low-key yet simmering vocals. By contrast, Can’t Find You Anywhere welds red-neon noir soul ambience to soaring, anthemic choruses, fueled by Scherr’s biting guitar multitracks.. Likewise, Hurt Somebody works the tension between blue-flame soul and brisk new wave-tinged powerpop – Regine likes to mix up her styles and this is a prime example.

Far Gone takes an unexpected and very successful departure into oldschool C&W with a tasty blend of Regine’s baritone guitar mingling with Scherr’s twangy lines. Then Regine hits a pulsing garage-soul vamp on Until Tomorrow and keeps that going with the gloriously guitar-driven, Gloria-esque Fences. The best track here is Broken, a brooding yet brisk latin-tinged groove with Steve Cropper-esque guitar: “You beat the wall for your past oppressor – sometimes spirits treat you real kind but most of the time they mess with your mind,” Regine sings with a gentle unease. How she varies her delivery from one track to another, from sweet to defiant and undeterred is one of the album’s strongest points.

The title track adds slink and suspense to a vintage go-go theme, with yet another one of Regine’s usual, crescendoing, anthemic choruses.  Shaky Dave Pollack’s hard-hitting blues harp drives the vintage Stonesy Nothing Here. The album’s final cut, Wildest Days, is also its most epic, and it’s surprisingly wistful, a snapshot of a deliriously fun time that threatens not to last too long. Fans of the creme de la creme of retro soul, from Lake Street Dive to Sharon Jones, will love this album. It’s not out yet, therefore no spotify link, but a lot of the tracks are up on Regine’s soundcloud page.

An Enticing Gutbucket Stand at the Stone and a Characteristically Edgy Album From Their Bandleader

Since the late 90s, Gutbucket have distinguished themselves as purveyors of moody, sardonic, cinematic instrumentals that combine jazz improvisation with noirish rock themes. You could call them a more jazz-inclined version of Barbez, and you wouldn’t be far off. If you miss the days when Tonic was still open and edgy sounds were an everyday thing on the Lower East Side, you’ll be psyched to know that Gutbucket are doing a stand at the Stone from Nov 18 through 23 with two sets nightly at 8 and 10 PM; cover is $10. As you would expect from pretty much everybody who plays there, the band are doing several interesting collaborations and are making a live album in the process. The most enticing set of all might be the early show on opening night when the music will have some added lushness via the strings of the Jack Quartet.

Frontman/guitarist Ty Citerman also has a wickedly fun, tuneful, genre-defying sort-of-solo Tzadik album, Bop Kabbalah, out with his Gutbucket bandmates Ken Thomson on bass clarinet, Adam D. Gold on drums plus Balkan trumpeter Ben Holmes. Although the themes draw on traditional Jewish music, jazz tropes and rock riffage take centerstage. The first track, The Cossack Who Smelt of Vodka (possible ommitted subtitle: what cossack doesn’t smell of vodka?) follows a tensely cinematic, noirish trajectory to a long outro where Citerman’s tensely insistent guitar pairs against Thomson’s calmness.

Conversation with Ghosts works a catchy minor-key theme punctuated by droll leaps and bounds up to a long Holmes solo, then the band reprises it but much more loudly and darkly. Snout moves from squirrelly free jazz into a brief Romany dance, then the band refract it into its moody individual pieces, transforming what under other circumstances would be a party anthem into a fullscale dirge.

The Synagogue Detective bookends a tongue-in-cheek cartoon narrative with alternately biting and goodnaturedly prowling solos from Citerman, Holmes and Thomson. Likewise, they liven the skronky march After All That Has Happened with squalling Steven Bernstein-esque flourishes. In lieu of hip-hop flavor, Talmudic Breakbeat has an unexpected lushness, neatly intertwining voices, some drolly shuffling rudiments from Gold and the album’s most snarling guitar solo.

The album’s most deliciously epic track, Exchanging Pleasantries with a Wall moves up from echoey spaciousness, through a disorienting, funereal groove that brings to mind low-key Sonic Youth as much as it does Bernstein’s arrangements of old Hasidic nigunim. The closing cut puts a clenched-teeth, crescendoing noir dub spin on a broodingly austere old prayer chant. Now where can you hear this treat online? Um…try Citerman’s soundcloud page and youtube channel for starters; otherwise, the Stone is where it’s at, next week.

Another Creepy Masterpiece and a Bell House Show by O’Death

O’Death are one of those great bands who sound like no other group on the planet – and yet, they’re one of the most widely imitated acts around. Part Nashville gothic, part oldtimey, part circus rock and part noir cabaret, like all successful bands these days they make their living on the road. And they just had their tour van stolen – with all their gear in it. They’re in the midst of crowdsourcing an emergency fund to get some new gear, an effort that’s happily been pretty successful, but what’s been especially problematic is that the kind of vintage instruments they typically play aren’t available off the shelf. In the meantime, they’re got a characteristically excellent new album, Out Of Hands We Go – streaming at Northern Spy Records - and a New York show coming up at around 11 PM on Nov 14 at the Bell House. General admission is $15 – if there’s any band that could use your support right about now, it’s these guys.

Frontman/guitarist Greg Jamie’s voice is as menacingly quavery as ever, throughout a typical mix of creepy Edward Gorey-esque tableaux and disquietingly befuddling narratives. Arthur Lee is a frequent reference, especially on All Is Light, with its delicately orchestrated Forever Changes vibe, and the off-kilter Apple Moon, with its delicious blend of steel guitar and what sounds like a mellotron. Neil Young is another, most obviously on Go & Play with Your Dead Horses – but in this case it sounds like Neil Y on some obscure but powerful mushrooms.

The slowly shuffing Herd, which opens the album, takes the point of view of someone who’d like to stray – but Jamie only implies that. That’s what makes his songs so interesting – much as some of his images can be flat-out-ghoulish, he always draws the listener in with them. Likewise, the bluesy circus rock tune Wrong Time, which might or might not be about cannibalism, swaying its way up to a hypnotic Magical Mystery Tour psych-rock pulse.

“Maybe we’ll burn this house together and drag our corpses cross the floor,” Jamie muses on Roam, the hardest-rocking track here. “Like sleeping naked in the rain – wouldn’t have bothered anyone, but would have rendered me insane,” Jamie’s narrator nonchalantly intones on the understatedly morbid, Tom Warnick-esque Wait for Fire. The longest track here, We Had a Vision, blends layers of stark strings with Gabe Darling’s banjo and Jamie’s gracefully picked minor-key acoustic guitar.

“Don’t tell me I don’t know what I saw, crushed leaves on the morning fire – I’ve stoked all I can from your desire,” Jamie casually explains in the ominously dancing waltz Heal in the Howling. The most ornate, and arguably most menacing track here is Isavelle, a murder ballad fueled by Bob Pycior’s icepick violin. The album ends with another macabre waltz, its narrator pondering what to do with his victims – it brings to mind Bobby Vacant at his most uneasy. As usual, O’Death have turned in (dug up? exhumed?) yet another great album, one of the best of 2014. And if you want the band to make more, if you know of anyone who’s got a vehicle they could borrow to finish their East Coast tour, or who might be selling a decent quality used guitar amp, bass amp or maybe a bass head or cab, put them in touch with the band.

Kelley Swindall Puts an Edgy, Individualistic Spin on Classic Americana

One of the cool things about Kelley Swindall‘s new album – streaming at Spotify - is that she sings every song differently. The funny ones have a jaunty southern twang, something you might expect from someone who originally hails from Stone Mountain, Georgia. On the darker ones – and there’s plenty of darkness here – Swindall’s voice takes on a mix of Eartha Kitt growl and Nina Simone bite. She’s opening the Lorraine Leckie album release show with a set at 7 PM sharp at the Mercury on Nov 13; advance tix are $10 and going fast.

Another cool thing is how Swindall uses oldtime Americana as a springboard for her songwriting: the songs don’t feel constrained by a particular era or style. And they’re completely in the here and now. For example, the first of the talking blues numbers – a style that Swindall really likes – is a cross-country weed-smuggling tale. Like A Boy Named Sue, it’s got a surprise ending, but one that you don’t see coming a mile away.

The big crowd-pleaser, also a talking blues, is a murder ballad – with an ending that’s easier to see coming, but when Swindall delivers it, it’s still irresistible. The country ballad You Can Call Me Darlin’ If You Want T0 sounds like a love song on the surface, but it’s a lot more complicated than that. The restlessness is relentless in Swindall’s songwriting and this is a prime example.

Swindall’s elegant oldtime delta blues picking fuels the hauntingly brooding opening track, Sidewalk Closed, a noir tableau fleshed out with Matthew Albeck’s eerily reverberating dobro. On Your Own, a spare, stark, bluesy minor-key kiss-off ballad, begins with a more muted delivery, but then Swindall’s vocals rise to a defiant angst – it’s the first place on the album where she actually belts, and she makes it count.

Dear Savannah, a wistful reminiscence of a romance that in retrospect was doomed from the start, blends Swindall’s delicate fingerpicking and tersely bluesy harmonica, Stephanie Allen’s upright bass and more of that spooky bent-note work from Albeck. He Ain’t You sets vintage jazz-tinged guitar lead over a classic country waltz tune, with a lyric that when you think about it, is pretty vicious. And Swindall’s own My Minglewood Blues, inspired by the famous folk song, mashes up blues and bluegrass via guest Phil Harris’ banjo. The lone cover here is Ryan Morgan‘s Maricopa, AZ , which fits well with Swindall’s darker material, a noir soul song done oldtimey shuffle style with fingerpicked guitar and more biting Albeck slide playing – it wouldn’t be out of place in the Dina Rudeen songbook.

Swindall’s sense of humor goes beyond the songwriting. The album title, Pronounced kel-le swin-dl (more or less – the machine on which this is being typed doesn’t have the phonetic alphabet) is a Lynyrd Skynyrd pun. And the cd cover shot references Francoise Hardy, not something you’d typically see on an album of rustic Americana. Like another moody Americana songwriter recently covered here, Jessie Kilguss, Swindall draws on a theatrical background (which might have something to do with why she always sings in character): she’s a member of the edgy downtown production company The Amoralists.

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